Wordless Wednesdays

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

Since we sent out our Christmas cards earlier this week, I realized that it just might be a good idea to actually follow through and write our Christmas letter online as promised. And so, here we go: It's time for a most exciting update on the rapidly growing family of Stephen and Mary Johnson!
First off, we certainly hope you are enjoying this most blessed of seasons. I (Mary) am learning in particular how nice it is to step back from numerous activities, focus on the basics, and actually ENJOY the Christmas season. Enjoying Christmas! Imagine! While I may have stepped down from some music responsibilities at church, I have been completely immersed in a new adventure on the home front: Homeschooling our children!
David, who turned 5 in November, started kindergarten in September, and he is doing very well. He is now reading, writing a bit, and never ceases to amaze us with his ability to sit through a good story and his incredibly active imagination. He loves to create "giants" by drawing on numerous sheets of paper, then taping them together. We go through sketch paper and scotch tape like mad, but it's all for a good cause, right? David's absolute favorite literary figure right now is Paul Bunyan. To say David loves Paul Bunyan is a gross understatement. He regularly requests that we call him Paul Bunyan, and his goal in life is to be a lumberjack. It is not unusual to spot David playing outside, hacking ferociously at the fence with a small plastic bat/golf club, etc. He is constantly making us laugh with the funny things that he says.
Daniel, who turned 3 in August, is immensely enjoying doing preschool work at home. He loves discovering new favorite stories, building with Duplos, helping me in the kitchen, playing with trains, and pretending that our treadmill is a train, and he is the conductor. What else would you use a treadmill for? He also loves having races outside with David.
And then there's Lucas! Lucas, who is just about 18 months old, is walking (finally), trying to run, babbling constantly, and generally being adorable and hilarious. Some current words in his vocabulary: "Mama" "Daddy" "Uh-huh" "Brown Bear" "Nana" "Yummm!" "Daydid (David)" "Day-ull (Daniel)", and my favorite: "Seahorse". Why are kids so funny?
Other highlights: we are highly anticipating the arrival of our BABY GIRL in April! Hurray! Such excitement is among all of us- we can't wait to meet her! I have been incredibly blessed to have had an amazingly easy pregnancy thus far (chiropractors are wonderful people).
Steve is continuing to make us proud at work. He is now a Senior Business Analyst, and recently passed the CMA (Certified Managing Accountant) exam. Go, Steve!! Steve is also kept busy with "Daddy Duties" at home (someone has to wrestle with those boys) and is active at church on the missions board.
That just about wraps up the past year for us. We survived a road trip to Vermont in August, and are looking forward to a few more epic traveling adventures this coming year. We have been truly blessed, and we hope and pray that God may bless and keep you during the Christmas season and in the year to come.

God's Blessings,

Steve, Mary, David, Daniel, Lucas, and Baby Girl Johnson

Monday, December 5, 2011

Every Once In a Great While

I took this picture last week. Like the unfolding of a butterfly's wings as it emerges from its cocoon for the very first time, it's like capturing a miracle of nature. Every once in a great, great while...

...David will give in about once a month to a most glorious of naps.

I guess getting up at 6:00 am, moving and talking non-stop for 14 hours/day for a month straight can get to you after a while.

No matter how crazy they are during the day, all is forgivable and even endearing when gazing upon their cherubic sleeping faces.
David, I love you. Even though you dismembered my blueberry bush a few days ago (which I had been so carefully nurturing for the past 2 years) and have apparently disregarded the need the aim in the bathroom any more, you are still my little lumberjack.

To all the little lumberjacks out there who never seem to stop moving...sleep tight.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fab Five Friday Foto(s)...kind of.

I am pleased to announce that I am resurrecting a long and sorely neglected portion of this sad excuse of a blog...FAB FIVE FRIDAY FOTO(S)!!!

Except there shall only be four foto(s) today, rather than the aforementioned five. Please forgive me for this sad state of things. After Steve and I returned from our wild, highly impractical, probably foolish, and terribly fun epic date from Morton's Steakhouse in downtown Chicago, my poor wittle squishy Daniel settled in to what has appeared to be a 4-day long bout with the stomach flu. Back to reality. I am fully intending on writing an tremendously long-winded, highly pretentious review of our astounding dinner at Morton's, but in the meantime, here's a few pics to tide thee over. Note: The lighting is very poor. I tried using the lightest filters I could find in Instagram, but Morton's is a super dark restaurant. Grr.

I just happened to be seated by the front portion of the kitchen at Morton's. How incredibly fitting is that?? I was simply mesmerized.

This, my dear friends, is nothing other than Morton's house bread and butter. When we cut into it, the steam arose in a most tantalizing and aromatic wisp, and it was the finest onion bread I have ever laid a taste bud on. And the butter!! Don't even get me started. I literally wanted to stick the butter in my purse and take it home for safekeeping. And smearing across anything that could possibly lend itself to consumption. Truly, the finest butter I have ever had.

The Odd Couple. I will go over everything on our plates later on in the most excruciating detail possible.

Poor little man. Ah, well. This too shall pass. Stay tuned for a truly pretentious restaurant review- coming soon!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Unable to Help Myself

It's been a shocking week here at The Epic Adventures of Skarymop & Co. Really, truly, shocking. Shocking in the best way possible, though. On Tuesday, we made the most unexpected and most delightful discovery.

Do you want to know?


Oh, okay. I understand. Stay tuned for more adventures next week!!

BWA HA HA. Just kidding.

Something that I thought would never happen...

We are having a baby girl!!! (Forgive the lousy lighting.)

It's true. After three boys, we assumed that we were boy breeders, and I had long put the thought of pink and frills out of my mind. I am fully aware that giving birth to three boys in succession is not highly unusual, but we really, really, REALLY did not think a baby girl was in our future. So don't mind the non-stop goofy grins plastered across our faces...we're just busy having our socks blessed off.

In other news, I walked into the living room after dinner tonight because it was eerily quiet. I had just finished cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, and I could have sworn I heard David whisper,"Let's take off our shirts and pants." This is never a good thing. So I walked into the living room to see two boys jumping up and down on the couch, pretending to punch each other, clad only in their underpants. Lucas was gleefully crawling around, clad in only a precariously sagging diaper. I surveyed the scene, took a few pictures with my phone, sent them to my sister, and then thought,"This little girl is going to have to be one tough little cookie." And then I remembered all of the things I survived with my brother, and proceeded to feel a little bit better. It's going to be an amazing journey.
Speaking of amazing journeys, the Canadian Lumberjack and I will be heading down to Chicago tomorrow night for a memorable feast at Morton's Steakhouse. I'm thinking a lobster and steak combination will hit the spot quite nicely. I. CANNOT. WAIT. It's an extreme rarity these days for us to embark on such an epic date, but we have a tendency to go a little crazy when there's a baby on the way. Yay for ridiculously ambitious date nights! I plan on eating much, walking much, and taking some pictures.
Well, that just about covers it for now. I'll be posting pics from our date night, and I also plan on resurrecting the long-neglected FAB FIVE FRIDAY FOTO(S)!!

Starting next week, of course. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Centipedes, Fantastic Granola Bars, and Tapioca Pudding

Well, we did it. We made it through another Budget Season. Things are wrapping up for Steve at work, and the boys and I have actually seen this man at the dinner table for the past two nights. We look at each other, nod in polite acknowledgement, and silently wonder to ourselves, "Who is that strange person sitting across from me? Oh, wait. It's all coming back to me...oh my stars; can that be the person I married? The person I bought a house with? The father of my children? Can it be?" Why, yes; it can. We've been actually playing board games and interacting with each other instead of waking up in the middle of the night and mumbling,"Hi grumble snort snuffle how are you?" It's been...glorious. On that note, I have three incredibly random things I wish to share with you tonight:

1) More than any other insect on the face of planet earth, I. HATE. CENTIPEDES. Spiders? Meh. Beetles? Nah. Dragonflies? Nifty! But every once in a while, I have the great misfortune of coming across a centipede in my basement, and it literally sends me screaming up the stairs. There's just something about the non-stop, undulating, simultaneous movement of its body and legs that sends lightning bolts up and down my spine. Have you ever googled centipedes? DON'T. Steve did once, and was having a grand time showing the boys when I had the (once again) great misfortune of walking by the computer. I had no idea what they were looking at, and Steve VERY CRUELLY said," Hey mama, take a look at this!" And because I am a gullible idiot, I looked. I'm still having nightmares. Such awfulness. Anyway, what is the point of this incoherent rambling? I really don't know. But all I know is this: I was on my way down to the basement to fetch the dry clothes out of the dryer and start a deep-clean cycle for the cloth diapers when out of nowhere, here it comes, wriggling and undulating its way up the wall alongside the stairs. NO. WAY. I sprinted up the stairs (as well as a 17-week pregnant gal can sprint), and decided that the diapers could be deep-cleaned tomorrow. And the worst thing of all about those odious creatures?? Every time I see one, I feel my skin crawling for the next few hours. I become convinced that somewhere on my being is a centipede, just hanging out, and I'm constantly swatting at my hair and yelping as I frantically brush off my arms and legs. Pathetic, I know. But...I just had to share that with you. It had to be done. And now on the something far more palatable...

2) Well, I did it. I don't know how I did it, but somehow, the World's Best Granola Bars just got better, and I can honestly say it's because of three things: dried apricots, almond butter, and quick-cooking oats. This is not the first time I've posted the link to this most glorious of oat-y bars...but this will be my first time expounding upon my obsession and great passion for the perfect granola bar. Ahh, a homemade granola bar. I dare you to find a snack more filling, nutritious, and satisfying than a homemade granola bar. The options are endless! Add as much healthy stuff as you want, or eschew the wheat germ and flax seed (GASP), throw caution to the wind, and add those chocolate chunks you've been dreaming of. It's whatever you want it to be, and I love that about a good granola bar. They're portable! They freeze well! They keep well (in an air-tight container...let's not get cocky)! You simply cannot get any better than that.

Or can you?

Turns out, sometimes you can make a great thing even better. I had a little extra time (I have no idea how that happened) the last time I made these, and I got a little wild, left out my beloved wheat germ, and added about 1/2 c. dried apricots, snipped into small pieces. Now, let's get something straight: I am not the kind of person who sits on the couch, watching The Office while munching on a bag of dried apricots. No, indeed. I am the kind of person who sits on the couch, folds 10 loads of laundry in 30 minutes, drinks hot cider from October-February while eating a homemade granola bar and greek yogurt, AND watches The Office. Got it? Good. Now that we've got that straightened out...

MY POINT...(because I did have one) is this: I am not crazy about apricots. I appreciate their nutritional value and their *ahem* "regulating" properties, but I'm not going to pass out in excitement over them. But something happened to those coppery, sweet, wizened little fruits while baking away in my possessed oven. It can be likened to roasting vegetables in that the flavor is incredibly intensified after the roasting process. The apricots became sweeter and took on a carmelized texture and flavor. Well, I was sold. So while the apricots were the highlight for me, I must put in a good word for the almond butter and quick-cooking oats. I had previously used peanut butter in this recipe, and while quite delicious, the mild sweetness of the almond butter blew the peanut butter away. It helped that I used Trader Joe's crunchy, salted almond butter with flax seeds- boy, does that add some serious character. And the quick-cooking oats? While I never use them for regular oatmeal, there will always be a canister of quick-cooking oats in my pantry, because they are the glue that holds these granola bars together. The finer texture of quick-cooking oats greatly adds to a granola bar's ability to hold together after being cut into. In other words, less crumbling. And we all know that there are few things more tragic than a perfectly good granola bar crumbling in your hands. To close this brief essay on dried apricots and perfect granola bars, let me just say this: From this point on, there is always be dried apricots in my granola bars, even though the vast majority of folks may not be a fan of them. In addition to apricots, there will always be shredded, sweetened coconut in my granola bars, and I KNOW the vast majority of folks loathe coconut. Why is this? I have not the foggiest idea, but I do know this: I will stand by coconut until my dying day. My final breath. What did coconut ever do to you, world? I will stand by the darkhorse. Another darkhorse I will always remain faithful to...

3) I love tapioca pudding. There, I said it. You can all think less of me now, but I'm being brutally honest here. I love the mild sweetness. I love the texture (yes, even the little tapioca pearls). But what I think I love the most is the memory of my dad stirring up a pot of tapioca late at night, bent over the stove, wearing his pajamas. He gets very excited about making puddings and sweets at night. I definitely get that from him. Last night, I was seized with a burning desire to consume massive amounts of tapioca pudding. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I am 17 weeks pregnant. So out came the little red box of quick-cooking tapioca (wow, I'm really divulging all of my culinary secrets tonight!!), and off I went to the stove. The boiling of tapioca is such a mystery to me. You can stand there for 20 minutes, stirring and stirring and stirring with absolutely no results whatsoever, and then you blink your eyes, and WHOA TAPIOCA BOILING OVER! Anyway, it was worth it. I ate...much. Nobody needs to know how much.

Well, we certainly have covered a lot of ground tonight. Insect phobias, favorite snacks, and weird food I have an even weirder kinship with. You'll never know what you'll find here on The Epic Adventures of Skarymop & Co.! I'm hoping to get back on the blogging trail here...it's been a bit crazy since we started our homeschooling adventure in September, but I feel like we're finally striking a balance and finding our rhythm. If you're still reading, thank you for sticking with me. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Budget Season

It's Budget Season. Allow me to share with you what Budget Season means to me.

What Budget Season Means To Me

By Mary Johnson, B.A. in Hanging By A Thread.

Before we begin, I must tell you something of the utmost importance. I can't believe I've never shared this with you before. But now, the time is right.

I hate Granny Smith apples. Except in apple pie.

And that is all.

Here we go.

1) Budget Season means many, many extremely late nights for Steve. About six straight weeks of late nights. Like 11:30 pm late nights. These six weeks of awfulness are repeated in March-April, which is also known as Audit Season. Don't even get me started on Audit Season. I am fully aware that despite the six weeks of awfulness, I have it really good. I really, really appreciate and admire all the women out there whose menfolk are serving our country and are gone for at least a year at a time. A year! So I'm being a whining baby; forgive me. Budget Season is tough. It's hard not to lose motivation to make "real" dinners for myself and the kids, but we muddle through. It's also difficult not to lose motivation to bathe my kids every once in a while, but I just spray them with vinegar, and somehow we muddle through that as well. Lots of muddling going on here, I tell you! I shall now share with you some random things that define Budget Season for me, along with some other current events in my household.

2) Budget Season means lots of old movies. I love old movies. Not necessarily old, as in classic Hollywood old (I love those, too!), but old favorites of mine. For example, as I type this, I am half-watching "Sleepless In Seattle". I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Do you love this movie?? BECAUSE YOU SHOULD. A few things happen when I watch this movie: 1) I cry at some point. 2) I want to move to Seattle. 3) I cringe at Victoria's laugh and pray that I don't laugh like that. Other movies I love to watch when Steve's working late:

1) Julie and Julia.
2) You've Got Mail.
3) Dan In Real Life.

I also love making popcorn the old-fashioned way. I use a ridiculous amount of butter when Steve's not partaking of the popcorn, because he hates butter. I know, I know. I KNOW. Hating butter...this I shall never understand.

3) Budget Season means lots of pancake and scrambled egg dinners. The boys love this. I get sick of it after about two turns. Then I start making crazy salads because I can't stand it anymore. I am tempted to start trying Thai salads. Sweet. Sour. Yes.

4) Budget Season means I start baking. Like a crazy, possessed, wild, feral, mad woman. Did I just type feral? I think I did. Pumpkin Currant Cake was my latest endeavor, and it was pretty stellar. I loved it. Which means, of course, that is was successful.

5) I made a shrimp quesadilla for myself tonight, and it turned out to be a very good idea. I couldn't bear the thought of another Bean-and-Cheese-Burrito night. The boys were happy with it, but I just. Couldn't. Do. It. So I consulted The Pioneer Woman and made this. However, I did not add the peppers and onions tonight. Not only did I not have any peppers on hand, but I also found out the last time I made this dish that I have developed a bit of a bell pepper intolerance. Um. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. And so it is with great regret that I have begun to greatly reduce and/or leave out all bell peppers in my recipes. I am greatly grieved about this turn of events, for I adore bell peppers, especially yellow and orange ones. But I contented myself with a shrimp and cheese quesadilla. I think I'll be turning to this recipe a little more often during these late nights.

6) Budget Season means being alone after the kids go to bed and having no energy whatsoever to do anything worthwhile. The fact that I'm blogging tonight is a rather small miracle.

7) I do bathe my kids. Just not tonight.

8) The One Good Thing About Budget Season: Cooler weather is ushered in, and lo and behold; Fall is upon us here in southeastern Wisconsin. And Fall...well, it's just the best. I don't care what they say.

Thus ends What Budget Season Means to Me.

Well, my movie has ended, so it's nighty-night time for moi. Thankfully, Budget Season is slowly coming to an end. Two. More. Weeks. You can do anything for two weeks, right? Stay tuned for more adventures...even if they are a bit on the feral side.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Word on French Toast

It's Saturday, and I couldn't be happier. After a rather trying week, I am all ready to settle in to the stomach flu this weekend, since my two younger boys kept us up all night with a stomach bug of their own. No signs of it yet, but I'm waiting. Just waiting. My guess is that it will hit me at about 10:25 am on Sunday morning, simply because I am supposed to play piano for church this week. That is my prediction, and I'm going to stand by my prediction. On that lovely, comforting note...

Let's talk about French Toast!!!


On Tuesday night, I was preparing one of my favorite brunch dishes of all time: Peach French Toast. I was preparing said dish for my local MOPS group meeting (where, incidentally; I believe we picked up the aforementioned stomach flu, go figure), when I realized something:

I love this dish.

I love it for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because:

1) It has to prepped the night before.
2) It is so ridiculously easy.
3) It is so ridiculously delicious. Beyond delicious. Delectable, sweet, and rich beyond all of your wildest breakfast dreams. Decadent.

Are you dying for the recipe yet? Fear not; all in due time. But first, I must speak earnestly with you about french toast. Friend to friend. Complete honesty. Here we go:

I have never been a big fan of french toast.

As a child, I didn't loathe it. But I certainly didn't love it. My mom had all of the basics needed to produce a yummy french toast. Milk, eggs, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and maybe a little vanilla. She used our sandwich bread, which was a good, respectable bread. But it just never sent me to the moon. Ditto for restaurants. I never had a french toast at a restaurant that thrilled my soul. But things were about to change. Oh, were they ever.

About a year ago, while studiously perusing through one of my favorite cookbooks, I stumbled across a most intriguing recipe for French toast that called for...wait for it...prepare yourself...using FRENCH BREAD for FRENCH TOAST!!!!

It was a revelation that was practically beyond the processing abilities of my mind. French bread for French toast? Why had I never thought of this before? I mean, REALLY? It just made sense! Besides the fact that the entire recipe was incredibly simple, I was so fascinated and intrigued that I simply had to try it as soon as humanly possible. I dashed off to the store for a French baguette. I followed the recipe exactly except one little thing...Molly Wizenberg swears by cooking the French toast in hot oil. Alas; I simply cannot bring myself to try that just yet. It has something to do with three small boys under the age of five running around the kitchen in circles, yelling,"I'm hungry? What are we eating? I'm hungry! What are we eating?" I find the idea of cooking batter-infused slices of bread in a sizzling cast-iron skillet a bit too terrifying at this point in my life. One day...one day. In lieu of the hot oil, I fired up my faithful electric griddle, slathered it with embarrassing amounts of butter, and went to it. Wow. What can truly be said of making French toast the way it was meant to be made?

You. Will. Never. Go. Back.


I mean it! To this day, I have never made French toast with anything but French bread. And that goes for the illustrious, most glorious, most beguiling Peach French Toast. Here's a handy tip: French bread freezes incredibly well. Toss a loaf into your freezer here and there, and you'll never be without the ammunition for a most effective French Toast. And so, without further ado, here is the recipe for Peach French Toast.

Peach French Toast from Danielle Cooper (thanks, Danielle!!)

-Start the night before!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons water

1 can (29 oz.) sliced peaches in light syrup, drained

5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (at least 2%. Don't you DARE use skim!!)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
12 slices of day-old French bread (the soft, inexpensive grocery store brand kind)
Ground cinnamon

-Bring brown sugar, butter, and water to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, and please, whatever you do, don't be an idiot like me and stick your finger in the pan for "just a little taste". Burning. Much burning. Stir the sugar and butter mixture often while simmering. Pour into a 9x13 pan; top with peaches. Arrange the slices of bread over the peaches. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and vanilla; slowly pour over the bread. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover; bake for another 25-30 minutes or until bread is golden brown. Serve with a big spoon.

See? Easy peasy. I promise this will be an absolute hit at your next brunch/luncheon. Enjoy, my friends, and remember: French Toast made with French Bread= The way it was meant to be!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vermont, Part II

It's eerily quiet right now. All three boys are napping, which almost NEVER happens, so I find myself not quite knowing what to do when such a blessed event occurs. Shall I sleep? Shall I bake three different kinds of granola bars? Shall I blog? Shall I wash the kitchen floor (HAHA)? Whatever shall I do? Well, today I have decided to make good use of this time, skip the nap, make myself an insanely strong cup of tea, and catch up a wee bit on this here blog. I could begin to expound on how tired I am because I'm 11 weeks preggers, and how I'm starting to feel less like tossing cookies and more like baking them, but hey. Let's be realistic. No one wants to hear the many tales of exhaustion from a pregnant gal, so let's cut to the chase and finish off this excruciatingly long-winded and drawn-out tale of our most paradoxical vacation to the Green Mountain State, shall we? Very well.

The first item I need to address:
A few people have asked me if the tale of our journey home includes children barfing in the car. I can most gratefully report that NO, no child emptied the contents of their stomach while we were on our way home. Thank. GOODNESS. And now, with that out of the way...

Vermont, Part II

After sleeping for about 4 hours, I gave up on trying to get back to sleep, got dressed, and started packing the car at 5:00 am. I was a driven woman. I was ready to face the land of cheese and bratwurst once again and bid farewell to the beautiful awfulness that is Vermont. The big boys woke up about 5:30, and I proceeded to put them to work. What else can you do with a 3 and 4 year old at 5:30 am when you're trying to pack for a 1,000 mile trip home? I'll tell you. NOTHING. So David and Daniel helped me pack up the van, and before we knew it, we were on our way home. We stopped for breakfast in Middlebury (I still love Middlebury), and I took over driving until we reached the New York thruway in Albany, NY. During my stint of driving, three major highlights occured:

1) Taking the Fort Ticonderoga ferry and seeing the clouds from Hurricane Irene. Creepy. Weird. Glad I was heading into New York. The ferry was fun, and the boys loved it. I would totally do it again.
2) Driving through a small portion of the Adirondacks. Gorgeous.


3) The Mysterious Mound of Manure.

Yes, you read that right. The Mysterious Mound of Manure. While waiting for the ferry, we got out of the car for a minute just to stretch our legs and watch the ferry come back from the NY side. We had been driving through a great deal of farmland (read: tractors on the road everywhere), so our tires were pretty full of the most aromatic fertilizer. Nothing seemed amiss to me until we started to walk back to the van, and my left leg started feeling...WEIRD. Kind of cold and wet. I looked down, and to my horror, there, smeared across my calf (and slightly across my cropped yoga pants) was THE MYSTERIOUS MOUND OF MANURE. Okay, so it wasn't really a MOUND, but it sounded good. "What on earth?!" I exclaimed. And then my dear sister Meg said,"Yeah, I was wondering what that was." GEE, THANKS, MEG. So I spent 5 minutes of our 7-minute ferry ride scrubbing my leg (and yoga pants) with a baby wipe. To this day, I have no idea how The Mysterious Mound of Manure found its way onto my unsuspecting left calf. It shall be a mystery until the day I die, and when I get to heaven, you can bet one of the first questions I'm going to ask God will be "Lord, how did the Mysterious Mound of Manure find its way onto my leg?" And then...AND THEN...I shall know. Oh, and I highly doubt I'm actually going to remember to ask God about the MM of M. But it's nice knowing that if I wanted to ask Him, I COULD. And that, my friends, is the strange and bizarre account of The Mysterious Mound of Manure.

Take five.

Anyway, we managed to make it through the rest of New York and Pennsylvania fairly unscathed. Daniel did his usual screaming for the final 1.5 hours of the trip, but we sallied forth, and before I knew it, the mountains were gone, the roads were wide and open, Ohio stretched out before us, people were rude...and I was so very happy.

We checked into our hotel. Boy, was it nice to be in a hotel. Am I shallow and weak for saying that? If I am, then SO BE IT. We ordered a pizza and some potato skins, and I must say a word about pizza in Ohio: we have NEVER been disappointed. EVER. This is coming from a Chicago girl. We set things up picnic-style on the hotel room floor, and everyone gathered around the pizza box to eat. We watched footage of Hurricane Irene whilst eating (appetizing!), and were horrified to see that the very river in Vermont that we had been swimming in the entire week was severely flooded. Like halfway up the trees flooded. It was really shocking to think that we had escaped by mere hours. While Steve, Meg, and I were talking about the storm and such, David had decided that he'd had enough of this storm business, climbed up onto one of the beds, and growled,"HEY! This isn't my pillow!" and proceeded to fling it across the room, where it landed...square in the middle of the pizza box. On top of the pizza. Thankfully, the pizza survived, but it was truly amazing how one thing after another just seemed to keep happening. I think I went to bed at 8:30 that night.

And I slept.

Kind of.

Well, it was a step up.

And then I awoke with a burning desire to engage in two stereotypical suburbia activities:

1) I. Wanted. Starbucks.

2) I want to drive around and look at beautiful homes. Which meant only one thing...

We were taking a mini-detour through Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Have you ever been to Shaker Heights, Ohio? It's really an amazing little place. The homes are truly the most beautiful, well-preserved, older homes I have EVER seen in my entire life, the neighborhoods are absolutely gorgeous and very walkable, and it is the most beautiful, well-organized little community I've ever known of. The homes are ridiculously affordable (no, really; they ARE), and there are breathtakingly beautiful little parks EVERYWHERE. It is such a perfect little oasis, and you'd never know that downtown Cleveland is only 8 miles west. Shaker Heights is one of those places that I vowed, years ago, that I would return to, JUST to see if I felt the same way about it. And so, off we went to Starbucks and Shaker Heights. I think I was feeling a tad bit sorry for myself with the way everything had turned out, and I just wanted ONE thing to work out for me. We drove through a few neighborhoods, and I could feel myself falling in love again. But two blocks later...whoa. Not exactly the place we wanted to be. What started out as a "mini-detour" turned into nearly an hour of driving through the worst parts of Cleveland because there was major construction on the road we had planned to take out of Cleveland. And as gorgeous as Shaker Heights is, I realized a few things:

1) I was lucky enough to get to go back, "just to see". A lot of people never get that chance.

2) It's beautiful, but it's not the place for me.

I was fortunate enough to be able to close that chapter of my life. As difficult as our vacation was at times, I was aware of the privilege of being able to go back and satisfy my curiosity, so to speak. I was able to cross New England and Shaker Heights off my "list" for good. And THAT, my dear friends, was truly an amazing feeling. Closure! There's nothing quite like it.

The remainder of our trip was thankfully uneventful, and when I saw the Chicago skyline, I actually teared up a little, which I found quite startling. And no, it's not because Chicago is my home. But when I see Chicago, I know that I'm *almost* home. "Darn you," I said to Steve. "You're slowly wearing me down and making me love this area." He just smiled.

And laughed.

And roared.

And guffawed.

And honked his horn at the guy cutting us off.

Yep. We were home.

And so closes our most epic adventure yet. Thank you for sticking with me through my sporadic posting, and stay tuned for more (slightly tamer) adventures of Skarymop & Co.!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pictures of Vermontness

Since we just completed our first full week of homeschooling two children, I've fallen off the blogging trail a bit. I am so terribly ashamed of myself; I can hardly bear it. I fully intend on getting back on track, right after I give myself 54 lashes with the wet noodle and kick myself around the house. It should be quite a sight! I am planning on selling tickets to this most exciting display of self-flagellation. Not. Really. Anyway...

Here are some pictures of Vermontness to tide ya'll over until I get around to Volume II of our epic adventure in Vermont.

This is a view of the cottage from the backyard. That's the driveway snaking around the bend. I always felt like I was going to tip the van every time I pulled in. Cool!

This is my absolute favorite picture of the interior. It was just so wonderfully airy and light-filled. Definitely the nicest cottage we've had the pleasure of staying at. The big boys loved taking their meals at the kitchen island. Us boring adults and little Lucas ate at the dining room table. In case you're wondering, that's Daniel in the picture, and he was running laps around the island. Boys. What's a young mama to do (besides hug him and tell him I love his squishiness)??

Here we are getting super stoked for a little wagon ride at Shelburne Farms. I have to say, Shelburne Farms was truly the most gorgeous farm I have ever laid eyes on...

Yeah. Beat that. The architecture was amazing. I will be posting more pictures of our visit to Shelburne soon! The kids had an awesome time playing with the farm animals and pretending to drive the tractor. My personal highlight was splurging on a lunch that was prepared with foods grown right there on the farm. I had the focaccia of the day, which consisted of perfectly carmelized onions and baby golden beets, arugula, and goat cheese on the most perfect square of focaccia I have ever laid a taste bud on. It was...heavenly. Really.

This is one of my favorite pics of our entire vacation. My sister Meg captured this moment of the big boys and I playing in our own personal swimming hole. More pictures of the swimming hole coming soon!! We hiked down (it was a little precarious, but we got used to it) almost every single day and played and splashed until we were numb with cold. Ah, New England. The water was so clear and the boys just totally got into the spirit of adventure, which, of course, thrilled my soul. When David first ventured into the icy-cold water, he clenched his fists and roared to the world,"I'm gonna stick my face in this water!!!!" And he did. Ah, yes. So very proud of my little city slickers.

So there you have it! Some Vermontness to tide you over until I get my act together and finish telling the tale of our epic adventure. I might get a bit philosophical. I might get emotional. You just never know. One thing I know for sure: Despite the challenges we encountered during our vacation, one thing remains the same. I love traveling for many reasons, but mostly because of how much you learn about yourself and others while traveling. It is an epiphany of, well, EPIC proportions. So sit tight, and I will share more tales soon!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vermont, Part I

We arrived home safely from Vermont on Sunday evening. We missed Hurricane Irene by a few hours, but we could see some of her vicious clouds as we rode the Fort Ticonderoga ferry (quite fun, by the way!). Nevertheless, we escaped the fury of the storm as we slowly made our way home. So how was my vacation, you ask? I'll tell you.







Flat-bread pizza. Yes.

Carsick every time I stepped into the car. No.

A leech on my foot. (it was tiny; no big deal, really)

No sleep. No sleep. No. Sleep.

Gigantic bathtub. Yes.

Getting water stuck in my ear approximately 5 seconds after stepping into the tub. No. (It's still there, by the way. So please remember, I'm not deaf. I just have a small reservoir of water in my head. Just talk loud, and we'll get through this together.)

Lucas getting an ear infection and having to go to a random walk-in clinic. No.

Fantastic cottage with a truly awesome kitchen. Yes.

20 hours in the car each way. No. No. No.

Everyone surviving and making it home in one piece. Yes.

As you can see, it was truly a paradoxical vacation. I feel as though I need to elaborate a bit on the above statements. And so, I shall. And now...it's time for a regularly scheduled warning:

*Warning: The following tale will be long. Quite long. It shall be punctuated with rabbit trails specifically designed to make zero sense whatsoever. This shall be an outpouring of my soul on the event to which we refer to as "Vermont". I am falling asleep already, so I do not blame you if you do the same. I ate greek yogurt before writing just to boost my morale, energy, and courage, but I'm still waiting for these virtues to burst forth with all the ferocity of a young squirrel. I don't think it's going to happen. End of warning.*

We are not quite ready to get started.

Rabbit Trail #1:
You won't ever see me complain on Facebook. Ever. I will occasionally report on unfortunate events that occur in my household, but whining? Complaining? I won't do it, I tell you. Why, you may ask? I am an ardent believer in NOT airing one's dirty laundry on Facebook. It's one thing to reach out for the occasional sympathy, but constant complaining and whining about life is not exactly a good way to endear one's friends. But my blog? That's a different story. While I try to remain optimistic and rise above bad days, etc., this is, after all, my blog, and if I wish to take the time to expound upon my horrifically wonderful vacation, then that is exactly what I shall do.

Okay, now we're ready to begin.

Are you ready?

Good. Because I'm not.

We shall start with Traveling Day One. The funny thing about our entire trip is that the driving part really was not all that bad. Really! Granted, I have absolutely NO IDEA what we would have done without my sister Meg assisting us with snacks, discipline, DVD players, drinks, referee-ing, etc., etc., etc. Oh, wait. I know. WE WOULD HAVE DIED. Anyway, traveling was the least of our problems throughout the entire Vermont experience. We made it to Westfield, NY on Day One with no problem, other than being seriously pooped. Westfield was a very charming town with lots of older, beautiful, well-kept homes. I really liked it. We had dinner at a local family-style restaurant, and I had a fantastic cup of clam chowder and a perfect BLT. Life was good. Our little motel was clean (that's all I ask), but I COULD NOT SLEEP. How is that possible? I had been up since 4:00 am, and on the road since 5:30. How on earth could I not sleep?? The tenant next door decided it was a good idea to watch TV ALL NIGHT, and so my random moments of drowsiness were punctuated with muffled TV shows. I was having all of these horrible, paranoid thoughts of a psychopath killer busting through our door and taking us out. What on earth?? Somehow we managed to eat some dry cereal and get back on the road by 7:00 am. I fell asleep almost instantly. I am quite sure I snored. Much.

Fast-forward 12 hours on the New York Thruway...

Vermont. We made it, we made it! Daniel screamed almost non-stop for the last hour of our trip, but that's normal for him on long trips. The cottage did not disappoint. I promise I will post pics soon, but I lack the strength, perseverance, and patience for that tonight. Onward. I made pasta for dinner that first night. Easy. Yum. Boy, was I looking forward to bedtime. Except...

I did not sleep. Again.

And the boys woke up at the crack of dawn. Naturally.

I tried. I really did. I made a sad breakfast, and then we drove one mile to the local general store because we were too lazy to walk. We bought some basics, went home, and I proceeded to make a second breakfast because:

1) We were starving.
2) We were starving.

After breakfast #2, I passed out. Somewhere. Was it the couch? Was it the bed? I don't remember.

Fast forward to a time when I was upright and functioning.

We had a few fun days. Bopping around Bristol, VT. Very nice bakery and cafe. Being surrounded by the Green Mountain National Forest was relaxing and beautiful. I learned the power of napping in an Adirondack chair. We had a wonderful visit to Shelburne Farms. The kids milked a cow, held chickens, petted sheep, goats, and calves. And washed their hands many, many, many times. We made daily visits to our swimming hole. I loved that little place. I loved exploring the little waterfalls with the boys and helping them catch their first frog. I took many, many great pictures. Things were looking up.

Then Lucas began acting...weird.

This is the perfect child, you understand. No whining, no crying. Almost ever.

Besides the fact that Lucas decided it was just as good a time as any to start growing a mullet, he began to fuss and cry almost constantly.

Rabbit Trail #2:
Dear Mom,

I just wanted to thank you for never, ever styling my hair in a mullet. As a child born in 1983, I can't imagine the pressure of society as nearly every boy and girl was sent to school sporting a mullet. I am so thankful I have absolutely no childhood pictures whatsoever of me with a mullet. Thank you for resisting one of the most ridiculous fashion fads known to mankind. I am forever indebted to you.

Love, Mary

End of Rabbit Trail #2.

Long story short, our poor wittle Lucas developed an ear infection. He seemed to have bounced back one fine day, so we decided to take a risk and head out to Burlington, Vermont (which I LOVED), but after lunch at Boloca (such a lovely Cajun burrito!!), he developed a high fever, so it was off to a random walk-in clinic for us. Thankfully, an ear infection was most certainly not the end of the world, and Lukie responded quickly to his medicine. By the time we got Lucas's situation resolved, we had two days of vacation left. We headed back to the cottage, exhausted.

And then...

David woke up with a raging fever.

Daniel woke up puking.

Needless to say, that day was a wash. I mean, quite literally. I did a tremendous amount of laundry that day. Thank goodness for a washer and dryer at the cottage.

Rabbit Trail #3:
It was an absolute luxury to me to have a washer and dryer at the cottage. The washer was fast, flashy, and quite brilliant. It also played a charming little tune when turned on. But the dryer seemed to be somewhat impaired. I could wash three loads in the time it took to dry one load. Over two hours to dry!! I was slightly exasperated by this. There were many piles of wet clothes in the laundry room while I waited for the dryer to complete the impossible dream. Alas. Convenience always has a price.

End of Rabbit Trail #3.

It was quite the time. I felt awful for dragging the kids halfway across the country, only to have all of them get sick. I still hadn't slept very much at all, so I think by the time Friday rolled around, it is possible I might have been legally insane. Cool! I wonder what it's like to be illegally insane...but I digress.

And so, with three sick boys, and hurricane roaring up the coast, and my poor sister stricken with a random attack of vertigo the night before we left, we packed up our things, tidied up the cottage, and left Vermont very early on Saturday morning with our proverbial tails tucked between our legs. Life just stinks sometimes, and there ain't a darn thing you can do about it, other than to move on, and just keep moving.

You'd think with Vermont behind us, things would settle down a bit. Well, that is partially true. We were riding high on the adrenaline of "We're going home! We're going home!!", but there were quite a few crazy hijinks on the way home. But you know what?

You'll have to come back tomorrow to find out what happened. :)

Thus ends Vermont, Part I.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Squishy

Last week, my precious, oh-so-sweet, jolly, delightfully squishy second-born son Daniel Weston turned three.

There's something truly weird about your middle child turning three. The fact that my oldest is turning 5 in a couple of months isn't fazing me too much at the moment. The fact that my youngest just turned 1 recently hasn't freaked me out too much. The first year has a tendency to fly by at an alarmingly high rate of speed. BUT...all that to say: Daniel's getting older. Gone are the days when he would call muffins "fwuttins", make his Serious Face, and toddle around with bright green crocs and a ferociously curly head of blonde hair (don't ask me how Steve and I produced a blonde child. We're still scratching our heads about that one). He still does adorable things everyday, and he is such a joyful little guy. It's very common to see Daniel prancing around the house saying,"Mommy, I'm happy! I'm happy!!" And it makes me so very happy to know that my son is happy. And so, here is a picture tribute of my happy little man.

I call this one,"Bubble Boy." I love the little line of bubbles in his curly hair.

Oh dear. I am getting dangerously close to needing a Kleenex. The widdle gween cwocs. The chubby wubby arms clutching a huge bottle of bubbles and the bubble wand. My baby.

Fast-forward 2 years. My little man.

Happy. Cherubic. Daniel was my first cuddly baby. David was a very busy baby. He had many, many things to do. Toys to play with. Floors to crawl around on. Diapers to fill. He was not a cuddler; not in the least! But Daniel...

Fills my life with hugs, kisses, and snuggles every single day. Even now, when he wakes up from his afternoon nap, he immediately plops into my lap for some Mommy time for about 5 minutes before he runs off to play. I love this. I know that this won't last forever, but I am so grateful for the gifts that I have right now.

Happy Birthday, Daniel. Thank You, God; for bestowing on us this beautiful little boy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fab Five What Just Happened

It's Friday, which means I'm supposed to be bright, cheery, and full of great optimism. Instead, I am in deep, dark, tragic mourning for an event that occurred yesterday, and I'm almost positive I shall never, ever recover from this event. It's almost more than I can handle. Due to a complete lack of paying attention...

I received my first speeding ticket yesterday.

My heart is shattered beyond repair. I have never, ever been pulled over in my entire life, and my shame is eating me alive. There I was, bopping along I-43, happy as a lark, on my way to see my sister and family in Green Bay to celebrate Meg's birthday, when all of a sudden...

1) I had to accelerate uphill to merge.

2) I was momentarily distracted by the boys asking me 43.8 questions in two seconds.

3) When I reached the top of this hill, I apparently forgot to take my foot off of the accelerator, due to being slightly distracted (see point #2).

4) I looked up, saw a police car nestled right at the bottom of the hill. I looked at the speedometer. Nuts. I knew I was a goner. I didn't even wait until the policeman started flashing the old lights. I just pulled over, because I knew...it was over.

My perfect record, gone.

And so, I am in the grieving process right now. To commemorate this most epic of misadventures, here are some photos from our visit in Green Bay. These were taken at Bay Beach, a local family amusement park. We loved it, especially the fact that tickets for rides were 25 cents each! I would highly recommend Bay Beach to any family visiting the Green Bay area.

A classic Merry-Go-Round.

My dad, the trucker.

My sister Angela and I. She's my baby sister. I am a whopping ten years older than her. Angela. Anjo Banjo. Jo-Jo. She hates pancakes, blueberries, and traveling. She loves singing (and is WONDERFUL at it) glittery makeup, and shoes with perilously high heels. She is, in short, 17 years old and very good at it. She makes me laugh.

The Meg and I.

The World's Cutest Couple, reunited!!!

There you have it. And although I will continue to claw my way through this fog of shame, there is one good thing to have come out of this:

I finally learned how to use the cruise control on my van.

Alas, sometimes you just need a little extra push to learn something new.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And whatever you do, DO NOT try speeding in Port Washington. Take it from me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fab Five Friday Foto(s) zzzzz

I just finished a rousing game of Shark Attack, Bear Attack, Dinosaur Attack, Hippopotamus Attack, Snake Attack, Rhinoceros Attack, Tornado Attack, Splash Attack, and Great White Shark Attack with David and Daniel in our 3-ft wide kiddie pool. This was after pulling weeds for nearly an hour. Needless to say, that is why my title for the day contains some serious "zzzzzz"s. And so, because I can't find any toothpicks to prop my eyelids open, and my boys are waiting for me to snuggle up with them to watch Toy Story 2, here we go with this week's Fab Five.

And because it's almost August, and I am quite ready for summer in New England, today's theme shall be:

Snowmageddon 2011!!! Also known as The Snowpocalypse. And a few other names. Whatever you wish to call it, this was the worst snowstorm ever in the history of Kenosha. I think. So enjoy the craziness!

(Update: I apologize for the delayed post! My WiFi decided to get a little wacky and wild the past few days. Thank you for utmost patience. Phew!)

Our backyard, drowning in 5-ft. drifts.

Our front porch.

David, ready to brave the insanity.

Daniel, who actually got lost in a drift that day.

My hubby, Steve, shoveling out his car. Just for a fun point of reference, Steve is 6'6. That huge pile of snow is actually covering our fence. It was quite the spectacle.

Longing for winter yet? Didn't think so. Have a great week! :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fab Five Friday Foto(s)

I couldn't think of a single creative thing for my title today. I suppose you could say I'm a little off today. Not on top of my game. A few sandwiches short of a picnic. The engine's running, but nobody's behind the wheel. Okay, I'll stop. Right now, all I know is this:

1) I just finished downing two cups of half-caff coffee. Because I am a passionate and consistent consumer of tea, it hurts admitting this: I LOVED IT. Now believe me, this is not my first time drinking the glorious beaned beverage. I have descended from a VERY long line of hard-core coffee drinkers. My momma worked at Starbucks. I worked at Starbucks. My sister Megan just got a job at Starbucks. It's in the blood, baby; it's in the blood. For many years, I didn't think I could drink coffee because it made my heart rate soar at a rather alarming rate. That didn't feel so hot. And then, I had an epiphany: When I would make coffee for myself, I would use the same amount of grounds that I would use for a huge group of friends. No wonder I was about to drive myself to the cardiologist every time I had a cup. I felt truly ridiculous once I realized it was my own foolishness, so I toned it down, and SUCCESS. YAY. ME.
2) After a week of 95+ degree weather, I practically wept tears of joy upon awaking to dark, gloomy, rainy skies. I danced around the house like a possessed court jester (kind of), and let the boys play in the rain. When we drove to David's gymnastics class today, I slowly sauntered into the gym, relishing every bit of the rain that poured upon us. It's enough to make me rethink this whole North Carolina obsession and consider the vast and glorious Pacific Northwest.

Now that we've got those two extremely important things out of the way, let's get to it, shall we? Warning: These might possibly be the most random set of Fab Five EVER. BE READY.

Asparagus, ready for the grill. I chop. I season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I drizzle with olive oil. I fold over the packet, crimping the sides. Steve grills for about 8 minutes. I love asparagus, and I don't care who knows it! And because I ALWAYS chop extra...

...I end up with this gorgeous lunch the next day. Don't you DARE say,"EWW, yucky." Have you tried it? Hmmm?? I will sing the praises of poached eggs over a noble vegetable or two until the day I die. It's probably one of the healthiest and most protein-packed lunches you could manage in 5 minutes. So. THERE. While we're on the topic of making the most of your leftovers...

I made chicken stock yesterday because I couldn't stand the fact that I had not made anything besides breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 4 whole days because of the heat, and I couldn't take it anymore. I just HAD to create something. So I grabbed a frozen chicken carcass from the freezer ( I love the word carcass, by the way. It has to do with a fond memory of my brother screaming,"CARCASS!!!" out the car window on one our many family road trips every time he saw a carcass on the side of the road. I loved him for that. My parents; not so much.), plop it into a dutch oven, throw in some assorted veggies (I used carrots, celery, fresh parsley, some onion, and half a shallot), and fill it quite full with water. I didn't measure a single thing. Such rebellion!

Oh, and a bay leaf. We cannot forget the precious bay leaf!!!

As you can see, none of the veggies are finely chopped. I rinsed them, and RIPPED them with all of the BRUTE FORCE my small hands could muster. This is not long on prep time, folks. I wouldn't make it if it was. I love the purple shallot floating in the corner. He's like,"Hey guys! Don't forget about me!!" Now for the hard part (ha ha): Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for as short as 15 minutes or as long as all afternoon. Because it was still uproariously hot yesterday, I only let it infuse for about 15 minutes. Hang infusing, I thought to myself as I began to sweat. After letting it cool, I pour the stock into various size containers. 1 cup, 2 cups, 4 cups, etc. Into the freezer it goes, and I am left with a fantastic feeling of accomplishment. The moral of this story: Save the CARCASS!!!!!!!

And last of all, here's a bonus picture for you:

I think that pretty much says it all. Have a wonderful weekend, folks!