Saturday, August 10, 2013

Slow Low Country Boil

This was my first post to Instagram Friday night. I know, I know, not too long ago I was just on this very blog proclaiming to boycott the (not so) newest social media trend. Then... I caved.

I will quickly be one to laugh at the Key Clubbers when they take pics of their food at convention or on other adventures. It's as if "they's not use to such fancy eatin' ." So, it's a little ironic that I post a meal pic. However, I told Jason that I was documenting the dinner meal I cooked so if he were to so foolishly suggest that I never cook, I could produce evidence otherwise. Of course, we are near approaching a week since the displayed meal and I have yet to crack an egg since then.

The cheddar biscuits are from a Red Lobster box mix. The recipes for Slow Low Country Boil and Coca-Cola Cake (a Cracker Barrel knock-off recipe) are posted below.

Slow Low Country Boil (a crockpot meal)


4 quarts cold water
1/4 cup Old Bay or other spicy seasoning
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
4 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
1 head garlic, halved
2 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
4 ears corn, shucked, each cut into 4 pieces
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1 1/2-inch slices
2 pounds medium shrimp, in the shell, deveined

(halved lemons for garnish, optional)


In a slow cooker combine the water, Old Bay seasoning, salt, celery, onion, garlic and potatoes and cook on low heat until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 4-6 hours.

Add the corn and sausage to the crock pot and simmer until the corn is tender, 1-2 more hours.

Add the shrimp and simmer until opaque, 20 to 30 minutes more. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Serve immediately.


This made a massive amount of food! Our family of 3.5 hearty eaters got two full meals from it! Also, we have a pretty large crockpot, which could only hold 4 quarts of water. So, following each step I have to remove a few cups of water to fit more food in the pot, and it all worked out deliciously fine. The pic may make the meal appear a bit bland, but after swimming in an Old Bay broth for two hours (there is no substitute for this Eastern Shore girl!), all the contents were very flavorful (and cooked just right using the low end of all the time estimates provided). Happy Eats!

Recipe found at cdkitchen.

Friday, August 9, 2013

40 months

Dear Benjamin,

We have had a rather relaxed summer. In the past month, we have taken a trip to the zoo, the playground, your first movie, Busch Gardens and Water Country. You have still gone to pre-school two days a week at Gingerbread House. You love it there and I think your first "Ginger Momma," Miss Patty, is still your favorite. You are just getting to the age that you will tell me about your day, unprompted, when I pick you up. Last week you told me that you "made" a beach and the ocean was blue.

You have lots of friends at Gingerbread House and recently you went a birthday party for Addie. It was at the gymnastics studio in Windsor. Daddy took you to the party and was quite proud that, unlike the other young party goers, you would leave your cluster of friends often to come to tell him what you were doing.

It is still rare that you will wake up in the bed that you were put to sleep in at night. Usually around 2 a.m., although it often could be earlier or later, you will wander out of your room and look for Dad or me. For now, we have compromised by making you a small nest of blankets on the floor by our bed to house your nightly wandering.

You have grown just enough to reach Expert level at Counter Surfing. We have to "Benjamin-Proof" the house now by keeping the bananas and fruit gummies on top of the fridge and making sure the pantry door (with its child-proof door handle) is closed tightly at night. You have enjoyed the abundance of blueberries at your easy reach over the past couple of days, but bananas and "macaroni and cheeeese" would still have to be your favorites (other than anything on our plates.)

Dora doesn't quite hold your undivided attention as she once did. I would venture to guess that "Bubble Guppies" and "Team Umi Zoomi" are your favorite shows right now, both of which drive me bonkers. Dad says I do not like "Team Umi Zoomi" because it is about Math. He may be partly right. You, on the hand, are quite the Math Whiz. You can just about count to 20 perfectly. You can count backwards from 10 easily, and to 5 in Spanish (Thanks Dora!). You can even tell me how many objects are in a grouping.

We were also very surprised that when you were playing with your Magna Doodle the other night, you drew a face with eyes, a mouth, and hair. When I asked you what that was, you said "That's Benjamin McHenry." Your first self-portrait! This really shouldn't be such a surprise to us since you  have already mastered the "Selfie" on my i-phone. You have no problem even flipping the camera to take pictures of yourself versus others. You also love playing with the flashlight on the phone, using it to play doctor and check our eyes and teeth. Most funny is your new game of shadow monsters, played by shining the light on the wall behind our heads as your "Monster" hand shadows attack our silhouette.

You surprise us everyday and we find ourselves asking over and over, "How does he know that?" One thing that you can't quite grasp yet is the idea of "going home" versus "leaving." I guess it's because you see all your friends "go home" from the Gingerbread House. However, whenever we leave the house to go somewhere you ask "Are you going home?" Cameron has been volunteering with the Summer Reading Program at the library. So, on most Tuesdays, he's gone all day. Because of this, you think "the library" is very far away and it must take a long time to get there." So, occasionally as we are leaving the house to run an errand you will warn us, "Don't go to the library! It's too far away." (Actually, it's barely a mile from the house.)

Unfortunately (or not?), you do however, have quite a grasp of "bad" words. I guess this must be from school too. Any time we say a "bad word," even passively in conversation to one another, you will quickly retort "Don't say that!"

The other funny thing you will do is ask "Alright?" whenever not immediately responded to. Then, if needed, you will further prompt with "Say alright." And when finally, we give in and say alright, you will respond "Okay?" And await that second confirmation from us.

Your imagination is always at work. You have set up chairs in the library filled with "animal" friends to watch a puppet show. You have also come to show me many times the "volcano" exploding from the top of your head. You also like to "cook" us imaginary foods, special ordered to what you think we want, such as cupcakes with ketchup...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dwindling Summer

Next week is supposed to be my last full week of Summer Break before returning to kick off the school year with two weeks of in-services and planning before the kiddos arrive. I had already decided to try (if rooms were available) to go in next Thursday & Friday (the week before our scheduled return to get a head start). Earlier this week... I was asked if I would come in to work with a committee to help plan Student Activities. Of course, I said yes because I love our students (and their activities). Shortly thereafter... I received a letter from the boss asking me to be a mentor to our new English department teacher. This will be my first time "officially" acting in a mentorship capacity, although I have always (well, most always) tried to take new teachers under my wing to encourage & collaborate. Then... having stopped in to use the office fax machine the other morning while picking up Cameron from Cross Country, I was given an "invitation" to the School Board Meeting on Monday night to celebrate the Key Club's achievements at International Convention this summer. Well, my eagerness to do that should not need explaining. And thus... school is starting back a whole week earlier than planned.
While I am excited to get this new school year kicked off, I have tried making the most of my few days of Summer Break. On Monday, the boys and I went to Water Country.

The weather was nice, if not a bit too cool, especially for Benjamin who spent a great deal of time transitioning between attractions bundled in towels. I often refer to the tot as "fearless" and the water park proved to be no obstacle to our resident Super Buddy. If unattended for just a moment, he was racing off to the next big slide or pool.

The first few times he went down a slide, he was none too happy, yet he kept wandering back. Once he figured to actually close his eyes before he emerged, twirling knee over elbow, in the rushing waters he was fine. It didn't take long for him to be bored by the kiddie slides and race off to those more suitable for school-aged children.

When approaching the bundle of slides at Rock & Roll Island, he informed me that he was going to ride the red one. When I explained that no he wasn't, he replied "Why? Am I crazy?" Then, he tried to get Cameron to sneak him off to the big (BIG) slide anyway. Thankfully when Cameron told him that he was not allowed to wear his life jacket going down it, he replied, "Oh, I can't do that."

In addition to all the splash parks and cruising on a raft in the lazy river, we also went on Hubba Hubba Highway and in the wave pool. Benjamin kinda shocked me with how brave he was. As long as he was holding on to a finger (and in his life jacket), he was bobbing right along. In the deeper waters of the wave pool I commented what a good swimmer he was and he replied, "I know. Look at my tail. I'm a mermaid."

After hemming and hawing, going back & forth, wrenched with indecision, I threw the boys in the car Wednesday (or gave them 20 minutes to get completely ready, packed, and out the door... same difference) and headed to Busch Gardens. We have Season Passes to both Water Country and Busch Gardens and I am pretty irked at myself for not using them more this summer... or at all, other than 1 pre-summer trip to BG.

We rode trains, flew planes, swung swings, played in Dinosaur Land and Elmo's World. We rode the merry-go-round and Benjamin was big enough to lay down on the parasail this year. He certainly wasn't all smiles and giggles this trip though. We wanted to get him measured and an arm band to know if there were any new rides he could go on. Well, you might think he would want to have surgery again rather than have his height measured by the fuss he was making. And, roller coasters... which were his favorite part just two months ago, scare him now.

We did make it late into the night though, aided by Wolf, which Cameron won playing a soccer game, and turtles. I took Benjamin into one of the overpriced touristy stores to pass away time while we waiting for the final show to start. There was a tub of small plastic animals and you could fill a little plastic briefcase with them for a souvenir. This distracted us for a great while. Surprisingly, Benjamin wanted no animal other than turtles, 12 pairs of them. This was very odd indeed having seen no particular affection towards the hard-shelled friend before.

Benjamin enjoyed the rock & dance mini-concert that ended the night, followed by fireworks, which he watched perched from Cameron's shoulders. When I awoke him, sleepy, after arriving home and asked what his favorite part was he said, "I have two- the music and the fireworks."

I had a couple of serendipitous events on both days out of town. At both Water Country and Busch Gardens, the "Preferred Parking" was open to the general crowd and we got (for free) the kind of front row parking you usually have to pay $20 for. I also stopped at a different thrift store during each road trip and found some good books- for my classroom library and for myself.

Not so fortunate was the drive home Monday. We pulled up to the ferry just as it arrived at the opposite dock. Waited 30 minutes for it to board there. Waiting another 30 minutes for it to depart from our dock, so the ride home took near three hours! Thus upon leaving the park yesterday, I decided to take the "city" way back home, which can be confusing and thus I usually avoid it at late night. However, the trip home was less than half the previous unplanned journey. THEN!!! Today Jason heard on the news that there was an accident on the ferry last night, with the barge pulling away while people were boarding, causing a car to actually go into the river! So, I guess it would have to be serendipitous too that we didn't venture that way last night.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Treasure Hunt

I'm the Map. I'm the Map. I'm the mappppppppp!

If you are Mom (or Dad) to a fan of the Latino Goddess of Toddlers, better known as Dora (Dora, Dora, the Explorer!), you totally read that opening "in character," didn't you?

Today, I went yard saling for the first time this season. I wish I had the chance to have gone more, but between budgets and schedules, it just didn't happen. So, I was determined to make the most of this first Treasure Hunt of the year.

I don't go to local yard sales. It's not that I am too much of a snob or embarrassed to be seen by neighbors and such. It's just that I live in such a small and rural community that stopping by becomes a chat... punctuated by a guilt-induced purchase because I don't want to walk way empty-handed. It's also a numbers game. There may be 5 yard sales around here on any given in-season weekend, whereas if I drive into a neighboring city there could be over 50. Lastly, the few times I have stopped at a local yard sale, the goods just don't compare overall to the finds elsewhere. More crap, less treasure.

For the past few years, the routine for Saturday morning sales, has been to print the online listings and pack the GPS. I would rank the listings to those I was most interested in and plug the address into the GPS, from one location to the next, stopping at any random drive-bys displaying wares on their front lawn. In a city the size of Virginia Beach, heavily populated, small area, I could easily hit 30+ yard sales on any given Saturday morning.

For today, I came up with an even better method to maximize the number of yard sales we could visit within a typical four hour window. (There must be a mathematical equation for that.) Last night, on Google Maps, I plugged in the addresses of all the sales and saved each to a map. Then, I was able to look at the overall area and plot the best route from one end of the city to the other. This cut out on a lot of the circling back or driving completely across town between stops with the previous method. I then cut & pasted the listings in that order. So while I drove out of town Cameron (trip hostage) plugged all the addresses into the GPS, and we had a Treasure Map to follow.

It honestly wasn't time consuming. I did all the computer navigating last night while passively watching a movie. And at the risk of sounding like a Yard Sale snob, an added benefit was that most addresses popped up with a little window showing you the picture of the house and you could decide if it looked like a good find, or possibly not. I didn't bother with that added step last night but I will next time. We found ourselves in a couple of shady neighborhoods today, where I wasn't getting out the car, let less permissibly trespassing into someone's yard.

We came home with an adequate bounty from the hunt. I collected an entire wardrobe's worth of clothes for Benjamin in his next size up. Little ones outgrow clothes so quickly I am happy to stockpile at 50 cents a piece, knowing most will be ready to sell off come next year. I picked up a few crafty odds & ends, several books, a few kitchen items, and, of course, some toys- among which were a big tub of Little Tikes waffle blocks, a puppet theatre, and a horse on a stick that Cameron was far more enthused about than Benjamin ever could be.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm A Gust.

I thought I needed a new bathing suit. Thus, I have put off trips to the beach and water park all summer. I cannot even remember when I bought my previous bathing suit. It had to be well over ten years ago. Unfortunately areas of the bathing suit had worn too thin and became transparent, as  a mother (of a probably traumatized toddler) told me at the water park one day on vacation. As I went back to the locker room and check the back view... I'm pretty sure that level of exposure could be a criminal offense.

A year, maybe two, ago I saw bathing suit on the clearance rack at the sporting goods store and grabbed it. My Speedo. It's meant for functionality, not comfort... and there is no comfort to its function.

So, I needed a new suit this year. Buying a bathing suit is the Dante's level of Hell equivalent to dental work involving large drills, to me. So I put it off. And put it off. And... put it off. Until my only options were ordering on-line and spending about $100. I just couldn't bring myself to spend that kind of money. So, I put it off. And put it off. And... put it off.

Well, here it is A_gust (don't want to fully admit to the nearness of my return to school date), and I just knew I needed to get to the beach. If I make it to the beach at least three times, that's a good summer. Even though I don't go to the beach nearly as much as many folks I know around here, I have always felt the need to live no more than an hour away from the beach. It's like some kind of geographical claustrophobia. I could never survive in a landlocked state. I need to know that at any point in time I can hop in my car and drive a convenient distance to see the ocean.

Alas, yesterday, I wrestled myself into my Speedo and Cameron and I headed to the beach. I like taking Benjamin to the beach. He is as enamored by it as I am but I wanted a long, relaxing pseudo-vacation day in the sand, so we left him home for this late-season inaugural trip.

Most folks in this town, and the surrounding few, head to The Outer Banks, North Carolina, for their beach escape... but that's just too droll and abandoned for me. It's like a setting for a Nicholas Sparks movie. I love the tourist traps! I like anonymity in a crowd, being the oxymoronic people watcher that I am.

We are at the height of tourist season and the coast was packed! The waves were calm. It was an overcast day with a mild breeze. The kind of day that makes you underestimate the sun's rays as your skin fries. Grrr! Frustrated. Apparently umbrellas do not offer UV protection. Still, it was a peaceful day. I brought three books to be sure that I had good reading material. After tossing the first choice one chapter in, I became enthralled with Lisa Scottline's,  Save Me. I did not find the last of her books I read that appealing so this was a good surprise. It was a real page turner. I finished half the novel.

Mainly, I just allowed myself to be... present. This is a task that I need to work toward constantly. Tucked in my beach bag was a notebook and pen (and backup pen) so I could make a To Do list, sketch out a Key Club summer newsletter, and start planning menus for August... excuse me, A_gust. Thankfully, I was so swept up in this book that I never even opened the Ziploc bags containing those tools of self-imposed micro-managing.

Instead, I took deep breaths, inhaling the ocean air into my lungs until I could taste its salt lingering on my lips. I thought about the vastness of the ocean. I watched the Naval jets roar overhead and disappear into the far-off clouds. I allowed myself to just... be present... for six nearly uninterrupted hours shared just between a good book and my thoughts.