Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Announcement from Ward Vogt Designs. Reposted with permission.

Photography exhibit, Saltwater & Sand, will be held this Friday,
September 2 at 7 p.m.  Photo courtesy Tiffany Palisi.

Hello all,

We hope that you all are doing okay. In the wake of Hurricane Irene, many of our close friends do not have power, have been flooded in, and have had damage done to their homes. Our hearts go out to you.

We visited the center of downtown Denville briefly today, and wanted to let you know what's going on. Saying that the town has been devastated is an understatement. Many businesses lost most, if not all, of their inventory. Floors and walls have been destroyed, windows have been shattered from the wind. The clean up process will be a long one, and some business owners (whose damage is insurmountable) may be closing their doors. The destruction is overwhelming. The town needs our support, both morally and economically, as business and home owners go through the process of repairing and rebuilding.

There is, however, some good news. The Denville Diner, United Smoke Shop, Denville Nails, Shoe and Sneaker Barn, Gerald's Pharmacy, and California Beach Hut are open for business. Subway, Smartworld Coffee, Denville Pizzeria, and the Hair House also are open. Please visit these establishments as often as possible.The Gallery at River's Edge (in the Let's Create Art Studio)is, surprisingly, unscathed. The river water rose high in the back, but none of the water, on any sides, got into the studio. We will be opening our Saltwater & Sand show this Friday, Sept 2 at 7 p.m. for all who wish to join us. We will have beer and music, and we hope that this will offer a bit of hope for those who are currently enduring hardship.

The Gallery at River's Edge is located in the Let's Create Art Studio.
This photo was taken earlier today by Ward Vogt. It's hopeful.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Helping Our Local (Waterlogged) Businesses (by shopping)

I am nestled quietly in my bed, my Mac is plugged into the wall, charging as I type. The television is on in the background, and my fan is whirring loudly. I have power. Thankfully, I have power. While I do have to take my Adirondack chairs back outside from  the shed, and my few hanging plants, I had little personal distress as a result of the storm. There's a tree limb hanging on the net of my son's trampoline, but otherwise, I have no damage. There isn't any water in the basement, thanks to a French drain and a sump pump, my loved ones are okay, and our refrigerator only suffered 5 minutes without power.

W's house, too, is unscathed. No flooding, no damage, no loss of power. We both feel very blessed. All of our family members are fine. One had a tree crack in half and just miss hitting her house. It hit a power cord, and she lost power temporarily, but is otherwise okay. Another has a stream running through his backyard that wasn't there (well, the stream was there, but it went from being a little one to one that's taken over the lush, grassy backyard). Mostly, though, we are all in good shape.

Others weren't so lucky. Trees are down, and half of my town (and W's) is without power. Some towns won't have power for another week. The center of downtown Denville is under water, and nearly every business in town is privately owned. We spent lots of time in so many of these shops and restaurants, and have gotten to know the owners well. I cannot imagine what they must be feeling right now.

When Broadway opens back up (it's still closed, along with most of the roads going into downtown Denville, including Route 46), I urge you all to go visit the places you shop and dine at, and offer your moral support, if nothing else. When these shops are back in business, shop and dine there often. (I especially love The Second Half on Main, Denville Diner, and Sergio's.) Don't shop at the mall, or buy mass produced things online. Shop locally. Our businesses need you! Besides restaurants and shops, there are hair and nail salons, places to exercise, laundromats, a health/natural food store, hardware stores. There's a yoga studio, a place to paint ceramics, a photography studio, shoe stores.

Boonton is another great neighboring town, and it's dry! For those who don't have power, dining out in Boonton is a great option. Get your coffee at Bobby's or Heavenly Temptations. Eat out. Try Chili Willie's for Mexican Food, or Roma Pizzeria and Restaurant for an Italian food. There are excellent soups and salads (desserts, too) at Heavenly Temptations. Go shopping for clothes at Lotus Boutique. Visit all the cute shops you may have never been to like Savannah Hope Vintage, Papyrus Home Design, and Moody Blooms (a new flower shop that also has plants and home goods). For fun, you can get a tattoo at Electric Lotus Tattoo & Piercing, or go see an old movie at the Darress Theatre. Have a beer at the Boonton Avenue Grill or Johnnie's Tavern. There's so much to do. They even have a farmer's market on the weekend.

In this tough economy, I know that it's sometimes easier to spend a little less for something mass produced in China. However, getting something of quality from a shop that is independently owned will help our economy, our towns, and will feel good. As someone once told me to do, vote with your dollars. Or better yet, Put your money where your mouth heart is.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And Now That She's Gone...

Update at 7:11 p.m.: My blog was incorrect. Though my home is personally okay, W went to take photos of Denville and all of Broadway is completely underwater. They are estimating about 2' of water. Denville is like my home. All the independent shops and restaurants have so much to repair. I am concerned for all and I am so sorry for their devastation. W will be posting his photos soon. He couldn't get near town because the water is so high. Instead, he stood with people from town and shop owners, at the closest point they could get, mouths agape at the extensive damage. HOW CAN WE HELP? Check his facebook page -- Ward Vogt Designs -- for photos soon. 

After a highly anticipated hurricane that caused me to fill my bathtub with water, filter enough drinking water into glass bottles for a week, stock up on flashlights, buy shelf stable milk, coffee, everything, Hurricane Irene has passed without doing much damage here.

I am sensitive to the fact that many of my neighbors have no power, and trees have fallen on their properties. Many have been displaced due to heavy flooding, as well, and getting out of W's community took quite a while. Most of his surrounding area is flooded (though his street was fine), and getting out was only possible by way of one route. It took us 30 minutes to get to my house, instead of the usual 10.

It could have been worse. I imagined objects flying through the windows, and roof tiles ripping off. I over prepared, which isn't so bad. At least now, I know that I am good on flashlights and powdered milk, and I can drink the water I bottled over the next week.

W and I woke up to some rain and wind, went back to sleep, and when we woke for the second time, it was sunny. The wind has since picked up, and a giant tree limb landed on my trampoline. I think that today's wind is far more dangerous than yesterday's hurricane (that was downgraded to a tropical storm, and later almost downgraded to a tropical depression).

How did you weather the storm? I am curious to hear your stories.

Here are some photos that I took with my cell phone. Definitely not as bad as it could have been. Thank you, Mother Nature, for sparing us.

Morris Avenue into Cedar Lake. Closed.

Rockaway Valley closed.
A tree falls in Mountain Lakes (actually, it's one of many).

Ouch. Our trampoline net is stressed!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Super Easy Ways to Prepare for Hurricane Irene (but to do today)

I spoke to a friend today, who lives in South Carolina. She gave me some tips, and I want to share them with you. Please prepare, and if the storm passes us by, we can all have a laugh tomorrow.

Hurricanes are windy and wet, and can cause flooding, the uprooting of trees, and power lines to go down. Stay off the road during the storm, and if you have a garage, park your car inside. If not, park away from any big trees (if possible). If your garage door is electric, keep it open. Otherwise, with the power out, you won't be able to open your garage.

Move EVERYTHING off of your lawn unless it's much to heavy to move (if you can't budge it, the wind probably won't be able to either). Kids toys, flags, wind chimes, sports nets, free-standing potted plants, shovels, lawn ornaments, decor on the house that isn't bolted down, you name it. These can blow into windows and break them. If you aren't worried about yourself, at least be kind to your neighbors and put all those things away so that they don't break their windows or rip apart their lawns. 

Do not open your refrigerator if the power goes out, unless you absolutely need food inside. Opening and closing lets the cold air out. Freeze some milk, or buy powdered milk for cereal and eating.

Have food on hand that doesn't require refrigeration. Nuts, peanut butter, bread, and fresh fruit don't require refrigeration. Nutrition bars are good, protein shakes in cans, single box juices are all good options. Of course, cereal and granola are good, too, and you can use powdered milk with them, if the power goes out.

Make sure you have lots of water ready. Not just for drinking, but if your toilet won't flush, you can manually flush it by pouring water into the bowl. Fill empty jugs in the house with drinkable water, then fill all your pots, big bowls, and bathtub with water that can be scooped to force a flush, brush your teeth, etc.
Run your dishwasher NOW so that if the power goes out, you will have clean plates, glasses, and eating utensils.
If you have a fireplace, bring firewood inside or get some logs at the store. They provide light and warmth. Remember, you can also use your grill to make dinner, so keep some hot dogs and hamburgers in the fridge or freezer (if the power goes out, your food will last longer in the freezer). Marshmallows can be toasted for dessert. Keep dry wood somewhere for outdoors, as well, if you have a fire pit. Once the storm passes, lighting a fire might be enjoyable.
Keep your cell phone fully charged, your computer, your iPod, whatever. You can get updates on the news and make phone calls that way, even if the power goes out.
Keep candles and flashlights handy.
During the storm, stay away from the windows, and try to remain on the first floor. This way, if a tree does hit the house, it's less likely to land on you. :)
Most importantly, try not to worry, but instead enjoy hunkering down and staying inside.

Hurricane Irene vs. Christmas Card Preparation

While most of us on the East Coast are busy stockpiling water and flashlights, some choose to focus their time on positive productivity. Instead of thinking about the impending approach of Hurricane Irene, my friend KT is thinking ahead to holiday cards. Ah, she isn't alone (and it's another reason to love her). She mentioned to me that she ordered her holiday stamps, and I decided to copy her.

When I looked on the USPS website, I only saw last year's stamps. Hmmm... would I use last year's stamps again?

I did a little research, and the new 2011 stamps first day of issue is October 13th. There is the Holiday Baubles stamps and the Madonna of the Candelabra.

2011 Holiday Baubles stamps

The thing is, our family Christmas cards this year are very woodsy. We took our holiday photo at the Grand Cascades Lodge, a giant woodland resort nestled in the woods in Sussex County. The design of the cards embrace that feeling. I've even ordered holly stickers to seal my cards closed.

Available at Nolan3863 on etsy 
It makes sense, then, that I would use the pine cone stamps from last year on my cards. They match perfectly! So I am sticking with the 2010 stamps, and I am very excited about it.

We are literally sending out half as many cards as we did last year. We've decided only to send to friends and family who we know will be excited to get the cards and appreciate them. I keep all that people send me in a Christmas card scrapbook. It sits out all year for people to see. I love noticing how people have changed through the years.

And with this, here's a final reminder. If you want to have hand-knit stockings for your family from Nana's Knits, like the ones I had made last year, order now. Here's the blog post about our stockings.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aloha from Hawaii!

My friend went to Hawaii and all I got was this lousy t-shirt! Not this time.

W's ex-wife and her fiance spent ten days in Hawaii this summer. Though it was a very long amount of travel time getting back to New Jersey, they packed up gifts and lugged them home. I thought that this was so sweet that I wanted to share what they got me. It's feels nice that W and I have good relationships with our exes and their spouses, and these gifts just warm the heart. They aren't just gifts; they are thoughtful gifts. I cannot stand a morning without good coffee, and my current addiction is mermaids. That's why these gifts are just perfect.

K, I'm drinking the coffee as I type this, and boy is it good. Any chance you can go back and get me some more? :)

Kauai Coffee straight from Hawaii. Yum.
Wooden, painted mermaid. When I asked K if she knew I loved mermaids,
she said, "No, but I liked it so I knew you would, too." We literally choose the same
furniture from Savannah Hope Vintage, pick up things that the other may have just
seen at a tag sale, and have found ourselves in the same sweatshirts more than once. Too funny.

Mermaid's wall placement, above a photo of W, the kids and me at the beach.
She certainly needed to be near water.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

As Summer Ends (memories, souvenirs and celebrations)

Summer, the actual season, doesn't end until mid-September, but no matter how you look at it, back-to-school time signifies the end of summer. Even if you don't have kids, this seems to be the case. Just last night, while W and I were having dinner at our favorite local pub, The Second Half, we got to talking to the owner about summer's end. He mentioned that, regardless of the nice weather that may carry deep into September (and the gorgeous patio they have for their diners to enjoy), the dining vibe changes when kids go back to school. Routines change, people get busy, sports begin practice and those long, lazy meals become more rushed.

Our summer was packed with short trips all over the place. We went to Rhode Island, and spent days at my cousin Ginny's beach house at Point Judith, then travelled through Jamestown and Bristol, and ended our stay in Providence, where we experienced Waterfire.  We took the kids to Long Beach Island, and then the Grand Cascades Lodge. Our kids also went on their own adventures, mine to California, his to Vermont and Cape May. It was busy, but also quite relaxing. In each spot, I got us an ornament as a keepsake, with the exception of Grand Cascades (they didn't sell them). We took our family Christmas photo there, so I am using it to make ornaments from that adventure.

In Long Beach Island, we took our friend Mandy's advice and stayed at the Spray Beach Inn (thanks Mandy!) Our room had a view of the ocean, and the moonlight shining on the water in the evening was breathtaking. Falling asleep to a view of the moon over the ocean is a remarkable thing. At the Inn's restaurant, there was a singer who sounded so much like Frank Sinatra that we almost wanted to check and see if he wasn't lip syncing to a CD. At one point, he came to the table with his mic and asked if we were Sinatra fans. All five of us (me, W, and the kids) replied a hearty "Yes" and then he put the mic in W's face and asked him one of his favorite Sinatra songs. <crickets> None of us remembered the names of any except New York, New York and My Way. It was pretty funny, though I did feel a bit dumb. (Had he asked my favorite Peggy Lee song, we'd have been in business!) Mol and Johnny each ordered a Maine Lobster, which is a sophisticated move for nine and ten year olds. Apparently, it was enjoyable.  Johnny ate every bit, even sucking out meat from the claws. Glorious, garlic buttered sea bugs -- the kids have good taste.

We got rained on at Fantasy Island, a carnival that is permanently housed at LBI, so we went inside to seek shelter (and some fun for the kids) in the arcade. We took pictures in a photo booth, then cashed our dollars in for quarters so that the kids could play games. After losing about $20 in quarters trying to win an Angry Birds stuffed animal for W, I found that the rain had stopped, so we went outside to check out the rides and get the kids some ice cream. During that time, we happened upon a reptile show, and got to see a live cobra, a small alligator, and a 15 lb. albino python (yellow, and aptly named banana).

We spent time in the ocean, and I can personally say that I was surprised that the kids weren't afraid to go into the water, especially since they were introduced to both Jaws (twice) and Shark Week this summer. We also toured the Barnegat Lighthouse, and though I am somewhat afraid of heights, the view from the top was so marvelous, I could have stayed all day (not to mention that I was dreading the walk back down the spiral staircase). After, we had lunch at a place our friend Kathy suggested, called Kelly's. It was our last meal before leaving the island (and after hoofing it to the top of Old Barney), and sitting in the salty looking place was as summery as it gets.

A photo of our framed photo on the wall, taken in LBI. The real photo is gorgeous and clear.
My version here is muffed up between the glass's glare and my shoddy cell camera.

A few days later we went to my new favorite hotel, ever. The Grand Cascades Lodge. My God, we had a blast. They have a biosphere filled with tropical plants and surrounded by a glass ceiling and walls. It has a jacuzzi, a steam room, and a huge pool with a giant slide that we all vigorously enjoyed. There is a snack bar that serves fresh lemonade, water, snacks and alcoholic beverages. The grounds are in the woods, and the rooms and their views are incredible. We had a full kitchen in our suite, so I chose to make breakfast every day (eggs, applewood smoked bacon, Taylor ham, and pancakes), and just eat lunch and dinner out. The restaurants on the premises were beautiful, and everyone that worked there went far beyond the call of duty to make our stay amazing.

A quick view of the biosphere, taken with my Crapberry cell.

Outside the biosphere, here's one of the outdoor pools. There was another pool that had a
whirlpool in it (not pictured), and was also beautiful, but this was our favorite.

At night, we played glow-in-the-dark mini golf, and went to the marshmallow roast (my favorite outdoor event ever s'mores.

Johnny with his roasted marshmallow.
We had such a great summer together. We spent lots of time bonding with the kids, creating memories that we will treasure for a lifetime. There are moments that were so touching, and others that were absolutely hilarious. I have to remember to write them down somewhere private (W, I smell a summer photo album with words in the works...) Our time together -- both W and I alone, and the time we got to spend with our kids, as a family -- was something I had always hoped for but never imagined actually happening or being this fantastic.

Our last hurrah for summer will be this weekend. I am curating a group photography show called Saltwater and Sand, one that has beachy photography from the work of six photographers. W is in the show, and some photos from our travels this summer (including Rhode Island and LBI) will be included. It will be the perfect end to a perfect summer.

Life After Divorce

I am divorced. In fact, I've been divorced for so long that I don't identify as Divorced, so much as I identify as In A Relationship. I've been with W for so long though, that it's like we're married.

It wasn't always this way. I remember a time when my divorce was fresh. I don't remember the details of my divorce, really, but I do vividly remember the reaction that I got from others during and immediately following my divorce. What's reminded me about the responses that I got, and what has me writing about it tonight, is that so many people I know are getting divorced right now. I wanted them to know that they are not alone, that they will get through it, and have a life following their divorce.

While I won't get into the private details of my split, I will say that my husband and I separated when my son was about 3 years old. There wasn't anything horrible that caused it; the marriage just sort of crumbled. Today, my ex is married to a woman who is perfect for him, and wonderful to my son. She was made for him. Our divorce, ultimately, benefited him. It is the same for me. W and I got together shortly after our divorces, and after many years together, my son now has two sisters and I have found my soul mate.

Having said that, even the best divorces aren't easy. Friends feel that they have to choose sides (they don't) and the dividing spouses wonder who gets who in the divorce. There is property, usually, to split up, sell, or do something with. If their are children, there are custody issues to deal with, where the kids go, with who, and when.

When there is a horrible incident that caused the divorce, like cheating, or when one person wants out and the other doesn't, the pain of the divorce is much greater. Healing that pain, and dealing with all of the other basic things that life requires, can feel nearly insurmountable. I assure you, it's not. I've seen friends go through the most dreadful of circumstances and come out the other side much stronger.

I was divorced before my son was in preschool, and meeting people as a divorced mother of a four year old wasn't easy. People judged me and made comments, both to my face and behind my back. It surprised me, since divorce has become so common. But to the marrieds around me, it was like my divorce was contagious. I can tell you that I specifically remember being out with four couples one night. I was newly dating W, and they began asking us when we'd get married, talking about how great their marriages were, and how they'd never get divorced. Yuck, divorce! No way. I'd never do it! Not even if I hated my husband. Literally all four couples are now divorced. (I cannot get into detail, as I wish to protect these friends' identities, but each story is as unexpectedly disruptive as the next.) Hearing of each of their splits surprised me. Ironically, they didn't surprise W. Regardless, nobody wants to see a marriage end.

I have learned a lot in these past years. I have learned that commitment and love go hand in hand, and require tending. Communication is very important, as is honesty and trust. It's so important to talk through things, and to hang in when things get tough. Surviving really tough moments, celebrating special times, both together are what make for a strong relationship.

Expecting it to be like a RomCom, though, sets everyone up for failure. Each relationship is different and what works for you is just that; What works for you. When it's good, it feels safe and comforting, and when that happens, it's important to go the extra mile to make it work.

For now, to those of you going through divorce, just take it slow. Breathe. Allow the process to occur. The first year may surprise you. It takes you to this place where you just do things you'd never normally do. I know that my first year had me tripping from one bad choice to the next. Mistake after mistake. But I learned a lot (and thankfully, survived it all) and those mistakes helped me recognize a good thing when it fell into my lap. TW

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In the Mess, I Am Loving How To Live

Since returning home from Long Beach Island (aka: Hamptons 2.0) on Tuesday night, I haven't done much in the way of cleaning. I haven't unpacked or washed any clothes (and yes, it's Thursday), though I did run the dishwasher. Instead of unpacking, I chose to go back to the gym, for the first time in God knows how many months, on Tuesday night and do a little grocery shopping. Yesterday, between appointments and some time spent away from home, I emptied the souvenir bags from our trip.

I always get an ornament, every time I go away, with which to remember the trip. I usually add the year with paint marker, if one isn't already on there. I picked this idea up from my ex-husband's cousin's ex-wife Tracy, when (on a trip to Hilton Head) she told me that she did this. It was about 15 years ago, before any of us were married, or divorced. I carefully unpacked the new ornaments and put them away for safe keeping until Christmas. Next, I looked into a bag that held contents from my favorite LBI shop in Beach Haven called, How To Live.

How To Live is the store for all things beach decor. Oh, they had this great giant upright sign reading "LOBSTER" that I would have loved for my kitchen but it was about 5' high and I just couldn't imagine getting it home in the car, packed with three kids, all the luggage, W's camera equipment and fishing pole. I did get a couple of Alex and Ani bracelets, the kids got some sea glass, and as I was browsing I saw this shark. He was sitting near the register holding something (I cannot remember what) in his mouth. He is perfect for my house for many reasons. First, I love sharks. Second, the house has lots of marine types of decor. A whale hanging from my ceiling, a mermaid in the family room. Photos of the water, taken by Ward Vogt. He just took a great one, of the beach (it's amazing), that he is making into LBI note cards, and that will also be featured in the photography show, Saltwater & Sand at The Gallery at River's Edge next weekend. The cards, and some smaller prints, will be on sale in select stores in LBI for Chowderfest and the holiday season (I will blog about them, along with the stores, in mid-September). The image is not on his facebook page or website yet. He is saving it for preview at the opening.

My shark, from How To Live in Beach Haven. He perfectly matches my granite and my decor.
Side view. Awesome.

While I was there, I also got this hanging wire basket.  I think that I will put a candle in it, but I am not sure. Maybe shells would be a better idea. Do you have any suggestions?

For candles? Shells? You tell me.
Last year, I found this store while waiting on a long line to get into Uncle Willie's Pancake House for breakfast. It's just a few doors down, and the exterior of the shop as inviting as what they have inside. Not only do they have beach decor, and wooden painted signs that have cute beachy sayings painted on them, but they have vintage items (my favorite). Last year, I got vintage corn shaped salt and pepper shakers (I collect them) and a vintage glass orange juice carafe. They have the cutest things.

If you are in LBI, check out How To Live. It's at 7 South Bay Avenue in Beach Haven.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Family Time at the Beach, and Women Who Just Don't Know How to Behave

I am just home from Long Beach Island, and I am tired. I need to unpack and wash clothes before we pack back up for another planned vacation. But I have a story to tell that's just too funny to forget.

We stayed at a place that my friend Mandy had suggested, and it was amazing. One side is on the beach, the other (the street side) has a pool and jacuzzi. Before checking in, we went to the beach, so the kids were feeling very itchy from all the sand that was trapped in their suits. By the time we'd arrived at the hotel, the kids wanted to jump in the pool to rid their bodies of sand. I went with them, while W got our stuff out of the car and into our room (incredibly sweet of you, W).

We are not in the pool five minutes when the kids decide they want me in the jacuzzi. It was about 85* and I just wasn't feeling the hot jacuzzi. But they pleaded and made cute faces, and sure enough, I was in. There was one other mom in the jacuzzi, with her two daughters. She remarked that we must be crazy, she and I, for getting into the hot tub. She seemed lovely, even though she looked and sounded a bit like Janice from the show Friends.

A minute or two later, this lady from Bergen County, Lisa, and I were talking about where we grew up. Long Island, both of us. I thought it was nice that we both were raised somewhat near one another, and here we were, all grown up and chatting. And then she started talking about how she goes to this particular hotel every year, stays for a week, and that she and her daughters hawk handmade goods. She said that this year they brought feather clip-ons, earrings, headbands and more. I mistakenly mentioned that M was looking for a feather extension. She mentioned that they were all the rage. I asked if she had a store. "No," she said, "we just bring them in ziplock bags and walk around selling them to the waitresses and guests around the hotel.  "But", she added, "I am working with Zia someone or other, from the Housewives of New Jersey to design jewelry for them. Anywayt, we should bring them down to show you. Then, she began poking her daughter (about 9 years old), telling her to go up to the room and get her stuff. She said, "You have a potential customer here. You can make some money."

Um, can you say, balls?

I was trying to tell W what was going on without actually saying it (he was a bit far away). Then thunder rumbled, I grabbed the kids out of the pool, and ran to our rooms, explaining everything to W as we went along.

"Only you could have all this happen in five minutes," he said. Ugh, he's right.

The rest of our vacation was wonderful, though when I did run into her again, she attempted to start the conversation over, and pointed out the feathers that were in her hair. I quickly hustled past her, and that was the end of it.

She did, at some point, want to have dinner with us. Unbelievable. I almost lost my mind.

The point of this story is that while, at times, people look for other families to meet on vacation, and forge friendships. If this is true for you, enjoy yourself. Please realize, though, that some of us really want to spend time with our family, just our family, alone.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lovin' Landscaping

I've been itching to garden. It's odd, because I've been planting all summer so you'd think I'd be tired by now. I ripped out most of my immediate front yard landscape and replaced it with evergreens and bushes. In my backyard, I planted a bunch of ferns (though the spores are wonderfully increasing my fern garden on their own), Montauk Daisies, and Black Eyed Susans that I got in Rhode Island last month. I also planted Bee Balm, picked up at the Mountain Lakes plant sale this spring, and a few pink hydrangea.

I have a few more daisies to plant, but I am basically out of space here. Since I kinda have two homes, I get to do double the gardening. Such a treat. I began with a small garden in a spot in W's backyard, which is part shade. I planted a bunch of hostas, ivy, a hydrangea, and some small ground cover that has the most beautiful red blooms. Then, I filled the window box on the shed with coleus and hanging vines. I love it. Every time I look out the kitchen window, I see the garden. It makes me so happy, every single time I see it. Next, I started adding plants here and there around the front of his house (deer had done quiet a job on the plants that were there, so there was some room for new plants), begging him to let me plant a few things at a time, and was thrilled that he actually liked what I did. Thank you, honey.

And now, he is letting me run with it. Thank you again, honey.

I started with the Juniper shrubs, that will grow up to about 4' each. They are currently so small, though, that I needed something more. I wanted something that could tolerate a lot of sun, were fairly drought tolerant, and would blend well with the juniper. First, I got a some lavender - the colors are perfect and it smells so nice. Then, I got some ornamental grasses, some hardy English Ivy, and tickweed for it's beautiful, endless yellow blooms.

Not the best photo (damn Blackberry camera) but oh, how I love this landscape.

I am so happy. This planting, done this afternoon while the kids were playing, made my whole day. I feel so accomplished, and am so happy that W likes the way it turned out. I am going to continue around the front of the yard, and I've never been more excited.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Just Because It's Summer Doesn't Mean...

Though we are in the throes of summer's endless days, preparing to take our last few family trips, and to stay outside enjoying what's left of the 8p.m. sunset -- something W and I got to do tonight at K+P's house tonight, which was such a nice surprise (thank you!) -- I find myself planning for the coming months. (Reminder for those who told me last year that they wanted custom hand-knit stockings (click here to see blog post "Oh, to Fill Those Stockings") -- order now!)

Here's why: I love celebrating the fall. While my all-time favorite season is summer, I also look forward to the time when summer meets fall, when nights are chilly but not cold, when sitting outside and lighting a fire in the fire pit is a really good thing to do. I love leaving the house in a sweater or sweatshirt and jeans, and feeling a Goldilocks jusssst right comfort. I light a fire in my fireplace nearly every night before bed. My chimney cleaning company loves me.

Currently, I am planning a party here in mid-October, and since I like everything at the party to be as custom and handmade as possible, I went to etsy to search for things to use to get the party it's perfect vibe. The party is a campfire party, with a tug-of-war, three legged race, and potato sack race. It's an all ages party, too, which is cool. I love when the kids and the adults all get to spend time together. After the races (fun prizes will be awarded), we will make s'mores by the fire, sit in a circle, and tell ghost stories.

I was thankful to quickly find invitations for the party from the Ampers & Ink etsy store. I also just went to the site to test the link and saw these awesome "Give Them S'mores" party favor bags, with which to stuff the makings for s'mores. Ordered them, too. God, I love etsy.

While I love and use evite all the time,
nothing beats a genuine paper invitation.

It's not just the party that's got me thinking about fall. I am currently writing an article on Halloween here in the Village, a part of Mountain Lakes that is shut down to traffic and welcomes upwards of 700 trick or treaters on foot. It's quite a sight. People from town donate candy in predetermined locations, which are then shared with homes in the Village. I end up with about 20 big bags of candy, all of which are gone by the 8 p.m. treaters curfew.

In past years on Halloween night, I used to make Cuban sandwiches with a sandwich press for any adult who asked for one. I also had tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwiches, also pressed. This left me endlessly working, which didn't allow me to enjoy the holiday with my son. Both my son's grandmother's came to help, and I was thankful for that. But after a few years, I cut it back to bagels for the kids and crock pot chili for the adults. This year, I'm scaling back a bit more, but in a really fun way.

While I will still have the chili for friends who stop by, I'm discontinuing a food table. However, I decided to give my son's classmates and friends little tickets ahead of time. Each ticket will be exchanged, on Halloween, for a special goody bag. The bags will have different fun things in each, rubber eyeballs, spider rings, and more. But where could I find special tickets? I didn't want generic 50/50 tickets. I went back to etsy, and look what I found? This shop, Just A Bit of Paper, made me a custom listing with enough for all of my son's friends. The minute I found them, I got excited. No one loves Halloween more than me, except maybe for my friend Francine, so this find was like hitting the jackpot.

The Halloween tickets. Don't you just love them?
The Just A Bit of Paper shopkeeper also sent me a sneak peek of a Christmas tag she's making, one that I am sure will be gracing my boxes of baked treats for family and friends.

Cute vintagey Christmas tags, also by Just A Bit of Paper

Have any great ghost stories that I can share around the campfire? If so, please share them with me. I'm looking forward to telling the one about the man with the golden arm. Just scary enough, if I tell it right, that is?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Building A House (or at least a bit of it)

I recently had W take a photo of the front of my house, so that I will always remember how it looks now, before my addition. I am excited to say that I am putting an addition on my son's room so that he will have full, straight walls, more windows, and generally more space. W is a professional photographer -- our company is Ward Vogt Designs -- and part of the business is taking photographs of homes for people who are moving, then matting and framing them so that the seller can take their first house with them (he also makes "We've Moved" cards with a photo of the new house on them, but I am getting off topic here).

This is a photo of my house before the addition. Ward popped the colors,
then he printed it for me on canvas so that I will always have a photo of my house
as it was before it goes under construction. 

This is the original photo of the house. Compare this to the above photo,
that Ward popped. This photo is nothing. The one above it is magical! Isn't he awesome?

The past few months, I've been busy trying to get an addition started. First, I made an attempt to use an architect neighbor of mine to do the drawings, but if you've been reading my blog, you know how that went down. It wasn't pretty. It was imperative that I find another architect, as soon as possible. Instead of asking around locally, I enlisted the advice of my brother, who had recently put an entire wing on his Upper Montclair home. He suggested the name of an architect, and though he's about 40 minutes away, I liked him and had him do the drawings.

I had five contractors bid on the job. One, who did a wonderful job on a friend's home and came highly recommended, came out to look at the space, took a copy of the drawings, and disappeared. It's been nearly a month and I haven't heard a word from him. I called to get the drawings back last week but still, never heard. Another contractor sent me a bid, interestingly not itemized, for $52,000, which is double what the job should be. It's been said that he bids high but $52k is ridiculous. After I laughed and asked him to return the drawings, he said he messed up and it was only supposed to be $25,000. Sure. Even if, in fact, he was telling the truth, starting off by overbidding by $25,000 is a pretty big mistake and leaves me lacking faith.

There was a really nice local guy who came in with literally 150 phone numbers for recommendations, and his bid was very low. $19,000. This low number had me wondering what he was missing, or what he would be adding on later. Still, I liked him and may have used him, but he would be away for a few weeks in August and I needed permits applied for and didn't want to wait. In addition, word on the street is that he is slow, and that his jobs can be stopped for days at a time. That won't work for me.

I did end up going with a super contractor, one who gives me confidence that the job is getting done. Gary Goldsmith walked into my house to bid on the job, on a rainy summer afternoon. Not a quick summer drizzle, but a downpour. My son was in California at the time, and I was missing him terribly and feeling down. Gary came in with a smile, looked at the drawings, then the actual room (or vice versa, I cannot really remember), and said, "This is no problem." And that was that. I loved him from the minute that he walked in the door.

We tried to apply for permits last week, but as Gary expected, we needed my survey and two sealed FARs. My architect, who had my only sealed survey, had done the measurements for the FAR, didn't think we needed them so he never sent them. And he was away on vacation with no one in his office. Luckily, my closing lawyer had a copy of my survey and she kindly faxed it to my contractor. We did what we could regarding measurements for the FAR, which didn't get us very far (no pun intended). and then on Monday, had the FAR from my architect emailed to me. I have requested that he send me two sealed copies along with my original sealed survey. Hopefully, he's gotten them out to me. We also needed surveys of the neighbors' (the nearest to my left and right) homes. I had one, from work I'd done six years ago, but the other neighbor cannot locate his survey.  Alas, I am having a survey done of my neighbor's house.

This sets the job back a week, because the town zoning officer is only in town on Monday. I am beginning to understand why any addition, small or large, can be stressful. I have full faith in my contractor, however, which relieves most of my stress. As long as the house is closed up by Halloween, I'll be happy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Salty Chocolate!

I am not a chocolate fan, per se. Give me a bag of Doritos, or a steak, a salt pretzel, anything savory or salty makes me happy.

However, while I was out hanging posters for the Saltwater & Sand opening reception, I stopped into my new local favorite, A Dash of Thyme. While there, I picked up more of those goat's milk caramels, except this time, I got vanilla caramel as opposed to chocolate. I think I prefer the vanilla, though I've only had one so far. The jury is still out, and a side by side taste test is in order. I also got a gourmet candy bar by B.T. McElrath that has toffee and sea salt in it.  (Got some "OMG chipotle sauce", as well, but won't wax poetic about it since this story is about sweet meeting savory.)

Another package of Happy Goat handmade caramels (how could I not?)
and the B.T. McElrath candy bar that will steal your heart. Both from A Dash of Thyme.
So basically, it's the best of both worlds. Goat's milk and caramel in one. Chocolate and sea salt in the other. I mean, really. Half of the B.T. McElrath bar is already gone and I seriously suggest you try one for yourself. There is just enough toffee and sea salt in it to keep you hanging on, wanting to break off just one more square. The bar has a gourmet price, and I assure you, it's worth every penny.

I am so obsessed with food; I even read about it. I am currently reading Blood, Bones, and Butter, which is the story of how a chef came to be, starting by working out of necessity (bussing tables) at the age of 13. Reading only fuels my desire to cook, and it deepens my appreciation for quality ingredients and foods.

Notice our Providence Biltmore check out slip as my bookmark.
I love using stuff to mark my pages. No formal bookmark needed.

Tonight, I met W for a bite to eat at our favorite local pub, The Second Half. I met him at the bar and there I sat, spilling out a day's worth of stories to him, while drinking a Corona Light from the bottle and eating my usual meal, two grilled chicken breasts over rice. Sitting at the bar with him, with our friends (who also happened to be there) in close proximity, I felt my body relax. It's amazing how food and good company can completely transform me into a peaceful state.

Send me your favorite food item, recipe, or shop. I am always looking for new places to try, and new edibles.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Teach A Man To Fish... (and to cook: recipes wanted)

Read to the end to enter a contest.

I am a big believer in being self-sufficient. Though most of my life I hadn't swept a floor or hammered a nail, there comes a time where doing those things aren't options, they're necessities. I've learned that most of the time, it's easier to do something yourself than to wait and have someone do it else for you. And it's never as hard as it appears to be.

Now, I don't sew; my sister-in-law Colleen sewed me pillows, my tailor hems my skirts. I'm also not great at building things from scratch. I can, however, put together "easy to assemble" furniture, drill holes with my drill, screw things into the wall, bake, paint and clean. I'm also pretty darn happy whipping up a meal for my family.

When my son was young, he used to watch the Food Network with me, and got really into Emeril Lagasse. He loved him so much that he always wanted to cook. We would make dough, beginning with a yeast packet, and from the dough, make pizza. He helped me make basic blueberry muffins on a weekly basis. Eventually, though, his desire to learn to cook waned, and his deepest kitchen desire was to have a taste of cookie dough.

Lately, though, E has gotten very interested in cooking. She has helped me make many a meal, including garlic chicken breasts with Jasmati rice. She has made garlic bread with melted mozzarella, and she's also made pasta. Learning to get water to a rolling boil, add salt and later, oil, and how to take the top off the pot without getting a steam burn is an important skill.

I've offered to start the kids a recipe box, writing down all of the recipes that they've made. This way, they can see all that they've done, refer back to the recipe cards if they forget, and learn to cook. I am hoping that E's enthusiasm will motivate M to want to cook, and bring JH back to his culinary roots.

After the most recent meal E made, she was so excited that she sat down after plating all of our food and said, "I want to learn to be a good cook so that I can cook meals for my kids and my husband." I mentioned that being able to cook is also good because it allows you to cook healthy meals for yourself, and to know every single thing that goes into the meal. Needless to say, I was thrilled at her new found desire to cook.

I am looking for new, easy recipes to teach the kids. I am thinking baked macaroni and cheese, beginning with a roux, will be fun, and maybe a meatloaf. I would love your ideas and recipes.

CONTEST: Send me your favorite recipe. The one that the kids first choose to cook will win and a prize which will be awarded to the person who submitted said recipe. All entrants must be fb fans of the fb page The Domestic Goddess Files. Mail to: The Domestic Goddess, PO Box 243, Mountain Lakes, NJ 07046

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Getting Away to Rhode Island, and A Cool Vintage Find

Every year my cousin, Ginny, and her husband, Bob, are kind enough to let W and I stay in their beach house in Point Judith, Rhode Island. It's a place that has been in her family for years, and my grandparents had visited it while they were alive. My mother visited as a child. It's got a lot of history and being there makes me feel like home. It's also become W and my summer trip, just the two of us. It's something that I look forward to all year long. (I love you, W.)

Over the years, W and I have started our own Rhode Island traditions. We stop on the way in to the local package shop, Schwabby's, to get some 'Gansetts (Narragansett beer) for our stay. We have daily breakfast at a place called Crazy Burger, our favorite food spot on the island. And somehow, every time we go for dinner at Turtle Soup, the wait is too long and so we eat at the bar. 

My egg white, spinach, goat cheese, and
serrano pepper omelet, with home fries, from Crazy Burger.

This year, our trip fell during the weekend of the Blessing of the Fleet and the 10 mile race that began the night before. Roads were closed, the town was packed, and there was a carnival at the nearby Towers. We worked our way from Point Judith up through Jamestown (oh, lovely!) and then onto Bristol, where W went to college. The town was amazing. We visited W's school, and I got to see the rooms where he spent most of his time hard at work. We even passed the house that he'd lived in. It was an honor to re-experience his college years with him all these years later.

As we drove through town, I noticed a cute vintage shop, and I had to stop in. My hope was that I would find something amazing to take home, from which I would remember the trip. The shop, Robin Jenkins Antiques, was adorable, and since it was in Bristol, it had tons of beach type things. I bought an old wooden box that says "Father John" which is perfect, since my son's name is John. I also found this banner type flag with a killer whale on it. I loved it, and I knew that if I didn't get it right then, I'd always wish I had. It matches my red Savannah Hope Vintage table so well.

The flag, hand made, with the killer whale on both sides.

Check out the detail on the whale.

The flag is stamped, "Ebenezer Flagg. Made by hand. Newport, R.I."
Our trip ended in Providence, and we got to experience Waterfire. It was very serene and beautiful, and it was a wonderful way to finish our trip. If you've never been to Rhode Island, you need to go for a visit, and if you have, well, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.