Archive for the ‘Everyone Needs Good Friends’ Category

Yep. I wrote this on the 5th and am just now getting around to posting it. I’m also just now getting around to realizing that instead of being 3 weeks behind, this is just my life – INSANITY. Acceptance is the most important step right?


I got home from Utah on Tuesday at about 7pm. That meant I came home, had some dinner, helped get the girls to bed and basically collapsed. The next day I had a lot to do – it was a school day, I had done zero prep for Sophie’s birthday on Friday and at about 1:30 in the afternoon I had 4 boys arrive at my door for a week’s stay while their parents took a much-deserved trip by themselves to Arizona to see family and attend a wedding.

I am quite positive that these are the best behaved children on the planet. Now, I realize that has something to do with not being in their own house and probably some warnings to be on best behavior from their parents but it’s not like I’ve never been around these boys and I’m telling you – they are awesome. Going from 2 kids to 6 has been more work, I’ll admit – if only for meal time preparation. But – I also have had a constant stream of “can I help?” coming at me from each of them, and that has been heartily appreciated.

I think the hardest part has been that I am really not sure what to do with 4 boys. Or any, really. The weather has been okay at times but mostly cold or rainy and cold so that means we have been housebound for the majority of the time. I do have a decent amount of craft supplies but they are mostly geared towards young girls. The boys have been troopers though and when I request we have un-plugged time have found things to do.

Like entertaining my girls:

Hanging a swing:

Setting up a sweatshop to make stencils for wallets and t-shirts, a princess dress, Minnie Mouse ears (with interchangeable bows), and underwear (that was all Enoch).

And lastly, and my personal favorite: after buying a value pack of canvases – allowing free access to my paints and brushes and saying, “create.” Six very talented artists all in one room. Pretty amazing.

From top left to right: (Sophie, Ella, Alec, Josh, Zach, and Enoch)

Perhaps I’ll post some more pictures on flickr. Now that I’ve accepted the insanity of my life I will say that they will be up sometime between now and Some Point in the Future.

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1. Attend a birthday party for the pirate-loving son of our friends Ange and Brad.

2. Host a Superbowl party for a certain family of one lady+5 gentlemen.

What? Was that not enough tasks? Do you know what it’s like to prepare for 4 hungry boys to descend on your home? Okay, it’s not that bad. Not when you have a slow-cooker and half a cow in your freezer. Still – I was a little nervous about giving due time to each, individually important, line item. And I might not have been nearly as frazzled Sunday morning if I hadn’t been set back about 4 days by that damn cold. But – I can happily say that both items were crossed off the list as completed, and if I were the kind of person to draw happy faces next to my list items, I would have.

We had a great time with Ange and Brad, because I’m fairly certain it’s impossible to not. The theme was tie dying and I have to say that I thought Ange was crazy to do that with little kids, but it was really fun and I’m even convinced that we should do some more ourselves because the kids had a blast. The cake was even tie dyed with an entire rainbow of frosting and if I wasn’t already impressed by this woman and her mad skills (I was) then this would have done the trick. A massive, beautiful cake that surpassed anything I’ve seen in a store. And of course it tasted fantastic. Add in pizza made by The Chef (Brad) and you’ve got yourself a successful party.

Once we wrapped up, we headed back to the house and immediately finished getting ready for the Superbowl. And again…how can you go wrong when you surround yourself with friends? To be honest, I didn’t really care about the game seeing as I’m still unhappy that The Pack killed their insane season in the playoffs but – oh well. Food, friends, even a little knitting – not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.

The next day I finished our party favors by soaking and washing them, and then since we had a warm spell yesterday (that sadly disappeared overnight) – we donned them to go spend time outside and spread the message of peace and love to the suburbs of Harrisburg. Very groovy, I must say.




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I don’t know if I can top the chicken foot soup story, as far as Jamaica goes, but I can’t wrap up our trip without talking about our waterfall excursion. Negril is a tourist destination for one main reason – the beach. And that beach is incredibly beautiful – not to mention the water, which is the warmest and clearest I’ve ever experienced. So we were pretty content to lounge there for most of the trip, but we did read that the waterfalls in Jamaica were not to be missed, so when we heard about an excursion to Mayfield Falls that we could set up through the hotel, we went for it.

The falls were about an hour and 45 minutes away from our hotel. I don’t know that I was quite expecting the driving expertise that would be needed to get us there. The roads weren’t well maintained and if you’ve ever driven in Manhattan, you’ll be familiar with the feeling of seeing a car come within a half inch of hitting you – or a bike, or a goat…whichever. Add to that steep mountain roads that are used as two-lane but only about a lane and a half wide, and you’ve got yourself some adventure before you even hit the falls. It was really beautiful though.

And our driver was, again, awesome. He was chock-full of fascinating facts about Jamaica and he navigated the roads expertly. Before we knew it we were at Mayfield Falls – The Real Mc…Roy?

Okay then. We walked down a steep hill and put all our belongings in a locker. They allowed us to bring Colt’s camera but nothing else, so the following pictures were taken either by Colt, or by our tour guide. In case you aren’t one for details, his name is Michael. (Shawn’s name was on the back of his shirt, in case you were worried.)

Michael used to be a photographer (as did Flava – it seemed to be a popular previous occupation) so he jumped right in with Colt’s fancy schmancy camera and within 2 minutes of walking into the river, he was directing photos. The first ones were pretty normal…go sit there, where the water will massage your back. You got it.

But it started getting pretty funny, fast. Husbands – go hold your wife like a baby in the deeper water while she kisses you. Oh, yay – Tom LOVES posing for pictures!

I don’t know how Colt was feeling about the posing but Maggie seemed cool with it.

Oh and it only gets better. I don’t mean to diminish the fact that hiking in this river, climbing up falls, stopping to experience all the incredible natural curiosities – it was amazing and so beautiful – but it’s hard not to focus on the part where you reach the section named The Jungle and the guide instructs you to put some leaves in your swimsuit, and then stand in front of your lover while he kisses your cheek. Maggie thinks this should be our Christmas card. I’m pretty sure we can Photoshop the kids in.

So awesome. And don’t think we weren’t laughing through all this – we were – but Michael is very persuasive. When he tells you to look off into the jungle with a surprised face, you do it.

There were all sorts of little extra things they showed you about the falls – an underwater tunnel to swim through, or a ledge you could slip under to watch the water fall from the hidden angle.

(That’s Colt and Maggie, by the way – I have no particular feelings about the Utes, which is what Colt is proclaiming love for there.) The most surprising part of the hike was when we noticed the group ahead of us jumping off a platform, about 15 feet or so above the water. Most of the water throughout the river was fairly shallow but this particular section, although small, was deep enough for jumping. I’m not afraid of heights but I am not a strong swimmer so my only real issue was getting assurance that you didn’t need to swim far to be able to touch the ground again. After that, I was the first to volunteer. Despite the lack of butterflies on the way up, once I had to bring my right arm around from the safety of hugging the tree, I did get a bit of a flutter and had to pause for a moment. It wasn’t long though – the jump was really fun and I would have done it again if given the chance.

We all did it, despite some of our group being not so hot on heights, but in case you think we were brave, take a look at the next picture (you might have to click on it for the larger size) and notice where exactly Shawn was when he took his turn.

Craziness. Also crazy? The amount of pictures we have of us with our hands in the air. That was Michael’s favorite pose. We would be sitting in some area of the falls, all smiling and ready for our close-ups, when he would yell – “put your hands in the air!” We had no idea why we were doing it, but there was no arguing with Michael. He was a professional, after all.

The whole experience was awesome. I’m so glad that we picked The Real McRoy of waterfall tours as our one adventure excursion – totally worth it. And now we know the better alternative to “cheese” when you want to take a photo of Having an Awesome Time – “put your hands up!”

Jamaica – I can’t wait to see you again. Till next time…

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So. Back to Jamaica. Here we are, in lovely Negril, enjoying our vacation with The Smiths, and Colt brings up the Anthony Bourdain episode where he comes to Jamaica. We had seen it, but probably not for a few years so I only vaguely remembered bits and pieces. Colt had recently watched it and he was very excited about repeating the scene where Tony eats chicken foot soup. Wait. Did I hear that right? Please, for the love of all that is holy (I had already declared my New Years Resolution by this time) tell me that you did not just say chicken FOOT soup. I am telling y’all right now that all three of my traveling companions looked at each other at that moment and smiled very, very wicked grins. Me? Not so much.

After the initial mention, the topic remained in the background until the day we took a ride up to Push Cart, for that fantastic dinner. Our driver, David, was being very friendly and informative food-wise so you know what happened next – Colt asked about The Soup. Silence. More silence, and a little bit of laughter on our end, and then he sort of mumbled around about it, not really telling us where you could get it. He made sure to assure us that they cleaned the feet and snipped off the nails before they put it in the soup. Okay…and then he said when we asked him, he was so surprised that his tongue swelled up. So basically we got nowhere with David – chicken foot soup was not something tourists asked about – despite the feet being so clean (that point seemed to be very important to him).

I can’t say I was sorry about that response, and I also can’t say that I was surprised that Colt made a second inquiry – this time to our fantastic server at Push Cart – Flava. Flava laughed nervously at first but after some reassurance that yes, Colt was very serious, he promised that he would get us some chicken foot soup. Awesome. I could hardly contain my excitement.

The next day, a few seconds before Flava showed up at our hotel, it started raining. A very intense rain. But guess what? Flava stuck it out with us until the weather cleared and there we went – in to Flava’s car, on the search for soup. We did make a stop first for some patties in town, but this post is not about the patties, is it? It’s about the soup. So back in the car we went. A short ride later and Flava pulled in to a parking lot surrounded by tiny, colorful shacks – selling food, phone cards, and even hair cuts. He told us this was the cabbie yard. We were the only tourists, and definitely the only white people hanging out in the yard. I think everyone was watching us as Flava walked up to a man sitting by a large soup pot. After a short conversation, we headed back to our car. He was out of soup, but had another recommendation of where to try. Oh thank goodness, I was super worried there for a sec.

Back to the car and a drive to the other side of town to what appeared to be just a bar, but we followed Flava to a window where he talked to someone and we, once again, failed to blend in to the Locals Only atmosphere. And again – no soup.

I would have felt relieved but Flava simply marched across the lot where we parked, into a building filled with small shops. Winding our way in to the back where a very small cafe was surrounded by people, picking up lunch. And guess what? No soup! And no pictures either – Flava was doing a really good job of keeping the locals at bay, who were trying to approach us for who knows what (most likely weed sales) but I am a small town girl and I was not feeling awesome at that moment about taking pictures of people with my iPhone. What would I do if someone took it? No more Angry Birds?! But I digress…we were back in Flava’s car and he was out of ideas. After a minute of thinking, he promised Colt that he would go get some in the morning, before everyone ran out, and bring it to us after our waterfall tour was over. Okay then. Settled.

Except as we were coming back in to the main part of town, we all noticed a street cart being pushed across the road (okay – full disclosure – I totally noticed it before, but you better believe I kept my mouth shut). Flava pulled over and called out through the window to the proprietor. And guess what y’all? He had the soup! Yay? We parked and hopped out. $4 bought both Tom and Colt what I would guess was a pint each of chicken foot and conch soup.

In case you were wondering, there were definitely chicken feet in there (forget the conch – there were FEET IN THE SOUP). Tom said he actually had no conch, but about 4 feet. To their credit, they dug right in.

Maggie didn’t seem exactly hesitant to try it either.

You know what’s coming next right? I did make them say it – “Britta – would you like to try my soup?” – there was no way I was offering. Maybe they would forget. Right.

Now normally I would not post these pictures because they are not flattering. But. I need proof that I tried it. So all of the Internet can know that I stuck to that resolution, damnit! And I’d also like to point out that to eat the foot, you have to BITE DOWN ON A TOE AND PULL THE SKIN OFF. Re-read that last scentence as a favor to me. And just FYI – that skin has been boiling for who knows how long. This is no Extra Crispy KFC skin. So you get my point…

Please note Tom’s immense enjoyment out of my discomfort. Yep. And don’t think Maggie and Colt weren’t laughing off-camera. As far as the taste goes? Chicken foot does not taste awesome. I don’t care how clean it was, it tasted like skin that had been boiling for 2 days. The soup however was the most flavorful stock I’ve ever had – just not worth the feet that come floating in it.

The rest of our afternoon was filled with shopping and happily, a stop at another street vendor. Only this time it was for jerk chicken. NO FEET ATTACHED.

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My friend Beth taught me how to knit about 2 and half years ago. I think I’ve made myself a total of 3 things since then, and have spent the rest of the time on my needles for other people. Last year when I mentioned this to Beth, she matter of factly told me that if I didn’t seem to be able to make time to knit for myself, then she would do it. She has now made me a headband, and two cowls. All beautiful and all loved. But currently, the knitted item being loved, loved, and loved in our house was a gift (read the story on how she got it here – it’s adorable) for Princess Ladybug. Both Beth and I have worried that Ellie (perfect name, no?) might not stand up to all that love but she is still completely intact, and receives lots of squishy hugs every day.


Another recent happening – our freezer is once again filled to the brim with half (260 lbs, to be exact) a grass-fed, humanely raised cow, butchered and packaged for us for $3/lb. Let’s focus on that awesomeness and not the fact that I should have done inventory on my remaining hamburger before I ordered. I guess this year if Beth’s family (see – told you – semi-related) runs out, like they did last year, we can be her temporary supplier.

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My first year here in Pennsylvania was a little rough, emotionally – I didn’t know anyone and Tom was traveling more than not. I’ve talked about how friendly people are here, but making an actual friend turned out to be harder than I had hoped. Luckily, thanks to my mom, I met Beth, and soon after that I met Erin. It has made all the difference in the world to have these ladies (and their families) in my life – and I think I’ve learned that good friends are worth the wait.

When I took my first pottery class in January, I wasn’t expecting anything but some lessons on how to throw. I’m generally a shy person so unless someone else makes an effort to talk to me, I will be content to stay in the background. I happened to sit next to Ange (pronounced like Angie) and I assume she started talking to me, because we found out very quickly that we have a lot in common. A lot. She has two boys that are just slightly older than each of my girls. She dabbles in all sorts of crafty pursuits, and most importantly, she drives a Jeep. When she mentioned her husband was a chef, my radar went up – when I found out Brad is also a fan of Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown – well – it was kismet, no?

We’ve now had three family dinners together and last week, Ange invited us up to her neck of the woods for a playdate. Brad’s aunt has a wonderful place in the country with a huge yard, ducks, bunnies, chickens and a koi pond. Plus, she lives next to an Amish family that has quite a large farm and there was the promise of being able to peek in on the cows and horses. Sounded perfect to us.

We stopped first at the Amish family’s farm stand. The kids found a tiny mouse to follow around and picked out some pumpkins.

And made zombie faces. Of course.

At Linda’s, we watched the ducks paddle out of the creek and waddle up her backyard, pet a chicken, some bunnies, and ooohed over the koi (the pond is right in the middle of the picture). I love her landscaping – which was completely flooded only a few weeks ago, believe it or not.

One of the chickens. Crazy looking things but so soft.

On our way to visit the farm, the kids got sidetracked with picking grapes. I’m pretty sure this was their favorite part.

Trouble. Adorable Trouble.

At the Amish neighbor’s farm, we fed the horses corn shucks.

And a bottle to a hungry calf.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the girls had begged to play on Brenden and Aidan’s pirate fort, so we stopped back at Ange’s house for a few minutes. (By the way – she painted that wicked awesome flag – she’s got serious skills, people.)

We had a lot of fun, in case there was any question.

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I’m not sure why my parents thought it would be a good idea to have all their kids in the summer. Doesn’t everyone think about spacing these things out? I guess other things might occupy the mind but it certainly makes for an interesting gift-giving season. I believe the last post I did about presents was in June, so that means I’m 3 sisters and one friend behind. Better get to it.

Alex turned 21 on July 2, but I wanted to give her her presents in person so I took them with me to Utah. And…forgot to take pictures. Well – I did take a terrible cellphone picture of the kitty mug I made, but the colors are off and it was much cuter in person. I also made her a half-apron out of vintage terrycloth that had kitties on it (she’s the crazy cat-lady, if you aren’t in the know) – it was pretty adorable, with a pocket and everything. Sigh. You’ll just have to trust me.

Normally I would have made my mom something next, but this year I bought her a bunch of clay instead, so the next birthday was Kari. She wanted an I Heart Monkey bag, so that’s what she got. (Side note: finding a monkey outline that will do well as an applique was harder than you’d think.)

That present was sent relatively on time, but I did have another gift in mind that I didn’t share with her, just in case it didn’t work out or took longer than I thought. When I was in Utah, I was working on a tiki mug in my mom’s studio and my nephew Will came in, curious as to what I was doing. I told him I was making a mug with his face on it, so that when he was spending time at his dad’s, his mom (Kari) wouldn’t forget what he looked like. He’s young enough to at least maybe believe me when I tease him, so after I had insisted several times that it was indeed him, he told me that the mug didn’t look like him, and drew me a picture so I could fix it. After a few failed attempts at making him a bowl with the face on the bottom, I decided instead to make Kari a little lidded pot – on the outside, I carved a leaf, and used my favorite glaze combo – but on the inside, Will’s self-portrait was carved so that she would hopefully get a little smile every time she opened it. I am told that Will approves the portrait, so that makes me happy.

Keeley’s birthday comes at the end of August and she had issued me a bit of a challenge this year. While visiting in May, we had taken a trip to Lancaster so I could show her and Kari the shop where my skirts and bags are sold. Keeley found a purse that she really loved and while I was making a mental note to buy it for her, she insisted that I could make one. I find the faith my friends and family have in me as a seamstress amusing. I’m really not that good at it, y’all – but I guess stubbornness can push you to get through the challenges, because I did make her a purse. I don’t think it’s quite as cool as the ones in the shop but I considered keeping it for myself so I think that’s a good sign. I changed it a bit by using jute webbing at the top and adding a second pocket, but the rest is by-the-pattern. It has a handy little key hook (so they don’t get lost in the depths of the purse) and very tricky pockets that I could not for the life of me figure out how they would work, but ended up looking great.

Our latest birthday was our friend Stephan’s – just this last weekend. I was stumped present-wise. He has given us several of his pottery pieces but I’m hesitant to return the favor when I know my skills are far below his (he’s been doing this for a lot longer). In the end, Tom and I decided that if the glaze came out nicely, we would give him my latest mug. The glaze did come out nicely (although not perfectly – I know, I know – perfection is impossible in home-made gifts – I still try though) so he is the first recipient of a Choose Your Poison mug. He put a picture of himself drinking out of it as his Facebook profile picture, so I assume he likes it. And he’s nice enough not to point out the flaws – now that’s a good friend.

(You can see the pictures with more detailed notes on flickr, if you so desire.)

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There are a lot of times when I miss my mom. When I’m cooking, gardening, touching clay, sewing – these are times when I can’t help but think about her and what her opinions/suggestions/comments would be concerning the matter at hand. All those years I lived in the same state as her, I didn’t ask nearly enough questions, or sit down and really learn the skills I wanted to add to my life. One of the skills I’ve felt was missing from my life was canning. Oh, I had helped her can hundreds of times – but I had never learned the actual process – I was assigned one task of many and I did it, most likely (since I was a teenager the majority of the time) with my mind on more important things like boys.

Enter Beth. Beth – my friend who hears me voice these desires and instead of just nodding along and saying yes, that would be nice, says okay – let’s do it! And here is the time and the place – put it in your schedule, we are On. This year my wish was for pickles. We had made them last year but not very many jars and they had all turned out inedible. We were both absolutely determined that this year they would most certainly be edible. And why not add some different varieties? And some relish. And some beans and jalepenos, and maybe some carrots and radishes thrown in for good luck. All pickled, ready to tide us over for the winter.

A trip to the farmer’s market got us started. Music and conversation kept us going, and two days later we had a table full of 84 jars. It’s funny how you can spend that amount of time with some people and never want to do it again – and yet with others, you are ready for more. Apples, Beth? Looking forward to it.

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One of the things Tom and I have bonded over with our friends Beth and Stephan, is food. Not just any food though – homemade, spectacular food. I have never had a bad meal at their house, and a lot of that is due to Steph’s love of cooking. And for the past 2 years, we’ve been hearing about how nothing compares to a dinner made by Steph’s dad. Meals that go on, and on – each dish better than the last. But we had never met Steph’s dad and I was beginning to wonder if the fuss was really just a myth.

Last weekend we finally met Ted. We were invited for dinner two nights in a row. Mexican the first night, Greek the next. And what can I say about it? He lived up to the hype. For Mexican night, we snacked on popcorn with chili powder and devoured guacamole and pico de gallo. The main course included braised beef, Mexican rice, and beans. All of that was followed up with Diablo chocolate bread pudding (chiles being the “diablo” addition). For Greek night? Tzatziki, olives and Beth’s homemade pita. Two legs of lamb (one Greek style, one French) with a lovely salad, incredible green beans, and outshining all – Ted’s pastitio (basically a Greek lasagna).

Y’all. It was AMAZING. Get out the stretchy-pants because I’m having fifths, amazing. And it didn’t hurt that the conversation was just as good as the food. Funny how you can bond so instantly, and so strongly with someone over sustenance.

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Thursday was my knitting club, and since Tom was in North Carolina on business, I dropped the girls of at our friend’s house while Bethany and I headed across the river. But this post isn’t about knitting club…we didn’t run into any zombies at Panera. This time.

Anyway…Bethany’s oldest son, Enoch, had a gift for the girls when I stopped to pick them up on the way home. A drawing to go along with Ella’s current obsession. One that will be framed, most likely next to another version of Zombie Dorothy, and hung in the hallway between the girls’ rooms. But before you see the drawing – here are some zombie-related nuggets of information that Ella decided to share with me on the way home:

  • I want to be Zombie Dorothy next year for Halloween. Why didn’t you make my costume more spooky, Mommy? It should have been spooky like a zombie. I think I will have a zombie birthday party next year.
  • I’m cold-blooded. Zombies are warm-blooded. That means I’m not a zombie. (I couldn’t convince her otherwise – I tried…)
  • Zombies will bite you and I just don’t think that’s very nice.
  • Zombies are stinky, but I don’t know why. I think it’s because they are warm-blooded.
  • Maybe when I’m 20 I will have a zombie party. I think next year I will have a pirate party.

I didn’t say they were useful nuggets…



Before you get all concerned, we did have a talk about how guns are to be used for zombie-killing only, no matter what Daddy says about those bunnies in our yard.

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