Thursday, September 18, 2014

25 Fall Things To Do

It's no secret -- I love autumn.

Over the years, when talking with family and friends, whenever the topic of moving to another state has come up I always say the same thing: I can't live somewhere without autumn. I just can't.

And it seems my son may have inherited some of my love for the season, because in August he was talking about apple picking, apple cider, pumpkin pancakes, how one of his favorite things to do is crunch leaves during our evening walks. Which got me thinking...

At the beginning of the summer we printed out Country Living's list of 50 Things To Do To Have the Best Summer Ever. We checked items off throughout the summer, proud of what we were able to do. So, I thought, why can't we do that for autumn?

We can!

I was surfing through pintrest one day when I saw someone had pinned someone else's list of 25 fall things to do. I read the list and bookmarked it, thinking I would just print it out later. But when I revisited the list I realize some of the items didn't fit my family's personality, and other items didn't fit what was available in my area. So I made some edits, deletions, additions, and Presto! I have my list of things to do this fall. I can't wait!

25 Fall Things To Do

  1. Pick apples
  2. Enjoy a homemade Oktoberfest
  3. Enjoy a morning at the farmer's market
  4. Drink a pumpkin spice latte Check!
  5. Drink an iced pumpkin spice chai tea latte
  6. Bake fall goodies: apple cider mini muffins, pumpkin bars
  7. Make a big pot of chili
  8. Make chicken and dumplings
  9. Have an autumn-flavored martini
  10. Attend a high school and/or college football game
  11. Burn fall-scented candles: apple Check!, Harvest
  12. Decorate the house -- outside and inside
  13. Snuggle under a warm quilt with a book and a cup of tea
  14. Have scary movie night with popcorn
  15. Buy new boots
  16. Paint nails a beautiful deep red Check!
  17. Have one last pedicure
  18. Wear more sweaters, scarves, and blazers
  19. Have one last fire in the fire pit
  20. Go hiking
  21. Get lost in a corn maze
  22. Take photos of the leaves changing
  23. Go for walks and crunch leaves with my son
  24. Attend a Halloween party or parade
  25. Savor EVERY minute

Thursday, September 4, 2014

City Girl? Country Girl!

I grew up in a cul-de-sac in a quiet, suburban neighborhood. In the summer I walked to the video store, library, and one of the local pizzerias. My husband says I had a "Leave It to Beaver" childhood. And while I think that description is a little too idyllic, it was a great way to grow up.

Only, I didn't think so at the time.

As teenagers my friends and I often lamented there wasn't enough to do. It was always the same activities: movies, mini-golf, mall, hang out at someone's house. "We're bored!" we would whine. "This town is so boring!" we would tell our parents. We couldn't wait to live somewhere more exciting.

And for me, that place was The City.

(And for those of you outside the NY-NJ-CT area, "The City" is New York City.)

It started out as fantasy. I was dating my husband at the time. He was working in The City and I was working across the river in Jersey City. I would hop a PATH train after work to meet up with him. We would walk the neighborhood where we had plans and talk about what it would be like to live in The City. The relationship became more serious and once we became engaged we started flirting with the idea of city living more. We would visit real estate websites and see what was available for rent. After we were married the search for a home to buy became more serious. Every Sunday we would pour through the real estate section, scouring the listings for neighborhoods of interest and open houses.

During this time we were renting our apartment on the second floor of a two-family home in Clifton, New Jersey. Clifton is the 11th largest city in the state. We lived right "in town," a block in from a main road. And while it was convenient with so much within walking distance, the homes were also close together and the traffic on the main road could be heavy at times. It felt crowded and noisier than the neighborhood I grew up in and found boring as a teen. And after a day of commuting and working in Jersey City, the 2nd most populous city in the state, I found out something about city living: I really didn't care for it.

So our search for our new home changed focus towards suburban neighborhoods. Open house after open house we would come back to the apartment feeling dejected. It was 2005, about a year, maybe less, before the housing bubble burst. The houses and properties were small with overinflated prices. However, the further away from The City we expanded our search the larger the houses became. (Ceiling height was an important factor, given the fact my husband is 6'7" tall.) They also came with more property and a lower sticker price. The next thing I knew, we had crossed the state line and we're looking in Pennsylvania.

It was all new and exciting. We would be buying our house together. It was double the house for half the price compared with wiat we were seeing in Jersey. Our family would be about an hour away, but that was likely to happen even if we stayed in Jersey. Really, it was a no brainer.

So in July 2005 we closed and by the end of August we were moved into our house in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. My husband was commuting into The City still, and I was working from home part-time.

And it was ... an adjustment.

There was no Starbucks (we have one now), no Barnes and Noble, and no real mall to speak of. (It's a small shopping center by Jersey standards.) I got a library card and divvied up the errands so I had something to do every day. I started watching "30-Minute Meals" and teaching myself to cook. I tried to keep myself busy and our dog, Bugsy, was a wonderful companion.

But still, I was lonely.

I was out of my element.

I needed to get to know my neighborhood better.

I resumed the dancing lessons of my youth, finding a local studio near my home. I started shopping at more local business. And in the spring, I started visiting my local farmers market. It was a slow process, but the more I became acquainted with the area, the more I fell in love with it. And back in 2005 I never thought I would say this, but now, I don't think I could go back to city living. I don't think I was meant for city living.

I'm a country girl.

Here's a story that really illustrates that. One of the things I love most about living here are the cool summer nights. Especially when August arrives and the nighttime temperature can drop into the low 50s, perfect sleeping weather. But when you throw open the windows you don't just let in the cool, mountain air. You also let in all the sounds of nature.

Remember My Cousin Vinny? Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei's characters are staying at the DA's cabin in the woods. An owl is screeching and Joe comes out in his underwear and high tops, gun blazing.

It felt a little like that.

The tree frogs. Oh, the tree frogs! So small, yet collectively so loud. They would keep me up at night. And I remember one night we heard screeching. Lying in bed my husband and I debated calling the cops, but ultimately decided against it, realizing there was a timing to it that made it unhuman-like. Good thing. The next day a neighbor explained what we hard was a female bobcat.

Bobcat. We didn't get too many of those in Clifton.

I didn't realize it until the summer of 2007, but those nocturnal noises slowly became my lullaby. I was in Manhattan for a business meeting. Because of the timing and the fact that I lived in the Poconos, I stayed at the hotel where the meeting was being held the night before. In midtown.

Oh my goodness, the noise!

Sure, my room was up on the 30-something floor, but it wasn't up too high for the sirens and traffic and construction sounds to reach. I tossed and turned all night. Who is up at 3:00 in the morning? New Yorkers, apparently. They don't call it The City That Never Sleeps for nothing! That night I swore to myself that I would never complain about the frogs again.

And I haven't.

Except when one ended up in my kitchen.

But that's a story for another day. :-)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

My family and I love fresh fruit and vegetables. Since I moved here in 2005 I spend the summer season at the local farmer's market every weekend. Growing up, my father had a garden, and my son enjoyed helping him tend to it during his visits. So last year my husband and I decided it was time to start a garden of our own.

Unfortunately I backyard has a water issue. We live in a valley, so when there's hard rain, what looks like a river runs through our backyard. This wouldn't be good for a garden because if we had any heavy rains the plants would drown. But I saw an episode of "The Pioneer Woman," and she has raised beds to garden in.

We had found our answer!

I dug out the grass and my husband built the frame.

Then my husband headed to one of the local nurseries to buy plants and the soil to fill the bed. We planted zucchini, tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, jalapeños, and another hot pepper of my husband's choosing.

Few things excited my son like checking in on the garden each day!

He would head out there in the morning with husband each day to check the plants' progress and pull any weeds. Later in the evening, when the sun moved to our front yard, they would head out there to water the plants. But that alone wasn't enough for my son. He'd also want to check in on the plants mid-day, when he got home from summer camp. He was addicted!

Last July we had a lot of heat and humidity. It was rough on my hair, but the zucchinis loved it! We were so excited when we saw those first blossoms!

In the end, the zucchini plant fared the best. We had 10 from 1 plant. Amazing! We made zucchini bread, a side dish of sauteed zucchini with oregano and feta cheese, zucchini boats, zucchini parmesan, and I grated some and frozen to make zucchini bread during the winter months.

So when it came time to decide what to plant this year, zucchini was at the top of the list. We also planted orange bell peppers, roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, butternut squash, two different kinds of hot peppers for husband.

I also have an herb garden, but because of the deer who like to roam through our backyard and feast on our vegetation, I find it's best I grow them in pots on my deck. I grow mint, rosemary, cilantro, lemon basil, and 3 sweet basil plants. Yes, that's right, I'm growing 4 kinds of basil because, really, you can never have too much basil.

How does your garden grow?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Waiting for the Thaw

I have been living in the Poconos since 2005. And I have to say, in that time, the winters weren't too bad. Yes, we've had snow. Sometimes a small amount of snow, others 6 inches or more. There's been our fair share of frigid temperatures, too. But overall, it hasn't been to bad. In fact, there were a few winters during that time when most of the storms were coastal, and our relatives in New Jersey and even Virginia were hit harder than we were.

Enter winter 2013-2014.

This has just been brutal. Brutal. And not just in the Poconos either, based on the updates from family and friends via social media. Thanks to the "polar vortex" -- a term I had not heard before this year -- there were too many days to count when it was warmer in Anchorage, Alaska than the northeast.

My son has had 10 snow days already. There's only 1 left in the calendar before they start taking Spring Break or in-service days away. He's had two early dismissals, and more delayed openings than I can count. In fact, the last time he went to school for 5 full-days was in December. It's going to be a rude awakening when he has to go to school for 5 full days again.

I took the above picture a week ago. Since then we had a foot of snow during the day on Thursday, another 8-10 inches overnight into Friday morning. And yesterday we had yet another 4 inches.

I took the above picture yesterday. If we don't start to thaw soon, the icicles are going to grow into the snowbank on the porch roof.

And if another 8 years pass before we have another winter like this one, well, that'll be all right by me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Let It Snow!

Last Saturday, it snowed. Not a lot -- just enough to make everything beautiful. It was fairly early in the morning. Not so early that the sun wasn't fully up, but early enough that no one had braved the roads yet. Undisturbed, pristine snow. Magical snow. I've always loved the way the snow covered the tree branches, and while I have no illusions that I'm Ansel Adams, I was feeling inspired and grabbed my camera to document the beauty before everyday life tainted it.

I've always found snowfalls so beautiful and peaceful, but evening snowfalls in particular have always been magical to me. It is so quiet and peaceful, and even though it's dark, the moonlight's reflection on the snow gives the would a soft glow. It is so quiet, like the world is holding its breath. As a kid, when the opportunity presented itself, I would love to stand outside in the snow. I remember one time sitting on an old-fashioned sled, the kind with the metal blades, and my dad pulling me up the cul-de-sac. For me, it was like a moment out of a Thomas Kinkade painting, and holds a special place in my heart.

See, despite how quiet and still it is, despite the fact that everyone else is tucked safely inside -- or maybe because of all that -- when I stand outside during evening snowfalls, I feel most connected to the world.

That realization reminds me of a yoga session I had back in September. The instructor asked us to lie on our backs, close our eyes, and think of when we felt most connected. At the time I couldn't really think of anything, but I was patient, and now I finally have my answer.

Even now, just thinking of evening snow fills my soul with warmth and peace.

It was definitely worth the wait.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Country TV

Country is not just for the radio. There are several country networks on TV: CMT, CMT Pure Country, GAC, RFD TV.

And now we have a new channel. PCN: Pennsylvania Cable Network.

This channel isn't just country -- it's local country. No reruns of "Reba" or "The Dukes of Hazzard" here. No, sir. When I say local, I mean local. We're talking the state farm show, celebrity cow milking contest, and my personal favorite, square dancing competitions.

We didn't have TV like this when I was living in Jersey.

Only in the country!

Monday, January 6, 2014


My son doesn't have school tomorrow because of the extreme and dangerous temperatures. In fact, all the school districts in the county are closed. I can honestly say this is a first for us. I never had school closed growing up because of the cold. I do recall one day either last year or the year before there was a delayed opening because of the cold. They didn't want kids standing outside waiting for the bus in the early morning to get frostbite.

Maybe it's just as well, though. A sprinkler head burst in his school Sunday evening, flooding the basement. So maybe home is the best place to be tomorrow.