Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life at the Lodge

I've taken a bit of a blogging break over the last week, because I have been at our family's lodge and simply wanted to spend all my time enjoying the activities here with my family.

There were eight of us over the long Memorial Day weekend:  Bob and I and son Caleb, daughter Lindsay and granddaughter Ellie, and my brother Bruce and his wife Erin and son Zack.  With plenty of space to spread out and a very large kitchen, we enjoyed each other's company without feeling crowded.

As usual wildlife sightings and adventures abounded.  First, on our way into our property last weekend, we saw a very large bear about 20 yards back from the road.  I'm going to estimate he was between 250 to 300 pounds, and he looked very healthy.  Then, while we were in the process of unlocking the gate to enter our property, we looked up on the hillside and spotted a momma bear with three tiny cubs, each about the size of a football.  When they were standing in the tall grasses, they could barely be seen.  Never have I seen such young cubs out in the wild.

Son Caleb had some fun fishing, just keeping this one long enough for the picture.

A bit of exploring around one of the ponds yielded this little newt:

As always with a place in the woods, once in a while there are some unwanted guests making themselves at home.  (Rachel - don't worry.  I took care of this guy.  You can still come.)

Our property has a fairly large population of rattlesnakes, and during this visit we saw two.  In my book that's two too many.  The first one we saw had lighter colorations, with quite a bit of gold mixed in.  This one is a lot darker in colorations than the other one.

Because we are in such a remote area, when we are out and about in the warmer weather we wear some sort of snake leggings for an added measure of safety.

As is with any of our family gatherings, there was plenty delicious food, including a clam bake, funeral potatoes and ham (with a name like that I know I'll need to share that recipe sometime soon), and a baked spaghetti casserole.  Of course there were all the temptations, too, of our pile of snacks and baked goodies.

This was the first time granddaughter Ellie came for a sleepover at the family lodge.  She is almost three and everything was a great adventure for her.

Here she is, in the mountains, in her princess dress-ups and high heels, baking cookies:

She always enjoys snuggling with puppy Sheila.  Sheila and Ellie are (usually) best buddies.

After watching Ellie play for several days, Caleb put together this comparison collage of "His things versus her things:"

And finally there were vehicle rides of all sizes.



And, large:

Sadly, the hubby and others had to return to civilization and the working world late on Monday.  However, he was gracious enough to grant me a few extra days to stay here in the woods.  I've been wanting to take a small personal retreat, have some peace and quiet, and use the uninterrupted time to set some goals for myself.  

The personal retreat part of it may have to happen another time.  Although I'm having a lovely time here at the lodge, it hasn't been without interruptions.  

There were two appliance deliveries.  The first delivery team got lost and the second team got here.
A crew came and installed shades on all the bedroom and several other windows.
The excavator came and moved some of his heavy equipment.
An inspector came to inspect the septic system.
An expert log chinker came to take a look and plan his project.
Several guys are installing gutters and rain spouts.
The emergency generator is being hooked up.
A contractor is here to install the newly delivered dishwasher.
I'll be "attending a meeting" by conference call here this afternoon, in the lodge, in my pajamas.
A security team will arrive later today to activate the security system.

So, no, although it has been wonderful here at the lodge this past week, it hasn't exactly been very zen.

Oh darn, I'll just have to come back soon and try again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Delicate Balance

We love our backyard retreat, especially the water feature.  It gives us such a feeling of peace and tranquility when we sit out back on our patio and listen to the calming sounds of the flowing water.

Add to that the normal other sounds of nature - the birds chirping, the insects buzzing, and maybe even a frog croaking - and well, it's pretty easy to lose an hour or two out there without really noticing.

We even thought for a while that we were developing quite a wildlife refuge of sorts, but apparently we've hit a snag.

Here's the sequence that led up to our present dilemma:

Late Fall 2012 - the water falls and pond were installed.  There are two sets of waterfalls and a "pond" at the bottom of the lower falls.

Early Spring 2013 - we took notice that a frog had made the area his home.  We could easily hear him croaking on most days.

Late Spring 2013 - the frog croaking was noticeably absent, and there were no frog sightings.

Early Summer 2013 - snake sighting.  (I hate snakes.)  We think the frog was snake dinner.  It appeared to be a well fed snake.

Middle Summer 2013 - we relocated and "re-purposed" the snake.

Late Summer 2013 - several sightings of a different snake.

Early Spring 2014 - a new frog is residing around our waterfalls.  We hear him croaking, too.  He is about four inches long.  So far, no snakes.

Late Spring 2014 - a pair of mallard ducks made a stop and hung out in our waters for a while

Today - huh?  What happened?  It looks like someone took a bubble bath in the lower pond.

Recently we had the creative team come and do a complete overhaul of the waterways, rocks and pond.  Did they disturb the delicate balance of the ecosystem?

Within days of the cleaning, the entire waterway was a bright green color, with algae growing in abundance.  And we've had the foam problem ever since they cleaned.

The guys came back, gave it a treatment, and now it seems worse than ever.  More foam than before.  Maybe it's just me, but that amount of bubbles does not look normal, nor natural to me.

Something's definitely off.  And if it takes having a snake come back to bring things back into order.......

Then no.  I'll deal with the bubbles some other way.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Road Tripping Again

These slippers belong to a certain little guy.
Of the past 25 days, I've been home only 4 of them.  The concept of "home" is getting a bit fuzzy for me these days.

Not that I'm griping.  I've enjoyed going from place to place.

First there were the nine days away, spent moving into our new lodge up on the mountaintop.

Daughter Sarah and Gabriel
Following that, I returned home for two days.  I thought I'd be there for a couple of weeks, but then there was the sudden arrival of grandchild #5, requiring another road trip, this time to western Ohio.

Because he's such a cutie, that trip became another 10 days away.

After returning home from Ohio, I hung around for just two days, then headed south.

This time I was driving 100 miles for a haircut.  Anyone who has a favorite hair stylist can understand my loyalty to my beautician, and why it could happen that one would drive 100 miles to get one's hair done.  There is just nobody else who does my hair like her, and of course it doesn't hurt that she just happens to be my daughter, too.

Lindsay knows how to style and make me look good.

But, let's be honest here, we all know that needing a hairdo was secondary to wanting to see grandchild #4 again.  So I made the overnight trip.

While there I discovered the latest evolution of what I am being called.

First the grandkids called me Gummall.  Then it became Germall.  Now, the latest version from Ellie is Cramall.  I can foresee where this could go:  Cramall -----> Crapall ------> Crappy.  Since they call my husband Happy, we could conceivably become Happy and Crappy.

I don't know if I like the trend.  But if it comes from this little cutie, I'm pretty much OK with it, whatever it becomes.

At the time this photo was taken, Ellie was cooking up some sort of a salad.  Somehow it segued into a scene from the "Frozen" movie, in which Ellie gave herself a carrot nose and turned into Olaf the snowman.  What is it with that movie?  All the little girls are entranced with it.

This morning before she left for school, Ellie came into my bedroom and crawled in under the covers with me.  We snuggled for a while, and then when her mother came in to find her, Ellie quickly pulled the covers up over her head and hid.  She was absolutely convinced nobody could see her, even with all those giggles and wiggles going on under there.  She's definitely at that "if I can't see them then they can't see or hear me" stage, and she's just delightful.

I made it the 100 miles back home safely, but yes, there's some more road tripping on the horizon.

Pack, go, return, unpack.


At least my hair looks good for the next round.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Returning the Garage

Grandson Gabriel at one week
I started my trek back toward home yesterday morning, leaving this precious little guy in the very capable hands of daughter Sarah and her husband Lance.

I know he will miss me and the abundance of snuggles I have for him.  In fact, from all reports so far, he has been looking all around trying to find me again, but I'm sure he will find a way to survive without me until I get back for my next visit in several weeks.  Babies grow and change so fast. It will be how different he is after just a few weeks away.

The drive back east through Ohio and Pennsylvania wasn't near as interesting as it was one week ago, on the day my daughter went into labor and I was racing to get there before the delivery.  That day I made the trip in merely 6 1/2 hours, having only one 5 minute pee break.

Yesterday, however, it took me nearly 7 1/2 hours to make the same trip.  Out of boredom (and a bit of sleepiness) I made three different stops.  By the last hour of the trip, it seemed that each rest stop I passed wanted to suck me in like an invisible vortex, and keep me from getting home.

I started the drive out in western Ohio under sunny, pleasant skies.  The closer I got to Pennsylvania, the cloudier and darker it got.  Finally, about ten minutes from home, it started to rain.  Why is Pennsylvania so sad?  It's always crying.  I think Pennsylvania needs some counseling or something.  This state is always so rainy and gloomy.

Welcome home to me.

I wasn't even home an hour when we received an invitation to have dinner with daughter Rachel and her family.  Grandtwins Tori and Brianna, now EIGHT YEARS OLD as of several days ago, were all bubbly with conversation, trying to fill me in on all the exciting happenings of their lives for the last two weeks.  Tori's big news is that she is no longer a pierced woman.  After fighting constant infections for several months, she is letting the holes in her ears grow shut and heal.  She is a beautiful girl, with or without earrings.  I would always want her to know that.

Tori and Brianna
Brianna was telling me all about her recent adventures in the hospital.  She had us all scared when she got extremely sick with a concerning illness that wouldn't seem to pass, with or without medication.  A viral pneumonia kept her down for about two weeks and ended in her needing intravenous antibiotic and hydration therapy and breathing treatments with a nebulizer.  She seems to be back to herself again and has returned to school.

Pretty serious stuff for two eight year olds.

Then, they both reminded me of my promise to take them to horseback riding lessons this summer.  Of course.  Let's keep our priorities straight.

Anyway, today, as I sort through the mountains of mail and laundry following my week away, the husband/lover/carpenter is repairing the garage that he tried to drag along with us on our first camping adventure of the season last month.

If you missed it, here is a look at the damage done when our fifth wheel got too close, and tore up the neighbor's garage down at the end of the alley behind our homes.

That husband of mine, he's quite the handyman.  There he is in his manly truck, doing the manly thing, and fixin' it all.

That guy, he's just so smart.  Although we live just two doors up from this neighbor, the hubby loaded up all his tools and supplies in the back of his truck, drove it down there, and it became his ladder, too!  Plus, the large size of that MANLY truck kept other cars from turning into the alley and knocking him off a ladder.  Brilliant!

I walked down to check on him a bit ago and make sure he's doing it right, and he's doing just fine without my help.  It's an old garage, but at least we will return it to a state a bit better than it was before it tried to come along with us camping.  I'm thinking it's looking better already.

In a few days I'll get to see this little mermaid, granddaughter Ellie.  We'll be spending some time together up in the mountains at our new lodge.

Grandchildren are awesome, aren't they?

Way more exciting than an old garage, any day.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Restaurant Discovery

Several weeks ago the hubby and I were camped for the long Easter weekend at the Bald Eagle State Park campground in north central Pennsylvania.  After making all of our meals for several days, we decided to take a break from cooking, explore a bit, and perhaps find a restaurant where we could enjoy a homemade Easter luncheon.

We drove just a few miles from the campground until we located the Furst Corner Restaurant, in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania.  From the outside this place was rather uninteresting.  However, when traveling in the middle of nowhere, sometimes there is no luxury to be choosy, especially when there is a total of one place from which to pick.

While waiting for our food to be prepared, we read up on the history of this establishment, and learned that we were dining in a place with quite an interesting past.

The building was first built in 1862 as the home for George T. Furst.  Mr. Furst was involved in the shipping industry, transporting logs from the mountains around his home all the way from Beech Creek to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Eventually his daughter and her husband took possession of the building, and operated it as a general store, selling all sorts of food, clothing and household items to the families living in the area.

Subsequently, it fell into the hands of their son, who, like all the other men in the family, was a magistrate. It is quite likely that the very booth we were seated in was used many decades before by the magistrates and attorneys debating court cases there.  In addition to functioning as a restaurant, the building housed the local telephone exchange center.

Over the years the ownership of the restaurant changed several more times, and functioned in numerous capacities.  It even became an antique center for a time.

Antique vault in entrance
Finally in 1986 Charles and Donna Bittner purchased the restaurant, renovated it and reopened the restaurant and the adjacent Bed and Breakfast.  This area landmark is now known for "extremely large home cooked meals at way below average prices."

Eh, maybe.  The portions were average, the prices were average, and the food itself was... you guessed it....average.

I'm always open to trying something new, though.  At least once.  And this meal out was a pleasant diversion from our quiet campsite.

The current owners enjoy displaying their various collections throughout the restaurant, including shelves and shelves of Mr. Peanut figurines, Coca Cola bottles and memorabilia, and tin boxes.

No, this wasn't a five star restaurant.  But yes, I always do enjoy exploring and finding out-of-the-way or new places to try.  It was a good outing for several hours, but the peacefulness and solitude of the campground were calling me back.

Time to return.  
Time to relax.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cooking Class

Mantel decor at Reba and Pancho's
I know I'm over a week late, but the husband/lover/best friend and I had a delightful experience last Monday, on Cinco de Mayo.  We headed over to a local restaurant, Reba and Pancho's, for a group cooking class and meal.  Reba and Pancho's is a modern American restaurant featuring Mediterranean and Mexican dishes.  Along with eight others in the class, we learned how to make several common Mexican beverages and an appetizer.  Following the class, we were served a spectacular meal, prepared for us by the chefs and their assistants.

First we gathered in the kitchen where we all washed up and donned clean cooking aprons.  Our chef (nicknamed Nacho for short), along with his wife Reba, started the class by explaining the history of the Cinco de Mayo holiday.  Apparently it was an unlikely victory that day in the Mexican state of Puebla in which the Mexicans held off the French.  Nacho grew up in Puebla before moving to the United States, so he had firsthand knowledge of how Cinco de Mayo is typically celebrated in his hometown.

A major component of any Mexican celebration is tequila, of course.  Nacho explained how he selects his tequila and how various tequilas are different.

Throughout the class, Nacho showed us how to make three common Mexican beverages and an appetizer.

The first beverage was a rice, sugar, and ice concoction, tasting somewhat like a rice pudding smoothie.

Of course, Nacho offered to kick it up with a bit of tequila, if desired.

 Before the second beverage was prepared, Reba talked a bit about juicing.  She explained that even the families living in very modest living conditions always purchase fresh fruit each day at the local markets and make their own juices.  It would not occur to them to purchase a bottled juice at a supermarket.  After tasting these delicious juices, I could be easily persuaded to take up juicing.

The second juice was made on a base of fresh pineapple.  Nacho showed us how to shop for a pineapple that is ready for use.  The color should be mostly golden on the outside and it should have a strong pineapple fragrance.

The second beverage recipe included fresh pineapple and freshly squeezed lime juice.

Nacho recommends adding a pinch of salt just for good measure.

The third drink was similar to a fruit tea, and then next it was time for the hands on (or hands in) portion of the class.  Nacho taught us how to make simple quesadillas.  In his country, if one doesn't want to make homemade tortillas, there are plenty of vendors that come through the towns selling them every day.

Too much tequila?

After Nacho fried up our quesadillas, we chowed down and used them to soak up that excess tequila, then took seats to be served three more courses to our dinner.

First we were brought a cold tuna soup.  It wasn't a selection I would have normally made, but it was quite tasty.

A roasted tenderloin dish arrived next, served on a bed of caramelized peppers and onions.  I meant to take a picture after I just tried one bite, but, well, things got ahead of me and before I realized what had happened, it was gone.

Dessert was a flan.

Good company, delicious cuisine, and new information to challenge the mind.

All in all, it was a good evening.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Things That Make Me Happy

I'm a resisting Pinterest user.  In other words, I'm trying to regulate myself to only visit Pinterest for a very limited amount of time each day.  Without using any self restraint, I could easily become a Pinterest addict, and I just do not want to give up more than a few minutes a day to that pastime.

One of my Pinterest boards I entitled "Random Stuff I Like."  You can visit it here if you like.  There are only four items on this board, and today, as I sit here at daughter Sarah's home, I realize there are a good number of items in my life that definitely make me happy.  Perhaps I should start a "Stuff That Makes Me Happy" board, too.

I decided to take a minute or two and quickly make a list of some things that make me happy.  I think this is a good exercise to do occasionally.  Amidst all the difficulties of life it can be beneficial to force myself to focus on the positive.

These things make me happy:

1.  A new baby in the family

2.  Happy grandchildren

Grandtwins Tori and Brianna turned 8 yesterday!
3.  Spending time with the family in general

4.  Having no regrets / Knowing I did my very best at something
     Recently I've been looking at my old elementary school, middle school, high school, and college report cards.  I can honestly say that in all things school-related, I have absolutely no regrets.  I know without any doubts that I did the very best I could.

5.  Feeling healthy and fit
     I'm at a point in my life where I'm concerned about potential regrets regarding my health and fitness.  I want to make whatever changes are necessary so that at some time in the future, I will not be upset with myself.  I have been the happiest in life in those moments when I've felt good and good about myself.

6.  Eliminating medications (as I no longer need them)
     I don't know why this makes me happy, but I get a weird kick out of tossing them.

7.  Trying a new recipe that ends up being a keeper

8.  Having a clean and tidy home
     When things are clean and in order around me, it is easier for me to feel content and happy.

9.  Being proud of my own four grown children

10.  Looking forward to the next vacation or camping adventure
     It doesn't need to be a trip halfway across the world, even the little weekends away make me happy.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I love this "Happy" song, too:

What makes you happy?