Sunday, December 2, 2012

O Christmas Tree!

Finding a Christmas tree can involve countless hours of trudging through seemingly endless fields of overpriced trees. Of course, some tree farms try to assuage the pain of finding that perfect $50 Christmas tree by lending out saws, offering tree carts, and having refreshments for sale like hot chocolate intended to warm up customers whose eyes may be frozen

Fortunately, four years ago, we discovered a small, family-owned/run tree farm just south of Philipsburg, PA in Glass City where all trees are $15. It's a very no-muss/no-fuss operation. Each day (Friday through Sunday), the family brings a crop of fresh cut trees down from their fields and displays them for purchase. Customers are still welcome to trudge through the fields to select and cut down their own tree, which is what we did the first year we went there, but really it's not necessary. In 2010, 2011, and again this year, we found a wonderful tree among the pre-cut trees and every year it has been very obvious that the tree had been freshly cut (very little sap had seeped out of the cut).

This year, we decided to take Oscar with us for the ride up to Glass City.

Once we were in the truck, it didn't take Oscar long to go from "excited to ride in the truck" to "I'm just going to relax here while we make our way there."

"Oh boy, here we go!"

"You can probably just wake me when we get there."
The tree farm we visit is located on Glass City Road just off of PA 350. If you are headed north on PA 350 toward Philipsburg, you will make a right turn. Never fear; there is a sign for the tree farm on 350. 

This is the entrance to the tree farm. Customers drive up and around the owners' house.

$15 bucks for a tree? What a deal!

This way to the Christmas trees!

Cute parking sign.

This is the back porch of the owners' house.

Trailers full of freshly cut trees ready to be displayed.

Chris readies the Tundra by rolling up the tonneau cover.

Trees that were cut this morning are ready to be taken home!

Chris surveys the available trees.

We might have a winner...go ahead and spin it, honey!

Oh, yeah...that backside looks good. And so does the tree, LOL!

For another $5, our tree gets baled by the very friendly owners.

Christmas Tree 2012 is secured in the bed of the truck. Total cash outlay = $20. Total time spent at the tree farm = 10 minutes. BAM!
When we got home with our tree, I filled a bucket with water while Chris took about an inch off the bottom of the trunk. We got all of our Christmas stuff out of our attic and will be decorating this week. Our tree is in the garage for the time being. 

Meanwhile, apparently the search for a Christmas tree was apparently an exhausting experience:

"Wake me up when the tree is up and decorated!"
We'll likely have the tree up and decorated by mid-week. It's probably going to require a little trimming; it's a bit taller than trees we've had the last few years! I can't's gonna be a beaut!!!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A little pumpkin is on the way!

While Chris, Oscar, and I were in Baltimore for the Thanksgiving holiday, my mom and I hosted a surprise baby shower for Bill and Casie (my brother and sister-in-law). The shower was six months in the making. In fact, I started planning it the day after Bill and Casie told me they were expecting. 

First, I honed in on the date. Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a good idea because we'd already be in town, so Casie might not be too suspicious (she was anyhow, LOL!). Second, once their pregnancy was more widely known among the family, I collaborated with my Aunt Nancy to use Meadow Mill Athletic Club's yoga studio as the venue (that's where my bridal shower was held). 

Next, I worked on a theme. With a date in November, I started Googled "fall baby shower" and the results suggested the idea of "little pumpkin." Next, I turned to Pinterest and found lots of ideas for a shower with the theme "a little pumpkin is on the way." With that, my theme was born and I started planning the decorations, designing the invitations, and developing the menu.

Knowing that folks would likely be tired of turkey two days removed from Thanksgiving, I opted for a "comfort foods" menu, including chili with cornbread, stuffed pepper soup, veggies and dip, chips and salsa, and pickles and olives. (Pickles and olives are an homage to my grandmother, Mimi, who always served them, regardless of the occasion. Now, I always serve them at my soirees.) For beverages, I decided to serve iced tea, bottled water, and an apple orchard punch.

For the cake, I turned to my high school classmate, Stacey. Over the summer, she posted a picture on Facebook of a beautiful birthday cake she'd made for her daughter's birthday. Having found "little pumpkin" baby shower cake pictures on Pinterest, I asked Stacey if a) she'd be interested in making the cake for the baby shower, and b) if she could recreate the cake in the pictures I'd found. She said she'd be able to make the cake and we agreed to touch base closer to the shower to work out all of the details. Within the last month, we decided on a vanilla cake with strawberry filling (dyed orange to match the outside design) for 35 people. 

I conspired with my Aunt Nancy and my brother (to attempt to) deceive Casie into thinking she and Bill were coming to Meadow Mill for a "Healthy Mommy/Healthy Baby" Wellness Fair while leading her to believe that the shower was next weekend by telling her I was coming to Baltimore next weekend for my aunt's annual Christmas Parade Party. Turns out it kinda sorta worked, but not really! Casie was pretty dolled up for a "wellness fair" so I think she knew, LOL!

This shower was an "our family/Casie's friends" shower...but of course we invited Casie's mom and sisters, too! Carrie brought her two daughters, Edie and Adeline; Katie brought her daughter, Callie. As soon as Casie and Bill arrived, Callie and Edie made a beeline for Aunt Casie and Uncle B. It was adorable!

Casie spent some time mingling with her guests and grabbing a bite to eat before opening her presents - her many, many presents!

At last, it was time to open presents! At the shower hosted by Casie's mom and sisters three weeks ago, I was VERY surprised that Casie did not receive a single Ravens or Orioles item for the baby. That was very quickly remedied at this shower. There were several Ravens branded or themed gifts.

There were several notable gifts among the many wonderful ones that Casie received. Casie's friend Dana gave her a recordable story book from Hallmark and included a song to the baby at the end of the story. Casie's sister Carrie gave her an adorable onesie - that she's apparently had well before Casie got pregnant - that says, "Raised by Wolves" (how apropos!). My Aunt Kathleen presented her gifts to Casie on a clothesline. My Aunt Nancy did a beach/summer-themed gift including a cabana for baby naps on the beach. One of my mom's presents was "Baby's First Mallet" - a mini mallet for steamed crabs! Among the gifts I gave Casie, and in keeping with the "little pumpkin" theme, I got the baby a book ("I Love You, Little Pumpkin") and had a friend of mine knit a pumpkin hat for the baby.

At the Webb family shower three weeks ago, when I got home and uploaded my pictures, I noticed that Casie made a variety of faces when opening and reacting to her presents. I called my photo album for that shower, "A Shower of Facial Expressions." Proving it was not an isolated incident, Casie once again had some great faces when opening or showing off her gifts.

The shower was a huge success! Casie and Bill received so many wonderful presents for their little Wolf Cub ("Cubbie") and were showered with well-wishes and love from many of our family members and their friends. Special thanks to Aunt Nancy for arranging for us to use the space at Meadow Mill; to Bill for helping me with the guest list and the cover story; to my mom for her help with the food and supplies (yay for her Costco membership!); and to my parents, Aunt Nancy, and especially Chris for their help loading, unloading, and loading again all of the food and decorations, for helping me set-up and decorate, and for tolerating the "pre-party bitch mode" I sink into every time (it's a symptom of being a control freak!). 

Now? We wait.

P.S. For those folks who wanted recipes from the shower, here you go!

Beth's Spicy Enough Chili (adapted from Pat's Famous Beef & Pork Chili)

  • 12 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 cup beer (recommended: Budweiser)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans Ro*Tel Original diced tomatoes, with juice

  • Directions
  • In large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until lightly crisp, stirring occasionally. Once the bacon is browned, add the garlic, onion, bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, chipotle chili powder, oregano, and smoked paprika. Cook until the vegetables are tender and seasonings are aromatic. Add the beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Once beef is broken up and beginning to brown, add the pork sausage. Break up with wooden spoon like the beef, and brown, until no longer pink, roughly 4 minutes. Stir in the beer and beans. Toss together, then add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if necessary. Transfer the chili to serving bowls. Optional garnishes include lime wedges, sour cream, shredded cheese, and sliced scallions.

Beth's Stuffed Pepper Soup (adapted from Taste of Home's recipe)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound pork sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart beef stock*
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
3 cups cooked long grain rice
2 green peppers, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon each oregano, basil, and Italian seasoning

In a Dutch oven, cook beef, pork, onions, and garlic over medium heat until meats are no longer pink; drain. Stir in the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until peppers are tender.

*Additional stock may be added, depending on desired thickness of soup.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ESTN Day 5: Ending Super Times Nicely

Monday morning, we helped ourselves to the complimentary breakfast at the Microtel before heading to the nearby gas station to fuel up so we could spend the entire morning "playing" in southeast Ohio. The roads in SE Ohio are spectacular! Last year's ESTN was based in Marietta and a number of ST.Ners have extolled the glories of SE Ohio. Chris had been on the roads before; he hit SE Ohio in August 2011 with Jerry, Jeff, David, and Kurt. He'd told me that riding in that part of the state was like riding one gigantic roller coaster. He was not lying! If the roads weren't twisty, they were chock full of elevation changes; most of the time they were both! Some had rises in the road where you couldn't see what was beyond...always interesting! Thankfully, Chris had the benefit of experience and GPS!

The route that Chris had planned for Monday morning began with OH 26 and included OH 800 and OH 255 among others. It was a gorgeous morning to play in SE Ohio!

Once we were done tooling around SE Ohio, we made our way into West Virginia at New Martinsville.

It's hard to tell, but there's a silhouette of a dog on the ball field meant to scare off the geese (seen departing the picture on the left).

Crossing the Ohio River into West Virginia.

We stopped at Sheetz in Morgantown, WV for a stretch break and a snack. Despite the fun we'd had that morning, my cold was really starting to wear on me. My throat was on fire and my ears were killing me. Still, I really had no choice but to soldier on, so I did. Another dose of Vitamin I (ibuprofen), a bottle of orange juice, and a hug from Chris and I was ready to get back on the bike and keep on keepin' on. 

We stopped again at Ohiopyle State Park for another stretch break (I was really fading as the day wore on) and to check out the water.

We stopped again in Johnstown, PA for another stretch break, more Advil, and another bottle of orange juice. At that point, we decided to hop onto the highway until we got to the Tyrone exit off of I-99. We exited at PA 453 so we could take PA 550 all the way back to the house.

Giving Chris bunny ears on I-99.
Just before we got to the house, we hit a big milestone on our Concours - 35,000 miles!!! 

ESTN 2012 to/from Sparta, NC proved to be an even better trip than ESTN 2010 (also in Sparta). The only thing missing was our friend, Sara. We really missed her!!!

Our total mileage for the trip was 1,543 miles over five days. Not too shabby!!! 

It did stink being sick on the trip. Riding all day wears me out normally; being sick meant that by the end of each day, I was toast! I slept so well each night, which was good. And it's not like I had any other option for getting home, so I just made the best of it. I dozed on and off a few times on the way home Monday and wound up taking a sick day on Tuesday to sleep most of the day (after I'd sent Chris out for NyQuil, DayQuil, cough drops, more Kleenex, and decaf hot tea bags). 

But the trip - even with the cold - was another fantastic time on the Concours with Chris and our ST.N friends! (Thanks, honey!!!)