Since Debby is keeping her distance from northwest Florida, I can safely resume my blogging about our road trip.

After visiting with Dave’s side of the family in Pennsylvania, we said our goodbyes — especially to Jacob, who is visiting with Dave’s parents for a couple weeks — and headed 2 hours back down I-81 to my parents in Martinsburg.

Our visit with my parents was similarly short, and we enjoyed trips to Costco and Kohl’s with my parents.  Costco was awesome since we’re no longer members so my parents bought our stuff and we paid them back.  We could stock up on batteries, “Mexi-Coke“, and I also got a nifty clothes-dryer rack.  I’m seeing how many days I can go without using my dryer!  If you count our vacation, I’m at 12 days so far!

Dave and I drove home on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, and Timmy stayed in West Virginia.  Both boys will be home after July 4th.

I don’t have pictures from when Dave and I were there, but my parents and sister have been sending great pictures of Timmy enjoying the local water park and batting cages.  Last weekend my parents took Timmy and my sister’s family to DelGrosso’s Park in Tipton, PA.

Enjoy some pictures my sister took of the day he had at the park!  She has a fantastic camera by the way…

Jacob’s having a wonderful time in NY, also.  We speak to both boys every other day.

Timmy and his cousins at DelGrosso’s, a small amusement park in central Pennsylvania.

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24. June 2012 · Comments Off on Debby Does Destin? · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Where’s she gonna go? What’s she gonna do? The meteorology world is stumped at the moment!

“We interrupt Major Mom’s writings about road trips and being “basic” while we discuss more pressing issues….”

When one lives on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and it’s hurricane season, you have to be ready to put your life on hold whenever a system is forecast to head in your direction.  We learn to keep supplies nearby: batteries, flashlights, Leatherman tools, propane, a camp stove, etc.  We learn to assess our food on hand, and work through the perishables first, in case we lose power.

With all the Tropical Storm Debby news dominating the airwaves, with Jim Cantore reporting from the beach right up the street from here, with my friends on Facebook talking about the craziness they’re seeing at our local Walmart, it’s hard to remain calm.

But I think Dave and I will be quite calm.  We’ve dealt with the east coast of Florida in 2004, and we saw some serious craziness: a week of empty gas pumps to looting to crowds of people ambushing the Publix employee when he rolled a cart of fresh milk to the dairy aisle.

For Miss Debby, the meteorologists are pretty darned stumped.  Forecasting storm intensity depends on the storm track, and the computer models aren’t agreeing on what the storm track is going to do.  So yeah…confusion and delay.  All I can offer to my local friends who are similarly preparing for this storm is to remain aware.  Official updates to the official forecast come out at least every 6 hours (7am, 1pm, 7pm, 1am CDT), you can follow the National Hurricane Center on Twitter and Facebook for the updates to get pushed to you, or you can subscribe to their e-mail service to have watches/warnings and advisories pushed to your email inbox.

I recommend FEMA’s Hurricane Preparedness website, which is a comprehensive source of information that covers the before, during and after event topics regarding tropical weather.  There’s a good suggested preparedness kit here.

All in all, just remain aware, use the media tools available to you, and above all: “Keep Calm and Carry On!”

20. June 2012 · Comments Off on Road Trip 2012 II, Part 1: Driving North and a Train Day · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

As I’ve mentioned in 2008, 2009, and 2011, our family makes a trip to Pennsylvania every year for Dave’s family reunion in Lancaster County.  I didn’t go in 2010 — Dave flew to PA with the boys while I did some reserve work — so I didn’t write about it.  To be honest, I haven’t written much detail about the reunions themselves.  I guess I just say “We’re going” and that’s about it.  It’s mainly hanging out drinking some Yuengling, eating Hammond’s Pretzels, catching up with the others from Dave’s Dad’s side of the family.  The folks are all wonderful and it’s especially fun to see how grown up the younger family members become year after year.  This year, some of the youngest family members when I first went to a Vollmer reunion in 1994 are about to become seniors in college!!!!  Wow!

We also pay a visit with several loved ones from Dave’s Mom’s side of the family.  Some of them drive in from Philadelphia to Lancaster County to visit with Dave’s parents and our foursome and we’re always flattered and humbled by their efforts.  Each year Jacob seems to top himself with how much he can eat: this year it was a foot-long chicken parmesan sub sandwich!

Enjoy some pictures from the first couple days of our adventures.  We try to spend a day at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Strasburg Railroad, and this year we even adjusted our travel time so we could keep a day ahead of the Strasburg Railroad’s “Day Out With Thomas” event that is always over Father’s Day weekend.  It’s usually a nightmare of toddlers and preschoolers, with families coming from as far away as Connecticut and Massachusetts for the chance to ride behind a REAL engine made up to look like Thomas (and not non-operational Thomas that’s actually pushed by another locomotive, which is what we experienced in Nebraska in 2009 — don’t get me wrong, the Fremont, Nebraska experience is the best-ever Thomas ride we’d ever had out of 5 venues and about a dozen rides!)

The kids have officially outgrown Thomas <sniff sniff> and didn’t mind not riding with him this year.  Some of my favorite memories of my little boys will always be with that useful engine….

We took a detour on the drive northward and took some of Skyline Drive in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.

We took a detour on the drive northward and took in some of Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.  Check out that stunning view!  We only drove the southernmost 40 miles, from mileposts 105 to 65 or so.

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This is what I love cooking...but I shouldn't be cooking this...

I find myself in a little conundrum: I want to bake bake bake.

When I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I wanted to go “back” to the cooking I used to do for the family, much of that involved baking cookies, cakes, cobblers, breads, cornbread, etc. I love baking.

I need to change my mindset.

My adventures with granola and popcorn are a start, but I need to keep moving forward with fun cooking tasks that don’t break the calorie bank and fill my family with empty starchy calories.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying making a small loaf of whole wheat bread about every 3-4 days for the family. The recipe that came out the winner uses only whole wheat flour with one cup of prepared mashed potatoes. You can throw a medium potato in the microwave, bake it and smash it straight into the bread machine! We enjoy making sandwiches, toast and even just having slices of bread and butter as a side dish with dinner. The kids are asking for plain slices of bread as a snack! I’m not making this up!!!

In the meantime, I’m also trying to clear out some of the less-than-ideal ingredients in my pantry. I feel a little guilty doing this also. I made a key lime pie a couple weeks ago to clear out graham crackers and condensed milk…and I made a chicken noodle casserole that used up some cream of chicken soup and egg noodles.

I’m doing some research on the interwebs myself, but if anyone has ideas of great homemade snacks for the family that I can keep on hand for snacking…leave me a comment!

11. June 2012 · Comments Off on Summer Fun!! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

The kids are definitely enjoying their summer vacation so far!  Apparently Jacob was working extra-hard this school year because I hadn’t seen him this happy in a long time.  School and baseball just wore him out, I guess.  They’re enjoying sleeping late, staying up late at night and not having to get dressed until lunchtime.  Oh, the summer life!

Since school ended last Thursday, the kids have been doing little else besides playing games, riding their bikes and playing catch in the backyard.

Sadly, our area was hit with that Gulf Coast deluge of rain over the weekend so we were quite literally stuck in the house all weekend.  Our rain gauge is broken, but I’d estimate around 8-10″ of rain at our house all weekend.  We have good drainage so our house and our property was okay.

While under our virtual house-arrest, the boys got along GREAT and Dave and I could catch up on several household tasks.  We had visited Target on Friday and let the kids choose one video game and one board/card game each.  We enjoyed all of that and then some: Uno, Phase-10, Rummikub, chess, Monopoly, Guitar Hero and even our new “Go” board game.

I also helped out with this week’s Cub Scout Day Camp.  Even though my boys can’t go (because of our upcoming Road Trip), I had received a request to help out with some craft preparations.  I offered my assistance and I received a task that was PERFECT for this past rainy weekend: FiMo clay Star Wars action figures.  You press the clay into the molds, then bake a pan full of them at 230F for 30 minutes to harder.  They are to be used in snow globes (Hoth?) that will be made with baby food jars.

Here is a picture of what I was working on.  Cute, aren’t they?  They weren’t easy but with the rainy weather, we had all the time in the world!  I had to make 150 of these.

Of the dozen-or-so characters to choose from, there are the only ones that will fit through the mouth of a classic baby food jar. These were among the best of the batch. Most of the Yodas looks more like Gizmo from "Gremlins", and most of the Obi Wans and Chewies had no discernable faces. The molds for these were made by "Kenner" years ago. I tried to find a link to the mold product but can't find any.

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Topped with our just-picked blueberries, this has been my breakfast every morning this week!

I was picking up cereal at the grocery store last week and noticed the commercially available granola. For $3-5 per box, you could get granola with a variety of flavors, with varied ingredients and perhaps even some preservatives thrown in.

Such as Kellogg’s low-fat granola:

Here’s the ingredients list from the entry: “Whole Oats, Brown Sugar, Whole Grain Wheat, Corn Syrup, Rice, Almonds, Modified Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed and/or Soybean Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cinnamon, Salt, Nonfat Dry Milk, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Polyglycerol Esters of Mono- and Diglycerides, Malt Flavor, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Guar Gum, Sodium Ascorbate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Reduced Iron, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Bht (Preservative), Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.”

High fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils?  If one is considering granola, one would think they’d be aware of such ingredients and not choose this particular brand.  There are so many others out there…if you had to purchase it.

Even Kashi’s yummy “Cocoa Beach” chocolate granola has “mixed tocopherols” in its ingredients, but at least I could recognize everything else.

It wasn’t too difficult to take a look at what I had available in my pantry and figured I could do this myself without high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated-anything. I had plenty of Quaker’s “Old Fashioned” oats, honey, brown sugar, nuts and raisins that I could use to make granola. Plus a complement of spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

I browsed numerous online granola recipes, looking for one that fit the volume I wanted to make, plus the ingredients I had available.

A recipe from Amy at A Little Nosh blog was the winner [link to recipe has since gone dark].  She adapted it from the 100 Days of Real Food blog, which is a wonderful blog about a North Carolina family who succeeded in 100 days of non-processed foods, making everything from scratch.  They then tried an additional 100 days of the same thing on a tight food budget and found out it’s harder than it ought to be.

As for Amy’s recipe, being 2nd on the Google search for “homemade granola” helped her case for being my choice.  All the sweetness came from the honey, and the fat that gives it the richness came from butter instead of oil.  We here prefer the flavor that comes with butter, so this was the recipe we tried out.

I had to make a couple of changes to adapt to the ingredients I had on hand and deal with some of my kids’ tastes:

  1. I used raisins instead of dried cranberries, since I had plenty of raisins on hand already
  2. I omitted the sunflower kernels and pumpkin seeds, my youngest son doesn’t care for seeds
  3. I also omitted the coconut.  None of us care for it too much.

Otherwise, this recipe worked out like a charm and the kids enjoyed snacking on it.  We love the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg aroma in the house while it’s baking up, as Jacob told me last week, “It smelled like Christmas!”

While Amy claims that she makes a batch and it disappears quickly, we here find granola very filling and we’re still snacking on it and having it for breakfast 5 days later.  After all, the recipe makes 3 pounds or 48 ounces, the equivalent of 3-4 boxes of what’s commercially available.

Cost-wise, I probably used about $1 worth of ingredients (a non-scientific estimate) to produce the same amount you’d have to pay about $15 for in a store.

“Back to Basics” for the win!  Once again!

06. June 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 24: Touchablue Berry Farm · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,

So many blueberries, but only one me to eat them all!

I made plans with a neighborhood friend, Sandra, to go blueberry picking. I had friended A&N Blueberry Farm on Facebook earlier this spring and watched their page for when they’d be opening. Last Thursday (while our older sons were in school) we drove all the way up to the town of Molino, Florida (about an hour away) and when we got to A&N, the farm was closed.  I mean, really CLOSED!

A sign was taped to the locked gate:

Due to unforeseen circumstances we will be closing the blueberry patch until further notice. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes. Please monitor our website for any further information.  Please don’t judge our decision.

Thanks to my handy-dandy smartphone, we learned that there were several other blueberry farms in the area, the closest one being only about 3 miles away.  So we drove west just a few minutes and found Touchablue Berry Farm.

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If you can find the "White" popcorn, it has a distinctive flavor that makes up for the lack of chemicals and other nonesuch.

A friend of mine who lives nearby, Cassandra, put the idea in our heads at a spouses’ club-related meeting a couple months ago. We were discussing healthy snacking and she offered up how we can make plain popcorn in the microwave with just a paper lunch bag. She said “a couple tablespoons in a brown bag, fold over the bag twice and pop on high until there’s 1-2 seconds between pops.”

On a recent shopping trip — on which I was also stocking up on whole wheat flour and other baking ingredients — I stopped and stared for a while at the popcorn selections. Mostly the boxed microwave popcorn that contains tocopherols and other goodies.

I remembered Cassandra’s quick ‘n dirty tips for microwaving popcorn and decided to pick up a bag of plain Jiffy Pop popcorn kernels.  2 lbs. of nothing but popcorn!  Nearly 30 servings for $1.99 at our local commissary ($1.99 is the cost of about 6 servings of microwave popcorn.)

We tried it out and it worked beautifully!  Loved not needing any oil to cook the popcorn!  I ended up having to do two batches like that to keep up with my ravenous sons!

Don’t want plain popcorn?  You can melt butter and drizzle it over the popped corn for some classic flavor, or try out one of these fun options.

How about some homemade kettle corn?  Okay, this recipe involves stovetop cooking with oil, but it sure would be nice to have it without having to be at a fair or festival.  We just had some at the Billy Bowlegs Festival Saturday night!