Saturday, September 27, 2008


Yesterday was Patrick's 29th birthday, and I was really looking forward to surprising him. The best gift I can give him is... myself, right? A happy, relaxed, pulled-together Wife greeting him at the door with a clean and cheerful Daughter. But then I realized he might not recognize us, so I focused on a treat, instead.

"If you're going to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."

And if you're going to surprise your husband with his favorite cake for his birthday, you must make sure you plan ahead so that everything can be completed while the Child is sleeping.

-First, go to the grocery store. When? Well, that morning, of course! You didn't think I had gone 3 days ahead, now did you? Nope, I went in the morning when Bella is in desperate need of a nap so that I could spend time carrying her around with one arm, pushing a full shopping cart with the other, feeding her grapes to keep her from screaming.
-Bella fell asleep in the car right before we turned onto our street - carry her into her bed, then carry all the groceries in and put away.
-Clean counters because they look dirty to me, load dishwasher to make room, and clean pots and pans because... doesn't everyone start baking a cake by washing pots and pans?
-Haul pregnant self onto counter-tops to reach those little-used, yet essential, ingredients from the top cabinet shelf. Mix cake batter, looking at all the things on the "to-do" list, but make conscious decision to just enjoy singing along with the music, instead.
- Put cake into the oven and start cleaning up, adding to both the surprise and being a calm wife. Realize that I have forgotten the timer, so I make a guess and set timer.
- Run to take shower; realize that clean clothes are a commodity in this household, and run back downstairs in search of something that isn't covered in flour, grape puree, or toddler saliva. Then enjoy shower, until 3/4 of the way through shaving Bella wakes up screaming, leaving me no choice but to speed-shave. All women know what this leads to; will throw in laundry with bloody towel later.
- Step out to the smell of Carrot Cake - a strong smell of carrot cake. Mental debate ensues: cake then kid, or kid then cake? She's safe in the crib, but the milk is all ready for her, easily buying me time.
- As the NOT BURNT cake is cooling, I wrestle with the electric hand-mixer for the cream cheese icing. (YUM, my favorite part!) I realize that all this baking and cleaning and phone conversation is taking a toll on my pregnant brain - I had completely forgotten about my stand-mixer until in a call for help to Angela she reminded me. *sheepish chuckle*
- Delicious, homemade, iced Carrot Cake is covered and put away! YAY! Success! Success? I still haven't started dinner! When do I get my nap???

Dinner turned out wonderful; I just had time to start prepping veggies when Patrick arrived home to a tired but happy wife and daughter. I tried a new recipe for us, one from his family's recipe book called "Drunken Chicken." I figured anything with that name that called for RUM and setting fire to it sounded good to me! We enjoyed a pretty quiet evening at home (At least as quiet as it ever is when Sara and Rachael and Bella are all running around!) but that suited me just fine after being up and running all day. Oh, I mean, it was all for Patrick :)

Happy Birthday, Patrick! Maybe one year I will a) remember to plan ahead, and b) not be relying on a pregnant brain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Patrick!

Happy Birthday to my husband! Thank you for being such an amazing husband and father, for working so hard for us, for always being willing to give of yourself endlessly.

I Love you so much, Patrick!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Different College

Last week Patrick represented GEICO's Actuarial Department at Penn State's career fair, held on their main campus. The company was reimbursing gas mileage and the hotel room and a small stipend for food; of course Isabella and I were happy to tag along! Anything for a change of scenery every now and then, right?

After leaving Patrick at the fair to do his thing, Bella and I took full advantage of a beautiful campus and perfect weather: have stroller, will travel! After a while all that sitting (We did just have 3 hours in the car) caught up with Bella, and she looks up at me and very clearly says "Mama! DOWN!" Not understanding that I was searching for a grassy spot, she thought I was ignoring her, so she grabs the straps, kicks her feet, and vehemently and with great volume insists "DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN!" ...whew! Patience is not her strong point yet.

This was our pattern for the next 4 1/2 hours - walk for a while, then find a safe spot to run. At one stop we were sitting (thank the Lord!) reading a book when 2 squirrels scurried right in front of us, catching Bella's attention. Stopping barely 5 feet from us, one stayed put and watched Bella, almost as intently as she was watching it! Excitedly pointing and proclaiming, she jumped up and started toward the remaining squirrel; rather than running away, however, that little furry friend stuck around for some play time! It would approach Bella, and then hurriedly scurry past her, only to stop and make sure she was following. She would giggle and start toward it again, to chase it another couple of feet. This dance continued for a good 15 minutes, of the squirrel teasing Bella - there is no better way to describe the scene other than saying they were playing! Bella was fascinated! I must say, though, I was too! How many opportunities do we have to come that close to nature and connect in our play? It was simply adorable.

Unfortunately the pictures did not turn out so great - every time I tried to get close enough for our camera the squirrel would panic and start to run away. I stayed far enough back to watch them continue their game, which meant the pictures are a little dark and hard to see.

After 4 1/2 hours of the great outdoors (yes, I walked for the better part of 4 1/2 hours!!!) the 3 of us went back to the hotel room - at least 2 of us were exhausted!!! Patrick went out for carry-out dinner and I put Bella to bed, but not before she had a chance to run around the hotel room being silly! (She is not a thumb-sucker, by the way; she really was just being silly, grabbing the remote and snuggling against the pillows.)

In walking around that afternoon/evening, I had a lot of time to be amazed at the differences to the college life I had known. Of course the obvious difference is mere size; my alma mater had 1900 enrolled students at the time I was there, and I could not venture a guess at the size of Penn State's student body. Also, there are stoplights on campus! And buses! And of course every state college must have the football stadium, which we also saw.
The difference that really struck me, however, was in the students themselves. They seemed nice, most of them were dressed well (although I did keep in mind that it was career week) and I even got some smiles in passing. During a visit to my alma mater I would have been swamped with "hellos" and comments about the Baby and offers to help me, and that doesn't include anyone I might know! It's just that kind of environment.
Another thing I noticed is most likely a generational change: the isolation that electronics brings. I saw so many students walking beside someone with whom they were not talking - they were on the cell phone or sending texts. There did not seem to be many casual passing greetings, because those walking alone were often plugged in to their Ipods. Of course this was not everyone; I saw many groups of friends talking and laughing. I am simply commenting that I would not have been able to identify with this generation of college students or this atmosphere of student life. Times change, and places offer different atmospheres.

It really was a fun little trip - a change of pace, a change of scenery, a great opportunity for outdoor enjoyment!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dare to Discipline: Menu Planning

Recently I decided that I needed a little more order, a little more structure, and a little more organization in my life. These things do NOT come naturally to me, and in general we do just fine without them; however, with another little baby on the way, joining a very active and energetic big sister, I felt that we would all do better starting out ahead of the chaos. This will require a LOT of discipline on my part - I am really really no good at organization. I am terrible at planning. I shrink away from schedules with a plague-like aversion. ( Which remains the #1 mental roadblock to the idea of homeschooling, but at least I have a few years before I have to stress about that.)

Well, we've undertaken several projects lately that are gradually leading to a simpler, more organized lifestyle for all of us. With all the extra time and energy I have lately (note extreme sarcasm) I'm taking baby steps in planning and minimizing. I realize that this is not at all earth-shattering for most normal people, but... I am not normal. This is a huge pill for me to swallow. But once again I rely on determination, if not downright obstinance, to accomplish tiny glimmers of order in our life.

Step 1: Menu Planning. I wrote out a dinner menu last week and only revised 1 day! It's not actually the revisions that matter to me, it's mainly seeing that by planning something out we are covered for the week without me having to think last minute! I am very flexible, so any night that something better comes up I am happy to drop the plan. However, it gives me an outline, and even helps me prepare while Bella is napping. (When I don't decide to blog, instead.)

This Week
Monday: Vodka Pasta - an absolute favorite! In fact, it's SO EASY and SO DARN GOOD that I'd be happy to post the recipe for anyone interested. With only 20 minutes to prep and cook, it's also a great last-minute fix. Yum Yum Yum. Besides, I am up to my ears in fresh tomatoes from my garden-jungle, so I'm working in several recipes that will benefit from fresh ingredients.
Tuesday: Blackened-Chicken Jambalaya - just have to remember to defrost the chicken in some marinade in the morning, then hit the grill when Patrick gets home if it's good weather again.
Wednesday: Pasta with Fresh Pesto - another amazingly good and easy dish! My basil plants are invading the peppers anyways, so time to harvest a decent amount and make some fresh pesto, which both Patrick and Isabella love. (me too!) Again, this is such a simple dish, taking just a few minutes of prep and a good relationship with your blender or small food processor.
Thursday: Stir-Fry - we buy large bags of cut and prepared veggies from Costco, not expensive and a worthwhile time-saving measure! I found some random stir-fry sauce recipe online (I think it was one of the first Google results) and have simply adjusted it to meet our tastes. It's so easy to throw chicken or frozen shrimp or even beans into this for added protein.
Friday: Pizza Night - an *almost* weekly tradition. We've had bought pizza a few times in the past few weeks, so I might have to revise this one for one more week; I'm not sure yet. This is such a fun event that I've blogged about it before, and I'll end up writing about it again I'm sure.

Breakfasts and lunches are pretty run-of-the-mill around here, so I don't bother to plan them out. Rather if there are specific options that should/need to be eaten then I write them on the smear board to alert foragers.

So, wish me luck, I'll need it! We often eat at my parents' once a week, so that night will be cancelled or moved, and of course some days the best-laid plans aren't worth a mite. It really comes down to having a general outline that allows me a default of brain power if and when I need it. Anyone else have great menu-planning tactics? How do you lay out your food for the week?

*edited already: Monday night found me not feeling so great (read: not cooking) so we ordered Papa John's thanks to the Redskins! Also, I realized after publishing that Friday is Patrick's birthday, so I will be rearranging the menu to ensure that Friday's dinner is something special for him. Don't ask me what.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quirky Me

A while ago people were blogging about silly, harmless, little-known facts about themselves. I learned so many amusing things about my friends that I decided to finally do it myself. Keep in mind that this is not a confessional - these are just silly little quirks to make you feel a little more normal.

1) I have an art notebook that no one has ever seen except for one of my college roommates. I love to doodle and sketch, and have a book with many in them. I used both pencils and pastels (terrible for a notebook but I didn't care) and my subjects were anything from tattoo designs to spiritual images to fruit on my desk. I found art relaxing and stress-relieving, something vital to a nursing student! I also used to color in a coloring book when I talked to my boyfriend (now husband) while he lived in Italy.

2) I have a persistent desire to be multi-lingual. I have studied 3 foreign languages and speak none fluently, but I love them nonetheless. One year for my birthday Patrick got me a Rosetta Stone course and I really enjoyed, with great hopes to return to it. When I was a little girl I pretended to speak French. I still practice my French and Italian in private, and I have added the desire for a basic knowledge of sign language.

3) I am very opinionated and blunt, but in my quest to be more tactful and respectful toward others I often find myself resorting to silence. I pray constantly for a balance - the ability to express myself clearly and with conviction, while avoiding offending the person to whom I am speaking. I think that's really it - I am so "afraid" of offending with my words that I sometimes just avoid them entirely. I always seem to think of the right way to have verbalized after the fact.

4) My feet are painfully ticklish. No, seriously, I can't get a foot massage or a pedicure, and I have to wear socks to bed so the sheets don't tickle my feet. I do not find it funny at all when people touch my feet; it's one of the things that consistently ticks me off.

5) I love being outdoors in almost any type of weather, except cold rain/freezing rain. I love walking in warm summer rain, the hush of fresh-fallen snow, the crunch of autumn leaves. I am amazed by the beauty of the sky almost every day. I am such a nature lover, and would rather see the stars every clear night and have to drive farther for conveniences than to live in the city/suburbs.

6) My only real, true fear in life is snakes. (I wish I could say sin, but I am not virtuous enough to get the chills at the mere thought.) I really do get chills at the mere thought of snakes, and sometimes even have nightmares. Nothing else actually scares me like that, even things that are much more prolific/realistic/dangerous.

7) My MIL called me schizophrenic because the shapes have to be put away properly on the kid's shape sorter, but I have clutter on my end-tables. I get stressed out if my kitchen is dirty, but there is no rhyme or reason to my closet/shelves/drawers. I live a constant internal contradiction between wanting to be organized and pulled together, and just enjoying the chaos.

I know your lives are just that much more fulfilled now, right? At least I hope they made you smile and realize just what a NUT with whom you've chosen to associate yourself.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Unsafe Animal Sounds

Isabella loves making animal noises almost as much as we love hearing them! "Is Bella a lion?" results in the darn cutest little growl you've ever heard. She is also a snake, sheep, peacock, elephant, dog, duck, monkey, and owl. I can thank Eric Carle's book "Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?" for the odd selection of some of the animals. She LOVES that book! We did, however, have a "must not laugh" moment at Mass the other day when she pulled the book out of her diaper bag and let loose with an enormously loud growl!

So this morning Patrick comes upstairs with her - "Tell Mama what a cow says, Bella."

"ooooooooo" - deep, but no "M"

He confesses to me that they've been playing animals, and he was trying to get her to say "Moo" using other "M" words, but what came out was...

M-m-m-m-moooooo... Mama-Moooo

He decided that was not the best tactic.

Wise Man, that husband of mine.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Finding Love in the Laundry Room

Tuesday morning I got a phone call at 7am. For those that know me, you know that there had better be a pretty darn good reason why you would want to tempt fate and experience the total lack of coherence and charity that happens from my pillow before my daughter wakes up and I have had caffeine.

This was a good reason.


What? That isn't the kind of exciting news you were looking for? (Well, me neither at first - I had hoped it was Alexis. Plus it was an HOUR before the earliest scheduled time.) But nevertheless, I have been lusting after a new dryer for quite some time now, and thanks to Patrick's parents' generosity, WE HAVE ONE! The highlights include, but not necessarily limited to: Dust-Free. My laundry room is located in the lower basement, a.k.a. "The Dungeon" where, from the day we moved in, everything came equipped with a permanent stain impervious to scrubbing. I am currently deluding myself into believing that I will maintain one white appliance under those circumstances. Very Large - 7 cubic feet! With a light! And a big door! I am easily impressed.

ONE DRYING CYCLE!!!! This is, by FAR, the most exciting thing in the domain of being a housewife. What should be a simple load of laundry had become the household challenge - start wash, wait. start dryer, wait and wait and wait. RESTART dryer since the clothes were still damp, wait. Start another load of laundry while waiting for the dryer. Forget drying clothes, return to discover wrinkles in everything. Throw in damp towel, restart dryer, stand there waiting impatiently for those wrinkles to disappear. Hang up shirts, transfer loads, start another wash. Head upstairs, where both are promptly forgotten until the next morning, at which point both the washer and the dryer must be restarted. Repeat previous day's experience.

No longer! Today I started a load of laundry, and when it was finished I transferred into my beautiful BIG dryer, and a VERY short time later it signaled the finish. And the clothes were dry! AMAZING!

Which reminds me of another feature - the 'all-finished' buzzer that not only is loud enough to be heard from upstairs, but also continues buzzing every 5 minutes for 90 minutes. At least that's what the manual said; I have not wanted to tempt it any further than a few buzzes, as perhaps it resorts to more drastic measures after that. Perhaps it calls for back-up. HHmmm, perhaps it would start folding the clothes while it waits... Perhaps I should get up and fetch the dry clothes and put them away, since now I am out of excuses for the laundry basket storage system.

Yes, today I am bursting with a grateful heart for many reasons, not the least of which is my New Clothes Dryer!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Twenty-Seven years ago today my parents welcomed me into the world, and God gave me my first breath of air.

Thank You, Mom and Pops for the gift of Life, for loving me, and for giving me such a wonderful childhood.

Lord, please give me the grace to continue to grow closer to You, to use the gifts you have given me in humility and wisdom, and bless my parents for their sacrifices in being parents.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Beach!

After building up the suspense enough now, here are some pictures and stories from our annual vacation to the Outer Banks, NC. We had such a great time, with lots of laughter and even some relaxation! 15 members of the Stanley Clan stayed together just 1 block from the beach, on a quiet street perfect for walking and bike-riding. I even got my fat pregnant rear-end onto a bicycle for the first time in 2 years. Isabella did not appreciate her first bike-riding experience, but I believe it had to do with the wearing of Sara's helmet... just a little big and cumbersome. I think Patrick said she was ok while they were moving; that's my girl!

As for first impressions, well, I was already sitting down when Patrick plunked Isabella right into the sand (cool to the touch under the shade of the canopy) and her whole little body just revolted in response to the texture! After spending a few minutes desperately climbing onto me, her curiosity won out and soon she was digging her hands into the sand. Not too slowly the rest of her body followed suit, and soon she was sitting happily in that gritty playground, digging with a little shovel. For the rest of the week she could not get enough of it!
I am happy to report that she decided against eating it after only one small taste. Unfortunately, she thought the way to get the sand out of her mouth was to manually pull it out - with her hand.... also sand-covered. Hhhmmmm that did not work out as she planned. That girl is a fast learner, thankfully, and once was enough for her.

Isabella was quite happy to play in the sand for a while... until, that is, she saw the water. She LOVED the ocean immediately! Walking her down to the waves, she would "jump" with delight, and as soon as the water touched her toes she would begin babbling excitedly. So Adorable! Of course at her ripe old age of 13 months she did not understand the concept of the tide. "I promise the water will come back to you, Isabella, if you just wait here... holding onto Mama's hand!" She begged to differ, and insisted on chasing it! We would run back and forth with her laughing and babbling the entire time.
One of the funniest "games" Bella played was in her quest to stay near or in the water. We would take her hand and lead her back up the beach, toward our sandy play area. She would walk contentedly in our desired direction, inspecting seashells and climbing over mounds of sand. All of a sudden she would spin 180 and RUN back to the waves! My sneaky, defiant little girl!
It was such a fun week, one that flew by way too quickly - as always! It was a sad shock to Bella to wake up without all those cousins with whom to play every day! She must wonder why we don't have the beach around every day!