WV Underwater

“Oh, the West Virginia Hills! How Majestic and How Grand!”

20160624_074831

My parents and I have made it a goal of ours to see more of our beautiful state. We’ve been taking mini-road trips trying to visit each of the 55 counties. To date we’ve set foot in all of them but four, but we need to revisit some as we started taking pictures with all of the county line signs after our first trip.

The next few posts will be about our trip as it would be one very long post to cover our three-day trip and all of the things that we saw.

This first post will be a bit out of order from the rest.

My family and I are sometimes less aware of current events as we don’t have television and our radio time is limited. I often avoid the drama of Facebook by only posting my own things or looking at close friends’ pages, so sometimes we are late in hearing what’s going on in the world.

We were sitting at the table Thursday night chatting before we went to bed. We were getting up early Friday to start heading down the Ohio River border. My brother’s lady friend told us that there was severe flooding in the part of West Virginia we were headed. We quickly pulled up the news for the area on the Internet and were shocked.

There were already fatalities including an 8 year old that had been swept away. We discussed our options and decided to go ahead with our trip – going as far as we could along the original route and rerouting if needed.

The farther into the state, the more we heard; local radio stations and TV news stations were covering the destruction. Facebook was buzzing with prayers for WV and #WVstrong. As we headed down towards the disaster area, we stopped at a grocery store to get cases of water which we would leave at a donation center.  The death toll hit 24 with a hundred people trapped in a shopping mall, homes swept away and thousands without power.  Most of our trip was unaffected by the flooding. We decided to still try for Charleston as the locals we asked said that the roads were clear into Charleston despite the surrounding areas being underwater.  After walking the capitol’s grounds, we headed back to our home county.

We took a road which had just been reopened from severe mud slides. The road passed some of the most affected areas. Peering down over the guardrails, we could see the path of the flood waters. There were down branches and stagnant puddles. A few homes that we passed had piles of belongings: couches, rugs, and mattresses out in the yard to be cleaned or to dry. We saw a classic car with the doors open being cleaned from the mud.  We stopped at a gas station; they had no running water.

We made our way back up the state. It was amazing to see that life was continuing despite the destruction to the south. President John F. Kennedy once said, “The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do.” No matter how unfortunate her situation, her people never stop caring, struggling and shining.

West Virginia is struggling to survive and adapt without these types of setbacks. These areas are already in need of help, and a disaster of this magnitude could make it nearly impossible for these communities to recover. If you can help in any way, it is appreciated. Donations or volunteer links can be found here.

20160625_073012

 

Strawberry Fields Forever

For all my attempts at organizing, streamlining and downsizing, sometimes sentimentality wins out. This is why I have ancient birthday cards, scraps of poetry and pictures tucked away in folders and boxes. Sometimes this soft spot results in new purchases that strike an old memory in my heart.

While at the outlets the other day with a friend, I found the sweetest little porcelain berry basket in a soft mint green. I saw a smaller version at Target a few months ago and passed it up, telling myself I would pick it up later, but I never saw them again.

I was so excited as I walked through the entrance at Harry & David and saw a full-sized berry basket greeting me on the table – I bought it on the spot.

IMG_20160616_064301

Summer is forever tied with strawberries in my mind. Fresh berries straight from the bush, the way your mouth waters right before you first taste their tangy flavor, bowls of berries sprinkled with Sweet N Low in a 70s green Tupperware bowl, watching the red juice stain the paper towel my grandmother sliced them on . . . Delicious!

I remember my grandfather in his strawberry patch. It stretched the length of the back yard right by the pool; there were rows of red strawberries soon to fill green cardboard berry boxes in my grandparents’ garage.

20160616_062309

For me, the smell of strawberries seems incomplete without the smell of chlorine. In the summer we would go swimming at my grandparents, and Pappy would work in the garden. As he made his way down the strawberry patch putting berries in his pail, he would every so often toss one or two into the pool for my brother and me. We would swim or dive, grab the berry and munch away. The time spent at my grandparents and in the pool floods my memories when I think of how I spent my early summers.

20160616_062225

There was also a summer, more sad, when I helped my grandmother with the garden. It had been a long day, and the strawberry patch seemed to stretch out twice its size. I was picking strawberries as the sky darkened. While I put berries into the bowl, the song on my iPod shuffled to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and just at that moment it began to rain.  So I sat in a light summer rain, and I picked strawberries and sang along.

The little green porcelain berry box reminds me of those summers at my grandparents and brings up memories as bittersweet as ripe strawberries.

20160616_062146

Feel Small When You Stand Beside the Ocean

“With age comes wisdom and with innocence youth, so listen, my friend, to the cautions of the young and the wise.”

If you hear the same advice from more than one older person or from the mouth of a child, it may just be something you should listen to.

I recall when I had just started to stretch my ears, and my parents hadn’t noticed yet (Sorry, Mama!), a girl at camp, who was maybe 15, had stretched hers out so large that only surgery could reverse it; she said that she regretted her decision. I thought about that, getting life lessons from a child, and immediately took out my gauges.

There was an older lady at the nail salon the other day who was sharing stories about her life as a young adult in Paris, and she said to me, “That’s one of the best and worst things about getting old; you look back at the things you could’ve done but didn’t and think, “Man – I could have done some stuff, and the reasons I didn’t weren’t good enough to not have done them.”

As I was driving to work last Friday, I heard women on a morning talk show talking about how stressful it is to purchase a swimsuit. I recall my first bikini, and the sheer panic and up-talking it took for me to step out in it. I had spent years of sweltering summers in jeans because I hated the scars on my legs and my stretch marks.

263400_10150302102811798_4291614_n
Me at age 18, in my first bikini at 176 lbs

The expectation of perfection is everywhere. We are constantly bombarded by imagery of what we should be. The sizes of our jeans are tiny and fluctuate from designer to designer. It’s difficult to find a two-piece above a size medium. Regardless of size, we’re subjected to judgement. We are either too skinny or too fat. In a room full of women, we are constantly discussing, analyzing, and apologizing. I don’t recall the last time I wasn’t on a diet; the last time I ate a giant cheeseburger without feeling guilty or apologizing; the last time I didn’t barter with myself for a cookie, or the last time I wasn’t hyper aware of exactly how many calories were in my meal.

I’ve been 180 lbs. and 150 lbs. I’ve been called hefty and athletic. I’ve baked cakes and pies and worked out at the gym 5 days a week. I’ve taken diet pills and starved myself. I’ve eaten low carb, counted calories, used artificial sweeteners, done cardio and lifted weights, and I’ve seen countless other women in my life do the same.

To quote the song, “Time takes its toll on a body; makes a young girl’s brown hair turn grey.” My skin will wrinkle and my hair will grey, and my body will change – it’s supposed to. We trade in youth for experience and years of life. That is exactly how it should be. We’ve forgotten how to celebrate age, and we idolize youth and perfection.

This is our struggle, a society of judgement.

IMG_20160606_101425

When packing for the beach this year, I needed a new swimsuit. I’d gained a bit of weight back, and my instinct was to grab my one-piece and shield myself from being the girl who should’ve known better on the beach – and then I rejected that thought. I’ve struggled with body image; some days I’m content and some days I’m embarrassed, but the fact is I work out several times a week. I eat more vegetables, whole grains, and balanced meals than I ever have, and I have nothing to be ashamed of. I may not be a Victoria’s Secret model, but I am in the best shape of my life.

IMG_20160606_160601

I try to dress professionally at work and pretty modestly at home. I keep my hemlines reasonable and my tops decently cut. There’s a quote attributed to several famous women which says, “A dress should be tight enough to show that you’re a woman but loose enough to show that you’re a lady,” which I tend to follow. Sometimes though, I just want to cut loose and wear whatever ridiculous trends are happening in the world. I figured, I’m on vacation, why not? I grabbed a crop top, high waisted shorts, and a bikini and said, “My body is acceptable just as it is” and headed off to the beach.

You know what? I wasn’t the thinnest or thickest girl there, and I had a blast.

We all need to tune in to the positive and accept what we are at the moment. Society judges us; we don’t need to also judge ourselves.

 

IMG_20160606_162857

 

Death by Decadence – Chocolate Cake

We celebrated my mother’s birthday along with Memorial Day this year, so Grammy and I headed down home for a picnic. We had ate outside on the deck and had burgers, chips, baked beans, macaroni salad, and corn roasted on the campfire. We ate out on the deck since the weather was finally warm!

As usual, I made my mother’s birthday cake. This year it was a monstrosity of a cake; it took nearly a full jar of peanut butter to complete!

Unfortunately, the project was pretty time consuming, and I was on a deadline so I wasn’t able to do a step-by-step, but I’ll give you a synopsis as best I can.

I only had one cake mix, so I stretched it. I added 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup oil, and 1 egg. Since this was going into a chocolate cake, I made the sugar a slightly heaping 1/4 cup and added 2 T cocoa powder.

I always substitute out milk for water when making a box cake, a trick I learned from an amazing woman and talented cook back when she made my 14th birthday cake!

I baked the cake in 3 pans. On one of the layers of cake, I used a bowl to cut out the center leaving a hole.

Then I whipped up some peanut butter icing. I have absolutely no measurements for this. I used nearly a whole jar of peanut butter and a 2 pound bag of powdered sugar and a drizzle of vanilla. Whip on high and add in milk until you reach your desired texture. Good Luck. Godspeed.

Now comes the fun part. I laid my first cake layer down on the plate and drizzled it with Hershey’s syrup. After the syrup, I spread straight-from-the-jar peanut butter. On top of that, I piled on the peanut butter frosting. Next came the cut-out cake layer. I filled the hole with Peanut Butter M&Ms and more Hershey’s syrup, and peanut butter and peanut butter frosting followed. Finally – the last layer of cake. I used almost all of the frosting to over the outside of the cake. This cake probably weighed 10 pounds.

13339634_10154191846016798_2905571545203967347_n

In the remaining frosting, I crumbled some of the cake that had been cut from the center layer. I set the cake/frosting mixture aside while I worked on the next step: chocolate ganache. Now, this was my first attempt at ganache and I followed Martha’s recipe. I bought mini Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I don’t think that the cocoa count was high enough.

Next time I’ll be sure to get a more quality chocolate. I drizzled the ganache over the cake, crumbled the cake/icing mixture around the edges and scattered in some mini and whole-sized Reese’s Cups and finished it off with a sprinkle of peanuts. This cake was layered, drizzled, smothered, scattered, and decadent! You should’ve seen my mother’s face when I pulled off the lid of the cake carrier.

13320011_10154191838356798_255515490964434218_n

It was such a pretty day that when we rolled up she and Daddy were out on the hammock.  We had corn on the cob roasted in the fire ring and ate on the deck. Nothing like country living.

This month has involved so much traveling! I went to Canada, Pittsburgh, up above Harrisburg, down home in WV and the next trip will be to the beach! I hope the warm weather holds out because I need some salt water to soothe my soul.

There’s A Ring On The Carousel

“There’s a Ring on the Carousel and It’s Yours If You Only Grab It.”

My gal pals (who I had tea with the other day) wanted to do a girls’ get-away.  If we all recollect correctly, S and K had gone to an amusement park together, as did K and I, but we don’t believe the three of us had ever before went together. This past weekend we piled in the car and headed up above Harrisburg to Knoebels Park.

I remember going to an amusement park with a giant, old carousel where you could still grab those brass rings as a kid. I had thought that the park I went to as a child had closed down, but as it turns out I had combined memories and Knoebels Park is still thriving!

13307249_10154185967886798_2199678625746777748_n

Knoebels is a no admission park; you pay by the ride – like a carnival. It is similar to Dinosaur Land in that it has some walk-thru attractions and a lot of figures/props made from fiberglass. We went on the carousel, an old wooden roller coaster, the haunted house, tilt- a – whirl, Ferris Wheel, and the tea cups. (because really, when would I ever pass up an opportunity to get inside a giant teacup?).  I’d forgotten how much I love roller coasters!

 

But for me the big pull was the carousel. Carousels are one of those things like birdcages, chandeliers, skeleton keys, and grandfather clocks that I have a soft spot for.

20160528_151833

There is something magical about the music and the intricate carved horses and reaching out for that brass ring!

I can never pass one up, I find them romantic. As a matter of fact, the girls and I were discussing how cute a carnival-themed engagement shoot would be at this park!