Traveling Through New England (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about my husband and I getting away without our kids for a week this summer. Well, the week is here and we're having a blast! We dropped our three youngest off for sleep away camp in Western New York Sunday night and have been on our own since. There are so many beautiful sights in this part of the country and I thought I'd share some of what we've seen so far.

I love history, so New England is like Candyland for me. There is so much to see everywhere I look and so much of it has beautiful character and a story behind it.

So far, we've visited Portsmouth, New Hampshire...

Love this old building and water view.

Kennebunkport, Maine...

Beautiful beaches in Kennebunkport. So much different than what I've seen in the South.

And Portland, Maine...

Getting ready for dinner on the town!

Riding bikes around Peaks Island, Maine, just a short ferry ride over from Portland.

Gorgeous views on Peaks Island.

Before dinner at The Lobster Shack overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Maine is beautiful!

I hope you've enjoyed this little taste of some of the sights in New England. I've seen so many gorgeous old homes too, but there's no way for me to take a picture that will do them justice. The character is evident in the neighborhoods and gardens and elaborate detail to the outside of the homes. I'm sure my husband is tired of me exclaiming at all the neat ones I see, but I can't help it! He'll just have to bear it for a few more days!

Until next time, I leave you with one I took for my mom who loves Queen Anne's lace...

Along coast at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

*To read about the second half of our trip, click here.

Oil Painting

A couple months ago, I wrote here about hobbies and how much they enrich my life. One hobby I get a great deal of pleasure from is painting. I've always liked creating art. There's something about getting lost in the process that's very relaxing and satisfying to me. A realtor friend recently asked me to paint a house he had sold so he could give it as a gift to the former homeowner.

The original picture.

The painting was 5x7 and took me between five and six hours to completely finish. That sounds like a long time and others may be able to do it faster, but that's pretty typical for me. I thought it might be fun to show you the progression of something like this. I can't paint an oil painting in one day because some layers need to dry before I can paint more detail over them. Here is the painting in stages:

The initial sketch.

At the end of the first session.

End of the second session.

End of third session.

Framed and ready to go!

I really enjoy painting houses. Each one is unique and has its own story. This week we're traveling in New England and one of the things I'm looking forward to is looking at the houses. They have a different style and architecture than I'm used to seeing in Tennessee. I'm sure I'll be taking lots of pictures and will paint at least one as a memory of our trip!

How about you? Do you have hobbies that you enjoy? I'd love to hear about them!

The Sunshine Award

Chelsea of The Contented Wife Blog nominated me for the Sunshine Award. I enjoy her blog so much because it takes me back to early married life staying at home with my oldest. Sappy, I know, but those are really good memories! The Sunshine Award is basically a pat on the back to bloggers you've been inspired by in the blogosphere. It's also a fun way to learn more about the authors!

My first task in accepting this award is to list 11 random facts about me:

I grew up in the North and live in the South. People continue to notice my accent and comment on it, even though it's not as strong as it once was.

I love to read. I think reading is the most wonderful form of entertainment there is.

If left to my own devices, I'm hardly ever bored.

I feel emotions intensely. No one has ever described me as easy going!

I rarely watch TV on my own, but I do enjoy watching certain shows with my family.

I have a terrible sense of direction and cannot find my way anywhere new without very specific directions. Even then, I'll probably get lost at least once!

I like to have a project. Right now, I don't have one and I keep thinking of things I'd like to change about my house.

I have something chocolate almost daily. 

I don't like clutter and my kids know that if they're missing a "treasure", Mom probably tossed it!

I actually like cleaning, if it will stay that way for awhile!

I don't like board games. They always feel like they last forever!

For more random facts about me, click here.

Now I need to answer Chelsea's questions for me and nominate 11 others for the Sunshine Award:

Why did I start my blog and how did I decide in the name? I started my blog because I LOVE to read blogs and it seemed like it would be a fun hobby. I didn't want to put any pressure on myself to come up with fascinating material though, so decided this title would fit best..Normal Everyday Life. 

What is the thing you love most about where you live? I have to say the Middle Tennessee weather. I grew up in Western New York where it's a very long winter! Now I'm annoyed when we get snow for a few days!

What is a typical day like for you? Right now it's summer, so every day is different. The things that never change though are cleaning, cooking, and driving kids around!

What is your favorite summertime activity? Definitely going to the pool with friends. I love sitting in a chair visiting with a friend while the kids are happy playing together in the water! 

What is your favorite music genre? I live in Nashville, so definitely country music. :)

Do you have any pets? No pets yet. I've always felt like adding a pet would tip me over the edge. 

What is your favorite meal? My favorite meal is leftovers or one that I don't have to cook. I have no fascination with cooking and prepare the simplest healthy meals I can get away with!

Where do I love to travel? I like to go to historical places. However, those aren't the types of places my kids like to go, so as a family we usually go to the beach. 

What is my favorite blogging resource? I'd have to say Google and other blogs. If I don't understand something, I start searching there first and can usually find the answer on other blogs!

My nominees for the Sunshine Award are:

Izzie Anderton from The World According to Izzie
Sara Murray from Mum Turned Mom
Jenny Rippatti-Taylor from Let's Talk Mommy
Jennifer from The Deliberate Mom
Kate Parlin from Shakespeare's Mom
Lana at Two Teens and Their Mama
Leilani and Emily at Just A Touch of Crazy

Here are their questions:

Why did you start blogging?
Are you an early bird or night owl?
Who is your favorite author?
What is your guilty pleasure?
What is your all time favorite TV show?
Name three things on your bucket list.
What's your favorite way to relax?
Do you collect anything?
What's your favorite post on your blog and why?
Do you enjoy appetizers or dessert more?
What is your favorite season and why?

I appreciate Chelsea nominating me for this award and hope you'll check her answers out here!

Catching Some Waves

It's a good thing this blog is called Normal Everyday Life because that's all I can think of to write about tonight. No humorous stories or mothering insights to share, just a fun day that I'll want to remember when summer has passed and school routines are underway. Today we went to a local wave pool/water park. Seven kids, three moms, a picnic lunch, and water slides make for a great summer afternoon.

At this pool, the water is calm for awhile and then every so often they start the waves. My girls were right there as close to the deep end as possible waiting for the waves to build and toss them about in their tubes!

These huge slides were another hit. The kids didn't hesitate to get started on those as soon as they got there!

Of course, all that swimming and running around wore them out. Lounging in their tubes eating snacks was the best way to regain energy for the next round!

It was fun to discover a new place so close to home. Water is always a hit in the heat and cooling off with friends is the best way to experience it! This was just the type of day we'll be longing for when routine and order enter our world again in a few weeks.

Mom's Top Ten Quotes

The other day, I had to think of something I say often, a quote I live by if you will. Of course my mind drew a total blank and I couldn't think of one thing I ever say that's noteworthy. So I asked the people closest to me, the ones that listen to me on a daily basis. Well, it didn't take my kids all of two seconds to start yelling out what they consider my favorite quotes. Here are some of them that sprang immediately off their lips. (Keep in mind that the 10 to 18 year old crowd is going for humor, not flattery!)

Mom's Top Ten Quotes According to the Kids

Your father's home. I say this when they come to me for the zillionth time ignoring the man related to them in the same room. Dad can do things, too, you know!

I need some peace and quiet. Many, many times a day.

You'll feel better in the morning. Sleep is apparently my cure for everything.

Is it 8 o'clock yet? Code for "isn't this day over yet, and will people never be in bed????"

You'll live, and/or You're fine. Unless it's a matter of survival, you're pretty much going to have to stick it out.

Back away from the food. Why are they like vultures circling their prey when I'm trying to prepare dinner?

Come on people. Will you never finish getting ready and get in the van????

I can't wait until Dad's home. Said by every mother since the beginning of time.

Tell me in three sentences or less. This applies to tattling and descriptions of movie plots. I don't need more than a quick summary of either one!

You just take care of that. Mom's had enough and you're going to have to handle that the best you can.

I really had to laugh as they shouted these out. It's true, I do say all of them...occasionally! :)

What would your kids say are your most famous quotes?

Blueberry Picking

Have you ever done an activity with your kids where you wonder, is this even worth it? Is this worth the time, money, or effort I'm putting into it?

I had one of those experiences the other night. My dad had asked me if I wanted to meet him with the kids and pick blueberries after he got out of work. About 10 minutes before I left, he called and told me he was hitting traffic and wondered if I should reconsider. But I had three kids already prepared for what they considered the highlight of their day, so I said we'd come anyway. 

Well, the traffic added about 45 minutes to our trip. It was frustratingly slow to take that long to move four miles. Plus the kids were playing some game in the backseat that involved cheers, protests and arguing two feet from my ears. Not what you want to hear caught in traffic for 45 minutes...after your husband has been out of town for four the summer...when all the kids are home 24/7. Wow! Dark mood alert!

I must have wondered a million times if this was even worth the hassle for some blueberries. I was totally ready to stop by Sam's Club, buy a big bag of frozen blueberries and be done with it!

When we finally pulled into the field, one of my daughters yelled with pure delight, "There's Papa! I'm going to go kiss him to death! I just love him so much!" and raced out of the van. Right then and there, I knew it had been worth it.

My kids had a blast picking berries and they must have thanked me a dozen times for taking them. Even my 11 year old son declared he LOVED picking blueberries. Who would have thought?

Sure, I could have skipped blueberry picking that night. I was very close to throwing in the towel a few times, but I'm glad I didn't miss out on these smiles!

I ended up coming home with a big pail of fresh blueberries and three very happy kids. We won't choose rush hour to go picking next time, but we'll definitely make another trip to the blueberry patch with Papa again this summer!

Getting Away Without Kids

Aaah...vacation. Sit in the sun and relax. Go sightseeing at a leisurely pace. Enjoy wonderful meals out. Maybe not if you're taking the kids. I've written about the joys of family vacation here, but this post is about taking a trip alone, just me and my husband.

Last summer, it worked out that every one of our kids was at a summer camp the same week. We decided to not let this glorious circumstance pass unnoticed and took a vacation to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Here we are in Montreal, footloose and fancy free!

We're going to get away again in a few weeks! We'll already be in the Northeast dropping three children off at camp, so we're going to travel on to Boston and then Portland, Maine. Honestly, it wouldn't matter where we were going because everything is a treat when you get to spend time as a couple.

Four Benefits to Vacationing Alone

Time to Reconnect: I love our family life and I love our kids, but someday it will be just me and Steve again. I want to be able to look forward to that day with happy anticipation. Getting away from home and family responsibilities allows us to see each other at our best again. It gives us the time to focus on and rediscover that person living in the same house we do!

Choose the Destination: A lot of the places that interest me do not interest my kids. When they go on vacation, they want the beach or an amusement park. They're looking for entertainment, not relaxation. When we're by ourselves, we set the agenda without guilt and can do things the kids would consider completely boring.

My kids would not be awed by this pretty city view!

Feel Younger: Remove me from parenting responsibilities and I feel ten years younger! It's an amazing feeling to only have to think about yourself for a little while. All of sudden, I'm not a suburban mother of five...I'm young and hip!

Eat What You Want As Long As You Want: Mealtimes become a special event. There are no chicken fingers, french fries, or hotdogs on the menu. If we want appetizers and desserts, no problem! We can linger at the table and finish whole conversations uninterrupted.

I fell in love with this fruit and cheese appetizer in Montreal.

The first time we got away by ourselves after we had kids was when my oldest was a year old. It was hard to leave her even though it was just for one night. In fact, the only reason we went was because of positive peer pressure! Friends that were further along in the parenting process planned it and insisted it would be good for us. You know what? They were right! Since then we've tried to take little weekend trips away once every year or two. Last summer was the first time we planned a whole week!

Always, without fail, I dread any trip we take alone right up until we leave. It's hard to plan childcare and I worry about what might happen when I'm gone. There are so many little things that fill my mind and I hate saying goodbye to my children. Truth be told, I'm kind of a mess! But also always, without fail, I start to relax when we're on our way and end up having a great time!

Your turn. Have you gotten away without the kids? Was it wonderful? Did you need some friendly peer pressure to take the plunge, too?

Got Zucchini?

It's summer and the zucchini is ripe and ready! I don't have a garden, but I've been getting some fresh zucchini from my parents and my mother-in-law. Maybe you've been getting some from a gardening relative or friend, too. If you're like me, and end up with more than you can eat in its natural state, then you might consider making some delicious zucchini bread.

Today I'm going to share the Betty Crocker recipe I've been using to make zucchini bread for almost 20 years! I'll include a link to this recipe at the end of my post, but first I'd like to share a few changes to make the bread more healthy and moist.

If you've never made zucchini bread, you may not realize how simple it is to get the zucchini ready to use. Begin by washing and drying the outside of your zucchini. Then, cut the tips off either end and shred the rest into a bowl using an ordinary cheese grater. This recipe requires three cups of zucchini and makes two loaves.

Because I like to make four loaves at a time, I grate six cups of zucchini. If I have any extra, I put 3 cup amounts of grated zucchini in quart sized ziploc bags and store them in the freezer. Before using, I thaw these out for a day or two, draining the thawed zucchini in a colander before I put it in the batter.

A few tips to make the bread more healthy:

1. Use applesauce instead of vegetable oil. The Betty Crocker recipe calls for 2/3 cup vegetable oil, but I always use applesauce instead.

2. Use whole wheat flour. The recipe calls for 3 cups all-purpose or wheat flour. Definitely go with the whole wheat if you're looking to make this a healthier bread.

3. If you'd like to avoid cooking with eggs, you can substitute 1 Tbsp soy flour plus 1 Tbsp water for each egg.

4. Feel free to leave out the nuts and raisins. This recipe calls for chopped nuts and raisins, but my kids don't like them.

And one tip to make it more tasty!

4. Add one cup chocolate chips. This won't make the bread more healthy, but it will make it a sweeter treat! My son loves the bread this way and eats it up quickly!

The full Betty Crocker recipe can be found here.

I hope you'll be enjoying some of this fantastic bread soon!

The Ups and Downs of Summer

Summer vacation is halfway through and I hit a low point earlier this week. Six weeks in and I was done.  Sometimes summer vacation feels like a constant barrage of making snacks and more snacks, mediating fights, cleaning up continual messes, and running kids around all over town. Mixed in are a zillion questions and requests for whatever catches their fancy and guilt trips galore. It's impossible to make everything perfectly fair all the time and my kids are experts in pointing out discrepancies in a way that gets me every time. Last, but not least, there are no bedtimes. This in and of itself can send me over the edge.

It's not exactly that there are no bedtimes, it's just that no school means no incentive for enforcement. This means there ends up being no minutes where I'm awake and everyone else is asleep. All kids, all the time makes for long days and short nights. 

I've read the warnings everywhere I look to savor every moment, enjoy each day, your kids are only young once, and so on. But truly...don't judge... I felt like I'd soaked in all I could soak and I'd reached my maximum absorption point for summer time fun. We'd frolicked in the pool, went to the playground, and gone out on the lake. We'd had the late night movies complete with cuddles and popcorn. I'd been the fun mom approving sleep overs and play dates. We'd rode bikes and gone on walks. We'd stopped and smelled the roses people and they were wilting in the heat.

But today we had one of those days that makes you love summer vacation. We went to an amusement park with the three younger kids. And had a fantastic time! Bickering was absent. Cooking not possible. Dad was there and able to help. All the kids were excited and happy about the day because water slides and roller coasters are a child's paradise. 

Here are some pictures of the smiles...

Tonight I feel refreshed. There are about five weeks until school starts and we've got some fun things on the calendar. I want to make the most of this time. I know that the school routine I so happily threw off in May will be here again before I know it. Summer vacation is a roller coaster ride that will end too quickly so I'm buckling myself back in and holding on tight to the end. 

I think I will start enforcing some bedtimes though!