Staying Stylish in Suburbia

Mazzy Turns One with a Backyard Birthday Bash!

Monday, July 28, 2014

I don't know how it happened. I don't know where the time went. Somewhere between the moment I made that last mighty push and the days following filled with nursing, nuzzling and nights without rest, my baby grew into a toothy, smiling child, eager to eat and play and explore the great wide world. One whole year has gone by, loving and playing with my sweet Mazzy Jo. What a gift and what a girl she is turning out to be, sweet and feisty and full of life. She loves music (banging on the toy piano and strumming my guitar) and following her big sister around like a little puppy. It's such a treat to watch them begin to play side by side. She also loves being in on the joke. When we are all sitting around the table and someone says something funny, Mazzy laughs along with the rest of us even if she's not quite sure why.

We decided to throw her a backyard birthday bash. I invited our friends that have little babies closer to Mazzy's age, along with their siblings who were more Esmae's age. It was a hot day, but we had a grand ole' time grilling, lazing on blankets, swinging in the hammock and running around with big balloons and bubbles.


I love this "Oh Joy!" lanturn from Target. 

It's funny to think of Esmae as one of the "big kids" now. 

I made these tassels to hang on the pine trees.


As the big sister, Esmae had the honor of helping Mazzy open her gifts. As you can imagine Mazzy was most fascinated with the wrapping paper itself. 




She wasn't sure what to think when I placed this big cake in front of her.



Then I cut her a slice and as you can see she was delighted to dig in!


As the host I spent part of the time running around trying to make sure everyone had what they needed. Eventually I was able to relax though, and take in the sweet scene with my friends and family. Esmae was totally in her element. She is such a social butterfly and loved every moment. Most importantly though, the birthday girl seemed to enjoy herself, especially once we cut the cake!

Peach and Blackberry Picking at Hollin Farm

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We spent the loveliest afternoon yesterday picking blackberry's and peaches at Hollin Farm in Delaplane. Northern Virginia is teaming with fertile farmland. As I've mentioned a time or two before on here, I'm a huge fan of local and seasonal eating. What better way to know exactly where your food comes from than by picking it yourself!? I had never been to this particular farm before, but it did not disappoint.  

It was early morning when we left the house. On our way there, we drove through rolling hills, sun dappled and dotted with round hay bales and grazing cattle. There were several wineries along the drive too with rows of lush, leafy, green grape vines crisscrossing the countryside.

We turned off the main road and onto a single lane gravel drive, curving up, up, up to the top of the highest hill. I parked and we got out. The day was unseasonably cool, a perfect 70 degrees in July, and we were excited to meet up with our friends. The view of the valley below was breathtaking, like something out of a storybook.  




Once everyone was all sunscreened up and ready to roll, we headed toward the main stand. They gave us bags that equalled a "peck" and sent us on our way towards the peaches. I couldn't stop humming "I love you, a bushel and a peck! A bushel and a peck, and a kiss around the neck!" as we walked into the trees.




Traversing the orchard with a bunch of kiddos was quite entertaining. They went scampering around looking for the perfect peaches, squabbling over sticks, giggling, wining and generally acting like little wild ones.




Esmae insisted on giving each peach a sniff test before deeming it acceptable and placing it in the bag. 


On the way back from the orchard we spotted fat juicy blackberry bushes, heavy with berries bigger than Esmae's thumb. With the blackberries beckoning we couldn't resist making a pass through, plopping them into our containers and our mouths as we went. 




By the time we emerged from the berry bushes, smeared with pink juice and tired, we were ready for some lunch. We had packed a picnic and spread our blankets out on the top of a hill with a view of the valley below.  The chaos of feeding seven hungry children ensued, but once everyone was full, they ran around picking clover and playing tag. We watched them play and talked about the highs and lows or motherhood, scheming for an evening out together without children at one of the nearby wineries.



All in all it was a day to remember. The girls fell asleep almost instantly on the ride home and I enjoyed the quiet, taking in the sights as I drove. For dessert that night I served blackberries with a plop of whipped cream on top. It was delicious! 

Creating a Buzz to Save the Bees!

Monday, July 14, 2014

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
 - Albert Einstein


Bee the Change You Want to See

The other morning, while sitting at the kitchen table with my three year old, we had a discussion about honey. She was both puzzled and delighted to discover that the golden liquid I poured over her oatmeal, was in fact made by bees. Having recently read an article about the disappearance of bees and it's frightening affects on our ecosystem and food supply, our conversation went something like this. 

Me: Yes! It's true that bees make the honey you're eating. And do you know what else? Without the bees buzzing from flower to flower we wouldn't be able to grow most of the food we need to keep us healthy and strong.

Esmae: I love bees.

Me: I love bees too but right now they are in trouble.

Esmae: Do they need our help?

Me: Yes.

Esmae: I can save them, mama!

Me: I hope so. We'll do our best to make it a safer place for bees to live, okay?

Esmae: Okay.

As a mother it is frightening for me to think of a world without bees. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture these hard working insects are responsible for pollinating 80 percent of our flowering crops. In other words, bees allow us grow 1/3 of everything that we eat today. Without the bees we might very well be looking at life without apples, blueberries, broccoli, nuts, asparagus, and the list goes on and on. But it gets even worse. Bees also help pollinate plants like alfalfa, which is a staple of the beef industry. One study from Cornell University estimated that bees pollinate close to 14 billion dollars worth of seeds and crops from the U.S. Meaning that without bees, we would be left with very little to survive on.

There have been reports of bees disappearing at an alarming rate since 1996. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is characterized by the USDA as a, "serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States." Although the exact cause of (CCD) is yet to be fully determined, it is widely believed by the scientific community that pesticides (especially the neonicotinoids which are used on the majority of our nation's crops) play a large role in the bees disappearing act. An article written in Collective Evolution states that, "A new study out of Harvard University, published in the June edition of the Bulletin of Insectology puts the nail in the coffin, neonicotinoids are killing bees at an exponential rate, they are the direct cause of the phenomenon labeled as colony collapse disorder (CCD). Neonicotinoid’s are the world’s most widely used insecticides." And we're not talking about the results of a single investigation. There have been numerous studies that have come to the same conclusion, explaining that the problem with these pesticides is that the seep into the soil and can also be transferred by the bees themselves from flower to flower. 

So what can we do about it? Well, for starters we can spread the word. This is a cause that everyone can get behind. Whether you are a liberal environmentalist, a conservative business owner, or simply a concerned parent, nobody is going to be better off without the bees. Unfortunately, plenty of people still don't understand the ramification of a world without these all important pollinators. Which is why is so important to get the message out there. 

Another hugely important thing to do, is to make sure that there are no pesticides used in your own garden or yard. The more bee-friendly habitats there are, the better. You can even take it a step further by growing bee-friendly flowers. This lovely poster from Etsy shows the kinds of plants that bees love the most. Plus, it would be a really pretty edition to the home as a framed kitchen print, don't you think!?



And finally, take a stand by getting behind the movement to ban neonicotinoids from use. As of now there are two bills waiting for Congress that would take neonicotinoids off the market until further review. If you are interested in supporting such a bill you can sign the petitions from, Beyond Pesticides and Center for Food Safety. Create a buzz and save the bees!

P.S.
I thought this "Restaurant menu" from Buzz About Bees  was nice concept and another great way to think about creating a safe space for bees.




Artichoke Feta Frittata!

Friday, July 11, 2014

I made this Frittata recipe the other evening. It was the perfect light summer dinner, especially served with a fresh berry salad on the side. If you don't have all the ingredients you can always put your own spin on it. That's the best thing about frittatas. As long as you have the basic concept down, you can get creative and make it your own. I will say though, this particular combo was oh so yummy!


Ingredients

8 eggs
2 small handfuls of feta
2 handfuls of chopped arugula
2 small handfuls of chopped sun dried tomatoes 
1 1/2 cups chopped artichoke hearts
Splash of 1/2 and 1/2 or milk
1Tbs butter
Dash of salt and pepper

Directions

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, feta cheese and 1/2 and 1/2 with salt and pepper. 
Meanwhile, in an oven proof frying pan, melt 1Tbs of olive oil
Saute arugula, sun dried tomatoes and artichokes lightly for 1 to 2 minutes. 
Pour egg mixture over vegetables and cook over medium-low heat without stirring so that only the bottom sets. 
Transfer pan to oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until firm and set in the middle. 

 

Local Love- Farmer's Market Fun!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


For a while now the local food movement has been concentrating on the environmental benefits of buying locally grown food. It not only lessens your carbon footprint but it also strengthens the local economy. That's all well and good, but as a mother of two there are a couple of other hugely important reasons that I like to visit the Farmer's Market whenever I can. Simply put, it's the overall experience (for myself and for my children) that makes me go loco for local food. 

Kid's are curious creatures, easily susceptible to the targeted marketing schemes of big name brands. If you've ever walked through a chain grocery store with a child before then you know how much sugary, processed temptation there is out there. An article put out by the Yale Rudd Center states that, "Food marketing to children and adolescents is a major public health concern. The food industry spends $1.8 billion per year in the U.S. on marketing targeted to young people. The overwhelming majority of these ads are for unhealthy products, high in calories, sugar, fat, and/or sodium." I can certainly attest to that. I have to mentally prepare myself before stepping inside those sliding glass doors. Almost immediately I begin chanting the grocery store mantra of, "No you can't have that, or that, or that..." And it's not like I'm some crazy health nut that insists my children eat carob instead of chocolate. I just don't think my three year old needs marshmallows in her cereal. Is that so wrong!?

At the farmers market on the other hand, I am transformed from the mom who always says no to the mom who almost always says yes! It is equally full of fun surprises but without all the flashy trickery. My child's eyes widen at the sight of a basket of ripe blackberries and that's just what they are, plain and simple, picked straight from the bush. Even the canned products are without an abundance of extra ingredients. Walking through the various venders, we learn what is growing on the farms around us. We are also reminded of what we ourselves can do. Whether it's bread making or canning, I always come away from the market inspired to try my hand at making something new.  

It's a little like going on a treasure hunt. You might have an idea of what's in season but there is always something beautifully unexpected to be found, like the purple pepper we discovered on a recent trip to the Farmer's Market with friends. Instead of sampling cookies, Esmae sampled spinach with vinaigrette with a smile on her face. How great is that!? 

I'm not sure how to explain it except to say that there is a sense of adventure and community when you buy locally that makes it feel like more than just a shopping trip. The farmers themselves are eager to talk to the kids about their products and it becomes more about discovering and learning than just marketing and labels. When we go, we often like to make an afternoon of it. We'll get there around ten o'clock in the morning, do our shopping and then spread a blanket out for a little farmer's market picnic lunch, right there on the grass. 

Here are a few pictures from our latest farmer's market adventure with friends...













If you are local to the NOVA area and have yet to pay a visit to the Old Town Manassas Farmer's Market, I highly recommend it. There is a stationary train car that the kiddos can play on. They also get a thrill from watching the real trains roll by from up there. On Thursdays the market is held in the pavilion and on Saturdays it is in the parking lot directly across the train tracks. Also, starting today you can enjoy Take out Tuesday and Farmer's market. Swing by Harris Pavilion for a free concert. Several of the farmer's market venders will be selling food. You can grab something delicious to eat for dinner and enjoy the sound of local musicians all in one spot! It doesn't get better than that in my book.

P.S.
Here is a great list of July's seasonal produce.
14 Fast and fresh Farmer's Market Recipes.

Tackling My Sense Of Adventure As A Mom By Train

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

There is a certain sense of adventure that comes with trains. You buy a ticket and let the tracks take you away. That first lurch forward is an exhilarating feeling that can become addictive. I can remember boarding a train in Seville and watching the Spanish countryside rolling slowly by, olive groves and blue sky giving way to the cliffs of a seaside town in Portugal. All there was to do was sit back and observe the world.

Train travel is a writer's dream in that way. There's something about the rhythm of motion, coupled with the ever-changing view that sparks the imagination and stirs the mind. There is even a Writer's Residency program through Amtrak now. If that had been around before I had children, you better believe I would have applied for it. Who knows maybe I still will at some point. 



My husband takes the Virginia Rail Express (VRE) into work every day, preferring it to the hellish stop-and-go commute by car. I like hearing the faint sound of the train whistle blowing from the bedroom in the morning. I imagine him chugging along as the sun slowly rises over the Capitol. 

When I first became a mother, I promised myself that I wouldn't lose my sense of adventure. I wanted to be the kind of mom that didn't let my fear get in the way of having new and exciting experiences with my kids. For the most part I think I do well in that regard, although sometimes I let my anxiety get the best of me. It's one thing to hop on on a train into the city when all you have to worry about is your own well being. It's another thing when you have to worry about the safety of two other helpless little beings. 

I could pretend that I don't worry about every little thing that could go wrong, but that would be a lie. The reality is that it's a huge responsibility, and one that I don't take lightly. I want them to have experiences and I want to keep them safe. Finding that balance is the tricky part. Not to mention all the logistics of traveling with a rambunctious three year old and a nursing baby in diapers. I can drive myself crazy thinking of all the things that could go wrong. What if Esmae runs into the road and I'm stuck with the baby in the stroller? What if the baby screams the entire train ride? What if Esmae pees in her pants, or my phone runs out of batteries, or I get my wallet stolen and we are left at the mercy of the big, bad city? Or worst of all, what if I turn my attention to the needs of one child and the other one gets snatched from me? Following that spiral of, "what if" I can talk myself out of doing pretty much anything. 

When my husband came home the other day with free tickets to ride the VRE, I was excited. Then I started spiraling into the world of, what if. I almost talked myself out of it but then I remembered my promise to myself. Didn't I owe it to myself and to them to at least try? There was an expiration date on the ticket which also motivated me to take the leap and give train travel with the kids a try. 

On Friday morning I woke the girls up bright and early. The VRE only runs during commuter times which meant we had to be at the station at 7:30am. The plan was to take the train into the city to see the Butterfly Pavilion at the Museum of Natural History, after which, we would meet my husband for lunch. He planned to take the rest of the day off so that we could do some exploring and return on the 3:50 train all together. It was going to be a long day for the girls but we were all excited. 

I snapped the picture above as we waited for the train and posted it to my Facebook wall. All the comments I got were from other mamas who clearly thought I was nuts for taking the girls solo to the city. "Brave mama!" "Quite a project!" "Good luck, lady!" were a few of the responses I got. It almost made me want to reconsider but the look of glee in Esmae's eyes let me know we were on the right track (pun intended). So, I validated my ticket at the machine and hoped for the best. 

When the train pulled up one of the conductors spotted us and offered to help. The only real issue I had was that my double stroller wouldn't fit through the entryway without being broken down. This meant that I had to take the baby out of the stroller and put her up on the train in her car seat while I wrestled with the stroller on the platform. It was nerve-racking to say the least. I felt like the beginning of my worst nightmare. I imagined Esmae and I left on the platform as my baby sped away on a train. Luckily, the conductor was extremely nice. She stayed with the baby the whole time, assuring me that the train wouldn't take off without us.

After that, we settled into our seats with the promise from that she would be back around to help us off at our stop. The ride into the city was really fun. Everyone on the VRE was friendly and understanding of the little ones. Esmae and I enjoyed the view from the window and Mazzy seemed calmed by the motion of the train. 


We arrived around 9:30, which was half an hour before the museum opened. The guard at the entrance of the Museum of Natural History was nice enough to suggest we wait at the nearest Starbucks. He gave me directions and I enjoyed walking through the city, taking in all the sights. The double stroller proved difficult once again when we got to the coffee shop. It was too big to fit in the door. This time I just took out purse and left the stroller itself on the patio while we ordered drinks and a snack. I couldn't see out, and spent much of the time in line praying that it wouldn't get stolen, which it didn't. 






The butterfly Pavilion was on the second floor of the Museum of Natural History. The museum itself is free to the public but we paid a small fee (6 dollars for me and 5 dollars for Esmae) to enter the pavilion. The baby had fallen asleep (YAY!) But of course they didn't allow the cursed stroller in the Pavilion, (BOO!)  I had to wake her up and put her in the carrier instead. Who knew a stroller, something meant to make your life easier, could prove such a hassle!?

Once inside, we were surrounded by all kinds of live butterflies, flittering and fluttering about. They landed on flowers and even on the visitors. We were asked not to touch the live butterflies but the museum workers were great about informing us about the different varieties. There was also a bowl full of wings that the children could touch and look at through a magnifying glass, along with a live caterpillar that they were allowed to hold. I highly recommend the exhibit to adults and kids alike. 



After the museum we were ready to eat. We met my husband at a nearby restaurant called Aria. I was more than a little happy to see him. Having an extra pair of hands is always nice. There was a  farmers market set up nearby and a band playing live music. We ate out on the patio and it was a festive city scene with great people watching. Lunch went off without a hitch and we walked around some more, ending up at a bookstore. The girls were getting grumpy by then and it was time to catch the train home.

I was proud of myself for having braved the trip into the city with the kiddos. Of course I was also really relieved to have my husband with me on the way back. My only real suggestion to others doing the same trip would be to bring a stroller that's not so wide. Also, having someone to help you on the other side isn't such a bad idea. Meltdowns tend to happen at the end of a long day. We were also witness to the aftermath of a violent assault on our walk back to the train station. We also saw what we believed to be a woman frantically looking for a lost child. Just a reminder that the big city isn't a place you can let your guard down, especially with kids. 

All in all though it was a successful trip. I will say that I was glad to get back to the burbs and our quiet little cul-de-sac away from the rush of it all. I guess that's how motherhood has changed me. I'm still up for an adventure but I appreciate coming home to calm at the end of the day. 

P.S. I am fully aware that there are plenty of people who raise their kids in the city without a problem. Things can go wrong no matter where you are. It's not that I fear the city itself (I have lived in several cities and loved the experience) but that I am not yet familiar enough with our particular city to feel completely at ease with my kids there. With time I hope that will change. xoxo