family · life · present not perfect · through my camera lens

January 8- photo of me

Hello blogging world! I hope your Wednesday is going well. Today is COLD here. We actually got alerts during the morning telling of a snow squall that was coming through. It was crazy snowing for a short time and then it was done. But, the wind is whipping and the temps are dropping all day. But, we will survive.

Today, I found myself working on assessments, chatting with a parent who had some questions/concerns and an on-line friend who is getting ready to go on a cruise. All these things were done from the time I got home from school until Blake walked through the door. So, again I didn’t carve out a bit of time to be quiet and reflect, soooo I jumped ahead again and found a page that I don’t need to be introspective to write about.

This page had you find a photo of you that you like and then write about why you like it. So here you go….

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If you have been following my blog for any length of time you probably have noticed that photos of me are few and far between. I truly dislike having my picture taken. I have tried over the years to make sure that I’m not totally missing from all the family moments, actually to be honest Richard makes sure of this.

This photo was taken when we were on our vacation in Erie PA in August. Yes, first of all that was in August and I’m wearing a sweatshirt, ok a light weight sweatshirt, but it was actually a bit chilly at the time.

While I could look at this picture and tell you everything I hate about the picture, I am not going to look for negatives. This photo is the one on my I/G account. I love that it is me taking a picture of something. I believe I was actually taking a landscape photo at the time, but it doesn’t matter. It is me looking at our lives and capturing the moment.

Going on vacations is always a fun moment. I try to balance capturing these moments and living these moments. While I want to have photos to help us remember our trips, I also want to put down my camera/phone and just enjoy the trip. I believe that over the years I have found this balance.

Yep… everything in life comes back to balance.


Education · family · life · through my camera lens

First day of school

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Yesterday was a tough day for the boys. They are not ready to start school. They asked me if I felt like summer went fast or slow. My answer? I said I felt like it’s been forever since the end of the year, but it seems like the start of school came too fast. This is very true. I can’t believe the school year is here. We had a great summer. Our vacations were good, but more important than that, the boys had fun. They were always off on their bikes going and doing things with friends.

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This is the first time the boys will be in different schools since Blake was in kindergarten and Colby was in preK. Colby asked to set his alarm early enough to say good-bye to Blake.

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This morning they were both in good spirits and found their independence and were ready to go. Richard drove Blake to the bus on his way to work, Colby set off walking to the bus. Dixie wasn’t sure what to think about everyone leaving. I wonder what she will think on Monday when I have to go to work too?

So here are my thoughts: I wish for them both a year of learning, growth and discovery. I hope they find their voice, confidence and sense of self. I hope they remember they are loved, they have a space and a purpose, and that the world is theirs to grab. I hope they are kind and understanding and yet strong and independent.



family · life · through my camera lens

I’m back! Vacation post 1- Erie, PA part 1

Well this weekend we went on a quick jaunt for our last bit of summer. When we started talking about taking a weekend trip we went and brainstormed a few different places and decided that a trip up to Niagara Falls would be fun. I was the only one in the family who had been there before. It is one of those places that you just have to go to at least once. It was going to be a 3.5 hour drive. While it was totally do able in leg, we decided to stop in Erie on our way up.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, cloud, shoes, child and outdoorErie PA is just about 2 hours straight up from where we live now. When Richard’s parents visited the last time, they took a detour and stopped in Erie. They mentioned the state park as well as an amusement park in the area. Since Hershey was also a possible location, we decided a side trip to an amusement park sounded perfect.

First we stopped off at Bicentennial tower. This was Image may contain: people standing and outdoorerected in 1996 and is 187 feet tall. On the lower level of they had a really cool mural that was visible on the upper level. I wonder if they are going to continue painting it or if it is complete? We spent  some time up here looking over the bay and reading about the area on the plaques they had located around the top of the tower. The boys were fascinated with 3 pictures/posters they had showing lakes Erie, Ontario and Michigan and the amount of ships which have sunk in each of the lakes. Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, sky, shoes, outdoor and water

Then we headed over to Presque Isle State Park. This park is on Lake Erie. We drove around and got out whenever one of us felt the need to go check out something a bit closer. We went and saw the Perry TowerImage may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, shoes and outdoor

We found a playground that we made almost all of natural materials. The boys had a blast. I said to Richard it would be nice to see more playgrounds made in this fashion instead of all from plastic.

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We then went to see the two lighthouses they have on the island. One is a listed on the historical society (the bottom picture). We did not go inside this lighthouse because you had to pay to go in. There was a long line and we have already taken the boys into a lighthouse similar to this (but I believe taller) in Key West. So we opted to just continue on with our day. Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, ocean, sky, child, shoes, outdoor and waterImage may contain: people standing, sky, cloud, tree, plant, shoes, outdoor and nature



family · food · life · reviews · through my camera lens

popcorn in a brown bag

in a recent episode of Rachael Ray’s 30 minute meals she made popcorn in a paper bag. I had to try this out for myself. I did it last week, but didn’t season it. I was waiting to try it again with Colby.

So tonight he was looking for something to have as a snack so we made popcorn.

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So take regular popcorn and pour it into the bottom of a brown lunch bag. You want to just cover the bottom of the bag. Fold the top of the bag over two or three times. Make sure you crease it well. Ok ready…. put it in the microwave on the popcorn setting. Yep that’s it!

Melt butter to pour over the top when it is done. I only melted 2 tbsp and that wasn’t quite enough. I also purchased white cheddar popcorn cheese to put on it, but you don’t have to do that.

Think about it… you control how much butter. You control the type of toppings and how much.

It is time to take control over our popcorn again! I know we will be making our popcorn like this again.

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food · reviews · through my camera lens

meatballs and garlic bread recipe

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Can you tell that summer time means cooking and baking for me? As I mentioned before, Richard and I are watching Rachael Ray’s 30 minute meals. I love her recipes as they are exactly the type of recipes I like… simple, easy to alter and quick cooking!

When we saw the recipe for her meatballs and garlic bread I knew it needed to go into our to make file.

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Meatballs and Garlic Bread

Roasted Meatballs:

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • Nutmeg, for grating
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup whole milk, eyeball it
  • 1 pound ground beef, 80/20
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 fat cloves garlic grated
  • 1 container of parm, Asiago, Romano blended cheeses
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  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons EVOO, plus some for drizzling


  • EVOO
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic grated
  • One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with garlic and onions
  • One 24-ounce can of tomato puree
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • dried parsley
  • Salt
  • A sprinkle of sugar, to taste

Garlic Bread:

  • EVOO
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • A loaf of crusty bread (I used french because they were just bringing it out from the oven when I was shopping!)
  • About 1 cup grated Parm
  1. Preheat oven to 450
  2. In a small bowl put breadcrumbs, milk and nutmeg. let it get mushy
  3. In a large bowl add ground meats and season with salt and pepper; mix together
  4. To the meat mixture add: garlic, egg, cheese, fennel seeds, red pepper flake, breadcrumb mixture and EVOO. mix until just incorporated
  5. Make into balls – I got 13 good size balls, but you could certainly make them larger or smaller depending on what you want
  6. bake balls in the oven for 15-18 minutes
  7. In a medium skillet (I used my dutch oven for this step) add EVOO 2 turns around the pan should do, and butter
  8. When the butter starts getting frothy, add the onion. When the onion starts to get translucent, add the grated garlic
  9. Add the tomato products and seasoning to the pan
  10. Let the sauce simmer while breaking up the tomatoes
  11. Taste and add sugar and S&P to taste
  12. Cut bread into quarters place on cookie sheet
  13. in a small pan 2 turns of EVOO, the butter and garlic
  14. When the meatballs come out of the oven put them into the sauce
  15. Put the bread into the oven for 5 min
  16. When the bread is done, coat all the slices with garlic butter and top with parm cheese
  17. Bake an additional 2-3 minutes
  18. ENJOYImage may contain: 1 person, eating, food and indoor

While we did like this recipe, there are some changes I would make… of course! I did not like the addition of the fennel to the meatballs. This gave it too much of a sausage flavor for me. I felt like the meatballs would have benefited from a bit more Italian based seasoning: oregano, basil etc… ok yes I know that that original recipe called for fresh herbs and skipped those since I forgot to buy them.

The sauce was really good and we had a LOT of leftover sauce, I froze this for another meal. The garlic bread was so tasty. Richard, Colby and I put the meatballs cut up onto the bread and ate it like an open face meatball sub. Blake ate his bread after he finished his meatballs. I felt that the garlic bread would have benefited from a pinch of salt.

We will be making this again!

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family · life · through my camera lens

Happy 11th Birthday Colby

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and childToday is Colby’s birthday. He turns 11.

Here are 11 things you may or may not know about Colby.

  1. Colby loves peanut butter, pasta, bacon and steak. When he was little the only type of meat he ate was bacon, not so much now.
  2. Colby is a HUGE Star Wars fan, but only of the light side, do not give him anything from the dark side.
  3. He is a loyal friend. He is known to be a peace maker and wishes people would just get along.
  4. Colby is a nature lover. He loves to watch the birds in the backyard, take care of the plants and care for the environment.
  5. Colby’s favorite animal is the dolphin. He loves marine animals in general, but the dolphin is his favorite and he has learned a lot about them over the years.
  6. Colby loves science and wants to be a scientist when he grows up. He used to say he was going to cure cancer, but now he says he will figure it out later.
  7. He wants to become rich so he can be a philanthropist. He says he wants to feed the hungry and build houses for those who don’t have one.
  8. Colby wears his heart on his sleeve. He cares deeply for the people and things that are important to him
  9. Colby does not know that a box exists. He sees things in a very outside the box way of thinking and gets frustrated when people expect him to think the way others think
  10. Colby is weird, but we love him anyway. (this is an expression you will hear in our house all the time)
  11. Colby is Colby. That is the best way to describe him. There are so many nuances that make him unique and Colby.


family · life · through my camera lens

Baseball and fireworks

Last night we decided to start the weekend off by going to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. None of us are baseball fans, well Blake is a sports fan of any and all kinds, but they were having fireworks after and these are really good.

We drove into the city and parked about a mile walk away. We love walking down by the Allegheny river and getting to cross the Roberto Clemente bridge.  We had decided that we would eat dinner at the game…. this was a mistake!

When we went to the game last year it was empty. We pretty much walked right up to the counter. This game was much better attended. They were playing the LA Dodgers who are having a good year, and the Pirates are having a better than normal season. I guess this was part of the increased attendance?

We went in and found our seats. We decided to wait to get in line for food since the lines seemed long. We figured it was just because everyone was trying to get food and drinks before the game started.

At the end of the first inning the Pirates were already losing 5-0… they switched pitchers in the first inning… not a good sign! Richard took the boys and went to find something to eat. They were in the general concession stand line and it wasn’t moving at all. They waited for multiple innings and then gave up waiting.

They came back and watched a bit more of the game and then headed out to find somewhere else to pick up food. They ended up getting pizza off one of the street level restaurants are attached to the stadium.

I sat in our seats and just people watched. The lady next to me was CLUELESS. She asked why the Dodgers got to continue to bat even after they switched pitchers. She didn’t understand the “outs”. Then she asked why a batter got to walk to the base, ummm he had 4 balls… what do you mean, they only threw the ball 4 times? She also would yell things like “It’s ok it’s just a game. You should be having fun.” “I’m sorry you missed the ball your mom still loves you” She asked the guy she was sitting with how he knew the rules of the game… his answer was classic… “I’m American, who hasn’t watched baseball?”

At the end of the 7th inning we left our seats and walked over to get a good spot to watch the fireworks. Once a month, after a game they will have a fireworks display on the river. These are fantastic fireworks and we are always impressed. I took a few pictures at the beginning as I wanted to just enjoy the display.

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food · life · reviews · through my camera lens

Shakshuka inspired recipe

Image may contain: foodI mentioned in a recent post that we have started watching Rachael Ray’s new 30 minute meals. We recently viewed her episode on lamb shakshuka.  Richard and I thought this recipe sounded really good, but there would need to be some changes for our family to eat it. The dish she made was made with ground lamb and then she topped it with eggs which were baked to cook them…. no thanks!

(personal disclosure— I’m not a huge fan of eggs, growing up I only ate quiche and omelettes and they had to have more filling than eggs. Richard didn’t like eggs AT ALL. A while ago, like years not months, I went on a health kick and started having scramblers and introduced Richard and the boys to this concept, as well as frittatas. The boys will eat plain scrambled eggs, but Richard and I need the to have lots of flavor added. Andddd the look and smell of eggs in any other form makes my stomach churn. When they show things with runny eggs on top is makes me ill.  Ok enough personal opinion)

Back to the recipe… Since Shakshouka is defined as  is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and garlic, commonly spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. I’m not really making shakshouka, but I love to say the word so I’m not creating a new name for the dish!

Image may contain: foodBeef Shakshouka-ish (adapted from Rachael Ray’s lamb shakshouka recipe)

  • EVOO
  • 1 pound ground beef  (or ground meat of your choosing)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2  large jalapeno pepper seeded and diced
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • A little freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/8 teaspoon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chipotle in adobo  – buy a 7oz can, process the whole thing into a sauce then freeze the rest for another dish
  • 1 can (14 ounces) crushed or diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can (14 ounces) tomato sauce
  • A drizzle of honey, optional
  • 3/4 pound brick feta
  • Garlic naan bread
  • Cilantro leaves, picked and chopped
  • 2 to 3 scallions, finely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. put EVOO into the bottom of your largest skillet (cast iron works the best since it can then be transferred to the oven)
  3. when the oil is hot add the ground beef, salt and pepper and cook until there is no pink
  4. add onion and jalapeno to the pan, grate garlic into the pan, add the seasonings and mix together
  5. when veggies begin to soften, add in chipolte, tomato products, honey and feta. stir to incorporate everything together
  6. pop into the oven 8-10 min while you prep the naan and toppings
  7. prepare naan according to package. (Rachael suggest cooking it on a grill pan. Make sure you add water to the grill pan before adding the naan)
  8. pull pan out and top with cilantro and scallions.
  9. Serve with naan

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Ok first things first…. I did not do a really good job charring my naan bread. It was sticking to the grill pan and not cooking and then it was getting over charred…. oops. I guess I will have to try this one again.

The dish was very tasty. It was not hot spicy at all. I think I would actually like it spicier even. Next time I will probably leave the seeds in at least one of the jalapenos or add more chipolte to it.

Richard and I both really liked it, especially with the naan bread.

Colby ate the naan bread and picked out the meat of his plate.

Blake pushed his food around his dish but did finally eat some of the naan and meat from the dish.

We will be making this again. I think I would like to make it with ground turkey/chicken better. This is what I do with my chili, meatloaf, meatballs etc… I feel it gives the spice and sauces a better chance to shine AND it is healthier!

Have you ever had shakshouka? Go ahead and tell me why I need to try runny eggs on foods… yep I know that everyone loves them… not going to happen, but if you do like them then add the eggs before you bake it!



family · life · through my camera lens

Blazing new trails

Yesterday, we finally had some decent weather. Friday it was snowing on and off all day, Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, plant, sky, outdoor and naturebut yesterday we had sunshine. We went on an errand in the morning and then decided to go on a drive into an area that we’d never traveled before.  We stopped at a hiking/biking park and then drove on in a very random way just to check things out.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, child, shoes, outdoor and natureWhen we got home we decided it would be a good day to go outside in the backyard and do some work. The back of our property is all woods. We have discussed blazing in a hiking/biking trail since we moved here and finally started work on it yesterday. All four of us were outside working together. It was good to be out in nature as well as do some manual labor. There is something about taking on a task and seeing progress that makes it all worthwhile.

We worked on it for a few hours. I stopped early to head in and make dinner. I was making another sweet potato hash, yes this is a new favorite in the house, and getting ready to grill some steak. The boys stayed out and helped Richard continue. Blake even tried to ride the part of the trail we had blazed. Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, child, outdoor and nature

As the boys get older, we find it is harder and harder to get them to willingly work with us on projects. Yes, they will help for a bit, but it isn’t always with a smile. They not only helped, but they worked hard. They tag teamed a lot of hard tasks and were willing to help each other when needed. We all had to share tools and on more than one occasion problem solve together.

I’m glad that this project not only will provide them a trail to ride, but is providing enough incentive for us all to work together with a smile.


family · food · life · through my camera lens

Moon and Mr Rogers

Today found us back in downtown Pittsburgh. We actually were driving on the road I showed in the post last weekend.

This weekend we headed down to the Heinz History Center. We went there when we came up to Pittsburgh to house hunt in March of 2017. That time we went and did a few of the floors, but the museum is 6 floors high. (Granted the top floor is a library and archive, so not worth visiting.).

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The purpose of our visit this time was to visit the Destination Moon Exhibit. This is a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Museum. This display featured the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The actual lunar modular was there on exhibit as well as Aldrin’s helmet, gloves and a lot of other artifacts from that historic mission. There was also information about how the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh contributed to this exploration.

After we walked through the floor that is dedicated to the city of Pittsburgh. There is a whole section on Heinz. I enjoyed seeing the artifacts from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Image may contain: 2 people, shoesImage may contain: 1 person, standing, shoes and indoor

We then went to a pretty cool taco place in another part of the city. The premise of this restaurateur was design your own tacos. You picked your shell (flour, corn, bowl, nacho, whatever), then your protein (chicken, pulled pork, shrimp, chorizo, brisket, and ghost pepper steak as well as a variety of vegetarian and vegan options). Then you picked toppings, salsas and sauces.

Colby had chicken nachos. I had a chicken bowl. Blake had 2 tacos (1 shrimp and 1 chicken). Richard had 3 tacos (chicken, pulled pork and brisket). Each of us make them totally differently and it was nice to be able to put on what you wanted. Sorry I didn’t even think to take pictures of the tasty foods.

It was a fun day for us and a good escape from reality. We actually came home and rented Incredibles 2 and watched that before dinner.