Friday, March 28, 2014

Mother-Daughter Trip

Dedicated to my mother, Kathryn Margaret Menge Viers  07/14/1949-02/02/2014 

With my mother's health, my sisters and I decided we need a Mother/ Daughter Road Trip to make some lasting memories. We hadn't done anything like this for decades, since we all are married, have children and moved all over the country.  I took on the task of planning the trip, as I am a bit of a control freak and LOVE planning trips! I used two great websites and apps called as well as . Our plan was to go to Cape Cod to take my mother on a real clambake, but we decided to see a lot more while on the road.

On Sept.2, 2013, we began our trip to New England by trying for a photo op at The Sloppy Giant with Ill Clad Clothing in Phoenxiville, Pa. We couldn't find it. However, we did find Jode Rd and a random globe for the first pictures of the week.

Our second roadside photo op was at the Giant Steel Hockey Player in Newark, NJ. Mom and Jami were too afraid of the "ghetto" to get out of the car, but that wasn't going to stop Jen and I. I mean we had driven all this way just to take a picture with it....

After a few attempts at seeing Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse, otherwise known as The Little Red Lighthouse,
taking a bathroom break for Jami(again in the ghetto) we decided to leave NYC and find something to eat.  We chose the old road trip standard, Cracker Barrel, where we were joined by the Mileys and the Short Bus Mileys. (Note- this was right after her tongue exposed VMA award performance)

Midnight Mary in New Haven, Ct, we our next stop. Mary Hart was a woman who was buried alive and thought to haunt the cemetery at midnight. We left her a penny, took some pictures and went on our way.

While in New Haven, Ct, we decided to crash a wedding at Lighthouse Park. We took some silly photos and searched for seashells.

New Haven was also the home of the rather scary, gross Econo Lodge Motel where we spent our first night, I would not recommend it. The next morning, we got up early and headed out to visit Gillette Castle is gorgeous. The castle was the home of the original Sherlock Holmes and was quite eccentric which makes the tour very entertaining. We arrived too early, so stopped for some chai and coffee Two Wrasslin Cats and toured Jami's new favorite town, East Haddam, Ct 

Once we arrived at Gillette Castle, Jami was a gracious host at her estate, inviting us in, doing some gardening and taking photos of forbidden closets.

After a brief stop at a Life Size T- Rex in Oakdale, Ct, we stopped at the Mohegan Sun Casino to spend some money.

Mystic, Ct was the next stop on our trip. We, first, stopped by Ford's Lobsters, a Mystic Pizza Filming location, for some lobster rolls and a lobster stuffed avocado in the pouring rain.

After a drive by photo of the Stonington Lighthouse in Stonington, RI, we stopped by a Vampires Gravesite. Mercy Brown was thought to be a vampire, so was exhumed and her heart was made into a drink for her brother to drink to keep him from dying of the TB plague that was happening in Exeter, Ri in 1888.
The Fighting Seabee Statue in North Kingston was next on the photo agenda, as was the Warwick Neck Lighthouse and an attempt at seeing the Conimicut Lighthouse.

The Comfort Inn in Warwick, RI, was the best hotel on the trip. It was clean and had a bar downstairs, where Jami and Jen, in there infinite wisdom kept the drinks coming. Not only did mother not appreciate it, apparently neither did Jodi's histamines.
The next morning we drove by TAPS(ghosthunters) for a photo.

The next morning, we intended to take a tour of the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, but only did a quick drive by of the front. We, then, headed to Battleship
Cove to look at the water "and wait for our long lost loves to come home"

Finally to the "tip of the Cape"!
We found some stones lying on the beach and enjoyed a meal before going to bed for the evening in rooms that smelled of cat pee and had splattered blood on the curtains. Ahhh the memories! Just a tip- You get what you pay for!

 The next day was a rather gloomy day in September, but we were heading to Plimoth Plantation anyway!  Luckily, we had the whole place to ourselves, so we could act as goofy and obnoxious as we wanted. We had some great conversations with some natives and also got to meet our  11th great grandfathers. Ok, well, actors who portrayed them! As a huge genealogy buff, I've traced us to 7 of the original settlers in Plimoth. We had a fun time talking family with the actors who never broke character, even when we brought up things that would happen to them in the future.

 Nextwe went to see  Plimoth Rock which at one time had been quite larger, but people kept chipping parts away for souvinirs, so now it is enclosed as well as take a picture of Governor Bradford's statue, which has a crazy resemblance to our father.

Last on the agenda, was touring the Mayflower, where again as the only people on, we were able to take some funny pictures and annoy the actor.

Finally to our Clambake, the reason we chose New England! It was a rather cool, gloomy evening and mom was not feeling too well, but it still was an awesome experience.  And if you ever decide to go, I would not recommend trying to save money by choosing the vegetarian option.!

We visited a few more places before heading back to Pennsylvania; The Salem Witch Museum   and the House of the Seven Gables Both were interesting tours.

Overall, our trip to Cape Cod, Boston and Salem was an awesome Mother/Daughter Road Trip with lots of laughter until tears streamed down our faces and we were doubled over in pain.  We will always have lots of memories of our awful hotels, sneaky facebook pictures of each other and of trying to push the darn wheelchair. 

Remember your road trip is only as fun as you make it!

Until the next one....

A Little Tongue Tied

Written Originally 04/19/2013.....

So much has occurred since my last post and you would think I would find it easy to write all about it today. However, with the recent darkness and the sad decision by Congress a couple of days ago, the words are just not flowing like they usually do. And if you know me and know my history of having to wear a "mouth necklace" along with a dunce cap for speaking too much in Elementary School, you know that finding it hard to express myself is somewhat surprising, if not a miracle. 

I will do my best, push forward and fill you in on our recent escapades and future plans because I know you all have been waiting with bated breath....

The purchase of our "Lease to Purchase" home has been completed and there is much relief that we can now do what we want to OUR space. Hubby has started his new position and finances have stabilized. His business is in the process of being sold  and we have felt a relief and heavy burden lift from our shoulders. We feel like the warm Spring weather has definitely brought new life to our family.

The garden has been started. It is a work in progress to get it to the exact look that I want and expect it to take a couple gardening seasons to be even close, but it is a start. My asparagus has already begun to pop through as well as the onions. The strawberries are in their second year and are doing well. I fear they will be trying to take over the whole garden if I'm not on top of them everyday. Almost all of the 15 beds have been planted. I am just waiting for a little warmer weather to plant the corn.

The two blueberry bushes I purchased this year are in the ground and the Concord grapes, Red Seedless Grapes, Black Raspberries and Brandywine Raspberries are waiting to be planted. I still plan to purchase some fruit trees and Golden Raspberries this year and next year I will add more blueberries and grapes.

We are very excited for the other two additions to our homestead this year; our flock of chickens and a puppy.   Our chicks should arrive the week of the 24th and we are counting the days. I have only ordered 5 chicks; one for each of the kids and one for myself because, hey, I'm just a big kid when it comes to pets anyway. I let each one of the kids choose the type of chicken they wanted, each different, so that they are easily distinguishable. A is getting a Plymouth Barred Rock, Z is getting a Golden Buff, I is getting a Rhode Island Red,  K is getting an Australorp and an Ameraucana (lays greenish blue eggs) is coming for me!

Our puppy, Joey, as has been named by Z, is only about three days old today and should be arriving at around 8 weeks. My older sisters dogs had puppies and of course I have to have one!  They are black lab/rottie mixes and so so adorable.

For this year, I'm thinking its about all we can handle, but plan for next year to add a Top Bar Beehive
as well as a Nigerian Dwarf Doe. Again, if you know me, you know that having to wait patiently is very difficult and I keep having to stop myself from contacting people selling their goats.

Otherwise, we are waiting for school to end for the school year, especially since our youngest son and the neighbor boy plan on living outside like Native Americans all summer. Totally cracks me up, but hey, I'll let him try it. We also have a trip to Williamsburg, Jamestown and of course Busch Gardens on the agenda and lots and lots of camps. Hubby will begin traveling with his new position so it will be an interesting adjustment, but we are ready for the task!

Maybe I wasn't tongue tied after all  ;)

Homemade Maple Syrup from our Front Yard Tree

As a true lover of pure maple syrup, I've always loved Vermont, it's sugar houses and all of their sweet goodness. My husband and I had even toyed with the idea of buying our own Sugar Bush farm in Vermont years ago, but knowing how much I hate bitter cold winters, we decided against it.
Either way, I've always wanted to make my own maple syrup and began tapping trees in our yard years ago, but without proper knowledge of the process, never followed through. This year is different!

Did you know you can tap any broadleaf tree and turn the sap into syrup? Not all syrups will taste as yummy as Maple Syrup or produce as much sap, but you never know if you will like it until you try. We are very lucky that we have 2 Sugar Maple trees in our front yard. Sugar Maples have the most sugar content and sap flows rather freely when the nights are below freezing and the days are warmer.

I had my husband drill a hole in the two trees. In one, I put a tap that I purchased online and the other I put a silicone tube in with the ends of both inserted into clean gallon jugs.

Each tree on a warm day has been producing about 2 gallons. 2 gallons of sap makes almost 8 oz of syrup.

After collecting a gallon of sap I pour it through a dish rag covered strainer in order to filter out any dirt or debris. I then bring the sap to boil and evaporate as much water as possible. This takes a long time and by the time most of the water is evaporated, another gallon of sap has been produced. I add this sap to the pot and continue to boil, stirring occasionally. The sap will start to darken and smell and taste sweet.
Technically you want to boil the syrup until it is 7 degrees hotter than the temperature to boil water, usually 212 degrees. Since I don't have a candy thermometer, I use the spoon test method. After noticing the color is close to what you want and stirring it with a long spoon or spatula, hold the spoon up and see if the syrup drips off or sticks to the spoon. If it begins to stick or apron off the spoon it is ready to be turned off. You do not want to go to far or what you will have after it cools is maple rock candy.

Cool the syrup a little and then filter it again through a funnel with a coffee filter. It will not go through quickly and you don't want to rush it or the product will be cloudy and full of sugar sand.

Voila!!! You have delicious pure maple syrup that you made yourself!

Notes :
There is a lot of steam when you boil the sap, which is why most people prefer to begin the process outside.

Also, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup

Plans for the Suburban Homestead Garden

As Spring approaches, I am gathering all of my ideas, homesteading books,gardening plans online and pictures on Pinterest to get an idea of how I want to set up our gardens this year. Since this will be the first summer I will be a stay at home wife and mom in a very long time, I have BIG hopes for a canning garden.  One book has been a great help. The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan

This book shows lots of great ideas for 1/10 an acre, 1/4 acre, 1/2 acre and a full acre. We have almost 3/4 of an acre in our little suburban neighborhood and I wouldn't want to take all of my childrens play area, so I am sticking with the 1/10 acre plan with a few adjustments to fit our needs.

Here is a drawing of what I want to work on starting next month. WARNING: it may be hard to read and is not drawn to scale by any means.
I also found a great site with garden plans that I am going to use for the 4 by 8 beds.
I know a couple of the beds will have some of the same vegetables, but I figure that will allow me to add many different varieties and have lots of canning opportunities as well as fresh vegetable eating this summer.

The flowerbed in front of our house is mostly shaded throughout the day, so using one of my favorite sites, I was able to find 7 herbs that grow wonderfully in shade.

And with the help of pinterest, I found the design I want to use for the front herb garden.

I am so excited to get started!!! Spring can't come fast enough at the Stapler Suburban Homestead!!!

Letterboxing: A Treasure Hunt for the Whole Family

Road trips can be long and boring, so before we get to our official destination we like to do some Letterboxing along the way. If you have never heard of letterboxing, it is very similar to Geocaching except a GPS is not required which makes it more like an old fashioned treasure hunt. Also, instead of little trinkets, you are searching for a box with rubber stamp to stamp in your Letterboxing journal and a book to leave your mark to show you have been there. Having these planned before any road trip is essential. You can have your children take turns reading the clues, figuring them out and of course the always favorite, stamping the books. It adds to the excitement of the drive while discussing the last letterbox, the next clues or trying to figure out what the next stamp could possibly be. It also is a great way to get your family to work as a team while trying to get to the same goal.  

To get started it is best to visit this website: The site is excellent and has everything you will need to know to get started, find locations all over the world and print off the necessary clues.

The next step will be to create your "handle", "character" or I.D.  I found the best and easiest way was to visit the local craft store and find a rubber stamp that everyone likes.  Some people like to make there own out of white erasers and you can find out how to do that by going here: But for newbies, I'd stick with buying one for your whole family or one for each individual in your family.  When we began five years ago, we were a family of five; hubby, three boys and me, so I chose a stamp with three Cootie bugs and made our name "Ima Cootie". To make it more special, we use turquoise ink when we leave our mark in a Letterboxing journal and usually leave a note like, "This was a fun one" or " What a great hike" with our "Ima Cootie", date and where we are from.
It's always a lot of fun to look through the journal to see who else has been there, what notes they leave and where they originated.
One of the fun parts about Letterboxing is the secretiveness. Most are placed where people walk by everyday and have never noticed a SPOR(suspicious pile of rocks) or a perfectly placed downed log. Some boxes we have found have even been in museums behind furniture or in crevices and supposedly the museum workers don't even know they are there, so it is imperative that you search very sneakily and when you find it, remove yourselves from the location to open it and do the stamping. Then very quietly and covertly put it back and secure it in it's original location so that others can find it just like you did.
Most of our road trips, vacations or days out include at least one letterboxing adventure which have taken us through the woods, in museums, historical and government buildings, lighthouses, rest areas, on top of waterfalls and even under benches and statues at the beach.  There are so many things we would have never discovered or experienced together if we had not gone on these little treasure hunts. They keep everyone busy and excited when you've run out of other things to do.

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

California or Bust

 Map for this Roadtrip

Snow on the ground, Snow on the ground.....
Having seen snow on the ground since November and not an end in sight, we decided to head west for an educational road trip. (the only place we could find without snow) We decided this on a Friday and the following Monday, mom, grandma, the three boys and baby were in the van before the sun was up!

Our first stop was in Missouri at Meramac Caverns. It was a much needed break from driving! We were the only people crazy enough to be on a vacation in February, so we got our own personal tour of the caverns even though the tour guide seemed to think there were hundreds and would leave long uncomfortable pauses for those who wanted pictures...since it was only us, it was a bit strange.:) We did learn that the caverns were once used during the Civil War by the Union soldiers as well as a hideout by Jesse James and his gang. The grand finale to the tour was a rendition of God Bless America that had us all laughing for the entire trip. For some reason they felt it was a good idea to flicker the lights to the beat of the song in various positions and the clicking noise overwhelmed the whole song...guess you had to be there. LOL

Our next stop was to see the infamous Buffalo that tried to attack me 16 years ago while singing to him through the fence at a rest area in Oklahoma.  I am not sure if it was indeed the same buffalo, but the boys enjoyed the story anyway. We also took a few pictures with the local art while we were there.

In Texas, we stopped by two of the Oddball Roadside Attractions that these great United States have; the VW Slug Bug Ranch and the Cadillac Ranch. Both of which are broken down cars upended sticking out of the ground with spray paint covering them. We tried to also find a letterbox at one of them, but couldn't locate it. Apparently they recommend leaving your mark with spraypaint, but we did not have any.

Then we hit Arizona! We were very excited. We stayed in another Roadside Attraction, the Wigwam Inn and Curios. They told us that the Inn and the vintage cars that they have parked at each Wigwam were the inspiration for the movie Cars. The Wigwams weren't luxurious, but adorable and I would definitely stay in them again!

We finally made it to the Grand Canyon and what a beautiful sight it was! I never imagined I would be so impressed by it and can not wait to go back and spend more time there.

One more state until our destination, but then we had car problems.... things were flashing and we were losing power so we pulled into a rest area and called a tow truck. Luckily it was only a bad battery that had been pushed too far, so we were back on the road and headed to Kingman, Arizona to rest and swim at the hotel.

The next morning we were ready to go and finally crossed into California. And then it happened. We were heading up a big mountain and Zachary said something smelled funny. We thought it must be outside. And then the car started smoking and the OverDrive light was flashing again. We pulled over and I was sure the van was on fire. We called another tow truck (Thank God I have an iPhone that can map the closest one) and were towed back to Needles.

The tow truck driver took us to the best, cheapest guy in town, only to be told the they were closed because the owner was in court that day, so they took us to a Mobil. After looking at the van, they informed us it would take $4000 to fix and take at least a week. I don't know if you have ever been in Needles, but there is nothing there!

I called around for a rental car and with the amount of people we had and because of some Golf Tournament in the area, a car was hard to find! Eventually through the tow truck company receptionist's, we were able to locate one back in Arizona and while grandma stayed with the kids in the the Mobil parking lot, the receptionist drove me to the rental car place. Now, we had to decided what to do with the van with 150,000 miles on it and had numerous transmission problems. We were offered a couple hundred for the van from the tow truck place for scrap metal and we felt that would be a better solution than to try to drive this van back to Illinois. We cleaned out the van and headed on our way.

It took us the rest of the day to get to where we had our reservation in California and we were exhausted. Especially after shoving all of us and our stuff in a Grand Marquis! I checked us in even though the hotel was in a seedier location than I would have wanted to stay in, but it was a Howard Johnson...of course it was safe....

We unloaded the van and headed into the room. As I do in all motel rooms, I pulled of the bedspreads(because in case you were unaware- they do not get washed, but like once a year, if that) and there on the boxsprings was......... blood. Not a little blood- I am talking soaked in blood as if someone was murdered in the room! We reloaded the car and I headed to the office to let them know we were not staying and hand in the key. I explained that we were not goimg to stay there because the room was kinda scary. She asked "scary?" I responded "There is blood all over the boxsprings, it looks like someone was murdered in between the beds". She didn't bat an eye and just said "ok, you'll have to deal with expedia to get your money back!" WOW !!!!

We got back in the car and headed towards Disneyland where I knew things would be nice due to being a tourist area. We found a Holiday Inn Express on the strip and got a very nice room with a view of the fireworks from the park.

The next morning Eric flew into LAX and Alex, Kenley and I picked him up while the other two stayed with grandma at the hotel. Daddy had done his research and found a few vans for us to go look at, so we headed to CarMax and ended up leaving with a "new" Grand Caravan!

We didn't have much of a day left after all of that, so we picked up the others and headed down the road to Bubba Gumps for dinner! next day, we took everyone around to show them our old apartments and stomping grounds and down into Hollywood to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Sign and the stars on the sidewalks. We tried to go to City Walk, which was free 14 years ago, but is no longer, so took a photo and left to head to Santa Monica and daddy's college and back to the hotel.

The next day we had decided to go to Knott's Berry Farm, but decided at the last minute that we couldn't possibly be in Anaheim and not go to Disneyland, so surprised everyone by going there instead! It was a great day!

The next morning Eric got back on the plane and we got back in the van. We took a different route this time and headed straight to Tombstone. We were excited to see this infamous town and disappointed when we got there. The acting was cheesy and the sets were, too. The only cool thing was the original building- "Bird Cage Theatre". It is now a museum and still has the original wallpaper and curtains. It is incredible to see things that old.

Our last stop was Rock Hound Park in New Mexico.
It is a Jasper and Geode mining spot and we did find a few small geodes and rocks of Jasper. We had planned this to be one of three mining stops along the way home after stopping at the Alamo, but Eric called to let us know his radiator was broken and he had no transportation. We decided it was time to go home instead of our other stops and spent the whole next day and night driving back to Crystal Lake,

It took us the rest of the weekend to recover, but I am already ready for another roadtrip!!!!