Thursday, July 21, 2011

Billy the Snow Punk

Today we are house bound with an excessive heat warning and a real temperature of 96°with a heat index of 106° In an attempt to stay cool, here's a look back at the construction of Billy, our snowman from this past winter at our old house.

embedded video below. Refresh the page if you do not see the video or click HERE

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cherry Hill

"Eastern State Penitentiary, was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone." taken from the website

The Quaker designed prison opened in 1829 remained in use for 142 years. As a lover of history, ghosts lore, and architecture, this tour was a feast for the senses. My dear Carlin and I spent an afternoon wandering from cell to cell, trying to imagine what it must have been like for those who did hard time there. Solitude with only the Eye of God (small opening in the ceiling) to keep companion to their thoughts, they did their time in absolute silence to repent their sins. That is until demand over-ruled supply, cells doubled their occupancy, and stories leaked of parties complete with booze supplied by the staff, even during prohibition.

If ever I needed impetus to save for a real camera and take photography classes, this place is reason enough. In fact, as our wedding anniversary is Bastille Day (July 14th), and there is a street festival to commemorate it outside the prison walls, I think our return will be soon. Revelers are encouraged to dress in period costume and bring a squirt gun to re-enact the storming of the Bastille. Of course, we could always return for the haunt this fall, when they turn it into a haunted house which is consistently rated America's scariest haunted house. In fact, TAPS filmed an episode of Ghost Hunters there (view HERE).

Carlin and I enjoyed dinner at a lovely Italian place after our tour. I love this photo of her.

Here are my photos, see below (refresh this page if you don't see the slideshow) or better yet:
View the slideshow in a separate window and click view larger HERE

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Slice of America

I love a parade! A selling point for me in buying this house was the family friendly neighborhood where neighbors actually know each other, look out for one another, and know how to throw a great party. For over 60 years they have hosted a 4th of July parade that travels right in front of our new home.

I'm a big fan of parties, especially parties with a theme. Throwing myself into party planning mode is a guilty pleasure and I am darn good at it. In the few weeks I had between the move and the 4th, I stocked up on bunting, patriotic stars (including star ice cube trays), and planned the menu. Lacking a punch bowl, I found a cheesy nostalgia fountain on-line. I just had to buy two as one was for 2 gallons (yes 2 gallons) of sangria and one was for punch. They flow from 3 tiers and light up and make me happy.

We were blessed to have a great turn out of friends and even family that travelled from Iowa. Expecting just a bunch of kids on decorated bicycles, we were pleasantly surprised with bagpipers, bands, antique cars and trucks, fire trucks, steppers, clowns, and floats. An honest to goodness parade!

Alexander's bestie from his last school attended, making for a very happy boy.

Despite the summer heat, the morning parade was grand and the sangria which soaked in fruit and brandy overnight was scrumptious.

Our good friends surprised us all with their new edition, Ms. Kimberly, 10 days old! I momentarily forgot my hosting duties as I snuggled her, breathed in her sweet baby scent, and admired her dark curly hair.

supplying sangria to the parade marchers

We were overflowing with gorgeous families.

Sister and Papa

A year ago we walked out on faith and moved across the country to a new city. For years I had been praying for a job that would fulfill my husband, in a place that would nourish our family, and enrich our lives. We've found so much more than that in our little corner of the world.

This place feels like a small town in the mid-west, yet is just down the road from the big city. After the parade, the park around the corner hosted music, free hot dogs, a dunk tank, bouncy houses, face painting, sack races, baseball, and train rides. Alexander and our buddy Sy rode the caboose.

Although our lives are busier than we might like, we are happy. We have finally found our Home and we are putting down roots. Join us next 4th of July for our 2nd annual parade watching party!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Build & Play in 1 Day

guest post by Mark

If you ever get one of those backyard play-sets, you should probably know what you're getting yourself into. Having recently completed one, I found the manufacturer's claims that you could "Build and Play in One Day" a bit disingenuous. Here's what really went down: 143 pieces of wood in 42 different dimensions, plus 94 additional plastic and metal pieces held together with 935 screws, bolts and fasteners = 1,172 parts/pieces.

Day 1: Monday May 23 Delivery and unloading. 1 hour
Day 2: Tuesday May 24 Unpacking and sorting. 2 hours
Day 6: Saturday May 28 Shopping for stain, water seal and other supplies at Lowe's. 2 hours
Day 7: Sunday May 29 Water sealing party with the Kerstings. 14 hours: noon to 2am (minus hours spent on BBQ, plus time gained from two workers)
Day 8: Monday May 30 (Memorial Day). Finished water sealing. 10 hours: 2pm - midnight.
Day 10: Wednesday June 1 Cleanup and wood sorting. 1 hour.
Day 13: Saturday June 4 Counting and sorting hardware. Discovered 6 of 10 brackets are faulty. Called company for replacement. Completed steps 1-2. 6 hours: 3pm - 9pm.
Day 17: Wednesday June 8 Replacement parts arrive.
Day 25: Thursday June 16 Completed steps 3-6 (okay, 5.5) before nightfall. 2.5 hours: 7pm - 9:30pm.
Day 27: Saturday June 18 Completed steps 6-19 (minus 16 and 17). Began leveling ground underneath playset. 12 hours: 9:30am - 9:30 pm.
Day 28: Sunday June 19 (Father's Day) Continued leveling with only partial success, completed through step 22. 8 hours: 9am - 3pm, 7pm - 9pm.
Day 29: Monday June 20. Got stone and slate to support and level posts. 1.5 hours: 7:30pm - 9pm.
Day 30: Tuesday June 21. More leveling. 0.5 hours: 7:30pm - 8 pm.
Day 31: Wednesday June 22. Assembled rock wall while alone with three kids. Found bricks to aid in leveling foundation. 3 hours: 3pm - 6pm.
Day 32: Thursday June 23. Built ladder and began roof section. 2.5 hours: 7pm - 9:30 pm.
Day 33: Friday June 24. Rebuilt roof section, correctly this time. 1 hour: 8:30am - 9:30 am.
Day 35: Sunday June 26. Installed roof and canopy. Attached ladder and supports, as well as rock-climbing wall and supports, upon newly-laid brick foundation. Leveled foundation for extension section with brick, after going out to collect discarded bricks at Rosemont Station. Laid decking on extension. 11 hours: 10:30am - 9:30pm.
Day 36: Monday June 27. Raised slat walls on extension, built and attached picnic table and bench. Added window trim. Back in order, completed up through step 36. 4.5 hours: 4pm - 9:30pm (minus one hour for grilling and dinner).
Day 37: Tuesday June 28. Hung swings, filled around benches, assembled monkey bars. 2.5 hours: 7pm - 9:30pm.
Day 38: Wednesday June 29. Assembled stairs to monkey bars, attached stairs to monkey bar assembly. Used post-hole digger to prepare two 2' deep holes for stairs. 2 hours: 7pm - 9pm.
Day 39: Thursday June 30. Attached monkey bar assembly. Built landing zone from leftover wood. Attached slide to unit and then to landing zone, which had to be built upon level ground and brick risers, and a 2x4 stake driven a foot deep. Cleaned the playset and mowed the yard. 8 hours: 10am - 6pm.

"Build and Play in One Day" totals:

95 work hours over 39 days.

Note from Jen: The kids love their "park" and Daddy is our hero!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sophie is 4!

Sophia Madison turns 4 years old today. Four years ago I gave birth in the back of a moving vehicle. Four years ago today she had surgery correct her duodenal atresia (intestinal blockage). Four years ago my soul was reborn as her tiny body came bursting into this world. Sophie has taught me, has taught so many of us about love, patience, acceptance, and joy.

Happy birthday my little punky! Tonight we celebrate with fireworks, friends, and family.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Most people who know us recognize this as a very special song for our family. Tonight as I'm decorating the front porch for the 4th of July with a ridiculous amount of bunting, I'm listening to my favorite songs on youtube. I had not heard this version of Natalie Merchant's Wonder, nor this introduction with her description of the song's inspiration. Take a listen.