Category Archives: My Three Sons

Backpack camping in Pisgah NC

Pisgah Mountains

Backpacking in the Pisgah Mountains, NC

The epic Wiley vacation began on Sunday July 5, 2015. All five of us, and only us, headed out west to the land of mountains, trees, bears and cooler weather. Three out of four “ain’t” bad! Once in the car, everyone was pretty excited and nervous.

The plan was to drive to Pisgah; park, hike, camp then drive to next location.  We arrived at the base of Harper Creek Trail. IMG_4633
We planned to hike South Harper Creek Falls then continue up the mountain and find a camp site on a ridge.  As we neared the waterfall, excitement was elevated until screaming. And more screaming. Lead hiker disturbed a yellow jacket nest on the trail and everyone behind him got stung. The youngest took the brunt of the the bee wrath getting stung twelve times.

After the child chilled and we filled our Camelbacks in the stream, we hopped on Raider Camp Trail, part of the Mountains to Sea Trail to look for our camp area. About one mile up we found a nice clearing and most importantly with enough trees to accommodate our Hennessy Hammocks.


I can’t believe I slept in a hammock! Needless to say I didn’t sleep much the first night or any night for that matter.

The next morning we, ate breakfast, packed up and hiked back down the trail. The trail was single track and dense. We saw our first sign of  bears–one big, fresh pile of berries in the middle of the trail. I thought my husband was going to leave his own pile right there next to it.

“We in the bears house!”

I’ll admit, I first wanted to cry and then wondered where the bear can spray was and how fast could I open the 25 hooks and pulls of my backpack to get to it.

We hiked out of the woods and drove to Hunt Fish Falls trailhead. We hopped on the Mountains to Sea Trail and hiked to find our next camp site. We set up camp near the river this time in between Hunt Fish Falls and Gragg Prong Falls.



The reward after the hike and setting up camp!

Everyone went to bed this night happy that there were people about 10 minute walk away and didn’t feel so isolated. Morning came and middle child announced that the people down the way must have let their dog out because he heard it sniffing around his hammock during the night. OY!!!! Looking at youngest, we all said, “yes…..must have been a dog.” Then the next child awoke, heard the sniffing story and then told his story that he had hoped was a dream. He felt something brush against his head. I really don’t know how we continued this vacation in hammocks.

We were anxious to get out of the camp site and hike. We headed for the hills to hike Little Lost cove cliffs then Dark Side cliffs.

The theme of this vacation was flexibilty. We decided to go to Hot Springs, home of the famous hot springs and stop on the Appalachian Trail.  On the way we stopped at Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View.

After visiting Linville and a long drive to Hot Springs, moods began to unravel. After much ado including the unfortunate waking of the campground manager, a stoned dude sleeping on his front porch, we found a place to hang our hammonks at the Rocky Bluff Campground National State Park.

There were other campers and bathrooms raising our comfort levels for the sleeping arrangements. We set up camp and set out to Hot Springs for real food! On the way out of the campsite, we suddenly heard a loud hissing noise which turned out to be the bear spray fallen off the truck spinning and spraying out of control on the road. Good bye protection and $45 but we don’t care we’re going to eat!

We found a Mexican joint and immediately ordered beer and food. Things were looking up until the youngest burst in to tears over the thought of sleeping outside again. Poor vacay planner was tired, in pain and crushed. We carried on; we had to. We walked around the adorable, crunchy town of Hot Springs and went to the Hot Springs. Wow what a difference soaking in hot and relaxing water makes on the body and soul!

That night sleeping was at a minimum as usual. Lots of weird sounds to keep me wondering if the single man camper next to us was an axe murderer or what animal is out there looking to eat us.

We woke to hope: Zip lining and white water rafting on the French Broad River!

We ziplined in the morning, drove to Madison County, another cool and crunchy town and ate at Good Eats.  Our rafting guide was the coolest. She has rafted and worked all over the world and was amazing to hang out with all afternoon. As we were chatting, vacay planner imitated the odd sound we had heard the previous evening while trying to sleep. Without pause, she said, that was a bear. I heard it and was terrified but it could have been a bug and would have scared me. So the first night we don’t have bear spray and we are in a real campground, bear are wandering around our site. Another sleepless night ahead!

The youngest asked to sleep in the truck and wanted his momma so we slept in the truck on our final night. The next morning we ate, and headed to Boone so I could run Grandfather Mountain marathon the next day.

The vacation was successful but probably a little too ambitious for the first backpacking/camping trip. Would love to hike a trail from resort to resort. The hiking was great fun.

Big Muddy Challenge


At one time I thought it would be fun to do a mud run. I have one thrill seeking friend who almost had me talked in to it. She was to do a Warrior Dash with her husband and son and it sounded like a frolicking good time. That is until their pictures were posted on Facebook. Blood trickling down her husband’s bald head and mud one inch thick caked in his ear. Her son was equally beat up and couldn’t see because his contacts were rolling in the back if his head. Maybe became NO with this single picture.


But along comes Big Muddy. Surely I could do a race built for the 5-12 year old crowd. Reluctantly, I signed up myself and my ten year old. We did it; went through mud, disgusting blue pond and some more mud and more mud. “It was the best day of my life and the day Dad took me go-karting-two best days,” said the most politically correct 10 year old I have ever known.


photo courtesy of Kyle's Kritter KornerYesterday, my mom came in to town and greeted my little guys who were home early from school. R3 was out apparently out of his mind with joy over seeing her. She really is that great. I know everyone says their mom is the best but mine really, really is.

Here is a snapshot of life as her daughter:

  • My mom drove 7 hours to watch my kid play high school lacrosse
  • She left the beach a day early because my kids had a half day
  • She comes bearing gifts for everyone
  • Including fruit,  two bags of chocolate and white chocolate chip cookies that are delish
  • She played with the boys all day
  • I came home from work to a prepared dinner
  • She slept on the planet’s worst pull out couch bed because R3 insists on sleeping with her

She’s loves like God. It’s unconditional. I have done some lousy things to that woman and she’s still crazy about me and my kids. It’s hard to understand and I hope I will love my kids that much some day and  make them feel so loved.  Everyone has probably given their mom the  the standard “World’s Greatest Mom” plastic statue for Mother’s Day.  I probably really didn’t feel it then but believe it now!

Mothers Matter

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life ~ Abraham Lincoln

No one ever said that being a mother would be easy and Catholic mothers might find this task particularly daunting. In addition to all other responsibilities, Catholic mothers are called to influence, teach, and love their children so they might grow up to be people that God intends them to be. This is an awesome responsibility that mothers cannot accomplish alone. Mothers need the church for guidance and support. Hilary Rodham Clinton made famous the African proverb, “It takes a village,” but to Catholic moms, it takes a village within the Church.

In the past, extended families tended to live near one another and often even attended the same church. Young mothers had opportunities to learn how to raise their children on a solid foundation from their grandmothers, mothers and aunts. Today, families are less localized and living all over the world. In fact, 95% of the parishioners in the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh were not born in North Carolina. That statistic creates a call to action to weave the newcomer family into the fabric of community life based on Catholic principles.

On World Peace Day in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed, “An essential condition for peace within individual families is that they should be built upon the solid foundation of shared spiritual and ethical values.”

At St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, home to 4,000 families, there is an outstanding ministry that has served its mothers and parish community for the past 15 years called the Mother’s Group.

“Ok ladies, pass the toilet paper around and rip off as much paper as you want. Now for every square of toilet paper you took, tell us something about yourself.”  One could hear sighs of relief or shrieks of fear depending on how much toilet paper you were holding! This ice breaker game gets mothers acquainted, sharing and laughing during meetings.

The Mother’s Group ministers to mothers and their families. The ministry has monthly meetings, service projects and adult social events. A staffed nursery for the children during the meeting time provides the members valuable, uninterrupted adult time.

Laura Ziobro, president of the Mother’s Group says, “We share faith, values, hopes and beliefs with one another enabling us to develop deep friendships.This ministry is my surrogate family here in Raleigh.”

The meetings are designed to serve the whole mother, spiritually, intellectually and socially. Timely guest speakers are often on the agenda. Each year a representative from the school system comes to talk about the magnet schools prior to registration time. Parenting experts from Project Enlightenment offer a question and answer session on effective parenting skills. Parish priests are invited to talk on a variety of topics and offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent and Lent.  Ziobro says, “Praying and receiving sacraments together sustains my spiritual growth at a time in my life that easily gets consumed in the mere daily activities of parenting young children.”

The Mother’s Group Outreach Committee benefits St. Raphael and the Catholic community. The committee organizes three projects a year each making a contribution to the selected ministry. A group of husbands built the popular face painting booth used at the famed St. Raphael Fair. The members supply the paints and brushes and become artists, staffing the booth for the event. Proceeds from the booth are donated to the Church and Early Childhood Center. During the month of December, the group collects baby food and formula after all the Masses to donate to Catholic Parish Outreach. Once a year the group organizes a Diaper Drive to collect diapers and wipes to donate to Project Gabriel, a parish based, hands on program that assures pregnant women that they are supported and will be helped.

To involve the husbands, the ministry organizes adult only events throughout the year usually hosted in a member’s home. The adults gather for a Road Rally, a Halloween scavenger hunt, a Christmas party and a Mardi Gras celebration. Sarah, whose husband works out of his home office and travels says, “Working at home and traveling can be isolating. The Mother’s Group social events are a great way for me to feel connected to our parish and get to know other fathers.”

Since most of the members don’t have extended family in town, the ministry recognizes the need for quality childcare and has a babysitting co-op ministry. The Co-op is a group of parents who provide safe and dependable childcare in a Catholic home by trading babysitting time (not money) among them. Members meet separately from the Mother’s Group, with calendars in hand and get their babysitting needs taken care of by other mothers. Julie credits the Co-op for helping her transition back to work when she began working part-time. “Without family in town to help with childcare, it’s great to have a group of friends in faith that I can depend on for support.”

While The Mother’s Group primarily ministers to young mothers, these young mothers often transition on to other ministries continuing to get involved and share their gifts of time, talent and treasure. Pope John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and the whole world in which we live.”  Members are meeting the needs of their evolving, modern parish family through The Mother’s Group ministry. Nurturing the family on a solid Catholic foundation is of the highest importance for raising children, building the community of the Church and most importantly giving glory to God.

The Doldrums of Toys R Us

As much as I would love to Give More Presence and Less Presents, I have kids. I have to buy toys for Christmas and there aren’t any good toys left to buy.  Having my R boys over a span of 10 years, I feel like I have traveled all toy roads. There’s not much new that makes me want to come off my wallet.  I feel for the littlest guy; it’s all hand me down toys for him- Thomas the Tank Engine,  Rokenbok, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Remote Control planes trains & automobiles, castles, board games, electronic games etc.  Poor R3 has been left with all the sloppy seconds and a mother who can’t find new, fun toys to buy.

I thought I might find some interesting toys online during Black Monday.  I was ready. I was following #blackmonday on Twitter and the latest and greatest deals on Amazon. I wanted to buy, I wanted to get a start on my shopping but I was paralyzed by boredom.

I felt a Toys R Us extravaganza quickly approaching. Not one of my friends would even consider going with me; I was on my own. I was quickly reaffirmed in my assertion that there aren’t any good toys left to buy:

Power Rangers?  Really? Are they still on tv? As all well intentioned first time moms would do, I listened to the media hoopla and never let R1 watch Power Rangers for fear of the violence he would inflict on the neighborhood kids. Then, a friend gave me a stack of Power Ranger VHS tapes. On one desperate 100+ degree summer day, I let R2 watch them. So far, the neighborhood has survived and there have been no latent signs of violence.

Pokemon? I don’t even want to try to recall how many years of Pokemon I had to endure first with R1 then R2. Pokemon has some super voodoo brain washing power over boys. I thought R2 was going to need rehab to break the obsession.  All Pokemon paraphernalia have been recently released from the premises, which included beanie babies, cards, toys, books, puzzles and games to another soon to be suffering mom.  In good conscious, I could not let R3 succumb to Pokemon.

As I suffered through the “boy aisles” I routinely purchased another $5 gift pack of HotWheels, which have had the same price since I started buying them at least 14 years ago and are always in a stocking. I bought 2 more Nerf guns to add to the growing arsenal in my garage for games of cops & robbers.  Connect 4 for a second time, another Hot Wheels race track and the best buy of all Legos at  buy one, get one 50% off to add to the millions they already  have. That is a good deal! Ok, so Big R bursted my bubble and said, “That’s really only 25% off of each.” Whatev.

Our family needs fresh shoppers. Big R has stepped in and found something we have never owned: Marshmallow Launcher I think it will be a big hit.

Trader Joe’s Tomato Pesto Flatbread

Much to the delight of DH (Dear Husband-this acronym goes way back to CompuServe forum days), I forgot to cook this last night for my 9th annual neighborhood Gingerbread Party. So we made Trader Joe’s Tomato Pesto Flatbread for lunch today.

I baked it on my Pampered Chef stone which lives in my oven and cooks just about everything I bake. I took the flatbread out of the oven after the recommended baking time only to find that the crust was not crispy. It might be because I was in a hurry and put the flatbread on a cold stone.  Because the crust has to crunchy, I  removed the stone, and cooked the flatbread for 5 more minutes on the oven rack which worked.

For a quick snack or lunch for one, it was tasty. I would not add this to my Must Purchase While at Trader Joe’s list but in a pinch it was good especially after a late night of Gingerbread  House decorating!

Give More Presence and Less Presents

During this Christmas Season, I want to share this video with you. I have watched it now at least 5 times and am wondering, “How Can I Do This” without causing extreme disappointment in my three kids? I wish I had the guts to give more presence and spend less on presents.

How could you cut back on your kids’ presents and give them more presence? Looking for real ideas here, leave a comment!

Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken

In honor of the latest Trader Joe’s to open in my area, I thought I’d chronicle and review the products I love and the new ones I will try such as this Mandarin Orange Chicken.

I have a facebook friend that has been raving about this particular product every time TJ’s comes up in discussion so I thought I’d give it a try.

Tonight was a perfect night to try it because I would not be feeding Big R.  The package says 5 servings but it’s only enough for my three boys.

By far the best things about Mandarin Orange Chicken are:

  1. As easy as mac & cheese to prepare
  2. The orange sauce is delic. and not super sweet.

The only negative for me is the chicken is dark meat but my guys don’t notice such things yet. Do you know who owns Trader Joe’s?

How to Stop Feeling BLAH

Be Thankful

I am thankful for:

My strong, healthy body

My boys

My supportive, patient husband

My family who picks us up when we fall

My friends who make me a better person

My jeans which are too tight, but am thankful I have jeans to put on

A kitchen full of food

My cousin who created a website featuring family recipes:

Firefly Vodka (only 66 calories per ounce)

Having 2 interviews last week

Finding a high school youth group that my high schooler loves

How adaptable my middle son is

Facebook  for allowing me to feel connected to friends

Twitter for teaching me something new everyday

Running for teaching me something about myself after every run

My 6 year old who is always happy and ready to play

What are you thankful for? Add to my list; it will brighten this rainy day!

A Whole Lotta Happy

Pilly Manilli

Pilly Manilli

The 2009 N.C. State Fair promises to be “A Whole Lotta Happy.” I approach the annual fair with excitement and dread. Excitement, because I want to try chocolate covered bacon, see the winning jar of honey and learn how to conceal the dark circles under my eyes at the Loreal tent. Dread, because I know I will be led around the fair by people under 4 feet.

I have a  few rules to attending the fair:

  1. We can only go during the week, during the day
  2. Never on free can day
  3. Temperature must be above 50 degrees

All three rules, check!  And we were off.  It was a beautiful, Carolina blue day. As anticipated, we were led around by the little people making a direct line to the Midway for games and rides.

By far, the best deal we found was $5 for 35 ping pong balls and a chance to win a goldfish. These deprived, pet-less children were all in for fish.

It was at this point we could have left the fair with 4 happy children. Lucky for us Knox & Sons provides free fish sitting so we could continue on with the fair. That’s not to say we didn’t hear the rest of the night, “When can we go get our fish?”  The kids played games, rode rides, ate foot long corn dogs, ice cream and saw prize winning animals.

Everyone had a grand time. As of this writing, there is one of four fish a float and I still have dark circles under my eyes. Did you find the chocolate covered bacon?


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