Friday, July 28, 2023

Week in Review: Bike Paths, Boat Rides and Barbie Overload

After work last Friday (our new superintendent always lets us out an hour early on Fridays and she is now my favorite boss) Maggie and I decided to ride the recently expanded bike path.  The path starts in our town, right across the street from The Ice Cream Cottage and goes about 6 miles each way into the next town over.  It was so beautiful and felt like a vacation :)

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Piano Man Turns Twelve

We have a new 12 year old in the casa!  Alexander Blaise turned the big 1-2 this week and had "the second best birthday in my life" (the first best was when we took him to Great Wolf Lodge when he turned ten, in case you were wondering).

There are MAJOR perks to having older siblings who can drive and have money burning holes in their pockets, like when it's your birthday and they decide to give you gifts of quality time.  Maggie and Andrew took Xander out to breakfast where he ate the world's largest chocolate chip pancake and coffee milk:

Then JP took him to see the Spiderman movie in the theater, which has been on Xander's wish list this summer:

Eamon was working but bought him an Xbox gift card so that he could buy a game, along with a slightly inappropriate birthday card that X found hilarious.  Brothers FTW.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Week in Review: Gym Life, Lake Life and Past Life

Last Saturday, Phil, Maggie and I went to one of favorite workout classes that really kicks our bums.  The little boys wanted to go with us, and the YMCA plus this particular instructor are very laid back when it comes to bringing your kids with you, so we did and they loved it!  Declan just asked me this morning if we were going again tomorrow, as if it was a treat (which is actually how I feel about working out too!).  One of my friends asked if she could take a photo of us at the end of class, so here we are in all our sweaty glory:

The family that slays together, stays together :)

Another friend invited us up to his friend's lake house in Merrymeeting Lake, New Hampshire and we were able to sneak away for one night which felt absolutely luxurious.  We went here last year with Andrew and Eamon, so we brought Maggie, Xander, Declan and Brendan this year.

Make yourself right at home, Brendan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

What It's Like to Live in a House with Seven Boys

 And by "boys" I mean all the males, aged 6 - 42, that live in Casa Martin.  

If You Dribble When You Piddle

I can remember growing up with only two brothers, and one of my sisters making a sign to hang in the bathroom that said "If you sprinkle when you tinkle, Please be neat and wipe the seat" which I thought was weird because there should never be pee on the toilet seat.  I mean, girls sit and boys stand but they lift the seat, right?  Well I can tell you, having potty-trained six little buggers, that they do not necessarily lift the seat because they are lazy and then the girls have to deal with the consequences.  Is there anything worse than sitting down on a wet seat?  Ick!  I can remember seeing Maggie wipe down the seat before sitting back when she was just a young sprite and thinking "Tell me you have brothers without telling me you have brothers."  Also, boys' aim is not as great as they think it is, and they always think it is great.

King of the TV

If there's a sports game on, don't even think about watching anything else on the tv.  They also love wielding their power by holding the remote.  I don't understand it but I can't deny it.

Full Belly, Full Heart

You've all heard the saying that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach?  Truer words have never been spoken.  You should see the way their eyes light up when I come home with groceries.  A full fridge and pantry equals a full heart for my guys.  And when supplies are running low, and there's "nothing to eat!" you can actually see their heartbreak.  Does mom just not love us anymore?  A homecooked meal at the end of the day or an offered snack while studying or a packed lunch for them to grab makes them feel so loved.  Whenever I'm grocery shopping, I try to pick out some of their favorite things and they truly appreciate it.

Ya Filthy Animals

There's no sugarcoating this one, boys stink.  They are so active and bathing is mostly just a waste of their time.  I never thought I would have to remind someone to take shower or put on deodorant or change their clothes or brush their teeth as much as I have to.  Thankfully, this changes once they notice other girls.  Not their mom or sister mind you, only potential girlfriends.  They keep their rooms a mess, can't find anything and hate doing chores with a passion.  Also I have said the phrase "No feet where we eat" and "Put on some clothes!" and "There's no maid that lives here" more times than I can count.

K.I.S.S - Keep It Simple Stupid

I was watching a tv show about a group of guys and girls and it started snowing out and all of the guys ran outside to go sledding and the girls watched them from the window, tumbling and laughing and acting dangerous.  One of the girls sighed and said "Wouldn't it be so nice to be that simple-minded?"  Wouldn't it?  They just seem so much less complicated and can live in the moment so much better.  I remember once going through a particularly stressful time and telling Phil about all of my worries and he said "Just don't worry about it!"  I was like "Oh, wow, wish I had thought of that!"  How do they have that ability to just not worry about so much?  Perhaps it's because they have a lady in their life that they know is handling that role.

Use Your Listening Ears

Something that is such a pet peeve of mine with males (in general) is that they don't listen as well as females.  They forget things I've told them or only do something if I remind them often enough.  I hate having to nag like that, but I feel like it's the only time they will do it.  Maggie will so easily see my stress level at having company come over and pitch in to help, but I have to reach a breaking point to get the boys to help out. 

My husband likes to tell me of some fun fact he "heard somewhere" and I stare in disbelief as HE'S REPEATING BACK TO ME THE SAME THING I TOLD HIM EARLIER.  

It's me, hi, I'm the person, it’s me.

Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them

Of course, being in a testosterone-filled home has tons of good points as well.  Maggie would agree with me when I say that boys are easier.  Just keep them active, fed, and loved.  Not too much drama for their mama.  These boys can be so sweet and thoughtful without prompting, even if that appears in the form of dandelions and rocks and scraps of paper with a heart on it.  It means they stopped what they were doing and thought of their mom, and I love that so much.  They get over things so quickly, keep us laughing constantly, and come to us for advice.  These boys of mine, especially their dad, love fiercely, protect their girls strongly (sorry to any guy who wants to date Maggie in the future) and will do anything to provide for our dreams.  They are patient when we want them to rearrange furniture, hang decor or have to take too many pillows off the bed each night.  They make us feel so safe and loved and we couldn't imagine it any other way! 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Week in Review: Summer Conference, Summer Camp, Summer Cuts, Summer Engagement, Summer Sleepovers and Summer Salad

Hello!  It's been an eventful week over here, how about you guys?

Eamon and Maggie went to a Steubenville Youth Conference for the first time and said it was "life-changing" and "words can not describe it" and "so so beautiful".  The bus ride was 14.5 hours each way (yikes!) and they still only had great things to say.  I went to a Steubenville East youth conference back in 1997 and Phil went to four Steubenville Youth Conferences as a high schooler, so this is a such a treat to see our kids have the same wonderful experience.

Eamon was asked to give a witness talk on stage in front of 2000+ teenagers and handled it like a champ!  He talked about the importance of confession and according to the MC of the conference, there were 400 teens in line to go to confession on the first night, and after Eamon's talk the next day, there were 1000 teens in line for confession.  Could be a total coincidence, but no matter what it's an amazing number of kids lining up for the sacrament!

His short witness talk is here, filmed by Maggie, if you are interested:


Here's my Maggie (blond) and one of her besties, also named Maggie (brunette) walking on Franciscan University's campus.  How cool if this is a foreshadowing of them in three more years.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Ice Cream Cottage Story - Part Five

Part Four here

When we last left off, we had just been told that the building permit was never pulled for the *already worked on building*.  We called my brother who said he had indeed pulled the permit, then realized it was under the address of the restaurant next door (because we share a deed/property with them) and once that was settled, we paid the exorbitant permit fee and we were all set.  No fines, phew!  While finishing touches were happening on the building, there was still lots of work to be done behind the scenes.  Fortunately, behind the scenes is where I shine. 

I needed to finalize a menu and flavor list so that I could design the signs and order them.  The signs would go outside so they had to be waterproof and would be unchangeable, unlike an indoor chalkboard sign, which made the decisions about what items to carry and how to price them very overwhelming.  We were "setting in stone" our offerings before we even opened and had a good handle on what would be popular or what the price points would be.  We drove around to a lot of local shops and took photos of their signs and prices to get ideas.

One thing that became obvious to me was that I wanted really clear, classy signs.  So many shops have messy, disarrayed signs all over the place and it's hard to see all the options clearly.  I wanted one sign with flavors and one sign with the menu and prices.  I learned a lot about design when creating the signs, like how to find a hex number (not a curse/spell) for the navy paint color we used on the trim outside and then match the sign's navy blue to that.  I could look up paint colors and find the pink that looked like raspberry sorbet and then get the hex number for that to use in our lettering.  If I could go back in time, I would have designed the logo with this knowledge gained from making the signs.  I would have picked colors more precisely so that the logo colors and the sign colors would have matched, and I would have used more common fonts in our logo that I could then easily match to our signs and anything we printed.  Lessons learned for the next time!

I also had really envisioned The Cottage with shutters on the windows and was disappointed to realize that we couldn't because of the placement of the support beams holding up the awning.  Bummer! This process was nothing if not humbling. Maybe one day I will figure out some narrow custom shutters to hang.

We needed a big sign that read "The Ice Cream Cottage" for the top of our building, and I reached out to a few companies for quotes but they were so expensive!  The ice cream shack owner casually mentioned to look into the vocational schools to see if they would take on making a sign as a project.  I looked up the head of carpentry at the local vocational school and emailed him asking if his students would be willing to take on this sign as a project.  He was very nice but emailed back saying that it was too late in the school year to add a project, but that they could do it for us in the fall.  I replied telling him that we needed it at the beginning of May and I totally understood his students couldn't do it but could he recommend any sign company to me instead?  I figured all these wood working guys know each other :)  He wrote back asking details about the sign and I sent him a photo of a sign I wanted to emulate with the measurements and colors and wording.  He wrote back saying that it was a simple enough sign that he could do it himself in time.  Wow! Great!  He said he had a piece of wood big enough and we would need us to provide the paint that we wanted.  A few weeks later he said it was done and he could drop it off, and I told him to bring it with the invoice so that I could pay him.  He came by with this beauty...and told us it was free!  We were shocked and so appreciative and of course told him to come back for ice cream anytime.  

All signs hung!

We had the soft serve machine that came with the shop (thankfully!) serviced and it worked great (thankfully again!) and some lucky lads got to taste the first soft serve:

I ordered shirts and hats for our employees, met with a payroll company and got loads of paperwork done, ordered inventory and basically thought about the shop all the livelong day.  She really is like our 8th child.  A very needy baby.  

Next up was getting all of the permits and inspections.  Mother's Day was fast approaching on Sunday May 14th and we wanted to open a few days before.

May 8: The fire inspector came by and we passed the inspection but he said we needed to post our building number on the front of the shop within the next 30 days.  Whoops, a detail we didn't think of but no big deal.

May 9: The plumbing inspector came by and said that with our new *required* three bay sink, we would now need a bigger water heater, and with the bigger water heater we would need a different outlet installed.  Ugh!  Phil worked with the developer to quickly get an electrician and plumber in the next day to do the work and went out and bought a water heater.  Somehow it all came together the next day but with a very hefty price tag.  

May 10: Health Inspection - passed with flying colors, thanks to hours spent cleaning and painting and organizing.  Phew!  We had two priest friends come to the shop that night and enthrone The Cottage to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts.

Then we went outside and took a family photo:

Let's get it together Martins!

That's better!

May 11: The Building Inspector - We had tried to pin this guy down to come back and give us the green light to open, but man was it hard.  We had wanted to open on this day, Thursday May 11, 2023 because it would give us a couple of days to work out the kinks before Mother's Day, which was supposed to be a very busy day according to the other ice cream shops.  The building inspector said he would come by on May 11 but never said a time.  The shop was ready to open, we had all the products ready to go and literally just needed his approval.  Around 3pm he finally came by.  He told us we could open, and then asked me when the big day would be.  

"In one hour!" I replied.  

He said "you're going to open today?  In one hour??"  

I replied "Yup! We've been waiting for your approval and we are ready to go!" 

"Good luck!" he said and I immediately posted the following on social media:

And boy oh boy did this community come out to support us!  Scenes from the first few days:

Phil and I had mistakenly kept thinking that once we were opened for business, things would be much easier.  Yeah, nope, rookie mistake.  Even though opening the shop was a ton of work, keeping it running smoothly (at least to the public eye) requires a lot of work that never ends when you're open every day from 11-9.  One of our first big issues was one of the $8000 dipping cabinets that we bought brand new.  We had purchased two and one was fine, but the ice cream in the other one started getting soft.  

The one against the wall was cursed, maybe the hex was a spell after all.

We tried adjusting the temp to no avail.  We moved all of the ice cream to a chest freezer in the back and called the company who called a repair man who came and worked on it.  The cabinet got back down to temp, we moved all of the ice cream back into it, and then exactly a week later, the same thing happened.  Called the company again, they sent out repair man again, he did same thing and we moved all ice cream back over.  

Phil took this screenshot with our security camera of the freezer being repaired while we were open.

This same thing happened for five weeks straight!!  

It would break every Tuesday!  

We were so worried about losing all of the ice cream in there and never ordered as much as we needed because we had to always have room in the back chest freezers in case it would break again.  The company refused to send us a new dipping cabinet until the fifth time when we got the repair guy on the phone with them to describe the temporary fixes he was doing, and told them that it would never be fixed permanently and we needed a new one.  Every time this cabinet would break, we had to scoop ice cream out of a chest freezer in the back room which was really inconvenient for our workers and the waiting customers.  It was a nightmare and I don't think Phil slept more than a few hours a night through that whole ordeal.  A new dipping cabinet was delivered and the old one was taken away and *knock on wood* it's been working great, as one would expect a brand new piece of equipment to do.

But if something's not a current fiasco, are you even truly running a business?  The next issue was the air conditioning in the shop.  It started getting hotter in the shop and we called the landlord (remember we are leasing with the option to buy and had already put so much money into the building to get it up and running).  He sent a repair guy who said there was a leak and it was freezing up and we needed to turn it off to let it thaw out then back on to cool the shop, etc.  He also suggested we buy a window unit to help cool the shop since we have quite a few machines throwing off heat.  A not-so-fun back and forth between Phil and the landlord occurred trying to get the other to assume responsibility for fixing the HVAC system.  A new repair guy was sent out who did some {insert technical repair terminology} stuff to it and cleaned it out and thank goodness, between that and the window unit we bought, it seems to be working fine since.

Our current worries include the dumpster situation (we don't have enough property to put one on but obviously need one), keeping enough inventory in stock, figuring out how many workers to schedule without having ever done this before and not being able to predict the weather, wondering how we can stay open after school/fall sports start when we lose our workers, and teaching the kids that every dollar matters and not to waste product by overserving or ingesting ;)  But these are GOOD and NORMAL problems to have when running a successful ice cream shop, and we are happy to have to figure them out.  It would be much worse to have done all of this work only to have a failure of a shop.  We are beyond thankful for all of the love and support we are getting from our community and love that our "gut-feeling" that this town really needed an ice cream shop in the village was correct.

And that my friends, is the story of The Ice Cream Cottage...for now :)

Friday, July 7, 2023

Week in Review: Not That Tidy, Not A Tumor, Not A Ticket

TGIF! This week has felt like a real summer-ish week.  The little boys went to YMCA camp this week, Eamon started his summer soccer league, Maggie has Volleyball open gym times, and the ice cream store is keeping us busy as long as it's not raining.  But trust me, I kinda like the slow rainy days to focus on other my messy pantry!

We've had some moths around the pantry recently, and could not figure out where they were coming from.  I remembered a summer in my childhood when the moths got so bad that you could see the larvae crawling on the ceiling and my parents had to "bomb" the house to get rid of them.  We weren't anywhere close to that stage yet, but neither did I want to be.  I seem to remember that the source of those moth larvae was the dog food, which is why we keep our big bag of dog food in the basement and bring up a closed containerful at a time.  And yet, where were my moths coming from??

First step, clear out pantry: 

And while we are doing that, might as well install some peel-and-stick wallpaper, a job I generously outsourced to my husband ;)

Maggie and I threw away any old food (barley from 2019 anyone?) and she organized the dry goods into these containers (I paid $30 less than that!).  Then we put it all back together.

Much better!  We set up moth traps and - cover your eyes if you love moths - we killed about twenty so far.  I still didn't find any larvae or the source of the moths but hopefully this keeps it more manageable.

Before and After
I was using my favorite (cheap!) vacuum to clean out the pantry and realized it smelled a little, so I filled the bath with some hot bleach water and put in all the vacuum parts, and the amount of dirt in the filter was disgusting.  Apparently you're supposed to do that often??  Don't follow me for housecleaning tips.  You weren't, I know.

All clean and ready to, uh, clean.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Ice Cream Cottage Story - Part Four

Part Three here

So there we were, meeting with the owner of the ice cream shack that we had previously planned on buying one day.  Phil and I were anxious because we had to tell her that the potential deal was now off the table as we decided to buy a shop in our own town. She had been so nice to us and open about her business that we didn't want to let her down.  She began by nervously talking to us about the negative events that had happened in her life, which we had been completely unaware of, and now we were feeling even worse that we were about to let her down even more!  Then she said that because of everything going on, she needed to keep the ice cream shack open to help her family out financially.  She felt so bad that she had led us to believe we could buy the shack but now had to pull out.  We sympathized with her about what she was going through and then excitedly told her not to feel bad at all because we were getting our own place.  She was so relieved!  We were so relieved!  We had both been dragging our feet to talk to each other because we didn't want to be the bearers of bad news, and in turn it worked out perfectly for all of us.  She has become such a mentor and friend through this whole process, and we have been able to help her out as well.   God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.

Okay so at this point we had an agreement with the ice cream wholesaler, a signed lease, loaned money in the bank, and we had told family and friends and informed the other shop owners that we thought it might affect negatively (but it didn't, yay!) and everyone was on board.  I posted our first social media post:

The developer saw the post and called the local radio station who reached out to Phil and wrote an article about The Cottage and talked about it on the radio.   The local newspaper heard about it from that source and Phil and I did an interview with them over the phone. I wrote up and sent the newspaper journalist the history of our family's ice cream business and he put together a big article that really got the word out.  In his article, he mentioned that we would open for Mother's Day weekend (we had said we really hoped to be open but no promises) so now we were in a big rush with a six week deadline. 


My oldest brother happened to be building a house a couple of towns over and agreed to let us use his framers for a week to get our building renovation started quickly.  Going even a step further, he pulled the commercial building license for us because he's a contractor and we are most definitely not.  So he pulled the building permit, Phil bought supplies, and my 82 year old dad volunteered to be the General Contractor (his former job) because Phil and I still had to show up at our *actual* jobs and couldn't be onsite.  The work started on April 6, 2023.

They worked fast, and Phil and my dad were so great at scheduling electricians and plumbers and getting equipment delivered fast.  Our biggest expense of the whole project was buying two dipping cabinets for about $8000 each.  The company that we bought them from didn't deliver, so we had to set up delivery with another company who would only deliver them to the shop but not take them off the truck because of their weight and size.  We had to ask quite a few friends (one with a bobcat) to help us get those off the delivery truck and into the shop, and that was only the beginning of the dipping cabinet saga *cue ominous music*.  

The building was in rough shape, dirty with gross equipment.  We scrubbed what we wanted to salvage, painted walls, had the floor cleaned and waxed, installed new windows and doors, resided the front of the shop, installed lights and redid plumbing.  We found equipment second-hand when possible, and had some family members and friends willing to help us, for which we were extremely grateful.

The shop had a two bay sink, but the Board of Health requires a three bay sink (one to wash, one to rinse and one to sanitize) so we bought a sink from someone from Facebook marketplace and had it installed by the plumber.  The plumber configured the pipe in a way that took up a lot of room in the shop, so we had him redo it, which he was not happy about.  The electrician had his work cut out for him too, as installing outlets in an old building is never fun.  My dad not only oversaw the whole renovation, but also worked on his own finishing touches to The Cottage, like building a cupula to light up at night, making uniquely shaped shelves in front of the windows, and installing a fan to blow out the waffle cone scent to customers waiting in line.  

My mom kept busy researching recipes, shopping for things we would need, and making her famous Maggie's hot fudge for us to use.  How lucky we are to have their guidance and help, and I think this shop is bringing them joy too.  Much like a grandchild comes with all the good parts of parenting and none of the bad, they get to enjoy the shop's success without having to work there everyday.  Though they do tend to visit daily, to water flowers or get a treat or just see how long the line of customers is :) 

Things were moving along fast, and it looked like we might hit our Mother's Day goal, when the Building Inspector showed up one day to inform us that we had never pulled a building permit.  Um, excuse me?   My brother pulled it for us.  Nope, he looked in his computer again, there was nothing pulled for this address.  But we had already done all of the building work, what now?  Have you ever felt pure dread flow through your body like ice?  Yeah that's how I felt hearing those words, only a few weeks from opening day...

Part Five here