Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Need to Know Tuesday, Vol. 9

I've been pondering and pondering what it is that I need to know this week, and today it came to me! A couple other moms and I took our toddlers to Sandy Point State Park this morning to play on the beach. And it was great! There was no charge for the little ones, and admission to the park for adults is only $4. While there is the whole dirty, sandy factor, Jillian loved playing in the water and sand. And there are picnic benches, showers in the bathroom, a concession stand, and a playground. We could SO spend an entire day there.

This made me start thinking about the Columbia Association pools, that are WAY expensive and usually packed-jammed crowded. We recently canceled our CA membership, because frankly, it wasn't worth what we were spending each month to basically go to the pool a handful of times during the summer. Get this...it costs $8 per adult and $5 per child (over 1 year old) to get into a CA pool. So for me, John, Josh, and Jillian to go to a CA pool that's 10-15 minutes away (depending on which pool), we pay $26 if they actually charge for Jillian. If we drive the 30 minutes go to Sandy Point, it would cost us $12 total. I think the price difference definitely makes up for the 60 mile round trip drive.

I've long been a beach girl, and prefer the softer sand of the Atlantic beaches, but the warmer water and closer location of Sandy Point may soon make it our favorite water haunt this summer. What I need to know this week, devoted readers, is which do you prefer...pool or beach? If it's a pool, what features do you like best (beach entry, water park, etc.)? If it's the beach, which one(s) are your favorites?

Monday, June 29, 2009

What I Learned This Week, Vol. 6

It's that time of the week again...the time where I join up with Musings of a Housewife's "carnival" and share what I learned this week.

I feel like I didn't learn that much this week. I'm sure that I did (yeah...right), but only a couple things come to mind.

* I learned that productive days, be it working or just getting stuff crossed off my list, put me in a good mood. Today I had seven stores to visit for my part-time job and three personal errands to run. I got it all done and was in a great mood this afternoon!

* I learned that one 750mL bottle of Lindemans Framboise Raspberry Lambic is exactly the right amount to go with a 12-pack of Hoegaarden Belgian White to make twelve tasty "Belgian Sunrises" (or "Dirty Ho's" as some call them...).

* I learned that tortillas can be used as a stand in for hot dog buns.

* I learned that currency conversion can be the cause of going far over budget on while on vacation in another country. Clearly, that has to be the cause, right?

So that's what I learned. Want more? Check out Musings of a Housewife to find out what she learned. And to see what her other readers learned! And heck, if you learned anything, share! Just link up your post with Mr. Linky!

Musical Moments

Since she was a little one, I've been exposing Jillian to music. I grew up playing various musical instruments until high school, when I started singing in choir. Jillian recently discovered her dad's harmonica and has really taken a liking to it. And this evening, we had a brief session on the piano. I'm glad to see she's intrigued by playing instruments, and that she enjoys it. Hopefully this will be the start of a lifelong love of and appreciation for music!

Not me! Monday

Last week I discovered "Not Me Monday", started by MckMama. I really liked it, so I'm joining in this week.

Earlier this week, it was clearly not me that enjoyed a rare, uninterrupted shower. I obviously did NOT go to see what the toddler was so interested in that she ignored the normally fascinating (to her) shower experience. So it was clearly not me that finished her shower to find Jillian contentedly playing with the toilet plunger. Not me!

It was not me that decided to serve hot dogs for dinner this evening. Only to discover no. hot dog. buns. Anywhere. So I certainly did not serve newly invented 'hot dog wraps' which consisted of hot dogs, melted cheese, and condiments, wrapped in a tortilla. Nope, not me!

And lastly, it was definitely not me that allowed Jillian to play in the cupboards underneath the bathroom sink while I was trying to get a moments peace to blow dry my hair. And it was not me that let her play until her heart was content with some o.b.'s; not me that dashed for the camera to gather photographic evidence of this lovely female moment. And SO not me that was actually impressed with her imagination and the five different things that this toddler pretended they were. There is no way that was me!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Afternoon Entertainment

Afternoons can be a tough time for Jillian. Especially when she takes a short nap. I often struggle trying to keep her out of trouble and entertain her. This afternoon was no different. But I had a thought! Last year I bought her the Parents Bee Bop Band Music Toy Set at a yard sale. I had let her play with it once or twice after we bought it, then put it away for when she was bigger. Well, she's bigger! And I pulled it out this afternoon! Hooray for "new" toys - she loved it!

After that fascination wore off, I filled up the baby pool and we played outside.

Hooray for afternoon entertainment!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

England Trip - Jilly's Loot

While we were away, we had to pick up a couple things for the wee one. As if she needs anything...

Here she is modeling her awesome new shoes (already scuffed of course!).

She got a new bank...

...and a couple British-style bears.

Holding true to my book-buying addiction, I found her an awesome one when we were at Hamley's, complete with UK spellings.

And we found this lovable bear in a small shop in Corbridge. He just looked SO huggable!

She got more souvenirs from our trip than we did!

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time...

This afternoon some of our moms group mommas and our wee ones met up at the Patapsco State Park Hilton Area scrap tire playground. All three triplets (born on the same day in the same hospital) were in attendance (Cady, Jillian, and Brooks), and we thought it'd be a good opportunity to snap a picture of the three of them. Since toddler-hood has officially been reached, it is rather difficult to get three of them to "pose" together. I saw a chance to grab the three of them so Lindsey (Cady's mom) could snap some photos. Here's how that went...

Of course, Amedeo and Jack were also in attendance.

A great time was had by all at this fun playground. Added bonus...there are plenty of shaded play areas!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Learned This Week, Vol. 5

Since we vacationed in England last week, I learned lots and lots this time around, but I don't think I can fit all that here. Check back on my blog if you're interested as I'll be posting more details about our trip in the week or so to come.

What did I learn this week?

* Vacations are fantastic, but it is great to come home! I also learned that it would be nice to come home to a clean house. One of the items on my "to do" list before our trip was "clean the house". As vacation neared, my extensive "to do" list was pared down significantly, due to time constraints, effort involved, and of course, two lengthy trips to the passport office. When we arrived home, tired and jet-lagged, one of my first thoughts was, "I sure wish I would have taken the time to clean the house before we left!". Oh well, lesson learned.

* I'll keep this vacation one short...the countryside of Northern England is beautiful!

* Sitting in a middle seat on a Boeing 767 for eight hours is miserable. British Airways downsized our plane on both the outgoing and returning flights. I don't know how much bigger the plane would have been that we were SUPPOSED to have, but I know it couldn't have been any worse than the ones we had. Super cramped.

* I learned that I can't sleep on planes the way I used to. I used to fall asleep during takeoff and sleep until we began our descent. Not so much anymore. I think I slept for maybe three hours total during our red-eye flight out. And barely fifteen minutes of the returning flight (which may have actually been a good thing). I think it was because I was so uncomfortable. See item above.

* While I am NOT much of a hair styling girl, I do enjoy blow drying my stick-straight, thin hair. It doesn't take long and it gives it just a bit of body. I had the pleasure of blow drying my hair only twice while we were in England. I took a hair dryer with me with an adapter - I should not have bothered. It wouldn't turn on anywhere, adapter and all. Three of the places we stayed had in room hair dryers, and only two of them worked. So I learned that as much as I don't actually like doing it, I love having blow dried hair.

* I learned that it's hard to stay on budget when you're pulling money out of an ATM in a foreign currency, with exchange rates that fluctuate daily. Oops!

* And last, but possibly the most important thing I learned this week, I learned that clothes in the dryer for too long can bleed color. I know...I'm slow. Most people already know this. I grew up sorting lights and darks and didn't really get it. Once I washed a red shirt with light colors and everything turned pink. So I don't was new, red clothes with other things. But I do throw everything in the washer together. And wash in cold. And haven't had problems until now. Something happened that the spin cycle in this particular load didn't do it's job. I knew it as soon as I felt how wet the clothes still were. But I was lazy and didn't feel like figuring out how to re-run a spin cycle. So I threw everything in the dryer until dry. Like for three hours. Even on medium heat we experienced some bleeding. Everything in that load that was white, is now a shade of blue-gray, from the dark blue jeans that were in the dryer. Whoopsie!

What did you learn this week? Head on over to Musings of a Housewife to read about what others learned and link up with what you learned!

I Need to Know Tuesday, Vol. 8

My favorite kitchen appliance is my Food Saver. We got it as a wedding gift and it took me a couple years to get into using it regularly. Once I got the hang of it, I started buying meat in bulk at Sams Club, and freezing small portions individually. However, this presented me with a new challenge: planning my meals in advance, at least enough to defrost whatever it is that I'm going to use.

Most of the time, I forget and end up improvising and scrounging to pull something edible together for dinner. I was quite proud of myself Sunday, when midday I pulled out one of my frozen bags that contained two boneless, skinless chicken breasts for last night's dinner. I didn't know exactly what I was going to cook, but I knew it would be a chicken dish of sorts. And that's a start, right? Yesterday evening rolled around and I filled a pot with water to start boiling for rice. I reached into the fridge to find a bag that contained two frozen chicken breasts. Still frozen. Hard. Bummer. Again I found myself scraping and improvising for dinner.

What I need to know this week is...what is your favorite "go-to" meal to cook? I'll tell you mine: it's breakfast food. We almost always have bacon, potatoes, eggs, bread for french toast, pancake ingredients, etc., on hand. So at the last minute, I found myself frying up some potatoes, cooking bacon, and making a big omelet for dinner yesterday. Breakfast food has long been my favorite, it's relatively easy to prepare, and requires minimal planning and no defrosting. And sometimes we throw it on burritos and have breakfast burritos.

I need your help again, readers! What do you cook when dinner sneaks up on you and you haven't planned something? Or what favorite do you fall back on when your 'Plan A' doesn't work out? I'm sure my husband is getting tired of breakfast for dinner!

Monday, June 22, 2009

England Trip - The Beer

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: oh, the beer! We love real ales, you know, the lovely hand-pulled beers that some Americans call "warm". They're not, in fact, warm, just not ice cold. Their temperature probably would NOT make the mountains on a Coors Light bottle turn blue. They would most definitely NEVER be described as the "coldest tasting beer". Seriously, is cold a flavor? I think not.

The Tynedale Beer Festival...

We tasted (by the half pint):
Adnam's Explorer
Allendale Tar Bar'l Stout
Bellhaven 80/-
Big Lamp Premium
Consett Steeltown
Consett Blast
Daleside Old Legover
Dent Aviator
Fullers ESB
Fyne Ales Highlander
Geltsdale Hell Beck
Hadrian & Border Brewery Farne Island
Jennings Cumberland Ale
Jennings Sneck Lifter
Mordue Workie Ticket
Northumberland Brown Ale
RCH East Street Cream
Shepherd Neame Spitfire
Wylam Haugh Porter
York Centurion's Ghost
Youngs Special

The Boathouse in Wylam...

Fyne Ales Maverick
Fyne Ales Vital Spark
Hadrian & Border Brewery Newcastle Pioneer
Houston Peter's Well
Houston Warlock Stout
Jennings Honey Bole
Marston's Ashes Ale
Marston's Pedigree
Wylam Bitter

Of course we had a few others, Bombadier, Fullers London Pride, Adnam's Bitter, Tribute, and a couple ciders. Overall, I think we did our share of beer tasting while we were away. And while there were some we didn't love as much as the others, we didn't have any that were bad. No surprise there! We need a CAMRA here!


This is how Jillian says ball. It took me a couple weeks to finally get it on video, but it cracks me up every time! Enjoy!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Adventures Abroad, Days 7 and 8

We took the train back to London, about a three hour trip. We took the tubes to Piccadilly Circus, walked to our hotel, and checked in. A London-sized room (teeny) with a massive bed. Seriously, the bed couldn't have been any bigger in the room. But nice accommodations. The last time we were in London, we only saw Buckingham Palace at night, so we headed that way to see it during daylight hours.

We ventured over to one of our favorite pubs from our honeymoon trip, the Red Lion on Crown Passage (I specify, because there are tons of Red Lion pubs). At this point in our journey, I admit, we were wearing down. We hoofed it back to the hotel for a quick nap. Well, I probably could have slept all night at this point, but around 8:30pm we headed back to the pub to have a few good pints our last night in England.

In the morning, we had yet another good breakfast. Seriously, the English KNOW how to do breakfast. We walked around town a bit more since the weather was nice (have I mentioned how nice the weather was over there?).

The Thames and London Eye

Parliament, Big Ben

And we had one last yummy pint before we headed off to the hotel to catch a taxi to Heathrow. We heard about this "concoction" from a couple we met the night before; they called it a Guinness & Black. It's a Guinness with a shot of black currant syrup. Scrumptious!!

Over the next week or so I'm going to do a few more blog posts about various aspects of our trip. I feel like we did so much while we were there I can't nearly fit the details into these summary posts!

Adventures Abroad, Day 6

We awoke in Newcastle to a rainy day, as predicted. We visited their science center, the Life Science Centre. It was neat and interactive, and they had a pretty cool dinosaur exhibit, but it was definitely geared for kids.

Since we had planned to see some of the city and it was raining, we bailed and took a train back into Hexham to see if we could check out the Abbey crypt tour in the afternoon. And score! Whatever lighting problems they were having over the weekend were all fixed and we got to tour the seventh century crypt. It was quite tiny but very neat. Some of the stones were recycled from older Roman buildings and you could see some of the Roman carving and even letters on some of them. Seriously, third century stones? Pretty cool.

On the way back into Newcastle, we stopped in Wylam, where we had seen the Boathouse a few days before. What a fantastic pub! They had twelve real ales, two hand-pulled ciders, and a selection of cask ciders. We tried almost all of them. The best thing about the really good beer, you ask? You can get half pints so that you are able to try more of them! John took a really good picture at the pub, so I'll put that one up when I do a more detailed post about the beer. Oh, the beer. *sigh*

Adventures Abroad, Day 5

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at Langley Castle and took a tour of the castle. This is a fat knight.

We went up on the roof of the castle, toured the chapel and were even allowed up to the top of the towers! The staircases were VERY tiny.

The view was beautiful!

We caught the train into Newcastle and hired a car for the afternoon (not in our original plan, but everyone told us we needed to drive up the coast). We would have preferred to do it the next day when we had a full day, but it was calling for rain. We rented a new Peugot. It only had eight miles on it! John did a fabulous job driving on the "wrong" side of the road. We bought a fantastic road map for just two pounds (see it on the roof of the car?). Later we realized that that's exactly where we left it...oops!

We decided to drive all the way up to Edinburgh. We didn't make it that far, but we did make it into Scotland.

We stopped off to see Ayton Castle. It wasn't open. This is the front gate, though. It makes me think that it would have been awesome!

Then we found the Belhaven Brewery. Which unfortunately, only does brewery tours two days/week. And not the day that we were there. :-(

We stopped off in Dunbar, Scotland and had a pint and some lunch. The seafood was fantastic right there on the sea.

We continued our drive down the coast and stopped off at Berwick-upon-Tweed. There was an old fort there, and just beyond, a breathtaking beach with cliffs on the North Sea. We spent at least an hour or so tooling around on the beach picking up seashells.

After dragging ourselves away from the view, we stopped at Alnwick Castle, which too, was closed by this time. Of course. What a neat place though! On the grounds is the largest treehouse in Europe, a huge garden, and the castle, which has been used to film various movies, including some Harry Potter scenes! There's also a little town surrounding it, with shops, pubs, and B&B's. It'd be a wonderful place for a family vacation for a few days and nights.

Grudgingly, we returned to Newcastle to check into our hotel for the next two nights. It was ok, but the gentleman working there was terrible at giving driving directions, especially to two Americans who had NO idea where that part of town was located. Frustrating!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Adventures Abroad, Day 4

This morning we took a walk to the bus station to catch the bus to Hadrian's Wall. Along the walk, we saw this pub/guest house. I've heard that pubs over here are more accepting of children, but this was just too cool!

We caught the AD122 bus to Hadrian's Wall, or as the locals call it, the Roman Wall. We visited the Birdoswald Roman Fort, one of the more western sites along the wall. There were some showers on the way up, but they stayed east and we had great weather again!

I met a sheep.

We bused back to Hexham, gathered our luggage and caught the train to Haydon Bridge and a taxi just a couple miles away to Langley Castle, where we're staying in the Tindale Room.

Dinner was very fancy.

And possibly the best I've ever had. And dessert was scrumptious!

After dinner we strolled briefly around the grounds and met two of the four peacocks they have here.

Tomorrow's plan: breakfast, tour the castle, head into Newcastle, hire a car and drive up the coast. (We were going to plan an all-day-er for that Wednesday, but it looks like it's going to rain all day Wednesday)