Charleston 2016!

Remember when GG and I went to Charleston, SC? We had such a great time, we’ve basically been talking about it for the last 4 years. It was really a perfect vacation. So with our 10th wedding anniversary (!!!) coming up, we decided to go back! We booked our time well in advance, because we knew it would be a tough week for GG to get off work. Hotel rates seemed much higher than when we were there before, probably because it was more in the midst of the Spoleto Festival. I ended up booking us an Airbnb a couple months in advance, and then one morning I woke up to a message saying the reservation had been cancelled by the owner! Turns out, hotels in Charleston are suing Airbnb, so until everything was worked out, property owners were advised to cancel any pending reservations. GG and I started looking for other options, and found that in the meantime the rate at the Elliott House, where we stayed in 2012, was back down to where it had been before, so we booked it! And thus concluded our pre-vacation drama.

Wednesday, June 1: The week before we left, a tropical storm hit the area hard enough to cause flooding that closed down areas of I-95 for a while. Luckily, everything had cleared up just in time for us to leave. We didn’t stop anywhere on the way to South Carolina this time (except a creepy gas station in Virginia where I made the mistake of using the ladies’ room!). We left early in the morning and GG drove until we were past DC, then I took over for a long stretch (only listened to “Hamilton” once!), and then we switched back shortly before our destination. We had planned to take one day while we were there and drive over to Savannah, GA, but as we pulled into town, I was so sick of driving that I said to GG, “I know this sounds crazy [because we already have a detailed written agenda], but I would be ok with scrapping Savannah and doing something else around here that day instead.” So we did! (Read on to see what that was!)

We hadn’t really planned anything for our first evening in town, but GG had ideas for us. As soon as we checked into the hotel, we headed two doors down to Poogan’s Porch, where we sat at the bar and shared an order of the smoked gouda mac & cheese that just about put him in a coma four years earlier. We learned about two things there: a local beer called Pluff Mud (which GG enjoyed throughout the trip), and the existence of Poogan’s Smokehouse, which we immediately added to our agenda for later in the week. After that stop, we went next door to Husk, where we got a table in the carriage house bar and enjoyed a cheese platter and crazy burger with bacon in the burger meat. (Bacon is the main theme of Charleston.) Now here’s the sad part: after dinner, we went for an evening walk around town. I was wearing sandals that are usually extremely comfortable, but for some reason they gave me huge blisters that night! So for the rest of our trip, I had to wear the one pair of more sneaker-like enclosed shoes that I’d brought (which probably was better for my feet, but still!).



Poogan’s Porch mac & cheese

Cheese plate at the Husk bar

Not glamorous, but glad to be out of the car!

One other funny story about the hotel: the majority of the guest rooms are all along one side, which faces the alley next to Husk. Last time, our room was right above Husk’s dumpster, where they were constantly clanking glass bottles and trash. (It was the hottest dumpster in Charleston, though!) This time, as we checked in, GG said to me, “I hope our room isn’t on the first floor.” It was on the first floor (which was fine, we didn’t have to go up any steps and there was no problem). I jokingly said, maybe we’d be right by Husk’s kitchen entrance. Well, we walked into the room, opened the blinds, and the kitchen door was literally right outside the window! LOL! It really wasn’t any problem at all though. It wasn’t that noisy, there were wooden blinds that pretty much prevented anyone from seeing in, and we had a full blackout curtain for nighttime. Just thought it was funny :o)

Thursday, June 2: I know I said I was sick of driving, but, today was the day we planned to do a couple things just outside of downtown, so it was back in the car for a short ride. Our first stop was the Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak is often said to be the oldest tree in the country, and it really isn’t, though it is very old and very large. It’s impressive and beautiful, and you are free to just wander around it and admire up close or from afar. You can take pictures, although there are signs all around it that you can’t move. But don’t worry, because there is a gift shop!! We met an artist named Frank deLoach who was working on a really interesting painting of the tree. He said for years he did realistic tree paintings and couldn’t give them away. Then he started doing this technique and people are trying to buy them before he’s even finished, and he sells them for thousands of dollars. He mixes sand with paint to create the sketchy outline, then fills in the voids with color. Also, if you light the painting from just the right angle, the outlines cast shadows that give the piece a whole new look! Angel Oak pro tip: arrive early; we were there first thing in the morning and it was already getting crowded by the time we left.



Before we left, my mom warned me to stay on paved surfaces and not go under trees. Whoops.

This is the painting on an angle – here it is straight on

Our next stop was Magnolia Plantation. There are several plantations you can visit along the Ashley River and I was a little disappointed with the one we saw before because it turned out it was “preserved” (i.e. kept in the same dilapidated state it was when the last owner died), not restored. Magnolia is the one everyone talks about, because it’s a huge property you can explore, and in addition to the house there is a garden, zoo, swamp tour, etc. I really just wanted to see the house, so we bought admission to the garden (which you need to be able to do anything else) and a scheduled house tour. We had time before the tour to explore the garden, and then wandered down to the river, which was the site of a British attack that preceded the battle of Yorktown (“Hamilton” has really improved my knowledge of the American revolution!). It was very beautiful but also very hot, so I was glad to get inside and check out their little indoor museum as well. They had some connection to the Grimké family, which was fictionalized in The Invention of Wings. (We’ll refer to this book again later, too! I read it because of its Charleston and Philadelphia connections!) The house tour was good; the property has had a long history, and actually is currently owned by the same family – the gardens were created by an early owner to make his wife happy, since he took her away from her city home, and were later opened to the public to make some money by charging admission.



The front of the house actually faces the river, since that’s how guests would arrive; this is the back that faces toward the gardens

We went back to town and had lunch at Eli’s Table, which was one of GG’s picks, and happened to be right around the corner from our hotel. After we mentioned to the waiter that we were from Philly, he brought over a waitress who was originally from Pennsylvania. Would you believe she went to the same high school as me?! Small world! Anyway, the meal was amazing. Afterward, we went on a little quest to visit some of the new distilleries in town. We first headed to Charleston Distilling Company, producer of a sorghum whisky that GG picked up. They have a tasting room, but due to SC’s weird regulations, you can’t just visit that area. You have to pay for a full tour, and then at the end you get the tasting. GG just bought a bottle of what he wanted, and then they let him in and basically gave him a little tour anyway.



We were going to try to walk to another distillery after that, but realized how far away it was, and it was super hot out and we were getting cranky, so we got ice cream instead :o) They have Jeni’s ice cream in Charleston! In what became our usual schedule for the remainder of the trip, we went back to the hotel, took sponge baths, changed, and then went out to dinner. Our reservation was for SNOB (Slightly North Of Broad), a restaurant we missed on our last trip. It was very good, but I think we only went there because it’s one of those “must try” restaurants everyone talks about. Now we’ve tried it. After dinner, we went for a walk around Waterfront Park and caught our first glimpse of the pineapple fountain this trip.

Friday, June 3: On the schedule today was a trip to the South Carolina Aquarium, which we had skipped last time because it seemed like a lot of kid stuff, and we’ve been to aquariums before. However, this year I learned that the aquarium is home to a Sea Turtle Hospital, and you can schedule a tour of this facility in addition to your aquarium admission! The aquarium was nice, though we realized after we’d gone through everything that we’d kind of done it backwards – you’re supposed to start upstairs with the “mountain” environment, and then work your way though all of SC’s ecosystems until you get to the “coast.” We did it the other way around, and I guess that’s why sometimes it seemed like doors didn’t have signs on them, it was because we were going through from the wrong side, haha! At our scheduled time, we met up with our turtle hospital tour group (including a Charleston transplant who was originally from our area in PA, you see this is becoming a theme), and we headed outside to the hospital entrance. The “tour” isn’t so much a guided experience as it is learning about the hospital, and then they just let everyone inside to wander and ask questions of the staffers. I was worried it was going to be sad but it really wasn’t – most of the turtles there were greatly improved from when they came in, and were swimming happily around their tanks and getting ready to go home! Turtle hospital pro tip: Book your tour in advance, they will fill up! (Actually, the hospital is going to be moving to a more prominent spot later this fall, so I don’t know how it’s going to work going forward.)



This non-native species is taking over the Atlantic Ocean, hope you find them delicious!

This huge tank was pretty cool (human included for scale) – we also saw a dive show they did in here

Turtle Hospital was basically 15-20 tanks like this, filled with recovering sea turtles

After the aquarium we thought we’d hit up a couple of the historic homes, but we weren’t really in the right location to visit both, so we just did the Joseph Manigault House, which is right across from the Charleston Museum (we visited last time) where we bought the tickets. The house is beautiful, but the “tour” again was just a speech in the foyer, then we were split into two groups and half explored upstairs on their own while half explored downstairs, then we switched. We did hang behind after the tour and speak to the docents about stuff like how bad everyone must have smelled in the olden days :o) The most impressive thing about this house was that it had been used for many different things, including a period where it was a boarding house for lots of families with kids running all over, and temporary housing for war veterans, yet the beautiful wooden railing and chandelier in the center spiral staircase remained intact!



We stopped by Bull Street Gourmet for a little drink and snack on the way back to our hotel, then got cleaned up and changed and headed to one of the dinners I was most excited about, Minero! This is Sean Brock’s Mexican restaurant… and I love me some Mexican food ;) We started out with guacamole and a trio of salsas, served with fresh chips they kept warm inside an oven mitt. For our main course, I had two little tacos. GG ordered a burrito which, for the price, was ridiculously oversized! He was literally almost in tears by the end of the meal because he was just physically incapable of finishing the whole thing. (Another fun thing about Minero: napkins and silverware are in a little drawer under your table!) After dinner we walked around and did our usual, checking out houses by the Battery and along Rainbow Row.



Saturday, June 4: This was the day we had originally planned to go to Savannah, but as you’ll recall, we scrapped that plan as soon as we arrived in Charleston. Instead, we decided to go to the Charleston Tea Plantation. This was an excellent decision – the tea plantation was one of the most interesting places we visited on this trip! Now – we both love tea. But it was really fascinating! The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only tea plantation in the US – all other tea comes from overseas, much of it from Asia, Africa, and South America. This plantation was set up as kind of an experiment, since the soil and climate in Charleston are ideal for growing tea. You enter through a huge gift shop, selling every type of tea and tea accessory. There is also a sampling station of hot and iced teas, which you are encouraged to bring with you on the tour! We first did a little walking tour of the factory, which is free and runs every 15 minutes or so. You basically just walk along while looking at the factory equipment through a window, and videos play to explain what each piece does in the process. Then we went on a trolley tour of the plantation. Our tour guide was super knowledgeable and we got to learn how they grow and harvest all the tea there. Most tea around the world is harvested by hand, which takes hundreds of people. At the Charleston plantation, they have developed a piece of equipment that cuts down the bushes and separates out the leaves, allowing them to do the same work with just a handful of employees. The bushes are planted in rows designed for the harvester to fit between them. It takes about 27 weeks for the plants to re-grow to the height they need to harvest them, so they divided the plantation into 27 sections – by the time they reach the last one, it’s time to harvest the first one again! They also have a greenhouse for starting new tea plants that is naturally climate controlled and all automated.



The tea harvesting machine


This is Waddy the frog, named for Wadmalaw Island

When we got back to town, we went to Poogan’s Smokehouse for lunch, as had been recommended to us by the Poogan’s Porch bartender on our first night. It was a very cool and kind of industrial place, and the food was fabulous of course. We split their version of mac & cheese, just to try it, and then I had a burger. GG got a platter of three different types of BBQ meats and a couple sides. He was again just about in tears by the end of the meal because he couldn’t finish the roll that came with it! (They have six types of BBQ meats and the largest platter includes five – our waitress told us she had a customer who got the five meat platter and then ordered the sixth type as his appetizer, just so he could try them all!) Poogan’s Smokehouse pro tip: the bathrooms here are really nice!

After lunch we went to the other historic home we wanted to see, the Heyward-Washington house. While waiting for the next tour to start, they told us to go check out the outbuildings and garden. The cookhouse had some information about the families who’d lived there, and mentioned Judge Grimké. This was the house where The Invention of Wings took place?! So then I was extra excited about the tour. This was probably the best historic home tour we went on – it was informative and the group was just us and two other people. Like most of the other historic homes, this one had gone through some transformations (for example, at one point the downstairs was lowered and converted into a bakery storefront). There were a lot of paintings in the home that our guide kept pointing out because they were mostly done by the same artist, and he was really bad, but he was the only portrait painter in town at one point, so he got all the business! He gave everyone one of two face styles, he couldn’t do hands so they were usually covered up, and actually he was bad at painting skin, so that was usually covered too.



After the tour, we were walking back toward the hotel and saw this church with its courtyard gate open, inviting people in to their garden. Turns out it was a huge cemetery, and GG got some great creepy shots. I walked around for a little bit, but then hung out on a bench where I was eaten alive by bugs.



We went to Bull Street Gourmet for a full meal, finally, and had dinner there. Of course we had to get one of their beautiful cheese boards. Then I had a gorgeous salad, while GG ate some gazpacho. After dinner we went for a walk around Colonial Lake. I’d heard on the local news that they had recently completed a beautification project there, and yes, it was much nicer looking than the last time we’d visited, with nice new landscaping. It felt like it was about to rain any moment, but still not yet a drop the whole week, despite the daily forecast calling for scattered thunderstorms.



Sunday, June 5: We started off the day back at Eli’s Table for brunch so we could try the breakfast side of their menu (the hotel did provide breakfast every day, which is a great time and money saver, but we’d decided we did want to eat out at least once). Our Philly friend was our waitress, so we got to see her again! The highlight of the day was my special surprise gift to GG (and myself) – massages! I’d figured by this point in our trip we’d be pretty achy from all the walking around and whatnot, and we’d had a couples massage on our anniversary a couple years ago, so I knew GG would enjoy it. However, what I learned at our previous massage was that he does. not. shut. up. Making it very hard to relax. So the Massage For Two at Earthling Day Spa is perfect, because you actually get separate massages in separate rooms. Mine was excellent, exactly what I needed. I felt so much better and just more relaxed for the rest of the day!

We didn’t really have too much planned until dinner, so GG tried looking up some other homes in the city we might tour, and found the Calhoun Mansion. This Victorian mansion was inherited by a descendant of John C. Calhoun, hence the name, but is currently occupied by jet-setting lawyer with extremely eccentric taste. The home is filled with various art and artifacts that he’s collected since his college years, as well as several dogs and cats who are locked in the kitchen during tours so we didn’t get to meet them. They’ve used the mansion in several films and TV series, including “The Notebook.” It was weird and ornate and there was lots of historical “stuff,” but it wasn’t really a historical re-creation since it’s actually someone’s home. (Also, no photography inside, but you can see pictures on their web site or buy postcards in the gift shop.)



Our dinner was a GG pick, Lowcountry Bistro. He’d added it to the list because they serve cioppino, which is a type of fish stew they have in California. However, once we got there, he saw they also had jambalaya and paella on the menu! He ended up getting the paella. I had an appetizer for dinner, fried chicken on sweet potato waffles. And we split an order of brussels sprouts with pancetta. GG made friends with our waiter (of course), who recommended Carmella’s Dessert Bar for dessert. We actually first tried to book a ghost tour, but we were like 10 minutes too late, they’d already cancelled that night’s tour due to lack of attendance. So we went over to Carmella’s and had some gelato, then hurried back to the hotel because it seemed like it was actually about to rain at this point.

Monday, June 6: Hey, remember how it was supposed to rain every day during our trip, but it never happened? Well, it finally rained … and it rained all day! Another hurricane was blowing in, bookending our trip. It wasn’t raining when we arrived at Waterfront Park for our Porgy and Bess walking tour, but as everyone gathered, umbrellas started popping open. This was the one Spoleto Festival activity we were doing, and I’d really been looking forward to it. I’d seen Porgy and Bess maybe once, but I am familiar with the story and music. The story was written and takes place in Charleston, and the tour was held in conjunction with performances of the opera during the festival. Our guide was super knowledgeable (I missed his intro in the beginning, but I think he’d written a book about Porgy and Bess?!), and we learned so much about the opera, its creators, and its Charleston connections. Of course, it was pouring rain the entire time, and it was kind of hard to hear or pay full attention when you are dodging puddles and being pelted with rain, trying to peek between everyone’s umbrellas. We stopped under roofs and shelter when we could, but it was kind of miserable.



This is the Heyward-Washington house again – DuBose Heyward was a relative and lived down the street from here for a period

GG found a flag to match his shirt (outside a liquor store run, ironically, by a pro-Brexit British expat

I’d worn shorts, and by the time the tour was finished, my legs were totally splashed with mud, plus my shoes were waterlogged and just wrecked. (Luckily, they were cheapies from Payless – the same pair was on sale online, so I tossed the ruined ones which had served me so well all week, and ordered replacements that arrived home shortly after we did.) We got cleaned up at the hotel and then went back to Poogan’s Porch for lunch (and to split another order of smoked gouda mac & cheese) – seemed fitting that they would be our first and (almost) last meal of the trip.

We went out to pick up some souvenirs while the rain had lightened up a little bit, then got cleaned up and changed, and went for our super fancy 10 year anniversary dinner at McCrady’s. (Well, first we had to get our traditional anniversary photo where we’re holding up fingers for the number of years we’ve been married.)



McCrady’s is super old, super historical, and super expensive. They serve very fancy, almost molecular gastronomy level dishes. For example, the man at the table next to us ordered a dessert that was basically blueberry foam overflowing out of a fish bowl :o) It was very very good though, and now we can say we’ve eaten at all of Sean Brock’s restaurants (well, at least the ones in Charleston). We tried going for a walk after dinner, but it was raining so much, and we had to get up early in the morning, so we just went to bed.

Tuesday, June 7: Watching the news the night before, we saw the effects of the next tropical storm blowing in, and GG suggested we pack up and drive home overnight. Actually, it’s a good thing we didn’t, because everything passed through during the night, and though there was some flooding in some areas of the city, by the time we left early in the morning, the rain had stopped and skies were clear. We had no issues getting home and the kitties were happy to see us :o) Although it was hot and humid (i.e. normal weather) compared to the last time we visited, I would still rank Charleston in my top five favorite places. We had a great trip, plus I can’t believe we’ve been married ten years!

Check out all my Charleston pics here.

May

Couple of cool things we did this month:

  • I had my band spring concert, and this time because we had a nautical theme, people were in encouraged to dress in costume! I was a pirate, I sat next to Left Shark (yes, she was wearing a full-on shark costume in which she’d cut slits for her hands so she could play clarinet), and we also had sea captains, SCUBA divers, beach goers, Cap’n Crunch, hula girls, and lots more..!
  • I went to the 50th anniversary of my middle school.. There were only a couple other people from my grade there, but we got to go on a tour of the school and it was neat to see what had changed and what was still the same. 8th grade was about the peak of my life’s greatness ;o)
  • GG and I went to a wedding at the Mütter Museum! It was very cool, they have some really neat spaces upstairs where I’m sure they have awesome weddings all the time. Plus we got to go through the museum, too! (Oh, and they had a guacamole bar during the cocktail hour?!)


  • We went to see Mel Brooks live in Philly: it was a showing of Blazing Saddles (which I’d actually never seen in its entirety), followed by a sort of interview/storytelling by Mel Brooks about the making of the film, and then a little Q&A from the audience. He was really funny!



    But possibly cooler than that, GG took me out for a surprise dinner first! He had actually planned something else, but when I started guessing and he saw I got really excited about going to Sbraga, he switched the reservation and took me there instead! It was an amazing meal!
  • My first college roommate’s daughter was riding in the Devon Horse Show, so I met up with her and her family while they were in the area. I hadn’t been to the Horse Show in a while, so it was like Main Line overload! It was great to see them all, and her kids are so cute!


New Hope Afternoon

We just had such a beautiful weekend, and since the weather was so nice and it was our last free weekend for a long time, I suggested to GG that we go up to New Hope on Saturday. We haven’t taken an overnight trip there in a few years, but we do still like to go up a couple times a year for a day here and there. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea! There was almost nowhere to park in town, and the sidewalks were so crowded, people had to squeeze past, single file. But it wasn’t really unbearable, and it was such a lovely day, we had a great time!

We both had some things to take care of at home first, so we didn’t get on the road until about 11 AM. There’s a new highway bypass (well, I call it new, it’s been open for several years now), which shaves a bit of time off the trip and makes it quite a pleasant drive. We first stopped by Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, because GG wanted to go to Hewn Spirits and see if their Reclamation whisky was in stock (it was not). There also happened to be a spring fair going on, so there was this whole other area with vendors and tents set up nearby and throughout the village. One of the booths we stopped by was Offbeat Gourmet – let’s just say, he had the whole “handmade hipster” thing down so well, when he gave me change for my purchase, it was a $2 bill from a homemade cash box.

We continued over to New Hope. Unable to find a parking spot in our usual favorite lots, we ended up parking near the canal lock at the north end of town. We had thought maybe we’d get an early dinner before leaving. Last time we were there, someone recommended the Blue Moose Cafe, but they might have been closed or all booked for the day. We stopped by there first but they were serving brunch, and then would be closed until dinner at 5PM. So GG went in and made us a dinner reservation for 5.

Next order of business was to get a little snack to hold us over until then! We went to Nina’s Waffles for a little Belgian waffle and ice cream action. Then we just took a few hours walking through town, seeing what’s new and checking out our old favorites. We don’t usually walk east on Bridge St., but happened to go up that way and found The Creeper Gallery, which we’ve somehow missed for the couple years it’s been open! If you like weird taxidermied animals, Victorian baby photos, and general creepy artwork, check this place out! And of course no visit to New Hope would be complete without stopping in at Farley’s Bookshop to see Butter the cat (and, um, look at books)… We usually have to look for Butter, but this time he was sitting out right in the middle of the children’s department. On a nearby chair, there was a notebook titled, “Dear Butter,” which featured a couple pages of cat FAQs, followed by blank pages for people to leave notes. GG wrote a very nice message from us. I gave him lots of scratches and he purred a lot.



The Creeper Gallery


Signing the “Dear Butter” book

We were pretty beat after a while, so we sat down on a shady bench for some people watching/possibly a nap, but there were a lot of bees around! So we ended up going to Nektar for some drinks. It was across the street from where we were having dinner and we’ll definitely have to have a meal at this place soon! We went there several years ago when it was Wildflowers, but this is a totally new restaurant with new owners, and it looks pretty awesome!

Finally it was time to go over to the Blue Moose. I hadn’t been in there before, but the decor was pretty cute! Their door handle (and logo) is a whisk with moose antlers; pendant lights were made of box graters; there was a window box of flowers made from forks, knives, and spoons… It’s a BYOB restaurant and you can choose a two or three course prix fixe menu (some dishes do have an additional charge of a couple bucks), which is a neat way to do things. The third course is dessert, so we skipped that. For our first courses, GG and I shared the cheese plate and Sweet Potato Nachos (which were awesome and I will definitely try recreating at home!). Then for our entrees, he had the Seafood Jambalaya (the scallops were so perfectly golden, I thought they were breaded!); and I had the Oricchette with roasted brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and a lemon cream sauce. After that, we made our way back to the car (quick stop at the candy store!), drove home, and pretty much went straight to bed!

Sunday was a pretty productive day, and then GG’s brother invited us over for dinner because he was grilling some chicken, ribs, and veggies (not sure what he would have done if we hadn’t come over!). It was so nice out, I even voluntarily ate outside! We ended up watching/making fun of Terminator Genisys before heading home to bed.



Easter Miracles

I don’t want to jinx anything, but… I just had some really lucky days, after a string of terrible ones!

Our sewer line clogged last week, I had someone snake it, and they found tree roots in the line. After lots of phone calls and plumber visits over the next few days, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do – most plumbers wouldn’t do the job, and the one estimate I got was way higher than I expected. But then I learned I live in one of the few municipalities in which the township is responsible for the sewer line past the curb. They re-checked with a camera, and found all the roots were under the street! So the township is coming this week to give us a whole new sewer line, at no cost to us (I mean, we pay taxes, so…)

Earlier this month, a customer paid for a huge purchase with a check. I usually don’t accept checks, but something had happened to her credit card so she was waiting on a new one, she had shopped with me before online, and our mutual friend vouched for her. I deposited it as soon as I got home. Well, last weekend the check came back to me in the mail, returned due to insufficient funds. I tried contacting her via e-mail, phone, and text, plus our mutual friend tried to get in touch with her. She did reply at one point, but then stopped responding again. When our mutual friend sent me a photo she’d shared on Snapchat with one of her new items that she hadn’t paid for, that was the last straw. Friday was her payday, I knew the money was in her account, and first thing Saturday I took the check back to the bank and had it cashed again – this time for real!!

GG and I have been planning our summer vacation, and because rates at the hotel we wanted to stay at had gotten so high, we ended up finding a 2 bedroom condo on Airbnb for the about same price as the original hotel rate. Saturday morning I woke to a message on my phone saying the reservation had been cancelled by the host. I sent him a message asking if this was a mistake, and he said one of the hotels in their town was suing all the Airbnb hosts, and the site recommended that they cancel all their pending reservations until it was resolved. So GG and I started looking for another place to stay, and ended up finding a much better rate on the hotel we originally wanted, so we were able to book it after all!

I went to a Norwex party my friend hosted on Saturday. I love these demos because they do crazy stuff like rubbing butter all over windows, slathering raw chicken on countertops, and breaking raw eggs everywhere – then they clean it all up! This consultant actually was really good, she had a special pen that would change color in the presence of protein, so she could prove that all the chicken juice had been removed ;o) She did a game where everyone could choose a plastic Easter egg from a basket, knowing that there was a possibility your “prize” would be to commit to hosting your own party; other prizes were free shipping, or a little giveaway item. I won the big prize – a free EnviroWand! (I’m so excited because I really need to dust better! I also ordered the Dusting Mitt, which is supposed to be great for blinds..!)

In addition, GG and I had a nice weekend together – Friday night I saw him play with the (awesome!) band he formed with some of his friends and coworkers; Saturday we went out for a nice dinner at Seasons 52 to celebrate all the lucky things that happened (even the dinner was lucky: it was mostly paid for with a gift card I got for free with my expiring Marriott points); and Easter was nice on Sunday, we saw both of our families and ate some amazing food :o)



Typical rockstar pose…

February

This has been such a busy month! Highlights include:

  • I finished the 21 Day Fix – just in time for a Super Bowl party! (Full review of the program will be coming!)
  • Lots of appointments for my side business (I actually prefer these private or small group appointments because I can give more personal attention and build better relationships with customers, and that’s really what this is all about!)
  • GG and I celebrated Valentine’s Day (a day early) at one of our favorite restaurants and site of a previous Valentine’s surprise!
  • I went to my alma mater to celebrate my fraternity’s 100th anniversary. I just thought it would be something neat to do, since I lived relatively close by to national headquarters, and another friend of mine met me there, but apparently we missed the memo that this event was really for fraternity superfans, so we felt a little out of place. It was still neat to take part in, though.

Happy Leap Year! Real life is for March!

21 Day Fix – Thoughts on Day 12

I have a number of friends who’ve had very good results with the Beachbody 21 Day Fix program. Now, you know exercise and physical activity is really not my thing, and my love of bacon and cheese prevents me from dieting, but I’d gotten to the point where I was avoiding wearing some types of clothing, and I only liked being photographed from certain angles, so I figured I would give it a shot. There were lots of impressive before and after photos, so I figured if I lost just 5 lbs. I’d be happy. I’m on day 12 right now, and have already surpassed that goal! Plus, I’ve definitely noticed physical changes already! Like, I put on jeans the other day and they just slid right up and buttoned shut :o)

The program consists of three weeks of healthy eating, plus a daily 30 minute workout. Of course I know what’s good to eat, but the trick is that you get color coded containers in varying sizes that help you control your portions. That visualization is really helpful! You also get a booklet that explains the eating plan and gives lists of what you can eat and recipe ideas, but honestly I was so overwhelmed the first couple days. I actually planned my daily meals a few days before starting the program, but once I started, I ended up shifting things around. Again, being visual, I created a color coded Google Sheet where I could list out my daily meals and snacks, and tally up the number of containers at the end of each day.

The workouts are really not horrible, even for someone like me who does not do stuff like this. All you need for any of them are two sizes of hand weights and a yoga mat. Or you could use a resistance band instead of weights, and they have someone in each video to demonstrate how to do that. Each of the daily workouts focuses on a different area: total body, upper, lower, cardio, pilates (probably my favorite), “Dirty 30” (surprisingly my second favorite), and yoga. There’s also a bonus plyo DVD which makes my knees sore just thinking about it. And an extra 10 minute abs workout you can add on to any of the other days. I just get up and do them first thing in the morning, and then I’m done for the day. There is a lovely woman named Kat who appears in every workout and demonstrates the alternate moves, if you’re not quite ready to go full force with all the moves yet.

For me, the eating really hasn’t been a challenge. I already cook and prepare a lot of our food, and besides my generous use of cheese, I already am making a lot of vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Although we eat out a lot as well, it’s not like we’re having fast food every day (or very often at all). So the difference is really just portion size, and making sure I get the right proportion of veggies and protein vs. fruit, carbs, fat, etc. I’m actually making a lot of the same recipes I would have made before, just the portion is different, or maybe I’m swapping white rice for cauliflower “rice.” So the menu isn’t a problem for me. It’s really all about planning and making sure you have those ingredients prepped and that you know what you’re going to be eating that week. Some people prepare a week’s worth of meals in advance, and I just can’t do that – I don’t want to eat the same thing every day, nor do I want to be eating 5 day old leftovers by Friday. But I will generally prepare enough of a meal to split into 2-3 portions and have for a couple meals.

If you’re going to eat out, there’s even equivalents in the eating plan book for things like pizza, sushi, and burritos. (I haven’t had to do it yet, but the next time I go out to lunch with my coworkers, I have my Qdoba burrito bowl order all planned out!) If you need alcohol to have a good time, you can replace one serving of carbs with one glass of wine three days a week.

Challenges: At the end of week 1, I got hit with a wicked cold. I had to pause the next couple workouts a few times because I couldn’t breathe or had to take a coughing break, but I never missed a day. That same weekend, we got a blizzard with over 2 feet of snow. Everyone on Facebook was posting pictures of the comfort foods they were making while they were snowed in: chili, cookies, etc. I was stuck in the house with my vegetables and didn’t really feel like eating a salad. I did end up making a veggie fried rice with cauliflower rice which actually was pretty good. And the next week I got ingredients to make a 21DF friendly veggie and turkey chili.

So overall, my totally unbiased review is that the program is worth it and I am definitely pleased with the results so far. You can do multiple “rounds,” but I think after my 21 days are up I’m going to take a little break at least from doing it 100%. I will probably continue the workouts, and the lessons I’ve learned just about how to visualize portions will definitely stick with me. Stay tuned, because I also want to do an in-depth review of some of my favorite participants in the videos ;o)

Magical Weekend!

I just had the type of weekend that a couple years ago I would have been like, “I can’t wait to sit down and blog about this!” but now with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, writing a whole blog post seems like so much hassle, haha!

On Thursday night, I made dinner and GG and I were going to try to go see Krampus, but at the last minute I was like, “Hey, we don’t have to go tonight, maybe we could squeeze it in this weekend, so we ended up staying home and watching The Imitation Game instead.

This weekend was our third annual holiday party, so I took Friday off work so I could have a full day to clean and prep food and stuff, without having to rush or stress. It was really an all day event, but I got a lot done around the house, did some last minute food shopping and errands, etc. Our party is a dip contest, so I prepped one of the two dips I was making (I was worried not a lot of people would be coming, so figured I’d better do two).

Saturday was the day of the party and I kind of timed things out so everything would be totally ready by party time, and I have to say my timing was excellent. GG and I even had time to go out for lunch – there’s a new grilled cheese place in our town, and it is great!

There were not a ton of guests coming, but they all arrived right on time, and everything was going well – photo booth pictures were being taken, drinks imbibed, dips sampled… Then the surprise entertainment arrived! I got a magician! I’d been trying to find an entertainer for this year and nothing was really working out, so I just put out an ad on Craigslist and actually got a ton of responses! Even then, things just weren’t working out. So I ended up getting a hold of this magician, and we talked about how I wanted him to show up and surprise everyone, and he was totally cool with it, so we went ahead and confirmed. So he arrived in the middle of the party and because I ended up having to go outside and help him with a couple set up things, everyone knew something was up. He did a full half hour show in my living room, and it was amazing! There was a little bit of everything: fire (yes, in the house), juggling, card tricks, sight gags, razor swallowing… Anyway, he was really cool and when he was done I was like, “Hey, want to stay and hang out?” and he did. So we’re besties now. (Also, he did more magic! Like, if you hand him three of anything, he will juggle them.) Everyone agreed this was the best party entertainment yet. Oh and the results of the dip contest: despite splitting my talent between two entries, they came in first and second place. I took myself out of the running for my own contest, though, and there were only 3 other entries, so they were first, second, and third place ;o)

On Sunday I went to this freezer cooking workshop that I’d invited myself to! I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine was going, and I just commented that it sounded cool, and got myself invited :o) The hostess is a Pampered Chef consultant and it was at her home, which was overrun with her four rambunctious children. It got a lot calmer once they all headed out with her husband for a birthday party! We made seven meals total, using Pampered Chef spice blends that we had ordered in advance, and our own groceries that we brought with us. They all look amazing, so I’m super excited to get cooking! You end up with seven meals, but I think we’ll only be able to get through 1-2 a week, because they each make 6-8 servings, so we’ll have leftovers coming out our ears! They should be good leftovers though! I think the workshop was a really neat idea, so I’d like to host one myself sometime maybe in the new year. I already have a lot of people who are interested in coming!

And then… We finally saw Krampus! It was pretty good and funnier than I expected (I thought it might be a more serious horror … which it also was … but it’s hard to be too horrified when it’s cookies and toys attacking people). The ending seemed like it was going to be disappointing, but it had a nice twist!

November

Busy busy month … As usual …

  • Visited MB and A and R and their new little R (this might get confusing with two Rs!)
  • Continued rocking my new business at a few events
  • I decided against continuing our co-op vegetable shares this season, but I did purchase a fall cheese share (3 locally produced cheeses, every other week), which has led to some surprising new cheese finds!
  • I’m volunteering with a program for high school kids through work, and while these students are all real go-getters and have to be motivated to even get into this thing, I’m sure they’ll eventually get on my nerves.
  • Had a girls night out at The Melting Pot – only two friends ended up making it (there was a huge storm that night, so I understand why some ladies didn’t want to travel too far) – but it was so much fun! And dinner was delicious, of course :o)
  • I was supposed to host Thanksgiving, but then another family member decided to host, so I just had to bring all the food, lol! Turkey was purchased from Honeybaked Ham, but I made all the veggies (carrots, brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes). Other family members helped with other food items :o) It was a really nice day, we had a bigger crowd than usual and it was good to see everyone. Then it was off to my in-laws’ for dinner #2!

Ready for holiday season..?!

Birthday Weekend Extravaganza/Disaster

My birthday was this past Saturday, and I had so many plans for the weekend! Everyone was asking me what I was doing for my birthday, and of course I happily shared the whole run-down of events. I should have known not to plan ahead!

Thursday:
What was supposed to happen – work, have lunch with friends, go to a Phillies game with GG and his parents.
What actually happened – My day at work was nice, I was greeted with some cards and gifts from coworkers, which was really thoughtful, we don’t always do that :o) Went out to lunch with a couple of friends. One of my good friends, who I’ve worked with forever, found out she was getting laid off :o( It’s actually not a horrible thing, she’s been miserable in her current position, the commute is horrible, and she has two young kids. She will easily find another job that’s closer to home and/or more flexible. And she’s getting a great package from our company. Anyway. It was pouring rain by evening, and since I’d said I would go to the baseball game if it was nice out, I wasn’t going. Nobody else wanted to use my ticket, either. I stopped by GG’s parents’ house to drop off a phone charger for him, then he went to the game with his parents (which was rained out) while I went to visit my grandmom. (My in-laws had a little disaster of their own – their power had gone out for a couple days and all the food in their freezer melted and then re-froze while they were away. They sat things on top of their stove while cleaning out the fridge, and then almost started a fire when the stove was accidentally turned on! Then there was something about a hole in a bottle of hot sauce and sauce spraying everywhere.) I went home and actually got a lot of stuff done while GG went to the baseball game, had dinner, game was rained out, he came home. While he was outside getting ready to take the trash out, he slipped and fell, twisting his ankle pretty badly.

Friday:
What was supposed to happen – I was going to make dinner at home, then we were going to go see The Visit.
What actually happened – GG’s ankle was swollen really badly and he couldn’t put any weight on it, so I took him to urgent care. Luckily we were the first people there when it opened and we got in right away. They did an x-ray, and nothing is broken or fractured, hooray! They gave him a giant plastic boot to stabilize his ankle so he could walk on it, but of course it’s his driving foot and he can’t drive with that thing on (or with his ankle so sore). So I drove him to work, came back to work from home, picked him up, made dinner, friend came over just as I was pulling it out of the oven, let GG eat while I was with her, ate my dinner cold.

Saturday:
What was supposed to happen – spend the day in New Hope, have a nice b-day dinner at Hearth.
What actually happened – We stayed home so GG could rest his foot, then went out to dinner at the Melting Pot, which was nice (and they gave me a special card and a piece of cake with a candle), and then we went to see The Visit. We got a good spot on the end of a row where GG could put his foot up on a railing. Of course the theater was all the way at the end of the hall, but on the plus side, it was near the exit door, so GG just stepped outside and I came to pick him up in the car. Oh and the movie was very good, nice return for M. Night Shyamalan. I recognized the town they filmed in, which is always cool. Very suspenseful, and good twist – not what I had predicted!

Sunday:
What was supposed to happen – go to the Oddball Comedy Fest in Camden with a friend (and possibly meet up with some other friends there.
What actually happened – Well, we had tickets, and our one friend was counting on us for a ride, so we still did go. GG actually did pretty well hobbling all the way from the parking lot to the venue; walking around during the opening acts on the side stage, sponsor booths, and getting dinner from a food truck; and getting up a giant staircase to watch the headliners from the giant sloping lawn. By the time we walked all the way back to the car, though, I could tell he was really in pain. Hopefully all that walking around didn’t set him back too far in his recovery. In general, the show was good, though we were sitting so far away I could barely see the giant video screens, let alone the actual comedians standing on stage. We got cheesesteaks from Philly’s Finest Sambonis, which were pretty good, but their management of the crowd and keeping track of orders was just ridiculous. Unless there was nobody else around, I would not eat there again. We missed an entire act of the show, and if I’d paid any more for those lawn seats than I had, I would not have been happy. Also, I feel like some of the comedians were playing it really safe with material. My imaginary boyfriend John Mulaney, for the first time that I’ve seen him live, did all material I’ve seen before. He also apparently forgot that he’d been back in Philly since he’d been married. He seemed very excited to pull out his Donald Trump bit again, though!

August

OMG we have been so busy this month! I can’t even look at my calendar page because it’s so packed.

  • Both GG and I worked on getting our new businesses set up. I’m off to a super successful start and am so glad I took the plunge on this!
  • Also helped support a couple other friends as they launch their own new businesses! One is a newbie to the world of DS and I love seeing how excited she is and how she’s really throwing herself into this. The other is a DS veteran (that’s actually how I met her) who joined another company because she loves the products (typical story), and she’s rocking her business, too!
  • For the first time in a couple years, the dermatologist decided to slice a mole off of me. It was actually one she commented on every time, but I’d had it since I was a little girl and figured it was fine. This time, the edges were starting to get a little uneven and I pointed it out. Don’t worry, everything was benign, and the site is healing up really nicely. (The worst part is that the bandage adhesive makes me itch so much!)
  • I got to meet my longtime blog friend, JL! We actually met through another mutual blogging friend, D, who you might remember I met in person for the first time last summer. JL and her fiance met up with GG and me and we had a really nice dinner in Philly, where they live, so there is really no excuse for us not to have met! Everyone got along great and we’re all BFFs now :o)
  • Also got to meet Dr. Jennifer Arnold from “The Little Couple” when she came to speak at my office and sign copies of her book! She is just a nice in person as she is on her show. One of my favorite TLC celebrities!
  • Last month, I won a pair of tickets to a local comedy show from an Instagram contest. The show was this month, and GG and I had dinner at an adjacent restaurant first. Before we left, the waitress came and told us someone else in the restaurant had anonymously paid our bill, and to pay it forward! So actually, the whole evening out was free (except the tip for dinner and our drinks at the show). And when we met the organizer of the show, as the contest winners, he and GG got started talking and I think he’s going to give him a spot to perform at an upcoming show!
  • Speaking of GG performing, he also had his performance at our local farmers market, which was met with mixed reviews. We did not realize ahead of time, but he got paid for his performance! Plus he got tips!
  • We went to a dramatic reading of the musical Urinetown at a local theater. It was a fundraiser, so you paid what you want for tickets, and they used a combination of local and Broadway performers. I’d never seen Urinetown before, but I knew it was good, and people have been telling GG for a long time that he would like it. The show was really great! They did all the singing, some minimal acting where it made sense, there were sort of costumes to differentiate the characters, and there was a little scenery/props (chairs and a ladder, mostly). Having now seen video of some other full performances, I think I actually prefer the minimalist version we saw! It was really very well done.
  • Celebrated GG’s birthday by taking him out to the sushi buffet with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. Celebrated my grandmom’s birthday by taking her to lunch with my mom at a nice new restaurant, then made her walk 100 yards to a tea store and probably almost killed her :o/ Then by the time we left there, she was totally fine again, lol!
  • We took a Philadelphia “vampires, sex, and ghosts” tour. For locals, we sure do take a lot of tours of Philadelphia! You can learn stuff on the good ones, though – we learned a lot on this tour! And then we tried Sassafras for the first time and discovered a new place we love.
  • Spent a Saturday in NJ visiting MB, A, and R. GG and A stayed in and played guitar all afternoon, while MB, R, and I went to a paint-your-own pottery place. It was such a nice day! R is hilarious, and so outgoing and talkative! Then of course they made us an amazing dinner – this time it was a smoked brisket from A’s new smoker, and creme brulee for dessert (made with a welding torch)!

Will things slow down now that we’re getting into fall? Hahahahah! We’re just getting started!