Celebrations

Tennessee Thanksgiving

Posted in Celebrations, Family visits, Field trips on December 9th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

For Thanksgiving, we went to visit G’Mom and Grampa, who live outside of Memphis, Tennessee. This is usually a flying trip for us, but I wanted to try driving it. I really hate flying, and Thanksgiving crowds make it all the worse. Since Jen got a nice new car last year, road trips have become much more comfortable. So, I managed to convince Jen to give driving a shot.

It’s too far to do in one day, so we stayed at a hotel in Abingdon, Virginia. We ended up with between 8 and 9 hours driving each day. We left Monday after school and got in Tuesday before dinner. I thought the driving was great. My family members were less enthusiastic, but they admitted it wasn’t that awful.

Wednesday afternoon, Emmie, JJ, Aunt ‘Chelle, and Uncle J arrived. Tennessee was having a cold snap (meaning it was about normal for us Marylanders), so the kids all had some hot cocoa.

Tennessee Cocoa

Thanksgiving was super special this year. G’Mom’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving day this year, which meant we got to celebrate with her.

Happy birthday G'Mom

Lots of music happened while we were in Tennessee. Molly and Leah even got introduced to JJ’s drum set. They teamed up to try them out, accompanying Emmie.

Drumming pair

Before our Thanksgiving meal, the kids helped Grampa set up the manger scene outside.

Manger setup

The girls decided they needed to ride the manger animals.

Riding the animals

Here’s the finished scene (with Grampa hiding in the background).

Finished scene

There was of course much eating on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving meal

After eating, we took some family pictures (which you won’t find here) in front of the manger scene. Then we decided to take part in the scene, with everyone playing the part of one of the characters in the scene. Looks like the best live nativity I’ve ever seen.

Acting the part

These kids do have fun together.

Fun together

We finished Thanksgiving day with a concert including a violin/viola duet (which they practiced only a couple times briefly before performing), piano, violin, viola, and the Long family trio.

There was one more bit of excitement on Thanksgiving day. The kitchen sink decided to stop draining, meaning we couldn’t wash the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner. We ended up disconnecting the pipes, draining into a bucket, and washing by hand (occasionally emptying the bucket in a nearby bathroom). Thanksgiving plumbing problems are fun!

Friday morning, we decided to head to IHOP for breakfast instead of creating dishes. The girls thought it was amazing (they split red velvet pancakes).

IHOP breakfast

Thankfully, the plumber came out that morning and cleared the clog, so the kitchen resumed operation.

Friday afternoon Emmie, JJ, Uncle J, and Aunt ‘Chelle headed back to Alabama. Afterward, Grampa and I picked up a Christmas tree. The girls enjoyed helping decorate it.

Tree decorating

Tree decorating

I don’t think Leah is sure about the placement of this ornament.

Up high

The girls liked these ornaments so much, G’Mom and Grampa said they could keep them.

Ornaments for the road

Saturday we got up and hit the road for the drive back. Sadly, that meant we could not watch the Iron Bowl (where Auburn defeated #1 Alabama to win the SEC West), but we did enjoy listening to the broadcast in the car on our drive to our hotel. The drive home had a bit of traffic, but was mostly uneventful and took us almost the exact amount of time that it took to drive down.

Harry Potter Halloween

Posted in Celebrations, Family outings, Leah, Molly on October 31st, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment
Harry Potter Halloween

For Halloween this year, we all went with Harry Potter costumes (which I am very excited about). I am Remus Lupin (possibly my favorite character), Molly is Luna Lovegood, Leah is Hermione Granger, and Jen is a Quidditch fan.

Harry Potter costumes

Harry Potter costumes

The girls really got into character. They even had a wizard duel.

Wizard duel

And they cast their spells. I don’t think they’re trying to hurt each other, given the smiles on their faces.

Cast your spells

On Halloween day, the girls had a Halloween parade at school as usual.

Halloween parade

Halloween parade

Then they had their class parties. And perhaps even took some time to learn something afterward.

As evening approached, it was time for some serious trick-or-treating. This year, Molly’s friend Grace joined our crew of trick-or-treaters.

Trick-or-treating crew

We trick-or-treated for about an hour.

Trick-or-treating

Jen handed out candy this year while I walked around with the girls. We didn’t have very many trick-or-treaters visit us early on, so we thought it might be a light Halloween. But eventually they showed up, totaling 139 trick-or-treaters this year.

Trick-or-treating

After returning home, Grace really wanted to keep going. Leah was done, but Molly agreed to go back out after thirty minutes of warming up and eating candy. So, Grace, Molly, and I headed back out to a street further than we've been before. This was later than we’ve trick-or-treated before, and Molly learned that late-night trick-or-treating can be awesome as folks are trying to unload candy. Every time someone said “just take a couple handfuls” she was very happy. She ended up filling up her pumpkin twice by the end of the night.

Rainbow unicorn party

Posted in Celebrations, Leah on October 27th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

The day after Leah’s actual birthday, she had her birthday party. She had no doubts about the kind of party she wanted - a rainbow unicorn party. Yes, not just a unicorn party, but specifically a rainbow unicorn party. Throughout the summer, Leah typed up an outline brainstorming the details of her rainbow unicorn party. Yes, she is her mother’s child.

Happy birthday banner

Rainbow unicorn decorations were everywhere - even outside.

Mailbox decorations

As guests arrived, they were given a unicorn horn and tail, then headed to the table to color a bit until everyone was there.

Coloring

Coloring

The girls then painted a canvas with rainbows. The canvas had a unicorn sticker, that was later removed after the paint dried.

Painting

Painting a rainbow

Here are the girls' rainbow masterpieces after the sticker had been peeled off (picture taken after the party).

Final product

After painting, the girls all made unicorn balloons. They picked a balloon, stuck everything on, and decorated the horn. We had a little trouble sticking things on (glue dots didn’t work the way we’d hoped), but made it through. Leah clearly likes her creation.

Unicorn balloons

We had a couple of activities that were not on the original plan, including tail braiding. The girls had all been given unicorn tails when they arrived. After the balloon craft, one of them decided to braid their friend’s tail, which led to everyone braiding each other’s tails. They loved it.

Tail braiding

Another unscripted activity was the tail shaking dance party. They had the best time shaking their tails and dancing to the music.

Tail shaking

Jen made a fantastic 3-layer funfetti rainbow unicorn cake for Leah’s party.

Cake

And we sang Happy Birthday (with a little extra unplanned fire).

Jen also made a great rainbow piñata for the party.

Rainbow piñata

The girls all got to swing at it several times.

Piñata swing

Piñata swing

Piñata swing

Piñata swing

After several rounds, the piñata was defeating the girls. So, they called in a big strong hitter to take it down. Jen only needed one swing.

Big hitter

Candy

Thanks to everyone for coming!

Party people

Silly one

Leah’s actual birthday

Posted in Celebrations, Leah on October 24th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

The celebration continued on Leah’s actual birthday. Leah shares a birthday with one of her best friends (Grace), and their birthday fell on a Saturday this year. So, we made sure their parties wouldn’t conflict, and decided Grace would have her party on their actual birthday and Leah’s would be the next day.

We decided to go out to lunch for a family birthday meal rather than dinner, and Leah surprised no one in choosing Ledo Pizza for our destination. After lunch, there was no time for presents because Leah headed off to Grace’s American Girl tea party. After she got home, she was eager to open them up. Molly made a great card for her.

Actual birthday

Star Wars is still a big hit, and the new Forces of Destiny toys are a favorite of our girls. Molly already has Leia and R2-D2 (which she got in Disneyland), and now Leah has Rey and BB-8.

Star Wars

Leah’s wanted Heelys for a long time, and was very excited to get them. Now she just needs to figure out how to skate in them.

Heelys

The girls really enjoyed playing with a marble run toy that was at the beach house in California, so we gave Leah one for her birthday. While Leah was enjoying her other new toys (that’s Rey in her hands there), Molly was quick to open up the marble run and construct a fun run.

Marble run

After dinner, Leah got to blow out a candle. The cake had to wait for her party the next day, but no one complained about the homemade chocolate ice cream Jen made for us.

Homemade ice cream

Leah turns 8

Posted in Celebrations, Leah on October 23rd, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Shortly after school started, it was time to celebrate Leah’s 8th birthday. This started a week early at Grams’s house. There were of course presents.

Early birthday

These perfect presents combined two loves of Leah - Minecraft and plush toys.

Minecraft plushes

Good things come to those who wait. Hatchimals were impossible to find at Christmas, but now Leah’s got one of her own.

A Hatchimal

Minecraft, Lego, Roominate. Do you get the idea that she likes to build?

Lego

Roominate

Thanks to all for the presents and the fun celebrating early.

Goodbye Aruba

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 19th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Eventually, our trip to Aruba had to come to an end. It was a great trip, and it was great to get away together. I don’t think it was our favorite island destination we’ve been to (that would probably go to our Puerto Rico trip or the Bahamas), but it was a great place. And, if you’re the sort that likes to just sit on the beach for a long time, Aruba’s beaches are awesome. Sadly, that’s not us.

I think this will be our last trip to an island for a while. Jen’s motion sickness keeps getting worse, so water activities are becoming bad choices as evidenced by this trip. So, maybe next time we’ll have to check out the Grand Canyon or New England or something.

I can’t end this on a negative note. We had a great trip to Aruba, and got to spend an entire week just the two of us. Thanks again to Grams for keeping the girls so we could do this.

Sun and aloe

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 18th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

We tend to focus more on active things than chilling on the beach, but we did spend a little bit of time on the beach in front of our resort. We also discovered that by staying in the area that caters more to Europeans, you get the occasional (to our right and our left) topless sunbather (not pictured).

Beach time

Most of Aruba is dedicated to the tourism industry, but they do have at least one product that they are known for exporting. Given that they get so much sun, that product is a logical choice - aloe. We went to the Aruba Aloe factory and got the tour. Here our guide shows us the inside of the aloe plant right next to rows of aloe on the aloe farm.

Aruba Aloe

Aloe farm

Aruba Aloe farm

We also got to tour the factory, though it wasn’t fully operating since it was the weekend.

Aruba Aloe factory

Aruba Aloe factory

They make lotions, creams, soaps, and more. And we managed to make it out of the place having only bought a couple of things, which I call a win.

Eating around Aruba

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 17th, 2017 by c-had – 1 Comment

We try not to eat out all the time when on vacation. Thankfully, with a kitchenette in our hotel room and a grocery store within walking distance, we managed to avoid restaurants for a couple meals a day. That said, we still ate out several times and had some excellent meals.

The night we arrived, we went to Yemanja Woodfired Grill in Oranjestad. It’s a nice restaurant with good food. It was a bit of a pain to get to since there were cruise ships in port creating a lot of traffic, but that was thankfully the only day cruise ships were in port during our trip. Not cheap, but nothing in Aruba seems to be cheap. I had the BBQ mahi-mahi and Jen had the grilled swordfish. Jen’s favorite part of the meal was the pesto risotto. This turned out to be our only meal we ate indoors - most restaurants had outdoor seating given the always perfect weather. We failed to get a picture at dinner (sorry).

A couple days later after our busted eco-tour, we decided to find some dinner near the hotel. Our concierge recommended we try Tulip, a restaurant offering traditional Aruban food down the street that seemed to be somehow associated with our hotel. We arrived and found the place deserted (we were actually the only patrons for part of our meal). I had the Keshi Yena, a traditional Aruban casserole with pulled chicken in tomato sauce with raisins and green olives, gratinated with Gouda cheese. It was different, but good. Jen had grouper, and learned that she’s not the biggest fan of grouper. We failed to get a picture at dinner again (sorry again).

Saturday for lunch we decided to skip the PB&J and try something different. There was a fish monger next to the grocery store called Daily Fish. In addition to buying fish to cook yourself, they would fry the seafood for you. It was much more reasonably priced than the other restaurants (around $10 per person), so we thought we’d try it. I had fried cod and Jen had the calamari, both with potato wedges and coleslaw. We also tried a coconut soda there for the first time, which Jen liked so much she started searching Amazon to see if she could get it in the states. The lunch certainly wasn’t fancy, but it was good and inexpensive, which was perfect for us.

Daily Fish

Saturday night we went to Madame Janette, a restaurant known for great food, and it did not disappoint. What’s in front of me may look like a potato, but it’s actually their Cordon Bleu Schnitzel. They took ham and dutch gouda, then wrapped it in their famous schnitzel. It was delicious, as was Jen’s gnocchi fungi e tartufi.

Madame Janette's

Despite being very full from an excellent meal, we still ordered dessert. It was delicious.

Dessert

We knew we had to try Dutch Pancakes at some point on our trip. So, on Sunday we ventured into Oranjestad again to wander around and get lunch at the Dutch Pancake House. I had a Dutch pancake (it covers the whole plate, thinner than American pancakes but thicker than a crepe) with fruit and whipped cream. Jen had poffertjes (kind of like silver dollar pancakes but puffier). They were delicious, as was the fresh squeezed orange juice.

Dutch Pancake House

Monday, we had reservations at The Flying Fishbone for a fancy dinner. However, we had just been on a long excursion (and eaten a late lunch). We also discovered that we were going to have a 40 minute cab ride to get to the restaurant. Neither of us was up for that. So, we cancelled and ate at our hotel’s Passions on the Beach. It’s a restaurant that is set up daily on the beach.

Final dinner date

Here’s a view of the restaurant. Every afternoon at 4:30 they clear this area of all beach-goers and set up tables for dinner. The kitchen is a permanent building behind the tables.

Passions on the Beach

We sat down just before sunset, and got to watch the sun set on the beach as we waited for our food to arrive. It got a bit dark while we were actually eating, but it was still very nice. I had the grouper with scallops and shrimp, and Jen had the Mediterranean shrimp. It was good, though not great. It was also quite expensive, but at least we saved the money from that long cab ride.

Our table

Overall, we ate really well. Just be prepared to spend a lot on food if you’re planning a trip to Aruba.

Finally, a complete eco-tour

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 16th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After the failure that was our first excursion into Aruba’s natural wonders, we debated about what to do. We’d been looking forward to that tour more than anything, and we felt like we were cheated out of the experience we wanted. We didn’t really want to spend more money on another tour (we’d already spent enough money on this vacation), but we really wanted to see more of the undeveloped part of Aruba. So, we eventually decided to book another one with a more reputable company (thanks to Courtney for recommending them). They had jeeps that actually worked (and were surprisingly comfortable, though Jen did have to hold the door closed up front since it didn’t latch). And we were glad to have the jeeps, since the terrain was pretty rough.

Jeep tour number 2

We drove the jeeps up a hill to see the view of the coastline.

View from on high

Our tour took us back the the Natural Bridge. It was pretty much the same as our first visit there.

Back at the Natural Bridge

We then went to another place nearby to explore a cave at the coast. Here’s Jen climbing down.

Cave exploring

We walked along some rocks toward our cave destination.

On a rock

Eventually, we came upon a cave with a pool of water, protected from the ocean by some rocks. Our guide Eduardo (next to me) told us to jump in. Many thought he was joking (it was about 10 feet down), but Jen and I were ready to go. Here I go.

Jump

Mid-air

Falling

Splash down

Then it was Jen’s turn to jump. She went for the cannonball approach.

Jen ready to jump

Cannonball

It was a very nice pool in a cave. We explored it for a while before climbing out to continue our tour.

In a cave

We then went to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, where the Dutch used to process the gold before shipping it back to The Netherlands.

Gold mill

Gold mill ruins

Gold mill inside

We saw the Ayo Rock Formation, but did not go up to it. It gets really hot in the middle of the day as it is made of volcanic rock (like much of Aruba).

Ayo Rock Formation

We also visited Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park, which was inland a bit.

Fontein Cave

Fontein Cave contained lots of cave drawings from the Arawak Indians.

Cave drawings

This is what you look like in a dark cave when someone takes your picture with a flashlight.

In headlights

We then drove on to Baby Beach again, which was actually supposed to be part of this tour (unlike our previous one). While most of Baby Beach was very shallow, a small part of it was deep enough to snorkel (snorkel gear was provided on this tour). Jen tried snorkeling again at Baby Beach, and didn’t get seasick. Hurray!

Snorkeling

There were lots of fish there. Some of them were quite large.

Big fish

Black fish

A fish

This visit to Baby Beach was much more enjoyable than the first.

Baby Beach selfie

We then dried off and headed back to the ABC Tours facility where they provided lunch. They have a little restaurant on site which served the lunch that was included in the tour. It was quite good.

The tour was great. I’d highly recommend ABC Tours to anyone. We wish we’d decided to go with them originally. Our guides were great, the sites were good, the lunch was good, and most importantly, the jeep never broke down.

Our jeep

Sunset kayaking

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 15th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After Jen getting seasick on our sailing adventure and having a busted eco-tour, we were excited to try a different excursion. This time, we went for a night kayak tour. We’ve done kayaking on previous trips and really enjoyed it. We were excited to do it in Aruba. Jen was a little worried about being on the sea again, but she took two Bonine and thought she’d be fine.

The tour was supposed to have other people, but they cancelled at the last minute. So, it was just us and our guides. We had a clear bottom kayak to see the marine life under the boat. Jen’s smiling at the beginning of the adventure.

Kayaking

We got started as the sun went down so we could see the sunset from the ocean.

Kayaking

Sunset from a kayak

Sunset behind Jen

Sunset

Kayaking

Our clear bottom kayak was equipped with underwater lights so we can see the fish after the sun goes down.

Lights

We didn’t see any larger or more colorful fish under the lights (like those we’d seen snorkeling a couple days before). I guess they had all gone to bed. We did see some little fish, though.

Little fish

Sadly, this was where things went wrong. Despite taking two Bonine, Jen got seasick. Our guide asked if everything was OK, and she told him the situation. So, we stopped paddling around and just headed straight back to the beach.

Once we got there, we sat in the parking lot while Jen recovered and our guides packed up the boats. We could see the lighthouse well from there.

Lighthouse

They gave us some fruit, iced tea, and water as post-paddling refreshment. After 20 minutes or so, the stuff was packed and Jen was feeling up to driving back to our hotel.

Our guides were great. I’d definitely recommend a kayak tour with Clear Kayak Aruba, though I’d probably choose one of their day tours in a different area to see more life under the water. That of course assumes that you don’t have major problems with motion sickness. For us, I think this’ll be our last kayak tour. I don’t think our next anniversary trip will involve any boats.