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Sunday, August 31, 2008

What I made at summer camp.

iPod cases.

First, let me take a moment to say how happy I am to have only one photo to edit today.

Of course, I'm not really at summer camp, but it's fun to pretend, isn't it? After I embroidered all over a tea towel, I wasn't sure what kind of project I wanted to do next. Then I picked up Doodle Stiching by Aimee Ray and decided that an iPod case would be perfect. For some reason, iPod Touch cases are ridiculously expensive (usually running around $30). I've had my iPod for almost a year now, but I hardly ever take it anywhere because I don't want it rattling around in my purse unprotected. Kinda defeats it's purpose, huh?

In her book, Aimee has a pattern for a case, but I decided to design my own instead. The embroidery designs are based on hers though. These were a bit of a challenge because they were too small to stitch with a hoop, and because I used dark fabric, I had to draw the design on the back and work from there. The fabric, by the way, is from Lauren's old pants. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

I'm pleased at the way they turned out, but I really stink at the satin stitch. Since that's a pretty important stitch, hopefully I will get better with practice.

In other news, we're continuing to work our way through the eggplant. Tonight we had eggplant rollatini for dinner. Next, I'm going to try my hand a moussaka. Lauren really eats up eggplant!

Lastly, yesterday evening we visited Grandma Gert. Her caregivers must finally be allowing her to sit in the sun because she is super TAN. How sad is it when an 89 year old living in a nursing home has a much better tan than you? I wish I had brought my camera because she is really a sight to see. Anyway, she's doing very well with few complaints other than they don't give her enough onions on her hamburger.

Gotta run - we're going out for ice cream on our last evening of freedom. Pineapple sundae for me!

Friday, August 29, 2008

More Alexandria.

King Street.

We were very fortunate in that our hotel was in the absolute best location in the Old Town part of Alexandria. We were just a couple blocks away from the waterfront, several of the historical sites and the best stores. And even though the air conditioning wasn't fully functional and there were some mysterious charges made to our room, I wouldn't stay anywhere but the Hotel Monoco.

For the most part, we ate at chain restaurants, but at least they weren't chains that we have here in Pittsburgh. Next to our hotel was a la Madeleine Bakery and a few blocks away was Cosi, which is pretty much Panera Bread without the bread. We ate there for breakfast.

We did sample some of the local establishments. We had dinner once at Bugsy's Pizza (Pictured above). Bugsy himself was there and commented on how cute Lauren was and that she seemed like she had a mind of her own. Bugsy was a very smart man.

We also had ice cream at Pops (also pictured above), which serves the absolutely best cheescake ice cream I've ever had. Lauren threw a tantrum there, but we're trying to forget that.

Outside Gatsby's Tavern.

For lunch one day, we braved Gatsby's Tavern. I say "braved" because it appeared to be a little on the fancy side and sitting down to eat is not one of Lauren's strengths, but we managed to get out of there without major embarrassment.

Inside Gatsby's Tavern.

The other side of the tavern is a museum where you stand in the spot where George Washington and other early presidents dined.

Old Christ Church.

In our continuing quest to find that wily George Washington, we visited Old Christ Church where he attended services. Old Christ Church has a very old cemetery, but I found the newer headstone of former U.S. Treasurer Henry Hamill Fowler to be the most poignant.

Headstone of Henry Hamill Fowler.

Also just a few blocks from our hotel was the Potomac waterfront. We took Lauren to the park there so she could commune with the ducks and eat the lollipops that we had just bought at the old fashioned candy store.

Lauren at the Potomac waterfront.

On the last day, we toured the Carlyle House, which Mark and I agreed kinda owned Mount Vernon. In Washington's defense, he was a really a humble farmer at heart, while John Carlyle was a showy Scottish merchant. The Carlyle House is significant because General Braddock had hung out there for several weeks before getting his ass handed to him by the French and Indians (Our very sweet seventy something docent, Michelina, didn't quite put it this way, but that's the truth). Before they left, Braddock and his soldiers trashed Carlyle's house, causing him to join the American side of thinking.

The Carlyle House.

While we were allowed to take photos of the rooms, I unfortunately don't have any to share. Due to the stormy weather outside, there was very little natural light inside the house. Instead, here's a photo of Lauren and Mark outside of the house.

Lauren and daddy.

More photos can be seen on Flickr.

Me and my guys.

P.S. As you can see, John McCain was very disappointed that I refused the Vice Presidential nomination. He apparently really likes brunettes though.

Are we going to find George Washington?

Playing in George Washington's backyard.

Imagine hearing that question again and again and again over the course of three days. Yes, Lauren loves her some George Washington.

Much to Lauren's disappointment, we did not find George Washington. We did, however see...

...where he lived.
...where he ate and drank.
...where he went to church.
...where he slept (everywhere).
...where he died.
...where he was laid to rest.

So who could blame Lauren for being a little obsessed? The man got around.

We really enjoyed our visit to Mt. Vernon. You can easily spend the entire day roaming the plantation, as there is so much to see and learn. And while Ben Franklin seems to get all the credit for being the brains of the Founding Fathers, GW was no slouch in that area. Here is Lauren and Mark approaching the innovative 16 sided barn designed by GW himself.

Sixteen sided barn.

And here are the stable wenches tending to the horses near by. Why can't I have a job that entails dressing up in cute period costumes?!

Stable wenches.

Unfortunately, photographs are not permitted inside the house, so you will have to take my word for it when I say how awe inspiring it is to see the room where he died. And that Mount Vernon pretty much looks like our house, at least before he added on to it.

One of many old trees on Mount Vernon's grounds.

More photos can be seen on Flickr.

Additional photos of Alexandria coming in the next post!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

And...we're back.

The Washington Monument meets The Ross Monument.

Sorry for the lack of live updates over the last couple of days. Tuesday was crazy hectic, as we spent the day at Mount Vernon and the evening at the National Mall. Lots and lots of walking. Yesterday, we recuperated and took in the sights around Alexandria.

I have many, many photos to review and edit, so I hope to post the full story sometime tomorrow.

Lauren and Mommy at the Lincoln Memorial.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grand olde time.

Hotel Monaco.

I'm writing to you live from the Hotel Monaco in the Olde Towne of Alexandria, Virginia. This is really my kind of place - free wifi, iPod doc and Late July crackers and cookies in the honor bar. What more could a person need? Oh yes, a refrigerator would be nice, especially when traveling with a toddler who likes her milk. At least our room is close to the ice machine. Anyway, the decor here is supposed to inspired by the uniform of the Union soldiers because the hotel was built on the site where the Civil War began. Mark keeps making fun of it because all the furniture was made in China.

City Hall.

I've been really wanting to visit here, and for once, my expectations have been exceeded. Alexandria is clean, quiet and very pretty. The streets are lined with actual gas lights! There is lots of shopping and what appears to be some great restaurants. With Lauren in tow, there will be no sampling of pecan crusted mahimahi, but at least we can smell it as we walk by.

King Street.

Time to hit the hay - tomorrow we're headed to Mount Vernon, the estate that once belonged to Lauren's favorite (and the only one she can identify) president, George Washington.

Gadsby's Tavern.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Idlewild Park: Where Being Number Two is Pretty Darn Good.

Up, up and away!

We spent our first day on vacation at Idlewild Park, which prides itself on being the "#2 Best Kids Park in the World!" Apparently, Legoland in California is #1. Better luck next year, Idlewild!

It's easy to see why Idlewild beat out many other parks (We're looking at you, Dutch Wonderland!), because there is so much for kids to do, we probably only saw half of it. Lauren was so busy riding, we didn't even visit the famous Storybook Forest. Maybe next year.

The Round Up.

The best part about the place is that Idlewild is where all the old Kennywood rides enjoy a second life. Two of my all time favorite rides are there (Someday I'll find the location of the third - The Baryn Curve) The Round Up and The Caterpillar. Lauren isn't tall enough yet to ride The Round Up, but I was really looking forward to taking her on The Caterpillar. I was devastated to find that it was closed for the day.

Pony ride.

Still, there was other fun to be had. Lauren had her first pony ride on a horse named Derby, lead by a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Grandma Gert.

Eating a banana split.

And in another first, Lauren had a banana split, which she successfully ate while avoiding the banana.

More photos can be seen on Flickr.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Heads up - naughty photo of my eggplants ahead.

My eggplants.

Although it was my idea, Mark took this photo under protest. He kept saying, "That's obscene!" over and over again, but he did it anyway.

Our eggplants are doing really well this year (which is more than I can say for our tomato plants, which mostly fizzled out). Unless I can find some other recipes, I'm going to be frying eggplant for the next month. I fried the first one last night for dinner. Lauren liked it so much she was picking from my plate after she finished hers. Then again I don't think this constitutes a break through, because even a old shoe would taste good if it was coated with Italian bread crumbs and fried.

In other news, starting tomorrow we're on vacation until September 2nd. Celebrate!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Everything comes in cycles.

Lauren and Daddy biking at Moraine State Park.

Today's adventure led us to the bike trail at Moraine State Park. Since it's now mid-August, I've been in kind of a frenzy to squeeze everything in that I've been wanting to do all summer. Mark and I used to go there years ago before we were married. We even had our own bikes back then, but we had to rent them today because we sold our bikes a couple of years ago at a garage sale. Ironically, we're thinking of purchasing bikes once again.

The weather was perfect for a bike ride - sunny, but not too warm. The trail has plenty of shade too. We were surprised that the majority of people riding the trail weren't "professionals," but were in fact a couple of decades older than us.

The trail is seven miles long and does not loop back, so you have to be prepared to bike the same distance back to the start. Also, the trail isn't flat, but has slight inclines and steep grades in the both directions. I really wanted to make it to the beach, but when we got to the 3.5 mile mark, I decided that I didn't want to press my luck. I think that seven miles isn't too shabby for someone who spends the majority of her time sitting on her tush in an office!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Deja moo.

Negative and Positive.

On one of our early dates, Mark took me to the Westmoreland County Fair. We've attended every year since then, only missing one or two around the time that Lauren was born.

The fair doesn't change very much from year to year, although this was the first time we went during the day rather than the evening. The rides weren't running, but that didn't bother Mark and I too much since our admission price was deeply discounted. Although, the Fun Slide did look, well, fun.

Fun slide.

Since she couldn't really appreciate the cheap admission price, Lauren on the other hand was despondent because she desperately wanted to ride the Ferris wheel. We have to get that kid on one before summer ends.

The best part of the fair anyway is getting the opportunity to see the farm animals up close and personal. Lauren's favorite was the fowl exhibit where she could check out the hens, roosters and ducks without feeling like she was going to get stomped on by a big hefer. At one point, we did approach a boy who was waiting his turn to bathe his horse. The exchange went something like this:

Me: Hello. What's your horse's name?
Boy: Jasmine.
Me: Oh, so your horse is a girl.
Me: (To myself as we slowly backed away) Whoa, easy big fella!

Sheep be true. Baa ram ewe!

My favorite was this guy. I said "Baa ram ewe!" to him, but he just wasn't buying it.

Funnel cakes - yum!

On second thought maybe the food is the best part of the fair. I had my heart set on eating some fried vegetables, but they were way expensive. Instead, we had roast beef subs which were healthy by comparison. Lauren was very pleased with her $1 bag of popcorn.

At the exit, the fair was hosting a car cruise. And lo and behold what was on display complete with autographed topless photo of Daisy Duke, aka Catherine Bach, none other than...

The General Lee.

...The General Lee! YEE HAW! I love the Dukes of Hazzard! Initially, I had a crush on Bo, but I later moved on to Luke. But then those Faux Dukes Coy and Vance came into the picture and completely ruined the show and maybe I should just just wrap this up now.

Mark and Lauren at the Westmoreland Fair.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Free at last, free at last.


Not Lauren. Me. And Mark too. It's been over two weeks running since Lauren began to go to sleep... her own room herself

...without anyone sitting with her until she fell asleep.

Thus ends a 2+ year ordeal. An ordeal where on most nights, I would lay in the dark next to her for over an hour. During this time, I would let my mind wander. I would think about what I was missing on television. Or about the projects I could be working on. About my family. About mortality (Yes, really). Then Mark gave me my iPod so I could lay there and surf the internet instead. When American Idol was airing, I laid in the dark and voted for Jason Castro over and over again until my arm would fall asleep from holding the phone up to my ear.

I mostly did my duty without complaint, but there were a few times when I just couldn't stand it anymore and went completely berzerk because she just would not go to sleep. These were not good nights for either me or her. Sometimes, I just gave up and went to sleep myself.

There were times when I really thought that this would never happen. That somehow I would be sitting in her college dorm room waiting for her to fall asleep, which really would have put a crimp in her social life.

Things are not perfect. Every night she tells me, "Mommy, I don't want you to go downstairs." or "Mommy, I want you to stay." Nonetheless, I reassure her that I will be nearby in the living room, give her a few extra kisses and make a hasty retreat. I get called back up stairs at least once, sometimes two or three times for adjustments to her covers or to searching out Dita (who's always right next to her). Sooner or later though she falls asleep on her own.

And now I have all this free time in the evenings. My mind has been pouring over the possibilities. I could blog more often! I could scrapbook...or embroider! I could start reading some of the 30+ books on my reading list!

I could solve the fuel crisis!

Thus far, I've spent the time watching television with Mark, mainly Star Trek: The Next Generation re-runs that I DVR'd and Battlestar Gallactica on DVD (At the rate we're going, we will be able to see the end of the series in real time - yay!). So I guess the fuel crisis will have to wait. Sorry y'all.

Lauren & Dita.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I honestly love you.

I honestly love you.

Today was a banner day as we found that our local grocery store now not only carries Honest Tea by the bottle, but it was also on sale. As of this writing, Mark has drank three bottles of the ten that we purchased. He was disappointed, however, that they did not have Barack Obama's drink of choice.

Today was also marked the first time that Lauren took her tricycle out for a spin on our street. Behold the excitement!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cars and Macs.

House of scarlet.

For the last several years, we have visited the town of Somerset for its annual antique fair. Although we didn't buy anything (again), I still consider it one of the better shows, as the dealers as a whole sell quality collectibles, and not stuff they found lying by the side of the road on the way there. Plus, the local church sets up a tent and sell hot dogs for a buck and homemade slices of any kind of pie that you want. Well, at least they used to - this year they didn't sell any pie but instead set up a Fudgie Wudgie tent. I don't know what focus group they consulted to determine that fudge would be a better seller than homemade pecan pie because, in my opinion, they were sorely mistaken.

There is also a car show with both antique and kit cars in all the colors of the rainbow. They were so shiny that you could see the clouds and the sun reflecting from their hoods!

Purple haze.

The Commander.

On the way back, I suggested that we eat at the Big Mac museum on Route 30. We rarely eat at McDonald's (We are a Wendy's family), but I thought that it would be fun to see. It turned out that it's just a regular McDonald's with some extra memorabilia. My Big Mac was good, though.

Big Mac Museum.

World's Largest Big Mac.

Inside Big Mac Museum

Here is Lauren skillfully avoiding her Chicken Mcnuggets.

Lauren avoiding Chicken McNuggets at all costs.

Lastly, if you didn't watch the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, you really missed something. I don't follow the games, but for laughs, I try to catch the opening ceremonies because the host countries come up with the oddest presentations. Not the Chinese. While their government may have ugly policies, the people of China clearly have mastered the concept of beauty, as they put on a breathtaking, goose-pimple inducing spectacle. It seriously made the Super Bowl half time show look like a high school musical.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Yin and yang.

Ying and yang.

Mark and I now both have laptops from work. I am the dark or yin side. This side is decribed as "soft, slow, substantial, water, cold, conserving, tranquil, gentle, and corresponds to the night." Mark would be the yang side, which is described as "hot, fire, restless, hard, dry, excitement, non-substantial, rapidity, and corresponds to the day."

Or you could just say that Mark uses a Mac while I use a Dell.

Mr. Fuzzems.

Today, Mark found this fuzzy caterpillar crawling around in our garden. I named him Mr. Fuzzems.

Lauren and Mr. Fuzzems.

As expected, Lauren was quite taken with Mr. Fuzzems, as Mr. Fuzzems was quite taken with Lauren's watering can.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wholesome goodness.

Is it fall already?

Can you tell that Lauren got a haircut? One of these days, I'm going to take her to a certified hair stylist at a salon, but for now, she's stuck at Chez Mommie. You should see me in action - I show no hesitancy and really chop it off.

Speaking of haircuts, this morning I went for my quarterly hair appointment. The hairstylist working on the client sitting next to me was describing a recent trip that she had taken. I didn't catch where she went, but she mentioned that she visited an 80's themed bar while she was there. She then said how much she loved the 80's and wished that she had been a teenager during that decade (She was born in 1980.). The client then told her about how the school that her daughter attends recently had an 80's day and described the spandex / blazer combination that her daughter wore for the occasion.

I was a teenager in during the 80's, so all I can say is this: Who'd of thought that getting old would happen to such a nice gal like me?

A couple of weeks ago, I convinced Mark to go grocery shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I had never been to Trader Joe's before, and I absolutely loved it! Everyone that I've talked to has commented about how small the store is, but that's what I liked about it. Plus, I'm so sick of buying the same old products from our local grocery store. Lauren likes to go there too, because they give a her a balloon.

Trader Joes / Whole Foods haul.

We went back again tonight, but this photo represents some of the haul from our first trip.

I've been dying to try polenta, but couldn't find it at my local grocery store. I only just recently learned that it's an used in Italian dishes.

Smooze: Smooze is like italian ice, but it's made of pure juice. This flavor is coconut milk and passion fruit. It's very good. Lauren liked it too.

3 Cheese Pizza: We ate this last night for dinner. It's a little on the small side, but oh so tasty. I bought two more tonight!

Blue chips: I had these when I flew on Jet Blue to Boston last year and have been looking for them since. They are much better for you than regular potato chips and have an extreme crunch to them.

Banana waffles:
Let's just say that all those preservatives and artificial flavors do a lot for frozen waffles. These tasted fairly plain. Mark was less forgiving and said that they were like eating cardboard.

Late July Dark Chocolate Sandwich Cookies: This is another product that I've been anxious to try. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to do so, as we're working to finish another brand of Oreo style organic cookies.

Although not pictured, we also purchased a case of Honest Tea. Finally someone decided to produce an iced tea without all that sweetner and corn syrup! It actually tasted like home brewed tea. We were really disappointed when we stopped a Whole Foods to get more and found they were sold out. I completely understand why.

Also not pictured is a pineapple upside down cake purchased at Whole Foods. I love pineapple upside down cake, and this one was almost as good as the one that I make. Mark and I chuckled at the ingredient list that was, oh, about a line and a half long. Buy a similar cake at our local grocery and you have to read a whole paragraph of many syllable words. Why do we put so much unnecessary crap in our foods? And how and when did this become the standard?