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Of Tapas and Friendships

My kid’s swim class was cancelled tonight, and I haven’t been this happy in ages.  I love the class, and I like that she gets the extra exercise (she has PLENTY of energy to burn), but my days are filled with constantly running from won thing to the next, and it was SUCH a relief to unexpectedly gain 2 uncommitted hours in my evening.  I am celebrating with a glass of wine and eating noodles on the couch.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a “girls weekend” in DC celebrating a very dear friend’s upcoming special number birthday (29! A lady never ages past 29!)  We went to dinner at Jaleo, and it was amazing.  AMAZING.

Ferran Adria Liquid Olives

Ferran Adria Liquid Olives


Cava Sangria? Yes PLS.

Cava Sangria? Yes PLS.


2016-04-23 21.05.31

Jaleo is a taps restaurant, and we ordered our tapas in my absolute favorite way– cover the table with small plates, devour them all, order another bunch of small plates, devour, repeat.  The food was gorgeous, delicious, MAGNIFICENT! The restaurant had such a cool, fun vibe to it too. For our last round of small plates, we told the server to please just pick them for us, and she did NOT steer us wrong.  I wish I could remember all the delicious things we had, but OMG, so many flavors and textures and everything was just lovely.

Jaleo left quite the impression, but what struck me even more profoundly when I returned home from the trip the next day, is how lucky I am to have good friends.  It was just a little weekend, but we had such a no fuss, fun time together, that the weekend was a truly memorable experience. Since I came back from the trip, it’s even given me a little dose of de-stressing to think about the feeling of that weekend, us girls together, watching When Harry Met Sally and the Pitch Perfect movies in the minivan on the drive, drinking wine and chatting, and appreciating a truly great meal.  Happy birthday Sandy and thanks friends for the memories!

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Back to the Ice, Snow and Grind

Back to the Ice, Snow and Grind

Admittedly, I had some concerns about going on a week long vacation with extended family. When the idea was first raised about doing a family vacation, I was adamant that we not do a house rental or something like that. For our number and varied interests, we decided that an all-inclusive resort would be the best bet.  This would be the best option logistically– since everything is all-inclusive, we wouldn’t have to split checks or keep tabs for who has paid for what, and since we’d all be all in one location with lots of amenities, we would not have to worry about transporting people for place to place.  I hoped it would also be the best option for meeting everyone’s varied interests– from the grown-ups who want to read all day, to the kids who want to swim all day.

Hopefully, you got a chance to check out my guest post on Goodness Madness during the Pittsburgh Guest Blogging Event.  In short, I do not have a good track record when it comes to traveling with other people. I have about a 48 hour time limit when spending time with someone, and then I am done. I need lots of time alone, and I can be a real grouch when I’m having to share more space and time with other people.

You guys, the vacation was fantastic. We had so much fun that we are already talking about doing another trip.  The all inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen was perfect, and I don’t think I’ve ever come back from a trip more relaxed and happy.

Playa Del Carmen

We stayed at the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, which is a family resort with a focus on preserving the local ecosystem and teaching about the local Mayan culture. In the scope of resorts, it’s about mid-range– not luxury, but not total discount either. I think its amenities, services, etc. were right on for the rates they charge. There were some things that were very good (lots of good options for pools, beach, water park, kids activities, nightly entertainment, etc.), and there were also some things that could be improved. The resort is oriented to families, and although there were kids all over the place, I felt that parents did a good job of keeping an eye on their own kids and making sure they were behaving appropriately. We all really enjoyed it and would be happy to go back!

Snoozing on the beach

I counted down to this vacation for weeks.  By the time we hit March, I was running on fumes.  We were very lucky to get to take trips to Napa and Disney World last year, but (admittedly by my own planning) both trips involved us going from activity to activity to activity. We may have been more tired by the end of those trips before we departed for them.  I needed rest. That is exactly what we got out of this trip, and oh wow it was good.  

Beach

Our days basically went like this: Wake up, get breakfast, find family around the mid-morning sometime either on the beach or by the pool, swim and relax until lunch time, eat some lunch, swim and relax until late afternoon, get cleaned up and put on pants, meet up with family for dinner, watch the nightly show, go to bed. Repeat six times. It was fantastic.

Poolside

We came back to late snow and ice in Pittsburgh, but I feel rested enough to actually deal with it. When Baby Beez returned to school afterward, the theme for the month of April was “Rainforest,” and she was extremely excited to get to tell all her classmates about her week in the jungle.

Lots of peacocks strolling through the resort

Lots of peacocks strolling through the resort


We saw lots of little monkeys swinging through the trees.

We saw lots of little monkeys swinging through the trees.

This was the first time we saw coatis, and they are adorable!

This was the first time we saw coatis, and they are adorable!

My iguana friend wanted me to go away. So not really my friend, I guess.

My iguana friend wanted me to go away. So not really my friend, I guess.


Mr. Beez and I had been to Riviera Maya (slightly south of Playa del Carmen, both relatively near to Cancun) once before, and had an incredibly relaxing long vacation. Travelzoo  and Apple Vacations frequently run specials  that are extremely well priced, including airfare (in fact, Travelzoo is running a special right now on the resort we stayed in).  It’s just about a 4 hour flight away, which is not too bad, especially now that Baby Beez is comfortable enough with flying and is old enough to keep herself occupied during long flights.

And you know what– my fears about everyone making me crazy never came to pass. The resort was just the right option, because everyone had the flexibility to do what they wanted, but we were still generally together and getting to spend time with one another. Just the right balance of time together and independence.

beach

So yes, friends, go to a Cancun-area beachside resort. Even go with your whole big crazy family. You’ll love it. And even if you head out to vacation feeling like you can’t even function, you’ll return feeling relaxed and ready to take on the world.

PS- Mr. Beez and I went to the spa for massages. Twice.

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Sunday Night Catch Up

There have been a number of things over the last month or two that I’ve told myself I need to get around to blogging about. I have the pictures and the intention, and then it comes down to I could either write the post or take a nap. Today I took a nap and OMG it felt good. Naps have been much higher on my priorities list. As they should be for everyone.  I hate that nagging feeling of having a backlog of posts. By the time I have enough time to sit down and write, the older ideas feel stale and I’m no longer into it. So this is my “catch up post” and I’m counting this as a clean slate moving forward.

(1) Now that the winter is really bitter and cold, I am again asking myself WHY do I live in Pittsburgh, and wishing I could go back to our holiday week in Tampa.  We only got to check out a small slice of it, but Tampa seems like a really cool town.  On our last night there we ate at this killer Latin American restaurant called El Puerto.

El Puerto


El Puerto

El Puerto

Mr. Beez had the dinner pictured in the middle, which was basically steaks on top of sausages on top of chicken on top of mountains and mountains and mountains of meat. Also, they had churros, which is nothing crazy or special when you’re in Florida, but churros are HARD to come by in Pittsburgh, so yasssssssss.

(2)  When we were in Florida, we went to Legoland. Everything was awesome.

Legoland

We were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy a lot of amusement parks with Baby Beez this year. We went to Disneyworld (Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios), both Universal Florida theme parks, Sesame Place, Kennywood, and now Legoland.  now we are beginning what I will call “A few years of not going to any damn amusement parks” because I’ve had enough amusement. We may take her to Disney again in 5 or so years, but we need some time off for a while.

(3) Just FYI, outside of Legoland is this crazy delicious BBQ joint called Hog Heaven Smokehouse. It’s in a nondescript little strip mall, so you won’t notice it unless you’re looking for it. LOOK FOR IT. I admit, BBQ does not tend to be the most photogenic food, but you need to try this stuff, because it is delicious. Also, it’s a small family run place, and everyone working there was absolutely the sweetest. I felt more like a guest in someone’s home than a customer at a restaurant.

Hog Heaven

(4) We also visited the Dali museum when we were in Florida. It’s been a dream of mine since I was in high school to visit this museum, and it did not disappoint. It also had a special exhibition of Escher’s works going on. It was a complete dream for my high school self.

Dali Museum


(5) Ybor City was a totally cool neighborhood and we had so much fun checking out their local breweries, of which there are several. Our favorite brewery was Cigar City Cider & Mead. They had over a dozen offerings on tap of all kinds of meads and ciders, so many different flavors and all over the spectrum from dry to sweet. The bartenders were super friendly and were proud of the drinks they were serving, and chatted with us the whole time. Also they were playing Indiana Jones movies on a big screen the whole time. A+.

Cigar City

(6) When we got back to Pixburgh, we swung by the food truck roundup at The Brew Gentlemen because I saw that Blowfish BBQ was there, and thanks to the amazing food I had at Hog Heaven Smokehouse, I NEEDED BBQ and all I could think about was smoked chicken and delicious deliciousness. Delicious deliciousness was had, and if you have not yet had Blowfish BBQ, you are sorely missing out on the best BBQ in the city. And if you disagree with me, you are just wrong. Sorry.

Blowfish BBQ


(7) This week I visited Amazing Cafe with my friend Beth, and at risk of sounding ridiculous, it really was Amazing. I had the Tulum tacos, which included roasted tempeh, potatoes and vegetables. I also had a green juice that was legitimately delicious. I don’t really like juice, but from time to time I will tolerate it. I actively liked this juice, which is very unusual for me. Both Beth and I were thrilled with our lunches, the food was fresh, light and made us feel good from eating it. This is definitely worth a mid-day trip out of downtown.

Amazing Cafe Tulum Tacos

(8) This week was Restaurant Week and I made it out for 2 meals.  On Thursday, we went for family dinner to Braddock’s Brasserie at the Renaissance Hotel downtown. Baby Beez was really excited that we were eating at a restaurant in a HOTEL and I have no idea why, but whatever. The food was very good and the service was very friendly, so we had a really nice time.

Braddock's


Braddock's

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Braddock's

(9) The Steel Trap and I also went to Prairie for Restaurant Week dinner. Prairie is also on the gastropub/comfort food theme. The food was brilliantly executed and the ambiance was fun and laid back. I am puzzled, though, why the owners decided to change from Verde, which was a really good Mexican style restaurant in a town with few Mexican Restaurant, into a gastropub/comfort food kind of restaurant, of which there seem to be no shortage anymore. I went for the dishes that they are best known for– the chicken & biscuit and the ice cream cookie, and I was not disappointed. HGB of The Steel Trap also loved it, and you can click here for her review.

Prairie Pittsburgh


(10) Over this weekend, we took Baby Beez to Dave & Busters for a bit. We played this ridiculous pirates game that involved shooting monsters and such, but she and I had so much fun together with it, it was really incredible. I’m not really into video games, and she doesn’t have the skills or coordination to do well at them so she gets frustrated fast, but we were able to make some headway on this silly game and had such a fun time playing it together. It was one of those special little memories that is going to stay with me.

Dave & Busters


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And now it is January

With the new year, I’ve been spinning lots of plates. It’s always a challenge to figure out what is working and what is not.  There’s never enough time to do everything, but you can prioritize and make time for the important things. Figuring out which things are important things, however, is its own process.  I’d like to get back into a more regular pattern of blogging, but that is its own process.  For the time being, here are the things on my mind:

  • We spent Christmas to New Year’s Eve in Tampa. We had some good food down there, and I hope to put something together soon about the places we visited.
  • I love all things true crime, so Making a Murderer totally got me to renew my Netflix subscription.  I don’t necessarily think that documentary makers or journalists always have a particular agenda, but from what I have seen from reporting as compared to my experience handling particular cases (and how they are reported in the news), I find that reporting is often inaccurate (or maybe better described as imprecise) and incomplete.  All of this is a long prelude to say that although I think Making a Murderer is fascinating, it doesn’t inspire me to jump immediately onto the “Pardon Steven Avery” bandwagon.  I do, however, think that what they have presented should motivate the State of Wisconsin to order some kind of independent, external review of the proceedings.
  • I am equally fascinated by Serial and Undisclosed. Like with Making a Murderer, I’m not convinced by them that Adnan is innocent, but I think they raise enough questions that his conviction should be reviewed over again.
  • BTW, Braddock’s posted a picture of their Restaurant Week special online (bourbon braised osso bucco) and I think I really need to make this happen…


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NaBloPoMo Day 16: Birthday trip to @Nemacolin

NaBloPoMo Day 16: Birthday trip to @Nemacolin

So this is really yesterday’s post, but I was laying in bed last night and realized I forgot to post, and just was not going to get out of bed for the sake of blogging. So 2 posts tonight and I say we’re on track.  My birthday is tomorrow, and to celebrate my birthday we went on a family trip up to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.  I’ve never been there before and I always love spa treatments and excellent food.

We started our visit with brunch at Lautrec.  It’s a lovely buffet with all kinds of pastries, fish, pancakes & waffles, desserts and even prime rib.  Baby Beez’s behavior has generally been getting better as she has gotten older, but I wanted to make sure she was on her best behavior.  To encourage fancy manners, we wore fancy clothes. She loves fancy clothes so this was a thrill in and of itself.  She also likes getting to choose her own foods out of a buffet.  She was able to show her best manners for the meal and we had a very nice brunch.

Nemacolin

Mr. Beez and I went to the spa while Baby Beez spent the day at the Kidz Klub. She was literally the only kid there, but that didn’t bother her any. In typical only child fashion, she made up stories with her imaginary Harry Potter friends, went swimming, watched movies and played with toys. It did not bother her any that there were no other kids there. Although I venture to guess she was a little bit lonely, because by the time we left the resort, she was saying that she missed her friends.

Nemacolin

After having an amaaaaazing time at the spa, Mr. Beez and I spent a good part of the afternoon sitting around, drinking wine and reading the whole internet. It’s kind of a silly thing to do, but we don’t get to just sit and relax very often so it was very nice.


Autumn

We had dinner at Autumn, which included scallops with bacon jam. Yes, Please.  The meal was lovely.  We do get to go out to eat quite a lot, but it was nice to be able to just wander down and pick up our kid afterward, and then wander back to our room. Because we are total party animals, we were all in bed and asleep by 9:30. But that’s a perfect birthday treat for me. I like sleep.