Category Archives: cool places

Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

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Chocolate Monday: Condor Chocolate brownie

Condor brownie fullOne of my favorite parts of traveling is trying beloved local eateries. Of course, when my forays into new food gems include chocolate shops, I get even happier.

Recently my travels took me to Athens, Georgia, which is not only the home of my best friend in the universe, but also a ton of amazingly tasty places to eat. In fact, in 2013, Zagat named Athens one of the 7 up and coming food cities. In 2014, it was named the Best Foodie City for Groups by ConventionSouth Magazine. In 2016, Fortune Magazine named it one of America’s 10 New Best Craft Beer Cities. These accolades come in addition to all kinds of ones for just being a totally cool place to vacation, live and go to college. Oh, and it’s also host to some pretty cool musicians like The Indigo Girls, The B52’s and REM. My best friend told me that pretty much everyone she knows has seen Michael Stipe shopping at Earth Fare. Somehow she keeps missing him.

Not only did we spend the week eating at some totally amazing restaurants like Cali N Tito’s, The Grit, Kelly’s and Jittery Joe’s, but we also got a chance to stop by Condor Chocolates.

We originally tried to visit them on Monday, but like half the places in Athens, it seems Mondays are verboten. Seriously, pretty much every place in Athens is closed on Mondays and it is more than a bit annoying. Although our initial attempt was thwarted by a closed sign, since we never give up on chocolate, we went back on Thursday.

Condor chocolate sells chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, cloud boulders (chocolate covered marshmallows), toffee, bon bons, macarons, brownies, gelato and chocolate drinks. Since they have a variety of deserts, shakes, and sipping chocolates, they actually have a dine in cafe. Check out their menu here.

We’d already been out for quite some time and the kids were longing to return to my best friend’s house to play with her dog, so we got our treats to go. Of course I bought one of each of their truffles (which I will review at a later date). My best friend and son got cloud boulders, which they both loved. My son described his as a bit of fluffy chocolate heaven. My daughter got a passion fruit macaron and she was delighted. In the last year she has become obsessed with macarons. I think this is largely due to some macaron shaped erasers she got from the summer reading program.

In addition to my box of truffles, I also snagged one of their brownies. Since Condor chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate shop (and cafe) and the owners are brothers whose mother was from Ecuador, all of their chocolate is from Ecuador and most of it is fairly dark chocolate.

Any regular readers of this blog know that I am not exactly on the dark chocolate fan bus. It’s only been in the last 10 years I’ve even been able to tolerate it and even then I get really picky about it. But, because chocolate is a passion, I am trying my hardest to learn to truly appreciate it in all of its forms.

Plus, who doesn’t love a brownie?

My best friend, as it turns out.

That’s ok, more brownie for me. My first bite was not the best. While completely moist (ugh, I hate that word) and chewy, it wasn’t the velvety milk chocolate brownie I was hoping for. Granted, since it is advertised as a dark chocolate brownie, it was totally unreasonable for me to have that expectation, but a lifetime of eating brownies has prepared me for velvety, milky happiness.

My second bite was better. And so was the third. I got used the the slightly bitter bite of the chocolate. The more bites I took also meant more bits of sea salt to balance out the very heavy, very dark chocolate of the brownie. Despite it’s darkness, thanks to the small chunks of dark chocolate in the brownie, it actually had a fairly creamy, if slightly bitter taste.

It was insanely rich and there was no way I could eat it all in one sitting. While not gigantic, it is a large brownie and both its denseness and richness make it a treat I think most people would find hard to eat on their own–at least in one sitting. I actually divided it into four servings, which was about all I could handle at a time.

Sure, I’ll admit that I ate one of those servings for breakfast, but that’s one of the glorious bits about being an adult. As long as my kids don’t see me, I can totally eat a brownie for breakfast!

Although this brownie is definitely a treat I had to portion up and could not eat large quantities of, I’m glad I tried it. It was tasty and really started to grow on me. On my next visit to Athens, I might even try it again. Of course I might also have to get some of their toffee because I LOVE me some toffee!

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 7/10
Value: 8/10 (at $5 a pop, it seems pricey, but since I got four servings from it, I think it’s a pretty good value).

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Friendcations

IoPI recently returned from a glorious and much needed friendcation at the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. For those of you who don’t understand my completely made up word, a friendcation is a vacation taken by a group of amazingly close best friends who, thanks to the cruel hands of time and career, have been flung all over the country and rarely get to see each other.

My particular group of best friends found each other in college. We all met in various ways during our freshmen year of college and quickly became inseparable. The core group of us are all from more than slightly dysfunctional families (and all but one of us have divorced parents). We went to college seeking knowledge, but it turns out we were looking for a bit more. We were looking for family.

And that’s exactly what we found. I have lived every significant event in my life with these people. I’ve also lived most of the very insignificant ones with them. At several times in my life, I think they are the only reason I kept going. I know with absolute certainty that I would not be who I am today without them. I also know that I cannot begin to thank them for all they’ve done for me or to express to them just how much I love them. But luckily, I know I’ll never have to. They already know. It’s part of what makes us, us.

Not only are we close emotionally, but for most of our adult lives, we’ve lived close to each other as well. Up until 4 years ago when she finally landed her dream job as a professor of literature at a wonderful university, my best friend in the entire universe lived right around the corner from me. Not long before then, another one of my besties and his girlfriend moved out to Arizona (and then Colorado) so that she could pursue her dream of getting her PhD in psychology. The third in our group actually moved away much earlier to pursue a career in political journalism in Washington, DC, but since he still has family in the state, we saw him a few times a year.

As of now, there are only two of us still in Indiana and it breaks my heart on a regular basis.

Thankfully, two years ago my Colorado bestie and his girlfriend decided to get hitched. Rather than have some crazy elaborate wedding with hundreds of guests, they invited only their closest friends and family members for four days of merry making and celebrating. We all jumped on planes and piled into the biggest, nicest vacation home I’ve ever stepped foot in for one of the best long weekends of my life. Not only did I have the honor of seeing two people I love very much vow to love each other forever (in a gorgeous lake side ceremony in the mountains), but I got to spend 4 solid days with the people I love most in this world (well, at least outside of my immediate family).

Over the course of those four days we tried to escape from a Phantom of the Opera-themed escape room, went on the best scavenger hunt ever, saw a fantastic burlesque show, played drunken Street Fighter at a video game bar, ate a ton of amazing food, helped prepare a few million pounds of food with very dull knives, had drinks at a super swanky bar I do not think we belonged in, played trivia, partied until hours of the morning I’d forgotten existed outside of shoving a bottle into a baby’s mouth, had some funky eggs benedict (my favorite breakfast food) at a super groovy brunch place, and ya know, went to a wedding.

It was so fantastic that we all decided we had to do it again.

DestinSo last year, right smack in the middle of September, my best friends and my Colorado besty’s wife’s best friends found ourselves barreling toward Destin, Florida. Once again we rented a HUGE house. This time it had not only a hot tub, but also a pool. The weather was gorgeous and we spent four days playing on the beach, swimming, hot tubbing, racing go-karts, chasing each other on water bumper boats, eating amazing food, playing D&D (did I mention we are all geeks to the core?), singing karaoke, and biking around town. It was amazing.

When it was time to get back in the car and drive home, I didn’t want to. I knew that the second the car pulled away I would start missing them all so much. And I did.

I went back to work the next day and thankfully it was a silent reading day in two of my classes (the entire period isn’t silent reading, just 25 minutes). I’d just started a new book called Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. I didn’t really know anything about the book, but I loved the cover. It turns out that in many cases you can judge a book by its cover. In the first few pages of the book I knew I’d found the perfect book for me. The book centers on four best friends who met in college. Four friends who became family and still lived near each other, supporting each other through everything. I swear Jansma wrote this book about my friends.

As soon as silent reading time was over and my students started journaling, I logged onto my personal email (something I rarely do at school) and sent my friends a message containing a quote from page 5 that perfectly described us: “Sometimes we missed those who hadn’t come to the city with us–or those who had gone to other, different cities. Sometimes we journeyed to see them, and sometimes they ventured to see us. Those were the best of times, for we were all at home and not at once. Those were the worst of times, for we inevitably longed to all move here or there, yet no one ever came–somehow only left. Soon we were practically alone.”

It was like Jansma knew us. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.

This year, we once again got to take our friendcation. This time, we landed in Isle of Palms, SC. We all stayed in the beach house my sister-in-law owns. Although it lacks a private pool, it is right next to the ocean, so we still managed to have lots of fun. We explored downtown Charleston, went on a ghost tour, tried out a gastro pub, played D&D again, sipped super fancy beers in a roof top bar that one of my friends joked we were not young or pretty enough to be in before leaving to go to a complete dive bar where we were definitely the best looking people, and sang karaoke. Most importantly, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking and laughing and having the most fun in the world together. One of the best parts is that I actually flew into Atlanta so that I could ride to SC with my best friend, her husband and our wonderful reporter friend, which meant a full day of very exhausting traveling, but one spent with the best people.

On the way to the airport, we started making plans for next year. We all want to see the Big Easy, so I hope we can make it happen. I know that no matter what is going on in my life, I will make this next trip a priority. I miss my people too much not to.

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Chocolate Monday: Tcho orange + toffee

Tcho orange toffee packageI am a sucker for toffee, pretty much in any form it takes. I’m also a big fan of chocolate and orange fusions. In fact one of the few ways I truly enjoy dark chocolate is if it is paired with orange or raspberry. So, when I was shopping at World Market and saw Tcho’s orange + toffee bar, I knew I had to try it.

A few years ago while thumbing through a magazine at my dentist’s office, I saw an article about Tcho chocolate. The flavors sounded amazing and I was heavy into my chocolate Monday blogs, so I pulled out my phone, used my notepad function (why I didn’t just take a picture of the magazine page still perplexes me) and wrote down the company name with the intention of finding their chocolate bars and reviewing them. For some reason, I did not follow through.

Recently I’ve noticed Tcho chocolate bars at my local Kroger. I thought about picking some up, but I already had several chocolate bars waiting to be reviewed at home, so each time I’d go down the candy aisle, I’d look wistfully at them and keep on pushing my cart. When I was at World Market though, the bright, shiny orange wrapper really grabbed my attention and caused me to pause and rethink the purchase. It wasn’t just the packaging I fell for though, the lure of toffee was just too strong.

tcho full barActually, I’m not sure if it was the pull of toffee so much as it was the giant question mark that appeared in my head when I tried to imagine why anyone would pair toffee and orange together. Toffee and chocolate I totally get. Orange and chocolate I also completely understand. But toffee, orange and chocolate? This seemed like some sort of sorcery to me. I had to try it.

My very first bite had me pleasantly surprised. Despite being a dark chocolate bar, it was not overly bitter, which is my universal complaint against most forms of dark chocolate. As I let the first bite melt onto my tongue (which it did), my mouth was flooded with the bright burst of citrus. This is definitely an orange chocolate bar. The toffee flavor is much more subtle. Actually, it’s almost non-existent. To me the only real contribution the toffee gives this bar is a tiny crunch. Still, it’s a nice crunch. It’s not overly crunchy or Pop-rocky as toffee can be when it is thrown in rather gratuitously. When I manage to separate out the toffee, I notice it has a slight buttery taste to it, which I think just balances the bitterness of the chocolate and tames the citrus just a tad.

This is definitely a bar I prefer to savor by letting it slowly dissolve on my tongue. The flavors are just brighter and more pleasurable when they melt than when they are chewed. This bar is a great introduction to Tcho and has me wanting to try more from them. I know that on Sunday when I head to Kroger to get my groceries, I’ll be adding another Tcho bar to my cart. Probably the mint chocolate one.

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Value: 8/10

 

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Throwback Thursday: Ghost tours

full graveyardI am a sucker for a ghost tour. Not because I believe I’m going to see any ghosts on the tour, but rather because I like exploring new cities after dark and hearing all the sordid tales that live below ground and don’t get told during the nice orderly guided tours through museums and official buildings. I like hearing the hidden history of places almost as much as I like the fact that ghost tours are almost always walking tours that let me explore parts of the city I might otherwise have glanced over or missed entirely.

I was introduced to my first ghost tour when I took a group of high school students to London. As part of a lovely tradition called May Term, students finished their finals in mid-May and spent the last two weeks of the year taking mini-seminar courses over topics ranging from the films of Alfred Hitchcock to orienteering to Asian literature. These courses, which ranged from 2-6 hours a day, gave students a chance for intensive study, often in a very hands-on way. During my 6 years at that wonderful school, I got to lead two May Term courses on trips to England.

It was during the second trip (which my best friend got to go on with me) that we all decided to take both a Jack the Ripper tour and a Haunted London tour. Both tours took place just as twilight was setting in. Even though we saw no ghosts (not that I thought we would), as we moved through crooked cobblestone streets and dark alleyways, I found myself giving into the “spook” and having a great time. There may not have been any jump scares, but picturing myself in Victorian England with the Ripper on the loose was fun. Our guides were very entertaining and could really spin a good yarn.

A few years later, I got another taste of ghost tours when I lived in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in America. I lived on historic St. George street, right next to the St. Francis Inn, which is one of the oldest inns in the country. St. George street is a mess of  brick road that is always filled with either tourists or horse drawn carriages. I can count the number of times I was able to turn onto the street and make it all the way to my apartment without getting stuck behind a carriage on one hand.

Although the carriages drove me absolutely bonkers, living in the heart of such a historic city, especially one with so many fun tourist attractions did guarantee there was always something to do, especially during the summer. While I never went on an official ghost tour while I lived there, many nights as my husband and I were walking back to our apartment after getting some ice cream at Kilwin’s or having dinner at The Columbia Restaurant, we would find ourselves walking behind one of the many ghost tours that haunted our street. It was impossible not to get caught up in some of the tales.

While leading students on another trip, this time to Scotland in 2015, our guide offered us a chance to go on a haunted catacomb tour. The stories weren’t really that creepy, but being down in the catacombs had its eerie moments. Especially while our local guide was telling us the story of a young boy who had perished in the tiny room we were all scrunched into (it was lit by a single candle). It wasn’t the story that made me jump and scream. It was the ginormous football player I’d brought on the trip who had snuck up behind me and grabbed my leg during the story that had me wanting out of that room.

All in all, my experience with ghost tours, while not even remotely spiritual, have been pretty darn fun.

small graveSo, when 9 of my dearest, if not geographically nearest, friends and I got together for a vacation in Charleston, SC a week ago and they asked what there was to do in the area (I’m the “expert” as I visit Charleston every year), one of my first thoughts was ghost tour. Since everyone was pretty keen on the idea, another friend found a tour company, bought tickets and we were on our way.

Unfortunately, since several people also wanted to visit a gastro pub and spend the night on the town, she booked us on the 6 pm tour. Even in September, 6 pm is not only well before the witching hour, but also well before it even gets dark. Unbeknownst to her, it was also the family friendly version of the tour. Our haunted look at Charleston, which our guide kept reminding us didn’t necessitate going into actual graveyards since the entire city is basically built on top of a graveyard, was not exactly spookified.

Even though the tour wasn’t even remotely scary, our guide was charming and had some great historical information to give. Unfortunately for him, he had a group of English majors, one of whom has her PhD in Victorian literature, so his story claiming that Edgar Allan Poe wrote Annabelle Lee based on his romance with a young Charleston girl (who supposedly still haunts the house they courted at), did not fly. And since we are such big geeks, we spent quite a bit of time after the tour looking up “facts” he gave us. Turns out a lot of them were sketchy at best.

Still, he did take us into a really cool graveyard at the Circular Congregationalist Church, which is the city’s oldest burial ground. He wasn’t supposed to. Apparently only one tour company has permission to give tours in said graveyard. But we promised to pretend not to know him if anyone questioned us. He told us some great stories in that graveyard and we got to see some super neat old graves, some of them dating back to the late 1690’s. On our way back to the meeting point, he also took us past St. Phillip’s Cemetery where the famous ghost of Sue Howard Hardy was supposedly caught on film mourning over the grave of her son.

While a few of my friends thought the ghost tour was a bust, I had a great time on it. I loved being out, walking the city with my best friends. I may not have been scared and I may not have seen a ghost, but I got to spend time with people I love and that’s all that I really wanted.

 

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Chocolate Monday: Caramel apples

caramel appleOk, I know, technically this should NOT qualify as a chocolate Monday post. After all, this amazingly yummy treat has no actual chocolate on it. I’m squeezing this one in on a technicality: at the shop where I purchased this apple, there were, in fact, several varieties of apples that featured not only caramel, but also chocolate. In fact, I was very seriously eyeing a chocolate caramel sea salt apple. But, at almost double the price (and no doubt double the calories), I decided against it. Plus, it was dark chocolate and I didn’t want to risk messing with, what in my opinion, is one of the perfect sweet treats.

I LIVE for caramel apple season. It probably doesn’t hurt that it is in my absolute favorite season: fall. With the first hint of autumn in the air, I head on over to one of the local orchards to get my first true taste of the changing season. And it is delicious!

This year, my first stop on the caramel apple trail was Connor Prairie. I wasn’t positive the Apple Store was going to be open yet. I had a fear that it didn’t technically open until after Labor Day, and I had a vague recollection of them being closed on Mondays, but thankfully they not only opened September 1st, but also had special Labor Day hours, so I managed to get one of the first crops of these ooey-gooey bits of amazingness.

I was so excited about this first caramel apple of the season that I did not even take the pictures I’d normally take for a blog post. There was no partially eaten bite–I devoured that baby immediately. Luckily, I bought a second one to enjoy tomorrow–so I was at least able to take a picture for the blog. I couldn’t open the package though, for fear I might start nibbling this one. That’s how much I LOVE these apples.

While this was a darn good apple, it was not the best caramel apple I’ve ever had. The caramel was out of this world. It was creamy and buttery, just like good caramel should be. Although it was a tad sticky, slicing it with a knife did not make a mess at all. It melted on my tongue with each bite. The caramel was everything I’d hoped it would be. The apple, however, left a little to be desired. It was just slightly tart. I’m sure it would have been a fine apple for most people, but I like my apples (with or without caramel) VERY tart. There is not much better in my mind that a tart Pink Lady apple. I ADORE them. This apple just wasn’t up to my preferred level of tartness. It was still good and I did not regret a single bite, nor the money I spent to buy it or the time it took to walk to the Apple Store (after already walking around Connor Prairie for four hours on a pretty dang hot day).

I can forgive Connor Prairie a slightly mediocre apple because the caramel is so good. And, the best caramel apple I’ve ever had in my life came from Connor Prairie, so I have hopes that my next visit will yield a slightly tarter apple.

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 7/10
Value: 8/10 (regular apples caramel apples are $4 each, nuts are available for .50 more and the caramel sea salt ones are $8).

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Throwback Thursday: The Enchanted Forrest

My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. I really don’t have many memories of living with both of them. Just some hazy pictures that might not even so much be actual memories as remnants of stories or actual pictures I’ve seen from my earliest years. One very real memory I do have moving from Indiana to California via Amtrak train. It was quite an adventure, which for the most part I enjoyed. I do remember getting some sort of turkey with brown gravy dinner that I thought was disgusting, but other than that, I loved our tiny little sleeper car (which did not seem tiny to me) and watching the country fly by before my eyes.

This trip, while exciting, meant starting a new life in California with my mom, step-dad and little brother. And that meant leaving the rest of my family, including my dad, behind. That part was beyond awful. I spent 46 weeks out of most years with my mom in Southern California, but for 6 glorious weeks every summer, I got to come back home and be with my family.

Those 6 months were, without a doubt, the most exciting of the year. Since my dad got me for such a short amount of time, he made sure not to waste a single second of it. It was 6 weeks spent in an almost non-step quest for fun. Sure, my dad had to work during that time, but he was a paramedic and usually worked a 24 hour shift followed by 2 full days off. That meant that of the 6 weeks I came to visit, he only had to work about 2 of the weeks, plus, he always took off vacation time, so really he only worked a handful of days during my visit.

While we did have “normal” days where we stayed at home, watched TV, played in the yard or ran errands, we had just as many days where we went to parks–both the natural and themed variety. Despite the fact that back in SoCal, I had Disneyland pretty much in my backyard, I LOVED visiting theme parks with my dad and anyone else in the family who wanted to tag along, which usually meant my aunt and grandma.

My favorite destination was definitely Six Flags Great America, just outside of Chicago. Not only was it a day filled with delicious (and completely unhealthy) snacks, rides and tons of souvenir stuffed animals, shirts and knick-knacks, but it also meant a long drive with my family where my dad would tell stories, we’d sing songs and he’d let me hold the money for the toll roads. It was heaven.

As much as I loved Great America, since it was a bit of a drive, we usually only went once each summer. However, that hardly meant only one day of thrill rides for me. Not too far away from my dad’s house there were a couple small, locally owned amusement parks. My favorite was the Enchanted Forrest, located in Porter, Indiana. My aunt and I used to ride the Mad Mouse roller coaster until I had screamed myself hoarse and was ready to puke. As much as the crazy jerks terrified me, I loved it. I also was crazy over the Tilt-a-Whirl. And don’t even get me started on the mini-train that we could ride all around the park.

The Enchanted Forrest actually hosted corporate type events all the time. I remember one time the steel mill my grandpa worked at rented it for the day and we got to go along. Not only did we get to ride all of the rides, but there was a huge company picnic. Another year, my dad’s fire department had an event there and while we didn’t quite have the whole place to ourselves, I felt so important being there with all of the firefighters. The Enchanted Forrest was the first place where I drove a go-kart. It was also where I began my love affair with skee-ball. Since it was located right next to the Indiana Dunes, even when we weren’t going to spend the day there, we drove by it quite often on our way to play at the actual Dunes.

Sadly, it closed in 1991. I had just started high school and was not old enough to drive there to hang out with my friends, but too old to ask my parents to go with me. I did, however, watch as it transitioned into an entirely new theme park: Splash Down Dunes Water Park. I went off to college before it was actually finished, so I never went there. It was odd to watch one of my favorite childhood playgrounds become something so very different.

I only came home for college one summer. Once I returned for the start of my sophomore year, I never lived near the Dunes again. I didn’t even realize that SDD closed in 2009 and then was reopened as Seven Peaks Water Park. I know my aunt still went there with her kids, but out of habit she still called it Dunes water park. Apparently as of June of this year, even it has closed down due to guests getting chemical burns from the water. There are currently no plans to reopen it.

It’s odd to think that a place that has brought so much fun to so many people for almost 60 years is closed. Even though I’m not a huge fan of water parks, I hope that they are able to fix the problem and that it does reopen. Families need places like The Enchanted Forrest and Splash Down Dunes and Seven Peaks Water Park to build those memories.

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