Category Archives: my friends

Throwback Thursday: The Big Apple

Statue of LibertyI was 24 or 25 the first time I visited NYC. One of my nearest and dearest friends worked for a company that had an office in Indianapolis but was based out of New York. Actually, at some point in their lives, almost everyone I hold closest to my heart (including my husband and myself) worked for this company. My friend was in charge of the mail room at the Indy office and while that may not seem very glamorous, he did such an excellent job running the place that the powers that be asked him to help them restructure everything in their New York office.

So, he packed a bag and spent the next seven months commuting back and forth between Indy and the Big Apple. He’d be there for a few weeks and then come home for a few long weekends every month. It was pretty cool for him as he got to live in a nice hotel and kick around one of the best cities in the world whenever he wasn’t on the clock. He also got a pretty hefty per diem, which meant he spent an awful lot of time getting to know the bartender at both his hotel and a few of the local haunts.

Since Labor Day weekend was coming up, a few of us decided to make an extra long weekend of it. Five of us loaded into my car and drove straight through the night to get there. We arrived in Manhattan (in a truly gigantic car–thankfully lanes are basically non-existent there) at the crack of dawn, exhausted but excited. We found his hotel, stowed our car and set about having one of the best weekends of our lives.

If it’s touristy, we visited it.

We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We strolled through Central Park. We drank at Coyote Ugly (this was not long after the movie came out before there were chains all over the country). We had slices of pizza almost as big as our heads in Greenwich Village. We ate the best bagels I’ve ever had in my life. We rode the subway to the end of the line and then back again. We cruised by the Statue of Liberty.

Notice I didn’t say we cruised to the Statue of Liberty. The tickets for the official ferry to see Lady Liberty were a bit too steep for us, so instead we jumped on the Staten Island Ferry and cruised near her for free. It was fun and wonderful, not only because we got to see the statue kind of up close, but also because I got to see it with four of the most important people in my life (I liked the fifth person quite a bit as well, but we haven’t stayed close).

This past weekend I got to take another long weekend to Manhattan. It was a bit different this time. Although I was still traveling as part of a group, it was initially a group of strangers. While I was sure I’d have a great time in the city, I wasn’t there to hang out. I was there as part of a design team the College Board put together to work on AP courses. My days were not spent leisurely exploring a chaotic city, but rather inside a really cool office building working with fellow educators to put together materials to help other educators and ultimately students.

This time there was little exploration of the city. I didn’t see much outside the four or five block radius of my hotel/temporary office. No Central Park. No museums. No totally outrageous bars (notice I didn’t say no bars at all). I still had some pizza, but this time no bagels. And no free ferry out to see Lady Liberty.

Although I didn’t miss her entirely. It turns out the College Board offices are basically in Battery Park, right near the North Cove Yacht Harbor, so every day I got to look out the window as I ate lunch and see our nation’s greatest symbol. When I finished my lunch, I got to skip downstairs and walk along the harbor for a chance to get a slightly closer look at her.

It wasn’t quite the same, but it was still an amazing, breathtaking experience. I wish my besties could have been there with me, but I did get to meet a new, amazing group of people. And there is talk of another committee meeting in February. As much as I’d love to see NYC again, for the February meeting I’m thinking Miami might be better!

 

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: Sushi Go!

sushi go cardsLast year when I took my kids to Athens, Georgia to visit my best friend, we spent a rainy afternoon at the always delightful Rook & Pawn. Not only did we have some super tasty food (I highly suggest the grilled cheese–Rook & Pawn style), but we also played about half a dozen board and card games.

I LOVE board and card games. For as long as I can remember, I have adored gathering around a table with friends and family to play just about any kind of board, card or charade-like game out there. I like ones that require me to come up with complex strategies and be completely cut throat. I like ones that allow me to play cooperative to achieve a common goal. I like those that allow me to make a complete fool of myself with my terrible pantomime or drawing skills. I even loves those games like solitaire that I can play all by myself. Board and card games are my jam.

While we were at the Rook & Pawn, we discovered an adorable new card game called Sushi Go! None of us had ever played it before, but since it is one of the few games that was nearly age appropriate for my daughter (who was 7 at the time) and still looked like something the rest of us wanted to play, we grabbed the deck, laid out the rules and shuffled the cards.

The game is pretty easy to actually play. Depending on the number of players, each player gets dealt a certain number of cards (in the three player game we played tonight, we each got 9). Everyone looks at their hand, picks one card they want to use and sets it down, face down. Once everyone has their card placed face down, everyone reveals this card and then passes their hand clockwise.

Sounds simple enough, right?

There is strategy involved though as different card combinations earn players different points. For example, the sashimi cards pay off big: 10 points–but only if you get three of them. And, when you keep rotating hands, there is a very real chance you won’t be able to collect three. Especially if other players are also trying to collect them.

As a parent, I think this is a great game because it is simple and goes quickly, which gives kids little time to get bored. There are multiple rounds, so even if my kids don’t win the first (or second) round, since their points add up, they hold out hope to win in the end. I also love the cards themselves. And so does my daughter. The adorable anthropomorphic pieces of sushi are not only cute to look at, but they actually make my daughter care less about her score. She doesn’t quite get all the strategy to the game (it is for ages 8+ and she just turned 8 last month), but she thinks the sushi pieces are “so cute,” that she doesn’t even mind losing. And believe me, any game that doesn’t make one of my kids want to toss the board/cards (they might get that competitive streak very honestly from me–I’ve never actually tossed a board though), is pure gold.

Although we love the game and have played it on each subsequent visit to Rook & Pawn, we don’t actually own it. It wasn’t until Monday, while I was desperately looking for a gift to bring home for my kids after a trip to NYC that I saw the game in a cute mall-like kiosk and had to have it. My daughter chortled with absolute glee when she saw it on the dining room table this morning. And sure enough, as soon as we got home from school, she asked if we could play it. I made them wait until after dinner, but then we gathered together, dealt out the cards and had a lot of un.

 

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Chocolate Monday: Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Happy Birthday Truffle bar

3 Cs birthday cake bar with confettiI am not generally someone who loves shopping. I know that according to pretty much every movie, TV show or book ever written, that as a woman, I am supposed to simply adore shopping. I am supposed to reach near orgasmic heights at the prospect of finding some amazing discount on designer shoes or purses or some such nonsense. Although I can name some designers, aside from the famous Burberry pattern, I’m not sure I could actually identify anything by a designer. Oh wait, does Vera Bradley count? I can pretty much always recognize her stuff. Not because I like it (I am not a fan), but because just about every teacher in the world has some sort of Vera Bradley bag. I have four different friends with Vera Bradley lunchboxes.

But as usual, I digress.

About the only time I actually enjoy shopping is if I am with my best friend. And then, it isn’t for the shopping, but for the company. I love being out and about with my BFF. As long as we are not in Anthropologie, she actually makes trying on clothes kind of fun. A part of each trip to visit her in Athens, Georgia means finding one of her college students to babysit my kiddos so that the two of us can have a few hours to have a semi-fancy lunch and hit downtown to look at the fun shops.

At one of our stops this year, we found a store that carries pretty much everything girly. There were clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, cards, soaps, lotions…if it seems like it should be in a boutique for women, they have some version of it. I’ve been in this store a lot, so I wasn’t really surprised at the majority of the inventory. However, when I saw a whole display of Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate bars and truffles, I knew I would be making a purchase this year.

3 Cs birthday cake packageMy BFF decided to buy the box of truffles. Each night as we watched something fun on TV, she’d take out two truffles, cut them in half and we’d savor them. I don’t actually remember any of the flavors of them, but I do remember enjoying them. My contribution to our nightly chocolate fest was two of their chocolate bars. I grabbed the Sea Salt Caramel bar (not sure how I’d miss this one so far) and the Happy Birthday truffle bar.

The Happy Birthday bar is really pretty cute. I think the little pieces of candy confetti on the back are a nice touch. While it may not be quite the same as eating the delicious looking cupcake on the front of the package, I love that they did their best to replicate the experience by adding the confetti. Visually I love it. However, I am not a big fan of sprinkles or candy dots like this on actual cake. I don’t like the crunch they give desserts and I don’t like the strange, nondescript sugar taste they add to an otherwise delicious treat. These candy dots are no exception. They detract a bit from my enjoyment because they add a sort of useless extra crunch to the bar.

3 Cs birthday close upThe milk chocolate is smooth and creamy and I think the best part of this bar is the bites of simple solid chocolate. The filling claims to be a buttercream frosting truffle. I’m not quite sure what a buttercream truffle would be as I’ve never had another company claim to make one. The center of the bar definitely reminds me of cake frosting, but once again, not in the way I’d hope for. It is almost too sweet. It reminds me a bit of the poorly made, almost cloyingly sweet frosting that comes on cheap grocery store cakes. My kids loved it, but then again, they both love sprinkles on cupcakes and love those cheap grocery store cupcakes some parent always brings in for classroom celebration days. I find myself scraping the frosting off and then being sad that the cake is too dry.

I had high hopes for this bar as birthday cake is one of my favorite foods in the world. Sadly, this was not a happy celebration.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 3/10 (since I didn’t like it, it definitely made the $5 bar of chocolate seem way over priced).

 

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Throwback Thursday: State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

botanical garden main.jpgOn my very first trip to Athens, Georgia five and a half years ago, my best friend took my kids and I to the UGA State Botanical Gardens. It was early October and still very warm. Unlike all the gardens in Indiana, this one was teeming with vibrant colors and a plethora of thriving trees, bushes, flowers and herbs. We spent a good portion of the afternoon picnicking near the fountain in front of the greenhouse and then strolling through various gardens, marveling at the beauty of it.

My kids loved walking over the little bridge that led up to the Japanese garden. They laughed as they found tiny lizards running among the flowers in the planters on the bridge. They loved seeing all the butterflies flitting around the gorgeous flowers. They marveled at the giant flowers and leaves in the greenhouse. And, they nearly lost their minds when they found the giant stone ball floating on top of a spout of water that they could make turn with just a push of their hands. I’m not sure how long my best friend and I stood staring out over the gardens while they took turns pushing that ball around.

Although it was quite warm outside, the gardens were so lovely, that I hardly minded. They are, without a doubt, the most lovely spot I visited, not only on that trip but on any of my subsequent trips.

I wasn’t exactly expecting much as the gardens are tucked away behind hay fields and cow pastures. In fact, if not for a rather dull looking sign announcing their presence, I would have had no idea that anythings so beautiful could exist along that stretch of road.

Because the botanical garden is a great way to get not only myself¬† but my kids outside and working off some energy (and some calories from all that great food), we try to visit on every trip. Sometimes we do not have stellar luck. On our second visit, which was in March, five years ago, it was unseasonably cold. I’m not sure the temperature got above 60 the entire time we were there and most mornings it was so cold that when my kids and I tried to go on a walk, we could actually see our own breath. Before we got halfway around the circle my best friend lives on, we had to turn back because my ears were frozen. So, when we visited the gardens, even though we’d picked one of the warmer days and the sun was shinning, there were hardly any flowers to look at.

botanical gardensAlthough we did a bit of walking out to the trails, we spent most of our time in the greenhouse. Thankfully it is very lovely, very warm and has a fantastic collection of orchids, which I am fascinated by. Ever since I read The Orchid Thief and then watched Adaptation as part of a wonderful book to movie club my friends had back in our mid-20’s, I’ve found orchids captivating. Because their scent is one thing the book focuses on, I always get as close to orchids as possible, hoping to catch one of the oddly scented ones. I love the variety of orchids the greenhouse has on display.

On this trip, we picked a warmer, sunnier day to visit. While it could have been warmer for my tastes, it was just over 70 and spring was clearly in the air. There were tons of volunteers all around the gardens weeding, planting and generally tending to everything surrounding us. We all had a blast wandering all over the gardens because almost everything was in bloom. There were beautiful trees bursting with lovely purple, pink and white flowers. There were row upon row of tulips in colors ranging from pale yellow all the way to a red so dark I thought it might actually be black. The herbs in the physic garden were blooming and a slight rub of the leaves released wonderful scents.

botanical garden statueWe made it so far down the trails that we found some really awesome statues and art displays that my kids really liked. Not only did I have my camera out snapping pictures like a mad woman, but my best friend had purchased a Polaroid for my kids to use. They had the best time taking pictures of the flowers, the art and each other. My daughter struggled a bit to remember that it was not a digital camera, so she couldn’t take quite as many pictures as she wanted. Nor could she just erase them, but eventually she figured it out. The photo albums my BFF bought my kids are filled with pictures from our trip to the botanical gardens.

My only regret about our visits is that I haven’t gotten to see it in May, when my BFF says it is actually just exploding with color. Maybe one day I’ll get there during true spring. But for now, I’m pretty happy with the time we’ve gotten to spend there and I know that our next trip (which won’t be until October), we’ll be up for another run around the grounds.

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Chocolate Monday: Sweetie Pie’s croissants

Sweetie Pie breakfast.jpgWhenever I am in Athens, Georgia visiting my best friend, stopping by Sweetie Pie’s is an absolute must. And not just once during our visit!¬†Luckily, it is located directly across the street from the entrance to my best friend’s neighborhood.

Since my kids are fairly early risers, well, my daughter is, I am usually up before my BFF and her husband, so a couple of times during our visit, I get up, head over to Sweetie Pie’s and grab breakfast for everyone.

Sweetie Pie’s is fairly small. There is no place to eat inside the bakery and they have a limited number of pastry choices, but I have never been disappointed with anything I’ve tried there. Every day they have a variety of muffins, scones and sweet breads. Some days they have gigantic cinnamon rolls (I never get these b/c they have nuts in them and neither my BFF nor I like nuts in our cinnamon rolls) and some days they have croissants. To be more specific, every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday they have croissants. Yeah, I love them so much that despite living 10 hours away from the place, I know they days they have croissants on the menu.

My son is a big fan of their savory ham and cheese croissant. Before she became a vegetarian, my daughter also really loved this one. Although it is never my go to croissant, it is tasty. The croissant is flaky and buttery, just like it should be. The cheese is not overpowering, but the slight gooeyness of it pairs perfectly with the melt in your mouth croissant. And Savie doesn’t skimp on the ham either. She doesn’t just dump a few ham cubes in there. She adds some thick, tasty ham slices to it. It’s a great dose of protein and pastry!

Savie also offers some super tasty almond croissants as well as some croissants with her famous Asian-infused flavors like thai coconut, red bean and green tea. However, my absolute favorite offering on her entire menu are her chocolate croissants.

SP close up croissantI LOVE these little pillows of heaven. I’ve had a fair amount of chocolate croissants in my life. While I’ve yet to have an actual croissant in France, I have had them at Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie in the France section of Epcot, in various cities in the UK, in places like Starbucks and Panera and even at a few local places, but these are my favorite ones.

 

How do I love them? Let me count the ways:

  1. The croissant itself is buttery
  2. The croissant is flakey
  3. The croissant is ever so crumbly (but in a super good way)
  4. The chocolate inside is slightly liquidy and gooey (unlike so many other places where the chocolate is pretty much solid like a bit of candy bar)
  5. The chocolate is a tad bitter, so it’s not too sweet

In short, it is perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 9/10 (mine looked a little overcooked this time, even though it was super tasty)
Value: 10/10

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Chocolate Monday: Savvy Cakes at Cakewalk

Savvy cakesOn my recent trip to visit my best friend in Athens, Georgia, she told me that a new bakery had opened up. She suggested we take a trip there, knowing full well that there was no way in the world I was going to turn down a chance to try a new bakery. Especially not one named Cakewalk. I’m always willing to partake in a cakewalk!

When we pulled up to the shop, I was a little thrown by the exterior. It didn’t really look like a bakery. It looked like someone’s house. Now, I know looks can be deceiving. After all, the best bakery I’ve found in Athens is in a building that used to be a BBQ shack. And when I say shack, that is really not an exaggeration. When it was The Butt Hutt, it was a take out place. With its transformation into a bakery, there is just room for a display case, a few display fridges/freezers and a fancy coffee machine. It is still a take out only place.

When we walked in the front door at Cakewalk, I was even more confused as I didn’t initially see any baked goods. I saw lots of home goods and cute gifts, but no food. Turns out Cakewalk is not actually a bakery. As the very enthusiastic and helpful woman working there told us, they aren’t zoned for baking. They are zoned for retail. So, what Cakewalk does is connect with small, local bakeries to resell their delicious treats.

What Cakewalk does (and does quite well in my opinion) is allow dessert lovers to take a “cake walk” through the store. Would be chocoholics can sample nearly all the cakes and bars available for purchase. The samples are already prepared in tiny sealed cups and customers can try as many as they’d like. The cakes are on display in large glass cake dishes for anyone interested and come from several local bakeries.

My best friend and I indulged in several samples, including an old-fashioned chocolate cake, a red velvet, a carrot and a double chocolate. Although they didn’t actually have a sample available, my best friend opted for a slice of the almond cake. Since I have a serious chocolate addiction, I had to go with the double chocolate cake.

I’m not sure which bakery my BFF’s cake came from, but mine came from Just Desserts Made from Scratch Bakery located in Statham, GA. For some reason, that I’m still not quite clear on, it is listed as a Savvy Cake by Just Desserts Made from Scratch Bakery.

Regardless of who made it, it was pretty darn tasty! The layers of cake were incredibly moist and very chocolaty. I loved the layers of creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. I was also happy that this cake was not too heavy on the frosting. For me, cake should always be the star. When people add too much frosting to their cakes, it almost seems like they are trying to hide the fact that their cake is not that good. I prefer a fairly thin layer of frosting on both the top and the sides of the cake. I actually would have been even happier with a little less frosting on this piece, but it was better than what many bakeries produce. I would definitely like to try more of these Savvy Cakes.

I did a little googling and it looks like Staham is only about 20 minutes east of Athens, so as much as I enjoyed the very friendly service at Cakewalk (and petting the seriously adorable dog who was hanging out in the store far from the actual food), I think on my next trip to Athens, my BFF and I will have to hop in the car and make a trip to the actual bakery for some additional treats.

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Value: 7/10 (we bought from a retailer, so prices were a bit higher than at the actual bakery where they seem pretty reasonable).

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Throwback Thursday: The tree that owns itself

Tree that owns itselfAthens, Georgia is one of my favorite vacation spots. True, it has no beach or theme park or plethora of dazzling museums. The weather is always a bit unpredictable in March, so there is no guarantee it’ll be warm. What makes Athens such a great place for me to visit is the fact that my best friend lives here.

To be honest, any place my best friend lives will become one of my favorite vacation spots. Anchorage, Alaska in winter? If she is there, I am there. The Mojave Dessert in the middle of summer? If she’s got a house there, so am I.

Thankfully, it turns out that Athens is also a pretty cool place, even if she didn’t live there. Of course, if she didn’t live there, I’d never have known this.

My kids and I just returned from a wonderful week long visit where we got to spend time in some of our favorite Athens locations. We went to several of their amazing parks (World of Wonders and the park next to the Bear Hollow Zoo are our two favorites). We played a ton of board games at The Rook and Pawn. We spent way more money that we should have clothes shopping. And we had some pretty phenomenal food at some of our favorite places (Cali N Tito’s, Pulaski Heights, and The Grit).

My best friend and I also got to try some place brand new (to us): Donna Chang’s. While I know this amazing little place would have been totally lost on my kids, my BFF and I adored it. My best friend is a vegetarian and although her husband is pretty accommodating, since Donna Chang’s is “family” style and there is only one full veggie item on the menu, he was not too keen on going. We didn’t actually even try that menu item since they have a bunch of really tasty small plate items that are vegetarian. My absolute favorite was the dry fried eggplant. She fell in love with the bouncy peanut noodles. We finished the meal off with some simply fantastic ice cream (lemon curd and ginger). It was glorious.

Another first on this trip was a drive over to see the Tree That Owns Itself. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a tree that owns itself in Athens.

When my BFF told me about this wonder of the Georgian world, I thought she was kidding. She definitely was not. However, despite all of our trips to Athens (this is our 7th or 8th visit), we’d never been to see it. While we were out and about driving one day, she suggested we hunt for it.

She’d actually only been to see it one other time, when another friend was in town. It took us a few minutes to find it, not because it’s hard to find, but because she forgot exactly where we are going. I had to plug it into my GPS. Turns out she’d only missed it by a one road. After a drive up an incredibly steep hill that I think would be absolutely treacherous if there was even a hint of ice, we found ourselves facing a rather large tree with a plaque in front of it.

The actual tree is set off by a little bricked “garden” area. The plaque announcing the tree’s origins and bequeathing the tree it’s “freedom” sit in front of it. On either side there are houses and it’s pretty clear the owners get a lot more traffic than they might like as they have signs reminding people the bit of brick “road” on either side of the tree is not public land. Only the small patch the tree sits on is owned by the tree.

The tree is a quirky little bit of history that I think speaks volumes about the kind of quirky town of Athens. If you are ever in Athens, it’ll take a minute to see, but it’s definitely worth it.

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