Friday, April 29, 2011

Shrimp & Grits - Bringing Southern Tastes to My Colorado Kitchen

Throughout the last several years, we have taken a couple trips to Charleston, SC where we first considered tasting Shrimp & Grits. We always thought it was a waste of a meal out to get shrimp served with GRITS of all things. Shrimp & Grits was found on an unbelievable number of restaurant menus and on our trip to Holden Beach, NC last summer, Mr. LH decided to finally try them. They were so delicious, we regretted not having tried them before (and I regretted not ordering them myself as I watch him polish off his plate). 

Ever since then, we have been on the hunt for Shrimp & Grits recipes. We wanted to make it as close as possible to what he ordered that day at Captain Pete's Seafood Restaurantwith wedges of crispy fried grits cakes in a sea of cheesy shrimp sauce. That version also had Tasso ham, which is hard enough to get outside of Louisiana. We have yet to find it here.

Here's a photo of his half eaten Shrimp & Grits from Captain Pete's (the inspiration):


In the last nine months, I have acquired 6 different recipes for Shrimp and Grits (and only one of those had a cheese sauce). I also found one recipe for the crispy fried grits cakes.

This week, I decided to go ahead and try to mix the recipes together to come up with something similar to our memory of Captain Pete's Shrimp & Grits. They turned out delicious! Though extremely time intensive and not appropriate for someone on a strict diet. I would definitely make this again! There is a lot of cheese, cream and fat in this meal, as can be expected in a traditional Southern dish, so I would like to change some things to lessen the fat and calories while keeping the flavor. Instead of the Tasso ham, I used bacon (since EVERY recipe I came across had bacon). I think next time, I'll omit the bacon and use whatever ham I can find.


I wouldn't mind seeing if I could streamline the process, either. I made the grits cake the day before...


...then sliced, coated and fried them right before making the cheese sauce and shrimp/veggie mixture (which I combined right before serving). I poured the grits into my quiche pan because my springform pan, as well as all my round cake pans, are apparently STILL packed in moving boxes. 


If you have a helper in the kitchen, this would be a great task to pass off to them :) The egg wash and dredging is too messy and labor intensive for my liking :)

This is NOT a meal for a small budget. With shrimp, bacon or ham and lots of cheese included, this is a meal we'll have once in a while - maybe every 2 or 3 months. That being said, the price sure beats the $22 a plate dish elsewhere!

The kids absolutely loved the grits cakes, though. And since those were reasonably inexpensive (though time consuming), they might become part of our "breakfast for dinner" routine.



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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Little Bookworms

I love to get the "Pickles" new books - especially if those "new" books are off the thrift store rack. To my delight, they love getting new books. So of course, when the school announced their school book fair, I had to go. The "Pickles" already had books in mind that they wanted to get but since these were going to be full price, they were limited.

The Boy usually goes for the "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" or "Guinness Book of World Records" choices. The novels he reads are usually acquired elsewhere or borrowed from the library.

The Girl tends to want anything that has a cute picture on it (especially if it's an animal) so I try to influence her decision making as much as possible. I'm more interested in finding books that fit her current book collection. Otherwise, she's more likely to look at it once and put it aside never to read again.

I definitely want to find the Little House on the Prairie book collection through Scholastic. The price is usually less than half what it is at major book stores ($19 vs $53) and I want to make sure The Girl has her own set. The set I got from my grandparents when I was 10 was so well read and worn that it has long ago been replaced (though I still owned the original set).



We headed over to the book fair after school to have a look around. The Boy had already chosen a book called Tell me about Everything which is chock full of interesting facts about...well...almost everything from space, weather, nature, history, etc.

The Girl, of course, chose a cute little agenda book with a picture of a kitten on the front. She would never use it for anything except to draw all over the pages. Since she enjoyed reading The Boy's Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, we chose Dork Diaries for her which looks to be similar in content but written from a girl's point of view. It's a little above her reading level right now, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. She only needs help with a few of the words.

We also located a Rainbow Magic book to add to her growing collection. She usually finishes them in a couple days when she dedicates a little more time to reading.

It was nice to come home and hear both children announce they were going to do their reading homework FIRST.



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Monday, April 25, 2011

Recipe Round-Up

I recently went through and re-organized my recipe book - the one I keep all my favorites in along with magazine clippings and printouts of recipes I want to try. I knew the original binder was getting a bit full (and old) because the rings were starting to separate from the cover and the vinyl was splitting from the cardboard.

I went out and got 2 binders from the thrift store (gotta love the thrift store). One white and one black. In one, I placed all my favorites, the recipes we use over and over again as well as the ones we HAVE tried and would like to make again in the near future.

In the other binder, I placed my ever-growing stack of "to try" recipes. That binder was already too full. I'd have to make more room. I told Mr. LH I was going to try to make at LEAST one new thing a week. Especially since just that day I had come across several new recipes I wanted to try. The recipes might be simple or elaborate. They might be a dessert, a sandwich, a simple sauce, a new bread or a full blown main course. I started out with the Homemade Poptarts then moved on to a Baked French Toast Casserole I thought I'd make when family is in town for Elder Boy's graduation (very heavy on the calories but so YUMMY!) That one got rave reviews from everyone.


For one of Mr. LH's late nights at work (and with Elder Boy off doing whatever it is he does) I made Pepperoni Pizza Roll-Ups for the kids. This would be a great (FAST) weekend lunch. The recipe was actually from a grocery store mailer around Super Bowl time. Simply section out crescent roll dough, spread with about 2 tsp pizza sauce each, add 2-3 pepperoni slices on each and sprinkle with grated mozzarella. Roll up as normal and bake according to package directions (about 12 minutes).


Next, I moved on to Shrimp & Grits. I don't know why it took me so long to actually make this dish, except I wanted to make exactly what Mr. LH got at a restaurant and had a hard time finding something similar. So YUMMY!


I plan to continue doing this until I tire of it - and since I've also been watching a lot of cooking shows, I don't suppose I'll tire of it very soon :)




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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday

In years past, I would sometimes attend the Easter Sunrise Service at Old Salem. This year, it's safe to say the trip was too far to travel in time so I slept in until the kids, in their sugared up state, woke me from my slumber.

They seemed to be very pleased with their gifts from the Easter Bunny! I've always stayed away from the pre-packaged baskets lining the store shelves and instead opt to fill their personal basket with goodies the Easter Bunny knows they would enjoy. So for around $15 a piece (careful shopping throughout the year), they get a basket brimming with books, toys and candy personalized just for them.

Each of them, on their first Easter, received a basket that would be used every Easter that came in the future. They are not big, about 6"W x 5"H x 10"L. The smaller size of the baskets limit what can be fit into it (so I don't go overboard).


The Boy received the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series for Christmas. It didn't take him long to plow through all the books and since then, he has been wanting to watch the movie. It was conveniently in his basket this morning. He also LOVES his Legos so there was a small Lego set tucked in the basket, too.


The Girl has been enjoying the "Rainbow Magic Fairies" book series - I think she has about 25 of them now. She received an Emma the Easter Fairy book in her basket  to add to her collection and "Brain Quest" for third grade (a jump start on next year) as well as a few other goodies specially chosen for her.

Elder Boy also got an Easter Basket this year, though it will probably be his last.

They don't get piles of candy - some jelly beans, Reese's Pieces (that they always get), a peanut butter egg, a chocolate bar (they have never been able to finish a solid chocolate bunny so I pass on those) and M&M's or skittles (The Girl prefers the Skittles to M&M's). But they get enough to satisfy their Easter candy sweet tooth and I can fill their basket with other things they will enjoy for much longer. Frankly, they still have candy left over from Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and various birthday parties they have been to. They didn't need more candy.

The gold eggs in their baskets hid money that they could put into their banks.



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Friday, April 22, 2011

How Many Ways Can You Make A Poptart?

Yep, you read that right...MAKE a poptart! My Sister-In-Law shared a recipe link for "Homemade Healthy Poptarts" and I absolutely had to give it a try...immediately. I had all the necessary ingredients and a couple hours to spare (okay, I was so excited about it that I MADE time for it). I also had some mango jam calling my name!


We also tried these with Strawberry jam, cream cheese and jam, and peanut butter & jelly (or jam). The kids suggested peanut butter and honey (yum!), and while I am NOT a fan of Hot Pockets, the thought of filling these with pepperoni and cheese did cross my mind.

We now have a stash of these in the freezer - though they won't last too long. The Boy and Mr. LH are both taking them in their lunches. The Girl opted for a large rice cake (made fresh at the asian grocery store) spread with mango jam in her lunch box.


Notes:

I've made this recipe several ways (It was a daily thing while I experimented), but so far the one everyone seems to like the best is using 2 cups white flour and 1.5 cups wheat flour. I think once the kids get more used to eating more whole grains, I'll be able to cut back on the white flour more. The Boy likes to eat his turkey sandwiches on multi-grain bread, but his peanut butter sandwiches have to be on white bread. (sigh)

I've also tried the recipe with both plain yogurt and with milk instead of the yogurt. The yogurt version was better and easier to work with.

This makes a huge batch of dough! I split the dough into 3 balls and rolled each out separately.

Definitely let the dough sit awhile! This made it MUCH easier to work with. Roll it out thin (and I mean THIN). My first batch turned out good but really too dry from all the dough. For the second batch, I made the dough thinner and they were much, much better.

Jam vs. Jelly: definitely jam...or spreadable all-fruit. The jelly just seemed to melt and ooze out the sides more.



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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Box Gardening

With Spring upon us, I've been itching to get outside and plant things. I've always kept a small garden for veggies and herbs and the yard was full of bulbs I planted every fall.


This year while the apple trees lining the street burst into bloom, I stare out at my small, barren yard and sigh. This is a rental house so digging and planting are out of the question. Still, the brown of the back yard, the grass dried and dead long before we ever moved in, makes me cringe every time I look at it.

I've already known of the challenges I'll face in trying to create a yard full of green foliage and big beautiful blooms. I know that with frequent hailstorms and high salt content in the soil will make vegetable gardening a pain. That will have to be faced later once we have finally settled into a home of our own. But I still felt the urge to plant something...

I was never one to enjoy container planting. My tomatoes and peppers never seemed to produce as much when they were in containers but that seemed the only option this year. In researching some possible options, I came across the Earth Box. The makers of the Earth Box claim I can grown my herbs and veggies anywhere with less water and fertilizer (perfect for a climate with poor soil and very little rain). The boxes are also on casters so I can wheel them into the garage if freezing temps or a hailstorm threatens to come our way. So I ordered one.


I figure that if it works, I'll treat the soil in the Earth Box every year for my veggies instead of constantly trying to correct the soil in my back yard. I can also get additional Earth Boxes to use if I want more growing space. It took about a week for it to ship to me. I've had it stored in the garage since then waiting for the right time to plant.


Although the last frost date here is May 15th, I couldn't wait any longer (though I might regret that later). If cooler temps come back, I'll wheel the box into the garage for the night. I chose to plant pole beans. Everyone in the family likes pole beans. I can put up to 16 pole bean plants in one box and we have always eaten every bit of beans that we've harvested. If I were planting tomatoes, the box would only hold 2 plants and if we planted green peppers, it would hold up to 6 plants. If I choose to combine 2 plants in one container, I would just plant half the number of each (one tomato and 3 green peppers, etc.)


Since I am growing pole beans, I also purchased the optional staking kit which included outriggers, 2 additional casters, poles and pole attachments and the trellis netting.

Now all I have to do is keep the water reservoir full and wait for my little pole bean plants to pop up out of their holes.

June 27, 2011 - For an update, view Earth Box Update



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Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Colors - Easter Egg Dyeing

With Easter just a week away, we had to make time to color the eggs! How lucky we were that a friend suggested we make it a gathering and all color eggs together.


Easter egg dyeing is apparently a serious business to the kids. I haven't seen this much concentration in a long time!


We did have one egg hit the table a bit hard...but the "Pickles" were happy to take care of that one.


The Girl just HAD to create an "I Love Ferrets" egg...


The Boy used the rubber bands to make a "Sumo wrestler egg"...


We had a great time and wound up with lots of beautiful eggs for the Easter Bunny (though I don't think they will last that long).




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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oh, Lolli Lollipop!

The Girl has been preparing for the last month for a performance with her class in the school's "Variety Show". It's basically a talent show - one that her teacher volunteered the entire class for. They planned to sing "Lollipop" so we've all had that song stuck in our heads for weeks!

All the children were asked to pitch in money for each child to have a large lollipop and to wear blue jeans and white t-shirts. Once her teacher got the lollipops, she must have given the class a talk about how "fragile" they were because The Girl came home that day spouting out a long list of "lollipop rules".

After the dress rehearsal one afternoon, I picked The Girl up from school and she filled me in on her stage fright in front of "all those kids". The Girl and "stage fright" just do NOT go together. Is she already starting to get dramatic? I thought I still had several years before that "phase".

Finally the night of the show came. From the crowd outside, you'd think this was a Broadway hit! How would they ever fit everyone in the gym?


Once we finally made it indoors, we wondered again how everyone would be able to fit. Mr. LH and I were lucky enough to find 2 seats (that someone had stopped saving for people) and The Boy was able to grab a spot in front where children were being allowed to sit. They probably should have had 2 or 3 nights of shows just so everyone could enjoy the show comfortably.

Although I had been battling a sinus infection for 2 days, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Many of the acts were the usual school assembly song and dance routines. However, there were multiple acts done by individual kids or groups of kids showing off their talents. One act was even a father-daughter-son dance routine!


But the hit of the night was the finale...the teachers...one of the parents got quite a bit of it on video and popped it on YouTube:

MC #1: "Are those a bunch of retired teachers?"
MC #2: "No. That's just what OUR teachers look like now." (I think they're ready for summer break)






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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stoneware Mixing Bowl

I've wanted a large mixing bowl for making my breads and such - something that would allow me to make a large batch and really get in there to mix it up. But large bowls in the stores just didn't seem large enough and they are always so expensive (how do I justify paying $30 or $40 for a BOWL?).

I was at the thrift store twice weekly looking for one and finally came across one I liked.


This beautiful pale blue stoneware bowl is 11 3/4 inches across and 6" high. It was part of a set, but luckily, they were priced individually because the 2 smaller pieces were flawed.

Retail Price for similar: $15 - $50
My Price: $6.00



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Dinnerware Search

Years ago, I fell in love with a set of dishes my dad and stepmom had. Apparently, it was a set she bought when she lived in NY years ago. She said her brother, who lived several states away at the time, had coincidentally also purchased the same set.


In fact, it was a design that was manufactured between 1967 and 1983 called Madeira by Franciscan.

A couple years ago when my parents were getting ready to downsize and move to a smaller house in Tennessee, I found that dish set amongst their other lifelong treasures piled in the garage ready for the auctioneer. There was no way I was going to let that set go. I staked claim to it then and there. Then they pulled out a box that had more pieces that they had picked up at a yard sale several years earlier.



I was very happy with the set (and thank goodness Mr. LH also really liked it). Between my parent's original set and the second set they picked up from the yard sale, I had plenty of plates, bowls, saucers and mugs. I didn't think of expanding on it, and since it was such an old set and not "china", I didn't think it would be possible.

Fast forward to our move to Colorado. Since Mr. LH was going to be in Colorado for awhile without the rest of us, I packed some dishes for him (no sense in buying more). I packed 2 of our bowls, dinner plates and salad plates for him. However, once I showed up in Colorado with the rest of the family, the bowls I had supposedly packed for him were missing. We couldn't find them anywhere.

2 months later, I was perusing a thrift store when I spotted 2 bowls...MY bowls. I snatched them up, paid $1.50 a piece for them and went on my merry way. I was so sure Mr. LH had left those bowls at his hotel and they wound up being donated to the thrift store. What luck to find them there!

Fast forward to a couple weeks later. Same thrift store. I spot an oval serving plate, a large serving bowl and a creamer from the same Madeira set. Now I'm not so sure those 2 bowls I bought were mine to begin with, but so what! I've replaced the original bowls and am now seeing pieces of the set I never know existed!

Since then, I have come across several more bowls and another creamer. I'm wondering why they don't just put the whole set out at once for sale...or maybe there are a number of people clearing them out of their cabinets? It is an older set so maybe people are just upgrading. Whatever the reason, I appreciate it.

I am on the hunt for more serving pieces and the sugar bowl. I could get them on eBay, but I'd rather hold out to see if I can find them for much, much less. Who would have thought that I'd be scouring yard sales and thrift stores looking for specific circa 1970's brown dishes?



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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Science Fair Success

For weeks, The Boy and I (with occasional help from his siblings and Daddy) have been working on his science fair project. In review, he had chosen to experiment with UV sensitive beads to determine what items would best protect you from UV rays.


We have actually been done with the experiment for well over a week and have been patiently awaiting some graphs I had ordered prints of (my laser printer is only black & white so I was hoping for a few color graphs). While we waited for the prints, we put together the rest of his display board.

We had been very pleased with the way his Popcorn display board turned out for the science fair in 3rd grade (he didn't have to do one in 4th grade). He wound up with an Honorable Mention ribbon. That was a very fun project for The Boy - though we were eating popcorn for a couple weeks afterwards. We learned that not only did we get MORE popped popcorn from the generic brand, but we also preferred the taste of the generic brand, too (Food Lion's store brand).


That board was black from the very start so creating an eye-catching display with black, white and red was easy. This time, though, we didn't have a clear picture as to what colors we would use and neither of us were pleased with the white background of the display board supplied (for a fee) by the school. We strayed from the "3 color rule" and just did what The Boy decided on - a sun, blue sky and green grass.


We used acrylic paints and a roller to roll on the blue sky. It added some interesting texture to the board. We got some neon colored posterboard and made the sun using yellow and orange. The sun had to be big enough to display his title. We bordered the base of the display with "grass" using the neon green.

We backed the headings in red to make them stand out more and because they matched his "photo journal".

The photo journal was an early idea to include pictures of the active UV beads and individual experiment results. Pictures wouldn't fit on his display board with all his data and graphs so we placed everything in a photo book from Snapfish.


The photo journal included everything from how he came up with the idea through his hypothesis, materials, procedure, experiments, data, results and conclusion, to his "Thank You's" at the end. We thought it would make a great keepsake for later when the science fair display board is long gone.



With everything else completed, we were still waiting for his graphs to show up. It was the day before the project was due when they finally showed up in the mail (next time I think I'll just have The Boy make 2 copies of each graph).

School days are already hectic enough without having to add to it the frenzy from trying to properly glue on the most important part of the science fair display board. But with the graphs finally attached, the "results" section (and the entire display board) was complete.


The next morning we toted the project to his school. He was very optimistic about the judging that night because after school he came out and said "Well, I'm pretty confident. Everyone rushed over to see what my project was." That night at the science fair, I found out why. Apparently, a lot of kids didn't put as much work into their display as we had put into his. There were several really good looking displays and other very nice, informative experiments, but overall, you could tell most of the projects were rush jobs. This one was one of my favorites of "that" bunch:


Yes, this was really on one of the projects being judged that night. Maybe the student got credit for honesty...

I think I was more nervous than The Boy while the judging was going on. Parents had to leave the classroom while the panel of judges questioned the students. Their verbal explanation of the experiment was worth half of the overall score and with him being the shy guy he is, well...my heart went out to him. I knew he knew the information but I was concerned with how well he'd be able to present it.


He seemed to do very well and he said the judge he spoke with seemed very interested and impressed with his rundown of the experiment. I was so very proud of him! I told him later that night that I didn't have to present my projects as a kid and I'm not sure I would have survived it if I did.

The kids weren't going to find out until the morning announcements today who actually won the science fair. The Boy is hoping for a 2nd or 3rd place ribbon (but he chose to wear a blue shirt to think positive for a 1st place ribbon). He knows he did well. I know he did well. I just hope there is some confirmation from the school that he did well, too so he continues to do it in future science fairs throughout middle school.

Update: The Boy brought home a second place ribbon for his project! He was very pleased except that he was "beat by a girl".



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Monday, April 11, 2011

French White by Corningware

I love French White CorningWare pieces. I've wanted them for years and finally got some for Christmas last year. Then suddenly, they started to show up at my local thrift store.

There seems to always be an endless supply of smaller French White CorningWare dishes at the thrift store, but every once in awhile you come across something great - like this large 4 liter oval roaster (no lid):

Image Source: eBay

eBay price: from $20 - 65.00 (does not include shipping)
My price: $6.00


Or this French White CorningWare 10" round quiche pan:


eBay price: $9.45 - $14.99 (does not include shipping)
My price: $2.70


Or my very frequently used French White CorningWare 13 x 9 baking dish:


You can still buy it new for $24.99
But why should you when you can find it at a thrift store for $4.00?



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Francescan Madeira Creamer

The Francescan Madeira Dinnerware set was made between 1967 and 1983. I acquired a set from my parents and have been slowly adding to it. I love the chocolate brown and the olive green combo. The glassware set is VERY 70's looking so I stick to only the dishes and serving pieces.

Aside from a large vegetable bowl, I didn't receive any serving pieces with the set from my parents, but no matter...every once in awhile I come across some at the thrift store - like this cute creamer:


Retail Cost (on eBay): Anywhere from $6.99 to $14.99
My Cost: $2.91 minus 25% VIP Discount



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One Man's Junk...

I love, love, LOVE the thrift store! I am a sucker for a bargain and love a good thrift store so (of course) one of the first places Mr. LH introduced me to in Colorado was a local thrift store (Unique Thrift Store). Oh...my! Considering I can outfit my children in decent clothes for the year for less than it would cost me for a couple of pairs of designer jeans for ONE child (the teen) at retail price, it's no wonder I keep going back!

I've been able to add on multiple pieces to the French White bake ware set Mr. LH got me for Christmas (Thank you, sweetie! You know how long I've been eyeballing those!) for less than the original set costs in the first place.

I've been able to find matching serving pieces for my Madeira dinner ware set that I got from my parents.

I held out on buying the latest Dan Brown book until I was able to get it in hardcover at the thrift store..for $2!

We were able to outfit the family (that's 5 people) in snow boots, snow pants, heavy coats, gloves and hats for about $50.

The kids have a fantastic wooden train table (with rolling drawers beneath it) for $4 that they use for their legos.

Once a month the thrift store has a 50% off sale for VIP members (you can sign up any day of the week except Thursdays - their regular VIP 25% off day). You don't know when 50% off day is, but they send an email out a couple of days before. Be sure you get there early, too! People are lined up at the door waiting for the doors to open!

I rave about this thrift store so much that Mr. LH suggested I start a blog about it. Or at least about the deals we find. Maybe I will...someday.

So Wednesday is college t-shirt day and you don't have anything to wear? No problem!

We need serving dishes for the graduation party? I know just where to get them!

Children's books starting at 69 cents a piece...



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All Eyes & Hair

We recently agreed to participate in a multi-family yard sale. I took the opportunity to go through our piles of half unpacked boxes and re-packed the bulk of them with items (I think) we won't need until after we find our permanent Colorado home.

In the midst of everything, I ran across a wheat grass stuffed googly-eyed character that The Boy received as a gift awhile ago. It's one of those sawdust stuffed characters that you can water to grow "hair". The Boy had always kept the little egg-shaped guy on his desk still in the package - never wanting to grow his "hair" because then he'd be finished with and would have to be tossed out.


The little guy's sentimental value must have run out or been overtaken by the thought of finally watching his spiky green hair grow because the morning of the first day back from Spring Break, "Egg-Head" was soaked in water and placed by the window to The Boy's loud sigh of "FINALLY!"

The poor guy looked like he was pleading to get out of the bag.


One week later, we noticed a couple of sprouts popping up from "Egg-Head's" top so we removed him from his warm greenhouse of a zip top bag, gave him a fresh drink of water and placed him back in his sunny spot by the window among the cilantro, basil, peace lilies, violets and my hydrangea. It's a bit crowded there, but we'll hope for the best.


There aren't many sunny windows in this house. I think it's because so few of the homes here have any sort of air conditioning system installed so the lack of south/west facing windows reduces the amount of heat created inside during the summer (and even spring & fall) months.

The Girl is hoping he'll grow a mohawk.




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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April (Snow) Showers

Okay, I'm used to snow in March. For at least the past 3 years there has been snow in North Carolina in early March (early meaning the first few days of March). So here it was, April, 1500+ miles away from NC, the day after a gorgeous sunny 80 degree day...


The storm caught us by surprise so we check the weather - and sure enough...


It didn't last too long - a couple hours maybe. And the world was again clean and white (I was all melted by the following afternoon).




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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Vail Adventure

Ever since our first trip to Vail, Colorado in 2008 for the Vail Film Festival, Mr. LH and I have wanted to take the kids there. We never dreamed at the time that we would ever be living so close to Vail, but that's the way life works sometimes.



As it happens, Mr. LH was a judge for this years Film Festival and earned a couple of passes so we planned a trip up to Vail Village over the kid's Spring Break during the 2011 Vail Film Festival.

We felt a little twinge of regret at choosing this particular Saturday for our trip since Denver was expecting highs in the 70's while Vail was expected to be 20 degrees lower. The "Pickles" were so excited to pack the car with their snow gear (just in case) and "goodies" (they love having snacks in the car) that whatever regrets we had disappeared before we even got on the road.

Vail, Colorado is a good 2 hour journey from our house, and while we would have preferred to have the kids looking out the car windows enjoying the beautiful views, they were good travelers with their handheld games and toys.


We stopped for a break and a stretch in Georgetown where we visited last fall during our explorations. The winds were still whipping through the valley and though the kids begged to go to the fabulous playground again, we didn't stay for long. Vail was still at least an hour further down the highway.

There was snow and slush everywhere and the mounds of snow on the sides of the road got higher the further west we went. It was definitely melting, though. Every once in awhile we spotted a waterfall of water coming down the mountain or streaming out of rock walls forming massive ice creations.



There was still plenty of snow in Vail and there were plenty of skiers taking advantage of it! Though April is the tail end of ski season here, from the looks of things, skiers could enjoy another few weeks of the sport. Vail still boasted an 87" base - more snow than we had seen all winter in Aurora!

Since we were in Vail mainly to introduce the kids to the town, we decided to skip picking up Mr. LH's Film Festival passes and just enjoy whatever the town had to offer. The Gondola ride up the mountain was free after 2pm so we spent our time doing other things until then:


...watching the ice skaters on the outdoor rink...


...meandering through a fossil and jewelry shop...


...and taking a walking tour of the west side of town.



Once we got on the Gondola, The Girl forgot her imagined fear of heights (I have no idea when THAT started) and without their video games to keep them occupied, the "Pickles" finally looked out the clear walls of the Gondola and "ooh'd and ahh'd" at the scenery.



The views from the top of Vail Mountain were breathtaking - and at 11,570 feet, they should be!


That tall peak in the center of the photograph is Mt. Holy Cross - one of the fourteeners in the state. It is called Mount of the Holy Cross because natural crevices in the side of the mountain when filled in with snow, form a cross that is 1500 feet tall.

We found a small wood fire outside ready to warm our chilled hands.



We stomped around the summit for a bit (thank goodness we didn't sink down into the snow)...


...then headed back down the mountain to find a pirate ship playground Mr. LH and I remembered from our previous trip. It was on the other side of town and would be a hefty walk.

The Girl wrestled the sea serpent...


And The Boy walked the plank...



Mr. LH went exploring around the creek while the kids played.


It was getting late and we still had one last place we wanted to stop before heading home...Moe's for dinner!



I had been craving their cornbread for a long time. There is one closer to home but we just hadn't gotten around to finding it yet.

By 6:15 we were on the road headed home. Some of us were a bit wet from playing in melting snow, but all of us were happy and had full bellies. We had hoped to get back before night fell but when you're having so much fun, the time seems to get away from you.

The scenery on the way home was no less awe-inspiring as it was heading in the opposite direction. In fact, with the sun slowly fading and the mountain peaks catching the last rays, the view might have even been more spectacular.

It was strange driving by these towering mountains and seeing the tree line so close to us.



As we neared the Eisenhower Tunnel heading back toward Denver, Mr. LH asked if I could take a picture of the view behind us. I looked back and the scene took my breath away...


So that's where heaven is - in the Rocky Mountains west of the Continental Divide.



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