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Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Day at the Falls: Taking a Family Day Trip to Niagara

 Our family just returned from our summer vacation farther north.  We spent one day at Niagara Falls, NY, after many months of planning what we'd most like to do on this side of the border.

 I had been to the falls twice decades ago, but always on the Canadian side in Ontario.  There isn't quite as much to do on the American side, and my kiddos gazed longingly across the Niagara River at the large hotels, ferris wheel, and tower that they could clearly see from the US.

But we spent plenty of time hiking the many trails along the Niagara River to take in every possible view of the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls.  We were on our feet most of the day.  

We started out walking from the Niagara Falls Visitor's Center and approached the falls from up high near the rapids.  Then we crossed the bridge to Goat Island and hiked down closer to the tip of the American Falls.

If you stood close to the railing, you almost felt as if you were going over the edge.

And you got wet.

Some of us stood back and simply took pictures.

Even though I have heard great things about the Maid of the Mist ferry ride that takes you up close the base of the falls, I wouldn't agree to doing that because even with the poncho they gave you, those people looked drenched.

So we simply kept on hiking until we got to the Horseshoe Falls, which were definitely more impressive to our boys, but because of the mist, they were harder to photograph and see well.

After walking through the crowds of people from all over the world for an hour and a half, our kids were drooping, so we popped into the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch.

Our children had never been to this franchise before and raved about the size of the hamburgers for days.  It was mostly 80s music playing with music videos on the screens from my teen years, which was kind of nostalgic for me, I guess.  But I have to say that seeing Billy Idol and a bunch of big-haired, leather-wearing young women dancing rather provocatively doesn't seem cool anymore now that I'm seeing it through the eyes of my children. 

After sustenance and resting our legs, we made the 1.5 mile walk to the Aquarium of Niagara.  We like to support small museums with a family membership each summer wherever we travel, so we did the same here.

Even though my younger children enjoyed watching the sea lions show off and swim around, I have to say I was rather disappointed.  After having been to the aquariums in the Baltimore Harbor, Charleston, and the penguin house at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, this one paled in comparison.

We spent about an hour and a half there, but only because our daughter kept wanting to look in the gift shop.  It was small, rather rundown, and very crowded.  Plus the layout of it was kind of weird.  I definitely wouldn't go again.

After hiking back down to the parking lot and getting more pictures of the falls from yet another angle, we were ready to call it a day.  We were being approached by a number of strangers asking for money---something my children have never experienced before---and it was getting hot and very crowded.  We spent about five hours there, which felt long enough, and I was glad we hadn't made this a week-long destination like I had considered doing.  It was awesome seeing these famous waterfalls as a family, but we were pressed to find enough interesting things to fill our day that weren't...tacky.  I think if we went again, we would probably visit some places in nearby Buffalo, but my kids just really wanted to veg out and not walk anymore.  So we drove the two hours back to their grandparents' house, stopping at a college (more about that another day) and a restaurant for a light dinner, and everyone slept late the next morning because we were beat. 

And being the list-maker that I am, I can now check that off the bucket list of places I'd like my kids to see.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A First Birthday Party in the Hundred Acre Wood

It's hard to believe, but our grandson turned one yesterday, and his mama and daddy threw him a party in his own little Hundred Acre Wood.  The party was in the screened-in porch of their lovely colonial stone farmhouse, and they converted it into a scene from the Winnie the Pooh story books.

Branches of trees on their property were cut by his daddy to create his own personal forest on the patio.  His mama painted the signs herself in the morning before guests arrived. 

Balloons, streamers, and other brightly colored decorations filled the party room, but the birthday boy most definitely loved the balloons most of all.

You can't see them, but the gift table held stuffed Pooh characters, and there were other plush Pooh friends peeking out in other places as well.

One of his aunties made these adorable vanilla cupcakes with honey bees on top.

While another auntie made him his own little cake to crumble, mash, and destroy.

He really wasn't sure what to make of it all at first and was surprisingly neat about eating it.

But I would say that other than getting a bit tired once the gift unwrapping was underway, the guest of honor was quite happy with his first birthday.

And even though yet another storm was raging outside, we all had a lovely time celebrating such a special day for a special little boy. 

A special thanks to T. Brown for most of the photos in this post.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Learning Bunco!

In my quest to bring people together to enjoy one another's company face-to-face, some friends and I decided to start up a Bunco group.  When our family lived in a charming Southern suburb decades ago, Bunco was the big thing with the SAHM crowd.  I was never a part of one, but I did create Bunco-themed soaps to sell as prizes at these Bunco parties.  They sounded like a lot of fun, so when a friend approached me with an interest a few months ago, I jumped on board.

There is a plethora of information on the Web regarding this game.  We thought that would make it simple to learn the rules, but what we discovered is that nearly every website has variations of the rules, which made things rather confusing for all of us newbies.  However, the themes and food and decorating ideas I found on blogs and Pinterest were fantastic.  There are so many fun things I'd like to try the next time I host one of these gatherings, and maybe I'll actually have the time when I'm not overseeing so many outdoor projects that are happening simultaneously. 

I didn't actually have a Bunco game myself, so I was fortunate enough to find free downloadable printables of score sheets, table markers, and extra lists of rules.  These can be found at

Although I found adorable homemade cupcakes with sugar cubes made to look like dice, I took a shortcut and bought miniature cupcakes from Weis and placed real dice on them that we can use to play with later.  The awesome edible ones found on Pinterest can be made by following the instructions at

All kinds of prizes can be used to award the various winners (and losers, and random participants).  Some groups simply pitch in $5 each month and the prizes are monetary.  Since this was our first time to gather and play, and it was at our farmhouse with our bottom refrigerator shelf full of farm fresh eggs, every prize was a carton of brown eggs.  I look forward to playing this again next month, especially now that we all have a better idea of how to play and keep score, and I especially look forward to hosting again and trying out some Pinterest Bunco inspiration.

For those of you interested in hosting your own group or who just need some fresh ideas, these are  some of the pins I collected:

And just to show you what was going on in my backyard in the hours leading up to our first Bunco Night (along with another wicked thunderstorm and broken water pipes on the other side of our property): 

This is where our pool had been, now covered in grass seed and straw with last year's garden down below covered in plastic to kill weeds until we can get some raised beds built for a flower garden.  This job was literally finished just a few hours before my game-playing friends arrived, and although it's an eyesore, it's still a vast improvement from what it looked like last week.  Five days ago you'd have thought we had a mini-landfill in our back yard.

I'm now in the fun dreaming and planning stages of a backyard oasis.  Back to Pinterest I go.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

About Those Low-Carb Diets...

Atkins, Paleo, Mediterranean, Keto diets.  I'd heard about them for years.  We had friends who would come for dinner and eat very little of what I cooked.  They ordered hamburgers without buns, had salads instead of potatoes, and ate eggs and bacon for breakfast instead of bagels or waffles.  I thought to myself, "Good for them, but there is no way I could ever do that."  

But this year, I went and did do just that.

I have been blessed with fairly good genetics, at least where weight is concerned.  Throughout my twenties, as long as I taught aerobics classes and did some strength training weekly, I could eat whatever I wanted and remain a size 2-4.  In my thirties while carrying, birthing, and nursing five babies, I still ate whatever I wanted and stayed under a size  6-8.  But around the time I reached my mid-forties and was no longer breastfeeding or chasing toddlers around, I noticed the weight creeping up little by little.  I had to go up another size, and then another.  Everything seemed to be settling around my middle, and I felt bloated and uncomfortable all the time.  Additionally, I craved sugar and simple carbohydrates more and more.  The more I craved them, the more I ate them.  I felt my self-discipline waning, and I felt more sluggish and less motivated to go for a hike or do some yoga or hit some tennis balls with my children.  When my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I knew that I needed to get my sugar addiction under control.  I tried to use will-power.  I told myself I would only have dessert on the weekends and I'd cut out breads from my lunch.  I did this intermittently, but those pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks in the fall, Christmas cookies and hot chocolate in the winter, Easter candy in the spring, and ice cream in the summer got the better of me.  I might lose five pounds or so after the winter holidays before summer came, but in the fall I'd gain it back again.  I would begin each year a few pounds heavier and an inch wider around my middle than the previous year.

However, that changed in late-February when I decided I had nothing to lose but pounds and inches by trying to majorly reduce carbohydrates from my daily food intake.  What once comprised a good 70% or more of my diet got reduced to less than 25%.  I went from eating probably several hundreds of grams of carbs some days to eating under fifty a day.  I didn't follow any one specific program; I just did a lot of research and daily chose foods that were low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats and proteins.  That has meant whole, unprocessed foods for the most part.  Meat, eggs (which we have no shortage of here), nuts and seeds, greens, most vegetables that grow above ground, heavy cream, full-fat hard cheese and cottage cheese, and a bit of yogurt.   This has been a huge change for me, and it's one I never thought I would want to make or that I would be successful at keeping.

In all honesty, I do cheat a little.  I sometimes have a dessert.  I eat some berries with my eggs some mornings at breakfast.  I have discovered that if I don't eat many carbs the rest of the day, I can have a 1/2 cup of full-fat ice cream and only consume 16 grams of carbohydrates.  I know that has sugar in it, and it's not ideal, but it's still far less sugar than I used to consume.  And once in awhile I break down and get that 500 calorie frappuccino at Starbucks and go over my entire day's allotment of carbohydrates with that one stinking drink.  But instead of giving into the temptation several days a week, it happens about once every few months.  My point is, I don't follow this plan as strictly as many others would advocate that you should, but I am looking at this as a lifetime change, not a quick fix.  And there are a lot of celebrations and holidays in a lifetime that I'm not willing to completely forego indulging in a slice of homemade pie or cake once in awhile.

Even with those occasional indulgences, I have seen success in a way that I wasn't sure was possible for me at this age.  I did lose 4-5 pounds in the very first week of cutting my carbs to 20-50 grams/day.  This was primarily water weight, but my stomach was flatter, my pants felt looser, and it gave me the motivation to stick with it.  Over the past 4 1/2 months, I've lost around 14 pounds, over 2 inches from my waist, and I've dropped 1-2 sizes in pants and shorts.  I haven't been able to successfully get down to this weight in over 4 years trying anything else.  Not by cutting fat, exercising more, occasional fasting, or simply reducing calories.  I'm not saying that eating a low-carb diet is right for everyone, but it has been a positive experience for me.

Now, I'm not going to kid certainly comes with its sacrifices.  I haven't consumed a single craft beer (or any beer) since mid-February.  I haven't eaten pasta, rice, or bread of any kind.  Instead of snacking on crackers, pretzels, popcorn, or cookies, I have 1/4 cup of nuts or sunflower seeds instead.  I do sometimes eat dark chocolate-covered almonds or honey-roasted peanuts, which have some carbohydrates, but far fewer than the other processed snack foods.  I rarely do any baking anymore because I cannot resist licking the beaters or the wooden spoon.  And to pull some steaming homemade chocolate chip cookies out of my oven and not eat a single one is just torture.  So I don't do it.  Initially, I really missed drinking juice with a bagel or a muffin for breakfast, but now it's not such a big deal.  I think that eating out in restaurants is the hardest because it often means that I'm limited to a salad of one type or another.  If I can order meat free of sauces or breading, I have that with  one or two low-carb veggies.  Mostly, I try to focus on the things that I love that I can still have: dry wine, a bit of dark chocolate, and heavy cream in my coffee.  I know that I never would have made it this far if I'd have given up those.

So I am going forth with the resolve to continue this way of eating and living.  My husband has gotten on board as well, which does make it easier.  Learning that I am not powerless to defeat the middle-aged spread is empowering, and fitting into clothes that have hung unworn in my wardrobe for years is a great motivator to stick with it---even with a daughter in the house who creates the best cupcakes in the world.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Summer of '17 Photo Gallery #2

More summer photos as we enter the middle of summer already.  There's been a lot of baking going on in our farmhouse kitchen---this summer by our 15 year-old daughter.  It's all so good, but I'm trying very hard to limit myself to very small portions or just a taste.  Surely there are no carbs or calories in just a taste, right?

Our grandson tags along with us to all our usual summer spots once a week.  His aunties and uncles absolutely adore him.

This past week he began walking while he was with us at the house of some friends.  It was just as exciting to see him take his first steps as it was with all of my own children.

We've been trying out some new restaurants the past couple of weeks.

We're venturing out and sampling places we wouldn't normally try.  And we've been pleasantly surprised every time.  This summer for me is about taking some chances, stepping out of my comfort zone, and being open to adventure.

Don't get me wrong; I love our country life.

Our little farm on the mountain brings its unique beauty and peace...

...and its own type of quirky excitement. 

But as we celebrated my grandmother's 99th birthday with her this weekend, I knew that I want to live the rest of my life to the fullest.  That means taking some chances, doing something different, and seizing opportunities as they come. 

And loving and enjoying everything in my life that I already have.