Monday, July 18, 2016

monday morning catch ups. (the first half of July!)

It's time for another catch ups post to keep track of our daily life.

/1/ Last Friday, Anna finished her first two weeks of summer camp at the nearby RECenter. The overall experience was....okay. She gave it a rating of 5 out of 10. It was a "variety" camp, and her biggest dislike was the daily outside time. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if the weather was decent, but we are having one of the hottest summers ever (average temp in the 90s every day) and she just doesn't do well in the heat. The kids also had to eat lunch outside, which was just ridiculous to me. Even though it was under a tent, the humidity and heat would still put me in a bad mood as well.

On the bright side, Anna did say that if it wasn't for the outside time, she would have loved the camp. I liked that there was daily swim. All in all, it was one of those "you get what you paid for" type of situations. This camp was on the cheaper side so I really wasn't expecting much. She's in a new camp the next two weeks and we shall see how it goes. I will do a complete camp review at the end of the summer :)

/2/ Will is loving his own summer program at school. Each week is a new theme. So far - Star Wars & Space, Ocean & Beach, and Western Round-Up. This week is Super Hero and there will be a magic show on Party Day. So, yes, he's having a great, fun-filled summer!

/3/ We came back from Williamsburg on the first of July, and here is a summary of what we have been up to:
-- Played with sparklers and other fireworks - on 7/4 and again on 7/15 (because fireworks were B1G2 FREE). Kids had fun! Anna is no longer afraid of sparklers!
-- Cub Run RECenter fun pool with friends. $16 for the entire family.
-- An impromptu gathering with hubs' side of the family, where we had pizza and played with more fireworks (Pop Its).
-- In preparation of DW, we watched The Lion King, Tarzan, Mulan, and Pocahontas.
-- Discovery Trail Map -This is my own little project and we only have 3 more parks to go before that prize pack is ours :) I will blog more about this and share the pictures when we are done.
-- Played tennis twice at Nottoway Park.
-- Piano and swim lesson. I am disappointed that the swim school will be closed in August and September, but they will start again in October.
-- Luke gave the kids our old phones and they learned to text. But mostly they are using it to play #pokemongo.....#gottacatchemall.
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^^The only time they will walk without complaining.^^

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

the rest of our vacation & two great restaurants to try in Williamsburg

The first thing we did on our Williamsburg vacation, before even checking-in at the resort, was stopping by Walmart and loading up on food to last a week. I really loved that our condo-style unit had a full-size kitchen with all the cookware we needed to make meals at home. With kids, sometimes it's just easier to cook their favorites at home, rather than spending a ton at restaurants for food that they are picky about, which creates frustration for Luke and me. We ended up cooking all the breakfast (turkey and egg sandwiches, Crescent rolls with jelly) and some lunches (Ramen noodles with veggies and chicken) at home. Easy and cheap!
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Besides hopping between Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, we went to the resort pool a lot. The kids loved the pool and probably were just as happy there as the parks. Since the kids have had a few swim lessons by the time we went on the vacation, Luke decided to ditch arm floaties and get them pool noodles instead. I wasn't on board when he suggested the idea, but the kids did just fine. It was easier for them to practice swimming with head in the water :) (Note: After a week of swimming, when Will had his swim class the following week, his teacher said he had a great class!)
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As I mentioned it before, Will was a little sick during the vacation. But the worst part was that while napping together the day before the last day, he got hit squarely in the eye by Anna. This seemingly minor eye injury really caused some grief for poor Will. Although, I know a scratched cornea can be extremely painful, so I didn't blame him for whining and crying for the rest of the day. We had planned to go to Colonial Williamsburg that evening, but obviously that didn't happen.
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We thought a good night sleep would heal his eye, but he woke up the next morning still complaining about it. So we finally went to CVS and got him an eye patch. THEN we went to Colonial Williamsburg :) It was super hot and sticky that morning, though. We were all pretty grumpy.
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Anyway, before I wrap up, I just want to mention these two great new-to-us restaurants that we tried. The first one is Chopsticks Pho Grill. There is hardly any Vietnamese restaurants in Williamsburg, so I really hope this one sticks around. The service was friendly and fast. The food was fresh and tasty. Portions were HUGE. A new favorite for sure!
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^^We got two large pho and a grilled beef & shrimp vermicelli bowl to share.^^

Even though Will got jabbed in the eye, we still decided to go out to eat at Peter Chang (it was the last night and we were all out of food at home). This meal was anything but peaceful because Will was off and on crying out in pain through it all. But I also have to admit that the main dishes we ordered did not wow me (Luke loved the fish with pine nut though). However, I DID like the appetizers (not pictured)! Their signature scallion bubble pancake was delicious and the pan-fried buns with meat stuffing (生煎包) tasted just like the ones in Taiwan. I will be back to give the restaurant another try....when I am not distracted by a certain little boy.
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^^That was Will the entire time :(^^

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Water County USA!

Water Country USA was a hit for us as well, and that really came as a surprise to me. I mean, the kids love the pool, but aren't really into waterparks. I still remember Great Wolf Lodge when all Anna wanted to do was soak in the hot tub. But I guess a year and half can make all the difference because they adore Water Country. Even more so than Busch Gardens and we will most definitely be back!
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-- Our 2-Park Fun Card also included unlimited admission to Water Country and the 7-day parking pass ($25) worked there as well. Again, super convenient and affordable. We visited the waterpark twice and, on both days, they were hot enough to be enjoyable for water play :)

-- I thought the kids would only like the kiddie splash areas, like Kritter Korral and Cow-A-Bunga. Those areas have fun fountains, splash zones, small animal slides, water cannons, and water only two feet deep. Well, I was partially right. They did like those areas...but what they loved even more was climbing into those rafts that fit the entire family and then sliding down twisty flumes and tunnels, such as Aquazoid, Big Daddy Falls, and Meltdown.

-- The kids were too short for Vanishing Point, nor I think they would be brave enough for it anyway, but the hubs went on this horizontal slide that dropped him straight down. It was crazy, but looked awesome. I was too chicken to try it myself.
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-- I was glad that by the time we went to Water Country, the kids have had a month of swim class already. I really believe swim class helped them to have that much more fun at the waterpark. They were comfortable in the water (even without life jackets) and didn't care about getting splashed in the face, something that they were reluctant on before.
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-- We all liked Hubba Hubba Highway aka the lazy river. We put on life jackets and just floated along the soft current. The water was so cooling and relaxing. Anna liked to be ahead while the rest of us trailed behind. We did several rounds of that.
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-- Tips: Bring your own towels. Water Country does not provide them and we didn't know that on our first visit. Thank goodness it was a hot day so towels were not completely necessary. Also, lockers. They are available, but $$$, so we didn't bother with them and our belongings were fine.

-- It sure was nice seeing the kids so excited, seeing them getting back in line for more again and again. I had many parenting high moments :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Busch Gardens: How We Did It

The last time (also the first) I went to Busch Gardens was over 12 years ago and regrettably don't remember a thing about it. So when we planed our vacation, I was excited to add Busch Gardens to our itinerary...something essentially new for me and I knew the kids would love all the rides. Our "Fun Card" ticket option gave us unlimited admission during our entire stay in Williamsburg, and we didn't get sick of it after a week there. Overall, I recommend Busch Gardens for those who are local to the area -- it's so affordable and the park itself is just beautiful!
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-- We bought our tickets (2-Park Fun Card) back in February and they were $77 each. It is now $102 online. Tip: Plan ahead and buy early! (Will was eligible for the free Preschool Pass, but the pass had to be redeemed by early June, so we couldn't take advantage of it.) We also bought a 7-day parking pass for $25, instead of paying $15 daily.

-- We visited the park 4 times. For each visit, we stayed 3-4 hours, except for the last visit which we stayed less than an hour (just stopping by to get some raccoon stuffies for the kids). Between all those visits, we managed to ride all the rides that we wanted/could go on.

-- There are "KIDsiderate" rides for children throughout the park, but there are two specific areas where it is ALL kiddie rides - Sesame Street Forest of Fun and Land of the Dragons. The rides at Sesame Street is a tad more thrilling them the Land of the Dragons. The Land of the Dragons is actually really babyish, but there is a tree house and rope obstacle course that the kids really enjoyed.
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^^Mini Ferries wheel^^

-- Buying extra is something I never go for, but Luke is a sucker for those carnival games, especially when the kids beg for them. I was not happy that we spent $15 on a couple of games and we didn't win anything in return. Finally at Sesame Street, at this particular station where "everyone wins!", the kids got their souvenirs.
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^^So happy about those raccoons! They each got 2.^^

-- However, I had no problem paying $5 for a cup of nectar to feed the birds in Lorikeet Glen for some photo opportunities.
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-- Anna surprised me with her willingness to try all the rides (at least all the ones she met the height requirement). Somehow she has become an adrenaline junkie. I, on the other hand, am definitely not. I was happy to sit out on most rides. I told Luke, "I am like an old lady now." He didn't disagree.

-- We watched several shows -- London Rocks, Celtic Fyre, and More...Pet Shenanigans. There are several showings throughout the day so it's easy to squeeze them all in, even if you are just at the park for a day. I thought they were all very nicely done :)
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-- We only ate once inside the park, at Das Festhaus in Germany, so I don't have any food recommendations. The food was decent (I liked the meat platter), but, not surprisingly, expensive. A big money saver for us was my friend's Busch Gardens Souvenir Cup. Using that cup, we could go to any ice/water machine and fill up for free. Soda is 99 cents to fill up, but we don't drink soda.

-- Busch Gardens is dubbed the World's Most Beautiful Theme Park and I can see why. The park is landscape in detailed European themes and just very pretty to walk around...it kind of reminds me of the World Showcase in Disney's EPCOT. Lots of lush greenery and beautiful blooms. My favorite part of the park is the small replica of England near the park entrance (first picture in the post).
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-- But the VERY BEST part of Busch Gardens was seeing the kids' big happy smiles and their good attitude to try new things. I also loved the water rides (La Scoot and Roman Rapids) that we got to go on as a family. We were all soaked by the end!
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-- We will most likely go to Busch Gardens again next year, especially since the kids LOVED the water park too. A post on Water Country USA is coming up next!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Mama's Test Kitchen: Crock Pot Spare Ribs

Crock pot ribs 😍
I made these spare ribs in the crock pot yesterday on the 4th of July. They were easy to make, and so so tasty. The hardest part was preparing the ribs for cooking (removing the membrane and cutting them to individual pieces), which the husband took care of. All I had to do was mix the dry rub, rub it all over the ribs, and place them in the crock pot. After about 6 hours of cooking on low, the meat was soft and literally fell off the bone! Delicious and full of flavor too!

Every time after I cook with crock pot, I always wonder why I only use it once a year. Crock pot meals are so easy, and the convenience of it can't be beat for any working parents. I need to find more recipes.

Oh, and those squash. Luke's dad grew them in his vegetable garden and they were absolutely better than store-bought. Even the kids agreed.

--
A review on Crock Pot Spare Ribs:
Result: 4 out of 4
Will I make it again: Yes!
Chef’s Notes: We didn't have smoked paprika on hand so I skipped that. I feel this recipe can be easily modified...just use the spices you have on hand. Although I think cumin and brown sugar were key ingredients so I wouldn't necessary skip those. Just before serving, I bushed on Famous Dave's Sweet & Zesty sauce.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!