Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trip to Florida, March 2010, Part 2

Nothing too special happened on Wednesday or Thursday, as Jonathan was studying for and taking the first half of his comps. But, in the past week I've had a few people ask me what "comps" were, so I wanted to take a quick moment to explain.

Comprehensive Examinations (comps) are taken as part of some graduate programs, both on the Master's and Doctoral levels. The setup and selection of these exams varies by program and school, but the concept is pretty much the same everywhere. Basically, they're based on a single subject (specificity varies), and last several hours (2-4, generally) each. Most are writing-based, and there are only a handful of questions... sometimes you answer all of them, other times you can pick-and-choose.

After this much explanation, a couple people have said "didn't you take those back in high school?" Well... yes and no. Jonathan and I were both part of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, and we did take tests like that for 2-6 hours a day for ten days or so. They were much more general in nature than comps, and they were graded in other countries (and it took months to get results), not by the professors (whom you usually know) who write the tests. But essentially, it was choosing certain questions, having to answer other ones, and writing essay-answers for various topics for several hours a day. When I think about how hectic comps are for everyone, it makes me wonder how in the world we managed to get through IB exams before we even went to college!

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BK, Tori, and I got together for our typical evening of Olive Garden & Phase 10 (a card game) on Friday. Tori's boyfriend Josh joined us, which is good because switching the game from three people to four changes the gameplay we're accustomed to.

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Saturday had us in different places. Jonathan, Joe, and Ebad went camping at Kissimmee Prairie Reserve State Park (sound familiar? Joe took Bryan, DJ, and I there on an afternoon Joeventure last July). They made ribs and had some nice weather.

Meanwhile, Tori and I headed to Universal Studios in Orlando. I hadn't been to the park in about seven years (although it might have been six), unless you count Halloween Horror Nights, but since you don't go on the rides then and parts of the park are closed, I don't count that. Tori hadn't been in several years, either. Plus, with 3 Doors Down as the musical guest that night (during Universal's "Mardi Gras" celebration, there are certain nights that have concerts), it sounded like a great idea to us (remember, we love concerts).

There was some sort of national cheerleading competition going on, plus there were several high school bands there as well. This meant more people in the park (counting toward the maximum capacity), but less on the rides. And I can certainly say that worked in our favor!
We started our day off with Terminator 2: 3D. It's one of those big rooms where you sit in a chair, and a show goes on (CGI and live action), and you wear 3D glasses. It was okay. Then we went to the ET Adventure, which was pretty much how I remembered it - you ride a bicycle (not literally) in a cart of 8 and go through the woods (running from the police), then end up on ET's planet. It was hard to make out the names (you personalize your experience by entering your name at the beginning), but it's always a fun ride.

Then it was on to The Simpsons Ride. The line was kinda fun, because it's like walking through a funhouse. The ride itself is a re-done version of Back to the Future, where eight of you sit in a car and it moves to go along with what's happening on-screen. It was pretty fun, but it wouldn't be worth waiting an hour for (we only waited like fifteen minutes). After that it was over to Men In Black: Alien Attack. It's the same as the Buzz Lightyear ride if you've been on that. If you haven't, you're in a car of six and each person has an infrared gun to shoot aliens. You try to get as many points as you can. Tori and I went single-rider on this one (changed wait time from 35 minutes to less than 10), but she did much better than me. Her score was over 100k, while mine was just shy of 30k, LoL.I'm glad we decided to go on Jaws next, since it's the only ride you get really wet on, and it was still early in the day. It was okay... much shorter than either of us remembered, and certainly not worth a long wait (especially on a cold day). We surveyed our lunch options and went with Richter's Burgers, where I had a burger and Tori had a chicken sandwich. Nothing awesome, but it was good and filled us up for the rest of the day. We caught part of the Blues Brothers Show as we made out way to the Universal Horror Make-Up Show. It was funny, but not informative, as one would expect. Plus, the main reasons it was funny was because one of the volunteers wouldn't cooperate and another didn't speak English. Then we did Revenge of the Mummy. It was very different... picture Rock n Roller Coaster without the music, with a touch of Expedition Everest. In other words, it's in the dark (but not as tame as Space Mountain) the entire time, and there's a part where the tracks switch and you go backwards. This was our longest wait (almost 40 minutes), but we got front row (actually, we had front row the ENTIRE day, which is incredibly unusual), so it was pretty good.

Then, we went through the disappointment of Twister. For some reason, I remembered it being much cooler. In reality, you watch a short video of the making-of the film, then go into a large room to witness a semi-boring scene where a tornado damages a corner of a town. I dunno, I wouldn't recommend it unless it's hot out and you're bored.

We tried to do the Delancey Street Previews, but they weren't showing anything that day. So we went over and did Shrek 4-D, which was pretty fun. There's a long time where you stand in a room and wait, being entertained by the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, Gingerbread Man, and Lord Faarquard. The actual employee who was telling us about the ride, etc. was very inappropriate, so we think it was probably his last day or something. I did get to participate tho, since he asked someone to define what "flogging" was, and I raised my hand first, LoL. Anyway, the ride itself was pretty good, another setup like The Simpsons Ride. But, since Shrek rides a horse, the cart jiggles up and down rapidly as well, which was fun.

I should mention that we kept checking on the times for Disaster! but they were long and we didn't want to wait so we kept doing other things. We seriously walked by there like 6 times before actually getting in line, LoL. When we did get in line, I decided to check to see if there was an app for my phone that could see wait times. Turns out there was! This aided us a little bit, but it would have been helpful earlier in the day (I used Ride Hopper Lite if anyone's interested). The ride itself was strange... first an employee chose like 7 people to "be in the movie." Then we saw a wonderful hologram (I want to saw it was Christopher Lloyd, but the face is escaping me at the moment), then the volunteers taped their scenes (and a funny The Rock joke began). Then we were led to a fake subway train where we all reacted to stuff around us as "extras." Fires, earthquakes, flooding, etc. Last, as the train brought us back, we saw the video that was put together of everything (pretty funny).

We went and walked through the kids' park. We watched 15 minutes of the Animal Actors show, which was pretty standard animal tricks for the most part. We walked through Fievel's Playland and (the dry) part of Curious George Goes to Town before heading back to the front of the park and jaunting through Lucy - A Tribute, which was a small museum of Lucille Ball memorabilia. Then, we got in line for our last ride of the day: Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast. We should have read the description, since we were surprised when we saw other characters on the ride, like the Rugrats and Hey, Arnold. It was another The Simpsons Ride, essentially. But there was a part where they did the Chicken Dance, and the carts got really bumpy and uncomfortable, LoL.

We actually did (or attempted, like Delancey) every attraction in the park, with the exceptions of the Barney show, the Woody Woodpecker children's rollercoaster, and the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue. Oh, but we didn't do Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit... the vertical climb was a bit much, plus the wait was never less than like 90 minutes. (and convincing Tori to do the big rides is always a struggle... and I had nobody to help convince her, LoL.)

Then we saw the Mardi Gras parade (and witnessed greedy tourists who don't know parade give-away etiquette) and the 3 Doors Down concert. The concert was pretty good, which is attributed to both the band and Universal's setup for them. No opener, but the set was a little over an hour, so no disappointment. The filing out of the park was ridiculous, but getting out of the garage was pretty straightforward, so it could have been a lot worse.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trip to Florida, March 2010, Part 1

I flew in on St. Patrick's Day; Jonathan took the same flight the following night. Not a whole of exciting stuff went on while we were in Florida, since there was a lot of administrative stuff to do, like dentist appointments, tax filing, and Jonathan taking his comprehensive examinations. But, there were a few out-of-the-ordinary events that took place, so here's the lowdown on them.

Saturday afternoon, I played in a dodgeball tournament. My brother had a team for the Buzz 103.1's annual contest, and he needed another female for his team to be legal, and I somehow got roped in, LoL. But, half of the team (at times) was my brother, sister, and I... so you know this was gonna be somewhat entertaining. I should mention that dodgeball is not my sport (LoL, I've already mentioned that I'm not good at running or at playing basketball, either. don't worry, I'm sure I'll talk about my softball days soon enough...). I did play on an intramural team my final semester of college. It was something that my residents put together, and I would have done anything for those girls. But, we managed to score a grand total of one point, ever. In all of the games/matches we ever took part in, we lost miserably, LoL. Therefore, I was kinda paranoid that I'd be horrible and bring down my brother's team.

However, that wasn't the case. In fact, our team was quite good. We won 3 of our 4 qualifying games, and the first of our two bracket games. Interestingly, both games we lost were to the same team, and that team went on to win second place overall... so although technically we were in a four-way-tie for 8th (unless you count qualifying round wins, but we're not), I think we were a bit better than that. Most of us agree that if our second bracket game was against a different team, we would probably have gotten to about 3rd place. And that's much better than how the team did last year, so good for everyone. It certainly helped that we had a couple of great catchers, and that (for some strange reason) Kyla and I were hardly ever targeted (it seemed like most other teams normally had the girls out first).After the game, we went to the after-party at a dive called Average Joe's, but it was, um, a dive, LoL. So, we left and went to Cheeseburgers & More, since a couple of the guys had been there and agreed the burgers were good. It wasn't the greatest place ever, and I certainly wasn't as impressed as some (neither was Kyla for that matter), but they did have some great onion rings. I also got out of there for $10 with tip, so not bad in that perspective.

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Another fun thing was a meal that we ate at Jonathan's parents' house. His mom used an Australian recipe for soup, and it was absolutely the stand-out dish to dinner. Very basic in creation (cabbage, potatoes, sausage), this tomato-based soup (that actually sounds rather Irish, LoL) turned out to be pretty good. And when paired with other light items like garlic cocktail shrimp and ham/turkey sandwiches, the meal came together excellently, especially considering we sat down shortly after 8pm. We also had yellow rice, which is a personal favorite (Jonathan loves it, too), so that was a great crowning touch.

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On the very first day of ninth grade, I had lunch with two of my best friends and a new kid (and new kids were rare, since almost everyone stayed at our school from grades 6-12). Alan (the new kid) became a very good friend of mine throughout high school (we had 4-6 classes together each year), and we've kept in touch through the years. I went to his wedding (Jonathan was video-ing another wedding that day) in Tennessee/Georgia (it was on Lookout Mountain, and I kept crossing state lines as I drove up it, so I don't remember which state I ended up in, LoL), and since then he moved to Nebraska, and now Georgia. BUT, it turned out that he was in Orlando the week we were, so we got together to have dinner there (it was also his birthday, but that was just a coincidence, LoL).

We met at Royal Thai (off Semoran Blvd.), and it was great to catch up for a while. We were also very impressed with the Thai food! Jonathan and Alan both had the panang curry, while I went with "drunken noodles." It was chicken and shrimp in flat rice noodles with vegetables and chili sauce. It wasn't fantastic, but it was good. The entire place smelled wonderful, and the prices were very reasonable. Both boys thought the panang was really good, although it looked very typical to me. It was different, however, that the meal was served on a plate instead of in a bowl, and that the rice was scooped out of a big pot by the server instead of giving each person a small plate of it. We all decided that it was pretty good and we'd go there again. It was a shame we only got to see Alan for about an hour, but I'll take an hour every three years over nothing! :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Buho's & Buck's Ice Cream

It's HARD to find good Mexican in our area of Pennsylvania. In fact, it's rather difficult to find any Mexican that's non-chain AT ALL. So, when Kasey & Michele mentioned that they liked a Mexican place in downtown Lambertville (NJ) we met them for a weekend lunch.

We actually had a difficult time getting there, since we had a horrible rainstorm that lasted three days, and left downed trees and washed-out roads everywhere. At one point there was a tree blocking the entire road, so we had to backtrack and go another way. Good thing we took the Charger, it had much higher ground clearance than Corolla!

The meters run from 1pm-9pm on Sundays in Lambertville, so it was also lucky that we picked up two quarters the night before from a parking lot, haha! It also turned out that we had walked by Buho's before, as it's right next to a puzzle and game store we went to with Kyla back in July/August.

The place had it's ups and downs. We were almost the only people there, so we had quick service. I get the impression it's family-owned, and the English spoken by the employees was not the greatest. Actually, the place reminded me quite a bit of Salsa's, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Melbourne (FL). Which, if you didn't click to read my old review, means I didn't care for the place.

The rice had corn AND peas in it... a big "no" for me. The cheese was minimal, the sour cream was flavorless, and the lettuce was overdone. Oh, I had chicken flautas... corn tortillas baked with (dry) chicken inside, topped with sour cream, lettuce, and a small sprinkling of cheese. Even the guacamole was chunky and flavorless. Jonathan felt very much the same about his entree, pointing out that even the guacamole was plain. Kasey and Michele have been there probably a dozen times (and Kasey got the same thing as Jonathan), so they must just look for a different flavor than we do, LoL.

I will say this... they had an excellent queso fundito (an appetizer we all shared), and great salsa (3 kinds) and chips. The chips were homemade, warm, baked, and fresh. The queso was verrrry cheesy and had some great chorizo in it. However, it was overly greasy and I wouldn't get it again, especially for the price (although, I'm sure it's actually worth that amount in ingredients, LoL!).

We had all thought there was a good ice cream place nearby. We walked across the bridge to New Hope (PA) and back, and ended up getting ice cream at Buck's Ice Cream & Espresso Bar around the corner from Buho's. I had a scoop of mochachinno, Kasey had mochachinno in a waffle cone, Michele had a chocolate peanut butter milkshake, and Jonathan had a black cherry milkshake. Nobody had anything outstanding to say, it was all rather average. I wouldn't bother again, especially for $3 for a small. Plus, we found out later that there was a Rita's just a few blocks further than we had originally walked, haha.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oishi Restaurant

Yes, we've been dining out a lot lately. It seems that since the snow has stopped, everyone has come back to life and our social calendar is filling up again. But, when we're introduced to fantastic little places like Oishi, it becomes apparent how wonderful evenings dining out with friends are.

Bryan & Emily suggested we all go for sushi, and Oishi is a place that they've discovered in Newtown. It's incredibly popular with the locals, and even with a reservation we had to wait twenty minutes or so for a table. Service is prompt and friendly, and there's no sense of urgency once you're seated, which is good.

It's a BYOB place (many restaurants in PA are, because of the strict liquor laws), and it's the first time that Jonathan and I actually did bring in our own wine. We had picked up some Fu-Ki Plum Wine at one of our local liquor stores, and it was delicious. We also have tried the cherry flavor... I don't care for it but Jonathan does.

We started off with the Tartar Tuna, since that's a dish we liked a lot in Cali. But, it was very different here, and I'm not at all convinced it was worth $10 (aside from the very generous serving of caviar on top). It wasn't blended like tartars in Cali were... instead it was arranged in a little cylindrical tower with mango. It was okay, I wouldn't get it again. THe photo is impressive (below). Bryan and Emily had some edamame, which was served warm and salted here, unlike at Mirim. Jonathan liked it, too.
The entrees came with soup or salad, and I was the only one who went with the salad. And that was the wrong choice, LoL. The dressing was heavy and hard to define. I'm still not quite sure what it was, but I know I'd never get it again (which is odd for me to say... rarely do I meet a dressing that peculiar). Everyone else thought the soup was very good, a miso-mushroom mix.

They went for the sweet potato roll, Jonathan and I had a salmon roll. The sweet potato roll has tempura inside, which was new. Jonathan tried it, I passed. Rave reviews. The salmon roll was very fresh and quite delicious.

Jonathan had Thai Green Curry, which was a variety that I had never seen before. They use different peppers to make it green, apparently. He thought it was bland, and didn't seem to enjoy it as much as he might if it was red curry. Bryan went with a bento box-type meal, and seemed to enjoy it all very much. I really liked the shape of the dish, it was large with three domes dug out for the items, neat!

Emily had a sushi platter, and I went with Chirashi (fish on top of a pile of rice, as opposed to each piece of fish on a little pad of rice). It was my first time having octopus, but the rest were all fish I knew. Octopus tastes exactly like you might expect... chewy like calamari, and there are some sucker-like pieces on it. The white tuna was divine. I'm talking like top 3 white tunas I've ever had. The whitefish was also delectable, and that's coming from a person who generally giver her whitefish to her husband, LoL. I thought that the salmon was average (three pieces of regular and three pieces with WAY too much roe), and so was the tuna. Emily had many of the same fish (no octopus tho, she had clam instead, which she was was very chewy), and also a california roll (with crab, FL folks).

If/when we go back, I'd probably get a more specialized dish (chirashi is very generic, in my opinion), and certainly the soup instead of the salad. Actually, they have a lot of noodle dishes, so I kinda wanna go back to get a feel for their non-raw stuff, LoL.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Harlem Globetrotters in Trenton

Basketball is one sport that I don't really understand. I think it's boring, sweaty, and squeaky... from the viewer's perspective. From the player's perspective, I think it's hard and too fast-paced. Yes, I played basketball. For about two weeks. My brother did, too, for a different team in his age group. I was in sixth or seventh grade, and one of my friends' dads was the coach of my team (although my friend didn't play, her older brother did). At the second practice, the coach told me that I should go to the library and check out a book to learn how to play. I was really frustrated with this, and didn't understand why he wouldn't cover the basics with the team (although, admittedly, I was the only remedial player). So, I quit. And, coincidentally, never really learned how the game works.

But, when the Harlem Globetrotters play, rules and strategy don't matter, so I had a great time. Jonathan also thought that their performance was very good. I'd recommend it to most people, as long as they enjoy a good show.

The premise of a Harlem Globetrotters event has two parts, really. First, they win in a game against the fictitious Washington Generals, who cheat. Second, the Globetrotters' mascot, Globey, does crazy things during timeouts and between quarters (which are quick ten-minute stints here). I like the mascot parts better, but all of the musical interludes even make the basketball part pretty good. And, let's not forget, the Harlem Globetrotters are known for fantastic ball-handling tricks, so that certainly enlivens the show.

For about two hours, ball-twirling, creative passes, and crazy mascot antics kept us quite entertained. Even the time between the halves was filled with audience-oriented activities, and it was fun to see so many happy children. I took a bunch of photos, and have included some of the neat ones below... players first, then mascot-based activities.
introduction stuff
a break in the 4th quarter to play some baseball, LoL
some juggling
some passingthe Cupid Shuffle. the mascot is even doing the kicks upside down!!YMCAGlobey breaking it downhere, you can see Globey hitting some Campbell's soup cans. it was a bowling-type event, and he was bungeed into them, haha.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Benihana

Now, it's not our normal style to review places that we've been to more than once. Normally, if we've been to a place before (regardless of location), I don't do a review. But, it has been several years since we've been to Benihana, and so much has changed.

My friend Dani was celebrating her birthday at the Benihana down in Montgomery County, so we drove down there (about half an hour). We were seated immediately (we had a reservation), and service was very good throughout the meal. Our chef, Javier, mentioned at one point that it was only his third day, but we all thought that he was joking, since he was very good at almost every trick.

Jonathan and I had the Chicken & Shrimp for Two combination, which was a fantastic deal. Just $35 and we each had a bowl of onion soup, a salad, a shrimp appetizer, a meal, and a choice of desserts. We had forgotten how relaxed of an atmosphere Benihana is. We've been going to other hibachi grills all over the place, but Benihana truly is different. The pace is much slower... it took almost an hour and a half, instead of the 45 minutes-to-an-hour that other hibachi grills do.

The soup was as good as I remember, but I must admit that we were both really hungry so we gulped it down pretty quickly. The dressing on the salads is so unique there, as well. Tasty. Then, he started cooking the zucchini and the onions, even though we'd get the zucchini first and the onions very last, which was interesting. Plus, when he went to do the volcano trick with the onions, he even added lava, which was a new trick to me.

Six of the seven of us had fried rice (which has gone up a LOT... now it's $3.25 extra per person), and Javier did a Pac-man trick that I hadn't seen before, so that was cool. The fried rice could have used more soy sauce (and there wasn't any on the table itself), but was still yummy like I remembered (although I won't lie to you, Jonathan makes some amazing fried rice!).

The shrimp, both in the appetizer and in our entree, were very plentiful, excellently cooked, and delightful in flavor. Add in the ginger-flavored dipping sauce and you have a winning combination. The chicken was a tad dry (I think it was just on there too long), but with the mustard sauce it was fine for the most part. Others at the table got scallops, steak, tofu, and even tuna. Everything looked delicious, and it was the first time I had witnessed someone order the tofu (interesting cooking process) and the tuna (lots of special vegetables cooked with it).

The weird part is how heavily they use sesame seeds now. I am quite sure that they were used sparingly if at all back in the 2001-2004 era. Now, they were used on EVERYTHING except the shrimp, the rice, and the onions! And not lightly, either. Chicken, steak, tuna, tofu, zucchini, all COVERED with sesame seeds these days. Crazy, eh? Don't get me wrong, it was still all very good, but quite the change.

Birthdays are celebrated in a lot of rambunctious noise now as well. Tambourines, drums, and rubbing a buddha's belly while blowing out a candle are all part of the chaos. I had some delicious strawberry ice cream (Breyer's, I'm pretty sure), and Jonathan had the rainbow sherbert (very good as well).

All in all, a good time. Quite a bit different, but still very good. And it was very relaxing to have a longer dinner than the normal hibachi places (probably why most you can still walk into, but you always need a reservation at Benihana).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

JB Dawson's

Jonathan had a business lunch at JB Dawson's shortly after we moved here, but was rushed on the food part. We both went there once, but they only had one television and FSU was playing, so we had to go elsewhere (Langhorne Ale House). We have friends who are always recommending their happy hour, so we decided to give that a try.

It's a small chain (three locations, all in PA) with a decent-sized menu. The place is pretty big, and was decently busy on a Tuesday night. We sat at the bar, and the bartenders were pretty friendly. They make a good airhead (cranberry juice & peach schnapps, but beware they don't count it as a "well drink" in their happy hour special), and they have half-price appetizers from 5-7pm as well. We had Italian fries ($2!!), ahi tuna, and a half-pepperoni-half-tomato-and-basil flatbread. The fries were pretty good in flavor, but they're the super-skinny, kinda floppy fries, so I don't know that I'd get them again. The ahi tuna was good for half-price, but I wouldn't have paid full price. There was a strange mustard-horseradish-something sauce drizzled on it that I wasn't too fond of. The flatbread was really good, and I'd recommend both flavors.

Our friends have had many of the appetizers, and didn't have any that they wouldn't recommend, so the place is pretty much a winner up to this point. The burgers and ribs look good, too, so we may be back.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mirim Japanese & Korean Restaurant

We actually left the house with the intention to get pho at Savor Saigon. But, we forgot that they are closed on Mondays, so we searched Yelp and found a good sushi place a mile away.

Mirim Japanese & Korean Restaurant looks kinda seedy on the outside, and it's at the end of a small strip mall in Langhorne. But, the inside is really very nice. We had excellent service and excellent sushi.

The menu is about half sushi and half entrees - some Udon noodle dishes and a bunch of Korean dishes. We chose four rolls and split them, and Jonathan also had a piping hot miso soup. He said it was pretty good. We were first served edamame, which I don't care for, but Jonathan thought it was okay. The sushi came out pretty fast, from the sushi bar that nobody was sitting at. We had a plain tuna roll, an Alaskan roll, an eel with cucumber roll, and a salmon-tuna with green onion strange-looking but FABULOUS roll (I also forgot the name, LoL). They were all pretty good, and aside from some of the tuna being a tad past ultimate freshness, it was all very good.

Pricing was a smidgen high, considering rolls are 6 pieces instead of 8, and they were average in diameter. BUT, finding fresh sushi close to home is difficult, and this is certainly a contender in that department.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Snowboarding at Camelback

You may remember that we spent a day at Lake Tahoe last year, and that we really love snowsports. This year, time almost got away from us, since we only got around to spending a day in the mountains in the first week of March... after peak ski season in this area. But, we made it, and it was a good time. I took very few photos, which is a near-first.

I really took the helm at planning this trip, from choosing a resort and figuring out where to rent equipment to working out directions and lodging. It wasn't the easiest thing ever, but I think we made good choices.

Friday night, Jonathan flew back from a business trip, packed his bag, and we were out the door. We stopped at Langhorne Ski & Sport, where I rented a snowboard and boots, and Jonathan got boots (he brought his own snowboard this trip). The guys helping us were very friendly and very helpful. I had a 149cm board and size 9 boots (I'm kinda putting this here so I remember what to get next time, LoL), and they worked out wonderfully. Renting and returning were quick, easy, and inexpensive.

I drove up to East Stroudsburg, as Jonathan needed to work on the way up. We arrived at Budget Inn & Suites close to 11pm, and had a devil of a time finding our room. The setup is awful, and the signage is poor. From the parking lot we walked in on 4, went up a floor to 5, crossed over into the other building, went down a floor to 1, then up a floor to 2, where our room was. I'm not even lying. Then we ran out for a quick Arby's drive-thru run, and then pretty much went to bed. The room was nothing special. The closet had the doors removed, and it was kinda small. The (king-size) bed was soft and the television was very nice. It was one of the cheapest within 15 miles of the resort (we paid $75 with tax; regular rates start at $97), but not really worth the price (but I doubt anything really is in that area during this season). It was nice to only have a 15-20 minute drive in the morning, tho.

The plan was to be at Camelback by 8am, since the lefts opened at 8:30am that day. Snooze button + no free breakfast at hotel = we still got there before 9am, so no big problems. Parking was a bit tricky, but well-organized for the most part. Waiting in line for lift tickets was also a breeze, kudos to workers directing you to open windows to keep things moving. Against my better judgment, I agreed to wait on taking a lesson to see if Jonathan could teach me how to snowboard. And, I must admit, he did a pretty good job. (First, pics of the mountain)
I picked up toe-side pretty quickly, and I got the "leafing" thing fairly easily as well. I had a really good time doing that. I never did get the whole heel-side thing... for two reasons: first, I struggled to get up heel-side (I only accomplished it 4 times AT MOST), and second, I got too fearful to switch from toe to heel because I had a few bad falls and was afraid I'd get really hurt trying again. But, I had a ton of fun during the 5 hours or so I spent on the mountain. We did three lifts (a double-green and two greens), and I fell down getting off each, LoL. The final run was very long, and parts of it miiiight have been more appropriately labeled "blue" (and Jonathan agreed so it's not me being a baby, LoL), but we made it. (now some of me learning)We did have to take a break after the second run (our first run didn't require a lift), since Jonathan's bindings weren't playing nice. He ended up having to rent a snowboard, and he's evaluating if they're fixable or if he'll need new ones, and if it's even worth that and we'll just sell this board. About 3:30pm, we broke for lunch, and had fantastic food and service at Thirsty Camel, with a pretty good cover band playing. I had the Italian wrap (one of the best I've ever had, actually), which came with Italian dressing and some yummy tortilla chips (and a pickle). Jonathan went with a cheeseburger and waffle fries, both were delicious. Our server was very attentive to bringing me water (I downed four glasses), which made me happy.
My calves were getting really painful (which brought the end of my final run to have problems as well), and my left wrist was sprained, so I opted to take a break while Jonathan did a couple runs on his own. 40 minutes later, we decided that was it time to go (he also banged up his left wrist). (now for a couple of posed photos)We had hoped to do some snowtubing on our way out (they have 18 chutes and 2 carpet lifts), but we decided we just didn't have the energy. It did mean, however, that we were able to get home by 8:45pm, which was helpful because I was ready to pass out about 10:15... and proceeded to sleep for ten hours.

Overall, we'd recommend Camelback as a resort. They had a lot going on (the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge took place that day as well), and everything was remarkably well-organized (shortest lift waits I've seen for a mountain that busy). There were a lot of injuries (at least seven ambulances that we know of between 9am and 6:30pm), and (I imagine due to it being this late in the ski season) there was a lot of ice on the slopes, but it was a good place with nice people. Nobody yelled at you as you fell and tried to get up again. Most people took care to avoid fallen skiers and beginners and always looked upward when merging onto a trail. Lots of people who were struggling were found along the sides of trails, and there was no shame or pressure to do better.

Personally, I'd also like to add that snowboarding is easier and more fun than skiing. The boots are infinitely more comfortable. Slowing down and controlling yourself are much easier. There's a lot more things beginners can do. It's harder to get on and off the lifts (at least it is for me), and crazyweird to have to walk and drag the board with one foot (that could be because I ride "goofy" and it leans the other way?), but so.much.more.fun. I'm kinda sad that I'll have to wait until at least October to learn more. And, if anyone has heelside tips, please share. oooh, and goofy tips, too, since Jonathan only knows how to do everything "regular" style.

Ending with a video Jonathan took. I'm wearing khaki pants and a blue jacket. It's rather windy on the video even though it wasn't that bad in real life.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Five-year Anniversary of our Engagement

Today, five years ago, Jonathan proposed.

We haven't shared the story on here yet, so I figured now is as good a time as any.

During our first two years of college, we had different Spring Breaks. So, when we realized it was the same week in 2005, we decided to go on a trip. I had been itching to see Seattle since I was a freshman in high school (thanks to a test our English teacher suggested), and Jonathan had an interest in the city as well. So, at the amazement of many of our friends, we flew just about as far as possible in the continental US to spend a week in Washington state.

We got a great deal on priceline, although we did stay in Tukwila (the furniture capital) instead of in the city itself, and our red-eye back had two transfers. It was really no problem, and we took the bus most of the time (with one cab ride and one monorail trip, too). We had a great time seeing the sights (Space Needle, Pike Place Market), learning the history (we took the Underground Tour, heard about the Indian background and tributes, saw the first Starbucks), and taking in the local scene (we went to a show at the Seattle Rep, a Thunderbirds hockey game, the Zoo, and the Pacific Science Center). We did more, but since my scrapbook is in Florida, I can only go off of these memories, LoL.

We had a great time with pretty much everything we did, and I can still say it was one of the best trips we've ever taken. Anyway, on to the story...

The Tuesday that we were there, we planned to have dinner at the Space Needle. I was really excited because we had heard about how it rotates, and there's delicious food, and it's an unbelievable experience with a phenomenal view. We were seated so we were next to each other, both facing the window. We were able to see the city as the sun went down and it became dark. I had really wanted a chocolate cake dessert that I had seen on the menu, but Jonathan insisted we get the ice cream dish instead. It did look cool (a nearby table had one), so I went with it.

The server brought out (what I thought was) the dessert. A large plate was filled with dry ice, creating a foggy effect around the smaller dish in the middle. That small dish was supposed to be the sundae, but in this case it was the open ring box. I couldn't see anything, and when Jonathan took my hands in his and asked me to marry him, I was still clueless. Shortly after, it all came together, as I spontaneously started crying tears of excitement, the ring became visible through the fog, and we became officially engaged.

The restaurant's photographer came out of nowhere to take some pictures, and the nearby tables were applauding. We did get a real dish of ice cream brought out a few minutes later, and after we settled the bill we walked around the observatory deck and then also wandered the gift shop for a few minutes (and that was also the start of my skyline t-shirt collection).
one of the restaurant photos
our official engagement photo we had taken when we got back to Florida

I included some of my favorite photos from the trip below, with captions.
the Pike Place Market
the infamous Fish Market there
Bits and pieces of the old Seattle, underground. (I'm serious. The history of this city is crazy fascinating!)The First StarbucksProofPenguins at the ZooSeattle Thunderbirds Hockey! The Pacific Science CenterAwesome Balloon Street PerformerOh, and not only did we hit the Emerald City during a drought, we also were there when Mount St. Helens erupted, a very unexpected event

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Curling: An Olympic Sport

We really got into the Olympics this year. More than any other Olympic Games in the past ten years, this one has had us intrigued. We learned a great deal about many sports (in fact, I went and did a post about them on my other blog), and got into curling a little bit. It was a sport that I previously thought was like hockey, only with brooms and rocks. I didn't even realize it was played on ice. Oops.

Okay, here's the quick rundown for those who might not know anything about curling... it's an Olympic sport that originated in Scotland well over a hundred years ago. Each team has 8 stones (granite, 42 pounds, concave bottom, handle on top) and they take turns going, and you have 10 ends (similar to innings) to get yours in the house (target). The house is round, 12 feet in diameter. The middle 2 feet are called the button, and after both teams have thrown their stones, the stone closest to the middle indicates the team that will receive points that end. For each stone they have closer to the button than the opponent's closest stone, you get that many points. Whoever has the most points after the 10th end wins. If it's a tie, you have an 11th end. There are 4 people on a team... one throws, one stands at the house and yells if they're going too fast, too slow, if they're straight, etc., and 2 sweepers (although all 4 players can sweep). The ice is covered in little droplets that cause the stone to spin/curl slightly (like those mini-shuffleboard courts), so the sweepers make the stone move quicker and straighter. I think that covers the basics. It's quite strategic, and is considered "chess on ice."

Now, I decided it would be fun to try curling, so I looked up where a local curling club would be (you can search here), and found out there was one 45 minutes away, outside Philadelphia. I found out they were having an open house opportunity to try it out, and immediately resolved that the following weekend I would be trying my hand at delivering the stone.

Jonathan had a racquetball game on Saturday morning, so he wasn't able to come with me. I hit only a little traffic on the way to Paoli, but spent quite a bit of time trying to find parking. Apparently, every other person in the area also became a curling fan this season, and wanted in on a free lesson. I finally resorted to parking at a bank a few blocks away, and kept my fingers crossed they wouldn't tow/ticket (and they didn't).

There were several hundred people in line in front of me. When I first got in line, I was told the wait was about 90-100 minutes. It ended up being more like 2 hours before I even got inside, where I waited another 20-30 minutes. But, it was totally worth standing in the freezing cold and flurries (I'm being serious). :)
this is halfway through the line... to the right are in front of me, to the left is behind me.

While I waited in line, there were several members of the curling club walking around and answering questions, so I got the history of the club, history of the sport, the evolution of the brooms, how the stones are made and maintained, and several personal histories of how people came to the sport. I also got to pick up a stone (heavy!), feel some brushes (both weight and texture), and got a good explanation of how the shoes work (one foot has a slippery teflon surface so you can glide on the ice).

Once inside, we filled out waivers, gave our $5 donations to build a wheelchair ramp, and heard about the opportunities to take lessons and eventually join the club. Then, we were given blue booties to put on our sliding feet (left for me, and most other right-handed people) and put into groups of ten while we watched those ahead of us practice on the two sheets below.Then, when my group got to go, we were led out onto the ice and told to grab a broom. We learned how to get on and off the ice, and then practiced pushing off of a wooden ledge. The instructor made individual suggestions, so that was nice. After 5-6 tries, we were each given a chance to push off of the hack, and we had a PVC contraption for balance.

Next, we each had the opportunity to practice throwing a curling stone. There's quite a bit of strategy to it, but our goal was pretty basic: push off, move the stone, release the stone, don't fall over. I had problems moving my stone, since it freezes to the spot if it doesn't move. So you actually have to pull it backward a tiny bit before you move forward.
here's an example of what it looked like as we pushed off of the hack with the stone and PVC

Last, we learned about sweeping. This part was kinda lost unto me, since I was the fifth person from the stone, so I didn't feel like I was actually affecting the stone's path. But, the sweeping is kinda a dealbreaker for me. I'm not excited about continuing my participation in the sport because of how difficult it is to sweep that fast. I don't have the arms for it, LoL.

We were given the opportunity to have our photos taken before we left the ice, and about four of us took the chance. Overall, it was a very interesting experience, and I would consider doing it again, but probably only another open house... I don't think I'm serious enough to fork over $100 for eight hours of lessons. But, maybe wherever we live next will have a closer club and a less expensive rate... who knows.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Meglio

We were both craving pizza, and in our effort to try more local places, we headed into Newtown for Meglio, which specializes in wood-fired pizzas. It was Saturday night and dinnertime, so we had to wait about five minutes for a table, but we got a nice booth.

The service was very friendly, and I'd certainly recommend dining in (there's also a carry-out option). We split a margarita pizza with pepperoni and carmelized onions, and also shared a tortellini pasta salad. The pasta salad was served cold on a bed of lettuce, and included tomatoes, roasted red peppers, garlic, and olive oil. I thought it could have used more garlic, but overall we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The pizza came out very quickly, and also cooled down in just a few minutes. The onions were a little slimier than I was expecting, but the flavor was good (they were cooked with bacon). I didn't like the pizza for the most part, as the sauce had a sweet flavor to it (that Jonathan enjoys), and I didn't think there was enough cheese. Jonathan really liked it, and between eating in the restaurant and the leftovers at home, he ended up having 3/4 of the pizza.

They have quite a menu there, but I don't think that I'd go back, since I don't like their sauce, and I already have a favorite white pizza place (Yardley Pizza). But, I'd still recommend it, since it's more of a personal pickiness than anything else, LoL.