Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Avalon

Jonathan's aunt and uncle were in town for a few days since Jonathan and Dennis were riding in the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge. We drove out to West Chester one night to have dinner with them and some of their friends (whom we met last year in Cape May).

Avalon is a little place in downtown, near the university. It's an Italian place that is BYOB and cash only, good things to know. However, the BYOB thing is kinda strange there; we were served complimentary (though average and skimpy on the fruit) sangria. After we ordered, bread arrived, soft and crusty and warm, but nothing spectacular. As a table we had a three-cheese platter for an appetizer. One was cheddar and another was aged, but I don't remember the specifics (and the list apparently changes, as the one on the online menu was not what we saw the other night). The portions were generous, considering that the six of us hardly finished the plate, LoL.

Three of us ordered the gnocchi. This took me by surprise when the plates came out, since I might have ordered something else had I known that, LoL. Still, it was good and cheesy, and just enough so that I could finish it without being super-stuffed. Jonathan had the lobster risotto. It was great, except it strangely had corn intermixed with it. The salmon with ratatouille was also ordered, and I believe it was gobbled down rather quickly, so it must have been good, too!

The important bit to remember about this place: it's cash-only.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dawn & Kyle Get Married!

So, I've mentioned now a few times that I've made some great friends from working at summer camp. One of them (and she's actually responsible for me working at the specific camp I started at) is Dawn. And we were fresh out of our first summer together at camp when she met Kyle, which was now five years ago. I was very excited when I worked it out so that I could be there for their wedding.

I flew down to Orlando on a Friday night, and hit one snag after another. Delayed flight, semi-lost ride home (let's call it a Joeventure...), car not starting, rain on the drive, tar on my pants... the list just went on and on. I even had the slowest employees in the store when I went to buy a gift for Dawn & Kyle... from start to finish it took nearly an HOUR between finding clean and non-chipped dishes (that part was only about 5 minutes), waiting in line, having them gift-wrapped, and going through check-out.

But I had a great time and was really busy the whole time I was there. Dawn, Megan, and I all set-up some of the stuff at the reception site the night before. It was really interesting to me, since I hadn't been back to camp (where the reception was held) since a visit in July 2007. A lot has changed, and I'm really glad that the kids have some new stuff to play with.The morning of the wedding, Megan and I did some plotting on how we'd decorate the truck. However, rain foiled our plans twice, and we ended up just filling the cab with balloons, since the vehicle was soaked forever (it never stopped raining from the time Dawn & Kyle arrived at the reception until well after it was over). It worked out, and if anyone else I know ever uses green & yellow as their colors, I've got plenty of decorating ammo, haha.

I won't run-down the entire day, but I did want to share some photos, particularly for some friends who weren't able to be there due to one reason or another.
For a quick descriptor, the mason jars on the table were all personalized and served as namecards, cups, AND favors! And they had one layer of regular cake, while the rest were cupcakes in several different designs, all fitting with the green-and-yellow (and black for contrast) color scheme.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dover & Ocean City

Soon after we moved to Pennsylvania, Jonathan had an idea that we could try to visit one nearby state each month. We figured that we could see the major sights of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts this way, plus maybe a few others. Well, as you may have read, we've done a lot of Jersey and a lot of New York, but not much else. So, we took a weekend and hit both Delaware AND Maryland.

We left just before 6pm on Friday night, and stopped through the Philadelphia Airport to exchange a car on our way south. We drove to Dover and checked in to Comfort Inn near the State capitol. The room was very big, and the pillows were very soft. Otherwise there was nothing outstanding about the hotel, although it did offer a complimentary breakfast the next day, so we had some bagels to start off our day.

Just a few minutes after we checked in, we went to eat at Where Pigs Fly, a barbecue place that had great reviews. We found them to be pretty good. The free bread wasn't anything special, but it was hot and fresh, which was nice. I had the pulled pork sandwich with Memphis fries, and Jonathan went with the triple platter (pulled pork, ribs, chicken with fries and baked beans. The pulled pork was pretty good, but I wasn't the biggest fan of their barbecue sauce (it was kinda Tennessee-style, if you're familiar with that). The ribs were unbelievable, falling right off the bone! I didn't try the chicken, but Jonathan said that it was really juicy, which is sometimes hard to do with barbecue. The fries were AMAZING. We both really enjoyed them, and I asked the waitress about them. They're not even a secret recipe - they're out of a package, LoL!! The beans were beans.

We drove by the capitol [apparently it's only capitalized when you're talking about the one in Washington, DC - I (re)learned that] at night, and were kinda surprised with the smaller size. However, when we realized that it IS the very first capitol building, it kinda makes more sense.

The first thing we did in the morning (after having breakfast and checking out) was drive back to the capitol, and this time we took some photos. The Visitors' Center was currently under construction so we didn't get to stop and learn anything extra. However, I did read about a neat little thing to see over at the corner of State & North... a quill and a copy of the Constitution. So we drove over to that intersection, only to find the grass and weeds overgrown, practically covering the whole thing! I plan to write a letter about this.After that, it was on to Ocean City, Maryland. We hit some pretty heavy traffic on our way there (which is to be expected, really, given the fact that it's summer and Ocean City is a very narrow area), but made it to stop for a noon lunch. And, since Maryland is known for seafood (especially crabs!), we stopped at Higgins Crab House, a family-owned place. There are actually two of them in Ocean City, and we stopped at the northern one. Since I don't like crab (I was actually hankering for a fried shrimp and clams combo of some sort), I ordered the grilled tuna sandwich, since it was the fish of the day. I was actually very impressed with how delicious it was, as grilled tuna isn't always the greatest (of course, we both prefer ours scarcely seared, LoL). The fries were pretty good there, too, but they were just so plentiful that neither of us finished them. Jonathan went with the crabcake sandwich and a cup of crab soup. He enjoyed both of them, noting that the soup was really different - it almost looked like pulled crab, if that makes sense? The tartar sauce which came with both meals seemed to be a house recipe of sorts, but was nothing special (though it did serve the entrees well).

Then it was on to the beach. We ended up parking at the convention center (which is free, by the way) and walking. This put us at around 40th street. We walked the beach until around 26th street, then cut up to the boardwalk and walked another ten or fifteen blocks before we stopped for something to drink. We didn't make it all the way down to the end (where all of the rides and tons of food vendors are), but we had seen some of those sights earlier while we were driving around looking for parking.

We picked up a couple of towels that say Ocean City, MD, so that was neat. Then we headed back home, making the entire trip about 27 fun-filled hours.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Flyers SkateZone

Another field trip we took was the Flyers SkateZone, with the fourth and fifth graders. In a similar manner to the rollerskating trip, I was astounded by how many of the campers wouldn't even try skating, despite the fact that we were at the place for two hours AND there wasn't really an arcade to play in instead. We went to the SkateZone in Voorhees (they are a chain in this area), and apparently this is where the Philadelphia Flyers really do some of their hockey practices. I thought that was pretty cool, and I completely believe it. The place is huge - I had never before in my life seen a place that has two separate rinks inside! Our camp and another camp had one rink (and so did some non-affiliated skaters). I really enjoyed helping some of the kids (and even a couple of counselors) figure out the basics, and I probably improved my own backwards skating quite a bit, too. One thing I still can't do tho is that awesome slide-stop thing where they get shreds of ice to come up, LoL.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fu Wah

There were a few people at camp who wanted to try and create a day of the week where a bunch of us ordered out lunch on a regular basis. However, it ended up only happening twice (organized, anyway). Both times we ordered from Fu Wah, and it was pretty decent.

The first time I had the garlic chicken with fried rice and an egg roll. The egg roll was HUGE, and pretty decent with some soy sauce. The garlic chicken was a tad bland, but pretty good and very lean. The fried rice was decent, with bits of pork and few vegetables. It had an interesting flavor overall, but there was a ton of it so I didn't come close to finishing it.

The second time I had the sweet and sour chicken (sauce on the side), again with the fried rice and egg roll. The egg roll was still good, but the rice was kinda "eh" that time. The chicken was overly plentiful, and I couldn't imagine eating it all! I would have had at least one other lunch from the leftovers, but since I was at work, I couldn't refrigerate the leftovers soon enough to make them worth saving.

I wouldn't order from them regularly, but they are decent and cheap, so if you're in Trenton/Ewing and looking for lunch, you might find them to work out if you have a craving for Chinese!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

KatManDu

Jonathan and I were going to a Trenton Thunder game with a bunch of people I work with, but beforehand we wanted to meet up with some people from his job for a happy hour. The place is pretty much next door to the stadium, so it worked out really well. We parked in between the two, then walked back and forth.

I was kinda skeptical of KatManDu, because although we've seen it a dozen times, we've never been inside, and it doesn't look all that exciting from the front. However, it turned out to be a pretty cool place.

Cover was $5, and that includes a buffet, so nothing wrong there. The music was live, and pretty good. The sets could have been arranged better, but perhaps it was just that musician... who knows. The drinks were reasonably priced, but I was kinda iffy on the food since the price was so low. However, there was no need to worry!

I started with the mashed potato bar, where you have a choice of regular or sweet, and all kinds of toppings. I chose cheese, onions, bacon, and sour cream. It was dished out by a server, and served in a martini glass! The only downside: you can't get it all because of the shape of the glass.

The meats and sides station had the assumed crudites and fruit plate, but also had hot roast beef and a few other options. There was also a chili area. The dessert station featured deep-fried pretzels, and a chocolate fountain. For dippers, there were rice crispies treats, strawberries, marshmallows, oreos, and a few others.

There was also a nachos station, a stir-fry station, and a pasta bar. We didn't hit those, mainly because of the lines. If we had more time before the baseball game, we totally would have... well, I know I would have tried the pasta and Jonathan would've tried the stir-fry!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to NY: No Lottery Luck, Dinner, the Boy Scouts, Empire State Building

We left the Met to try our luck at the Wicked lottery over at the Gershwin Theatre. Ticket lotteries are different from ticket rushes, which I've described before. Lotteries are when you throw your name in a bucket and hope it gets pulled. We actually entered the virtual lottery for Shakespeare in the Park earlier in the day, but all three of us had no luck in that drawing (which we were able to check on their website around 1pm). Wicked is ridiculously hard to win, since several hundred people enter each day, and only around 13 names are pulled. Plus, since you can only buy 2 tickets, two out of three of us needed to win in order for the tickets to be useful to us. As with the Shakespeare show, we went 0/3. However, this did allow us to do other things.

Next it was time for dinner. We had no real idea what we wanted, so we just kinda wandered around, slightly out of the overcrowded-tourist-area to see if anything struck our fancies. We ended up at an Italian place called Nizza. We only waited about five minutes before we were seated, and the service was pretty good. The water was served by the bottle - even tap! Rob went with pizza, and had great things to say about it (I forget the toppings now). Jonathan chose spaghetti with sausage and meatballs - it was good, he'd recommend it. I went with the gnocci in four cheese sauce, and it was fabulous. It was portioned perfectly, although it was too hot to dig in as soon as it arrived on the table.
my dish

We started heading toward the Empire State Building, but got distracted when we hit the Times Square area. Turns out, we came upon the Boy Scouts Jamboree, NYC edition. They have several big screens and they were teleconferencing with other locations, all celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of the USA. It was kinda neat to watch for a while, especially since Rob was an Eagle Scout. Eventually, however, the excitement died down (not before we got glow sticks!), and we continued on our way toward the Empire State Building.
Now, we knew that there would be a wait of some sot, but we certainly had not anticipated how much waiting there was to go to the top of the Empire State Building. We also thought that going at night would lessen our wait (although perhaps it did), but we still waited almost 90 minutes throughout the lines. The first line was for security, then to buy the tickets, then to ride the first elevator (to the 80th floor), then to have your photo taken, then for the next elevator (to the 86th floor). After we arrived on the 80th, I asked one of the employees if we could take the stairs the rest of the way, and he said no. However, after about fifteen minutes of that line, a stair option was announced, and a few dozen of us made our way through the throngs to climb the remaining six stories. When we finally got up to 86 and out the doors, the view was breathtaking. We probably spent 45 minutes admiring the sights from all sides. This was particularly of interest because we ended up ringing in August on top of the Empire State Building! I got some good photographs, but it was difficult with the crowding, the lighting, and other factors.
the Empire State Building in the distance
looking up at the Empire State Building
the best shot I got from the top. It was terribly difficult to focus.

The trip on the train back to Newark was quick, and it was a short walk to get the car. However, the downside to parking up in Newark is that it's a much longer drive home than when we park in Trenton, hehe.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to NY: New Route, Declaration, Grand Central, The Met

I've mentioned before that the prices for NJTransit have gone up. So, this time, we decided to drive to Newark, park, and take the train the rest of the way. This worked out pretty well, and will most likely be our plan next time (will we have a next time??) we go into NYC. We were able to park for up to 24 hours for only $25, and from that stop the train fare was only $10 roundtrip, each. Not bad, especially when you add in that we didn't need to take the subway at all this trip, either.

We had a few goals in mind for this trip, and the first one was going to see Grand Central Station. So, we headed over there (our friend, Rob, accompanied us on this trip), but we got a tad distracted on the way. Rob had never been inside of the giant New York Public Library, so we popped in and had a look around. Jonathan and I saw a few new areas (the place is huge), and we randomly came across a special exhibit on the Declaration of Independence. They had about ten copies of it from various printings, including two newspaper clippings. It was really something special to happen upon by chance. Then, it was on to Grand Central Station. We didn't have anything particular to see, but the outside was pretty cool, and we were amused for a couple of minutes while we looked around the inside of the giant place, too.
We just had street food for lunch, as 6th avenue was closed down to accommodate the giant event (again). As we walked along, we strolled through Central Park, and it was nice to see the fountain flowing (last time it was winter so it wasn't turned on).

Then, it was on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I'm glad that we were able to go there, since it's been on my list since our third trip to NYC. We were able to spend several hours there before we needed to move on, so we saw most of the exhibits. We had to rush Egypt, but otherwise we got in everything we wanted to see. And had a lot of fun!

Strasse auf Helgoland II by Arthur Segal
Kwoma compilation

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Curtis Bowling Lanes & Banchoff Park

Another trip. This one was ridiculously close to camp... we could have walked there, LoL.

The kids and other counselors were referring to Curtis Bowling Lanes like it was really old and run-down. I thought it had a pretty modern set-up (although I haven't bowled in NJ in almost twenty years, so maybe they have really cool things arounf that I just don't know about?). In fact, instead of all of the lanes being against the long wall of the building, they were actually split, 20 to the left when you walk in, and another 20 to the right. The counter for shoe rentals and such was an island in the middle, and there were a couple of big screen televisions in the middle, too. We took up one entire side of the alley, and most lanes had 4-5 kids on them, although a few had less/more. I bowled in a center lane with 4 other counselors (I'll lump us all under that term for simplicity). I bowled an 82 and an 86 (everyone had time for 2 games), which is about average for me. (oh, I guess I should mention that bowling is another sport I never got good at. despite the fact that the summer after my second year of college Jonathan and I went bowling two or three times a week... all summer) I might have done a little better if I had a different ball... we relinquished the light balls to the kids, and I bowl best with an 8- or 9-pound ball, and I had to take a 10. The kids had a pretty good time, but it would have been much better if there were bumpers available.

After bowling, we went to Banchoff Park for a picnic lunch. We also met up with the other group, who had taken a trip to the planetarium. It's an OK park... nothing grand. Pretty big, but not too terribly much to do. The playground is average and there are a lot of hiking trails and some open fields for football and stuff. We stayed about an hour after the campers finished eating lunch, then headed back to camp.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

La Villa

It was kinda funny, actually. We were talking about what to have for dinner (which, on Saturday night, means going through the leftovers in the fridge), and Jonathan suggests we supplement our leftovers with pizza. We weren't swimming in extra food, so I agreed.

We dug through the coupons and pulled out the pizza ones and Jonathan picked La Villa as the place we'd try. After checking out their online reviews and menu, we went with the Trenton Tomato Pie, and added pepperoni. The Trenton Tomato Pie features light mozzarella, chunky tomato sauce, garlic, and olive oil. The crust is suuuuper thin. As in, there's really no way to hold a slice without it being floppy, unless you fold it.

We were slightly skeptical at first, I won't lie. It smelled amazing and all, but it looked kinda average. However, we were not disappointed. The taste was very different... the olive oil/garlic/chunky sauce made for a more bruschetta-like topping, which went very well with the lighter cheese and our added pepperoni.

Our only suggestion: eat it there. By the time we got ours home (probably 15 minutes), it was getting cold and needed to be microwaved. Actually, the place looked pretty nice and with a large menu and good location (right off US1), we might go back to dine-in anyway.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Giggleberry Fair

This time, there were again two different field trips for the kids, depending on their ages. The older kids (grades 4-6) spent the day at the lake, and the younger kids (K-3) went to Giggleberry Fair, in Bucks County. I would have been cranky and bored if I was stuck at the lake, so I made it a point to request the other trip 3 days in advance. I was fortunate to be granted that request.

When I read about Giggleberry online, it seemed an awful lot like FunPlex, but I was okay with that (and expected that the kids would be, too). However, it ended up being pretty different. The only truly weird thing about it was the fact that it should have been a 20-minute drive, and we took like 40, going the long way. It was later pointed out to me that perhaps the buses can't take the covered bridge into New Hope, and I guess that makes sense, LoL. When you first walk in there's a lovely Alice in Wonderland scene, but that theme doesn't appear anywhere else, so I'm not sure why it's there at all, LoL. Rather than the high-profile entertainment features like go-karts and bumper cars and laser tag, Giggleberry features three major attractions, in addition to a reasonably-sized arcade. The first is an indoor carousel, three animals deep. I probably rode it five times, and it was fun. No really annoying music, which I liked because sometimes the sounds of a merry-go-round get old pretty fast and you're stuck hearing them forever if you're nearby, LoL. The kids liked it, especially the non-horse animals like the rabbits, pigs, lion, rooster, and cat.
The second attraction is a discovery room, kinda geared toward younger children. There's a lot in there, really. You can dress up like a firefighter and play on a firetruck and in a firehouse. You can touch a color wall and create a wave. You can use puppets or drums or a water table that has a bunch of different things to do.

The most surprising feature was another one of those foam-ball-machine-pits that I tried to describe from FunPlex. Maybe they're the hit new thing with kids, and I just haven't been to a Chuck E. Cheese or something similar in like seven years, LoL. Here, it's called Giggleberry Mountain, and in addition to the two levels of foam-blasting madness, there's a six-level obstacle course circling it. There are all kinds of different things to climb over, under, through, etc. I gave it a try, heading for the very top where you can take a giant tunnel slide to the bottom. I'm just about as big of a person as can fit through many of the small openings (which is good to know, since the signs suggest that parents accompany children). I tried to take the routes that didn't require crawling, as squatting down without being able to stand upright for half an hour is difficult enough. I finally found my way to the tippy top, and there were a bunch of our kids there, in line to go down the slide. I let them all go in front of me, of course (as well as those who arrived after I did), and was shocked when I was finally about to go down and one of the little girls who was there when I arrived had made it all the way back to the top. In less than five minutes. I asked her about it, and she was shocked I didn't know "the shortcut," LoL. Either way, it was a fun slide! I also wanted to brag about their pizza. Not the greatest in the world, but suited the group just fine for lunch. Much better than some other entertainment center pizzas!