This week’s start of a new school year also marks the one-year anniversary in our new house, something that has me thinking about how much the house now feels like our home. Last year at this time, I was writing about our ‘blank canvas‘ of a living room and sharing ideas about decorating a completely empty space.
Now that the room is mostly furnished, I’m turning my attention to the walls. The first area I plan to tackle is the large wall behind the couch. I’m considering having one or two of my recent photos printed for this space, which got me playing around in Photoshop with a few options. Here are my top picks so far:
We recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley and, while we certainly enjoyed the wine, the highlight of our trip was definitely the food. Here are a few ideas for tastings in Napa Valley of the non-wine variety:
Gourmet Food Tour
I learned about the Gourmet Food Tour (1) of downtown Napa through a website called Peek, a travel tour site featuring off-the-beaten path tours and activities in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, including Napa. We didn’t take the tour, but now that I’ve discovered I love the food as much as the wine in Napa, it’s definitely on my list for next time.
Wine and Cheese Pairings
Many of the wineries feature food and wine pairings as part of their tastings. Two of my favorites are the St. Supery Cheese and Wine Pairing Class (5) (great if you want to understand how different food flavors influence the taste of wine) and Domaine Carneros (2) (perfect if you want a light snack while sampling the sparkling wine and enjoying the amazing views from their patio).
Napa Valley Distillery
If you enjoy hand-crafted cocktails as much as wine, Napa Valley Distillery (3) is a must-see destination on your itinerary. I like to go just for the display of tiny bottles. It’s located inside of the Oxbow Public Market, which is worth the stop just for the selection of gourmet food, drinks and home decor accessories all under one roof. The distillery features an extensive collection of bitters, spirits and syrups, all of which can be sampled in their shop for free or you can attend a Craft Spirit Tastings.
Gourmet Grocery Stores
There is no shortage of places to stock up on gourmet foods in Napa Valley. In addition to assembling your picnic fare, many of these offer samples of locally produced culinary treats, including oils, vinegars, cheeses and tapenades. We visited Oakville Market (4) and Dean and Deluca (6).
The Napa region is filled with olive oil shops and at one point my husband and I joked that we had purchased more olive oil than wine during our trip. In addition to oils, many of these shops also feature flavored balsamic vinegars and tapenades, all of which can be sampled for free. We visited Olivier (7) and St. Helena Olive Oil Co (8), but there is also Lucero Olive Oil and several others.
Culinary Institute of America
One of our favorite stops during our trip was the CIA (9). For food enthusiasts, the school offers a variety of tours, tastings and demonstrations, mostly during the weekend. If your visit falls during the week as ours did, you can still visit the large gift shop, Ghiradelhi Chocolate tasting center or one of the school’s restaurants. We stopped at the cafe and enjoyed a basket of organic cherry tomatoes direct from their garden.
I haven’t participated in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge in quite a while, but this weekend’s trip to Yosemite has me in full-on picture taking mode. The theme this week is Texture, something this park has in abundance.
Here are a couple of my favorite Yosemite texture shots so far:
Fallen Tree at Mariposa Grove
Detail Views: Boulder and Tree
View of Half Dome from Glacier Point
Yosemite Valley Near the Village
All photos were shot with a Canon 6D. The landscape views were shot with a Canon 24mm-70mm f/2.8 II lens and the detail views were shot with a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens.
A few weeks ago we took an extended weekend trip to the beach. Although we live in Texas and could have visited the beach along the Texas coast, we decided to head further east where the beaches tend to be nicer and better suited to swimming.
There are a lot of great destinations along the coast, but we decided on Orange Beach, which is in Alabama about 30 miles west of Pensacola, Florida. The beaches have beautiful white sand and the water is perfect for swimming.
We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach and didn’t seek out a lot of activities beyond lounging and playing in the sand. But we did explore the nearby area a bit, so I thought I would share some ideas for taking a beach trip to this part of the country with children.
Where to Stay
The beaches along the Gulf Shore, Orange Beach and Pensacola region are filled with affordable, family-friendly hotels and rental properties. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Orange Beach. It’s located right on the beach so you can easily transition back and forth between beach and swimming pool. I highly recommend getting a room with a beach view. The photo on the left above is the view from our room. Sitting and watching the activity below was lots of fun for our children, who had only visited the beach once before this trip. You can also rent chairs on the beach, which is a nice option when you know you’re going to be coming and going and you don’t want to lose your spot (or leave your personal belongings to ‘reserve’ it) while you’re gone.
Where to Eat
When it came to meal time, we mostly looked to the area immediately near our hotel. Wintzell’s Oyster House definitely turned into our favorite dinner spot, and we ate there twice over the course of our trip. We also stopped at The Gulf on our way into town. I love this location. It’s right on the beach so the kids could play in the sand while we sat on sleek lounge furniture under umbrellas enjoying lunch. The kids’ favorite meal destination was Lulus. They have a large play area in the center of the 3-restaurant complex that includes a sandbox, an elevated rope course and many other just-for-kids activities. Plan on spending awhile here. I wasn’t sure whether to include this location under ‘Where to Eat’ or ‘Things to Do.’ It’s a bit of both and the wait for a table seems intended to build in plenty of time for play. During our visit, we chose to eat at the upscale Lucy B. Goode (and the food was wonderful), but in retrospect I think the original restaurant, Lulus, would have been a more child-friendly option.
Things to Do
The beautiful beaches are reason enough to visit this part of the country with children, but the Gulf Coast area also has many bays that are perfect for taking boat rides. There are many options for renting boats and/or going on tours. We read about several dolphin tours and even saw a pirate-themed cruise pass by one afternoon. If we were staying longer, I definitely would have looked into the pirate cruise for the kids. Since our trip location was partly driven by visiting friends and family, we were able to spend an afternoon taking a ride on a friend’s boat. This was a highlight for Jason and Jenna, who loved sitting at the front while we raced along the water.
This was our first trip to the Gulf Coast, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be our last.
Next week, we’re heading on a trip to California that will include a few stops, including Yosemite National Park. I’m crazy excited about visiting Yosemite, mostly for the opportunity to take pictures with my new camera. Here’s my list of essentials for the trip:
Earlier this summer, we attended a birthday party that had all of the stuff that makes children’s parties awesome – face painting, balloon animals, pinatas and even a hair-coloring station. Jenna was especially excited to get her hair colored, and, while I secretly cringed at the thought of spraying her already tangled hair with sticky spray, I let her join in the fun. She, of course, was thrilled with the results:
This weekend, we came across Alex’s Hair Chalk at the store and I immediately recognized the appeal. All of the fun of temporary hair coloring without the mess and chemicals of aerosol sprays.
The hair chalk is really easy to use and the results can vary based on how you apply it. I applied it to Jenna’s dry hair (and Jason even applied a few streaks to his own) for a more subtle effect, but I’ve also read that you can apply it to damp hair and spray it with hairspray for a more intense color.
We returned from our vacation with quite a few seashells that we collected on the beach. Today on Modern Parents, Messy Kids, I’m sharing a project for remembering your vacation while also storing your souvenir treasures.
Cooking with Jason and Jenna is something I wish I did more often. They’re getting older, but I don’t always recognize how much they can handle these days - especially Jenna who loves to help out in the kitchen. This weekend was a serious reminder of just how much that little girl can do.
On Friday night, I made a batch of pasta and saved some dough so that Jenna could make her own noodles the next day. I thought it would mostly be for fun and didn’t really think we’d end up with an edible batch. But the fettuccine noodles for lunch, shown above, were almost entirely Jenna’s creation.
The dough was already prepared, a step I’ll likely do in advance next time too since I used a semolina pasta recipe, which is a little hard to knead. Once I showed her how to flatten a piece of the dough and guide it through the KitchenAid attachment, she worked through the entire batch. My only role was adjusting the levels during the flattening step and turning off the power between each piece.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve made fresh pasta, but now that I have a helper, I’ll be making it more often!
We just returned from vacation, and, on the way home, I realized it was the perfect time to try out the new storytelling app that I downloaded a couple of weeks ago. Its called Steller, and it allows you to create a digital storybook with your photos, videos and text. Our vacation was pretty awesome, and this app is a great way to capture our favorite moments.