Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hooray for Beer

A little sad Christmas is over but we had a wonderful time with my family and I hope you did too!
Part of the fun of Christmas is proving how much you know someone by surprising them with a gift that is thought out and unmistakably just for them. For example, when I go on and on to my husband about Pantone's color of the year 2013 being Emerald green and I think he isn't paying any attention then he surprises me with this:

To surprise my hubby with a gift isn't so easy. Everyone knows he loves three things: 1) Florida Gator football 2) golf 3) beer. So yes, he is your typical man. He isn't really into surprises but I found something perfect for him this year. We have an Anheuser Busch plant here in Jacksonville that gives daily tours and for a very reasonable fee, you can get a private Beer Master tour that takes you behind the scenes and even lets you taste directly from the huge barrel drums they make the beer in. I scheduled a tour and surprised him with it this weekend. I'm not a beer drinker at all but I figured he could drink mine and then he would love the present twice as much :)
We got there about 20 minutes early and they made us wear eye-protecting glasses, baseball caps and headphones so when we went into loud spaces you could hear still our guide through them. Other than a small incident where I got knocked unconscious in a freight elevator (totally not kidding, still have a bruised head) was a lot of fun. Instead of photos, I decided to video...Mike helped me pick out the music which just makes the video perfect. Hope you all received a few surprises of your own!

Hooray for Beer from Wendy Updegraff on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Staycation Day 2

We slept in late on day 2 of our staycation, which doesn't happen too often so it was a nice surprise. Around lunch time both kiddos were up and ready to embark on our next set of adventures. We knew we would need another adult for the activity they had picked for today and since my hubby had to work we invited my dad along for some fun. Since we can't seem to go anywhere without first planning our eating strategy we mapped out a new place to eat today too.

On Phillips Hwy on the way to St. Augustine from Jacksonville you will pass a little hole in the wall restaurant. If you blink, you will miss it...other than the strange double decker bus broken down in the front lawn. I have passed it a million times, never been inside. My dad had ventured in one time by himself a while ago but since my mom wasn't there to give us an honest opinion about it, I had been too afraid to try it myself.

This is a good time to mention that most of the adventures I went on as a kid is a direct result of my dad wondering in and around places we weren't supposed to be. "Act like you know where you are going and no one will question you" he used to say. Some of my favorite memories are of these moments, heart pounding, afraid of getting caught, laughing hysterically afterwards. He was a good way. He's not afraid to try new things either. I hope to pass along this sense of adventure to my kiddos too.

Anywho....we decided today was a perfect day to try it out.

 This is the outside. I'm not hiding any of the is that small. Right out of a little London town. was magical. I want to bring everyone I know here! Especially my hubby...perfect for a date-night. I can imagine what it would be like to watch a soccer game here, sipping on some Guinness.
 Or if you have a little boy who loves history or knights...this is your place.
 It has a bar but it also has a kids menu, I'd definitely say it was kid friendly.
 Of course I had to get the fish 'n of my favorite meals. It didn't disappoint.
After our meal we poked around outside, lots of great photo-ops. You almost forgot you were on the side of the road in Florida.

We all gave it two thumbs up :)
So on to our first activity of the day...the one we needed another adult for...

Oh yes, we did. We rented tri-scooters. I was so glad that Bella and I could get the one with the pretty lashes. Nothing says tourist like these babies...and we were all everyone was talking about around town. People would stop and take pics of us!
 Bella grabbed my camera to document.

 We got stuck on the Bridge of Lions while it was going up but when we were on the main road, we could get up to 45 mph!
Once again, I would highly recommend this. I never in a million years thought I would have so much fun. Did I feel utterly ridiculous? Of course, but it is a memory I will never forget and I haven't laughed so hard in a really long time.

OK, so it would be really hard to get us to come down from our high of lunch and roaming the historic district like mini rock-stars but it wasn't in the cards for us to have a perfect day. After my dad went on home and we hit up a local Mojo's barbeque for dinner we were ready for our final activity. The ghost train adventure. Refer to our most unfortunate events only one day prior to set the tone for this train ride. We had asked lady who sold us the tickets if this was going to be scary...she said no. We asked her if it was age appropriate for Bella and she said of course...IT IS OK FOR ALL AGES!!! (even says so on their website). We had to park at Ripley's because that is where you catch the train, at 8:00pm sharp.

We met our guide, who seemed really funny and not cheesy at all. He was dressed in an old suit and carried an old lantern. He immediately made us feel at ease. He told us no one would be jumping out at us or anything like that. Even though it is called a ghost train, the train was really just to transport us to the cemetery's and the fort. Our guide kept us entertained while on the train, telling stories about old Inn keepers who were still haunting B & Bs around town.

He did keep telling everyone to make sure to take lots of pictures because ghosts show up in photos sometimes. Of course I didn't even think to bring my camera (it doesn't have a built in flash) but I had my cell phone. The first photo I snapped at the fort cause mass panic in our group because guess what I caught???

 They gave us each an EMF reader to carry around in case a ghost flew by us, it would spike the electromagnetic lights. This was a hit with the kids. I kept asking Bella if she was scared and she assured me that this was a piece of cake compared to yesterday at Ripleys.

After an hour of funny ghost stories and the kids chasing each other in dark grassy areas with the EMF sticks we got back on the train and headed back for what we thought was the end of our tour. But instead...our tour guide pulled up to the entrance of Ripleys and said that our tour would continue...wait for it...inside.  Oh gee....just what I wanted to hear.
Bella looked at me with a look that sent guilt straight to my spine. Like I had been hiding this information from her and I was just trying to torture her. I had promised her we would never go back to this place again and here we were being told we had to go back inside. I looked at the door and there was a florescent CLOSED sign lit up. Certainly we couldn't go inside if it was closed, right? All of the lights were off and there was no one at the ticket desk. He unlocked the door and led us though. We all crowded inside, Bella quietly repeating, "I want to go home, I want to go home." Hindsight, I should have just ignored the tour guide and turned around and walked out. But they had told me nothing was was appropriate for all ages. I just kept telling myself that it would be fine.

Then our funny, down to earth tour guide looked right at us, told us that he would be turning us over to a new tour guide because this part of the tour was frankly too scary for him. Preston looked at me and said Mom, we have to get out of here right now. Then out of no where a new guide appeared. A scary looking mid 20 something short man who has watched too many ghost hunter shows and clearly believed in everything he had ever read about them. He led us up the stairs and into a pitch black room...yep, the room with all of the wax figures. And of course everyone else on the tour thought they had hit the jackpot of ghost tours, snapping away with their cameras, trying to catch ghosts. All we saw were flashes of the lizard man or man with crocodile teeth staring at us. It is safe to say that Bella was paralyzed with fear.

The short tour guide went on and on telling us stories about all of the murders that had happened in this very spot and how the murderer was never caught...blah blah blah. All I could hear was Bella crying into my chest and I was pressing my hands so hard over her ears so she couldn't hear what was being said. You know what I'd compare it to...having good old Large Marge tell you a bedtime story...
We pretty much ran out of Ripley's, Bella crying, Preston scared silent. I felt like the worst mom ever. I know eventually they will look back on this and laugh but in the mean time, we are all sleeping with our night-lights on.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

St. Augustine Staycation Day 1

The kids and I played tourist this week in St. Augustine. My parents live there so we used their house as home base and went out during the day to explore. I let the kids choose 2 activities and a restaurant each day. First up, Preston decided to we needed to start out verifying if French Fry Heaven truly has the best fries earth...this was our lunch...we were on vacation, don't judge :)
 We each got to pick one (although they veto'd my choice to get sweet potato fries so all of our choices were with original fries). Preston picked the Baked Tater Angels and Bella picked the Saint Smooth. The guy behind the counter told me he would make me a special one so I let him surprise me. It ended up being a s'mores fry...nutella, marshmallow with bonfire sea salt.
 Their courtyard had great tables with holes for your fries so sharing was easy.
 So the unanimous decision was this...baked tater was best followed by the campfire s'mores...the smooth would have been fantastic if we had gotten the sweet potato fries but it was kind of weird on regular fries. We all agreed that fries are still better with just ketchup and that no one touches the fries served at The Speckled Hen (on Phillips Hwy by Regal Cinemas).

OK, the first activity they chose was an unusual one because of a past bad experience. My sister took my daughter to Ripley's Believe it or Not a few months ago and the trip got cut short because my daughter was so scared inside she didn't want to continue. So when she piped up and said she wanted to give it another try I figured it was to save face in front of her brother who had never been there before. I have been there lots of times as a kid and I was never scared so I didn't really think twice about taking them.
Part of the ticket package we bought at Ripley's (before we went inside the house of death, which Bella now likes to call it) included mini golf and a train ride ghost tour. I must have asked them 1,000 times are they sure they wanted to do a ghost tour instead of the Christmas lights tour. YES, of course they would rather do the ghost tour. It was their stay-cation so I obliged. We decided to do the ghost tour tomorrow...which worked out good because I'm not sure Bella could handle a ghost tour after what she was about to go through...

 It started off innocent enough. Bella was walking a little closer to me than normal but nothing to scary to start off. They are standing in front of the world's largest erector set. I tried to point of the funniest exhibits and walk faster by the more morbid ones but of course, those are the ones my son was most interested in.
 Finally someone who makes my daughter feel short! Notice the forced smile of her this room she was starting to lose it. You can see in the mirror the reflection of some of the other wax figures that were freaking her out. It took me about 5 min of coaxing her to get next to this guy for the picture.
 Yep, when we got to this guy, tears were starting to fall down her face. Preston loved it. She bear hugged/dragged beside me the remainder of this exhibit.
 He has seen the movie Big so he knew right away who this guy was :)
 Even he was a little scary to look at.  I couldn't take any picture from this point until the very end because I was trying to console Bella who was begging to leave. I was trying to do my best of calming her down and letting Preston look around.
Luckily, the last two exhibits were a ton of fun and allowed Bella to dry her tears and release her death grip on me.
Little did they know that this was a two-way mirror and on the other side, some tourist was getting a good laugh.
The tunnel to get out was everyone's favorite. No one could go down the walkway in a straight line even though the floor wasn't moving at all. Even I walked on it at least 3 times because it was so much fun.
So once we left Ripley's I promised Bella that we would never go back there even if she told me she was ready. We had a good laugh about how scary it was (even Preston said that some of the torture exhibits were a little scary) but decided that we needed to do something that would take our minds off of it!
We walked down past the famous fort on our way to the mini golf. We never go inside because running around on the outside is just as much fun to my kids and it's free!

 There was a beautiful sunset so we rested a minute to take it in. Nothing beats a beautiful sunset :)
I beat them on the front 9, Bella beat us on the back 9 and Preston was the overall low score (no surprise there). Mini golf on the water, next to the Bridge of Lions was a great way to end the day.

We headed back to the house excited to plan our adventures for the next day...and we had 24 hours before I was to win the title of world's worst mother...stay tuned.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Favorite Things Party

Over the weekend I hosted a Favorite Things party for a few of my girlfriends...and I definitely think it will become an annual tradition!
Since glitter is way up there on the list of my favorite things, I decided to add glitter to anything and everything for this party, starting with the invites!
 We kept the food and drinks light, and of course my favorites!
 The beautiful tissue garland was made by the very talented Carmen of The Flair Exchange!
My TV presented a bit of a decorating challenge...I have gone to some extremes in the past for decorating but removing the TV from the wall seemed a tad extreme, even for me. So we wrapped it up and smacked a gift tag on it and made it part of the decor :) Of course my hubby's first reaction was thinking I was giving his tv away as a prize.

My three favorite party foods...macarons, champagne and caprese!
 Maria of Love & Sugar Kisses made lemon, vanilla and peppermint macarons...and they were the hit of the party!

And since our whole party was about shopping for new favorite items, each girl had their own shopping bag for their new goodies.

 Since not everyone knew each other at the party I had a little game for everyone while we were chatting and snacking. Everyone filled out a Favorite Things survey without putting their name on it. We mixed them up then took turns reading them and everyone tried to guess whose was whose.
Now on to the good stuff! Everyone was instructed to select a favorite item for around $20 and bring 3 of that item.

 My favorite item was actually a 2-parter. One was a glitter clutch and the other was a pack of decorative washi tapes.
 Everyone had great taste and it made it really hard to choose which one you wanted!!!

 We had three rounds of shopping. At the beginning of each round everyone picked a piece of paper with a number on it out of a bowl. Whatever number you got was the order you got to go up to the table and choose one item. Each round the numbers were mixed up again so you went in a different order each time.

We had so much fun and it was so great to relax with all of my friends in this crazy busy season. Drinking champagne and chatting until 12:30am is definitely one of my favorite things!