Wednesday night I got the cooking bug, which is something that I need to get more often. And although I might cheat on my healthy eating when I eat out (or am on the road), my Paleo experience did change one thing: the way I grocery shop, meaning that cooking at home is my best bet if I want to be healthy. First, I whipped up a batch of my Squashed Banana Muffins, with two extra bananas instead of zucchini. It was a delicious variation and I loved having a muffin for breakfast this morning with zero guilt! Next, I made a beef stew that I’ll post next week. And then….I made a tasty treat to satisfy my sweet cravings.
Keith had actually found this amazing recipe on the internet the night before and when I saw how simple it was, I decided I needed to give it a try, and was so glad I did. Normally I alter recipes that I find online, but this one was just so good as it was that there was just no improving it, (although I did shorten the title a bit.) So all the credit goes to Rebecca Bohl of (PaleoGrubs.com) for this recipe…I just bring you notes (italicized) and photos, and a high high recommendation that this is a recipe you need to make. Now. And while I don’t have kids, it’s for sure a kid-friendly recipe as it doesn’t involve knives or the oven! Kids will love dumping all the ingredients into the food processor and watching it all whir around together and then what’s better than rolling things in little balls like play-dough?
Paleo Brownie Bites
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- Add walnuts and salt to a blender or food processor. (*I have a fantastic food processor, but I actually chose to use my Ninja blender for this recipe and it worked great!) Mix until the walnuts are finely ground.
- Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder to the blender. Mix well until everything is combined. With the blender still running, add a couple drops of water at a time to make the mixture stick together. (*I did about 10 drops of water, and I think it could have used a little more.)
- Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using your hands, form small round balls, rolling in your palm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (*I let the balls sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes before I ate one, and I’d recommend doing it as they taste really great lightly chilled.)
I know everybody has been dying to know which color of gray paint we went with, after trying 8 or so different options all over the living room walls. And we have made a selection, I believe.
Its practically the neutral-est neutral there ever was, I guess. No risk taking here – this is the Switzerland of paint colors.
Its so neutral that although I liked the looks of the paint chip in the store, I hesitated to try it for fear of being too boring.
The paint is named…
you’ll be shocked by this.
Nope I’m kidding.
Its called “Off white”.
In our wacky house with all the fluorescent tube lighting, ‘off white’ does in fact look like a pale gray. Its certainly an upgrade from the current ‘butter’ color. And best of all, it doesn’t clash with the 51 cabinets that are already painted a green/gray/khaki color. And since there are 51 of them, and the paint is in perfect condition, THEY will not be repainted. They will be worked around.
But agh, is ‘off white’ too bland for all 57,000 square feet of wall space in this room? Maybe. But perhaps we have enough going on between the brick and the wood trim and the wood floors. A little ‘Blah’ may be just the ticket. Sure hope so.
Here’s a shot of the ‘off white’ right next to some cabinets.
What we have here is a partially constructed kitchen desk area, which just one step in the plan for the baby nursery. Hopefully we’ll finish this little project this week, and move on to stuff like putting the crib together.
Oh side note, the reason why I know we have 51 cabinets is because I just ordered new hardware for them. NOW for the risk taking.
BRASS! Goodbye brushed nickel. The knobs will go on the cabinet doors, which means I’ll have to fill 51 now-extraneous holes and paint over them. Sounds like a perfect maternity leave project, doesn’t it?
As you can tell by the fact that we have an entire post category devoted to it, Mary Hall and I both love to travel. Alot. Of course, there was the epic United Kingdom trip that we took together as teenagers, but we’ve both made our way around the world and the country individually on many occasions. Since I currently work as a road manager and freelance musician, I’m on the road almost every weekend and even though my destinations aren’t always exotic, I’ve discovered that there is certainly an art to traveling no matter if you are going across town or across the world. While I know that there are plenty of folks that travel way more than I do, I thought I’d bring you what wisdom I do have to you kind folks. I hope to see you on the road.
1. Loyalty Isn’t Just For The Dogs. – The most important thing I can think of in travel is to choose a chain and stick with it. It doesn’t so much matter which brand you choose, only that you choose one! Most programs are created fairly equal, so pick whichever one is most convenient for you based on places you travel frequently. Choose what program works for you, and then stick with it. Besides earning points or miles for free travel, most programs have different tiers that provide different benefits such as free upgrades or waived luggage fees that you can qualify for based on your amount of travel, and if you travel alot, those perks can make an exhausting day a little bit better.
2. Join The Club: ALL of Them. – I know, you’re thinking, “but you just gave us this sermon on brand loyalty!” I know, I did. And I’m not being a hypocrite. See here’s the deal. Sometimes you can’t control every aspect of your travel. Maybe your boss is in charge of booking rooms or your favorite airline doesn’t fly to the airport where that big meeting is. But this doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Not only are most loyalty programs free to join with no annual fee so you can join them all with no worries, but most programs have partnerships with other programs. Simply log on to your online account and set your earning preference to earn what you want. I have about 8 hotel loyalty memberships….I’ve chosen one as my “main” hotel chain and that account is set to earn hotel points. All the other ones are set to earn airline miles on my “main” airline chain. If I only stay at a specific type of hotel once a year, it would take forever to earn a free night. But having a few extra airline miles on my favorite airline will go much further to earning a free ticket!
3. Be A Card-Carrying Promotion Hunter. – Another great way to earn free travel or perks for more comfortable travel is to get the credit card. I have a major credit card (one Visa and one AmEx) for my favorite hotel brand and favorite airline. Not only do I get bonus points on purchases made at those chains, but I get luggage and onboard discounts as well as enough bonus nights to almost have status right off the bat with my hotel card. If credit cards aren’t your thing, that’s ok. There are still lots of promotions out there that you can take advantage of that won’t affect your credit score. Many programs will send out emails advertising promotions, and if you don’t want any more traffic flooding your inbox, then you can still take advantage of most of these by just logging on to your online account and checking the “promotions” tab. Marriott for example has a particularly awesome promotion that they have been running 2 or 3 times a year called the “MegaBonus.” Just register and then for every two nights you stay within a certain period of time, you get one free night. Pretty awesome deal.
4. Attitude Is Everything: The Golden Rule Still Counts. – If you’re a frequent traveler it’s not so much a question of IF something will go wrong, it’s more like WHEN. Flights will be delayed, or cancelled. You’ll get to the rental car place only to find out that they JUST gave away that SUV you’d reserved. Your hotel room won’t be ready at check in, and when it is, you’ll quickly realize that someone smoked in the non-smoking room or that your towels aren’t exactly what you’d call clean. But here’s the thing. You’re not the first person this has happened to that day and you won’t be the last. But you can be the NICEST. Think about it. If you are a customer service rep and you have a line of angry people with messed up travel plans, and in the middle of it all, up steps a kind, even-tempered person who treats you with respect and understanding, who are you most going to want to help?
Ashamedly, I’ve not always been kind in every single situation of travel-gone wrong, so I understand that sometimes its hard to keep it together. But I’ve also noticed that the times I have been patient and kind, the folks behind the counter have, in turn, been nicer to me, and I’ve walked away having been helped, but also feeling like a decent human. Winning, all around.
5. The Only Dumb Question Is One You Don’t Ask. – Some situations are how they are, and you won’t be able to change them. But sometimes, customer service reps are able to help you out in ways you wouldn’t have thought of if you didn’t ask.Just today, this particular rule proved itself again. I’d paid for Early Bird boarding on Southwest for two people, roundtrip which totals $50….and is a fee that Southwest advertises as being “un-refundable” no matter the circumstances. However, in between the time I purchased the early bird and the actual flight, both passengers earned “A-List” status on Southwest thus getting free-early bird. So I called Southwest and asked about a refund even though I was aware of their advertised policy. And you know what? The customer service rep was super nice and told me that she couldn’t refund my $50, but she COULD send me a $50 Southwest voucher valid on any future Southwest travel and transferable to anyone I chose to use it on.
6. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Then Call, Call Again. – This one is one that I learned from watching my husband, and I’ve used it to my own advantage on a few occasions. For some reason, not all phone customer service reps will tell you the same thing. I don’t know why this is, but I know it’s true. So what do you do when the first customer service rep you get isn’t helpful or doesn’t tell you what you want to hear? You politely thank them and you hang up. And then you call back. And you repeat this until you find someone who gives you then answer you want (or realize that your request is unreasonable….you be the judge.) This usually works the best if you’re trying to change a flight or get a seat upgrade. And rule #3 totally applies here too. The nicer you are, the more likely you are to get what you want.
Happy Valentine’s Day (if that’s your thing). If its not, well I hear ya and this post is totally not Valentine’s related.
Bethany posted about a trip to New Orleans once before. Its a fabulously unique destination, so I thought I’d add a few pointers here for making a kid-friendly visit. New Orleans is a quick trip from where we live, so Mississippians tend to head down there with some regularity. Although, I personally only go about once every three years or so. There is something for everyone, depending on what kind of experience you want to have – history, architecture, gambling, 24/7 bars, jazz clubs, a dazzling variety of unbelievable restaurants. And, if you are under 5 years old, there’s actually a fair variety for the preschool set as well. Here is what we did, and what we wished we could’ve done, with our 3 year old.
1. Book a hotel with a heated pool.
The train station dropped us off right down town. Indoor pools are not very common down there, since its a generally warm climate, relatively speaking. I had to do a good bit of scouring the internet to find at least a heated outdoor pool. In Ransom’s mind, hotel = pool, end of story. I used this website to determine pool information, and good ole Orbitz to find the best price. Over night temperatures were in the low 60s and we adults fairly well froze in the pool. It was heated but not to hot tub level. Next time I think we’ll just go later in the year.
We stayed at the Bienville House, and I do recommend it. Continental breakfast included, and the people are all very nice.
2. Ride the streetcar.
Ransom LOVED the streetcar. We only got to ride it once unfortunately, from the train station to the hotel. There was some major disappointment about not getting to ride it back to the train station. We tried but it was apparently running at least 35 minutes late, and we had a actual scheduled train to catch. So we took a cab. Moral – use the streetcar for leisure travel, not necessarily when you actually have to be somewhere at a certain time. If we’d had more time, I think Ransom would have loved to just ride the trolley out to the end of the line, get off, and then ride it back again.
3. The Aquarium
This was our big planned excursion, and it was a hit with Ransom for sure. We only had two hours and we assumed that we wouldn’t have time to see everything. However, its actually not very big. Two hours is plenty of time to see everything, and since we were going preschooler speed (which is pretty fast in places like museums and zoos), we could’ve easily been out in an hour. We even made a return to the play boat section, of course. The down side is, the ticket prices are steep – $60 for the three of us. I kinda feel like something so expensive shouldn’t be viewable in two hours, know what I mean? But it did make an impression on Ransom. We’ve had lots of discussion about sharks and jelly fish ever since.
4. The Cafe du Monde
This place is a New Orleans classic, and its great for kids. You sit outdoors and all they serve are beignets which are essentially powdered donuts. (Really really good ones.) Doesn’t get much better, does it? My advice – skip the coffee. Its disgusting! Who would drink that? Okay try it once just so you can learn for yourself how disgusting the mysterious ‘chicory’ ingredient is. Gag. Order chocolate milk instead. Also, the wait line for the restaurant was a little bit long, so we went to the ‘To Go’ window. There’s a nice park right next door.
That is basically all we packed into our 17 hours in New Orleans. Our train was a whopping 5 hours late arriving in NOLA, so that kind of took a bite out of an already quick trip. We did find two kid-friendly restaurants – Daisy Duke’s Restaurant. They serve breakfast 24/7 and some typical New Orleans fare (gumbo, po boys). All was good but not life changing. But hey, this was at 9 pm on Saturday night, right by our hotel, and not a bar. So basically perfect for us. And then we also ate at Arby’s. ha.
Next time, we’ll plan a three-day weekend so that we have a little more flexibility. A few more kid friendly options that are on my list for next time:
These are probably overpriced and super touristy, but if there’s an airboat and/or an alligator involved, I know it would be a hit with our kiddo. I saw these being offered from several ‘tourist information’ stands, as well as in the hotel lobby, visitors center, etc.
The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
I’ve heard its good. Kids love bugs. Its newer than the aquarium so it probably doesn’t have that “We built this in the 80s’ feel going on.
The City Park
We didn’t get to go here because their winter hours are kind of slim, but I’ve heard its awesome. There is a small amusement park section, a storybook garden, a train garden, and a lot of huge live oak trees. I bet you could get some fantastic instagrams of your kiddos riding the antique carousel, etc. Seriously Ransom loves all rides, from the mall food court up, so I know he’d love this. Definitely on our list for the next trip. (And you can take the streetcar to get there.)
This weekend we finally took that train ride I’d had on my “To Do” list for a couple of years. We all had a great time, and I think we’ll definitely do it again sometime. Its such an easy and relaxing experience – I highly recommend it.
We are located near the Amtrak line that runs from Chicago to New Orleans – the song-inspiring ‘City of New Orleans’ line. This train just runs once per day, in each direction, so obviously there’s not a lot of flexibility in the schedule. But, the connection times between Jackson and New Orleans are pretty decent.
On arriving at the station, the general lack of regulation is a little disconcerting to most first-time rider adults. Compared to say, air travel, its all just so relaxed. We weren’t the only ones looking around going ‘uh am I doing this right?’ ‘Where is the TSA agent?’ Ha ha. No one even checks your ID. You can bring as much liquid as you want on there. I saw a soft-sided cooler or two. They sort of generally assign seats (when the train is busy) but you can sit pretty much wherever no one else is already sitting. And you can move around as much as you want.
Besides all that, the seats are approximately 300% larger than an airplane seat. They have electrical outlets everywhere, even in the restroom. (? for shaving I guess ?) The seats recline pretty far, and when not reclined, there’s plenty of room for a kid to play in the floor.
Want a change of scenery? There’s a dining car, a snack bar, and our favorite, the observation car. You can go straight from your seat up to that observation car and sit there for the entire trip. Its sort of like a rolling lounge. The more social groups from the train were found hanging out here, as well as some couples playing dominos.
The snacks for sale are fairly pricey – in the range of $3 for a gatorade – so wise train passengers bring their own. I even saw some bringing their own alcohol, although you may need to be discreet about consuming it in public. The official rules say you can only drink your own alcohol in the sleeping cars. Still, the lack of regulation is just so luxurious.
Ransom’s favorite part was reportedly, the doors between the cars. Push that button and they open with a real ‘woosh’ so obviously a kid favorite. He fabricated several excuses to move around on the train – potty breaks, snack breaks, etc – which was pretty amusing. He would’ve gladly run up and down the train for the entire trip, but that’s actually not so fun for adults so we kept it to a minimum.
The trip from Jackson to New Orleans is scheduled for about 4 hours, although we made it in closer to 3 each time. By car the trip is more like 2.5 hours, so there is some delay. I don’t think the trains go much faster than 40 or 50mph. But they also don’t stop at red lights.
The only downside is, as with any mode of transportation I guess, there is a risk of delay. Our train was actually nearly 5 hours late leaving on Saturday. We were able to find that out first thing in the morning, so we didn’t have to sit at the station that entire time or anything. But, it did throw a wrench in an already tight trip schedule. In our case, the delay was at departure from Chicago, so it may have been weather related. Obviously a train has to deal with hundreds of miles of weather conditions, so it may be wiser to travel by train in the summer. And, I’ve also heard reports of mechanical delays that can take many hours to resolve. Its not like there are extra trains nearby that can be used in case of a breakdown, especially mid-route.
On our return, the train left right on time from New Orleans and arrived back to Jackson about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
So, if you live near an Amtrak line, you should definitely check your options for trips. Its obviously great for kids, but it could also make for a pretty awesome ‘girls weekend’ or something like that. Next time I’ll follow up with what we actually did in our approximately 20 hours in New Orleans. Happy Monday folks!