Sunday, August 30, 2009

Collective Soul

"I hope when I'm that age I'm still going to concerts!"
- Me, 15 years ago.

On Thursday my husband and I drove into downtown DC for a concert at the 9:30 Club. I was feeling a little out of my element. The last time I saw a show there was over 10 years ago. Were we going to be the oldest ones there? Was I dressed right? Were we going to get looks all night? etc...

Only Collective Soul could have lured me into a club in the city for a show. I've been seeing them play live since I was in college (over a decage ago!), and every time I see them I fall in love all over again. The band brings so much energy! And they have a way of making you feel like not only are you part of the best audience they've ever played for, they're playing for you personally.

I love it when a band smiles a lot at the crowd!

Collective Soul isn't cocky or vain, they don't act like we're lucky to see them play or they're tired of playing the same songs. It's more like a big sing-along with a bunch of friends. I am pretty sure they treat each show and each crowd like it's the best night of the whole tour for them.

Nothing else measures up to a Collective Soul concert. If you get a chance to see them, do it!

If you don't know who they are, check out these songs. Sound familiar? I know you know them. :)

Shine - Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid
The World I Know - Self titled
December - Self titled
Listen - Disciplined Breakdown
Heavy - Dosage

If you like those, try a few of these too:

Gel - Self titled
Skin - Blender
Better Now - Youth
Disciplined Breakdown - Disciplined Breakdown
Tremble for my Beloved - Dosage (also in the Twilight soundtrack)
Energy - 7year Itch (greatest hits)
All That I Know - Afterwords

Although I went to the concert feeling a little old, I left feeling young again. I am "that age and still going to concerts."

And I'm so glad.

First photo found via google images is HERE
Collective Soul tour dates HERE

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Fun

Well, the bad news is my camera is broken. This explains why I haven't been blogging lately. I didn't realize it, but it turns out the photos are a big part of what drives the writing for me.

We've been having a great summer though. We had a fun trip to visit my sister and her family in St. Louis for the 4th of July. They are great hosts and it was wonderful to see them and let the cousins play together.

I quit/was laid off from work at the end of July, so I've had a few weeks home with the kids and am slowly adjusting. I started teaching piano lessons and doing other things to try to make some money on the side and I think we're going to be fine, so no worries about us.

I also decided to homeschool Olivia instead of sending her to kindergarten this year, so making plans for that has been a lot of fun and she is very excited too. For our curriculum I'm trying to have a Charlotte Mason philosophy, but using Sonlight and Math-U-See as back-up. I'm sure I'll have a lot more to add on these subjects as the year goes on.

Alexander is talking up a storm now, though I suspect most of his words are only understandable by people that know him pretty well. We've had a lot of opportunities to do fun activities with friends, like playing in the Shenandoah River.

Xander's favorite part was throwing rocks.

If anyone has any camera suggestions I'd love to hear them. Our primary needs are something that takes good video, and does above average in low-light. Someday I think an SLR camera would be fun, but for now I've got enough hobbies and projects, so a straightforward camera is what I'm looking for.

Check back soon to read about what happens when I cut sugar out of the kids' diets. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Strawberry Time

I decided to take the kids out to a pick-your-own strawberry field this morning with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It was a little hot and sticky, and we had sticky chins and fingers from the warm strawberry juice.

There were lot of small, sweet, ripe berries and the kids had fun finding and picking them.

Afterwards we sat on an old, rusty truckbed near a crumbly stone wall and ate strawberries and peanut butter sandwiches.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Frugal Souvenirs

We just came back from a trip to Belgium, Germany, France and England, and I had a great idea for frugal souvenirs while I was there - reusable shopping bags! You can pick up reusable shopping bags in just about any grocery store these days and they make a really fun memento, not to mention how useful they are.

I think they were the perfect souvenir for me, because they were already something that I wanted and use, and they're unique here and remind me of my trip. I've been using some of them as tote bags too, not just for groceries.

It was fun to take the time to go into the foreign grocery stores and convenience stores to compare them with what I'm used to here. It was especially interesting to see what each country considers a convenience sandwich. For example - here we've got 7-11's with hot dogs and slurpees.
  • France - ham, brie and tomato sandwich. So good!
  • Germany - weiner schnitzel sandwich and bratwurst on a bun
  • England - nothing really exciting, ham and cheese seen frequently
  • Belgium - sandwich made of raw hamburger. Seriously. Don't be fooled by the name Filet Americain. You definitely want to steer clear of this one.

If you'd like to read more about our trip traveling through 5 countries with 2 small children click HERE.

For more Frugal tips click HERE to head on over to Works For Me Wednesday, Frugal edition.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

London pt. 2

Our second day in London was such a big one! It started out with Deirdre and I going to Portobello Road Market. I loved it. It's an outdoor antique market that starts at one end of a really long road and goes on and on.

I'd hate to be living on this road on Saturday mornings!

Next we headed out to meet our husbands and kids and ride the London Eye with them. There was a park nearby where we let the kids play for a while first.

The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel type thing, but instead of chairs it has pods with clear sides. You go inside the pods and get a really fantastic view of London.

One thing that really surprised me (okay, and kind of scared me) is that the pod doesn't stop for people to get on or off. You just have to step onto it as it is going past. It wasn't dangerous or anything, but still!

Look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!

After the ride, Deirdre and her husband took their kids AND our kids home with them, so Mike and I were free to look around whine-free for the afternoon. :)

We went over to Trafalgar Square, and escaped into the National Museum of Art for a while to get out of the rain.

Next we walked through Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, then took the Tube up to Harrod's. It was huge! My favorite part was stroller heaven (picture coming).

Our Tube station was closed when we came out so we had quite a hike to the next one. When we got back we got take-out fish and chips which were really good, but not quite as crispy as our first ones.

The next day was our last full day in Europe. After two busy days in London we decided to take it easy and drive around the Richmond area. We saw Richmond palace and some of the surrounding area which was really beautiful. Olivia had a fun day playing with her cousins and we had a delicious home-cooked dinner that night.

Thanks again to Deirdre, Brian and family for their warm welcome and hospitality. We had a great time!

Monday, April 13, 2009


We took the fast train back to London to stay with Mike's (second?) cousin Deirdre and her family. They were very fun and gracious hosts and we enjoyed our 4 days with them very much.

Friday morning we got up and took the kids into London to see the Tower of London, which ended up being one of my favorite things to see there. The tour guides (Beefeaters) are the actual guards of the tower. It's worth it to listen to the tour, very interesting. My favorite parts were hearing about the resident ravens and seeing the carvings in the stone of the prison walls. Olivia's favorite part was the jewels.

After that we walked across the Tower Bridge to an outdoor market called Borough Market. It is a specialty food market with food from around the world, and it supposedly is the oldest market in London. It was pretty neat to walk around and see the amazing variety of food. I liked what this person wrote about it. This was also where we had our first fish and chips. One serving was big enough for our whole family!

Not only did we get to see two really unique and amazing places and have some delicious food, we also took our first ride on the Tube, saw the oldest cathedral in London and walked over London Bridge. It was a great way to start our visit.

View of the Tower Bridge

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Rainy Day in Bruges

Here's Olivia outside one of the many chocolate stores in Bruges. Leonidas is a really popular chocolatier, and they're best known for their Manon Cafe and Blanc candies.

We went to Bruges on a Wednesday, in part because I wanted to go to the outdoor market. It ended up being more of a farmer's market, and we didn't get there until right at the end, but Becky got us some yummy grilled chicken there. I would definitely recommend it if you're visiting and don't want to spend a lot or money at a sit down type place.

Bruges is such a beautiful city. I think it's interesting that the reason it still has so many original buildings is because the river silted up a long time ago and they couldn't trade anymore, losing their main source of income and the town was too poor to upgrade to modern buildings.

They call it the Venice of the North.

Before we went on our trip Olivia told everyone she was going to get a chocolate waffle in Belgium. We finally got them! The Belgians don't really eat waffles for breakfast and they definitely don't put maple syrup on them. I think they're on to something.

That was a seriously good waffle.

Unfortunately for Alexander he slept right through the waffles, but he woke up in time for us to get some fries from a street vendor. They were definitely the best fries we had on the trip. Normally I wouldn't be a fan of mayo on fries, but it wasn't like our mayo at all. It had a different consistency and was very rich and tangy - fantastic.

I was really glad we had the chance to spend a few hours in this beautiful town. We were able to see a beautiful statue by Michaelangelo in one of the churches, and were able to enjoy the city without dealing with crowds of people.

I should also give a special thanks to Mike for being patient while Becky and I browsed through so many tapestry and lace shops.

Click HERE to hear about our visit to London, in which we went to more outdoor markets, saw more amazing architecture and historical stuff, and ate more street food. Sensing a theme yet? :)

Shopping in Belgium

Long before I went to Belgium or even thought I might go someday, I fell in love with a Dutch children's clothing designer. You can buy the clothes online, but I don't think they carry them in stores here.

As soon as I knew we were going, I looked up where their stores are in Belgium and there was one just 20 minutes from my brother's house! My sister-in-law Becky took Olivia and I one morning and we had so much fun.

Here's the dress we got. It was exactly what I was hoping to find and she loves it, so it was worth the splurge.

That day Becky also took us to the grocery store and to a chocolate store. Yum! That evening we celebrated my nephew Austin's 5th birthday. It was so great to be there on his special day. Becky made him a colorful Diego cake, and he loved his presents. He even picked my favorite meal for his birthday dinner - chicken and broccoli. Happy birthday, buddy!

Click HERE for my next post about our final full day in Belgium, when we went to Brugge.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


We went to Paris for a day! I wanted to avoid spending our one day in lines or museums, so we didn't do some of the traditional things. Instead, we tried to experience the heart of Paris.

We started at the Louvre, but we didn't go inside. We'll save that for when we have more time. However, I really wanted to see the glass pyramids and the view of the obelisk all the way across town to the Arc de Triomphe. (Click on the photo to enlarge it and see what I mean.)

Next we went to the island of St. Louis. We walked along the main street of the island, looking in shop windows and we had a (famous) Berthillon ice cream. It was as good as they say. (I liked the vanilla best).

We crossed to the other island and saw Notre Dame. We were lucky it's not the height of tourist season, because it really wasn't crowded at all. Here is the photo Justin took of it:

It was even more awe-inspiring in person. Afterwards I went to the outdoor flower market nearby. They had a store that sold just orchids. They were so pretty! The market also had a lot of shops with little crafty things and so many fresh flowers. This was one of my favorite parts of the day.

Another favorite part was crossing off the island and walking down this street of art, and used book and magazine sellers.

I think all of the parts of the day were my favorite! Because another favorite was when I got a crepe filled with nutella from a street vendor. Watching him make the crepe was so cool! I was too busy watching to take any video, but I found a good clip on youtube. The neatest part is watching them use the mini squeegee to make the batter into a big circle on the round griddle.

Well, no. The neatest part was eating it. Sooooooo good.

Did I already say it was good?

We also took a boat ride down the Seine over to the Eiffel Tower and back. Although it was cold and windy, I think we got a really unique look at the city. We were able to see a lot of things without spending the day on public transport or walking all over.

We found a little bistro to get some late lunch. The guys had paninis and I had a Croque Monsieur. It was two pieces of bread with ham and cheese toasted under a broiler and then stacked to make a sandwich. "Mr. Crunchy."

Finally, we went to the Arc de Triomphe. It is HUGE. It's also surrounded by what's probably the most insane traffic circle in the world. We went up to the top and there was an amazing view of Paris as the sun set. I can only imagine what it would be like on a clear day. Here's the reverse view of Paris from my first photo of the day at the Louvre.

Click to zoom in and you can see the obelisk. The big building behind it is the Louvre and you can see a glass pyramid partially hidden behind a tree.

Our day in Paris was perfect. Thanks so much to Becky for watching the kids, and to Justin and my mom for talking me into going. It was wonderful.

We took it pretty easy the next day after all that traveling, but we did some super fun shopping. Click HERE to see some cute Dutch fashions on Olivia.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Weekend in Germany

Saturday morning we got up and drove 4-5 hours to Trier, Germany. We had 2 cars, so we used walkie-talkies to talk to Justin in his car. 10-4 good buddy!

On the way there we drove under an underpass planted with trees. Justin pointed it out and said it was an animal crossing. I love that Germans have safe places for wildlife to cross the road.

Trier is the oldest city in Germany, and has lots of ancient Roman ruins. When we got there Saturday afternoon we saw an amphitheatre where they used to have gladiator fights.

My favorite part of the amphitheatre was the underground part. It was cold, dark, and drippy and I could easily imagine prisoners down there, listening to the crowds cheering above, awaiting their fate.

After the amphitheatre we checked into our hotel. It was called the Hotel Kessler and it was great. They gave us our own little "wing" so we didn't have to worry about the kids disturbing the other guests. It was also within walking distance of the main part of the city.

We went to a restaurant called Zum Domstein for dinner and it was the nicest meal out that we had on our trip. I had weiner schnitzel (which is kind of like chicken fried steak), Mike had lamb, and we had a cheese plate appetizer and German potato cakes. Yum! After dinner we walked down to see the Porta Nigra, which is another Roman ruin.

It wasn't until we left the hotel the next morning that I realized I'd made a big mistake with my trip planning. Trier (and probably the rest of Germany) closes on Sundays. We were lucky we could get our car out of the parking garage. It turned out fine, and we got to see the city, I just didn't get to spend any money. Mike probably always wants me to visit Germany on Sundays. :) We saw the oldest cathedral in Germany, a pink palace and ruins of Roman baths, and then we went to a medieval festival.

It was kind of neat to compare it to the Maryland Rennaisance festival, though it wasn't nearly as picturesque or entertaining. They did have one thing I've never seen at the Renfest. Take a close look at the photo...

They were making these delicious looking pitas with chunks of roasted meat and a creamy herb sauce. I was about to ask for one when Mike was like, "Don't you dare get that!" I thought he was being paranoid about street food, but it turns out he had taken a much better look at the vendor's booth than I had. Yes, those were live marijuana plants. The name of the place translates to something like, "Half Baked."

I got amazing goulash somewhere else instead, after Xander ate up most of my bratwurst.

After the festival we hopped in the cars and headed home, but we took the long way, driving through the wine country along the Mosel River valley. It was so beautiful, and this was in March. I imagine in the summer it's stunning. It was also neat to see some really old castle rubble on the tops of some of the hills.

They really need some scenic overlooks though, so people can pull off and take some photos. The roads were so narrow and steep we had to just keep driving most of the time.

We had a great weekend in Germany and I'd love to be able to spend more time there, just enjoying the old world beauty of it all.

Click HERE to read about the next day of our trip. We went to Paris!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Belgian Beach

We arrived in Belgium on Thursday afternoon. Friday morning we took it easy (we slept in), and at 3pm when the cousins got out of school we went to the beach. First we tried to go to a little town called De Haan but we didn't find the beach access so we tried another place someone had recommended to my brother called Nieuwport.

We got to the beach in time to watch the sunset.

It was very cold there! But it was fun watching the kids playing, totally oblivious to the weather, just enjoying the beach.

After the sun went down we looked around the town for a place to eat. I wanted to go to a type of place called a "frituur," which is a traditional "fry shop" type place that serves french fries and fried meats.

We went in and there was a glass case filled with different kinds of meats prepared for the fryer. I got this photo from google, but it looked almost just like this.

We got some chicken things that looked like the chicken fries at Burger King. Xander loved those. We got a shrimp kabob and another kabob with alternating pork and bacon. My brother got an egg roll type thing and my nephew got a hot dog, and of course we all got fries.

It was more interesting than good, but I'm glad we got a chance to try their traditional fast food.

(First two photos taken by my brother.
Keep checking back for more of his awesome work!)

Click HERE to read about our next stop: A weekend in Germany.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


We flew from DC to London, and then took the Eurostar (Liv called it the "bullet train") to Lille, France, which is about 30 minutes from my brother's house.

Our best train story was that we had non-transferable tickets for the train, but we got to the station 4 hours early. I had Mike wait out in the lobby with the luggage while I took the (extremely tired by that time) kids to the ticket counter and asked if we could transfer to the earlier train. The very nice lady took one look at us and put us on the next train for no extra fee.

Here's a picture of the kids on the train:

Once we got to Lille, we picked up our rental car. It was a blue Toyota that could actually seat 7 and had a manual transmission.

I was pretty nervous about driving in Europe, but it worked out great! I think I like driving there better than driving here. Trucks have a slower speed limit than cars and have to stay in the right lane except to pass. Passing is only allowed on the left, and the traffic had a really efficient flow. By the way - turning right at a red light is illegal. Oops. Oh well.

Also, in case you're ever lost in a parking garage in France (not that I'd know anything about that), here's the word for Exit:

We got a little bit lost on our way to my brother's house, but once we made it (thanks to Mike's brilliant navigation) the kids started playing right away in the amazing back yard, and my sister-in-law prepared the most delicious stir fry I've ever eaten. Our guest room was so beautiful too!

Click HERE to read about our first full day in Belgium. We went to the beach. It was chilly, but fun.