Flying over Leeds Castle

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Get in the trees!

When our family ventured to London last June, we researched fun things to do with TEENS beforehand. Traveling with older teenagers is not like traveling with tiny children – but they aren’t quite like traveling with a set of contemporaries either.

adventure-GoApefamilyOne of the fun adventures my husband stumbled across online was Go Ape, a tree-top adventure that lets you “get in touch with your inner Tarzan.”

Their course includes a high ropes course adventure with a zip line at the end of each challenge. Our family had done a ropes course at Dollywood, but certainly not in treetops near a castle! And it did not include ziplining. (After only three years, Dollywood removed the two-acre Adventure Mountain multi-level rope course, so don’t go looking for it now…)

While at Dollywood, I found myself gripping the ropes tighter than I thought I would, getting a little stressed about falling despite the harness and safety wire. It was still an enjoyable trip, though, so when Brian recommended taking a train to Kent for the day and trying the Go Ape course, followed by a castle tour and hedge maze large enough to actually get a little lost in, we were all really excited about it.

On the train from London to Kent you can read, nap, chat, and enjoy views like these!

On the train from London to Kent you can read, nap, chat, and enjoy views like these!

We prepped by reading their website. The text and photos promised breathtaking views of the beautiful area surrounding Leeds Castle (near Maidstone), and “obstacles that will get the hairs on the back of neck bristling”. It also said the high ropes courses were approximately 40 feet above the forest floor and zip wires were over 800 feet in length – and my favorite part “leap off our Tarzan Swing and tackle our crossings whilst enjoying some of Britain’s most breathtaking scenery“.

Gorgeous castle grounds

Gorgeous castle grounds

raffi apeAlso thanks to the website, we knew how to get there, how early to arrive before our scheduled flight time, and what to wear – something you don’t mind getting grubby that covers your stomach and an emergency rain jacket. Appropriate close-toed footwear with soles with good grips – no sandals or slip-off shoes. Long hair should be tied back. And they recommended gloves, so I grabbed a pair of those $1 stretchy Target gloves for each of us. (I was the only one who wore them. I thought they were to avoid rope burn, but they were really to prepare for bad weather – and we had GORGEOUS weather!)

You can bring scaredy-cat friends who don’t want to participate to enjoy the forest grounds and take photos for you. You can also bring little ones: the Tree Top Junior Adventure includes up to an hour of exploring the tree tops for 6 – 12 year olds to enjoy.

We arrived right on time, locked up our belongings, signed insurance waivers, and got fit into our safety harnesses.

Brian steps into his safety harness

Brian steps into his safety harness

An adventure begins with a safety briefing. There was a group of teens there celebrating a friend’s birthday, and we had our safety talk together. That was nice, because you could see the information repeated a few times so it would sink in despite your excitement.

Then there are a couple of easy obstacles to try near the start, so the safety person can make sure you are doing them correctly, and so someone can back out if they are too uncomfortable.

Then you are led by signs through the forest from obstacle to obstacle, climbing at the start of each one, and meeting the ground after each one with a fun zipline down!

My daughter ascending to an obstacle

My daughter ascending to an obstacle

All of us enjoying the course

All of us enjoying the course

DD1 gets ready to zipline down!

DD1 gets ready to zipline down!

DD2 wanted me to take photos and videos of her throughout the course, but my hands were shakey from the height and from gripping so hard, and I was worried I would drop her iPhone! That didn’t stop her from making her own videos and taking selfies up high in the treetops without fear.

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At one point my nervousness got the best of me. I ziplined down to the ground and took photos for a few minutes, and then finished up the course with the rest of the family. I just needed to feel solid ground for a few minutes, and my daughters applauded me when I stuck with it and climbed back up! #gotMyBack

Here are some more visuals of our tree-top Go Ape adventure:

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“I’m so glad we did this instead of Harry Potter, mom!”

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At the end we all received certificates of completion, as a memento to the fun you just survived. Just a short walk from the course is Leeds Castle, known as the Queen’s Castle and “the loveliest castle in the world“, where we planned to have a picnic lunch.

Enjoying the walk to the castle

My family walking to Leeds Castle on a gorgeous summer day in the UK

With peacocks roaming and sheep wandering, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten away from it all! I loved much of the art inside the castle as well.

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Outside the castle an animal show geared towards young children was going on. We went into the hedge maze while many of the other guests are occupied. It’s NOT an easy maze.

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couple in hedge maze near leeds castle

The maze ends in the center, where you take steps down to an underground grotto!

Grotto near Leeds castle

In the grotto

On our way back to the meet the shuttle to our train, we spotted pre-wedding photos happening on the castle grounds. The castle was closing as the wedding caterer arrived.

wedding at leeds castle, kent, uk

This was certainly one of the best days of our London vacation in the summer of 2015! We had active time and passive time, we worked individually and as a team, we got exercise and enjoyed the amazing beauty around us. If you take a family trip nearby, I recommend a day trip to Kent, Leeds Castle and the GoApe treetop zipline adventure for sure!

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Chicken Drop Bingo

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A few years ago I met Marilyn McCloskey. Someone told me about a 5k in downtown St Pete at the base of The Pier that needed volunteers. They knew I was tapped into the local running scene and might be able to help out. That was before Running 4 Brews had a team at virtually every race in Tampa Bay.
Somehow I managed to rope in the Cross Country team of Shorecrest Preparatory School to volunteer. The team needed an annual service project, and the kids were seasoned 5k runners, so it made sense.
Last week at the 2015 Iconic Women of St. Petersburg “Celebrating Women with Vision” Awards luncheon, I bumped into Marilyn again. She remembered me. She said that not only did we have great volunteers who brought supplies for the course, like huge water jugs, but after I shared the Facebook event she was contacted by two people who knew me who knew someone who had Huntington’s and asked Marilyn for people to contact for medical assistance locally.
Apparently, Marilyn has a much better memory than I do. That was YEARS ago. But I remembered reading something much more recently on Facebook about an upcoming event to support the Huntington’s Disease Society, and I asked what she was up to. That was when Marilyn told me about Chicken Drop Bingo.
“Win a CRAPLOAD of Money” at Chicken Drop Bingo! the flyer earnestly proclaims. It’s meant to be funny, but if you don’t know what Chicken Drop Bingo is, there’s some explaining left to do.
Basically there’s a giant bingo board. Instead of having your own board, like in traditional bingo, this is a large shared board. You put money down on a square, like in Vegas. And then a CHICKEN wanders around the board. People call out and cheer and try to get the chicken to walk around the board and POOP on the square they put money on. If it drops on your number you’re the winner!
$5 buys you a numbered square. It’s FREE to watch, and just $5 to play, so you can bring friends and have a silly time supporting a great cause!
When: Saturday, May 16th, 2015. 3:00-6:00 p.m.
Where: Quaker Steak & Lube, 10400 49th Street North, Clearwater, FL 33762
15% of food sales will be donated to HDSA. There will also be drink specials and auction Items.
And back to my recent luncheon – Congratulations to Marilyn on being a finalist for the Community Service Iconic Woman of the Year!! Marilyn says, “I volunteer for HD in memory of my sister Connie, and for all those out there who are fighting the disease or worried they might have it!”
Be there – buy a square!
Learn more about the crazy day on their website – or Facebook event.
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MacDill Foodies Crawl

Last week I was lucky enough to “crawl” up MacDill Ave, Tampa, with the Tampa Bay Bloggers to some of the best gastropubs/eateries in town!

The Datz family has introduced both Dough, a dessert place, and Roux, a Cajun & Creole Restaurant – and all three come highly recommended — by me!

Hosting a group of bloggers is a great way to try out new menu items and get honest and varied opinions. Here’s what I thought of the great dishes we got to try:

DSC_1817We started at Roux for drinks and appys. I hadn’t been to Roux since a sneak preview before they completed their walls and bar, and I enjoyed looking around first to see the great decor. I’m a big fan of fleur de lis and NOLA, so it is always fun for me to see bits of New Orleans in the Tampa Bay area.

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We had three appetizers to try and three drinks to choose from. I loved the Abita beer-battered Crab Beignets, which had 4 different flavors of remoulades to dip them in, but they were divine plain. The had just the right fried beignets crunch on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth center. Not too seafood tasting.

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I split a Boudin Ball, which was served over creole mustard crema. They are a little larger than a golf ball, smaller than a lemon, but I knew there was a lot of food to come so I only ate half. I could have easily eaten 4-6 with a small cup of gumbo as a meal!

There were also Char-Grilled Oysters. They was so much better than the raw on-the-half-shell oyster I had eaten years ago (which was my first and, up till now, last oyster.)

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IMG_0198As far as drinks go, they have a refreshing hurricane served over mounds of crushed ice:
Kraken Dark, Siesta Key white, orange juice, passion fruit purée, pineapple, lime and bitters. There’s the traditional NOLA Sazerac made from Rittenhouse Rye, Pernod Absinthe, Peychauds, bitters and lemon peel. And last but not least is my light, girly favorite the French 75 (shown): The Botanist, lemon, champagne and lemon zest served in a champagne flute.

Then 8 bloggers piled in my mommy-van to zip up the road to Datz.

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This self proclaimed Foodie’s Theme Park is going to up their shock value this year with more “stunt food”, foods with layers upon layers of goodness that take them over the top. Read on to see the sneak peek that we got!

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IMG_0203We were greeted with some house-made, flavored popcorn and what Sandbookwich.com calls “2015’s first new food trend”, Buffalo Cauliflower. The whole head of cauliflower was roasted, then lightly battered and fried, then tossed in buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dressing. I’m not much for blue cheese, but the rest of this dish was amazing! We kept it on the table and I kept taking more nibbles throughout the night when there was a lull in food-stuffs.

There were two drinks specially prepared for us that night. “#HotSex” pronounced “hashtag hot sex” was a blend of dry gin and something-something with a chili pepper on top. Some tried the “Love Stinks“, which was Bombay sapphire, raspberry liquor and a dirty cherry dropped inside. I didn’t try either since at some point mentioned above I became the driver.

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IMG_0207When we were settled with drinks, our server (Chops) told us about two dishes that were not on the menu that they were featuring that night. One was the Cheesy Todd: a cheese burger with your basic pickle-tomato toppings, but instead of a bun it is served between two mac&cheese patties. Yes, fried mac and cheese with beef and cheese in between. And a side of house made chips with blue cheese drizzle. I decided to volunteer as tribute and ordered this dish for the table. I left the bottom mac&cheese patty intact to bring home to DD1, then cut the top “bun” and burger into 4 pieces to pass around. The burger was expertly prepared, and the mac and cheese patty did not fall apart into separate noodles when we bit into it, which was my concern.

inside the cheesy todd

inside the cheesy todd

IMG_0211The 2nd item not on the menu was the Hungryman 2.0: two pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy topped with bacon.

Denise, a Datz regular, introduced me to the Desi Arnaz Cuban Salad: iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, swiss cheese, ham, spanish olives, spanish vinaigrette- “It’s a gluten free cuban sandwich on top of a salad” she said. I liked it even though I don’t like olives. It was NOT skimping on the toppings for one bite. It even had two delicious pieces of pressed Cuban bread on the side. The bread was soft and full of amazing grill flavor!

Outdoorsydiva.com was on my right, and she ordered “on the lam(b)“, grilled maple soy glazed lamb chops over roasted butternut squash. Let me tell you, that squash was the tastiest thing I have eaten in 2015! Flavored by the braised lamb drippings and lord knows what other Datz magic, I could have eaten just a bowl of that for dinner. Maybe with a piece of that pressed Cuban bread to scoop it up with… mmmmm….

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IMG_0216After mixing and matching and trying each others yummies, we went next door to Dough for boozy shakes and dessert. Boozy shakes are just what they sound like – adult milk shakes. Like a chocolate peanut butter shake with kahlua and whipped cream. It actually tasted more like Butterfinger to me, but the one I tasted had only half the booze added, by request. But they add their own secret twists to these, and they taste like no creamy goodness you’ve ever had before. They also make all of their gelato in house with fresh ingredients. TIP: If you come with the kids for just gelato, come in the back door and they won’t see all the donuts, cupcakes and chocolates first.

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They said more stunt food is coming, and I’m guessing that soon the brownies will do their own tricks. Someone ordered the last bacon brownie of the day while we were there.

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My dessert was a raspberry cheesecake donut. I think it was a housemade donut, and the hole was stuffed with cheese cake flavored cream filling, and on top was a blob of raspberry pink sticky glaze stuff.

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I brought home dessert for my girls too. A raspberry macaron for DD1 in honor of her upcoming France trip:

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And a Funfetti cupcake for my rainbow girl, DD2:

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See inside Dough’s chocolate cheesecake dome here.

Ending the night with a hug from RunDMT

Ending the night with a hug from RunDMT

I’m pretty sure I rolled home on my new belly tire.

Next time you are asked for a restaurant recommendation, you have three readily available on the tip of your tongue! Datz, Dough and Roux!

Disclaimer: I was invited to dinner by these three establishments and provided with food and drinks in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Bloggers for organizing this wonderful night!

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Lotion for Winter

I’m not a big lotion user. Maybe because the main thing I drink is water, so I am fairly hydrated daily. Or maybe because I live in subtropical central Florida, where the humidity is often 90%. But when December sneaks around, I usually need a good lotion for a couple of months.

My friend Lynn started selling Perfectly Posh beauty products earlier this fall. I had never heard of the company. They work with local reps and home parties, like Avon or Mary Kay. Perfectly Posh products are naturally based and never have petroleum-derived ingredients including SLS, parabens or paraffins. Plus they use no gluten ingredients, no soy fillers and no lanolin. That is why I feel good about recommending their hand creme to you – without being asked.

hottie-patottie-bfyhc_1First I tried a sample of their Big Fat Yummy Hand Créme in Hottie Patottie scent. It’s described as “loaded with vitamins A and E to easily penetrate the driest skin without feeling greasy” and it features apricot kernel oil – not petroleum. This creamy and nourishing, non greasy hand creme has a fabulous fragrance that I found sexy and wanted a perfume of! The scent is supposedly brown sugar vanilla, but it was muskier than that to me. Although I originally applied it for my cuticles, I ended up dabbing it on my neck and wrists so I could smell the scent rising up throughout the day.

This scent is also available in a solid lotion bar,which provides deep-healing moisture with shea butter, and creates a soft, protective barrier with gentle beeswax. It would be a great gift for doctor or nurse friends who wash their hands a lot, because it is recommended for skin that is over-washed, dry, cracking, or in extreme circumstances. It comes in a pretty, little, round tin.

Just today I tried Big Fat Yummy Hand Créme in Lil Snarky. That scent is described as “exotic flowers & sandalwood with a serious attitude.” I did not smell attitude, but it did seem to have citrus undertones to me. I later learned it has extracts from mandarin and bergamot orange fruits. After putting it on I realized I hadn’t washed my face yet, and I was kicking myself for “wasting” my hand lotion since I would have to reapply after my face routine. As it turned out, though, I didn’t reapply the lotion for HOURS. I had it on before 9am and reapplied around 7:40pm! My cuticles look great despite how dry they felt the last two days!

The key ingredients of the hand cremes are coconut oil, glycerin and apricot kernel oil. They will leave your hands looking and feeling pampered!

There are other Perfectly Posh products I am interested in trying! The Tea tree and neem hair mask moisturizes hair and scalp. I’ll probably need that after my winter trip to St. Louis. The Argan Oil Anti Frizz Smoothing Hair Serum would be a great protectant when flat ironing or to tame my curls.

This company is less than a year and a half old. I’m curious to see when they have a big boom. If you think your friends would be interested in learning more about Posh products from you, it is $99 to become a rep with 30 days of training – or Lynn hosts online parties with Facebook groups so people can check out products on their own time online.

Dec 16 is the last day to order in time for Christmas. If you want to learn more about their products a little at a time like I did, you can join the Facebook page and get updates about random items from Lynn. Then you can take advantage of her specials too!

And if you need a new hand creme that is naturally based and lasts for hours, try Perfectly Posh!

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#Cinderellatour Quotes

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I was so excited to receive tickets to the Straz Center‘s Tampa Bay Bloggers night of the Broadway touring production of Cinderella. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the show:

“You’d be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them!”

She’s a frothy little bubble with a flimsy kind of charm, and with very little trouble I could break her little arm.”

“I get to ladle.”

“Fight for your dream!”

“I’ll be back at eleven with weather and sports.”

“Now you have someone to believe in – yourself!”

Cinderella also says something like… “People will say my name and know they can be better.”

There were a few political quips that made the audience laugh, but that’s not my thing.

I think I laughed loudest when Cinderella and the Prince kiss at their wedding (woops, spoiler) and a little girl in the audience shouted, “EWW!” loud enough to make at least 5 rows of audience members giggle. I bet the front rows were wondering what we were laughing about back there! I think I even sensed a pause on stage, because it was not a typical point for laughter and we may have thrown the cast for a loop…

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I saw Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella when I was little with my Grandmother and Mother at the Muny in Forest Park, St. Louis. You can my R+H Cinderella history lesson here or in the Tampa Bay Times article here.

Cinderella is playing at the Straz Center through October 26. Performances are Wednesday – Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7:30pm. Regularly priced tickets are $56-$95 and may be purchased by calling 813-229-STAR or 800-955-1045, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at the Straz Center. Handling fees will apply.

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