Monday, 31 August 2015

Skytop Orchard

It is apple season here.  Where we live, there are 3 or 4 different pick your own apple orchards about an hour away.  We typically go to Nivens Apple Orchard.  This year we tried somewhere different.

I had heard many a good thing about Skytop Orchard, up in North Carolina. As had Paul.  We had heard it got super busy, and that they had the best cider apple donuts.

Last Saturday we set of at about 8.15 am.  I know, stupidly early for a saturday.  It took just under an hour to get there. The last part of the journey was up a little windy road.  We were able to get in and get parked in the field behind the main building.  It was already pretty busy.

We went to the main building and collected baskets, and a little trolley to pull along.  We headed to the duck pond to feed the ducks.

I had seen from their Facebook page that they had gala apples ready for the picking. Seeing as these are our favorite type of apples, we headed there first.

There were apples galore!!!!!! The trees were heavy with fruit.  Because it is fairly early in the season, there was not much fruit on the found, so not too many flying bugs.  The day was also slightly overcast and grey, which may have helped this situation. It also helped keep the temperatures down

Everyone had a good time picking, and we quickly filled the five baskets we had.  To say the trolley was loaded, would be an understatement....

Next to the gala trees were some grape vines, again on pick your own.  Although we can and do grow grapes in the UK, these tend to be processed into a delicious alcohol beverage.  I believe that the soil where we used to live in West Sussex was the same type of soil that grows champagne grapes so well in France....  

I had to pick some grapes.  Even if I am the only person who eats them in out house.....

From there it was back up the hill to the main building.  The apples needed to be transferred from baskets to bags, ready for weighing.  Same with the grapes.  We roped in some helpers for this task.  While this was taking place, other people were hovering around, waiting for our trolley

While Paul took the 3 massive bags of apples and joined the queue to get them weighed and paid for, I went and joined the queue for the apple cider donuts (See a theme here?).  Paul was done first, so he took control of the boys.  I paid $9 for a dozen donuts, and my, they were so worth waiting for.  Yummy!!!!!

Paul dropped off the apples to the car, and we let the boys goa nd have a play in the parks and around the general area. 

They all had a really good time, and were pretty well behaved. 

The view back down the mountain was stunning, so pretty.

Skytop is an awesome orchard to take the whole family to.  You could certainly kill half a day there.  I would recommend getting there early, as it gets super busy.  I have heard stories of people waiting up to an hour to get in!! Generally the people are nice and friendly, and there is plenty for all.

Once we arrived home, we enlisted some help again in processing and cleaning the apples.  They all helped out...

We filled the bottom of our fridge with apples, and our cool box.  We are now 9 days since our trip there, and we still have a fridge full, and a fruit bowl full of apples.  

Monday, 24 August 2015

Back to School - Finally

My children went back to school today. It has felt like a particularly long break this year.  Admittedly, I kept Sebastian in daycare over the summer.  two reasons: It helps his speech and social development to be with kids his age, and my 3 together over long extended periods of time are very tiring.....  it just worked out better for everyone....

So I have kept the same systems as last year.  They still have a closet for school clothes on the landing.  They still have their boxes in the utility room for their stuff (though I am hoping to upgrade these shortly) and we have lost the lunch box lists on the fridge.  Instead we have a paper calendar with their school lunches that they are buying written on those days.  For their packed lunches, I know what they have. It is almost an art form now.  Also written on the calendar is that nights dinner. They seem more concerned with this these days.  If I can get a dinner where they all eat it is a success.  If 2 out of 3 of them eat my dinner, it is also a success.  Fussy children

I digress.  Isaac was very composed and calm this morning, which was good to see.  Long may it last

Oliver was a little disorganized and tired.  Typical Oliver really 

Oliver is morning car pool patrol this year.  This means he needs to be in school between 7.40-7.45.  We now need to leave the house NO LATER that 7.25.  It was not too bad this morning.  Oliver was there at 7.40 on the dot.  I drove round to the car park, Isaac and Seb looked at some books before driving round through car pool again at 7.50.

Isaac took this lovely shaky picture of Oliver at his car pool station.  I will get a better one... I am a little concerned about Isaac sitting around before school.  I worry he will be bored, and this may have a detrimental effect on the rest of his day.  From wednesday onwards, those there at 7.45 will be able to play outside, so that is what Isaac will do!

All in, I think they had a good day.  They had a half day today, and another one tomorrow, before falling into full time on wednesday.  I will be early to get them.  They spend a lot of time in school... I am really hoping this year is going to be good.  I think they will both do well.  Oliver will have to get used to the responsibility of being the top of the lower school.  I think more structured work and routine will help Isaac.  I am also going to be volunteering in school.  I reckon I will be there about 4 times a month.  Will do them good to know I am involved.

Sebastian went to full time days last wednesday.  I now drop him after the other 2, about 8.15.  I collect him before the other 2, so about 2.30.  He has a rest period now, but it is only for an hour.  This is mainly to get him used to being in school full time.  If we were in England, he would be starting reception class, full time, in 2 weeks.  He seems to be loving it so far, and his teachers seem lovely.  Long may it all continue....

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Since holiday ( Photo drop)

Hey y'all!  This is just a quick one to put some photos in and talk about what we have been up to.  Most of these have been on my Instagram account, with the hashtag #CGis33.  If you are not on Instagram, why not?!?  You can always type the hashtag into google, and that will generally lead you to what we have been up to.

So, first things first.  This is our new mobile, do you like it? 

It is on a Siblu mobile home park in the south west of France.   My mum initially purchased a mobile 7 years ago for this pitch.  This pitch is very good, as it is large, in the quiet owners area, and behind where the photo is taken from is a lovely view out over the estuary bay.  My mum transferred ownership of her Mobile to me, and the rent of the pitch, before she passed away.  We have been waiting for the right deal to come along before we purchased a new mobile.  It was placed on pitch while we were on holiday.  It looks good! Siblu will rent it out next year, and it will be ours after next summer.  I can't wait to go and stay there.  It has 3 bedrooms, and a generous living area.  Plus the decking is awesome.... The site, Bonne Anse Plage, is where Paul and I met, many years ago, so it will always have significance for us.

Paul borrowed a Go Pro camera from work.  They are awesome.  The kids loved using it, playing with it, and taking loads of photos and videos.  Think I know what is on Paul's Christmas list.....

Look at this water Baby! Swimming underwater with his mouth open.  I am so please all our boys now swim, albeit not with any great skill or form.  But they are generally water safe, doesn't stop is being constantly on our guard though...

Yep, we have booked more NASCAR races.  This one is for the Southern 500, over Labor Day weekend (the unofficial end of summer).  It is the only race held in South Carolina, and is in Darlington, about a 2 hour drive from here.  We are just going to drive it, so it could be interesting with the boys.  At least they are off school the next day......

I seem to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Sundays are my prep days.  The one pictured above was also a BBQ day.  We have bison burgers, hard boiled eggs, croutons and bacon in the background.  Bison burgers are delicious, possibly because they are grass fed? These eggs were organic too.  The croutons are from the ends of the homemade bread.  Oliver and Sebastian love them, and will often take them for snack at school.  The bacon? I have taken to cooking off a packet a week! Oliver eats it with his lunch, as do paul and I.  We are trying to take greater care as to the types of food we put in to our bodies.  I am still trying to cut the carbs and exercise more.  Not sure it is making much of a difference, but I feel better for it.  Hopefully once the kids go back it will be a little easier.....

I took Oliver and Isaac peach picking.  I was surprised how much they enjoyed it.  I did it last year with Isaac and Seb.  I think we picked a better day this year, as it was much cooler, and much earlier in the morning.  I spent $25 on peaches.  I gave some away, have eaten a lot, and frozen even more.  I make an awesome smoothie with 1 peach, Half a mango, a handful of blueberries, coconut water and yogurt.  Delicious!

The boys uniform arrived.  *hopefully* this will be the last uniform with embroidery I have to purchase here for this school. Pretty sure I will be buying more trousers or shorts later in the school year. I can't believe we are about to enter their last school year in America.  So scary, we try our best not to think about next year yet.  I know it's coming, I just don't want to face it.....

We finally made it to Main Street Friday, up in Greenville.  First one this year.  Bad form by us.  The kids had a blast, and we enjoyed it too.  Seb even saw someone from his class!  It felt a lot easier this year. I think that is just a reflection on the age of the kids. 

So that's it for now.  The boys return to school on Friday, but I will do a post for that after the weekend.

AdiĆ³s amigos xxx

Monday, 10 August 2015

Last few days on Anna Marie Island

We enjoyed our last couple of days on Anna Marie Island.  We went out for dinner at the Sandbar, and had a few too many cocktails.  The kids loved walking home on the beach

I think this holiday really did show that we are beach people.  Well, just holiday people.  We certainly work to live, and not live to work.  We loved the beach here, it was so beautiful, and the water was always warm.

The kids got really into swimming in the pool.  I am so pleased that they can now all swim without any type of flotation device.  Granted, Isaac swims best when he is snorkeling, and Sebastian does a bobbing type of swim, but thats cos he loves being under water.

After last years crazy holiday, and the trips to the UK that followed it, it was nice to go and relax as a family.  I loved being able to spend time with my husband and my boys.  We have built such a close family unit.  Yes, we have our issues, but who doesn't?  We are learning to work together as a team, and are constantly refining our techniques and strategies of dealing with the boys.  As they grow, we learn......

See, water babies!

OF course, we had to get some souvenirs. I was advised by a girl in the bakery to head up to Holmes Beach area, as there is a huge shop that sold every kind of souvenir you could wish for.  She wasn't wrong.  The kids loved these delightful pirates out the front.

And then, we had to leave.  No one wanted to go home.  We left on a saturday, and managed to be out the door by 7.30am.  We should probably have left earlier.  We hit dreadful weather around Tampa, with a massive thunderstorm, where we had to drive at 35 mph.  We then got stuck in traffic on I75 due to the Interstate being closed.  A man shot at a highway patrol officer who had stopped to assist a disabled vehicle (more details here).  We ended up being stuck on the interstate for about 3 hours, barely moving.  We even had to pull over and do the wee at the side of the road thing for the boys.  We eventually reached an area where we could do a U-turn through the median.  Once we were off the interstate, all the roads in the area were choca-block, due to it closure.  Absolute nightmare! 

But we did see a cool Army convoy.  

All in, it took us about 14 hours to get home.  Given how long we were stuck on the Interstate, and the fact we stopped for lunch and dinner, this was not too bad.  

We are absolutely in love with Florida.  It is still fairly wild, yet touristy enough to cater for what we want. Anna Marie Island, and Tampa area in general are heavenly.  I would quite like to go back there, possibly while we are still living here, or I would be more than happy to make that flight from the UK.....

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Day trip to St Petersburg

Since doing our trip to Tampa, Paul was keen to go to St Petersburg for the day.  This was mainly for the Indy Car track that is set up there.  So on the final thursday, we set off, via a stop at the local outlet stores.

We reached the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and paid our toll.  Unfortunately all my photos are blurry....

We had done research so knew where we were going, so it was not long before we came across part of the track.  This race is held annually at the end of March, at the beginning of the Indy Car season.  
The picture below is the Victory Circle Monument right by turn 10 on the track

The other side of the monument is the Dan Wheldon Monument.  Dan Wheldon lost his life while racing in Indy Car at Las Vegas in 2011.  He was from Emberton, England.  Paul was actually watching the race on TV when it happened.  It was very hard to take in.  It felt significant to Paul.  They were the same age.  Wheldon has 2 sons, named Sebastian and Oliver.  It was moving for us, seeing this monument, I think the boys even understood the gravity of what had happened.  

This was something Paul wanted to do, and I completely understand the significance.  As I write this, I am on the verge of tears....

We went for some lunch while trying to decide what else we wanted to do with our time in St Petersberg.  There doesn't seem much, if I am honest.  Using various travel apps, we decided to go to the number one tourist attraction in the city: The Dali Museum.

An absolutely stunning building, just over the road from the Victory Circle Monument.  Not cheap either.  We were encouraged to take audio guides, but we decided not to, as we didn't think the kids would wear them.  We would probably have got more out of the museum if we had.

Don't get me wrong, some of the exhibits are cool.  We were kinda lucky that they had a Da Vinci display on, as the kids know who he is from the film Mr Peabody and Sherman.  Otherwise there was little to hold them.  They did like the mannequin with fish in it though! 

To be honest we did the whole thing in about 30 minutes.  Hind sight is a great thing.  The whole place felt very pretentious.  For our kids, it just wasn't worth it.  If it had been just Paul and I, then great, we would have taken a head set and enjoyed it.  But with the boys , I was more concerned about their behavior, and they weren't even misbehaving (except Seb, and he is  super cute, so gets away with it...).  I didn't want them to ruin anyone else enjoyment.  I probably need to stop being so concerned about this....

We walked out feeling very underwhelmed, and headed back to the car.

Better weather = beach, pool, beach, pool, beach, pool

Ready for some ramblings?!?

Our children loved having their own pool, as did we.  By the end of the first day, both Isaac and Seb had lost their arm bands.  Using a combination of swimming and snorkeling techniques, they were both able to swim lengths of the pool. Their under water swimming is awesome also. They are always in their googles at the pool now.

Our house had a fabulous grill, and 3 different areas to sit and eat.  We grilled pretty much every other night, but had to stop sitting outside as I was being eaten alive by mosquitos (as was Oliver!).  These are some delicious chicken kebabs we had.  He ate them in soft taco shells, with all the trimmings.  Delicious!

Speaking of tacos, we went for lunch at Poppo's Taquerias, just round the corner for the house.  Paul and I both had huge burritos, Oliver and Seb had quesadillas, while Isaac went for chips (it is the one thing he will eat at Mexican style places).  These were some of the best burritos we have ever had.  Add in the local crafted beer, and the healthiest sodas you could wish for, and you are on to a winner. It even gets Isaacs thumbs up!

Click to add a blog post for Poppo's Taqueria on Zomato 

We could not be on the Gulf of Mexico with out seeing a sun set.  It was beautiful.  Although we didn't get to see the whole thing go down (darn clouds), it was certainly worth the little walk.  The kids loved splashing in the sea too!

We went for lunch at Ginny and Jane E's.  This is not your usual cafe.  They are also a shop specializing in one of a kind and handcrafted goods.  I even saw some products made in Sussex, UK! They have a bakery at the back of the store and cater for breakfast and lunch also.  The kids certainly enjoyed their lunch, especially as their brownie came out first. They must have been hungry though, as they devoured everything on their plates.  Paul and I both went with the Philly Cheesesteak, and it was delicious.  The only thing that put a dampener on the experience for us was an older gentleman sitting at the table next to us.  As he departed with his friends he made some comment about adult only eateries.  Not sure what he was getting at.... My kids aren't that bad (most of the time!)

Click to add a blog post for Ginny & Jane E's on Zomato 

As this post says, we spent a lot of time at the beach.  It was so nice and peaceful.  The kids are all pretty good at making sandcastles now, if a little impatient sometimes... Paul and I don't mind helping most of the time.

One afternoon we headed to the beach.  It had been a cloudy kinda day but there was no sign of a storm.  Then these clouds were spotted.....

We checked our Accuweather App.  Rain was expected in 15 minutes, but only actually raining for 10.  We decided to sit it out.  We covered all the important stuff like diabetic supplies and my phone.  As soon as it started raining, we went and lay in the shallows.  The sea water was warmer than the rain!! We weren't the only ones either. Any part of you that was no in the water was really cold, but in the water it was very pleasant.  If this had been the Atlantic coast, I don't think you could have done it.  But we did it.  We sat out the rain, and behind it was some beautiful blue sky.  We stayed on the beach for about an hour after the rain had passed.

You are not British till you have sat on the beach in the rain......

Monday, 3 August 2015

Florida Aquarium and American Victory Ship, Tampa

It continued to be a little bit unsettled for a few more days.  We decided to head to Tampa for a day trip.  Our boys love aquariums, and the one in Tampa looked good.

It was raining as we left, and continued to rain the whole hour or so on the way there.  Florida Aquarium is right by the cruise ship terminals in a rejuvenated area of Tampa.  I had seen that you got cheaper tickets by purchasing on line, so I did this on the way there.

Good job too, as the queues were huge.  I think every tourist staying in the vicinity of Tampa had the same idea as us on that rainy day.  As did most of the church groups, day cares and summer camps.  It was crazy.  Luckily, we were able to by pass the queue and head straight to guest services with our online tickets.  We weren't the only ones though....

A quick rest room stop, and we began...

The kids love seeing sea creatures.  Snakes are alway a bonus too!

It is a very well laid out aquarium, with lots of good exhibits.  It was so busy, that it was tricky to get to the front of the tanks, and even move in some places.  It was more like Disney with it busy-ness 

I am grateful my children are patient and observant.  They just love sea creatures.  Sharks are definitely on of their favorites!

It was good to be able to get real up close and personal to some of the exhibits.  My boys would have loved to try and touch a ray or a shark.  But the camp groups around that particular tank made it nay on impossible.  So many kids!!!!!

Maybe places like aquariums need to look into closing to the public sometimes to give organizations a chance to come and look round. It would be easier on the organizations if the general public weren't there, and the general public may enjoy it more with out loads of kids everywhere.  Granted, their were few to none misbehaving or rude kids, but still.

We left the aquarium feeling a little frazzled.  3 kids is hard work to have a day trip with sometimes!  We had spotted a Hooters nearby on one of our apps, so we headed there for lunch.  We have lived here for 3 years, and still not been to a Hooters.  We were seated quickly and promptly.  Service was good.  Paul and I shared wings and fries.  They were some of the best wings we have had since being here!  The kids enjoyed it too!

It had stopped raining by now, and we didn't want to head straight home.  Behind the Florida Aquarium is the American Victory Ship, Mariners Museum.  Again, we love old war ships, so we decided to do a little self guided tour.

This merchant ship was built in 1945, and served in World War II, Korean War and the Vietnam War as a cargo vessel. It arrived in Tampa in 1999 where it underwent a restoration project to become a national memorial and museum.

A good sized boat, not the biggest we have been on, but it could be made fully operational very quickly, and thats cool!  It probably needs a little more restoration work, but it is a work in progress, and will be a grand museum one day.  It also has no air-conditioning, so we were very grateful it was cloudy still!  There was an Osprey on one of the cables, who had obviously dropped his dinner on to the deck below.  We had to scoot round that....

We all really enjoyed the merchant ship.  Almost more than the aquarium!  

We headed home.  In our back yard of the vacation rental was 2 huge mango trees.  They were in full fruit, though we learned that the next door neighbor often came and harvested them.  I figured out a way to get the fruit of the trees, using the pool cleaning pole.  We enjoyed quite a few mango cocktails, not to mention plenty of mango smoothies for breakfast.....