Summer Days Driftin’ Away

I love this town in the summer. There is so much to do and never a shortage of family-friendly activities, especially in the summer. After being cooped up all winter every weekend (any many weeknights) we are hopping in the car and heading off to some festival, market or parade. M loves going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings:

market

There are free concerts and street fairs, parades and pools. I know it’s like this just about everywhere in the summer, but we are really enjoying the diversity of activites, exploring the surrounding the communities and getting out of the hot, messy house for¬†some free/cheap entertainment. Being on Twitter just adds to the fun becuase I learn about all kinds of great events from other Clevelanders. Just in the last couple of weeks we went to Parade the Circle:

parade

Coventry Street Fair (where we met Kyle and Erica Roth & kids):

coventry

Shaker Summer Solstice Festival  and the Cleveland Zoo:

zoo

Tonight I think we are going to hit our first Wade Oval Wednesday.¬† On tap for upcoming weeks are Gourmets/Cocktails in the Garden, checking out some of the beaches, hitting the Burning River Fest, Feast of the Assumption, and M’s first trip to Cedar Point. I’m sure there will also be lots of exploring in parks and swimming in the wading pool along the way.

swim

The living really is easy because I would much rather spend my time in the sun playing with my girl then inside cooking, cleaning & doing laundry. The house is a wreck, but it doesn’t matter because we are never inside.¬† Mark grills out almost every night on¬†our awesome new grill (a gift from mom & dad). ¬†So come on over and enjoy the Cleveland summer with us – just don’t be offended if we don’t invite you in.

Vegas, Baby

I just returned from my 4th work-paid Vegas trip in about 15 months.  Prior to these visits I had never been to the Sin City. I have learned a great many things on my recent adventures and I thought I would share.  Keep in mind that these observations are that of a Midwestern mom who was there for work, not some crazy party girl there on vacation.

  1. I’ve stayed at several very nice hotels on the Strip – Paris, The Venetian, Treasure Island, and the Bellagio.¬† And in my opinion Venetian wins for the nicest room.¬† Bellagio was a close second but the Venetian is all-suite so the room was enormous and it also gets bonus points for having a fantasic sit-down vanity in the bathroom (the TV in the bathroom didn’t hurt, either). Some people don’t care as much about the room since they spend all their time gambling and drinking; but for me the room is a big part of the trip (see #6).
  2. Vegas is hella-expensive.¬† I have never left one of my 30-hour trips without dropping about $200 on cabs,¬†a drink or two¬†and dinners.¬† My breakfast on Friday morning was an iced coffee and blueberry muffin which cost me almost $14. Drinks are $10+, dinners are easily $40 without drinks & tip, shows are over $100 a ticket.¬† Yes, you can get free drinks if you are gambling, but those servers don’t come around the penny and nickel slots too often.¬† Water from the gift shop is $3, Diet Cokes in the vending machine are $3, too (but the machines accept credit cards – how nice!). And there is no “running to the drugstore down the street” (see #7).
  3. People-watching is free and very entertaining.¬† Having cruised the Strip several times I can tell you that you see everything along the way.¬† It’s most fun when you have someone with a similar mind-set so you can play games like “fake or real?” & “hooker or girlfriend?”.
  4. The casinos are all pretty much the same – smoky, loud and easy to get lost in.¬† The Bellagio gets credit for being the cleanest and least smokey and the Venetian is the stinkiest since they pump in some perfume over the smoke – not a good mix. If you are people watching on the casino floor the Bellagio is fun for all the high-rollers and wanna-bes; you can get a good laugh from some of their antics.¬† The Luxor seems to have the seediest clientele and is also fun for people watching.¬† I’ve had the best slot luck at Paris and The Venetian.
  5. I think one of the most overlooked things to do is catch a lounge act.  There are some really good and some really cheesy cover bands playing the strip and both are equally entertaining. This is also a great place to people watch.  I think Paris is one of the best for a good free show and so far shows at the Bellagio & Luxor tend to be cheesy.
  6. There is nothing like ordering room service in Vegas.  Even if you just order a snack or dessert you get 5-star treatment. And kicking back in a king-sized bed while you open your remote controlled curtains to watch the Bellagio fountain show with a key lime bar and a Diet Coke on a white-cloth covered table is heaven.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes.¬† Leave the platform stripper heals to the 22 year olds and strap on some flip flops because that jaunt to the next casino will take you 20 minutes by foot.¬† Distances are deceptive in Vegas – you can leave the Venetian, walk for 10 minutes and…still be in front of the Venetian.
  8. You get pretty used to seeing girls in their hoochie-best at all hours of the day.¬† Add to this the truck-billboards of strippers and call girls and the people stationed every 10 feet along the sidewalk passing out cards with nude girls selling “girls to your room in 10 minutes!” and I am always shocked to see people pushing kids in strollers around.¬† There is no hiding the sex industry in Vegas, it’s not really a place for children.
  9. A trip to Fremont Street (AKA the old strip or downtown Vegas) is worth it. This is where you will get your $9.99 surf & turf dinner and see the lights of Vegas like you imagined.¬† It’s seedy, gritty and great.¬† The slots here play out in real coins, not with a voucher. I hear that the Pasta Pirate serves great food, but it’s always packed.
  10. Despite what you think, things are not all 24-hours a day in Vegas.¬† On my first trip we went to a show that ened around 10 PM.¬† We figured we could hit a buffet afterwards when we would be good and hungry. We¬†walked through 3 casinos and every buffet and restaurant was closed!¬† We were starving and ended up eating at the Pyramid Caf√©¬†in the Luxor which was like eating a Denny’s for 4x the price.

So there you have it – my take on Vegas.¬† As my sister will tell you I really do think the best thing about the city is it’s great hotel rooms – I tend to call her to rub it in that I have a TV in the bathroom. I head back out there in the fall and meh – there is such a thing as too much time in Las Vegas.

This Old House

I love old houses. I adore the charm, the¬†craftsmanship¬†and the history. Our first house – in Toledo’s amazing Old West End neighborhood* – was a 1912 bungalow and it was love at first sight (tiny kitchen and all). We didn’t do much to that house other then some paint and a few new plumbing fixtures. Our current home in Shaker Heights is a much larger colonial which needs some cosmetic and mechanical work. ¬†Of course when you prefer old houses you usually give up some¬†conveniences¬†like central A/C and, in the case of both our houses, a dishwasher (but we cut out a cabinet a few months ago and put one in and for the first time in 7 years didn’t have to¬†hand-wash¬†our dishes).

What I’m saying is for us old houses fit best even with the trade-offs. ¬†Because in a newer house you don’t always get the moulding, the solid wood doors, the built-ins or the glass doorknobs over brass plates and locks with keys. But a few nights ago we realized why the modernization of the lock was such a good thing. ¬†If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you probably saw my update about M locking herself inside our bedroom and the¬†lengths¬†we had to go through to get her out. ¬†All the bedroom doors in our house have old-fashioned keyholes and skeleton keys. ¬†We hardly ever use them and the keys mostly reside on the top of the door frame. ¬†Apparently the key was in the lock on the inside of our bedroom door because M somehow managed to not only slam the door shut but turn the key.

My first reaction was to laugh – I couldn’t help but think that we had joined the ranks of the millions of parents who have some dramatic story about their kid locking themselves in something – a room, a car, a garage, etc. ¬†Mark didn’t have the same outlook and got mad at me for laughing. ¬†We tried to get M to turn the key but she didn’t quite comprehend the request. ¬†We tried using a key from the hallway, but with the key in the lock from the other side we couldn’t get it in.¬†We took the doorknob apart but discovered the lock was a separate mechanism and we still couldn’t unlock the door. ¬†I still was laughing at this point – much to my husbands dismay – because I figured we could go in through the window since we never remember to lock them. The thing about old wood windows is that they are usually pretty lose in the frame making it easy to open from the outside if they are unlocked – not so great for the heating bill, but perfect for breaking and entering. Then M hurt her finger as she was trying to turn the inside key and started to cry. ¬†I stopped laughing and barked at Mark to go get the ladder and go through the window.

I told M to get down to the floor so I could see her under the door and she was so¬†pathetic¬†– “mama, come closer to me! Kiss my boo-boo!”. ¬†Then I could hear Mark trying to open the side window without any luck. ¬†The noise scared M and I felt awful that I couldn’t comfort her. ¬†Mark moved around to the front window and managed to get it open and as I watched through the keyhole M went over to see what he was doing. ¬†When he climbed in and opened the door I said “M, daddy saved you!” and she said “Daddy, you my Prince Eric!” (Little Mermaid reference). ¬†M was none worse for the wear, I was laughing about it again and Mark was mad at me again for laughing.

You gotta love old houses with their old locks and loose windows.

——–

On a related note, we are starting to get estimates to replace/upgrade the 90-year-old electrical system and replace the original boiler.  Hold me.


*Seriously – the OWE is like a magical place: porch parties, close knit neighbors, super-low taxes and amazing houses. ¬†It had it’s downfalls (piss-poor school system and crime) but man I miss the old ‘hood. ¬†Good thing we are going back to visit during the OWE Festival this weekend.

Wednesday Tacos

A few years ago I started randomly receiving a “lady’s magazine” in the mail (Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day or some such nonsense). ¬†I never ordered or paid for this subscription and yet I got it every month for at least a year. ¬†Whatever magazine it was, it was pretty much geared to the 30-40 something housewife so I was NOT the target audience. ¬†The only thing I ever looked at before pitching the whole thing was a feature called 1-2-3 Recipe. Each month they had some crazy concoction made of only 3 ingredients and there were some interesting things featured. ¬†But one of those recipes makes a near-weekly¬†appearance¬†on our table. I’m pretty sure I found this before M was born and she loves it now. ¬†Both Mark and I have made it for work potluck lunches and we are always asked for the recipe. ¬†I love how easy it is and how¬†flexible¬†it can be. ¬†Here it is: our go-to meal in less then 20 minutes.

1-2-3 Taco’s (as written, as close as I can remember)
1 lb ground beef
1 package Knorr/Lipton “Fiesta Sides” Taco Rice
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

Brown the beef in a saucepan and drain the fat.  Add the rice & 2 cups water, stir and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 7 minutes.  Add in beans and heat through.  Serve as filling in taco shells top with your favorite  accrutements. (They cheat a bit with the 3 ingredient list since they tell you to serve in a taco shell which should totally be counted as ingredient #4).

Now here are my riffs on the theme:

  • Use any¬†protein¬†you want – we’ve done beef, turkey, chicken, buffalo and even meatless protein¬†crumbles.
  • If you don’t want to add the Knorr stuff – use minute rice and your own blend of taco seasonings – just follow the package directions for amount of water and cooking time.
  • Or use precooked rice (leftovers work great) + taco seasoning for an even faster meal.
  • Add 2 or more cans of black beans to stretch the recipe for a crowd.
  • Add in veggies – we almost always add 1/2 bag of frozen corn and diced tomatoes. ¬†When they are in season we add 2-3 diced red or yellow bell peppers, too. Maybe some cilantro if we have it around.
  • Make sure to add extra spice if adding a bunch of extras or it will be bland
  • Serve in shells or tortillas, over greens for a taco salad or just scoop some into a bowl and top with some crushed tortilla chips.
  • To take it to a potluck, cook it the night before and then transfer to the crock to reheat. ¬†Take sour cream, salsa, & cheese so people can assemble their own.

We are NEVER with out the ingredients for this dish – I buy Trader Joe’s canned black beans in sixes. ¬†It takes about 15-20 minutes and all three of us like it. ¬†It can be pretty healthy if you use ground turkey or chicken breast, add in veggies and are careful with your toppings. This easily feeds all of us for 2 dinners and gives Mark and I 3-4 lunches – more if we add in extra beans and veggies. It’s cheap, too… under $10 for 8-10 servings.

Try this out for your family and let me know if they liked it – and share your own riffs on the recipe!