This is Us – The Big Season Finale That Wasn’t

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I was right there with you. This is Us, big season finale, the biggest question that loomed almost the entire season would be answered.  But it wasn’t.  This is Us pulled off the Big Season Finale that Wasn’t.

Or was it?

RUN AND AVERT YOUR GAZE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW HOW THE THIS IS US SEASON FINALE – OR ANY OTHER EPISODE – WENT! THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!

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This Is Us

The Big Lead-In

We know from several episodes this season that the family patriarch of the Pearson clan does not have a neatly tied up, happy ending on the horizon.  We got the hint of it when Rebecca turned up at a family event with Miguel, Jack’s best friend.  There were other glimpses – a quick flashback to Papa Pearson’s funeral, with The Big Three seemingly in their late teens; an urn that watches the ballgame with Kate; Randall and his dad visiting that place where the family scattered Jack’s ashes; and Kate’s declaration that she is the cause of Papa Pearson’s untimely demise.

With all this big lead-in, I think we felt entitled to our answer.  We wanted to see the car crash and burn from Jack’s alcoholic road trip.  My mind quickly raced to Ben beating Jack, his rival for Rebecca’s affections, into a bloody, unrecognizable pulp.  He would end up in the hospital, and we would have to wait until next season to see that he didn’t survive.  Kate implied she was to blame for his death, so part of me thought he would come into the house after running away from Rebecca, and maybe Kate would accidentally shoot the unexpected intruder that turned out to be her dad.  Oh, I hashed this bitch out.  There was not a way this season was going to end that I hadn’t already figured out.

young jack

Jack Before Rebecca

Boom, There it Is

But then, where I least expected it, was the Big Season Finale.  We were so hell bent on this season finale answering the question about how Jack dies that we didn’t see it coming.  The cliffhanger. The set up for next season – maybe for the unfortunate passing of Jack Pearson.

Where do they go from here?

That’s the cliffhanger.  We weren’t watching and they slipped it right in on us.  Every eye was on Jack’s every moment, waiting for his last breath to finally be revealed, and like David Copperfield’s most skillfully executed illusion, boom, there was the cliffhanger.

What happens next for Jack and Rebecca?

People, she KICKED HIM OUT!! Is it over for them?  Does he move in with Miguel, leaving the door open for Miguel to move in on the Pearson clan?  There have been hints that the triplets don’t have the warm fuzzies for Miguel – is this why? Does Jack continue to drink?

And then, when those of us that weren’t stunned by the lack of Jack’s death collected our thoughts and turned them back to the living, breathing Papa Pearson, he gives the speech of the season. He professes his love for Rebecca and his wish that their children be told the truth about the state of the marriage.  He professes his love and his devotion to this marriage, Rebecca says nothing, and then it’s done.  And we’re left with this cliffhanger – is it over?

But Wait, There’s More

And if that wasn’t enough of a cliffhanger for you, there were mini baby cliffhangers.  Does Kevin leave his newly rekindled relationship to audition for Ron Howard, or does he stop short of getting on the plane, realizing this is what killed that relationship the first time around.  Will Randall’s wife agree to adopting a baby? And why does Randall want to adopt?  Is it to honor his father(s), to fill a gap left by his bio dad’s passing, or is it because he was entangled in establishing his career when his daughters were born, and now is his chance to nurture a new baby?  And what about Kate, who is seemingly ready to pick up the mic her mom dropped?  What does her decision to try a career in singing mean to her relationship with Toby?  Or her mom?

Jack and Rebecca fight

The most realistic TV fight I’ve ever seen

No Who Shot JR

I think we were looking for – maybe hoping for – a Who Shot JR? moment.  Television has so conditioned us to see Negan with the barbed wire bat, listen for it to hit someone in the head, and then spend six months in a mix of stunned silence and angry anticipation.  But this is a skillfully written, brilliantly acted, thoroughly engaging story.  Our love for this show comes from the real life shit it deals with.  The fight between Jack and Rebecca last night was the most authentic I have ever seen on television.  There was no his line, her line, his line, her line back and forth.  It was knock down, talk over, drowned out the other person real life argument.  Why would we watch something so artfully realistic presented, then expect Jack’s car to blow up as he drove away?

It was brilliant, the story fantastic, the authenticity unquestionable.  This is why we keep coming back to This is Us.

The Right Way to Celebrate an Anniversary

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Anniversary Picture

Is there a right way to celebrate your wedding anniversary?  I think most people would say there is.  Some fancy a romantic dinner at a favorite restaurant. Others would say a quiet movie without the kids. There would even be those who would take in a sporting event, do couples pottery, or see a show.

What is the right way to celebrate an anniversary?  I’ll tell you.

March 9, 1991

Second National Bank

For Better or Worse

We spent our anniversary more worse than better.  Both kids are sick. One insisted on going to the theater to perform her duties as assistant stage director. I bundled myself up, despite the mid-50 degree temperatures, took her for tea and breakfast, and got her to the theater.  My poor husband woke up this morning still sitting at his desk chair.  His crazy wife stripped the bed yesterday with the intention of letting it air out. Eventually, it was to be covered with fresh sheets. Except I fell asleep. And the bed wasn’t made.  And Jim had no place to sleep, because the other sick kid had taken over the sofa.  We had no sooner both gotten home and found comfortable positions, when our drama queen kid called in tears to be picked up.  She was too sick to go on.  No rest for the weary.  But the right way to celebrate an anniversary is immersed in the life we created in our 26 years together.  And so we did.

For Richer or Poorer

Emotions of the mother of the bride

For Better or Worse

Financially, it was a good day. That’s the right way to celebrate an anniversary.  We know the bills are all paid, there’s food in the fridge, and the car that always requires a major repair as soon as a big check comes in has just had all four tires replaced and brake work done.  But we also have multiple bank accounts, and at one point, my husband had to ask if I needed more than $175 before the weekend, because the one account we don’t have daily access to is where our most recent deposits went.  So while I know we’re good, I also know I have to watch my pennies on this, my anniversary.

In Sickness and In Health

Yes, well, here is where we really prove we know how to celebrate an anniversary.  Jim has spent MONTHS preparing to be part of a mock trial competition team.  Because of his vision problems, things that other competitors probably were able to do in a reasonable period of time have taken Jim triple the time.  He has sacrificed weekends with his family, dinners out with friends, events we wanted to or should have attended.  Then last weekend, I got sick.  It wasn’t just “sick” – it’s sick.  Fevers, chills, aches, unable to breathe from the chest pain of the cough, gastrointestinal distress – I have had it all this week.  And because he tended to every need this week, Jim caught it.

And today, when he was supposed to leave with his team to compete, he was too sick to go.  He has fever, chills, aches, and is unable to catch his breath from the cough.

He hasn’t blamed me once, although when the delirium from the high fever begins to dissipate, he may, but he has accepted this as part of being a couple. I’ll never lose the guilty feeling.

That’s the right way to celebrate an anniversary – not making things that go wrong the other person’s fault.

I Will Love and Honor You, All The Days of My Life

Sick as he is, my husband made sure I had a wonderful anniversary dinner.  He arranged for take away from our favorite Italian restaurant, complete with a delicious dessert.  We ate quietly, because when we talk we cough. He’s in shorts and a t-shirt.  I’m in sweats, zipped up to my neck. Today is day two without a shower for me. Yet he sits by me, not commenting on the lack of makeup or combed hair.  His olfactory senses are surely challenged by the cold, but still, no mention of my lack of “freshness”.  We are older, fatter, balder. We are parents to three children, all of whom are closer to leaving us empty nesters withe very breath we take.

Anniversary Picture

26 Years

There are arguments, that’s for sure.  But there is always love in this house.  Even when we don’t see eye to eye, we honor each other’s voices, trying never to squelch the other.  Well, at least not permanently.

This is where I want to be, all the days of my life. Oh, it may not be this home, this state, this country.  I hope it will not be still in these sweats, hacking lungs up.  But I want to always be where this love is.  I hope he does, too.

And with that feeling in your heart, my friends, is the right way to celebrate an anniversary.

 

Every New Beginning

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New beginning

One of my favorite song lyrics of all times is the line from the Semisonic song “Closing Time”, and it goes “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  It is actually a quote from Lucius Seneca, and it alludes to the sad feeling that comes over you, even as you take your first exciting steps towards a new beginning.  It means that something else that you’ve put your heart and soul into is ending.  It’s over.  It’s the end.

New beginning

Lucius Seneca

Friday marks my last day at Tatem Elementary school. It is the end of one of my new beginnings.  It was a fantastic new beginning for me just a few short years ago.  As I embarked in a new direction, and decided to pursue the dream of being a teacher that I had as a little girl, Tatem was my beginning.  They gave me the most amazing mentor teacher in Cathy Schilling when I was a student teacher.  Then they took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to work with the students.  All things considered, it has been one of the best experiences in my life.

My time at Tatem has not been without tears, both good and bad.  Teaching is way harder than they tell you in school. From the tears that rolled down my cheeks when one of my students wrote our principal a letter of recommendation for me to the ones that came because I felt like I couldn’t do enough, every day was filled with challenges.  Above all, some of the best people I think I will ever know in my life are Tatem people.  I am fortunate to be surrounded by educators who, even on days where they may not love their jobs, love their students.  They allow me to watch them at the art of educating young minds, and I continue to learn from them.

I am facing another new beginning, on the heels of this beginning’s end.  My life needs me more than I think even I realized until recently.  But I am taking away volumes of knowledge, a lifetime of memories, and, I hope, forever friends.

Every new beginning…I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

 

Zeppoli Collingswood – Sicily Without Family Charm

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Entrance

Food is romantic.  It’s about love and family and flavors.  Jim and I long ago abandoned chain restaurants and began eating out with purpose – to find good food in comfortable environments that we would want to go back to time and again. Zeppoli Collingswood was like being in Sicily, except there was no family charm that is a signature of any Italian dining experience.  This restaurant had so much potential in that area.

Entrance

Sign on the window

This tiny restaurant (it has about 11 tables, with a dining capacity of 35) is all about big flavors, to be sure.  We waited literally months to find a table at Zeppoli, dining at numerous other Collingswood restaurants in between.  We had it hyped up on our minds by the time our anniversary dinner rolled around, and that may have been to the detriment of the restaurant itself.  We expected an experience, but what we got was a huge let down.

The chef, Joey Baldino, has captured the essence of Sicily.  The emphasis here is on the flavors that remind you of family and home.  Fresh pastas with incredible sauces, antipasto that was the best I have ever enjoyed, and the emphasis on fresh seafood remind me of dinners in Italy with my family.  I had the pasta special for the evening, a potato gnocchi in a lamb ragout, which I could have licked from the plate.  My fisherman’s stew had perfectly prepared calamari, and the freshest clams and mussels I think you could get this side of the beach.  The sardines, a dish we have never seen outside of Italy, were perfectly grilled, seasoned with an expert and knowing hand, and absolutely amazing.  Even the breadbasket, with an onion tart type of bread and a Jersey original tomato pie, was well thought out, perfectly executed, and delicious in every morsel.

But dining is an experience.  There is more than just food to a dining experience.  You want to be comfortable.  You want to have pleasant conversation.  You want there to be warmth from your server.  Those are the things we were missing at Zeppoli.  We were there for our 26th anniversary dinner.  I commented to my husband that if it had been our first date, it would have been too awkward to have a second.  We had minimal conversation, because we couldn’t hear each other.  I mentioned when we left that if that antipasto had been served to me at a different restaurant, I would have been raving about it as I enjoyed it, but the truth was, Jim couldn’t hear me, so I just sat quietly.  Our table butted right up against another table, and every time the man in the end seat of that table leaned back in his chair, he tipped our bread basket.  I was at first glad he didn’t have long hair, because the entire time, it would have been right in the basket, but at the same time, the only alternative was to put our drink glasses on that side of that table, and with him tipping the bread, we didn’t want to risk a pool of wine on the table.

The room itself was also pretty dark.  The dark walls and dark wood tables and chairs certainly could provide warmth to the restaurant, but they make it feel almost claustrophobic.  Jim, who of course has vision problems anyway, couldn’t order himself, because he couldn’t see the menu, but then when I had to serve him the antipasto because he couldn’t see to serve himself, I knew it was too dark.  We had another dining experience recently where the room was dark, but the walls and the decor was white and bright.  While he still couldn’t effectively read the menu, he could see things in the room.

Inside the restaurant

The Zeppoli Collingswood dining room

The servers here are not dedicated to any one table, so over the course of our meal, we had four different servers.  There may be an advantage here in terms of efficiently clearing the table or delivering meals, but there’s not connection to any one server.  You aren’t quite sure who to ask if you want something or need something, because while technically EVERYONE attends you, no one really attends YOU.  The one server who actually introduced herself to us at the beginning, never came back to our table for anything over the course of our meal.

We ended the meal feeling full but not satisfied.  We hadn’t enjoyed our evening together.  The food was definitely delicious, but without conversation and without any feeling of warmth from our servers, who robotically moved throughout the dining room removing and placing dishes, it just felt like food – not a meal.

I would say that Chef Baldino more than earned his James Beard nomination, but Zeppoli is not the kind of dining experience we will return to.

 

Requiem for the Mother of the Bride

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Emotions of the mother of the bride

When you hear the word “requiem”, you always think death.  But in death, there is new life.  As the last chords of the requiem for the Mother of the Bride plays, a new life is indeed born.  Welcome, Mother-in-Law.

Brighid and Brent Wedding Day

Our new family portrait

Admittedly, I was never comfortable with my own Mother-in-Law.  She was kind on one hand, but with each kindness, there were strings or clauses.  She spent much of the first 24 years of my marriage making me feel guilty whenever I would spend time with my own parents, even in my mother’s final days.  I hung in so long trying to be a “good” daughter-in-law, because I thought that anything I did to alienate her would cause my children to lose their grandmother’s affection.  It turns out that that affection had its own variety of strings.

As a Mother of the Bride, everything is planning and parties and fun.  You get to pick out flowers and help choose gowns.  You taste food, eat cake, and drink champagne.

As a Mother-in-Law, it’s all stress and worry about not interfering but not coming off as uncaring.  It’s about not trying to impose our family’s traditions (and baggage) on someone else’s child.  It’s about making someone else’s child feel all the feels your own kids feel – without making them feel like they betray their own parents to do so.

Emotions of the mother of the bride

Not losing a daughter, gaining a son

When the mother of the bride gig is over, the real work kicks in.  Gone is the woman whose biggest stress was losing 40 pounds or finding Spanx built to make it look like she did.  She has been replaced by the woman who wants her new son to know we don’t as much need him to “fit in” as much as we need to be accepted.

I will miss the Mother of the Bride.  She served her purpose for 18 months, saw her aspirations fulfilled, and left a legacy of merriment that will be long remembered.

I am intimidated by this Mother-in-Law, and I pray I don’t screw up the role too terribly.

Chobani Mezé™ Dip – The Lighter Side of Summer

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Light and delicious

Our house goes through quite a lot of Chobani yogurt all year long, so imagine how thrilled I was to learn about Chobani Mezé™ Dips – bringing something a little lighter to summer parties! Newly released for your summer entertaining, Chobani Mezé™ Dips are a savory, rich, and creamy collection of dips that will make a splash at pool parties, barbecues, and other summer festivites.

Light and delicious

Three of the new Chobani Meze Dips

The best thing about Chobani Mezé™ Dips is that they are all natural, GMO-free, healthier options to other party dips.  With only 1 gram of fat and 25 calories per serving, these dips are much lighter alternatives to the mayonnaise or sour cream based dips you probably usually put out on your summer party table.  These dips are even lower in fat and calories than hummus, which I see quite often at summer parties.

Chobani Mezé™ Dips are made with real, fresh vegetables and the Chobani Greek Yogurt you’ve come to know and love. The dips comes in four flavors, so there’s one for every party theme and every party goers taste.  During a recent family game night, I served a selection of the three I found at our local Wegmans – The Roasted Red Pepper, Three Pepper Salsa, and Smoked Onion and Parmesan, and every single one was a hit across the board.

Delicious

Smokey Onion and Parmesan

The kids tended to gravitate towards the Smoked Onion and Parmesan.  This is like your family favorite onion dip all grown up.  The smokey onion flavor with the nutty, bold Parmesan cheese made this creamy dip the most popular at our little get together.  The flavors are powerful, with the smokey onion bringing a whole new vibe to “onion dip”.

Yogurt based healthy

Chips and Dip, the lighter, healthier way

IMG_7461

If you like your dip to come with a kick, the Three Pepper Salsa is for you.  Made with green, chile, and jalapeno peppers, the dip is spicy and cool at the same time, gaining favor with the heat lovers at our game night.  This was perfect with veggies and chips, and of the three flavors we tried, this may have been the most popular.

Add some heat to your summer table

Three Pepper Salsa with pretzels

If sweet heat is more your speed, the Roasted Red Pepper should probably show up at your next party.  Packed with flavor and a slight kick, this was my favorite.  It reminded me of some vegetable dips I’ve had, but with a bolder flavor and the tiniest bit of spice, making it interesting and delicious.

Sweet, spicy, delicious

Sweet Heat for your Summer Soiree!

Sweet Heat

Roasted Red Pepper

As if there’s no enough good already going on here, the Chobani Mezé™ Dips are gluten free, kosher certified, and made with milk from cows that have not been treated with hormones.  The dips also claim to be less than 5% lactose, and while I’m not lactose intolerant, that may be low enough for someone with a mild intolerance to still enjoy the creamy deliciousness that is Chobani Mezé™ Dips.

We had mostly chips and pretzels in the house, and no matter what chip or pretzel was dipped into the various dips, we really gained some fans,

There’s plenty of summer left to go! If August is time for your family beach house vacation or backyard pool party, Chobani Mezé™ Dips are the perfect summertime addition to your get together.  They’ll help to keep you swimsuit ready while satisfying the craving for something creamy and delicious.

For more information about this great new product, check out Chobani Meze Dips!

Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s Bridal Shower

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Easy to do
Easy to do

Mom Made Invitations

Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s just goes hand in hand for a bridal shower theme.  My daughter, who has always admired Audrey Hepburn and loves the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s got engaged last year, and as mom to not only the bride but the maid of honor and one of the bridesmaids, I was excited to help plan the shower using this theme.

We set to work on Pinterest.  The boards for an Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s themed shower are numerous, but after looking at so many, the ideas all seemed to repeat themselves.  The decorations are abundantly Tiffany blue (or some reasonable facsimile, because no one but Tiffany’s and God know what the heck color Tiffany blue really is), and I was surprised that so many bridal showers used balloons as centerpieces.  With the help of my great friend Joy, we were able to create beautiful and reasonably priced tablescapes that should give a more elegant, grown up feel to our shower.

Centerpieces had to be simple, elegant, classic. When you think of Audrey Hepburn, you don’t think outrageous in any sense.  We opted for white flowers, and to be perfectly honest, we went to several craft stores before finding our simple beauties on sale for under $2 a stem.  The base is a yard sale find, painted with Mod Podge, and glittered to give the table some sparkle.  Green styrofoam balls were easily cut in half with a sharp kitchen knife, and the blossoms were cut using wire cutters, and poked into the half styrofoam ball.  The half ball was then glued to the top of the yard sale dishes.  Voila!

easy peasy

Yard sale find, inexpensive craft store silk florals, and glitter

My  favorite thing was our Tiffany ring boxes we made to be used as centerpieces or decoration for the gift or cake table.  Using Papier Mache boxes found at the craft store (and bought on sale), we painted them first with a sealer, which is meant to keep the papier mache from buckling.  When the coat of sealer was dry, we painted over it with another variation of the Tiffany blue color.  This took two coats to fully cover, and you could do a third if you missed a few spots.  We created a false bottom using a styrofoam brick, then covered a piece of cardboard – cut to fit the box – with tin foil (yep, right outta the kitchen drawer).  We topped the cardboard with various size diamond “confetti” – found easily online.  A flat, white bow was added to the box, and a personalized stamp created the finishing touch of the stamped logo!

papier mache

Tiffany like boxes

On some tables, we created a blinged out cylinder vase by coating the bottom half of the vase with Mod Podge (or spray adhesive – which worked better on our later attempts) and rolling it in iridescent glitter.  We learned that finer glitter is better, but the glitter we used was an average sized cut, and it looks just fine,  When the glitter had dried, a black satin ribbon was glued around it using hot glue, and we embellished with a craft store gem.  The day of, we intend to light faerie lights inside of them, and top them with the same white floral arrangement that we used on the shorter yard sale find glasses.  The vases were less than $3 each.

ModPodge and glitter

Easy and inexpensive blinged out vases

My friend Joy, who has a wall hanging in her home of their family’s last name initial, suggested this unique guest book.  We painted a T in the who the hell knows if it’s Tiffany blue color.  It will be displayed at the shower with a marker for guests to sign.  Total cost for this little couponed gem? $8.  Best part?  Even if some shade of Tiffany blue doesn’t feature in the couple’s ultimate decor, it goes with black, grey, brown, and most of the neutral palette, so they’ll be able to hang it somewhere in their home or apartment.

Mrs T

Great alternative to a guest book

One of the bridesmaids found these adorable little Tiffany blue-like boxes at the craft store, and picked them up to use for favors.  I already had vase sized martini glasses (don’t judge), and I snagged a $1 silver charger (it’s heavy plastic with a silver paint on top).  Bulk white mardi gras beads act as fringe, and these will be used to put our favors on!

cheap and easy

Favor display

Each table will also have smaller votive holder to just add glow to the glittery, glitzy decor.  These aren’t the ones we made, but ours look exactly like these, and they will perfectly compliment the taller glittered vases.

Pinterest find

Our inspiration for our votive holders

I couldn’t help but pick up these I give up  already with this Tiffany blue bags!  We will have them at the tables for guests to put their favors in – and maybe a few other surprises we have in store!

perfect favor bag option

Favor bags for the bride to be!

I wish I could convey how much I LOVE this piece my friend Joy created.  She found a jewelry mannequin at a yard sale that looked something like this when she started:

jewelry mannequin

The Before

We picked up some fabric paint, and ours, fortunately, already had the jewel on it, and Joy worked her magic and made this as Audrey Hepburn as she could.

Joy worked her magic

After

These are not identical pieces, but the one on top is the same fabric the one on the bottom was sporting before Joy got her hands on this.  We intend to use this to hang tags, which guests will write to attach to their gifts.  We have opted for a display shower, so the gifts will be unwrapped, saving the environment and allowing the bride extra time with her guests.

Great idea

Tag Holder

Overall, decor for this party is easy to create for very little money.  With yard sale finds, craft store sales, and a friend who is excellent with coupons and rain checks, we have been able to put together some really pretty tablescapes that reflect more of the classic elegance of Audrey Hepburn in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s days and less of the Sweet 16 birthday party.

Let’s hope the bride loves it!

Classic Audrey in cartoon form

Classic Audrey in cartoon form

 

Pokemon Go requires pants

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Pokemon Go requires pants

Pokemon Go requires pants, which for a child on summer break is the biggest obstacle to catching Pokemon. If you saw my earlier tweet, the Dad spent days trying to get signed up for Pokemon Go, amidst a crush of other Dads (and not dads) attempting to do the same.  Finally, after getting set up, he called down our youngest to let her play on his phone. And there we discovered the problem with the Pokemon Go game.

If you don’t know what this is, this is a virtual reality version of the game that has ebbed and flowed in popularity here in the US since the early 1990s.  A quick run down on the Pokemon Go phone app is:

  • available for iPhone or Android device
  • Walk around to places – no, really.  As the Pokemon Trainer, your job is to hunt down the Pokemon in your area and catch them.  You’ll find them pop up on the app, where you click on them to throw Pokeballs (is that a thing?) at them to “catch” them.  Hence, the reason PokemonGo requires pants – your neighbors and community in general will thank you.
  • Then battle, collect, and have fun.  I haven’t gotten to any of these stages yet, but you will find “gyms” in your area, where you can go and challenge other trainers to help gain experience and level your character up.  But we all know how I feel about gyms, so I haven’t entered one as of now.

As a not so techie type person, it’s so cool when you snag one as you are driving around town, then you see it appear in your car, where you have to catch it into the ball.  It’s even cooler to see one on your front lawn or at some of your favorite community landmarks.  This simple concept of having your camera show the real world in front of you on the screen in which the Pokemon are also shown is so cool to me (as a mom, not a Pokemon guru).

It is fun to see the kids out and about this summer.  It moves them from in front of the TV screen or computer screen and gets them walking, running, and actually interacting with other trainers in public.  Just remember to stay safe, don’t let young children go alone on this endeavor, and make sure you aren’t walking into dangereous situations in an effort to Catch ‘Em All.

Oh, and don’t forget – to catch them all in Pokemon Go requires pants

Pokemon Go requires pants

Pokemon Go requires pants and a sense of humor –  http://owlturd.com/post/147090507219/we-have-arrived-image-twitter-facebook

 

 

Kunkel’s Seafood and Steakhouse Review

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Seafood and steak

I hate to post bad reviews.  We had not eaten at Kunkel’s Seafood and Steakhouse in several years because we had a rather lackluster visit our first time.  When an impromptu visit from our oldest daughter and her fiance had us looking for something different for dinner, we decided to give the place a second try.  Our second visit to Kunkel’s Seafood and Steakhouse was more unsuccessful than the first one, and for a meal as pricey as this one was, we felt a written review was in order.

Seafood and steak

Kunkel’s Restaurant

To begin with, the restaurant bills itself as having a fresh raw bar, and Jim and the girls were all mouth-watering geared up for some fresh oysters.  We were seated, and after a few minutes (a bit longer than I think was appropriate), a waitress came over to take drink orders.  She disappeared again, and a few minutes later, returned to go over specials.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  Jim asked, as instructed by the menu, which fresh oysters they had in today so he could place his raw bar order, and it wasn’t until this moment when she “remembered” to tell us that they had no raw bar today.  The delivery truck never showed up.  Does that ever happen?  It leaves one wondering if there is an outstanding bill or a bad relationship with a supplier that would cause a delivery to just not show up.

Disappointment was obvious, and after dinner, Jim said he really would have walked out at that point if he thought the rest of us would be okay with it.  I kind of wish now he had walked out.

So, let’s get back to the specials.  This is a steak and seafood restaurant.  Tonight’s special was cheese ravioli with spicy (not really) sausage sauce.  Interesting.  Are they also an Italian restaurant?

We place orders for appetizers that we think we can share around the table.  We chose Fiery Thai Calamari, Stuffed Meatballs, and Bruschetta.

We’ll start with the Fiery Thai Calamari.  Described in the menu as “Crispy fried calamari tossed in a spicy-sweet orange chili sauce with fresh scallion also available in our Classic Fried Calamari style with marinara dipping sauce”, we opted for the spicy-sweet orange chili sauce instead of the classic fried calamari with marinara, which, after all, is not Fiery Thai Calamari.  The calamari were just slightly chewy, with a pleasant sweet flavor, but there was nothing fiery or spicy to balance the sweet.  This worked well for me, as I don’t really enjoy very spicy food, but if you are advertising a dish as “fiery”, there should maybe be a little heat attached?

Next up were the stuffed meatballs.  This is where we start to notice the “false advertising”.  No raw bar, no fiery in the fiery Thai calamari, and no stuffing in the meatballs.  The plate contained two large-ish meatballs, already topped with marinara sauce, separated in the middle by a shallow (very shallow) pool of pesto.  I’m not sure what purpose the pesto served, as it was barely detectable when added to the already marinara sauce covered meatballs.  But the biggest disappointment was the lack of smoked mozzarella.  Had it melted into the meatball as it was cooked, surely it would have imparted a smokey flavor to the meat.  Instead, the meat was a bit on the bland side, although the marinara sauce was tasty.

Kunkel's allegedly stuffed meatball

“Stuffed” Meatball

Kunkel's Stuffed Meatballs

Stuffed Meatballs

 

Next up, bruschetta.  Whenever I’ve had or made bruschetta, it has been on toasted bread.  That seems to be a key ingredient to actually making bruschetta, and it prevents the ingredients that you pile on top of the bread from making the bread too soggy to be picked up.

A poor attempt

Kunkel’s Version of Traditional Bruschetta

To begin with, this bread was not toasted.  Even though the description in the Kunkel’s menu says this:  Grilled sliced French bread toast points topped with diced tomatoes, onions, and basil and olive oil. – what we actually got was just sliced, fresh bread.  It was hard to pick it up to eat it, as the ingredients were too much for the untoasted bread to handle, and the bottom of the bread was a bit on the soggy side, which made it unpleasant to eat.  To make matters worse, the whole thing was drenched in balsamic glaze, which gave everything on top of the bruschetta an overwhelmingly vinegar taste.  I was glad not to have eaten this first, because I would have been unable to taste any of the other appetizer offerings (but maybe that would have been a good thing).

We waited no less than 20 minutes from the time our appetizers were finished until our salads and soups were delivered.  Every entree here comes with a house salad, which takes some of the sting out of the steep prices, but the salad is uninspired on it’s best day.  You can substitute the house salad for any of the other more interesting salads on the menu, but our waitress told us there was an upcharge of $5 to do so.  Jim and Brighid opted to choose a Caesar salad, and while it was clearly a better choice than the regular house salad, had they actually upcharged me $5, I’d be pissed. I don’t know if the waitress simply forgot or if she felt guilty charging $5 more for the Caesar salad.  They don’t call it Caesar salad at Kunkel’s, it’s a Sante Fe Romaine salad – basically a Caesar salad with a sliver or two of red pepper, a couple of olives, and a Chipotle Caesar dressing.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the Caesar, and the dressing was quite tasty, but had they charged me $5 more for essentially the same plate of lettuce with fewer toppings, I’d really have had a fit.

I don’t recall how long it took for entrees to come, but I do know that in the amount of time it did take between salad and entree, Eilis had long finished her glass of water and was well into my glass of iced tea.  For a virtually empty restaurant, there is really no excuse for glasses to remain empty so long.

The entrees are beautifully plated, and would easily impress the Chopped judges on their most critical day.  It’s there, though, that stuff started to go south.

Granuaile had the crab cakes.

Crab Cake Dinner

Kunkel’s Crab Cakes

Now, I have to say, we are sort of crab cake snobs.  My Aunt Annie, who for many years owned and cooked for a restaurant in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, made the best crab cakes known to human kind.  As soon as I see red pepper in a crab cake, I know that the person who made them was trying to cut corners and save money by throwing in some kind of filler.  To be fair, the crab cakes weren’t awful.  They were, however, just blah.  There was too much other stuff besides crab in the crab cake, and there again is the overwhelming balsamic glaze.  The sauce underneath the crab cakes was really tasty, and it was a shame to ruin in with the vinegary drizzle.  The crab cakes came with a side of asparagus, which you can see was more of a middle of asparagus, featuring three thin stalks of perfectly cooked, blandly seasoned vegetable.

I ordered the beef short rib, promised to be served over a bed of mashed potatoes, and finished with a bordelaise sauce and frizzled onion.

short ribs

Kunkel’s Beef Short Rib dinner

I saw the mashed potatoes, but the sauce was more of a soup, and the potatoes were already trying to stay afloat with the abundance of frizzled onion holding them down.  The beef itself tasted fine, but was overcooked and chewy.  The frizzled onion was too much to be considered a garnish, but added an off putting texture when combined with the already challenging to eat beef.  I ended up switching my entree with Jim out of fear that the beef and my gastrically altered stomach would not get along.

Jim ordered (and I ate) the ravioli special.  These were a cheese ravioli with what was billed as a spicy Italian sausage sauce.  The ravioli were light with a creamy cheese filling and a really good – although not spicy in any way – marinara sauce.  There were a few discs of spicy Italian sausage in the dish that were too spicy for me to really enjoy, but it begs the question that if the sausage had been simmered with the sauce, why did it not impart some of the spicy flavor to the sauce?  Was it just tossed on top as an afterthought?

dinner

Kunkel’s Ravioli of the day – cheese with spicy sausage sauce

Here was the main problem with the cheese ravioli.  It was $30.  No, that’s not a typo – $30.  I browsed several other Italian restaurant menus in my area – not diner menus, by the way, real Mom and Pop Italian restaurants.  This is what I found:

Lobster ravioli in blush sauce topped with shrimp – $21

Cheese Ravioli – $14.99 (add a side order of sausage for $7.50 – total for that meal about $22)

Ravioli in plum tomato sauce – $11.95 (add a side order of sausage for $4 – total for that meal about $16)

As you can see, based on other Italian restaurants in our area, the price for this ravioli dish was WAY out of line.  While this was easily the best dish of the night, there’s no way this dish should have been $30.

Pasta dinner with mussels

Kunkel’s Mussels and Pasta in white sauce

Eilis’ dish of Pasta and Mussels was deemed really good.  The pasta looked and tasted fresh, and the mussels were quite good in the butter and garlic sauce.  The pasta could have used a bit more sauce, and then a nice roll to sop it up with, but the meal was good and probably more in line with the price of similar dishes at other restaurants ($23.00).  Two questions, though, if there was no delivery of fresh seafood yesterday, are the mussels frozen from a previous delivery?  And why is this plate of seafood and pasta $7 cheaper than cheese ravioli?

Brighid and Brent enjoyed the filet mignon and the apricot butter salmon.  Brighid’s steak was under seasoned, and after the rest of the evening’s disappointments, she had begun to mentally eye up her stop for a Sonic Blast on the way home.  She ate a few bites and packed the rest for Jim to eat later.  Brent’s salmon was resting in a warm sea of apricot butter that was sweet and salty and a great combination to accompany the dense fish.  It was also one of the few highlights of the night.

Bogged down by disappointment, we ended the evening without even looking at the dessert options, however, it was a long wait from the time the busboy boxed up our leftovers to the time where we were actually offered dessert.

Then came the tacky move of the evening.  Our waitress came over with our check, and announced at the table that if we would be paying cash, we had to let her know right this very minute now, because cash paying customers were given a 3% discount on their food purchases.  Really?  This again brought to mind concerns about the financial stability of what is supposed to be somewhat of a casual elegant restaurant.

We won’t be back to Kunkel’s at any time in the near future, and while the restaurant itself is just beautiful, you can’t tease me with decor and not back it up with food.

 

Disney – Greedy Money Grab or Enhanced Experiences?

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The Family at Epcot
Christmas Castle

Cinderella Castle

A lot is being said right now about the recent news from Walt Disney World that they would be adding some extra opportunities for guests to enjoy their Walt Disney World vacation.  The most recent offerings include a test of premium parking – for an additional fee, and something similar to extra magic hours, but, again, for an additional cost over the price of a park ticket.  Is this an attempt at a greedy money grab by Walt Disney World, or are they truly trying to cater to guests who are looking for an enhanced theme park experience and resort vacation?

I want to start with the After Hours evening event.  Scheduled only for a select few evenings, the price tag for this exclusive experience is $149 per person.  Guests can enter the Magic Kingdom beginning at 7 PM, and the event itself runs from 11 PM until 2 AM.  While details are sketchy, it appears as though most of the popular attractions will be open, and complimentary bottled beverages and ice cream novelties are included in the price.

So, because of the hours of the event, I’m going to presume Disney is appealing primarily to adults – as they really have done with the popular (but also very expensive) Club Villain parties currently being offered. Are these the young couples doing honeymoons and babymoons?  Or are they the grown ups who have been married 25 years and have had enough of reality to want to pay a premium for an extra piece of the magic?  Are they the people who have extra money because they haven’t started having kids or have already paid for college and weddings and want to invest some vacation dollars into their own pixie dusted perfect vacation?

DVC Bunaglows

Polynesian Bungalows

Disney has always offered these types of “Oh, if only I had the money!” experiences.  You can rent a pontoon boat and go out privately with friends or family to enjoy a picture perfect view of the fireworks.  Walk on the wild side with the Wild Africa Trek for a cool $250 – small meal included.  $180 will let you dive at Epcot.  There are backstage tours and VIP experiences to be bought – there always has been.

The difference this time in my opinion is that Disney is rolling out too many, too quickly, when it seems like they are trying to capitalize on guests who want the “better than the average Joe” vacation to help pay for Avatar or Star Wars or any of the other new theme park offerings coming down the pike.  They are pitching these things after laying people off in a guest services capacity, performer positions, even the beloved resort greeters have been threatened with layoffs.  It appears to those of us that are average Joes that we are getting less of the magic for more of our money.

A one day wristband to Morey’s Pier in Wildwood (down the Jersey Shore) would cost me $57.  There is a list of attractions not included in that wristband, and those will likely run me $20 a pop if I want to partake in the things not included (per attraction – not for the whole shebang).  This doesn’t include the boardwalk games (those are about $5 a pop now – remember when you used to get 5 numbers for $1?).  It doesn’t include anything to eat, like the $149 Disney After Hours event does (or the $69 early morning event, which will include an unlimited continental breakfast).

I think if Disney had made these offerings seem like something more than corporate greed in action, they would be a welcome addition to the special event options, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party.  There have always been experiences for varying levels of financial comfort – deluxe resorts, special events and activities, Victoria and Albert’s.  Life is all about perception – whether you see things positively or negatively is up to you.  Yay, Disney has a bunch of great new things to try, or boo, here’s Disney, trying to make a buck off the back of the hard working people who are already scrimping and saving to give their families great Disney vacations.  Hooray, Disney is rolling out events to keep those of us who go often coming back to try what’s new, or hiss, there’s Disney greedily grabbing every dollar out of my vacation wallet.

The Family at Epcot

Epcot

No one is forcing anyone to pay extra for Extra Magic Hours – those are still free.  No one is demanding you pay a premium to park in the good spots – you can still use Disney transportation for free or park where you may have ended up parking anyway at the regular rate.  But I do fault Disney for not putting a more positive spin on what may become some people’s favorite things about going to Disney.