Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 Oscar Reflections

Another Oscar Season has finished. I feel a little sadness today knowing that it is over. I am also holding my eyelids open today because I am so tired!  I will never for the life of me understand why the Oscar's do not start until 6:30 Central Time. Hasn't anyone else figured out no matter how quickly you que the music to cut off the acceptance speeches the show is NEVER going to end on time.  I will say this, this was a great Oscar season. I absolutely loved 7 out of 8 nominations. I was inspired by some of the true stories behind the movies and found myself researching and learning more about the real life moments.

This was our 19th year celebrating Oscar. One one hand 19 years seems so long but on the other hand, it feels like it was just a few years ago. So many things have changed in the past 19 years. We started off with little hope of seeing Documentary Shorts, or Live Action Shorts, or even Foreign Films. Then we found ourselves running down to independent theaters. Now, we have apps on televisions and we almost do not even have to leave the comfort of our own homes to see nominated movies. 

This year we indulged some of our favorite traditions and we started new ones. We still had a watch party, we still went overboard on the food we served food and we still spent hours deciding our predictions for the winners. However, this year instead of seeing movies individually, we decided to attend the Best Picture Showcase at AMC Theaters.  In years past by the time AMC scheduled their Best Movie Showcase, we had seen the majority of the nominations so it never made financial sense to us. This year, juggling the demands of family and life, we determined we would give it a try because we had not seen many nominations.

I am so glad we tried the Best Picture Showcase! Yes, sitting in a theater for ten to twelve hours is a long time; four movies in one day. But we learned you get a stretch break between movies, there are no trailers, and it was just fun being with a room full of other people who share your passion for the movies and Oscar. We also found that by signing up for the Best Picture Showcase, we were freed up to focus our movie watching on the other nominated movies. At a $35 per day price point, it was a great value. 

Most of you know that we have a tradition of planning a menu for the Oscars that includes food or drinks based on each of the Best Picture Nominations. This year was no  different.  If we had a theme to our food it was miniatures. We focused on bite size portions and not a full meal. So, I give you, our menu and our thoughts on the movies. 

1. Bridge of Spies

When has Tom Hanks not been good in a movie? This is a quiet movie focusing on the cold war between the USA and Russia in the 50's.  We both really liked this movie, enjoyed the story, but honestly felt like it would not win Best Picture. 

When deciding food for this movie, we forgot about the scene where the Tom Hank's daughter is on the couch watching TV and eating chocolate bars and peanut butter. We chuckled that this was pre-Reese's Peanut Butter cups (which I believe we were accurate in our joke) and maybe we should serve something with chocolate and peanut butter. Unfortunately, we forgot about that scene until they used it as a clip at the Oscars last night. Instead we focused on the meatloaf that was being served the night Tom Hank's character's family learned of his new client.  

2. Room

This movie was hard to watch. Yet it was funny, endearing, and tender. I wanted so much for the mom and son to be okay. I was so anxious during a portion of the film I am sure I was holding my breath. This movie shows us that a single person can turn an ugly horrible experience into a completely different experience for someone else. 

Our menu option for this movie was Grilled Cheese Sandwiches as Brie Larson's character is shown burning a grilled cheese sandwiches for her son. Our grilled cheese sandwich was probably the best grilled cheese I have ever had. Caramalized Butternut Squash with Roasted Garlic Spread and Parmesan and Fontina Cheese. 

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

I think there are probably two types of people out there. Those that LOVE Mad Max and those who just don't get all those that love it. I am in that later category. This movie is full of technical things can make a movie great. It is no wonder it won so many technical awards last night. We thought the movie was one large car chase and I just could not figure out why it was nominated for Best Picture. 

As much as we did not get it, we found the most food/drinks for this movie and because it was fun we just could not limit ourselves. We easily focused on two aspects; the quest for water  and the use of "Mother's Milk" to sustain the human race.  We served an Ocean Water Cocktail, we did shots of Mother's Milk (Rum Chata), and we made and served a Mother's Milk Cake, aka as Tres Leches Cake.

4. The Big Short

I am a social worker, which means I stir away from anything to do with math and that includes finances. However, this movie was so cleverly created that it spoke to me in ways that I understood. I found myself angry at the corrupt system that allowed our financial system to crash. 

Our menu selection came straight from Anthony Bourdain's role in explaining SubPrime Lending in the way of turning a potential profit losing three day old fish into Fish Stew.  So, we made fish stew or as we called it SubPrime Fish Stew.

5. Brooklyn

So, I should start off by saying I loved this movie. Yes, there were tender and even down right sad moments. No one pre-warned me I would need tissues, so I will pre-warn all of you. Tissues; have them handy. This is a movie that I know in the future when I stumble on it I will stop and watch.

Our menu selection came from the part in the movie where Eilis learns to eat pasta for the first time. We made Spaghetti Nest with Meatballs. They were so yummy and fun and a big hit at the party! 

6. Spotlight

Another really good movie that is based on true events that lead to The Spotlight section of the Boston Globe investigation and exposure of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The scene played last night at the Oscars here Mark Ruffalo is frustrated and yelling at his boss for not running the story echoed my feelings while I watched it. Years of abuse of children by Catholic Priest and the systemic cover-up that occurred for decades. Maybe it is the social worker in me, but it is time we protect our most vulnerable people. As we left the theater from this movie, I know many of my friends steer away from Oscar winning films because they think they won't be their kind of movie. Don't let miss this movie!

Finding food for this movie was hard. We could have selected IPA beer that seemed to be shown frequently, or pizza or even a boiled hot dog. None of those things sounded like good fits for us. So instead we went more abstract. The Boston Globe is a newspaper; they are black and white. That lead us to a childhood joke, "what is black and white and read all over?" We created Cookie Wafer Stacks topped with strawberries. 

7. The Martian

Funnier than I was expecting full of so many funny and memorable lines in this movie. Tracy's favorite line from the whole movie was "I am going to have to science the shit out of this." 

There is no way our Oscar menu would not include potatoes and ketchup for this movie. Mark Whitney grew potatoes on Mars to supplement his food supply and when he runs out of ketchup I can totally relate! 

8. The Revenant

The Husband loved the movie, I neither loved or hated it, and Tracy was bothered by some of the technical issues. It was difficult to watch in places; bloody and painful. What was clear; this was Leo's year!

We served Bear-llini Cocktails in honor of this movie. We soaked gummy bears in Peachtree Schnapps and then poured sparkling wine over the top. Fun and delicious!

There you have it. Another year of Oscar! I hope you enjoyed our story! All that is left for us to do is debate the best and worst dressed. If you get the notion, you can always leave a message and let me know your pick.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Date Night: Breakout KC

Last weekend, The Husband and I spent some time out on the town having a couple's date night. I can't even tell you when the last time we did something without either one of our children and with other adults.  We are more likely to go do things solo so the other is with the kids but this time we called in the grandparents and asked for a sleep over.

You know what: we had the most fun imaginable and had a great time!

A few months ago, back when it was still fall, my cousin called up and wanted to know if we would go to a new business here in Kansas City called Breakout KC. I had never heard of them but felt we were game for anything. Little did we know just how much game we were going to get into.

Breakout KC opened here in Kansas City in the Spring of 2015 and is a live action escape room. Here is the five minute details:  there are four themed rooms to select from, you enter the room of your choice and are "locked" in. You must solve a series of clues, which are all hidden inside the room, to find your escape. All in 60 minutes.

The room holds eight people at once and you are encouraged to bring a total of eight people. If you come in with less, Breakout KC does reserve the right to add people to your party. The cousins did a great job of getting eight people to commit so thankfully, we went in as a full group. I should also note that we each paid $28 for our one hour of game time.

Discussing the details of Breakout KC is like sharing the ending of a movie to someone who has not seen it, so I will not disclose very many "details". I will say this, with 8 people working on clues at the same time, things got a little chaotic! Clues were found sometimes and I am sure I missed how or where they came from. There were a few surprises and a few surprises we anticipated.

In the end, we did not breakout in our 60 minutes. We had to be rescued from our room by the staff. But, we were so close! I am confident that if we had another five minutes we would have broken out. Next time.

Just in case you are wondering a few extra details:

1. We were locked into Room 13.
2. You are not really locked in the room. The staff monitor the room through audio and video at all times and if you honestly need out of the room you can get out.
3. Look everywhere and pay attention!
4. The owners/designers are really good at creating puzzles.
5. Market 3 is a great place to catch a drink before hand.
6. The Farmhouse is an amazing place for dinner afterwards.
7. Numbers 5 and 6 can be reversed if need be.
8. The rules stated I could not take any photos during our time in the room. So I did not.
9. I really am a rule follower.
10. From the photos on Facebook, even kids have done Breakout KC, making this even a possible family outing.

Our Favorite 2015 Camping Destination

Winter continues here and so does my reflection of warmer times. We had an amazing 2015 camping season that took us to new places and some of our old favorites. Reflecting on past trips and planning new ones is honestly how I get through these winter months. 
Unanimously, The Taylor's and The Todd's agree that Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park was our favorite 2015 destination. Johnson's Shut-Ins is located near Lesterville, Missouri which is just over 100 miles south of St Louis, under 200 miles east of Springfield, and 295 miles southeast of Kansas City, MO, which is where we are based.
Park Details:
  • Johnson's Shut-Ins is a state park.
  • Senior Citizens receive a discount.
  • Special sites are designated ADA and can't be used by the general population.
  • There are 5 different loops with a total of 85 sites.
  • There is designated sites for camping, hike-in camping, camper cabins, electric only, electric/water, and electric/water/sewer sites.
  • Due to the 2005 Taum Sauk Reservoir breach, the campground was relocated to a new location in the state park and is brand new.
  • There are ample pull-through and back in sites.
  • Each site in loop 1, 2, 3 and 4 have concrete pads.
Camping Fee's
Basic camping (non-improved site) is $13.00 a night. Electric Premium sites (50 amp service) is $23.00 a night.. Electric/Water Premium site is $25.00 a night and full service (sewer/electric/water) is $28.00.
Missouri State Parks uses an online registration system. The site is relatively easy to research and select a site. We use the campground map as well as the online photos. There is also a toll free number if you prefer to speak to a person instead of the online registration. Missouri State Parks allows advance registration six months prior to your trip.
Size of the Campground:
The entire state park is over 6,000 acres. The campground is large. The sites are spacious. There are five camping loops at Johnson's Shut-Ins.  The first loop is designated for Equestrian  and has ten water and electricity sites. Loops 2 and 3 have a total of forty, 50 amp service some with electricity and others have full hook-ups. Loop 2 also has six camper cabins. Loops 4 is designated for walk-in camping and has 14 sites, and Loop 5 is designated basic for tent campers and also has 14 sites.
johnsonsshutins1Campground Details:
Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park became a state park in 1955 but people have been enjoying the Shut-Ins longer than this park has been in existence. What is a Shut-In? Well, simply put it is a constriction in a waterway. In this case, granite boulders from the St Francois Mountains have jutted up to the surface in the Black River. The Black River is constricted with these boulders and the erosion has made pools of water, water falls,  and chutes in this canyon-like gorge. People love to come and spend time cooling off and playing in the Shut-Ins.
In December 2005, the Taum Sauk Reservour that is housed high above the Shut-Ins breached and sent 1.3 billion gallons of water rushing down Proffit Mountain. The water brought down boulders, trees and other debris with it and literally almost destroyed Johnson Shut-Ins. The campground, then located near the Shut-Ins was destroyed. The campground host and his family barely survived. The ecosystem at Johnson Shut-Ins was severely damaged. Since 2005 this park has been under restoration. Cutting edge technology has been used to try and save the ecosystem and the campground area was relocated to higher ground as a safety precaution.
We expected to find very little shade at Johnson's Shut-Ins due to how new the campground is. Instead, we found the exact opposite. Sites 2, 3, and 4 had great tree coverage.
There are a total of three stores in Johnson's Shut-Ins. One inside the Visitor Center, one by the Shut-Ins and a large general store in the campground. The Campground General Store does have wi-fi available but you do have to go and visit the store in order to get the wi-fi. Our teenage boy spent a lot of time sitting outside the general store!
The general store also has a coin laundry room. There is a changing room outside the store at the Shut-Ins.
Each camping loop has one showerhouse with a separate restroom. We visited the showers during our stay and found them to be very clean and nice. Due to our too close encounter with some of the parks wildlife, we took early showers so that we were not walking around the park in the dark.
There is no pool. Visitors/guest of the state park have access to the Shut-Ins. Parking is limited at the Shut-Ins. I am told that day visitors line up for parking spots. The good news, registered campers are given passes to special parking that we found to be easily accessible.
The Visitor Center is a nice amenity that should not be overlooked.There is so much history and science alive in this area and the videos and displays do a great job of helping to educate the public, young and old. New history has been added as well. The entire 2005 reservoir breach and subsequent efforts to recover have been documented and are available for viewing. We found the visitor center to be informative, entertaining, and a cool place to hangout on a hot day!
Overall Thoughts/Feelings about the Campground/Visit:
We loved this campground and this park. We went into our trip expecting to love the Shut-Ins but not loving the campground. As I indicated earlier in this post, knowing this was a "new" campground we expected to find a stark campground with no shade or trees. I can't even express how happy we were to find the exact opposite. The campground sites were concrete and spacious. We honestly felt like we were at a private campground with the extra space of a state park.  We had a fire ring and a picnic table. We had a pole with a hook that allowed us to hang both a lantern or our trash.
Going into the vacation, our research taught us that hundreds of people visit the Shut-Ins each weekend so we made plans to visit them during the week. Swimming in the Shut-Ins was fun. It was a new adventure. The water is cool and clear and the force of the water create the most spectacular water park you can imagine. The only thing to remember is; this water park is not made from tubes or pipes. This water park is made of rocks; and some are sharp and jagged. I am glad our children had life jackets and we all had water shoes on. In the end, we only played in the Shut-Ins once. Perhaps if we were staying a full week at this park we would have gone another day but due to our limited four days we had other exciting things to pack into our trip. johnsonsshutins5We like camping at state parks and enjoy our contact with nature. We have been fishing, caught crawdads, observed birds,  gotten close to deer, spied lizards , and maybe even inadvertently feed a raccoon or two. During this trip, we learned our limitations....snakes. On our first night, as the kids were busy riding their scooters around our loop and the adults were sitting by a campfire talking about our travels to the park, the Park Ranger stopped by. He pointed out to us that a copperhead snake was right in front of our campsite heading in our direction. Of course the majority of us had flip flops or sandals on our feet at the time. Thankfully the Park Ranger used a stick and safely scared the copperhead away from us but we decided to call it a night and go to bed early. Interestingly enough, the snake appeared again but never bothered us.
Daily, the camp rangers came by and invited all the kids and adults to the educational program of the night that was held at the parks amphitheater. Ironically, the first show was about snakes! The kids went and learned a lot of information. The second night the show was about comets. The show was high energy and involved glow sticks and again, the kids came back talking about the stars all night long.
Regional Activities:
We found so many activities in the surrounding Arcadia Valley that we honestly were busy every day during our stay. Other than stopping by a few convenience stores for drinks, we did not eat out on this trip so we did not visit any local restaurants.  Here are a few of the things we found and highly recommend:
  • Float Trip: Nothing says summer in Missouri like a float trip down a river. The Black River is perfect for floating; cool and clear water. The Shut-Ins prevent canoes from passing through the part of the river that runs through the state park, you actually need to go into Lesterville to find a canoe outfitter.
  • Taum Sauk Mountain: Taum Sauk Mountain was approximately forty-five minutes from Johnson's Shut-Ins. We packed a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon hiking one of the trails to the highest elevated waterfall in Missouri.  Taum Sauk Mountain also has the highest elevation point in Missouri and you can access it easily from a parking lot near the elevation point.
  • The Ozark Trail runs through Johnson's Shut-Ins in continues through the region. Wayne has actually added hiking from Taum Sauk Mountain  to Johnson's Shut-Ins to his bucket list.
  • Elephant Rock State Park: Another short drive from Johnson's Shut-Ins (25 minutes) is another state park that is for day use only. Elephant Rock State Park is scattered with giant red granite boulder. There is an ADA braille trail that winds throughout the park. Children and adults have enjoyed climbing all over rocks that look like elephants from a distance. All of us loved visiting this park. When we ran our of steam from climbing and exploring we found ample picnic tables for our midday meal.
What we did not like:
Our main complaint was with the dump stations. There was no spigot of water to flush the black tanks. Luckily for us, there were openings in the full hook up sites and we were able to pull into one of them and empty and clean our tanks. It does baffle me that this campground and park that is so newly rebuilt and amazing for a state park does not have water  at their dump station.
The playground is a secondary concern of ours. There is a playground and it was nice but it is near the campground store and not near any of the camping loops. The distance was far too far for us to feel comfortable sending the girls to play there.
We did have a near close encounter with a poisonous snake, a copperhead. We drove 300 miles (clear across the state) to visit this park. That is important because copperheads are just not that common in Kansas City and they were not even on our radar. Thankfully, nothing happened and a very nice Park Ranger educated us in the nick of time. I wish we had been warned about the copperheads at the time of our check in. I would really have like a brochure on the types of animals we might encounter and safety precautions to avoid contact or minimize contact. I know during my visit to Yellowstone National Park we were given ample brochures explaining how to interact with the animals in the park and how to keep ourselves and the animals safe.
In closing, this was our favorite trip of the year. It is high on our return list. If you are planning a trip to Missouri, or if you are a Missourian, we encourage you to get out and head to this state park.
If you are interested in following our camping adventures, please visit us over at Roam With Friends.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cabin Fever

An unseasonably warm weekend has kicked my cabin fever into overdrive. Normally, I spend the winter months hibernating from the cold and snow under blankets and dreaming of camping trips to come. It was so warm this weekend, that I actually begged my husband to take me camping. A man of logic, he said no, because it was winterized. 
To add to my desire to be out roaming, we went to visit our camper in storage this weekend. It was a routine check to make sure no unwanted critters had found their way inside. The Bullet and The Rockwood are stored next to each other and both were in great shape. Fourteen short weeks until their first scheduled trip of 2016.
Even though we have not been able to camp, not a day goes by when we are not thinking about camping or The Bullet. During our downtime we took the RV in for routine maintenance. We have purchased new step covers as well as LED flexible lighting. I am shopping around for a new outdoor patio rug as a critter chewed a hole in my current one.
Even routine trips to my favorite craft stores has turned into a shopping spree for the camper. I found these really cute wooden letters the other day and can't wait to put them up in the camper. I wonder how those 3M Strips will be in the camper? My husband is concerned the changing temperatures might effect their bonding.

The Bullet sleeps eleven and has three bunk beds, a queen bed, and a futon couch that makes into a king bed. During this winter hiatus, I scored an unbelievable deal of 1800 thread count sheets for every bed in the camper. I literally chuckle out loud thinking about it. Why? Because everyone needs to camp on 1800 thread count sheets, right?
The obvious winter activity is booking summer trips, and we have been doing our fair share of this activity. After purchasing a new 2016 camping journal the planning began. Many parks will let you book six months in advance. We have all spent hours analyzing satellite photos, studying campground maps, and reading consumer reviews in our selection of the best sites available. We are booked for all holiday weekends and our large summer road trip taking us through July 2016.
I know I am speaking for all seven of us, we look forward to sharing our travels with you. First, we just have to get through this winter.

You can find this post and soon others at our new blog, Roam With Friends. If you are interested in following our camping adventures, head over to Roam With Friends

Monday, February 1, 2016

Addressing My Addiction: Diet Coke

I am an addict. My addiction is not illegal, which on some level means it is not a big deal. But it is. Or I should say it was. My addiction is to a certain diet soda, Diet Coke. I have been addicted to Diet Coke for the past thirty years.

My love affair with Diet Coke, started way back in high school or maybe even late junior high school. My next door neighbor, best friend, running buddy, Page, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was 12 years old. After she spent what seemed like an eternity in a children's hospital getting stabilized and learning how to manage her new life style, she returned home and introduced me to Diet Coke. Before she went into the hospital, we both drank Pepsi Cola. All we knew of diet soda was Tab and we both agreed it was awful. Just plain awful. What we did not know what that NutraSweet had replaced Saccharine as the artificial sweetener and when Page assured me it tasted really good, I jumped on her band wagon.

Through out the years, I have had at least one Diet Coke every single day. Some days I have had two. Or three. Yes, and maybe even four. It was the first thing I consumed in the morning and maybe even the last thing in the evening. In the past thirty years I have give up Diet Coke on three separate occasions. The first time was for three months in 1996 when I was pregnant with The Boy. The second time was in 2007 when I was pregnant with The Short Chic. Back then I decided that my body was host to aliens and was rejecting everything I liked. The third time was in 2010 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I stopped drinking Diet Coke for six or more months as everything I consumed tasted metallic and horrible. I should also say, even during these times, I still opened a can on a regular basis and tried to consume it.

Within the past year, I have been listening to the amount of research on how unhealthy diet soda is.  I found myself contemplating giving it up. Let's be honest...I considered it with a Diet Coke in my hand!  Then something happened on a non-important, unidentifiable day in July, 2015. I realized I had been so busy I had not had a Diet Coke in a day.  I started making small goals for myself. "Can you make it to lunch without one?" "How about all through the work day?" Then the goals got bigger. "You went two days, can you go another?" "Can you make it through a weekend?" "How about a whole week?"

It was not easy.  Every minute of the day was a conscious decision to not have a Diet Coke. I was obsessed. I would randomly tell people, "I am not drinking Diet Coke any more." Then I would turn around and order one on auto pilot at a restaurant. Thankfully, I would catch myself and change my order. Slowly, the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months.

The day after we dropped The Boy off at college was probably the lowest point in my recovery or in my whole entire year!  I had spent the majority of the day and night crying. When I woke the morning after I just felt the need for comfort. As I sat in my chair the morning after, I just wanted something to feel normal. I remember making a decision to have a Diet Coke. I had been on this journey about a month and a half and I honestly thought, I would start again the day after. As I walked to the refrigerator I remember I had made the decision that I wanted three Diet Cokes. THREE, I knew, is what it would take for me to feel okay in that moment. When I got to the refrigerator, I found there was no Diet Coke. The Husband had cleared all the Diet Coke out of the house. I had not even noticed. There was no emergency back up. It was all gone. At the time I was so heartbroken but in the end, not caving that day was monumental.

So many people told me that I would find my taste buds would change and I would no longer like the taste of Diet Coke. When they told me that I scoffed at them. Never ever would I find the taste unappealing. Then about three months into this journey, I had an opportunity to sneak a sip from The Husband's soda. It did taste horrible! It tasted very similar to chemo-Diet Coke; metallic and chemically.

I always felt I understood addictions. The need to escape pain in our lives. I get that. I get how something can start small and roll into something much bigger than you ever imagined. Since giving up Diet Coke, I have developed a new bigger respect for anyone who has ever beaten an addiction. It is seriously the hardest work.

It has been shy of seven months since that unidentifiable day in July 2015. I no longer get all weak in the knee's when I see my husband's glass of fizzing Diet Coke. I will be honest, the Diet Coke commercials still get to me. I stop like a little a conditioned puppy dog and stare at the television every single time they show that lady on the plane drinking a Diet Coke. I even find myself dancing along. Boy, are they good at advertising!

A lot of people ask me if I feel better. Honestly, I don't notice any physical changes. I did not loose weight, there are no calories in Diet Soda. The biggest side effect I have noticed is I find myself repulsed by most artificial sweeteners and other preservatives now. I tried Sparkling ICE flavored water. I even tried bottled tea. I manage well with a cup of coffee in the morning, numerous glasses of water a day, and maybe a cup of fresh brewed tea along the way.

I do feel accomplished. I never view this as a journey that is finished. As most addictions go, I am managing this one. Right now I am winning. Seven months is a long time, but it is also a drop in the bucket. Every time anyone from my family makes a trip to the convenience store they ask if I want anything. I still answer "Yes, a Diet Coke." Thankfully, they think I am joking. Sometimes I am. But only sometimes.