Goodbye, 2018!

Given that I have written absolutely nothing since September, it feels like posting here is long overdue. The last quarter of the year included our annual apple picking adventure, ice cream consumption, a campfire or two, football season (complete with a baby in a Seahawks jersey), various outings to the local fair, farms, and walking trails, trips to Maine and Washington, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. All of those things deserve their own blog installments, but since ain’t nobody got time for that, I will summarize: family, friends, food, and fun. I could never pass up a good bout of alliteration.

And NOW, since the end of the year is mere minutes away, it’s time for a Best of 2018 recap! Last year’s recap was basically all about Elise, but I think this year we’ll branch out a bit more. Maybe. Hopefully. We’ll see. So without further ado…

Best Location

This year we traveled a few places, including Vermont, New York City, Maine, Washington, Basel, and Paris. Given my travel preferences, Europe almost always gains an edge over domestic travel, and Paris both a) involves speaking French, b) has amazing food, and c) is not as expensive as Basel, so that was an easy win. Take me back, please!

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I plan to overuse all 100ish versions of this picture in perpetuity.

Best Podcast

This podcast has been around for ages but I just discovered it this month. But I’ve been making up for lost time and have listened to multiple episodes per day, so I feel like I can give you this recommendation with some authority. Even if only a little bit. Stuff You Missed in History Class covers all types of topics throughout history, ranging from the Emu War of 1932 to the House of Worth and the Birth of Haute Couture. The episodes are typically under 30 minutes, come out multiple times per week, and unless the topic itself is grim, doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable listening with Elise in the car. I may change that last evaluation when she becomes more familiar with terms like “born out of wedlock” and “beheaded,” but for now, I think we’re in the clear.

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Best Book(s)

I actually read more than I expected to this year, and while I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that a few of my reading selections were celebrity biographies (here’s looking at you, Chip and Joanna), I read some quality literature as well. This is a hard one to pick a single favorite, because I read across a bunch of genres. So here are a few good book recommendations:

Fantasy: The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

Historical Fiction: Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly

Non Fiction: Educated, by Tara Westover

Fluff Read: The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Best App

My favorite social media app will probably always be Instagram, so there isn’t much to say about that. However, I love love love Paprika, which is a recipe organization app. If you find a recipe online, you can download it, categorize it, rate it, and use it off-line. In addition, there’s a meal planning component, so you can put your recipes on a calendar. THEN, you can make your grocery list with the click of a button, deselecting any ingredients you already have before finalizing your list. It’s the best! I love it so much that I bought it for my phone and my computer.

Best Coffee Shop

After four and a half years in the area, we’re finally exploring the towns surrounding us rather than driving an extra 10 to 15 minutes to get to places we already knew. I’m happy to report that while our town itself doesn’t have a coffee shop, Battle Grounds Coffee Co. in Haverhill is a great spot with tasty food and drinks nearby. I don’t typically think of Haverhill as a Location, but the coffee shop is well worth the trip. Haverhill is also home to both mine and Elise’s doctor’s office, so maybe at some point we’ll make a habit of frequenting the place. Oh, and I couldn’t leave the coffee shop without a hot chocolate shot.

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Best Free Kid’s Outing

With a toddler who doesn’t love her car seat, these two activities are very, very local. But we really loved going to our local part and pond this summer and splashing around in the shallow water. It’s close enough to walk (although the walk can be and/or was just a tad brutal on a really hot day), is right beside the (really delicious!) bagel shop in town, and has an ice cream stand on the premises.

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However, summer weather doesn’t last too long around these here parts, but thankfully we’ve got farms with animals to keep us going when the pond isn’t on the table for the day. Both Smolak Farms and Brooksby Farm have a fun collection of animals. And, if you want to make it just a little less free, Smolak Farms has cider donuts, and Brooksby Farm has ice cream cones full of animal grain to offer the creatures for about fifty cents. Elise particularly enjoyed watching me feed it to the pigs, sheep, and emu.

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Best Farm

Since we’re on the topic of farms, I might as well throw in the best all-around farm. I mentioned it before in the blueberry picking post, but without question, the best farm in this region is Cider Hill Farm. They have THE BEST cider donuts, the best pick-your-own fruit options, good prices on said fruit, and more animals. What’s not to love? They even have wagons big enough to fit three babies and three bags of apples!

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Best New (to me) Recipe

It turned out that I didn’t actually need to hit up a farm to get my apple cider donut fix for the year. You can make them at home and they are delicious. Or, due to the name of the blog from which the recipe came, damn delicious. For those of you that believe you need special equipment to deep fry (like I formerly did!), I am happy to report that you can easily do it in a big soup pot with a metal spatula or slotted spoon. I’ve decided that making these will be an annual tradition on the first day of fall every year.

Best Baby Travel Hack

You didn’t think you could get through a blog post of mine without travel info, did you? This year, we needed to travel cross country (by air) with Elise’s gargantuan convertible car seat. I didn’t want to check an extra thing and I also didn’t want to tote the car seat, a stroller, a baby carrier, all our luggage, and a toddler through the airport. While you can buy a car seat travel cart for what seems like a ridiculously overpriced amount, all you really need is a rolling suitcase with an extendable handle, a lashing strap on the shorter side, and a substantial carabiner. Voila! A DIY car seat/stroller/rolling bag. When you roll the suitcase, the car seat tips back and supports itself on the frame of the bag so that it doesn’t scrape the ground.

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Believe it or not, in spite of her expression in that picture, she did like it.

Best Baby Product

Can I even call this a “baby” product now, since my baby is much more of a toddler than an actual baby? The Hatch Rest sound machine/wake up light seems to have played a huge role in getting Elise to sleep better. She’s finally sleeping through the night on a more consistent basis, and the tide really started turning with the introduction of the Hatch. I’m counting on using it down the road as well, when the wake up light is amore comprehensible idea.

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Well, considering 2018 officially ended while I was writing this, I should take a cue from the picture of Elise above and head to bed myself. Happy New Year, friends! Give me all your favorite-things recommendations so I can try them all and put them in my 2019 best list!

Blueberries for (Everyone But) Sal

I heard a rumor recently - or really, I read a bunch of reviews, blog posts, and other various online recommendations - that declared that Cider Hill Farm had the best cider donuts in the realm. While it isn't even close to apple season yet, cider donuts don't require fresh apples, and coupled with the idea of picking our own blueberries (which ARE in season), we decided we needed to check it out for ourselves. 

It's 20 minutes from us, and so once we'd gotten ourselves ready for the day, we hopped in the car this morning and headed over. I would never have guessed there were several farms up there, since the exit ramp specifically says "Beaches," but turns out there were several, many of which had their own farm stands, complete with the requisite wickedly expensive farm to table eggs, fruit, veggies, etc. We passed them all, naturally. Farm-Mecca was still beckoning. 

We arrived! It was...warm, but not so toasty that we feared melting. Upon picking up two empty picking buckets, we were directed to the blueberry bushes on the right. And so we started over, but not before saying hello to the resident chickens and goats. Elise made a new friend. 

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As a side note: I'm quite in love with her little curls on the back of her head. I hope they stay forever.

Once Elise had had enough of the animals, we continued on to the blueberry section. Fortunately for our sweat glands, the blueberries were close to the entrance. However, the farm also has strawberries and raspberries available for picking at the moment. Later in the summer, we'll also be able to find peaches, apples, and pumpkins, and I'm already really looking forward to going back. Maybe for each of those things, in fact...

Anyway! I'm distracting myself. We were there today for blueberries!

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We picked and picked until we filled our two small containers to bring home. The berries were plentiful and the company was the best I could have asked for. Elise had a ball, and got the hang of picking the berries off the bushes and dropping them into the containers pretty fast. Fortunately, she's not all that into eating fresh fruit, so we didn't have to worry about her eating more than we took home. In regular life, this fact is rather more unfortunate than fortunate, but I prefer to look on the bright side whenever possible.

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By the end, we were very satisfied with our haul and had more than enough for at least one batch of blueberry muffins (come on over tomorrow afternoon if you want one hot out of the oven!), and Elise looked like she had been ready for a nap half an hour ago. This is the most enthusiastic picture I got with her. 

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I promise that she actually did have fun. Evidently she just had more fun when she was with Chaz than with me. 

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We ended our trip with a family selfie (because #millenials) and a quick jaunt through their farm stand/store, because we could not leave without a donut. That was half the point of going, remember? And OH MAN. They lived up to their reputation. RUN THERE NOW. You need these donuts in your life. 

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The farm shop had a ton of cute wares that I wish we'd had more time to investigate, but with the napping hour having approached, knocked, waved, and played Ding Dong Ditch an hour prior, we kept the perusing to a skim rather than a dive. But we'll be back! They won't be able to keep us away! If I weren't already pumped about fall, this trip would have tipped the scale in that direction all by itself.

Too soon? 

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A Morning at the Beach

Our "local" splash pad, it seems, has it out for me. I put local in quotes thanks to the fact that it's actually a 15 minute drive from our house, but when you choose to live in a slightly more rural location, a 15 minute drive is about as local as it gets when it comes to amenities like that. 

I've now tried to bring Elise there twice, and both times I have been supremely thwarted. The first time, I got Elise all ready to go, and we hopped in the car with my mom. Elise fell asleep on the way there - no big deal, since it was a short drive - and when we arrived we found a line of cars in front of a closed gate. It turned out that everyone in each of the surrounding towns had the same idea, and the splash pad was "full." The gates wouldn't open for another 45 minutes, and there was no way I was going to sit in a car with a napping baby on hot asphalt for that long. We turned around and went home.

The second time was this morning. Elise woke up early, and so I figured we'd go straight there after getting ready for the day. That part worked! We got in the car before 9:00, and drove merrily along until we were nearly there. At the very last turn, we came across a police man in a nice yellow vest directing traffic in front of a sign: "ROAD CLOSED." 

"Well," I thought to myself, "a road has two ends; I bet the other end is open!" We took a detour to the other end. Can you guess what we found? If you guessed another road closure sign, you'd be right. Thwarted again! Who closes an entire road for what I can only assume was a small patch of construction? And what about the people that live on said road? 

I'm not over it, apparently.

Nevertheless, I was determined to get Elise to some fun water, and we were closer to the nicest beach in the area than we would have been at home, so we did a quick about face and headed that way instead.

While the entry fee to the beach was a little steeper than I anticipated, it was a glorious day, and since we had gotten an earlier start, not many people had arrived yet. We set down our bag, slapped on the sunscreen, and I let Elise roam...while staying approximately 2 inches behind her every time she ran in the direction of the water. She absolutely loved it, and if you asked her, she might even say that it was more fun than the splash pad. That said, she's never been to the splash pad. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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Tea Time with Friends

Well, I blinked and two weeks went by. Just call me Rip Van Winkle already, ok? It feels like a lot of things are going on but at the same time not much is happening. Part of it might be because I'm used to feeling somewhat stressed at this time of year due to the busy season at work, and that is only something I'm hearing about (rather than experiencing personally) this year. In a way, I feel a little guilty getting together with friends during the work day since I know that so many of my coworkers are under the summer pressure, but that's when I try to remember that I have a tiny human depending on me to stay alive 24/7. I guess that's its own kind of stress, but decidedly of a different sort.

Speaking of friends, a couple of my best ones and I decided to get afternoon tea along with our small offspring. A daunting thought, to be sure, but made easier by the fact that two of the three babes aren't mobile yet and are fairly content to sit in our laps, and the third is still in the womb for the next 11 weeks or so. It all sounded rather proper and lovely, and so we decided to risk the possibility that the babies could lose it while there and went anyway.

Fortunately, both babies were well behaved (though mine required a snack toward the end) and we had a grand old time. Initially we were headed to the Wenham Tea House, but we realized at the last minute that they weren't open every day and had to change our plans. Instead, we hightailed it to Salem and tried Jolie Tea Company, and it was well worth the extra couple of miles to get there. They offered over 80 kinds of looseleaf tea on their menu, and had a variety of either individual pastries or small combinations of pastries and pots of tea at very reasonable prices. For example, all three of us chose to get "La Petite Tea," which came with a pot of any kind of tea on the menu, along with a scone, a madeleine cookie, and a French macaron for $9.95. Considering some of the teas were around $7 a pot, I consider that a pretty good deal.

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It was so nice that we all declared we wished we could do it once a week. While that isn't really feasible, we'll definitely make it a regular event, and it inspired me to try to make time for creating that type of thing at my own home. Especially as Elise gets older, I think it would be fun for her to have a real, delightful tea party every once in awhile!

It also reinforced how grateful I am for this group of friends. What a blessing it is to have seen each other through the college years, first jobs, boyfriends, engagements, weddings, and now babies. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and they're a big part of mine!

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Quickest Restaurant Review Ever

A most excellent Friday to you! I slept in too late this morning and have therefore used up almost all of my available blogging time, so I'll keep this short.

I was going to write about how my parents came down last Friday and we went to Alchemy for dinner.

We had a wonderful time. But half the point of writing about a restaurant on a blog is including pictures of the food, right? If it's not for Instagram, that's why people take pictures of their food in restaurants. 

Well, the food was so delicious and we were so hungry when it came that we devoured it immediately and there were no pictures taken. All I have to report about the food is that it was worth the trip to Gloucester and all we had left over was one piece of pre-meal bread...

...until my dad ate that too. So you'll just have to take our/my word for it, I guess. Try it out! Good food! Fun atmosphere! Tasty drinks! And if you have room like we didn't, the desserts are great too! 

And now I've officially run out of time, so I'm out. Have a lovely weekend!

What about second breakfast?!

Hobbits, they say, eat several large meals per day. While I am not a hobbit myself, I did try out their many-meals philosophy on Saturday. My friend Beth and I got breakfast after I dropped Chaz off at the airport. She lives just outside of the center of town in Beverly and it was a beautiful day, so we walked into town and went to our quasi-normal breakfast place of choice. As usual, the food was your average breakfast food: eggs, bacon (me) or sausage (Beth), home fries, and toast. 

I guess you could say there was nothing notable to mention there, but the food was good and like almost all New England breakfast places, the price was cheap! Side note: did you know that breakfast places are mostly an East Coast thing? Chaz at least says that they are, and he would know, being from Seattle! You can find breakfast on the West Coast, but it's normally more expensive. So there, West Coast! You can have your public beaches, big mountains, and more mild weather. WE have breakfast.

I digress.

Amidst the ingestion of our eggs + bacon + other assorted breakfast items, we talked about other breakfast places in the area. Specifically, a place called Waffle Hauzz (yes, with an A and two Zs) that served gloriously delicious waffles adorned with a number of toppings. It was irresistible. So we finished up our meal, paid our bill, and hightailed it a quarter mile down the road to get ourselves a waffle to share. 

The decor of the place is a bit...unusual. There are snowboards on the walls, which is hilariously out of place on the North Shore of Boston where there are zero mountains. Below the snowboards there's a picture of trees, a painting of a boat, and a poster with R2D2. If I were to throw out one word to describe it, the only thing that comes to mind is "eclectic."

Obviously, the decor is not the point of a restaurant. The point is the food. So since the great they declares that a picture is worth a thousand words, here's the picture:

Or in other words, you must have one of these waffles in your life. Immediately. We split ours, which was the perfect "breakfast dessert" finish to our earlier breakfast. And yes, I think I did gain 10 pounds that morning. WORTH IT. 

 

Polo Sans Marco

Despite having lived on the North Shore for 8+ years now, I had never made it to the local-ish polo country club. That all changed this past weekend when some friends put a group together and invited us along. I learned some things:

  1. Polo is a sport designed for the top 0.0001%. If you're able to afford the four to six horses you personally need to have in order to play the game, you are most likely managing a hedge fund in Boston during the work week. 
  2. Polo provided an excellent opportunity to throw the word "plebeians" around in normal conversation.
  3. Polo has given me an excuse to go find myself the perfect fascinator.

I couldn't tell you any of the rules, but the point of the game is that there are four players on each side who all try to hit the ball through two goal posts while on horseback. If you understand that much, watching polo is an enjoyable experience. 

Yes, Myopia Polo is the real name of the place, and yes, it was  named after nearsightedness .

Yes, Myopia Polo is the real name of the place, and yes, it was named after nearsightedness.

While the wise among us fit right in with the bourgeoisie throngs, SOME of us (who, me?) didn't even try and played papparazzi instead.

I'm secretly hoping that if I spend enough time around the polo fields, I'll learn the ways of the highest echelon of society so that I can learn how to be supremely classy like Kate Middleton, but for now I'm still the one eating ice cream while everyone else drinks chilled white wine.

Holy freckles.

Holy freckles.

This guy seems to have pulled off the classy vibe without even trying though, so maybe I can just learn from him.

Overall, I'd highly recommend going to see a match! It isn't free to drive and park, but someone among our group just walked in and didn't get charged. I'm not sure that's legal, but it's certainly possible. There were a number of kids present, and all of them really liked watching the horses, and because it's easy to tell when someone scores, it was fun for them to get into the sporting aspect of it as well. Games are at 3:00 on Sunday afternoons, and halfway through the event, you get to help the players out by stomping the divots back into the ground. It's either a fun community participation factor or free mass labor - your choice!

Fun blurry phone pic...hip hip hooray!

Fun blurry phone pic...hip hip hooray!

As a bonus, you get to hang out with folks like this guy:

But if you ask me, the horses are the stars of the show. Cheerio!