Surviving Jonas

Winter storm Jonas has arrived and is dumping snow on us here in Arlington.  We have well over a foot of snow with it still coming down.  This morning we bundled up in our snow gear and ventured outside.  Mr. Eilam was not very excited to be out in the cold.  He didn’t like the snow blowing into his face.  There is a park close to our apartment that is protected from the wind, so we trekked across the street to play.  Our golden retriever, Brandi had a great time bouncing in the deep snow.  Eilam wanted nothing to do with it though. He was fine walking on the cleared sidewalk but did not want to do anything else.  Now we are all hunkered down in the apartment planning on staying in for the weekend.

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Annapolis

Over Christmas we had my husband’s parents visiting from Oregon.  They have only been out here once before and we did a jammed pack week of visiting Mount Vernon, Air and Space Museum and a Big Bus Tour around D.C.  This time around we decided to spend half a day in the Annapolis area.  We have never been there and my mother-in-law wanted to see the Atlantic Ocean, so we got her close with the Chesapeake Bay.  The day after Christmas we drove the 50 minutes to Sandy Point Sate Park.

On a winter morning, the park was mostly deserted.  It had a nice huge beach and I imagine it gets very busy during the summers.  They had a drive through Christmas light display that looked nice if you were visiting at night.  Eilam had a great time playing in the sand and running from the waves.

After spending a while throwing rocks and shells into the water we loaded back into the car and headed back towards Annapolis.  We stopped at the Annapolis World War II Memorial.  The Memorial was nicely done and we were glad we stopped.  It honors everyone in Maryland that was involved in the war effort, those fighting abroad and working at home.

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After this short stop we headed into Old Town Annapolis.  I had read a list that Annapolis was one of the top 20 U.S. cities for Christmas time for decorations and atmosphere.  Annapolis and it’s history, location and Naval Academy was somewhere that I definitely wanted to visit and boy it did not disappoint.  I would love to go back and spend all day on those cobble stone streets and wander into all the local shops.

Parking was free during the Holiday times which was very nice.  When we arrived in town there was numerous street spots but by the time we were leaving after lunch, the town and streets were packed.  The city has multiple parking garages to use as well.

Our first stop was to Starbucks for coffee and a treat.  It was in the basement of an old, old building.  Then we walked around town some.  The town was filled with local shops selling candy, clothes, jewelry, pottery, etc.

Annapolis is the capital of Maryland and in the center of Old town is the Maryland State House and Governor’s Mansion.

We then walked down to the Naval Academy.  There is no parking on the campus and you have to show ID and go through a security check point to enter.  There was a very nice museum there.  My father-in-law could have spent all day there.  With a two year old it was a quick trip through.  The Chapel had beautiful stained glass windows.  By this time it was noon and we needed some food.  There is a restaurant on the campus but it was closed during the the Holiday break.  So we headed back to the the downtown area for lunch.  We found a decent place and then headed home.

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Reese’s Cupcakes

My little baby boy turns 3 tomorrow!  I guess he is no longer my little baby as he tells me everyday that he is a “Big boy.”  This morning he informed me that his oatmeal breakfast was going to make him big and strong.  Next week he transitions from his Two’s Classroom at daycare up to Pre-School.  I am excited for him to meet new kids and for the new curriculum but another part of me is definitely a little sad that he seems to be growing up so fast.

Eilam’s favorite sweet is chocolate and peanut butter.  So for his birthday celebration tomorrow we will be enjoying peanut butter cupcakes with chocolate frosting (I guess my family like chocolate and peanut butter).  To really take these cupcakes to the next level, I put a Reese’s miniature peanut butter cup in the middle of the batter.  These rose wonderfully and the apartment smells like warm peanut butter.  I found the recipe on Allrecipes and adapted it based on other reviews.  Having the peanut butter cup in the middle gives it this extra taste and crunch of chocolate and peanut butter that is just out of this world yummy.

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I did cheat though and used a store bought can of chocolate frosting.  I beat the frosting with a hand mixer and added some powdered sugar.  This lightens the frosting and makes it easier to spread on the cupcakes.

PEANUT BUTTER CUPCAKES

Prep Time:  15 minutes               Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes             Makes:  24 cupcakes

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 1 & 1/2 cups peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1  1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 pinch of salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together brown sugar, oil, apple sauce and peanut butter until light and fluffy
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time then stir in vanilla
  5. Combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt.  Stir in dry ingredients into batter alternating with milk.
  6. Spoon batter to fill liners about 1/2 full.
  7. Place an unwrapped Reese’s Miniature into each cupcake.
  8. Add more batter so the cupcake tin/liner is almost completely full.
  9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the top of the cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Frost with your choice of frosting.  I used one can of chocolate buttercream frosting blended with approximately 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.

 

Luray Caverns

Happy New Years everyone!  To enjoy the long Holiday weekend and still sunny weather we ventured to the Shenandoah Valley area to go caving.  Well, to buy a ticket and walk along a path in a cavern to see the stalagmites and stalactites.  We traveled about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the Luray Caverns.

We arrived in the morning around 10am.  We bought our tickets and got in line.  They do the typical family/group picture in front of a green screen before you enter the stairwell to the caverns.  Our timing was perfect because we did not have to wait in any line but just immediately went downstairs for the guided tour.  The 1 hour guided tour is the only option and they leave about every 20 minutes.

The tour takes you on a mile and a quarter trip through the caverns.  It was very interesting and there were some very neat areas.

Our favorite was the Dream Lake which was the largest body of water in the cavern but is only 18-20 inches at its deepest.  The optical illusion was just incredible.  The mirror image of the entire room feels like you are looking at a giant circle.  My white balance was a little off and I didn’t have a tripod so most of the pictures did not turn out very well.

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Dream Lake

Your tickets also get you entry into the Car and Carriage Caravan and the Luray Valley Museum.  We did not go into the Caravan but the museum seemed nice.  It was a quick walk through with an almost 3 year old.  There were old buildings outside that you could walk through which were nice.  Overall, we were very glad we made the day trip to check out this area.  It was a fun experience and great to see a part of the world we have never been to.

 

Luray Caverns

Where:  101 Cave Hill Road, Luray Virginia

How to Get There:  Take 66 to Front Royal and take Highway 340 South.  Then take Highway 211 west.  Approximately 96 miles from DC

Cost:  $26/adult; $14/children 6 to 12, 5 and under FREE

 

U.S. Botanic Garden

 

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The weekend before Christmas we decided to check out the Model Train exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden.  The U.S. Botanic Garden is located between the American Indian Museum and the Capitol on the National Mall.  I really enjoy visiting the Garden.  There is numerous habitats that you can walk though with hundreds of plants.  There are areas that have butterflies flying around.  It is usually a nice place to walk around usually without the crowds that can accompany many of the other areas on the Mall.

Every year around Christmas and the Holidays they have a model train exhibit.  Eilam loves trains so this was a definite Holiday time visit.  We went on a Sunday afternoon and there were quite a few people.  The entrance to the exhibit is on the side closer to the Capitol.  There was a line that moved fairly quickly.  We could tell that while we thought it was busy the line can be much longer.  There were ropes outside of the building for the line.

The exhibit was small but the trains and setting was beautiful.  The carvings were gorgeous.  I am glad we went and I think I will take Eilam next year.  My husband was not impressed though (I think it was the amount of people in a small space).

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It does not take long to go through, just ten minutes or so.  Afterwards Eilam spied the Christmas tree in front of the Captiol.  So we walked over to the big, big tree.  It was a beautiful day and was great to get out and walk around.

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U.S. Botanic Garden

Where:  100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington DC

How to Get There:  Nearest metro is Federal Center SW (Orange, Blue, Silver) or L’Enfant Plaza (Yellow, Green, Orange, Blue, Silver).  Walk towards the Capitol and look for the glass dome of the Conservatory.

Hours:  10am-5pm

Cost:  FREE

Other:  They have a children’s garden during the spring/summer/fall time that is great for little ones to run around.  There are spades and watering cans to play with.  Eilam loved watering the various plants and running around the area.

Zoo Lights

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The Saturday after Christmas we decided to brave the city crowds and head to Zoo Lights.  Wow, was there A LOT of people there.  Parking was crazy but there were a few spots left at the bottom of the hill.  The Small Animal house, Reptile House, Great Apes and the Think Tank were all open.  At the Visitor Center there was a Gingerbread House competition and Lego Train exhibit.

Eilam enjoyed seeing the lights that lined the main pathway through the zoo.  However, there were so many people there that it really wasn’t that enjoyable for us.  He wanted to just run up and down the hill but he couldn’t because we needed to keep tract of him.  The carousel was running which is always fun.  They also had sledding down the hill next to the lion and tiger habitat.  Overall I was glad we went to check it out.  The lights were nice.  Where I am from on the Southern Oregon Coast a state park named Shore Acres does spectacular Christmas lights.  So I have high expectations for these kind of things.  We may go again next year but probably on a weekday and not quite so close to Christmas.