Beer. Chocolate. Waffles.

We just returned from 10 days in Europe. From the title, you might be able to guess where we went. Today I should be doing laundry, the dishes, or catching up with work. But I’d rather get lost in the memories of the last 10 days!

Getting to Belgium from the US: First, after we had our trip all planned, Frank finds out he’s being transferred back to Maine! And although we are very excited about the move, it put a tiny little wrench into things. We had planned to fly to London and take the Eurostar to Belgium because its a shorter flight and WAY cheaper to fly to London. First lesson, learned the hard way, book Eurostar early!!! Unlike most train travel in Europe, if you need to take the Eurostar, the prices are much more like flying. The just continue to go up the closer you get to your date of travel. So all the money we saved by flying to London went right out the window when we didn’t book our train tickets right away. The same does not apply to local trains which you pretty much stroll right onto for a few euros 15 minutes before it departs. But I digress, we planned to fly to London. So when we found out Frank was moving back to Maine I had to change his plans. I could, for the same amount of money, change his ticket to meet us in Toronto from Boston and travel with us, or re-book him on a direct flight to London from Boston. So we now have an airline credit and he was on his own! We travel a lot, he was fine. He made it to Boston, then to London, and on to our VRBO rental to grab the keys before we even landed. I say that as if it was all easy breezy, but it was a little more complicated. It took forever for him to get from the airport to center city on the metro since he wasn’t exactly sure where he was going. And then, by pure luck, the apartment owner was walking out the door just as he got there. He almost missed her. Shortly after I rolled up with our two friends from NY in a cab (which seemed easier but cost a lot more). To which we attempted to go find dinner at 10 pm in London. Look at these happy faces! Oh, and this bar, no longer serving dinner!

We were tired, we were hungry, and we had no idea where to find anything. So yes…we ate McDonalds in London at 11pm after a long day of travel. Oops!

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Day 2 started off a little better! Just down the street was a lovely coffee shop. We had poached eggs on toast and started what I referred to as “the forced march” through London. Not wanting to feel like we spent days traveling, we opted to stay an extra day in London and see a few key things. It went a little like this: Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben (who is getting a facelift), The London Eye, Kings Cross Station + Platform 9 3/4, Lunch at one of the oldest pubs (located in kings cross station and complete with beer and fish & chips). The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, St. Martins in the Fields (the crypt cafe – sadly so popular  it no longer has the coolness from 15 years ago – it feels like a cafeteria and tourist destination now – you have to book tickets to the jazz performances so far in advance that we didn’t even get to enjoy it. That was one of my favorite memories from London years ago) Nothing ever stays the same. So then we opted for a beer in a pub nearby. I suppose we must have had dinner that night, probably somewhere near our flat, but it was so memorable that I don’t remember it at all.

Part of the reason we opted for landing in London (aside from the cost savings) was that our friends are so tall, and train travel in Europe is so much easier and more comfortable for them. So day 3 we packed it up and headed to Bruges! This is where I fell in love with Brussels! First, our VRBO had a keyless entry – travelers dream for the win right there. But, it’s owned and operated by an Architect who also owns a B&B. Double win! As an architect myself, I truly appreciate great space, and this place had great space, character, and a deadly staircase. But, the owner was AMAZING! He met us at the rental with a map and charted out all the best places in Bruges that he would recommend, some touristy must sees, but lots of locals places as well. like ‘t Zwart Huis (which my husband read on the map as “I like bugs” and that was how we referred to this restaurant, which we ate at twice, after attempting to find our own eats and failing miserably. Always listen to the locals!

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The food was amazing at ‘t Zwart Huis, but the beer in Belgium is spectacular! Part of the reason we decided to go to Belgium is because they are a tiny country with 3000 breweries. And our friend, who was traveling with us, is a huge beer enthusiast and a very talented home brewer. He wanted to try the Belgian’s (I equate these to wheat bread with all the good fall spices – I absolutely love Belgians – my favorite – the Bruge Triple) and also to visit the places that make Lambic (he quite enjoyed these – they are just not my “cup of beer”) Oh yeah, and his wife doesn’t drink beer at all! So we made sure she had plenty of chocolate! How can you go wrong!! If anyone wants to know the ins and outs of every beer we tried – just comment below and we can see if we can get all of Greg’s notes. I love beer, but I’m not a connoisseur, so this is not a “beer tour of Belgium” post. The Belgians are very serious about their beer and they have a specific glass for each individual beer they brew! And to keep their brewery in the center of Bruges, but not incur the complications of trucking the beer to their bottling facility, De Halve Man literally put in a pipeline under the city that runs from their downtown brewery to their bottling facility on the outskirts of town. WHAT!?! Yeah, that’s really a thing.

But as a I mentioned above, our friend Betsy does not drink beer. And this trip wasn’t all about the beer! Europe is filled with culture from the architecture and the art to the street performers and the history. And Bruges did not disappoint. We saw the only Michaelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime, we saw a crazy art exhibit in a church contemplating art, science, and the human psychology. We saw the old windmills up close, and a giant whale jumping out of the canal sculpted entirely of plastic waste fished out of the ocean. We climbed something, as we always do. And we walked everywhere. This is what I loved most about Bruges. I think at least half of my instagram posts used the hashtag #walkeverywhere

And walk everywhere also means (to Frank and I) Walk down this crazy alley, you never know what you may find. And find indeed. We found what they believe to be one of the oldest operating pubs. I know I said this whole post wouldn’t be about beer, but hey, this family owned and operated pub had a great house beer and a really fun atmosphere. And we literally wandered aimlessly down this street in our attempt to make it to the windmills on the canal – so Frank for the win on this one!

I’ll leave you in Bruges with this: the liege waffle…more on that in Brussels

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After a brilliant couple of days in Bruges we made our way on the local train to Brussels. By now we have been in Europe for 6 of our 10 days, and we have walked everywhere. I think we have mostly killed our friends, so it was nice to finish in Brussels where public transportation is more widely available, if not easier to use. Trams, buses, underground oh my! In Brussels we visited a Lambic brewery which is one of the only Lambic breweries who still make Lambic the old fashioned way with a natural population of yeast and no added sugar. Needless to say, Greg found this fascinating, and I wondered why exactly I was drinking something that looks like it needed dust, dirt, mold, bacteria and dead bugs to be considered “authentic”. (Says the girl who loves kombucha ;p

I said I would talk more about waffles, and so I will. Belgium is knows for Beer. Chocolate. Waffles. And the Belgian waffle isn’t exactly like we have in the US. They do make them like that, but the more common version is the liege waffle. It’s not typically eaten as breakfast food (although we did attempt to do that every day) and traditionally it is not eaten with toppings. However, in touristy fashion, you can get it with a load of different things on top, even as a lunch waffle with all kinds of goodness in the middle. Traditionally though, they have a layer of sugar in the center of the waffle dough, so when it is pressed (think bread dough not batter) into the waffle maker it melts into a sweet thin layer in the middle. And this is exactly why I wanted to go back to Belgium. I’ve been dreaming of these waffles for 15 years, and nothing does compare.

Yes, that is Frank standing next to a faux chocolate version of the peeing boy (mannequin di pis) which is about 100x larger than the actual statue. You guys, the statue is from the 1500’s, it’s a major tourist attraction, and seriously he is no bigger than a doll. You would walk right past it if there weren’t 1000 tourists stopping to take a picture. There is now a little girl statue (she is hard to find) and a dog too. Neither of them are really that popular, but while our friends were resting and Frank and I were restless, we went in search of her and stumbled upon the Delirium Bar. This complex includes 4 or 5 bars and takes up a whole block (it seems) so we sat down and tried a few! Who doesn’t love tiny pink elephants!

I had already been to Brussels, so there were a few places I wanted to see (oh, and more chocolate shopping – I think I brought back 10lbs of chocolate and I don’t even eat it). First we went to the square to see it in the day and night time. It’s just a cool place to stand and look at the architecture and the people. I wanted to see the orangery at the palace, sadly you can only go in maybe once a year, but we saw the palace from outside the gates. I wanted to see the gate, and we got to see the cadets practicing for what looked like a ceremony of some sort. And lastly, I wanted to see the Atomium which is one of the only buildings left from the worlds fair. And I love to climb stuff, but my vertigo really got me in the Atomium. I was green till we exited and I laid on the concrete slab bench to regain my equilibrium while the rest of them just chuckled at my need to do this! Afterwards we walked through what is now a park. It was really cool inside the Atomium where they had pictures of how the park looked during the fair. So crazy how different the landscape is after they pack it all up and take it away. We took it a little easier in Brussels. Less forced marching, more public transportation, and some slower paces including breaks to rest and eating dinner at the Drug Opera which was only around the corner from our rental. ( I’m not going to lament too much on the rental, but it was way harder to get into this apartment in Brussels through a major rental corporation then it was to get keys from the woman in London or access to the apartment in Bruges).

And then we made our way back to London to catch our flight home. But first, we find out that our rental apartment had a flood from the apartment above, had no electricity, and we can’t stay there. Oh yeah, fun. Nope! But we were able to secure a last minute hotel close enough to the airport to take the metro. There was nothing around there, so we had a great diner at a little Chinese restaurant and went to bed early and exhausted. Overall, the trip was wonderful! I don’t think I’ve seen enough of Belgium yet. I’d go back to Bruges in a heartbeat, skip Brussels since I’ve been there twice and it was almost a letdown after Bruges, and check out more of the countryside!

The Lake: Maine Style

So, my husband is from Maine, and I consider myself a transplant even though currently he’s living in New York for work. I told him the minute I saw Maine, that I would definitely move there if I got a house on the lake. Haven’t quite secured that one yet, but the more time I spend on the water, the more certain I become of it’s future existence. We love to travel, but home is definitely Maine with our family (blood or otherwise).

Last week was a tough week for us. It was the anniversary of a life cut too short. We got together to celebrate a life, and mourn our sadness about the year spent without our fearless leader. The one who kept all of us “ducks in a row”. The one who was never afraid of an adventure, even if the roads were sketchy and the steps were +/- 700 down into the abyss. We may have laughed, we may have cried, and we may have sent fire messages into the unknown. But we were together and we were loved. We move forward, but we certainly never forget.

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At 9pm the night before our day at the lake, we made homemade cucumber jalapeño margaritas. Recipe If you make them ahead of time, they get spicier! Bill loved a good margarita.

Panther Pond 2018-4645Thankfully, there are no pictures of me and my first attempt at paddle boarding. I know they are out there, hoping they don’t show up on social media! But if they do, I own it. Paddle boarding is not for the birds! The black and blue marks on my knees are proof that I need a lot more practice. Don’t get me wrong. It was fun, I’ll try it again. But I am a far cry from those amazing people who do yoga on their boards. We did go kayaking though! And that is one of my favorite things. If you get the chance, Panther Pond in Raymond, Maine is a spectacular lake! It’s quiet, clean, large enough for motor boats, but not so large that kayaking gets scary or dangerous.

Fishing, boating and family time, including some, but not all the kiddos.

I swear he lives 500 miles away – I guess this one is just genetics!

And to round out the rest of our week: (I worked, he was on vacation) We played board games with our friends, visited family, tried this disgusting bourbon drink (it has Montreal steak seasoning on the rim – it mostly tastes like liquid Montreal steak seasoning). Got a little loving from the fur kids, had bourbon and hard seltzer with Uncle Charlie, ate dinner out at a few of our old haunts with friends and family. Had lobster, cooked and eaten the right way (ie: cook it at home, fresh, outside. Eat it outside because it makes a huge mess!). And mostly just ran around to see as many people as we could possibly fit in. If we missed you, we are sorry. If we got to see you, it was a blessing. And if you’re just looking for some great recommendations for lake vacations in Maine, we highly recommend Kool Palms Travel or Vining World Travel

In loving memory of Bill Vining. You may be gone, but I still swear at you when I go through every road construction site. (Especially the bridges – I know you’re taunting me)

Adventure, Nature, and a few Fairy Houses

Another great birthday adventure in the books. Honestly, I think I have as much fun as the kids. Maddie: “How do you know that fairies exist” Me: “I don’t, I just believe”

Like every great early start to a birthday adventure…we started with donuts. I mean come on, who doesn’t love donuts. And it’s a really good excuse to eat them on you adventure day where anything goes!

Once we fueled up, on a sugar high, we headed to Mackworth Island to adventure. Mackworth Island has a trail around the island and it’s scattered with fairy houses. We went to enjoy the outdoors with a “hike/walk” breath in the fresh air, and get some inspiration for building our own fairy houses at home. If we caught a fairy, even better. We found a wing, rescued one from being eaten by a bird, and caught (but released) a third. It was magical.

After our adventure, collecting our treasures, and re-fueling again. (this time sandwiches) we headed home to build our own fairy houses. Here is the grove we created, we hope to attract our own magic.

We made a little magic this day! Possessions are just things to be forgotten, but memories last a lifetime. I love making memories with them, even the silly, fanciful, magical moments.

Girls Weekend: New Hampshire

IMG_3746Sometimes it happens every year, and sometimes there are a few years in-between, but there is a group of ladies that surround each other with love, laughter and kindness, and I’m lucky enough to be a part of this joyous group. On and off for the last 18 years, some or all of us gather together for a weekend and share in great food, great company, and some outdoor adventure. This year we rented a place on the lake in New Hampshire.

Even though it was too late to go ice skating and too early to go boating, it was warm enough to hang out on the deck in the sunshine and hike in the woods. We spent a little time in the Fox Forest and visited the Virgin Forest (a grove of hemlocks that have never been cut). Our two little furry friends loved our walk around the lake and hike in the forest. There was still snow on the ground and the trail was pretty muddy, but the woods were rejuvenating with their moss covered boulders and large uncut trees.

Back at the house we played a few rousing games of Blokus, did a couple tarot readings, ate some amazing food, had a crazy dance party, talked, read, and laughed. There is nothing more rewarding then having a group of friends you can be yourself with. As an introvert, it’s usually draining to spend time in groups. However, this group of ladies and our weekends away always leave me refreshed and rejuvenated.

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So if you’re looking for some advice on great get-a-way ideas with your girlfriends, I recommend the following:

  1. Look at places centrally located between all of your friends. We live in Maine, NY, and Massachusetts. So we aim for New Hampshire a lot. We looked on Air BnB and Home Away. This gave us the opportunity to have a whole house to ourselves.
  2. Save money by cooking in! We love sharing food together so we each take a meal or two and split the cooking and cleaning. Renting a house means you have to do dishes and cook. So if that’s not your thing, look for weekend deals or specials in places where you can eat out or an all-inclusive where everything is taken care of.
  3. Look for places that allow pets.  Three of the four of us have furry kids. We all love outdoor adventure and often our fur kids come along. One of the benefits of renting a house is that our fur kids can join in.
  4. Plan around something to do. Sometimes we like to just stay in, but we always make sure there is something nearby to get out into nature. The four of us love to hike and kayak, so our trips are usually planned around somewhere that we can be outside. Some years we camp, some years we hike in to a cabin, and other years we kayak camp. If you’re not a nature loving group, research the areas around where you are staying to find things you might like to do.
  5. And last, but most important. Find a group of friends you can be yourself with. People who enjoy doing things you like to do. People who are easy to be with and bring you joy and happiness.

Family Birthday Adventures At Kalahari

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We love to do birthday adventures with our nieces and nephew. Our littlest niece turned 4 in March, so we packed up and drove to Kalahari Resorts in the Poconos. It’s about 3 1/2 hours from Rochester and a pretty simple drive.

For this trip we opted to rent a family suite and the whole family came along! I’ll be perfectly honest, it was nice to have 6 adults to 2 kids in the waterpark. It’s busy in there and it takes a lot of attention to keep watch on the kids. My 4 year old niece loved the slides in the kiddie section. She went down the slides over and over again and was happy to take any of the 6 of us down the slide with her! She had a bright smile and loved every minute.  Her 6 year old sister loved the wave pool. She didn’t want to get out. She also loved the indoor/outdoor hot tub. It was cool to duck under the door and be outside with the snow and cold.

The adults loved the Paxton Grotto swim up hot tub bar that was also indoor / outdoor. Since there were 6 adults we took turns with the kids while the “big kids” did some of the bigger slides. I vowed that I would try any slide that Frank did. He’s more of an adventurer/risk taker than me. You know you have to try it when your almost 60 year old dad is also doing all the big slides! My sister and I along with Frank and my dad also did some of the big 4 person slides! There was a little bit of screaming, a lot of eye closing, lots of laughter! The cheetah race was one of our favorites. We did that one over and over again trying to get better times and racing each other. At first I was a little concerned that I had to go head first down a slide, but it is so much fun! The Tanzanian Twister was fun. I think I now know what it feels like to get flushed! I wasn’t sure where the bottom of the slide would come out, but till you get into the funnel at the bottom you realize there is just a hole that you drop out of. It’s slow, but 2 out of 3 of us came out head first! It was very entertaining to plop head first into a deep pool at the end.  There were so many big and little slides at the park it is fun for everyone. If your not a ride or slide adult there are plenty of chairs and tables to sit at, hot tubs to dip in, and a few bars to grab a drink.

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The family suite is probably good for 6, it was a little tight for 8. Someone has to sleep on the pull out couch in the living room. The downside is that you have to be the last one to bed and the first one up. We had plenty of counter top space for food and snacks and a mini fridge for cold stuff. If you’re all coffee drinkers, I would request more coffee for 8 people or bring your own filters and coffee. There is 1 chair, one couch and 3 chairs at the table. It’s a little tight for everyone to have a seat when you’re hanging out, but there was plenty of room to camp out on the floor if the bed is folded up.

We had dinner at Sortino’s Italian Kitchen, where it was easy to find something that everyone liked. We had pizza at the waterpark the first night for dinner. I was surprised, but the other restaurants in the water park didn’t appear to be open for dinner. We grabbed lunch the second day at Zulu Grille, which was a burgers and fries type of lunch spot right in the waterpark. Frank and I had lunch at B-Lux (the burger joint) before heading home on Sunday. The Italian place was good, but we would highly recommend a visit to B-Lux. The burgers were great and they had all kinds of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic milkshake desserts.

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Overall, our stay at Kalahari was a lot of fun! We know it’s a successful birthday trip when they keep saying they want to go back, do it again, or they ask if you remember when they did “xyz” with you. I would highly recommend Kalahari. I recommend watching for middle of the week or special day discounts. You can also reach out to some travel agents that might have deals for specific weekends. I recommend having at least one adult per child. And lastly, I recommend bringing some of your own food and snacks to help cut down on the costs of eating on site. (there really isn’t anything nearby).

 

The Mottram’s Do Costa Rica 2.0

Two years ago we did a trek across Costa Rica. 6 people, 2 cars, San Jose to Guanacaste with a touch in Arenal and Monteverde. This year, to celebrate a life, we returned to Costa Rica.  Sadly we lost one of our travel buddies this past summer. It still doesn’t feel real, like he’s just going to walk in the door one day and say “Gotcha”. Costa Rica was a place he loved. A place that he and his wife planned to retire. So we wanted to join his wife and celebrate his life in a place that he loved.

Why we all love Costa Rica:

It’s full of life! Costa Rica is vibrant. Between the monkeys, sloths, iguanas, poisonous frogs, and sharks, the wildlife is amazing. The people and the towns are vibrant, colorful and relaxed. The country has volcanos, jungle, mountains and beaches. It really is a pura vida (simple life). I also really love that 95% of the country power is made with renewable energy.

Where we stayed: Villa Sol, Playa Hermosa

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This year we flew to Liberia and stayed on the coast of Guanacaste in Playa Hermosa. We rented a villa in a gated resort and stayed in one place. Only 20 minutes from the airport, this place was a gem. Playa Hermosa is a quiet little spot and the villa we rented was on a resort complex. This gave us access to the beach, pool and other resort amenities. If we wanted, we could have added an all inclusive package to our villa. But the grocery stores are close and have everything you could want. If you want Lucky Charms, Doritos, and Oreos, you can find them. If you want charcoal and local meat to cook at home, you can find that too. We loved the quiet and secure feeling of Playa Hermosa while only being a few minutes away from Playas Del Coco with more shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. All the villas on Villa Sol are privately owned. Our villa wasn’t fancy, but it felt like home. The beds were a little hard and the wifi was a little slow, but everything else was perfect.

We spent our afternoons relaxing in the plunge pool, better known as the “punch bowl” and our mornings sipping coffee on the veranda. Of course we went diving and this year we did another ATV + zipline adventure with our friends. I will warn you, if you do an ATV tour on the coast during the dry season, it will be dusty.  This year we got to ride through the river a few times which made the ATV ride a whole lot more fun! It’s 90, it’s sunny, and even though you’re covered in dust, you still get burnt. Even though we stayed in one place this year, we always add a little “adventure” into our vacations!

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We stayed in Playa Hermosa, but we also spent time in Playas Del Coco.  One of our favorite finds was Zi’s. We had brick oven pizza and happy hour drinks. How can you argue with a $4 margarita! This is also where we went on our diving adventure. Sadly the diving was a little “green”, but we love to dive and we know you can’t control the ocean. We saw rays and puffers and starfish. There is still plenty to see in the ocean, even if the visibility was poor.

And even though we took ventured to Playas Del Coco, you wouldn’t have to leave Playa Hermosa at all. Between the resort amenities, the grocery store, and the restaurants nearby; we had everything we needed.

Costa Rica, you will always hold our heart. Until we see you again, In loving memory of our dear friend Bill Vining.

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Fall at the Cabin 2017

So here it is, months after we returned from Spain and we haven’t filled in any of the gaps, written more about our trip, or the various other places we have been since then.  The spring turned into summer which bled into fall. Hard to believe with the 80 degree temperatures, but it’s October! Three quarters of this year is already over. So while it’s fresh in my mind, and because I want to document it, I’m going to write about our recent trip to Pennsylvania.

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For as long as I can remember, my (Emily’s) family has been going to the cabin for weekends in the summer and fall. Our family loves to go there for my dad’s birthday in October! The crew: Emily’s parents, her sister and her husband, their two kids, their dog Quincey, us and our two dogs.  This year the boys (our dogs) stayed in NY while we threw a little 50cc four wheeler in the back of our Mazda for my niece to try out. A big shout out to Frank’s mom and her husband for letting us borrow it! She was too scared to ride it. I think a few more days with it, and she would have been racing around the yard, but a weekend wasn’t long enough for her to get comfortable and no one was going to push her to do it. She loves to ride and I definitely see one of these in her future. Pretty soon my dad won’t be able to see over her head riding together.

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But the weekend in the mountains isn’t just about riding four-wheelers, it’s about family time. For the last three years, we have taken family photos. I love to play with my camera and it’s fun to see the kids grow. And it’s usually pretty entertaining! This year, I forgot my tripod, so we had to use the back of the four-wheeler to prop up the camera, while I set the self timer and try to run to get into place before it snaps the picture. I have a wireless remote, but it’s unreliable. Might have to do some more research before next years photos. But then there may not be as much joy and laughter as they all watch me rush to make it into the photo without falling flat on my face. Like the photo below where I nearly slipped on the rocks as I rushed into place!

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Or them being crazy while I take a test shot to see how the lighting is:

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The best part about getting away for a weekend in the mountains, is the cabin has zero reception! All electronics get left in the car or turned on airplane mode and used as glorified cameras. We have a tv, but it never gets turned on. If we are inside, there is usually a rousing card game or board game going on. It’s possible that someone is napping on one of the 5 couches. But most of the time, we are outside. We ride, we walk, we play in the driveway/yard, we target shoot, or we just sit on the porch and enjoy the silence. It’s the best kind of weekend with some of my favorite people in the whole world.