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Ireland, The Last Days

A Walk In The WoodsI am finally home. What a journey that was to get back. I had planned on posting last night, but after I hugged and kissed my family, I crawled into bed and crashed hard.

After twelves hours of sleep, I’m feeling much more human and ready to share the last of my images from Ireland with you. I’ll be posting some food pictures from Ireland over on A Beautiful Bite in the coming days, but these pictures make more sense over here on MITM.

To start, the image above and below show you how dark it was over in Ireland during my stay. The weather was quite vexing and it really started to get to me after awhile. Constant rain and shadows affected my mood which you can see in my self portrait below.

In total there was one day of partial sun and I found myself racing around like a lunatic trying to get some decent shots while there was enough light to do so. And I still don’t really feel that I caught the true beauty of Ireland this visit.

Melanie In The Shadows

Knowth IrelandMy favorite sights in Ireland were the churches, cemeteries and ruins. Everywhere I turned there was something ancient and fantastic to see. One of my favorite day trips was to Knowth and Newgrange, two burial passage sights which are 5,000 years old and in near original condition.

The following pictures are from that day trip…

Newgrange Ireland

Knowth Irealnd

Knowth, IrelandLooks like a Teletubby should pop up somewhere in the background. Don’t you think? The only thing missing from this photo is Tinky Winky and a bunny.

Cliffs of MoherAnother favorite day trip was to the Cliffs of Moher. I was really lucky this day because the sun came out just a bit during my visit and the rain held off just long enough for me to walk the cliffs and snap some photos. And just as I took one last picture, the clouds said enough of that and rained down again.
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher Tower

Irish CastleThe following pictures are just some random shots that I thought were worth sharing…

Melanie At Castle

Thatched Irish Roof

Irish Cow

Irish Cows

Melanie Ireland

Cliffs of Moher SunsetAs I was standing on the Cliffs of Moher during sunset on my last day in Ireland, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite Sarah McLachlan songs, Possession.

There’s something about Sarah’s voice that speaks to the mood of Ireland. A haunting melody that resonated with me this visit. And there are some things that greatly affect my mood. Light and sound are two and this song really speaks to how I was feeling at that moment as I was standing on the cliffs as it started to rain and the winds picked up…

Listen as the wind blows, across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time
the night is my companion, and solitude my guide
Would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?

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End of Summer Road Trip ~ Philadelphia Zoo & Omni Independence Park

Philadelphia ZooWith only a small window of time before summer poofs out of existence, I decided to take my kids on a last hurrah summer road trip. Three of my kids anyway. Aidan is getting ready for college and will be missing from blog posts for the next four years, I think. Sniff.

Not that it’s a crazy long distance road trip. Just a four day journey with stops in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore. You see, my friend Joey is hosting a Blogger Beach Bash which I’ll tell you more about tomorrow, but en route we decided to stay overnight in Philly so that we could visit one of my favorite zoos in the country. The Philadelphia Zoo.

Shan and the Polar BearNow, I wasn’t too bright before I left. I should’ve purchased my tickets online. That would’ve eliminated the very long wait at the ticket booth. In the sweltering sun. For what seemed like an eternity.

But it’s ok because we got to the counter before we became human raisins. And when it was finally our turn, I learned about their membership program which allows you to visit not only their zoo for a calendar year, but also many zoos across the country.

So, I could’ve spent $91 for admission and parking or I could’ve spent $99 and get admission for the year at not only the Philadelphia Zoo, but countless others including a bunch in New England. Oh, and the membership gives you free parking. Sold.

Philadelphia ZooUpon entering the park, my kids were completely entranced. Heck, I was completely entranced. I have been to this zoo many many times with my Mom and Dad, but when I was a kid it didn’t look anything like it does today.

The amount of expansion and development that has gone into this zoo is impressive. So many new exhibits and beautifications. There was something new to see around every bend.

One of the improvements that I liked best was the interactive exhibits where kids can use computers to learn about the animals and their habitats in realistic field settings. Lots of hands on stuff that immersed the kids in learning. They had so much fun without realizing that it was educational. I’m all for sneaky education.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo Red PandaAnd of course there were the animals. Each kid had their favorite. Michael loves red pandas. Leela is into cheetahs. And Shannon was smitten with the lemurs. My favorite was the primate exhibit. Apes have always fascinated me and I could spend hours watching them. Actually, my kids had to drag me out of the exhibit.

We spent four hours at the zoo, but I felt like we rushed through it and missed some of the exhibits. Of course this means that we will have to come back again. Especially to take advantage of our new membership status!

Omni Independence ParkAfter our fun at the zoo, we ventured over to the Omni Independence Park which overlooks Independence National Historic Park in the heart of Society Hill. A truly elegant hotel with very posh accommodations.

When we first checked in, the kids were thrilled to receive little backpacks to help them explore the city. A very nice touch for the wee tykes.

But mom was more impressed with the actual room. Super luxe with lots of space and gorgeous furnishings. Oh and the beds & linens. Don’t even get me started. I wanted to take the sheets home with me. So very comfy. Especially after a six hour drive and four hours at the zoo. Mom needed that comfy bed.

Omni Independence ParkAnd the view was killer too. The girls each grabbed a book and perched themselves on the sill to read while I took care of, well you know, EVERYTHING as us moms have a habit of doing.

Omni Independence ParkAbout ten minutes after we arrived, there was a knock on the door. It was for the kids. A tray of milk and cookies which the Omni delivers to every kid who stays at their hotel. Yeah, my kids were impressed.

After an afternoon snack of milk and cookies, I took the kids to the hotel pool for a dip. As far as pools go, this one is sort of spa like with relaxing music piped in which I enjoyed but I doubt the kids even noticed. My kids don’t relax until their head hits the pillow.

All in all, it was the perfect hotel stay and I would highly recommend staying at an Omni property if you get the chance to.

I wish we had more time to spend in Philly because there’s just so much to see in the city. I should know because I was born here and my entire family is from the area. If you haven’t been, you must. It’s a great city to visit not only for the obvious historical contributions, but also for the museums, restaurants and theater. Oh, and the cheesesteaks. It’s worth it to visit Philly for the cheesesteaks alone.

We left Philly this morning and are now on the Jersey Shore. We only have a few days to work with, so we are cramming in as much fun as we can before we go back home and back to school.

Much more tomorrow…

Disclosure:

I was an invited guest of the Omni Independence Park and stayed free of charge. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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An Overnight At Jay Peak, Vermont

jay peak vermontRecently the girls and I had the opportunity to visit Jay Peak Resort, a four season resort in northern Vermont. Just miles from the Canadian border, Jay Peak Resort is situated on some seriously picturesque real estate.

The mountain itself has a summit elevation of 3,968 feet and receives the most snow in eastern North America. With 76 trails on 385 acres, this is the kind of resort that skiers dream about. But Jay Peak is so much more than a great place to ski. It’s a great place for just about any recreational interest…

jay peakBefore we arrived at Jay Peak, the girls and I poked around on their website to get a feel for what they had to offer. When the girls saw the pictures for The Pump House indoor water park, their eyes just about popped out of their sockets. It looked huge! With lots of thrilling slides, lazy river and hot tubs, the girls were packing their luggage without my having to say boo.

jay peakShannon was particularly interested in trying out the Double Barrel Flowrider. How much fun does that look like? All the joys of surfing on a simulated wave pool. Awesome!

The first thing we did when we arrived at Jay Peak was to check out The Pump House to see if it was as awesome in real life as it was depicted on the website. The best way I can describe it is immense.

Immense and clean. The one thing I get hung up on with indoor waterparks is how clean they are. And I have to say that Jay Peak does an excellent job keeping their water park in tip top shape.

Lots of dry towels. Spacious locker rooms. Clean shower and bathroom facilities. Stuff that parents can appreciate.

There’s also a convenient snack bar with all kinds of kid pleasing foods plus options for healthier eating like salad and fruit. Parents will be happy to know that there is a poolside bar where they can enjoy an adult drink while watching the little ones frolic.

jay peak hotelBut it wouldn’t be a true visit to a mountain without some outdoor fun, right? After all, we did happen to be there during one of the biggest snow storms of the season. And the girls were itching to go romp around in the white fluffy stuff which hasn’t fallen much in our neck of the woods this winter.

IMG_7440We happened to be there just in time for the grand debut of the new Jay Peak Burton Riglet Park opening. Located at the Mountain Kid Adventure Center, kids can learn the basics of snowboarding in a fun and interactive Disney-Pixar Toy Story themed setting.

snowboarding jay peakKids are first taught the basics of how to snowboard by first learning balance and weight centering. One they learn the basics, they get to head out to the very exciting Toy Story themed Riglet Park to bust out their newly learned skills!

burton riglet park jay peakFor little snowboarding enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than this. Besides snowboarding, skiing and the amazing Pump House, Jay Peak also has a new Ice Haus indoor skating arena. There’s something for every member of the family at Jay Peak.

Jay Peak has recently invested over a quarter of a billion dollars into property and recreation improvements, but still strives to offer families value and affordable pricing. A lift ticket for Jay Peak is $69 per day and they offer some wonderful package deals that include lift tickets, lodging and water park access.

jay peak riglet parkThe girls and I give six thumbs up for Jay Peak Resort. So much fun and so many different things to do. Our only regret was that we stayed only one night. I guess that means we just have to go back!

For more information on Jay Peak, be sure to visit their website.

This is not a sponsored post. Jay Peak did offer us a discount for our overnight stay. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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A Review of the Disney Fantasy

When we started planning our family vacation, we spent a lot of time analyzing our options. Traveling with two teens and two elementary schoolers poses some issues. How do you entertain everyone? Not an easy feat.

The boys wanted warm weather and tropical seas. The girls wanted Disney. They always want Disney. I guess that’s par for the course for eight and nine year old girls.

What happens when you mix sun, sand and Disney? A Disney Cruise, of course. The perfect way to make everyone happy.

But as you know, a Disney Cruise is a premium cruise that calls for big bucks. So, in an effort to make it more affordable, we chose to cruise off season which is a little risky. Can you say hurricane season?

Usually cruising during hurricane season does not cause any serious disruptions. This time it did. We were due to fly in on a late night flight last Friday, but once we saw the hurricane’s path, we flew down earlier in the afternoon to Tampa.

The flight was bumpy, but after two glasses of wine (for me, not the kids), we arrived safely and made it to Port Canaveral as scheduled. The ship was delayed due to Sandy, and little did we know how rough those last cruisers had it.

High seas and high wind conditions put a serious damper on their vacation. Not to mention all of the damage to the ship. Lots of broken glass and other furnishings had to be replaced before we could board.

But board we did, and away we went…

It didn’t take long for the boys to slip into vacation mode. They are teenage boys after all and the two things they like to do are loaf around and…..

Eat. From slurping down coconut milk, to munching on peel and eat shrimp, the boys quickly got used to an existence they knew nothing about prior to boarding the ship.

Of course the girls were most excited about meeting the Disney characters. This is where the Disney cruise expense is justified….

From the moment you board the ship and right up to your departure, you are interacting with the characters.

There’s no waiting in long lines with sweaty tired children waiting to meet their favorite characters. Nope, the characters are constantly milling around the decks and you just never know who you are going to bump into.

Every where we went there was a character to hug. Straight up til midnight the characters were part of the action.

You could find them getting their groove on at the nightly dance parties, hanging out at the ever so popular kid’s clubs, or just strolling around the decks.

You just don’t get that opportunity to spend so much one on one time with the characters in the parks. This is a unique selling point of a Disney cruise.

Halloween fell during our trip. Instead of trick-or-treating, we took the girls to get glammed up at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Afterwards we took advantage of the professional photographers that were located all over the lobby. It was an excellent opportunity to catch the girls in all of their Bibbidi Bobbidi glory.

As awesome as the ship is, the ports were an adventure as well.

The boys were more jazzed about the ports than the girls because they were very excited to snorkel for the first time. None of the kids have been out of the country before, so they were filled with wonder over the sea life and all of the sights in Mexico.

Watching them experience something they’ve only dreamed about brought me to tears more than a few times on this cruise.

The one port adventure we scheduled for the girls was a dolphin experience in Cozumel. Both girls were wildly excited with the idea of seeing a dolphin up close….

Shannon embraced the experience and was nothing but smiles.

Leela? Let’s just say that she was convinced the dolphin was going to eat her. That’s why there are no pictures of her playing with the dolphin. She was terrified.

So, how about the food on the Fantasy? We were pretty pleased. My only goal was to not gain a bunch of weight, so I was delighted with all of the fish and fresh produce.

All four kids always found something that they liked and the restaurants themselves were fantastical and made you feel like you were dining in a Disney movie.

Did I mention the all you can eat smoked salmon? I think I ate the equivalent value of my cruise in smoked salmon.

And if you didn’t eat enough during your scheduled dining times, there were plenty of options to grab a quick snack. The self serve ice cream station was a ginormous hit with my little ones and big kids alike.

There were plenty of opportunities to make new friends and we did just that. Lots of silliness and giggles all around.

But there were quiet moments too. Time to reflect and appreciate what was given. Also time to reflect on what was not taken away.

Each one of us greatly appreciated that we had this chance to spend time together. We didn’t have to explain to the kids how special and rare this opportunity was. They just knew.

Pixie dust has a way of making things shine that much brighter. Don’t you think?

A Disney Cruise is a once in a lifetime experience. It isn’t inexpensive, but if you travel off season, you will save some serious cash.

Keep in mind that traveling during off season does have some risk to it if you go during the hurricane months. I would highly suggest buying trip insurance.

You will also need an attitude of flexibility because your ports of call can be changed due to sea conditions. That was the only negative of our trip. Our Grand Cayman port was cancelled which was a huge disappointment for my sons who very much wanted to swim with the sting rays.

If Disney happens to read this, I would urge them to add another port for situations such as this. Spending an additional day at sea is not an acceptable option when you are investing that type of money in your once of a lifetime family vacation. Ahem.

Other than that, I can’t say enough good about my time on the ship. The shows were spectacular, the ship beautifully crafted, tons of stuff to do for the entire family.

A wish upon a star dream come true.

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My Visit To San Francisco!

I’m back home after an exciting week at the Food Buzz Festival which was held in San Francisco. I experienced way too much to write just one post. So, this post I’ll share some of the highlights of my trip and tomorrow I’ll write specifically about the festival….

One of my must do activities was ride a cable car. It’s sort of a mandatory activity when visiting San Francisco.

And while it’s great fun to ride one, getting on one that isn’t already packed with people is pretty challenging. So, if you visit and would like to ride one, try to do it on a weekday. It’s very very difficult to get a ride on one on the weekend.

It’s a pretty affordable way to see the sights and you get to experience a bit of transportation history too!

Fisherman’s Wharf is another must see attraction. With lots of shops and restaurants situated on the picturesque San Francisco waterfront, you could spend a whole day just taking in the sights. The people watching is pretty excellent too…

One of my planned stops on the wharf was Boudin Bakery. Known for their classic sourdough bread and other incredible baked goods (try their killer chocolate chip cookies), I didn’t want to leave San Francisco without grabbing a bite at their delicious restaurant.

Actually, I had my first raw oyster ever at Boudin’s. I had a brave moment and tossed back one of their champagne soaked oysters. And while I can’t say I’d eat a tray of raw oysters, I didn’t mind them. It went down much smoother than I expected. Interesting.

But what they are really famous for are their breads. Not just sourdough, but fanciful loaves in all kinds of fun shapes like this alligator. It was like a baker’s Disney Land.

And no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a stop at Ghiradelli! I was desperately trying to look and not buy, but when I was given a free sample at the door, I was a goner.

If you get a chance to try the Ghiradelli Sea Salt Soiree Chocolate Squares, do. They are killer good.

Now that I think about it, I can’t think of anything Ghiradelli that isn’t killer good. And speaking of killer…

I visited the very infamous Alcatraz. Another must see attraction in San Francisco, Alcatraz is quite the site to behold.

Just a short ferry ride over to the island, Alcatraz does not dissapoint. I took an audio tour of the prison that explained the interesting history, the inhabitants and the people that lived on the island.

It was quite chilling, but completely interesting to learn about its history and to see with my own eyes a little of what the prisoners experienced. The words I would use to describe it are cold and isolated. A great place to visit, but not somewhere I’d like to stay for any length of time.

I wish I had more time to explore San Francisco. There was so much that I missed. I didn’t have the time to visit Lombard Street or see the Painted Ladies. So, that just means I have to go back.

Not to mention the museums, the countless restaurants that I would’ve liked to have dined at and I sure would’ve liked to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge. Next time!

It was a fantastic experience. Certainly worth flying from one coast to another to visit. Come back tomorrow to see my recap of the Food Buzz Festival!

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Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, CA

Today I spent the afternoon discovering Muir Woods National Monument, a redwood forest preserve located in Mill Valley, California.

In 1908 Theodore Roosevelt declared Muir Woods a national monument. Many of the trees are over 1,000 years old. For over 100 years these trees have been protected and trails have been established so that the public can enjoy their majesty.

It’s hard to not be moved while walking the trails. As you look up at the ancient and towering trees, one feels a sense of reverence in the presence of such natural beauty. In fact, there’s a section called Cathedral Grove where you are asked to be quiet to respect the inhabitants of the forest, as to not interrupt their environment.

The trails can be challenging with steep inclines and descents. Along the trail there are root systems and rocks that make the trails even more challenging.

The trail I took today was 4-5 miles of what mostly felt like up. There’s lots of up in this park. And the down is pretty strenuous too. Thigh Master has nothing over Muir Woods.

Muir Woods is the perfect place to explore for young and old alike. You can choose a simple walk through the Muir Woods, or you can take one of the more challenging trails. Either way, it’s a not to be missed California natural attraction that will certainly be inspiring for anyone who visits.

Muir Woods is an easy drive from San Francisco. Admission is $7 for adults and free for children 15 years of age and under. For more information on Muir Woods National Monument, you can check out their website.

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Stowe Mountain Lodge Review

Located at the base of Mount Mansfield in Stowe Vermont, is the luxurious and family friendly Stowe Mountain Lodge. Rated #5 Top Resort in the country by Conde´Nast Traveler, the Stowe Mountain Lodge shines as a premier place to vacation for young and not so young alike.

And you’d think a resort located in a mountain would only be focused on skiing, right? Think again. Besides being the #1 rated Northern Golf Resort by Conde´Nast Traveler, there’s hiking, biking, ziplining, Alpine mountain sliding, fishing, and lots of other family friendly activities that will entertain family members of any age.

A wonderful place to visit when you have kids of various ages like we do. It’s not easy finding activities that would entertain both an eight year old and an eighteen year old alike!

Upon arrival we knew we were in capable hands. Our trunk which was packed with a giant cooler, many suitcases, and countless stuffed friends was quickly unpacked by the bellmen and transported to our room before we had a chance to blink.

We’ve never stayed at a lodge before, but had chatted about what it might look like during the drive up to Vermont.

The kids imagined lots of wood beams and fieldstone, while I envisioned a cozy fireplace where I’d enjoy a glass of wine. And upon entering the lobby, that’s exactly what we saw. The wine came a little later, of course.

Cozy rocking chairs facing floor to ceiling windows with stunning mountain views, the lobby set us up immediately with some pretty high expectations that did not go unfulfilled.

There are three hundred and twelve guest rooms at the lodge. From studios to larger accomodations that can sleep multiple families, there’s a choice for parties of every size.

The rooms are graciously appointed with plush furnishings, kitchenette, stone framed fireplace, and a bathroom that you’d have to see to believe.

Even though it was August, we still lit that fireplace up. Such an indulgent touch that makes me want to visit again when there’s snow on the ground!

 As much as I loved the fireplace, the girls loved the balcony even more. They had so much fun waving at people they didn’t even know.

The first thing the girls wanted to do upon arrival was to visit the pool. They had checked out pictures of the pool on the website before we go there and were duly impressed with the photos.

But the real deal was even better. A large pool with a killer hot tub, the kids splashed and played for hours. Oh, did I mention with a water temperature of 84° that the pool is open year round?

There’s a nifty indoor entrance to the outdoor pool that you can use in the wintertime so that your toes never even have to touch the freezing cold ground. How cool is that?

Once again, I’m coming back up in the winter to swim in the outdoor pool. I’ve always wanted to sit in a hot tub outside while surrounded by snow. It’s on my bucket list. Time to knock that puppy off the list.

In various spots around the resort are fire pits where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. A little birdie told me that there are often times s’more making supplies available to the guests.

While staying at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, you should give yourself a little gift by visiting The Spa and Wellness Center. From massages to body scrubs and every pampering service in between, the hardest thing you’ll have to do is choose which treatments you’ll receive.

A few months ago I received a Spa Finder gift certificate, and lucky me, The Spa and Wellness Center accepts Spa Finder! I chose the Vermont Maple Syrup and Brown Sugar Scrub which was all shades of bliss.

Before my treatment I was ushered into the relaxation lounge which is where I waited until they came to take me in for my service.

The relaxation lounge is outfitted with comfy lounge chairs that face floor to ceiling windows with views of the mountains. Soft peaceful spa music plays while you sip on water or munch on an apple.

A fine time to block out the worries of the world while you read a book or better yet, do nothing at all.

The spa has its own jacuzzi tubs in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms. Deep bubbling tubs just for adults.

One of the benefits of getting a spa treatment is that you can utilize the relaxation lounge and the jacuzzi tub throughout the day that your treatment is scheduled.

If you come up sans kids, I think this would be a wonderful way to spend an entire day. The relaxation lounge is such a calming place with breathtaking views. You might not ever want to leave.

I sure didn’t.

Not only is the Stowe Mountain Lodge a wonderful place to go as a family, it’s also a wonderful place to go with multiple families. There are accomodations that have up to three bedrooms, so perfect to share with extended family or friends.

These larger rooms have an ample lounging area and a huge kitchen…

Can you just imagine eating pancakes in this kitchen with real Vermont maple syrup?

No matter how many people are in your party, the Stowe Mountain Lodge can accomodate you. And no matter what time of year you come to visit, there are sure to be activities the whole family will enjoy.

Our family has never gone on a ski vacation before. Heck, my kids have never even been on skis. And even though we plan on coming back up to Stowe Mountain Lodge this winter to try skiing for the very first time, I still think there’s plenty to do here even if skiing is not your thing.

Things To Know Before You Arrive

  • Book your spa treatments in advance. They fill up quickly during peak times.
  • Call the concierge for tips on what activities will be best for your family. The man knows his stuff.
  • The kitchens are stocked with pots, pans, utensils, and a coffee maker.
  • The hotel has a fleet of Mercedes to shuttle you to and fro once you arrive. It’s complimentary.
  • There is a wonderful performing arts facility called the Spruce Peak Arts Center. Do call ahead to see what’s going on while you are there. The theater is beautiful.
  • The Alpine Slide and the attached attractions park offers a 25% discount if you charge the tickets to your room.
  • The fitness center is chock full of gym equipment. Bring your sneakers if working out is your thing.
  • You are going to fall in love with your sheets. I think they were woven in Egyptian pyramids by some mythical creature or something because they are crazy luxurious. You can order them in the spa.
For more information on planning a vacation at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, you can visit their website or call 1-888-478-6938. While visiting the website, do check the specials section to see the many package deals they have available.

This is not a sponsored post. I did receive a media rate for our accommodations. All opinions are my own. A big thank you to the staff at Stowe Mountain Lodge. You all exceeded my expectations.

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Bye Bye Vacation

 Ok, so maybe it wasn’t a full fledged vacation. Two nights just weren’t enough to take in all that Vermont had to offer.
And we sort of got robbed of our last day. The weather guy said sun sun sunny all day on Friday, but he missed the mark big time. What he meant to say was non-stop downpours until 2:00pm.

So, we said a tearful goodbye to the Stowe Mountain Lodge, literally. I had talked up our last day as a planned pool day. So, when the rain came down, so did the tears.

For some reason the girls thought the weather was my fault. I guess I should take it as a compliment that the girls think I control the weather.

Instead, we ate our way back down the mountain. The current Vermont state motto is Freedom and Unity. I propose they change it to the Free Sample State. Because everywhere we went, stores were offering us generous free samples of their yummy products.

Our first stop was a working cider mill where the kids learned about the cider process from tree to jug. The kids were impressed with how many apples it takes to make just one jug of apple cider.

 I thought it was especially nice that they offered free cups of cider for anyone who wanted to try some.

In the same shop, you could sample all kinds of maple syrup. My favorite was the dark grade A amber syrup. Once you try this deliciousness, it’s hard to go back to the commercial stuff.

 This came home with me. I can just imagine how good this will taste over a roasted pork loin or oven roasted root vegetables.

 And thanks to a reader’s tip, I stopped at the Cabot Annex where we sampled all kinds of tasty cheeses. The Cabot Factory was too far of a drive, but this was just enough for us to see and taste.

Conveniently, the Lake Champlain Chocolates shop was located right across the way from the Cabot Annex. More free samples, but this time chocolate. And not any chocolate, the good stuff.

Normally I’m a straight arrow Hershey’s girl, but this stuff is excellent. The factory seconds price was $19.99 per pound, if that gives you any indication on how high end this stuff is.

That free sample was much appreciated by my kids because they know not to touch the tiny sack I brought home just for myself.

Sorry, at $19.99 per pound they get Hershey’s until they get a job and can purchase the high end stuff themselves.

By the time we were done free sampling our way down the mountain, we all felt like little moo cows. Stuffed. We did purchase some fun stuff at the stores. Things we can’t easily get at home. Including this bit of nutty heaven…

So good over toast or straight off the spoon. Not that I encourage that type of behavior. In front of the kids when they are looking anyway.

Once all the bellies were full and happy, we piled into the car to make the incident free trek home. A great mini vacation that will not be soon forgotten. Especially when I step on the scale tomorrow morning. Oy.

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Our Visit to Stowe Vermont

 I’ve lived in New England for most of my adult life, and I really thought I had pretty much experienced all it had to offer.

I’ve seen many of our historic monuments, toured our quaint New England towns, sucked down my fair share of chowder, eaten my weight in lobsters, visited Plymouth Rock a bazillion times, and I can name a slew of people that came over on the Mayflower.

That said, I’ve been Vermont ignorant. I’ve not paid too much attention to Vermont over the years because it seemed so far away. Way up yonder.

Too far to schlep all of the kids someplace that was most likely similar to where we already live. Minus the mountains and moose of course.

But let me tell you, that was a mistake. I’ve wasted valuable time. You see, Vermont is a magical place.

The views up here at Stowe are breathtaking. The air so crisp and clean, and there’s just so much to do here that even my video game playing kids were running until they couldn’t run anymore. And that was the most beautiful sight to behold.

It didn’t hurt that we stayed at the spectacular Stowe Mountain Lodge. I’ll be writing a full review over the next few days, but for now I’ll just say that it was luxurious with a side of family friendly.

Something that’s not always easy to pull off. But they did a bang up job making every single one of us thrilled to stay here. More on that later…

The lodge is located right next to the Alpine Slide. And yes, I did go down the mountain on a scooter. There are no pictures to prove this, but you’ll just have to take my word.

What a thrill! I had a blast. As did the kids. They spent hours today going up and down the mountain, and smiling the entire time.

Even Leela was able to ride the slide on her own. I was worried that she would be terrified, but she surprised me by conquering that fear lickety split.

Close to the Alpine Slide, there is an attractions park. All the attractions were do it yourself physically powered amusements like bungee trampolines, kid’s rock climbing wall, and an obstacle course.

Activities that had them moving their little bodies while taking in that fresh mountain air. Usually I have to beg the kids to stay outside and play. Not today.

Actually, I was the one with the biggest issues. My heart was in my throat every time they bounced on this thing. I just smiled at them, but in my head I was having a full on mom panic attack.

Towards late afternoon we took a ride up in a gondola to the top of the mountain. Everyone was pooped, and we pretty much just sat down at the top to take in the scenery.

Why I didn’t visit Vermont sooner is beyond me. The Alpine Slide alone would’ve been enough to warrant a visit. I can’t even begin to tell you how much my kids enjoyed that.

This area is known for skiing, but there’s so much more to do here than that. Hiking trails, fishing, swimming… just tons of stuff to get you moving.

And let’s not forget about eating. Cheese, fresh produce, baked goods, everything maple, cider donuts. Seriously, counting calories is just not worth it here. When in Rome as they say.

We give ten thumbs up for Vermont and every digit we collectively have for the Stowe Mountain Lodge. An incredible mini vacation that we will never forget.

Have you been to Vermont? Ever ride on an Alpine Slide before?

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Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour, Waterbury Vermont

When I announced to the kids that I’d be taking them on a mini vacation to Vermont for a few days, they excitedly asked how long it would take to get there. I assured them it would take no longer than four and a half hours from southern Massachusetts.

At least that’s what MapQuest said, anyway. Clearly MapQuest doesn’t know me very well.

To be fair, that totally would’ve been the case had I not stopped at a truck stop in New Hampshire to let the kids go to the bathroom.

And also if I hadn’t left my purse at the same truck stop. Oh, and also if I had realized it sooner than an hour after I drove into Vermont. Sigh.

A full seven and a half hours later, we were finally in Vermont. To redeem myself, I took the kids on the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Waterbury. Surely some chocolatey ice cream goodness would make it all better.

So, I paid the $12 for the tour, and on we went to learn all about how Ben & Jerry’s comes to be from cow to cone. But the only thing we really cared about was the free ice cream at the end. We were starving to death, after all.

Did you ever see the movie A Christmas Story? You know how Ralphie was so excited to get that decoder from the Little Orphan Annie show? And how disappointed he was when he used it and found out that the much anticipated code was an ad for Ovaltine?

Yeah, that’s how we felt. At the end of our tour we got Lemon Poppy Seed ice cream samples. No Chubby Hubby. No Cherry Garcia. Not even Chunky Monkey. Lemon Poppy Seed.

My kids were like, what the heck is this? I sort of talked up this Ben and Jerry’s tour like the land of milk and honey, so to say that they weren’t impressed with Lemon Poppy Seed would be an understatement.

So, I did what any good and desperate mom would do. I bough them a bucket of ice cream and let them have at it. I’m all about solutions.

Four mongo scoops of ice cream, brownies, cookies, gooey fudge and caramel toppings. Oh, and a banana tossed in for the health of it all.

 Wait, don’t forget about the gummy bears. Who needs cherries when there’s gummy bears?

 6.5 minutes later it was gone. Not a gummy bear left behind.

We weren’t moving too fast after that. We moseyed on over to some adirondack chairs and plopped our cream and sugar filled bodies down to enjoy the sweeping vistas of the Vermont mountains. Quite a sight to behold.

 No one mentioned the purse snafu again. Mom was redeemed. Actually, mom was even further redeemed when the kids saw where they were staying this trip. But that is a story that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Mom is pooped.

If you decide to take in the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Waterbury Vermont, be sure to budget some extra time to wander around the grounds. There’s a cute Flavor Graveyard that has headstones of flavors that have been retired, and a nice playground for the kiddos.

It wouldn’t be a half bad idea to let them run that sugar buzz off before you stuff them back in the car, if you know what I mean. And while they run around the playground, you can sit and enjoy the view. It’s pretty scenic up there.

Check back tomorrow for further updates on our adventure. My son is convinced that he’s going to get me to sit on a scooter and slide down a mountain. Silly boy.

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