This sounds better than any pancake I’ve ever had. Lemon and blueberries. How amazing is that?

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast

STOP!

If you are hungry and haven’t had a good meal in a few hours…

You don’t want to read this blog!

You have been warned!

Tonight I made a new recipe. It’s not anything out of this world or dramatic in appearance.

They just came out so good that I had to share them! 

They are….

IMG_4983

Blueberry and Lemon Pancakes!

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups All Purpose Flour

1/4 Salt

1 tablespoon heaping Baking Powder

1/3 cups Sugar

1 1/2 cups Milk

1 Lemon (juice and zest)

1 large Egg

1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla

2 tablespoons melted Butter

1 pint of Blueberries

Directions:

Heat your griddle or skillet to medium.

In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients (not blueberries). In a separate bowl, mix your wet ingredients (not blueberries). After mixing, add your wet ingredients to you dry ingredients. Mix until smooth, but may have a few limps in…

View original post 219 more words

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Very Vintage, Virginia: Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Welcome to Holiday Hills.

Welcome to Holiday Hills.

Miles of twisty, crinkly sparkly garland, vintage Coca-Cola signs, retro reindeer and more blow molds than you can shake a candlestick at, Christmas Town has gone retro with the all new Holiday Hills area.  If you’ve ever wanted to step back in time, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the place to do it.

The Festa Italia section of the park has been transformed into a stroll through a 1950s Christmas card.  Oversized Santa heads, prancing reindeer, toy soldiers, singing angels, glowing candlesticks and classic Coke signs (complete with a sipping Santa) all give a nostalgic feeling of another place in time.  I really enjoyed this section and hope to make it back just to walk around some more, as well as catch a ride on the Peppermint Twist (teacups) and Snowman Summit.

Retro Reindeer

Retro Reindeer

Here are a few more of my favorite scenes from Holiday Hills.

Step onto Retro Lane.

Step onto Retro Lane.

ChristmasSnowmanSummit

Snowman Summit

Santa and classic Coca-Cola.

Santa and classic Coca-Cola.

The rest of the park is equally decked out in more than two, or three, or six million lights and holiday cheer.  The SkyRide takes guests high over the park for a great light-gazing show, while Mach Tower, operating at a slow pace, gives an even higher bird’s-eye-view of the park.  Take a frosty ride through the Black Forest on Verbolten, also open during Christmas Town evenings.

Mach Tower operates at a slow pace during Christmas Town - ©Busch Gardens

Mach Tower operates at a slow pace during Christmas Town – ©Busch Gardens

I like to take it easy, and Europe in the Air is much more my style.

Europe in the Air

Europe in the Air

Musical shows like Gloria! and Deck the Halls show off the immense talents of Busch Gardens’ performers.  Gloria! brings the story of Christmas and the nativity to life with songs like “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” while Deck the Halls, in Das Festhaus, offers a lively song and dance ensemble of Christmas carols, along with a few favorite characters.

Here are a few favorites from Deck the Halls.

ChristmasDeckHalls10

ChristmasDeckHalls9

ChristmasDeckHalls8

ChristmasDeckHalls7

ChristmasDeckHalls6

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Miracles, in the outdoor Il Teatro di San Marco Theatre, is another must-see production that takes guests on a sweeping journey of classical music, song and dance.  The little ones will enjoy A Sesame Street Christmas featuring Big Bird, Cookie, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and the rest of the furry, fun-loving gang.

A Sesame Street Christmas in the Globe Theatre

A Sesame Street Christmas in the Globe Theatre

My interests always run to the merchandise side of things and Busch Gardens manages to put as much of the Christmas spirit into their stores as the rest of the park.

ChristmasStore

ChristmasStorePink

ChristmasStoreNutcrackersDarkEdges

Nutcrackers of every size, shape and style.

Here is one of my favorite scenes at Christmas Town or any day of the year.  I can never visit the park without a stop at the Highland Stables.

Dear Santa...

Do you think he will fit under my tree?

Even rides that aren’t operating during Christmas Town offer the opportunity for magical decorations and lights.  Pompeii looks so dressed up in its coat of water-inspired lights.  I just adore the purple trees along the pathway.

Pompeii all lit-up in lights.

Pompeii all lit-up in lights.

Of course, Christmas Town can’t be complete without those cute, waddling guys in tuxedos.  Even if Mr. Popper is not around, penguins make any day much more fun.

ChristmasPenguinSign2

Magellanic penguins on loan from SeaWorld.

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins

African penguins on loan from the Columbus Zoo.

African penguins on loan from the Columbus Zoo.

African penguins

African penguins

Polar photo ops.

Polar photo ops.

Hi there.

Hi there.

O Tannenbaum is a spectacular light show choreographed to a musical score.  This 50-foot Christmas tree in the Oktoberfest Village is the place to be for a magical ending to any Christmas Town adventure.

Das FestHaus

Das FestHaus

O Tannebaum musical light show in Oktoberfest Village - ©Busch Gardens Williamsburg

O Tannebaum musical light show in Oktoberfest Village – ©Busch Gardens Williamsburg

On a final note, it is almost worth the admission price just to try all of the food, desserts and tasty treats available during Christmas Town.  You’ll notice I don’t have any photos.  My traveling companions tend to quickly gobble things up that aren’t glued to the plate.  I recommend the pumpkin cheesecake and anything from Trapper’s Smokehouse, which offers a wide variety of frontier-style meals such as BBQ ribs, sliced brisket, super thick turkey sandwiches, smoked chicken and the best baked beans and macaroni and cheese around.  Also, and this is just me, but I cannot leave the park without a freshly made pretzel from the German bakery.  Guests can watch through the window as the pretzels are being made.

For more information on Christmas Town, please check out my theme park column at Examiner.com.

For a peek into Christmas Town Florida-style, including snow, head on over to Busch Gardens Tampa at AdventuresByDaddy.com.

Merry Christmas!

Disclosure: The author received complimentary admission to Christmas Town as part of Busch Gardens’ Social Media Event.  All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

SandySignature

Going ogre at the Gaylord National with ‘Shrek the Halls’ in ICE!

It takes a lot to get this girl to leave the house when the temperature dips much below forty-five degrees, let alone to don a big, blue parka, fuzzy gloves and fur-lined boots and walking willingly into a nine-degree dome of ice.  Though, you have to admit, I do kinda rock the fur-lined boots.

If there is one event that can achieve this feat, it can only be the Gaylord National and their annual ICE! attraction.  I am a big fan of the Gaylord and would go even if it weren’t a special event.  This just happened to be Media and Blogger Family Day, with the added bonus of Shrek the Halls in ICE!  Yeah, I’m up for that.  Plus, they have cool treats like this …

Chocolate chip cookie and Shrek-inspired cake pop. Yes, that cookie is really as thick as it looks. There was even ogre-colored milk to go along with it (it was family day, after all).

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorites from Shrek the Halls in ICE!  Oh, okay, they’re all my favorites.

Shrek the Halls is appropriately presented by the ice cold refreshment of Coca-Cola.

The proof is in the picture.  Me, all bundled up in blue and standing within a nine-degree dome of ice.  And loving every minute of it!

Everybody is offered a big, blue, incredibly warm, parka.

Shrek and Donkey

Come on in. The ICE! is fine.

The ogre youngsters – Fergus, Fargo, and Felicia

The detail is amazing.

Two members of the Piglet trio.

This would be my wee one in the ICE! outhouse.

Puss tips his Santa-inspired hat.

Five ICE! slides provide the ultimate slip-n-slide party with the Three Little Pigs, and lots of flying Dronkeys overhead.

Fiona and the triplets warm up by an ICE! fire.

If I absolutely had to pick a favorite ICE! sculpture, it would have to be Dragon.  Take a look…

Dragon

Pink Dragon

Shrek learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

In case you’re interested (and why wouldn’t you be – this is amazing), ICE! is created by forty talented master ice carvers from the Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin, China, just across the border from Siberia (and I thought nine degrees was cold).  They spend more than a month carving, slicing, dicing and even splicing ice to make this wintry wonderland.

Ice for the Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival, is retrieved from the Songhua River.  While the Potomac River might make a frosty enough plunge for a Polar Bear Club member, it just doesn’t get quite cold enough to produce ice for sculpting and carving exquisite images of fairy tale characters.  The clear, white, and precisely-dyed colored ice for ICE! is custom-ordered from a manufacturing plant in Ohio.

Every ICE! exhibit ends with a dazzling Nativity scene cut out of crystal-clear ice.

Nativity scene in crystal-clear ice.

…and an ICE! Angel.

ICE! Angel

Character meet and greets are always fun, and one of my most favorite things … as long as I don’t have to wait in too long of a line (I’m impatient like that).  The Gaylord National offers the fun of DreamWorks characters such as Shrek, Puss-in-Boots, Po from Kung Fu Panda, and Alex the Lion of Madagascar (Mada-who-ha?).

Everybody’s favorite feline, Alex the Lion from Madagascar.

The whole gang with the mighty ogre himself, Shrek.

Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating is a fun way to rest a bit.  Trust me, there is a lot of walking.  The Gaylord is gigantic.  A little down time is well worth it.

Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating

Carefully decorating Gingy.

We chose the train.  Icing and a large variety of candies are included in the kit.  I might add that our train did not make it home….Gingerbread is yummy and my “children” could give Cookie Monster a run for his money, or cookies, as the case may be.

Gingy and the Gingerbread Train.  Yum-O!

We did not do the meet-n-greet with Gingy (too busy gobbling ginger….uh, candy…) but he did wave to us from the shop.  He is quite the friendly fellow.

The back side of Gingerbread.

Overnight stays are not required to participate in ICE! or many of the other super fun activities, though some do require a fee.  If you’re not too tired after a day of ICE! and walking the gorgeous grounds of the Gaylord, stick around and check out this…

The fountain comes to life with colored water that dances to choreographed music.

…or this…

60-foot glass Christmas tree and cascades of “Northern Lights.”

Along with the incorporation of those iconic Coca-Cola polar bears, the other three Gaylord resorts celebrate the season with their own special events and DreamWorks themes.  Gaylord Opryland, in Nashville, Tennessee, hosts A Country Christmas and Shrek the Halls in ICE!  The Palms, Orlando, Florida, puts on Christmas at the Palms and Merry Madagascar in ICE!  The Texan, near Dallas, Texas, offers A Lone Star Christmas and Merry Madagascar in ICE!

Check out Examiner.com for even more cool info. on Shrek and the Gaylord National’s ICE! attraction.

For a look at the Gaylord Palms ICE! event, check out AdventuresByDaddy.com.

Merry Christmas!

Disclosure:  The author received complimentary admission to ICE! as part of the Gaylord National’s Media Day.  All opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author.

The Night I Became a Zombie – Kings Dominion’s Halloween HAUNT

I became a zombie for the night last weekend.  No, it wasn’t the zombie apocalypse.  I’ll be sure to give you plenty of notice when that time comes.  This was a Zombie Invasion dance party to open Halloween HAUNT at Kings Dominion.

Zombies in all shapes and sizes ripped up their clothes, painted their faces and rolled around in dirt and detritus to get that perfect “zombie ambience.”  Or maybe that was just us rolling around in the dirt and detritus.  You be the judge.  Here we are:

Us in all of our zombie glory. Yeah, we go a bit overboard.

Here’s a shot of me and my zombie child beneath the glowing eyes of the Eiffel Tower.

Striking a pose beneath the eyes of the Eiffel Tower.

The zombies did a little dance number and enjoyed some gruesome goodies (which were quite tasty).

Zombies do love their cake.

We then lumbered and stumbled off (zombies do that) to enjoy all of the haunted houses, scare zones and shows the park has to offer this year.

This was my first official visit to HAUNT.  We had been there several years ago, during the day, when the youngster was, well, younger. The haunted happenings were just beginning to get underway so we decided to try out a haunted pirate maze.

Okay now, let me remind you that the child was maybe four-years-old at the time.  She is not a scaredy-pants by any means and decided that she would like to try this maze.  While she seemed to enjoy herself – she was given the go-ahead to scream as loud as she wanted (a rare treat for any child, let me tell you) – that was the last time for that experience.

Yeah, we didn’t make Parents of the Year that year.  This time was different.  Maybe it was the zombie attire.  I don’t know, but she (and I) had a blast.

My zombie children. I’m so proud.

Now, I enjoy a good scare (while holding on for dear life to the nearest non-creature I can find), but I need a storyline to go along with it.  Blame it on the writer in me.  Kings Dominion definitely has the scares and the storylines.

Cornstalkers was a favorite.  As you wind and weave your way through a decaying cornfield (who doesn’t love a good cornfield?), the creatures of the corn come out to visit.  As the twisty, turny rows of corn confuse and distract your path, all kinds of mangled and dangled objects deter your journey.  This is one maze where you want to make it to the end.  And watch out when you get there.

Come this way to the creatures of the corn.

The glowing entrance to Cornstalkers.

Medieval Macabre tells the tale of a plague-ravaged town.  The survivors are holed up in a decrepit castle just waiting to take revenge on those that have taken their loved ones.  This was my zombie child’s favorite.

A daylight scene of the Medieval Macabre that overtakes the bumper car venue every year.

Some more daylight scenes…

Welcome!

Nimble skeletons climb the walls of International Street.

New to HAUNT this year is a haunted hotel called No Vacancy.  I would have to say that this was my favorite. Remember, I like a good storyline.  This maze takes travelers through an abandoned hotel where the housekeepers and staff have managed to stick around, long after everyone else has passed on (so to speak). Creep through the library chamber and inch past the kitchen, but don’t accept any “snacks” from the staff. Left-behind luggage, bags and bodies fill up the rooms and hallways of this hotel where the no-vacancy sign has a whole new meaning.

While the wait is expected, the Blue Ridge Bloodbath is always one to check out.  The Antique Cars provide the transportation through a “scenic” drive in the mountains.  This drive isn’t your grandma’s Sunday sojourn. Hop aboard and prepare for the ride of your life … if you’re lucky.

Blue Ridge Bloodbath.

What awaits in the covered bridge?

Outbreak: The Evolution is located at the Flight of Fear ride.  We were a bit worried that we were in line for the ride instead of the maze – it’s an indoor, dark coaster (with four inversions) somewhat like Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.  Or so I’ve been told.  I’ve never been on it myself.  I don’t do coasters.  Go figure.  Anyway, it was the maze (we checked) and it is all about the aliens and other test tube creatures of a medical facility.  Walk along the hallways and try not to become part of the experiment.

A few missed mazes include Club Blood (you guessed it, vampires), Camp Killauee and The Doll Factory (ya gotta have a doll house).  Since we have season passes (and the youngster loved the scare fest), we will be back for more Haunts.  See you there.

Of course, there are lots of daytime activities for those not into the haunting.  Roller coasters, thrill rides, family fun rides and Howl-O-Fest all make it a great day at Kings Dominion.  Check this one out…

The Crypt always makes for good entertainment.

To read more about HAUNT, go ahead and click here.  I dare you.

Going Outside with Richmond Recreation

Most would agree that Richmond, Virginia is the best town ever.  And by most, I don’t mean those that just happen to live there.  I mean an actual, bona fide ballot conducted by Outside Magazine.  And if you don’t believe me, you can check out the October issue (35th anniversary edition) of the magazine.  It’s on newsstands now.  That would be Richmond on the cover.

Reflections of Richmond and the James River

Outside Magazine partnered with American Rivers, a leading fresh water nonprofit, to conduct this tributary tally.  Fifty cities were evaluated on aspects such as environmental stewardship, cost of living, cultural vibrancy, access to the outdoors and job prospects.  After narrowing it down to 10 cities, the voting was turned over to Facebook fans.

Fans then voted for, and left comments about, their favorite river town, those cities that take a serious interest in outdoor recreation and environmental responsibility.  The winner was chosen by a combination of votes and comments about the town by these outdoor enthusiasts and river rooters.

Among others, the ten contestants included Hood River, Oregon; Asheville, North Carolina; Durango, Colorado; Boise, Idaho and Nashville, Tennessee.  Richmond racked up 9,315 votes – more than the next five towns combined.  Hood River, Oregon came in second with 6,500 votes.

Following is the list of top ten river towns (with their respective rivers in parenthesis):

  • Richmond, Virginia  (James River)
  • Hood River, Oregon  (Columbia River)
  • Nevada City, California  (Yuba, American and Bear Rivers)
  • Boise, Idaho  (Boise, Payette and North Fork Rivers)
  • Durango, Colorado  (Animas River)
  • Missoula, Montana  (Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers)
  • Nashville, Tennessee  (Cumberland River)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin  (Kinnickinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers)
  • Asheville, North Carolina  (Nantahala and French Broad Rivers)
  • Ithaca, New York  (Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes National Forest and gorges)

Richmonders have always known the merits of their city.  Kayakers, mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers and sightseers alike can enjoy the James River and its backdrop of the downtown Richmond skyline.  Every spring, extreme athletes from all over convene upon the downtown riverfront for the Dominion RiverRock Festival, a three day event featuring extreme sports such as slacklining, kayaking, mountain biking, mud runs, ziplining and a bunch of other stuff that I would never try myself.  There are also dog events and concerts.

Kayakers navigating the James River.

Richmond is the only urban capital with class III and IV rapids running through its downtown scene.  Bald eagles nest along the river, the same river that Captains Christopher Newport and John Smith sailed up from Jamestown back in the day (1607 to be exact).  There are smooth areas of the river as well, perfect for stand-up paddleboarding and peaceful kayaking.

The James River from Belle Isle.

Already a great mountain biking spot, a brand new Bike Skills Area has been built at Belle Isle.  The official dedication ceremony was last weekend and I just missed it by a few hours.  That’ll teach me to sleep in on a Saturday morning.  Conveniently located under the Lee Bridge, to eliminate run-off and damage to the dirt bumps from rain and weather, this cool park was built out of repurposed city materials and designed by the International Bicycling Association.  Bumps, logs, hills, and boulders allow bikers to practice their skills in a safe space.

Belle Isle’s new Bike Skills Area

Boulders and logs to test your biking skills.

The bumps at Belle Isle.

Biking the bumps beneath the Lee Bridge.

Pretty flowers provide background for the Bike Skills Area.

Bumping through the wooded area.

Handcrafted wooden sign at Bike Skills Area.

The gorgeous sign was provided by the skilled artisans at Dreaming Creek – authentic architectural timbering.

Dreaming Creek handcrafted sign at Bike Skills Area.

Here’s another thing you might often see along Richmond’s James River.  Look closely.

Swingin’ out into the James River.

Voting for Outside’s best town ever was also based on the enthusiasm of its residents.  It turns out that Richmond has enough enthusiasm for many larger cities put together.  Several comments were posted by top outdoor and recreation experts, as well as public relations representatives from many of the city’s top tourist attractions, all touting the merits and awesomeness that is Richmond.  Governor Bob McDonnell even gave an endorsement via Twitter.  Perhaps more creatively, and definitely athletically, 14 kayakers held up signs while floating down the James River.  Yep, that’s us.  We’re Richmond and we’re proud of our river city.

Howl-O-Scream and #FrightNight 2012 – The Dark Side of the Gardens

A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to a social media event, #FrightNight, scheduled for the opening weekend of Busch Gardens’ annual Howl-O-Scream event … read more… The above link will take you to the rest of my … Continue reading