Haunted Jail Tour in Charleston, SC

We had a hard time deciding which tours to do on our last trip to Charleston!  After much deliberation, we decided on a carriage ride around the city with a tour guide and visiting the Old City Jail.  I’m a big ole scaredy cat, so it’s sort of strange for me to want to do any kind of haunted trip.  But this one was worth it.  The historical part of the tour was the stressed more than anything.  And being a big history nerd, I think that’s why I loved it.  Our tour guide obviously loved what he does and where he works.  During the tour he talked about the history of the building and all the atrocities that happened.  It’s hard to think that this jail was still operating without power or running water until as late as 1939.

During our tour, he encouraged us to take lots of pictures (with the flash!) and compare them afterwards.  Video recording wasn’t allowed during our tour, but is during some longer tours.  There are reports of disembodied voices, but we didn’t hear anything while we were there.  There were some chatty people on our tour, so there wasn’t a lot of quiet time to listen for anything.  When we got back and I reviewed my pictures I did fine one weird thing.

I would love to do one of the longer tours when we come back.  After seeing this jail on several ghost shows, it was interesting to see it in person.  Maybe next time we can catch some voices on video.

 

Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti Squash

This is one of my favorite ways to cook spaghetti squash.  I love it plain with butter, but add some garlic, tons of cheese, spinach and a little more cheese, and it feels sinful.

Cooking spaghetti squash is super fast if you have a pressure cooker.  Instead of baking in the oven for 45 minutes, it only takes 18 minutes in my electric pressure cooker.

Cook time is 18 minutes in the pressure cooker and another 20 in the oven to finish it off.  Prepping the topping only takes a few minutes while the squash is cooking.

 

Print

Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti Squash

Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 whole Spaghetti Squash
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 6 oz fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz garlic and herb cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella

Instructions

  1. 1. Prepare and cook spaghetti squash.  Cut in half, length way.  Scoop out all the seeds and discard.  Put in a pressure cooker for 18 minutes.  You can also bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes in an oven.  Just put it in a casserole dish, cut side down.  

  2. 2. While spaghetti squash is cooking, prepare the filling.  Heat olive oil and garlic in a large pan until garlic is fragrant.

  3. 3. Add spinach and toss until wilted. 

  4. 4. Add heavy cream, cream cheese, parmesan and salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Once cheeses are incorporated, remove from heat.

  5. 5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  6. 6. Remove spaghetti squash and with a fork, separate the squash strands inside the halves.  Don't remove the squash, just fluff up the strands inside each half.  Place the halves into a baking dish.

  7. 7. Top the cooked spaghetti squash with the garlic cheese filling.  Top each half with 1/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese. 

  8. 8. Bake the filled spaghetti squash halves for 15-20 minutes, until cheese on top is lightly browned. 

Ten Awesome Vacations for Families

The Grand Canyon – I am terrified of heights.  Seriously.  I don’t like to climb ladders.  So this was a tough one for me.  But you don’t have to stand close to the rail to enjoy the beauty of the Grand Canyon.  We didn’t do have a long visit, we just went for the day during a recent trip to Arizona.  We can’t wait to go for a longer visit and take a hike down into the canyon.  Yes, even me.  They promised me there are hikes that won’t make me puke.

On our next trip, I want to stay at the Trapper’s Rendezvous.  It has gorgeous forest views and my daughter will love the nightly campfires they hold.

Niagra Falls – Again.  Difficult for someone who doesn’t like heights, but so worth it.  First, don’t bother doing your hair.  Second, don’t wear something you will get mad if it gets wet.  The spray from the falls will soak everything.  For the adventurous ones in your group, do not miss the Cave of the Winds tour.  You get to go home with a souvenir poncho.  Travel tip:  Pack some towels.  Otherwise you may drive back in a wet seat!

Mount Rushmore – A trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota is worth a trip on it’s own.  But throw in a hand carved sculpture made out of solid granite and you have a history buff’s dream.  Did you know that the original idea was to carve Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill Cody?  The sculptor Bordlum wanted to give it wider appeal so he chose four presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln.  It was originally meant to be carved from waist to up, but they ran out of money for the project.  Bordlum died in March 1941 and his son completed the sculpture to it’s current state by October 1941.

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas – No, I am not saying the Alamo because we live in Texas.  This is a trip that shouldn’t be missed.  And just because everything is bigger in Texas, don’t expect this to be a huge fort.  It’s actually pretty small.  And it is sitting in the center of a very busy city.  If not for the work of the Daughter’s of the Republic of Texas, the Alamo might not have survived.  They fought tirelessly for it’s preservation.  Today, the Alamo sits surrounded by a large, bustling city.  And also a gorgeous river walk that is worthy of a trip on it’s own.  Take my advice and go for a walk and grab a bite to eat at Rosarios on the Riverwalk.  The only thing better than their salsa is the people watching.  There are tons of other things to do in San Antonio besides the Alamo and the Riverwalk.  Plan to stay for a few days and check out the missions.  The Alamo is not the only preserved mission in the area.

Freedom Trail, Boston – Sixteen historically significant sites in less than 2.5 miles.  To get the most out of this trip, definitely take a tour.  The tour guides are a wealth of information.  And there is nothing better than learning about American history by walking in the footsteps of our founding fathers.  If you have seen National Treasure, it’s also fun to see several spots where filming took place.  This area can be a little crowded, so if you have kids who tend to wander, make sure to keep them close.

Sequoia National Park, California – The General Sherman tree is the largest living tree in the world.  In the world.  This park is home to five of the ten largest trees in the world.  Along with the awe inspiring sequoia trees, there are over 240 known caves in the park.  One of our favorite parts of this park is the tunnel log.  In 1934 a massive 21 foot diameter tree fell from natural causes.  It landed on the road through the forest.  Instead of removing the tree, they just cut a big hole in it so people can drive through the tree.

Washington, DC – If you want a trip with plenty to do and see, this is the one.  You can pack an itinerary with no effort at all.  Don’t miss the National Museum of Natural History.  It has interactive learning spaces that even your moody tween will love.  Did you know there is an International Spy Museum?  Let your wanna be 007 explore decades worth of espionage artifacts.  If your kids are budding environmentalists, then you have to take them to the National Geographic Museum.  They have revolving exhibits and displays of ways to help preserve and protect the worlds natural resources.

Williamsburg, Virginia – If you want to extend your DC trip, take a drive over to Williamsburg.  It’s like traveling back in time.  You can explore historic buildings surrounded by tour guides in period clothing.  Not only are there tons of things to do to keep your crew entertained, this is one trip that doesn’t have to break the bank.  While the kids grab a burger at the local tavern, be sure to sample one of the local craft brews.

White Sands, New Mexico – I’m a beach kinda girl.  There is nothing I love more than a sandy beach and the sound of the waves against the shore.  But no salt water?  I wasn’t sure about this one.  Until we got there.  The rangers are friendly and informative and love showing off the park.  Want to learn more?  Be sure to check out an Adventure Pack.  They are free.  Yep, free.  Check out a backpack loaded with binoculars, compass, animal guides and more.  Once you are done being a junior park ranger, you have to try sledding down the dunes.  The super fine gypsum sand looks and acts like snow.  You can grab a sled and act like a kids too.  Just be careful, the sand is soft, but the hard ground at the bottom is not.  Don’t ask me how I know.  I just know.

Disney World, Orlando, Florida – Yes.  Disney.  I was in my 40’s when I went for the first time.  And even the crankiest amusement park haters can’t resist the Disney magic.  Seeing my daughter’s face when she met her favorite Disney princess was priceless.  Well, maybe not priceless.  It’s not cheap.  There are ways to save money at Disney.  We researched and read everything we could before we went.  We have another trip planned so we can try the Not So Scary Halloween party.  And we CAN’T WAIT to check out Pandora.

There are more family friendly vacation ideas, but these are the ones that top our list.  We love to get some educational activities in on every trip we take and most of these make it easy.

Inks Lake

Inks Lake is the smallest lake in the Highland Lakes chain.  It is only 831 acres, compared to Lake Buchanan at 22,333 acres.  Don’t let it’s small size fool you.  Inks Lake is worth a trip!  It has an amazing State Park with 200 campsites and 22 cabins.

A very popular area in Inks Lake is the Devil’s waterhole.  Here you can jump from the cliffs into the deep water below.

 

Inks Lake has good fishing, with the Largemouth Bass and Sunfish being the most prolific and then Catfish, Crappie, White and Striped Bass.  The state also restocks the lake regularly.

One of our favorite places to stay on Inks Lake is Rockaway Park.  It is a private RV park.  It’s small, with only 24 hookups, but a really nice park on a quiet part of the lake.

 

 

Lake Buchanan, the Largest Lake in the Highland Lakes Chain

 

Lake Buchanan was the first lake built on the Highland Lakes Chain.  It was started in 1931 and finally completed in 1939.  It was originally part of the Colorado River, which was prone to flooding.  The dam was built to control the flooding and to provide power through the hydroelectric dam for the area.  The lake was named after a state representative, James P. Buchanan, who arranged funding for the lake.

Lake Buchanan is the largest of the lakes in the chain and is 22,333 acres.  That’s almost 35 square miles.

This is our very favorite lake.  And not just because we are building a waterfront house on this lake.  Lake Buchanan has some of the best fishing in the state.  It is stocked yearly with stripers and hybrid stripers.  It also has healthy populations of largemouth bass, white bass and catfish.  There are several public boat ramps and parks.  The parks run by the LCRA are Cedar Point Recreation Area, Black Rock Park, and Canyon of the Eagles.  There are also several fishing guides in the area who will take you fishing for either half day or whole day fishing trips.

One of my favorite areas to visit is the waterfalls.  It is on the north end of the lake, about 20 miles north of the dam.

During the hottest part of the summer, when the rain stops, there isn’t any water coming over the falls.  This lake is one of the lakes in the chain that is not a constant level lake.  When it gets dry, the lake goes down.  This helps to control flooding along the Colorado River.  This means that sometimes boat docks get left high and dry. But it’s a small price to pay to eliminate the flooding problems along the river.

Letting water out of the dam also generates power through the hydroelectric power plant.  The dam spans more than two miles.  When the dam was completed, the old town of Bluffton was completely submerged.  Over 50 families were forced to sell their property to the state so they could build the lake.  During a recent historic drought, part of the old town was re-exposed.

The water in the lake is pretty clear.  The bottom is mostly crushed granite.  It is a wonderful lake to spend time on.  We go fishing, boating and tubing often.  We love that it is never crowded, unlike some of the other lakes in the chain.

Check back for more pictures and videos of Lake Buchanan.  We are just beginning the process of building a home.  Like many people, we are building the dock first!  We have serious priorities.  They revolve around boating and fishing.

Booking Travel Plans without wasting time or money

Are you tired of searching every site out there to find the lowest rates on accommodations?  I was.  Booking a vacation shouldn’t stress you out.  You are going on a vacation to get away from stress.  I finally found a site that searches everywhere to find me the lowest rates at hotels, condos and resorts all over the world.  If you want to simplify your travel plans, check this out.

Travel with our Table for Nine

Grape Jelly

How to make jelly from wild Mustang Grapes.

or more appropriately (Pictures to go along with the Sure Jell directions)  Seriously people, don’t reinvent the wheel.  The sure jell people know how to do this.  It’s sort of their job.

First, don’t eat them.  The skins are bitter and they have seeds.  When we were little, we used to pop out the guts and try to spit out the seeds and eat the centers, but it’s a lot of work.  The best thing to do with them is make jelly!  We found that the vines on our property were loaded down and perfectly ripe so we decided it was jelly making day.  We are going out of town again so it was now or never.

The first thing we did was remove all the stems and wash them.  There can be some white foam on them.  No, it’s not toxic.  No, there isn’t anything gross about it.  No, it’s not bugs.  The grapes just do that when they get fully ripe.  We just filled our bucket with water and gave them a swish.  Then we pulled all the grapes off the stems and put them into a large stock pot.  We mash them up with a potato masher.

Once they are mashed up, we put them on to boil.  We don’t add water.  There is plenty of juice from the grape centers.  But don’t try to squish out the centers only.  The pretty purple color comes from those skins.  We bring this to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir often.

 

Next we layer 3-4 pieces of cheesecloth in a colander.  Then we pour the cooked grape mixture in and let it sit and drain.  This will take a while.  Don’t try to squeeze it all out, just be patient and let it sit and drain.  Go do something else.  Get your jars ready.  Those need to be immaculately clean.  We also get our lids in a small pan of water.  We bring it to a quick boil to kill any germs.  Don’t boil the crap out of it though.  You will melt the seals on the lids.

You can also get your pectin ready.  You need to stir in one package of sure jel into 3/4 cup of cold water in a small saucepan.  boil for two minutes, stirring the whole time.  Then remove from heat and set aside until you are ready for it.

Once it’s drained, you get beautiful grape juice.

Measure out five cups of the juice and seven cups of sugar.  Yes.  Seven.  Don’t act surprised that jelly has that much sugar in it.  And do a good job measuring.  I fill the measuring spoon and use the back of a knife to level it off.  If your recipe is off, your jelly won’t gel.  This is science, not art.

Put it back on the stove and bring to a simmer and add your sugar and pectin mixture in, whisking well.  I also add a small piece of butter.  It keeps it from foaming up so much.  Once this is in, bring it to a rolling boil on high heat.  What is a rolling boil?  The bubbles don’t stop when you stir.  Let it boil like this for thirty seconds.  And don’t stop stirring!  Sugar can scorch in an instant.

Take it off the heat and skim off any foam.  Then you can fill your jars.  Fill to within 1/8 inch of the top and make sure no jelly is on the rim of the jar when you put the lid on.  It will prevent the lid from sealing.  Once the jar is full, put the lid and ring on and just hand tighten.  The hot jelly should make the jars seal on their own.  If the lids don’t pop, you may need to water bath them.  We have never had an issue with jars not sealing if we use the very hot jelly mixture.

Make sure to label your jars so you know the date it was made.  We never keep jarred foods for more than 12 months.  Who are we kidding.  With seven kids, the jelly will last a couple of months at most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do We do it?

This is the question I get asked most, hands down.  How do you travel so much?

Wing, Plane, Flying, Airplane, Sky, Airplanes, Clouds

There are more ways to arrange travel than there are places to go!  But these are a few of the things that have worked for us.

Accomodations

We bought a time share.  Wait.  Before you start, realize that ours is not like the old fashioned time share.  We do not have one week at one resort once a year.  Our time share is very different.  Believe me, we went fully prepared to say NO!.  But when we heard how different this program was, be both agreed it would be a great opportunity for us.  We have over 60 different resorts, most in the US, that we can go to any time we want, no trading necessary.  Every resort is given a point value based on time of year, day of the week and size of the unit.  Most of ours come with a full kitchen, which I love!  I get tired of eating out every meal every single day.  Some times, I just want to cook a quick meal and get on with the sight seeing.  When you buy into our time share, you purchase a certain number of points.  You can choose how and when to use those points.  We can stretch our points really far by going Monday through Thursday and travelling off season.  I prefer to go some places when it is less crowded anyway.

 

Wakoola Springs Pool

This is one of our favorite resorts in Orlando.  We always plan a day or two to just hang at this fabulous resort when we take a trip to Disney.  If you would like more information or a really inexpensive three day/two night stay at one of our condos, just shoot me an email to michelle@ tablefornine.com and I will send you a link to arrange a trip.

 

What about getting there, Michelle????

I’m getting to that.  Some places we drive to.  We don’t mind car trips.  And we usually stop at some nerdy educational place along the way.  We geek out over historical markers.  If it’s too far to drive to, or we are flying out of the country, we have a companion pass.  Which means that when I pay for my airline ticket, I get to take someone along with me for free.

How can I get one of those companion passes?  Well, we have a rewards card.  It takes 110,000 points to get one.  Again, if you are interested, send me an email to michelle@ tablefornine.com and I will send you a link to apply.  When you apply with the link I send you, you will get 40,000 points automatically.  Once you get to the 110k, you get a companion pass for the rest of that year and the entire year after that!  If you don’t want to put your household bills on that card, there are other ways to get points.  We booked a trip through a program called rocketmiles and got 40,000 points for going to Cancun for three nights.  You can’t beat that with a stick.  We booked a really reasonably priced trip and I earned a companion pass for a year and a half.

 

We have several other tips and tricks for inexpensive travel, but that’s a lot of information for one blog post.  Keep checking back for more ideas, travel destinations, tips and tricks.  You can also follow us on facebook, instagram, pinterest or google+ to stay connected.

 

Happy Trails

from my herd to yours!

Torr Na Lochs Winery

We decided to take a leisurely sunday drive today.  We wanted to go by the property we are buying to see if they had surveyed it yet so we drove towards the Texas Hill Country down Highway 29.  As we were getting close to Burnet, I remembered that a friend had recommended a new winery that opened up.  We had our nine year old with us, but she had assured us that it’s family friendly.  And dog friendly too.  When we pulled into the gate, it was clear that they had spared no expense creating an absolutely stunning winery with adjoining vineyard.  The view from the deck of their tasting room was spectacular.  Even thought it is close to 100 degrees today, we opted to sit outside and enjoy the view.  There was plenty of shade from the patio umbrellas and luckily for us, there was a breeze that helped cool things down.

We opted for both of the appetizer plates since there were three of us and it’s a good thing we did.  Both plates paired well with the wine and our adventurous eater tried everything.  (except the wine!!!)  We both know our wine tastes pretty well so instead of doing the wine tasting, we both opted for a glass of wine.  My husband prefers sweet wines so he went with the sweet sunset and I tried the Fion Dearg.  I would order either one again.

 

We didn’t stay long, mostly due to the heat, but I can’t wait to grab a few of my friends and head back.  If you want to stop by, keep in mind that their tasting room is only open Thursday through Sunday, 1-6.  If you want to sample six of their wines, a tasting is only $15.

Aruba, One Happy Island

Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, ocean, outdoor and nature

Usually when we go to Aruba, it is just a few of us at a time.  This time, we took a lot of extended family and it was definitely a different experience for us.  Most of us met in Austin and got a connecting flight from Houston with Southwest Airlines.  The flight from Houston to Aruba is about 4 1/2 hours.  We usually drive to Houston and take a direct flight, but this time the flight from Austin was the same price so we tried that.  I have mixed feelings about taking that connecting flight.  The drive to Houston takes about the same length of time as the layover, so if going to Houston saves any amount of money, I will choose that.

from the airplane

 

Once we arrived on the island, we grabbed a couple of taxis and headed to our resort.  There are two main resort areas in Aruba, the high rise hotels and the low rise hotels.  Our resort is in the low rise district on Eagle Beach and we love it.  Eagle Beach seems a little less crowded to me and it is definitely a quieter area.  The high rise district is on Palm Beach and has more of a party atmosphere.

feet in sand

 

My husband likes to get up early and go down to the beach and grab a front row cabana.  They go quickly so if you aren’t an early riser, you may end up a few rows back.  It’s not a bad place to be, I just like to be closer to the front to keep an eye on the kids.  Going down to the beach early in the morning means it’s quiet and peaceful and the sun isn’t beating down on you so ferociously.  I love sipping my coffee from a cabana on the beach.

sea turtle hatching

 

Early and late hours means you may catch a glimpse of the sea turtles hatching.  The island does a great job of keeping the nests safe and having volunteers help with the hatchings to make sure everything goes well for these amazing creatures.  If you see the orange and white barricades, DON’T cross them.  Go around.  They are there for a reason!

in the mangroves

mangrove

 

We always do an excursion or two when we go to the island.  For this trip, we did several so everyone would have a chance to do what they really wanted.  It meant less down time for us, but it is always fun exploring the island.  This was the first time I have ever gotten to see the mangroves up close.  The sand is a little rockier here so I would suggest water shoes, but the view was spectacular.  We did a full day tour of the entire island in open topped Range Rovers.  Having been there before, I knew traffic rules were a little loosey goosey, but until we drove around the island in a tour like this, we didn’t realize that they don’t seem to apply AT ALL!  Seriously.  Traffic rules are nothing more than a suggestion.  Speed limit?  What speed limit?  And don’t even get me going on the honking.  Honking there is not at all like in the States.  They can speak an entire language with just honking.  Some honks mean ‘Hi!, glad to see you’.  Some honks mean ‘I’m about to blow through this stop sign without even hesitating! Get out the way!’   Don’t plan to drive around the island unless you can handle some seriously aggressive drivers.  Stick to the taxis.  The drivers are friendly and can give you some awesome information about the island.

 

jeep

avery cave

 

catamaran

 

avery

 

One thing we ALWAYS do?  Snorkeling.  That’s my happy place.  We love taking a catamaran out to Boca Catalina and spend time exploring all the sea life in the coral.  I am going to get scuba certified now.  It’s on my bucket list.

zerovers

 

The other thing we love to do?  EAT

One of our favorite restaurants is in the south part of the island in San Nicholas.  If you don’t have a car and a willingness to brave those streets, the taxi ride can be a little costly.  But the food is delicious and cheap.  So it is still definitely worth it!  This is the dock at Zerovers.

Aruba is my favorite place to go relax and unwind.  Everyone speaks English, they accept US currency and since tourism is their main industry, they are super friendly!