5th Annual Gingerbread House Party

Oh, why, hello, hello, welcome back to Sweetville, USA, the gooey center of Tootsie Pop County! I’m so glad you could come by once again to see our beautiful, snowy-sugared town. Come, take a walk with me and I’ll show you the sights.
Katie's Sweetville City Hall
In the center of town, you have City Hall, a gathering place for politicians and plebians alike. While the city council argues the placement of this year’s iced Gingerbread Christmas tree or whether the town should pave a caramel yellow brick road, you have the traffic violators paying their fines for parking in front of the candy corn cones or speeding down Peppermint Patty Lane.
Kim's Order of the Mousse Lodge
Ah, and there is the Royal Order of the Mousse Lodge, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of Sweetville and keeping the town sugar-coated for years to come. The members are very involved in the community, whether it is cleaning the streets of sprinkles, working in a soup kitchen serving Boston Baked Beans or even passing out Altoids for those with a touch of halitosis. The Order is very selective though, not anyone can join. I hear you have to be able make a tasty s’more (and knowing Mike-n-Ike doesn’t hurt either).
Amanda and Lauren's Sweetville Heights
This is Sweetville Heights, the newest addition to the city. Fast and furious building started in the beginning of the year, but like everywhere else, Sweetville was not immune to the economic downturn.
Lauren's Foreclosure
Our first foreclosure — how sad. The poor guy didn’t even have a Bit-o-Honey to fix up his Hershey pick-up. Although construction has slowed, the residents of Sweetville Heights are enjoying the amenities that it offers such as a Pop-Rock fireworks display and lazy afternoons by the Swedish Fishing hole.
Lauren's Church
The Sweetville Heights development also built this quaint church for it’s residents. Here is the church, there is the pretzel steeple, open the iced candied door and look at all the gingerbread people.
Jen's Occupy Sweetville
And we cannot touch on the economic crisis without visiting what many believe to be the root cause: The Bank of Sweetville. For years, basically any gingerbread man or woman could get loans to build larger and more elaborate houses — using the finest graham crackers and imported icing, of course — regardless of whether or not they could pay back the 100 Grand. What they didn’t realize was that unless their homes were properly lacquered, they would decrease in value exponentially. Of course, The Bank of Sweetville then bundled up these spoiled assets, slapped on a fraudulent Nutrition Facts label, and sold these empty calories to anyone who had the money. As you can see, the result of this skullduggery is the Occupy Sweetville movement. While these Gummi Bears are 99% corn syrup they are hopping mad about being misled. To show their displeasure, they have set up their Fruit Roll-up tents and are basically loitering in front of this tastefully decorated bank.
Katy and Christine's House
In addition to the economic woes, Sweetville was also the victim of a cotton candy cyclone. While most buildings escaped harm, some of the less sturdy structures were damaged. This was the worst natural disaster to a candy town since Timmy Thomas realized he was going to lose a game of Candy Land to his little sister and flipped the board in a fit of poor sportsmanship. In a show of support, the citizens came through with extra frosting and Twizzlers to patch the damaged roof of this home. If the marshmallow snowman in the front is any indication, this is going to be a very merry Christmas indeed!
Beth's Christmas Tree
There is the official town Christmas tree, I guess the council has decided to place it here, along Main Street. Many people come to help decorate, it’s tradition. You can’t go wrong with a red Twizzler garland, little candied ornaments and a Peep snowman. On Christmas Eve, families gather around with their hot chocolate, apple cider and other warm, delicious concoctions, sing Christmas carols and frolic beneath the frosting of its branches.
Monika's Mars Bars Inn
Over yonder is the Mars Bars Inn, a well-known dining establishment, a staple in this town since 1911. If you are looking for comfort food, a cozy atmosphere and good conversations, this is where you will find it. The specialty here is the Skittles Steak, served with a heaping mound of creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly grilled asparagus. If you have room for dessert, you must order the Milky Way Delight. I would tell you what it is, but then it would ruin the experience. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Although there have been some some misfortunes this year, the community hasn’t let it melt their spirits, hence the folks are always welcoming and Sweetville is just simply irresistible. That is all the time that we have today. I hope you enjoyed your visit and please, swing on by anytime. And if you have any friends who would like a tour, you can see the rest of the town here, here, and here.

Happy 30th, Brandon!

Ok, maybe more than slightly sunburned
Okay, so it’s a bit late, couldn’t be helped. Our house decided to have a power surge during one of the many storms in May and we were without a computer for a couple of weeks. And then life took over and some things fell to the wayside. So, finally, here it is: welcome to your 30s, man, it’s all downhill from here.

But what a way to celebrate! A group of us trekked across the great state to Kansas City for the I-70 series (aka Cards vs. Royals series) and partied there for the weekend. It began with the obligatory tailgating:

Dudes, Meat, Etc.
Men, with beers and brats. They are very happy.

Women, with beers and chips. They are very happy.

The Lonely Hotdog
Food. Happy.

We were actually pretty comfortable there that we didn’t want to go but we finally packed it up and headed in for a quick but entertaining game. Our seats were high but it had a great view and we were in the shade most of the time, that’s always a plus. It’s always great to look out at stadium and see that half (if not more) of the crowd was wearing red. And we won, so made it worth the drive and dealing with obnoxious Royals fans.
Another view

For dinner, we had to go for Kansas City barbecue. That is the one good thing about KC. This time, we tried out Gates BBQ. It was good barbecue, but I’ve had some fantastic barbecue in my time and I would say that Pappy’s in St. Louis is better. And the Memphis ribs just fell right off the bone, just the way I liked it.

We then hit the town as only 30-year-olds can do…we went down to the Power and Light District and parked ourselves at the Flying Saucer for a good while, just hanging out and drinking. Can’t you tell that we are huge party people?
Matt is sunburned
But I guess too much fun in the sun had us turning in pretty early (yes, yes, we are old).

And of course, the next day, after driving through Stormaggedeon, we had to stop by Shakespeare’s Pizza, a Mizzou institution.
Shakespeare's Pizza
There have been enough people to rave about this place so I was excited to try out the “famous” pizza. And for sure, I can see why hundreds of college students flock to this joint. Now, I can say, I’ve had Shakespeare’s pizza, I’m part of the club.

Brandon, it was a great party, what are we going to do next year?

For the rest of the weekend pictures, click here.

Costa Rica

Photo Shoot in the Water
How does one get the opportunity to go to Costa Rica without her husband? Why, you wait for your friend to turn 30 and invite you to spend a week on a gorgeous beach, listening to the ocean and soaking up the sun. That’s how and it was amazing.

Now, I’m sure you know many people who have traveled to Costa Rica and loved it. But I’m sure they went the whole “eco-adventure” route and all about backpacking through it. Um, no, that was not me and I was going to put my foot down if she had even suggested it. I was very content with this:
View of Waves
Doesn’t that look so much better?

Now, don’t think that that’s what we did all week (only most of it). We had to explore a little bit of the country. We did get off our butts and did some excursions. The first excursion was a river cruise in Palo Verde National Park. I would suggest this excursion if you are all about seeing some crocodiles and monkeys. This cruise will not disappoint.
Monkey Business
Heron In Flight
This excursion even took you to this 100 year old hacienda overlooking the valley and served us lunch. It was such a beautiful setting.
Don't We Look Sporty?

Our second excursion was a snorkel cruise. We went out on a catamaran and they sailed us to Honeymoon Bay where we had a chance to snorkel and play in the water.
Ready to Snorkel
I’ve snorkeled at quite a few beaches and it never fails to entertain me. Just being able to see all the colorful fish and plant life underneath the blue surface of the ocean. And plus the gear is always so sexy.
That Is One Sexy Look
After a simple lunch of sandwiches and fruit, the cruise took us across the bay and we got to enjoy a sunset up close and personal.
The Captain

Our hotel was actually in this little square and we strolled up there one evening to enjoy some live music and entertainment.
Band At Art Festival
Flamenco Dancer
Belly Dancer

But really, I would have to say, the sunsets were absolutely stunning. We couldn’t get enough of them.

There were a couple of hiccups in our vacation plans that we did not expect. The first was the hotel. We did have a little misunderstanding in the beginning regarding our room situation (as in we asked for double beds and got a king) but they eventually rectified the situation after I pulled my “don’t mess with me” attitude. We ended up with a studio room. Not too bad. The second was that we had wanted to check out the rainforests and volcanoes of Costa Rica but it would have taken a minimum of four hours to get there. We were not going to do that. So, that was a little bit disappointing. But, now we learned and if we go back, we’ll stay more in the middle of the country in order to see the forests.

What a wonderful vacation with such wonderful company. Katie, if you decide to go on a vacation somewhere else, sign me up.

If you want to torture yourself, here are the rest of our pictures.

Gingerbread House Party, Year 4


Welcome back to Sweetville, USA! We are so excited that your sweet-tooth has not waned after all these years. We would love to show you our newest additions!

Amanda's Sweetville Salon
As you skip along on Peppermint Patty Lane, you will come across the Starlight Mint Salon and Spa. Here you can pamper yourself with chocolate facials, tingly mint body wraps, a Red Hot sauna (sure to set your skin on fire), even sugared manis and pedis. The stylists here can transform your ‘do from flab to cotton candy fab!

Beth's Diner
After a morning of pampering, you need to travel down a ways to Beth’s Diner, where you can find the biggest cinnamon buns in all of Sweetville. We’re not sure of the secret ingredient in the famous hot chocolate, but we keep coming back for more. Whether people are stumbling in after being Twixed all night or looking for a donut to start the day, it’s a warm, cozy place for all to convene.

Jen's Sweet Boutique
You must be asking, where do the townspeople shop if they are looking for some sweet new duds? Why, the Sweet Tart Boutique, of course! It’s the number one stop for all the gingerbread boys and girls looking to get the latest in gum drop buttons and icing apparel. But if you choose to bring your rowdy children, be forewarned, they have a strict “you lick it, you buy it” policy.

Kate's Rave Shack
Sweetville’s hottest new club is the Licorice Rave Shack. Owner Kandy Kate is back with the party that finally answers the question “Are those my chiclets?!?!” It has everything: Skittle magicians, ring-pop pandas, Goobers, and tiny dust-go-rounds. You know, it’s that thing where a midget gets whacked out on pixy sticks while on a sit and spin.

Katie's Sweetville School
For those more into book learnin’ than human traffic cones, the Sweetville School is the place to be. Home of the Fighting Sugar Dragons, this unassuming one-room schoolhouse has turned out some of the greatest innovators in the emerging field of candy studies. Unfortunately, it’s stellar reputation was blemished somewhat when it was revealed that last year’s valedictorian had cheated on her exams by using an Easy-Bake Oven.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a friend and visit Sweetville. Just don’t forget your appetite!

The Flavors of the Big Island

The biggest reason that Jen and I so enjoy visiting new places is the opportunity to enjoy the local cuisine, and this trip was no exception. We made it our goal to eat, when eating out, only at places that we can’t in St. Louis. So make an impromptu bib from a napkin, and come along with us on our culinary journey across the island of Hawaii.

Our first stop was on the night we arrived. We had been traveling all day and were basically famished. Sam had two performances of Rocky Horror that night, but we had called ahead to find a local fast-food option that would give us some sustenance before we zoned out for the evening. Sam recommended Blazin’ Steaks, a local franchise. We got some of the $6 Teriyaki Steak combos and wolfed them down before going back to Sam’s condo to crash for the evening. Simple, good food for cheap turned out to be the theme for the week.

The next day, we went to Sumo Deli for breakfast. Don’t be confused by the word “deli” in the name, this place is more like a diner, except without the counter and stools. This place serves up classic hangover-cure food with a Hawaiian twist. We ordered musubi (rice, grilled meat (our favorite was spam) and sauce wrapped in seaweed), spare ribs, tempura, and a loco plate (eggs, hambuger patty, rice with gravy over the top) to split between the three of us and the total was, like, $12. So awesome.

Monday morning, Jen and I made a repeat visit to Sumo Deli to get some grub before we got underway for our trip to the Hilo side. More of the same from yesterday and just as good as we remembered. We also stocked up with some snacks and juices for our road trip. Most notably, we got a bag of Maui Style Salt and Vinegar chips. I’m salivating just thinking about these again.

That night, Jen and I hit Ocean Sushi in downtown Hilo. It had been recommended by The Big Island Revealed (the only guidebook to the island of Hawaii that you will ever need) and we would be crazy to come all the way and not eat some sushi. The book prepared us to be underwhelmed by how the place looked and it definitely looked sketchy (especially with the neighborhood it was in), but it was packed and we were looking for adventure. Put simply: this place is awesome. The miso soup we ordered to start it off was probably the best miso I’ve ever had. The broth was flavorful and it set the tone for a great meal. We each got a couple rolls to share, as well as the obligatory unagi, and I got a sashimi plate that was really good — Jen’s not a big sashimi fan. It was all very good, the flavors were clean and distinct, and the fish tasted very fresh. Highly recommended.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the inn, overlooking the waterfall. Farm fresh eggs, waffles, Kona coffee, fresh squeezed juice, Punalu’u Bread for toast (sooooooo goooood!), and fresh fruit. Just about the perfect way to start off a morning.

Lunch that day was at the Black Rock Cafe in Pahoa. Pretty mediocre American food, but it was the only thing really convenient since we were in the middle of nowhere, making our way back to Kailua-Kona. Probably would have been better served to grab some McDonald’s on the road, but not the end of the world either.

Lunch one day in Kailua-Kona was at Splasher’s, a bar and grill down by the pier that targets the cruise ship crowd. Its outdoor seating overlooked the ocean and lent a laid-back vibe to the place. The burgers there were hella tasty, and I’m a big fan of the waffle fries.

Another lunch was at You Make The Roll, a sushi stand near Sam’s condo where you can make your own roll. The sushi there was really good and we tried a “sushi taco”, which is basically an oversized sushi roll in an egg wrapper. Good, but a lot of rice — it ended up being a lot of food.

Another memorable meal was at Bite Me Fish Market, famous for its fish tacos. Really delicious. They served whatever they caught that morning so you never know what type of fish is on the menu. Also, we had shave ice from a local stand. It’s pretty much a ginormous sno-cone with your choice of toppings or ice cream in the center. Jen got the red beans in the center of it, which was a nice touch.

We did manage to cook a few meals as well, most notably steaks grilled out by the pool in Sam’s complex, and pulled pork pizzas. It was a very delicious week all around.