Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Experience #22- Eat at Mike's

Okay, so it's not as cool as saying "Eat at Joe's", but still, I knew this was something I just had to finally do this year. Mike's is a little restaurant about 7 miles away in Bartow, FL. Although I live in Lakeland, I went to school for 5 years down in little old Bartow- pop. 20,000. I seriously can't tell you how many thousands of times I must have driven past this little place and yet never once have I seriously considered eating there. I'm not sure why really. It is very popular. Everyone I know that goes there loves the steak. I mentioned that I planned on finally eating there and my mom was almost worried for me. She said she thought that was place that was only for hardcore regulars. You know, the kind of place that when a stranger walks in, the jukebox cuts off, everyone turns to look, and then some fierce looking cowboy gives the stranger the evil eye till he walks out and pretends that he never came in? Which totally explains why my parents haven't eaten there either. And they both have worked in Bartow for the past 13 years! All of which time the dated marquee out front has advertised their famous "sir on steak" (sirloin steak if you need the translation). Shame on us for our prejudice! So I decided it was time to finally go in and see for myself.

And do you know what? It was magic. Right there in a booth around the corner from the register was Don and Romona Douberly. They are in my ward at Church and our family has known their family since we moved to Lakeland in 1988. She was my early morning seminary teacher for 9th and 10th grade. And these are the regulars I was looking for! Who knew? They eat there all the time! They gave me a quick run down of all the food, recommending pretty much everything. Great seafood, great steak, salad bar- you name it. They introduced me to their own personal waitress, Julie, who waits on them every time and even made them Christmas cookies this year. Does it get any more hometown than this??!! I think not. And just as she was telling me about the other regular I would know there, that being Samantha Taylor and her grandparents (another Church friend), I looked two booths across the room and there she was!! Ramona thought I was pulling her leg, but indeed, just as she said, there was Samantha and her grandparents. It really was kinda funny :)

Alright, enough of the chit-chat! Time for my sir on steak!

So I got the sirloin steak, fries and salad bar. And it was not half bad! The portion size was really good, giving me a whole half of steak to take home. Jacob got the New York Strip and was pleased as well. He is a little more picky than I, so that is saying something right there! Anyway, the biggest miracle of Mike's is that it somehow has escaped the black whole of horrible service that every other restaurant in Bartow has fallen into. Seriously, go to any place down there, McDonald's, Arby's, Denny's- you name and it- and I triple dog dare you to get your food in under two hours. Not at Mike's. These guys live and die by the repeat customer and it shows. On a scale of 1 to 10- I give Mike's an 8. I will definitely go back- especially the next time we are in Bartow and are thinking of going to Denny's. Bet they wouldn't let me just pay for my meal the next time I come in if I just happen to have forgotten my wallet! Ask the Douberlys, they'll tell you all about it :)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Feast your eyes on this!

I did want to mention that before my brother Brian left for BYU yesterday, he took some time out last Sunday to demonstrate his mad Spanish cooking skills that he brought home from his two-year Church mission to Bilbao, Spain. Here is a pic of the spread:

The Spanish Tortilla is surprisingly not made of any flour- I was expecting like a quesadilla thing, but it is actually made of potato, egg, veggies, etc. and resembles and tastes like an omelet. The empanada is like little sandwiches that are eaten cold. These were made with canned tuna- a very popular staple in Spain apparently and veggies. Of course we followed the 5th most important rule of parenthood with Cindy, which is to tell your kids that every meat they encounter is chicken, so she ate three of the sandwiches no problem. We had some paella, which really was chicken with yellow rice. And the cheese over there was awesome! Jacob and I are pretty much alone in our principles on that one, however. The rest of the fam thought it was WAY too pungent for consumption. More for us! Then on Christmas day I had two kinds of Teron? (I have googled that word relentlessly for its correct spelling and get nothing!!) which is essentially like Spanish Peanut Brittle. I had both the peanut and the almond. Peanut is better. And then also I had some Feos! Which are little meringue-type cookies with almonds. Feo means ugly in Spanish, and the cookies were pretty homely, I'll admit. Anyway, it was all very tasty, yet weird to think this kind of stuff was what kept Brian alive for the past two years. The Church must be true! And I, of course, have pics of me eating the teron, but again, they are on Brian's camera and we will all probably never see them ever again. Sigh...

And now, a related Cindy quickie....

Cindy was sick all last week. Fever, occasional throw up, bad attitude- you get it. The other night she was panicking because she felt like she was gonna hurl. I told her that it was okay, everyone throws up and you just get through it and feel better. She then told me that the worst part of throwing up is the taste in her mouth. She said, "It tastes really bad, kinda like that cheese that Uncle Brian got in Spain." That's the cool thing about being 5 years old- you call it like you see it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The days after Christmas always feels so strange to me. It is like you just got done planning a wedding for the past 4 months and now that the day of festivities is over you are don't really quite know what to do with yourself. At least that's how it is for me :) Our Christmas was pretty mellow. Cindy was sick (and still is) with a pretty high fever for almost 5 days, so we didn't get a lot of super animated reactions out of her most of the time. Luke, as always, was pleasant, and loved the actual opening of gifts. He had to remove every single scrap of paper, tape, etc. from the box itself before it could be opened, however. He is very thorough! I really didn't end up with very many pictures this year, and the ones I did take are pretty lame. But just a few for the memory book, I guess...

Luke and Grandpa Sweeney opening a train set on Christmas Eve morning. It was a total hit!

Christmas Eve PJs!

Cindy was conscious enough to remember to leave out cookies for Santa and a bag of hay for the reindeer. So cute!

Cindy's letter to Santa asked for a bouquet of real flowers. (She wanted this ever since Nathan and Linnley's wedding...) Santa came through! She was pretty happy about them. Well, as happy as you get when you feel sick, anyway.

Cindy got a little more life in her as the day progressed. Book and cat from Grandparents Bingham. Yay books!!

Uncle Brian is so good! He brought back gifts for all of us- the ladies all got these very European scarves. Nice work in the background, Bri.

Since my Mom and Brian have a long-standing tradition of trying to outdo one another when it comes to gift wrapping- I secured a refrigerator box for Brian to use on Mom. She approached the box with true trepidation....and it didn't help when my dad went around the back side and kicked the box really hard. Mom jumped an easy ten feet.


My camera died while she was opening the actual gift. I tried to get Brian to email me his pics of it before he left for Utah, but I guess I am too low on the priority list. :) One day, I will show you...

Luke in his sweet new hoodie!

There is only one way to eat apple pie with whip cream- go straight for the cream, no silverware needed.

So that was pretty much Christmas for us. Wow, my pictures were really terrible this year! I feel a resolution coming on... Actually, as of 8:50am this morning my camera is DEAD. I turned it on to take a picture of Luke in his sweet new church clothes and it clicked, beeped, coughed, whispered the word "rosebud!" and then died. I am devastated!!! But I guess I know what to get myself for my birthday now. Anyway, we had a great day with our little family here in our little home and then with both sets of Grandparents throughout the day. We ate, laughed, ate, talked, ate some more, and really enjoyed the gift of being together. I hope it's always like this :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Experience #21- Attend a Horse Race

Nothing says Merry Christmas Eve like reading about a horse race, eh? Well, this is an experience that I thought of doing last Spring, but did not act on quickly enough so I had to wait all year long for the season to start up again. It was back then that I realized that there is a horse track here in Tampa. Obviously the whole point of the track is for people to lose money betting on the races, but no one makes you place bets and admission is totally free, so me and my Dad had to go and check things out. Brian and my mom were to come as well, but they got sick. Sorry guys, but the horse race express must keep on chugging.

Here is Tampa Bay Downs. I forgot to take my own photo of the outside, so here is a stock photo from the Internet. Looks like it was taken a while ago, but you get the idea...

They also had poker in here somewhere. I never saw it.

And what kind of people might you see at the track? People like this...

Yup, it was a wild and rowdy crowd! There were old guys, snowbird couples, Moms with strollers, tweens, Grandparents with their grandkids- quite the mix! Which helped me not feel like a total fish out of water. I mean, they needed a girl in a BYU shirt to show up that day, just to complete the variety.

Inside the track complex, there is a snack bar, gift shop, and TVs everywhere! And each one is showing something different that everyone is betting on. Whether it was the horse race going on outside, jai alai from Miami or Greyhound racing from California- there is no shortage of ways to waste your money at this place! I believe some of these guys had been there since 1994.

This was the giant scoreboard thing at the track. If you ask me, this thing is uber-complicated. We had a very hard time trying to decipher what any of this meant. We never placed any bets, but I don't think we could have if we wanted to without having to take some sort of night class at the local college.

There were seriously so many ways to bet- win, place, show, trifecta, superfecta, box 5, quinella, daily double, pick 6- I could go on forever. Dad and I decided that for each race we would just personally choose the winner and the only goal was for our horse to beat the other's horse.

Here is the program for the day, and knowing how to read this thing is like being a Navajo codetalker during WWII- there are only handful of people in the world that can actually do it.

The specs on each horse include EVERYTHING- the owner, the trainer, where he was bred, the names of his parents, how much he was bought for, the top 3 results of the horse's last races, the horse's social security number, his hobbies, what he's looking for in a special lady horse, a short description of how the horse did in the last races, what kind of surface he ran on, when his last workout was, what kind of drugs he is on, his top speed, the jockey's name and record- information overload! Much easier to just say, "Uhhh, Rum Customer, yeah, that looks like a good horse" and make your bet that way. That day there were ten races, each one starting about 20 minutes after the other. As soon as the "time to post" (your bets) had expired, the horses would begin to go out on the track to make their way to the gate. The "post parade" as it is called- and YES, they really do play that race fanfare trumpet noise during this time. It was sweet.

Some sweet video of the finish of a race:

Then after each race, the winning horse and jockey comes to the winner's circle to have his picture taken.

Then the owners get in on the action. Loved the hat on that lady in the middle.

The jockeys were mostly hispanic, and of course, tiny. The program says they have to be under 120 pounds. And they actually get weighed after winning a race, just to make sure there was no funny business going on. I am not sure if you can see it or not, but the jockey is getting off a scale under this little pavilion.

The different silks they wear are awesome.

We liked the green clover the best.

We even went down to the "paddock" to see the horses up close.

Anyway, Dad kicked my fanny in picking the winners. I don't think I correctly picked the winner for any race. He correctly picked 2 winners and if they didn't win they placed or showed. Not bad for a rookie! BUT, by far and away, the absolute BEST part of the whole experience was the Horse Names. There was nothing funnier than going through the program and reading to each other the ridiculous names for horses that we found. We instantly knew that this subject could feed my blog for a few days.

And it will! Stay tuned :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Trophy Daughter

Well, Cindy's soccer season came to a close. The last two games were actually rained out so it was a tad on the anti-climatic side, but Coach Nick had us all meet this past Saturday for pizza and trophy distribution. Cindy overheard me telling Jacob that she was going to get a trophy and she was on cloud nine! She kept saying, "I can't believe I get a trophy!" over and over again. And who am I to ruin her happiness by telling her that everyone gets a trophy? Hopefully though, this will be the first of many soccer trophies, right Dad?

Cindy and Coach Nick

Cindy and Maddie with their new treasures

Grandma and Grandpa Sweeney came to watch

And so did Grandma and Grandpa Bingham! Every soccer star needs a throng of fans...

What will we do until March when 3 v 3 starts??? Guess we'll just have to have to play a daily game of "Cindy and Luke fight over the trophy." We haven't missed a day yet!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Definition of Irony

The other night Jacob and I were returning from a party, and as we pulled into our garage in his truck, Jacob realized he was just about to run over Luke's toy lawnmower for the umpteenth time. He stopped about 5 inches short of it to give me the chance to save it. I jumped out of the truck, wiggled myself along the wall of the garage and rescued the lawnmower! I put it out on the driveway while I ran inside to get my car key so I could go and get the kids from the babysitter's house. I found the key, got in my car, and proceeded to back over the lawnmower. Go team!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Guess Who!

I realized that during my blogging last Christmas I neglected to mention one of my family's never-fail Christmas traditions. I was over at my mom's house the other day helping to wrap gifts and I remembered that in our family we always correctly address each gift that is wrapped, but we have total free reign to make up anything we want when it comes to who the gift is from. Thus, it is always such a joy on Christmas day to watch my mom announce that she is going to open a present from Jesse Ventura, or that my dad got a gift from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I think over the years I have gotten presents from everyone from Paul McCartney, Wonder Woman and Jeb Bush to Boss Hogg and James Van der Beek. Yup, at the Bingham's house, you just never know who is thinking of you at Christmastime.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Experience #20- Wear Toe Socks

The young women in our Church ward have a Christmas sock exchange every year. We all bring a pair of funky socks, wrap them up, and then read a "left/right" story to divvy them out in a fair and impartial way. Anyway, I ended up with these sweet reindeer toe socks! And as I was putting them on I realized that I have never worn toe socks in my whole entire life. And how was it? Pretty good! I love the fact that I can wear them with flip flops and it doesn't look weird. Okay, well, I meant the weird part being that the sock gets all bunched up at the toe because regular socks are not meant to be worn with flip flops, but these bad boys are! So when I wore my flip flops home with the socks, it felt so normal. (And you know how much I love my flip flops :) True, each little piggy can get a little squished in its individual compartment, but come on, look at these things! Am I festive or what?!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

3 things I learned in the past week...

1. If you don't peel Luke's banana from the bottom, he will not eat it. In fact, he will scream at you.

2. Never watch a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis right before bedtime.

3. The floats in the parades at Disney World do not have drivers. They are all controlled by computer through sensors in the ground.

Go figure!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Another year has gone by already, and since it is a few weeks into December that must mean it is time for me to take Cindy to Disney World again :) Last year when I took her I promised myself that we were completely on her timetable. Whatever she wanted to do was the order of the day- which worked famously, so same rules applied this time around. I did find two Princess shows that I thought might interest her over at Disney MGM (or Hollywood Studios as it is now called) but I could tell deep down she just wanted to go back to the Magic Kingdom and see Cinderella's castle. We were finishing up the Beauty and the Beast stage show and she said to me, "Mom, I need to go the castle at Disney. Because I know that we are at Disney, but I just don't feel like I am." So young, so accurate. Anyway, we did start at MGM for a few hours and then headed over to Magic Kingdom for the rest of our day. The weather was much warmer this year- mid 80's and all the Northerners were blatantly overdressed. (jeans? are you kidding me?) But when you walk down Main Street at the entrance of the park and you have ample elbow room, you know it's a light attendance day at Disney. We only rode three total rides at Magic Kingdom- (I told you we only did what she wanted!) and the longest we waited was 10 minutes. It was fantastic! This year mom clued into the fact that there is an actual place that allows you to wait in line and meet 3 of the Princesses. What planet was I on last year? Add meeting Princesses AND Pixie Hollow Fairies to our agenda and the day became flat-out AWESOME. Here's how it went down...

Never ask a "MAN" to take Cindy's picture. She was not thrilled with my choice of impromptu photogs

"Man" leaves= Happy Cindy

After Beauty and the Beast and Voyage of the Little Mermaid, we were off to Magic Kingdom! Cindy approved :)

Some teacup action. One of about 7 times we rode this ride.

Hands-down, Cindy's favorite ride; Cinderella's Carousel. Last year we learned that one of them is actually Cinderella's horse, and we know this because of the gold ribbon in its tail. We tried to get to ride that one last year, but I don't remember having much luck. This year....


And how many times in a row did we get to ride it????

Seriously, Cindy could move in and make herself a little home on this ride. She absolutely loves it!

Next Up: Princess Overload!!!



Hugs to Cinderella

The lovely Belle

We saw Snow White in the afternoon parade

Can I top that? How about Fairies??

Silvermist, Tinkerbell and Rosetta

By the way, the girl who was Tinkerbell was really, really good. Totally reminded me of the Tinkerbell movie...

By the end of the night we felt like pioneer children that walked and walked and walked and walked. But we were happy! Cindy did marvelous. I couldn't even really convince her to get a souvenir. All said we only spent money on parking ($14!!) and two ice cream cones ($40) Just kidding! No, it was only $6 for two chocloate cones- I could handle that :) The rest of our snacks and food were in my handy dandy backpack, so we were good to go. Of course the highlight of the night was the lighting of the castle and the fireworks display. We didn't get to see fireworks last year and they really were quite fantastic. Disney just does things right.

Cindy insisted on taking the picture of the castle herself, so here ya go:

I am pretty sure the best way to tell if you had fun somewhere is how tired you feel afterwards. Safe to say, Cindy's day ROCKED!

And mine was apparently the absolute most funnest, fantastic, amazing day ever- which roughly translated means that when I got home I felt like I got hit by a train. But well worth it :)