Two Simple Wishes

Celebrate Earth Day at Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is one of my favorite places on earth.  It is a wonderful place to celebrate Earth Day and spring.

(I haven’t been able to get there yet this spring, so I’m sharing photos that I took last year.)

Longwood Gardens entrance

Because I have lived near Longwood Gardens most of my life, I have been going there as long as I can remember.  (That’s me!)

Longwood Gardens - as a child

As a kid, I loved the fountains and feeding the koi fish in the lake. I would pretend I was a princess and that it was my personal garden. (Truth is, I still do.)

Now that I’m a mom, I love bringing My Girl there to experience the magic.

Some things have changed since I was a kid. There is a magical children’s garden in the Conservatory.  And some things have stayed the same, like the beautiful fountains – captivating My Girl, just like they captivated me.

Longwood Gardens-Childrens Garden

Right now, the tulips are in bloom.  In my humble opinion, it is one of the best times to visit Longwood Gardens.

Longwood Gardens-tulips

There are so many types of tulips (who knew?).

Longwood Gardens-pink tulips

Longwood Garens-red double tulips

Longwood Gardens-white and pink tulips

It would be easy to spend an entire day there. But I like to take it in small doses, taking time to really appreciate something specific – like the tulips.

Longwood Gardens-orange tulips closeup

Longwood Gardens-red tulips

Longwood Gardens-pink double tulips

So celebrate Earth Day…celebrate spring…celebrate being alive.  Whatever your cause for celebration, Longwood Gardens is a beautiful place to visit and enjoy a special day.

If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.”

Audra Foveo

Aruba – One Happy Island

Looking for a get-away?  Aruba is a great place to visit, any time of year.  Me and the Mister have visited Aruba three times.  Our first visit was our honeymoon.  A few years later, we went with friends.  And then this year we took Our Girl to Aruba for Easter break.

It’s not your typical island in the Caribbean.  It’s a desert island, with lots of cactus…and iguanas.   And very little rain.  And beautiful blue skies.  And crystal clear water.  Everything is easy there.  I suppose that’s one of the reasons why they call it One Happy Island.

If you are planning a trip to Aruba (or thinking about one), here is a quick travel guide.

Aruba-Desert landscape

Aruba-iguana

Getting There

There are plenty of options for flying there.  We flew direct from Baltimore on Southwest.  From Baltimore it is about a 4.5 hour flight.  We flew in and out on a Monday, which I highly recommend because it is less busy.  There was no line at immigration and we flew through customs.  Our total time at the airport – from the time we landed, to the time we were in our rental car headed to the hotel – was 30 minutes.

Aruba-Getting there

You will need a passport.  Don’t do what I did and nearly let your passport expire.  (If your passport expires this year and you think you will be doing some international travel, start the process now.)

The Weather

Aruba is a great island destination any time of year because the weather is consistently sunny and warm. It is also out of the hurricane zone, so there is no worry about your trip being messed up by a storm.  The average daytime temperature in Aruba is 82 degrees, varying only a few degrees throughout the year.  And the average annual rainfall is 20 inches, so plan on lots of sunshine.  The sun is intense, because of its close proximity to the equator – so be sure to wear sunscreen and apply it often.

Lodging

There are lots of options for lodging in Aruba including hotels, timeshares, vacation home rentals, etc..  Most are located on the west side of the island.  We used our Marriott timeshare to trade for a week at Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club.  It is a great timeshare resort with lots of amenities.  The property is located on the beach so you can easily enjoy the beach or the pool and lazy river.  We love staying in a timeshare because we get all the amenities of a resort, plus the convenience of a condo (kitchen, washer/dryer, lots of space, etc.) – perfect for traveling with a family.

Getting Around Aruba

Since we wanted to explore the island, we opted to rent a car for the week.  Driving in Aruba is very easy, but not all of the roads are well-marked.  We did well because each time we headed out, we mapped out our destination before we left the hotel using Google maps.  But even if you get lost, it’s a small island (19 miles long; 6 miles wide) and you will eventually find your way.

If you don’t want a rental car for the week, you can also rent one for the day to explore the area.

Things to Do…For Free!

Take a walk on the wild side.

After you have enjoyed the calm of the west side of the island, head to the east side for a completely different experience.  The surf is rough and wild and completely mesmerizing.  There are lots of areas to enjoy this side of the island.  We went to the Natural Bridge area.  The bridge isn’t actually there any more – it collapsed in 2005.  But who cares – it is still a beautiful spot.  Just past where the Natural Bridge used to be there is a wonderful little cove. At low tide, there are lots of tide pools to explore behind the protection of big rocks.  My Girl loved exploring the tide pools that were protected behind the big rocks.  The scenery is spectacular.  We could have stayed there all day – or at least until the tide came in.

Aruba-East coast

Aruba-tide pools

Aruba-surf

Visit a donkey sanctuary.

I love donkeys.  It started with Eeyore and just never quit.  So when I discovered there was a donkey sanctuary in Aruba, I had to check it out.  The sanctuary provides a safe haven for donkeys that have been hurt or mistreated.  And it provided us a chance to get close up to these adorable little guys.

Aruba-Donkey sanctuary entrance

Aruba-Snickers the donkey

Aruba-Gray donkey

Alto Vista Chapel

The Alto Vista Chapel is a short drive from the hotel area.  The drive to the chapel takes you down a road that is marked with crosses that represent the stations of the cross.

Aruba-road to Alto Vista Chapel

The chapel is on a hill, giving you a great view of the desert landscape and the ocean.

Aruba-Alto Vista Chapel

A friend of mine who visits Aruba every year, says it is an amazing place to see the sunrise.  I took her word for it and chose to sleep in instead.

We found this sweet dog in the shade outside the chapel.  I think he skipped the sunrise too.

Aruba-Alto Vista Chapel dog

Go grocery shopping.

Sounds weird right?  But I love visiting a grocery store when I’m in another country because it’s a great way to experience the culture.  We really liked the SuperFood store – it has great selection and it is close to the hotel area.  Because of the Dutch influence in Aruba, there are lots of delicious Dutch treats like gouda cheese…and chocolate!

Get an adrenaline rush.

There is a park area next to the airport, very close to where planes land.  Stand at the fence and feel the exhilaration of a plane rushing in for landing, right over your head.  The best time to go is when the big planes are landing – which typically is after noon.

Climb a hill.

Hooiberg is the second highest spot on the island.  And it is conveniently outfitted with steps that will take you to the top.  Climb the 587 steps for a great view – and satisfaction that you earned your dessert for the evening.

Soak up the sun.

Bring some good books and relax in the sun.  Heaven!

Aruba-Pool

Other Things to Do

Splurge on a spa treatment.

I love getting a spa treatment on vacation.  The Mandara Spa at the at the Marriott’s Aruba Ocean Club was amazing.  I opted for the Elemis Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage – a combination body treatment and massage.   Divine!

Eat Dutch pancakes.

Dutch pancakes are very thin, large pancakes.  You can have them plain or with a variety of toppings, both sweet and savory.  A friend recommended Linda’s Dutch Pancakes & Pizzas (thanks Amy!)  I opted for the pancake topped with pineapple and coconut…and served with a side of coconut rum!  They also serve pancakes that are gluten-free and dairy-free.  And they serve pizza any time of day – perfect for My Girl who loves pizza for breakfast.

Aruba-Dutch pancakes

Have dinner on the beach. 

There are lots of options.  Here are three that we enjoyed:

Barefoot Aruba – It’s close to the airport.  Watch planes land, ships come and go, and the beautiful sunset while you enjoy dinner.

Aruba-Barefoot Aruba

Aruba-Barefoot Aruba view

Flying Fishbone – This restaurant is a bit of a drive – about 25 minutes from the hotel area – but it is worth the trip.  Get a table on the roof, beach, or even in the water.  And the food never disappoints.  I got the Garden Salad as an appetizer.  Garden salads are usually boring – but this was one of the best salads I have ever had.

Aruba-Flying Fishbone salad

And My Girl had fun with the drama (go figure) of the Baked Alaska.

Aruba-Flying Fishbone Baked Alaska

Atardi – This restaurant is located on the beach at the Aruba Marriott Resort.  Typically, we don’t choose to eat at hotel restaurants – but this one had great reviews and was within walking distance of where we were staying.  It was a splurge – but worth it.  The dinner was one of the best we had all week.

Aruba-Atardi

Aruba-Atardi view

Try some traditional Aruban cuisine.

We love the local restaurant Gasparito.  It is a quaint little place, filled with local art, and offering delicious food, including some Aruban specialties, such as Keshi Yena – an Edam cheese “shell” stuffed with spiced meat – delicious!

 

Aruba is a great vacation destination.  Just ask the many people who return to Aruba over and over again.  It’s beauty, ease and accessibility make for one happy vacation – on the One Happy Island.

Have you been to Aruba?  What are your favorite restaurants and things to do?  Share them in the Comments below!

Brie and Fig Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It is National Grilled Cheese Month!  What isn’t there to like about a grilled cheese?  I like ’em a hundred different ways.  But one of my favorites is one of the most simple made with Brie cheese and fig jam.

It takes about five minutes to make…and it feels wildly decadent.  I don’t know about you, but this work from home, yoga pants wearing mom, loves feeling wildly decadent from time to time.  Especially if it can be done while wearing yoga pants.

How to Make a Brie & Fig Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese-ingredients

Ingredients

  • Bread of choice – You can use whatever kind of bread you like.  I prefer a heartier style bread.  It just works.
  • Brie cheese with rind removed (see note below)
  • Fig Butter from Trader Joes (my personal favorite), or fig preserves.

Instructions

Lightly spray a heavy-bottom skillet with olive oil.  I recently discovered Bertolli® 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray, and I’m kind of loving it.

Bertolli Olive Oil Spray

Pre-heat the skillet on medium heat, while you prepare the sandwich.

Shmear the fig preserves on both slices of bread.  You aren’t really doing it right unless you shmear it.  This highly advanced cooking technique may take some practice.

Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese-Fig Butter

Place the slices of the Brie on top of the Fig Butter of one side of the sandwich; top the remaining slice of bread (Fig Butter side down) and place the sandwich in the preheated pan.

Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese-assembled

Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese-in the pan

Allow to “grill” for a couple of minutes; flip the sandwich and cook for a couple more minutes.  The goal is getting the cheese soft and the bread nice and toasty.

Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese-cooking

Once the cheese and bread have reached grilled cheese perfection, remove from the pan.  Slice in half and devour.

Fig and Brie Grilled Cheese-finished

If you want to get really crazy, add some thinly sliced pear or apple to the sandwich before cooking.  Simply divine!

Note – To remove the rind from the Brie:

Brie cheese-slice

Cut the amount of cheese you need; then use a vegetable peeler to remove the rind.  Easy peasy.

Brie cheese-removing rind

Happy Grilled Cheese Month!

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