Day Tripping: Pinto’s Farm


Every Fall, we try to make it out to a pumpkin patch to get into the spirit of the Halloween season. Last year, we went to the Little Farm (which was actually the first farm I ever went to as a child–we even got to milk a goat!)

This year, I thought we’d check out a different place I’d heard good thing about: Pinto’s Farm.


We went on a Sunday afternoon, closer to closing time (4 p.m. in hopes of avoiding the heavy crowds). I’d bought our tickets thanks to a Living Social deal (always check Living Social/Groupon befor attending events–never know how much you’ll save) and went to pick them up while my husband ventured to a play area just outside the entrance with our son. There was a bounce house, some random hula hoops, and a giant dirt mound my son didn’t seem to care much for.

Upon entering, you’ll walk down a path decorated with Jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows and hay bales, plus painted wooden signs giving random facts about Halloween and autumn in general.
IMG_9964

At the end of the path, there are two covered sections from which to pick up a pumpkin (or simply take photos with pumpkins).

Turn the corner and you’ll encounter a hay bale maze. It was cute but would’ve preferred it were a bit taller and wider since people seemed to all cluster here, making it hard to get through with my toddler and the stroller.

From there, it’s up to you which activities to pursue. My ticket deal offered 2 free tickets for either the paddle boats or the hay ride (considering we had a 20-month old, we opted for the hay ride,which he  loved–and my husband and I did as well).

They’ve also got a “race track” for kids to race on big wheels/trikes, a petting zoo, pony rides, and another “race track” for these mini tractors (basically big wheels in the shape of tractors that are big enough for adults to ride). We opted to buy extra tickets for the tractor race ($8 for 2 FYI so bring a little bonus cash if you want to enjoy these extras).


Our son was also happy to run around the on-site playground (though we were slightly less enthusiastic running after him to make sure none of the much larger kids knocked him over), and spent a ton of time in this sandy area with animal bouncy toys. He quickly became BFFs  with this kitty.


Pinto’s is scenic, with lots of trees for shade (a must in blistering hot Miami). They also serve fruit shakes and smoothies, ice teas and coffee drinks, plus empanadas, arepas, and even alfajores (Argentine sweet treats).

It gets busy , especially on weekends, but if you go late you can avoid the mid-day rush (plus we left at around 6 p.m., an hour after their official closing and folks were still coming in). Parking is free and not too much of a hassle. We may be back for their Holiday theme days (which should include festive décor and pictures with Santa). Check them out at Pinto’s Farm or on Facebook.

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The 5 Things I Miss Most About New Orleans

via Infrogmation / Flickr
via Infrogmation / Flickr

Back in 2011, I spent a good two weeks or so traipsing about New Orleans. It was the last stop on a 4 month trip, sleeping in (mostly) stranger’s homes. My time in NOLA was magical, to say the least. It quickly became my favorite city in the U.S., tied with New York City. But New Orleans is a completely different flavor–more like comparing pizza to chocolate (one must have both). The sounds on Frenchman Street, the smells coming from Cafe du Monde at dawn, the (sometimes confusing) way of giving directions based on your proximity to lake and river rather than east and west, the bustling energy of the Bywater, the jaw-droppingly beautiful houses of Uptown…there’s just too much to appreciate in this town. These are the things I miss the most.

The Colorful, Charming Architecture

When you think of NOLA, you probably picture Bourbon Street and while your first thoughts may be of drunk revelers during Mardi Gras, it’s difficult not to take notice of the intricate 18th and 19th centruy buildings of the French Quarter. But the Quarter isn’t the only area with eye-pleasing architecture.

via Infrogmation (Flickr)
via Infrogmation (Flickr)

The Marigny, Bywater, and Treme are some of the most colorful neighborhoods in town, featuring an array of colonial French and Spanish-style homes and Creole cottages. Many of these are built shotgun style, meaning that each room is stacked one next to the other, so that one has to walk through each to get from one end of the house to the other. I spent a few days at a shotgun-style hostel and I’ll admit it took a bit of getting use to, creeping through people’s bedrooms to get a glass of water in the kitchen at the back of the house.

via Kimon Berlin (Flickr)
via Kimon Berlin (Flickr)

You won’t find a more stunning example of NOLA’s most opulent architecture than in Uptown, and more specifically, in the Southern mansions of the Garden District. Mostly Colonial, Victorian, and Greek Revival in style, these mansions are simply breathtaking.

Hopping The Streetcars

One of the best ways to take in the Big Easy’s sights is by jumping aboard one (or all) of its streetcars. It’s the best way to get around (though perhaps not so much during a thunderstorm), allowing passengers to enjoy uninterrupted views of the various neighborhoods. I spent many hours riding along Canal and through Uptown on the St. Charles, hauling my backpack from Couchsurfing host to host. Unlike the stuffiness of crowded buses, the streetcars were always a breath of fresh air.

Drinking Culture

Repeat after me: No Open Container Laws. That’s right. You can open up a can of beer or pour yourself a drink and walk right out of your house throughout your neighborhood without anyone giving you a second glance. More importantly, when you’re at a bar and want to take a walk but just ordered your third Abita Amber, you can ask for a to-go cup and take it with you. You’ll never visit a more drink-friendly town than the Crescent City.

Bars are everywhere and drinks (for the most part) are damn cheap. More importantly, the bars are good and the drinks are great. Check out Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for bragging rights on drinking in Louisianna’s oldest bar, established in 1772. It’s at the end of Bourbon, right before it gets extra dark and sketchy, just before Frenchman. Other places I loved include Mimi’s in the Marigny (and yes, I made it on a Saturday and danced like crazy to DJ Soul Sister), Apple Barrel Bar (which I believe has since closed, but was my favorite stop when I was hanging out with the old fishing captain), and Snake and Jake’s–probably my favorite dive, covered in Christmas lights and located right in a neighborhood as though it were any other house. And while I’d personally recommend against hanging in the Quarter too long (at least on Bourbon), if you did find yourself there, you shouldn’t leave without stopping in at the Erin Rose.

via the Erin Rose
via the Erin Rose

Best drinks, best people, best jukebox, best bar tenders all around.

Friendly Faces

New Orleans wouldn’t be New Orleans without its people. I’m not sure if the city brings out the best in folks or if the best folks just happen to live there, but I haven’t found a friendlier town yet. Maybe it’s because I’m from Miami, where neighbors avoid eye contact and customer service means someone will try not to spit in your face while you ask them a question. Or maybe this all happened after Katrina–the sense of community, especially among those who lived to tell their tale of survival after the hurricane, is unbelievably strong even now, nearly a decade later.  I found people in NOLA to be extremely helpful and open to conversation, from greeting me as I walked down the street to offering me a place to stay when I was stuck without a roof for a night.

And Of Course…All That Jazz!

While New Orleans has excellent cuisine and great bars and beautiful sights and excellent museums and schools, the lifeblood of the city lies in its music. You will never hear better jazz, bluegrass, funk, brass than you will in the Big Easy. Its relationship with music began sometime around the 19th century and blossomed over the years, branching out from jazz to other genres, and giving way to unique traditions like the Second Line (brass bands marching during funerals). Not convinced? This is just a sample of the random richness of NOLA’s music scene:

Have you been to New Orleans? What enchanted you the most? Leave your comments below and remember to laissez les bon temps rouler!

A Kid’s-Eye View of North Palm Beach County

  Traveling with kids is much different from traveling alone, as I found out recently on a trip that included West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Juno Beach with my one year old, William. Whereas I once would’ve immediately sought out dive bars, indie book shops and music venues, I found myself questioning what would instead bring a smile to my kiddo’s face. Turns out, there’s quite a bit to do for the busy toddler that finds themselves in the northern area of Palm Beach County. If you’re adventuring in the area with an ankle biter, here are a few fun (and mostly frugal) ideas to get you started:

  
Playmobil Fun Park

Drive down Military Trail and you’ll find yourself going past a small castle housing more Playmobil toys than you’ve ever seen in your life. The Playmobil Fun Park is an ingenious creation by the Playmobil company to get you and your toddler familiar with their toys. Pay just $1 per person and step inside to what is essentially a giant toy box. 

   

 Tables are set up more or less by toy “genre” (farm animals here, princesses there, medieval characters in the back) and are topped with everything from plastic cars, trucks, and tractors to unicorns, play houses, and dragons. Giant versions of Playmobil people are found throughout the “park,” as well as an over-sized throne at the end where kids can take pictures at (I must admit I resisted the urge to take a Game of Thrones-inspired selfie at this point). The place was mostly empty and my son had free rein for the good part of an hour to pick and choose which toys he liked most. There’s also a stage set up for special events like the occasional story time or concert. 

   

  

 After you finish playing (or more accurately, after you can pry your child away from all the toys), you’re let out into the Playmobil Toy Store where you can purchase any (or many) of the toys your child just played with. We took home a little red tractor with a gender-ambiguous person to play with. William was pleased.

   
 My only complaint had to do with the lack of diversity in regards to the Playmobil characters (an issue i’ll be addressing in a future post).

Also worth noting that this is the ONLY Playmobil Fun Park in the United States!
  
Cool Beans Indoor Playground

Inside Downtown at the Gardens, you’ll find the only indoor playground in the area – Cool Beans. Prior to my visit, I’ve only been to one other indoor playground (Jump A Roos in Cutler Bay) and I have to say I am officially a fan of the concept. Living in Miami, it is hot practically every single day of the year, and quite often, it is unbearably hot–much too humid and sunny for anyone to enjoy, not to mention buggy. And when it isn’t hot, it’s (also, unpredictably) rainy. In fact, the day we came to Cool Beans was rather warm and overcast, drizzling on and off.

   
 Cool Beans advertises that they charge $14.95 for all day play. This is a bit steep in my eyes, but worth it if you’ll be shopping and dining all day and need a place to release your child every couple hours. The first time we went, the place was closing in a half hour and I was told I would still have to pay the $15 admission rather than giving me a pro-rated rate. So I opted to return the following morning for “Toddler Tuesday” (when they close out the place to kids over the age of 3 for a few hours so the littles can use all the “big kid” areas in peace). I was happily surprised to find I would only be charged $10 for the day instead. We signed our waiver, took off our shoes, and stepped inside.

Upon entering, to your immediate left you’ll find a section that is mostly quartered off for younger children (my guess is under 2 years). There’s a small ball pit, smaller toys and books for babies to play with and explore, as well as a couple of baby bouncers. Off in one area, you’ll find a few mega-slides (one with a giant foam block pit to fall in to), and in the center is a giant trampoline, which was a hit with the older kids. There’s also an area filled with puzzles of all kinds, plus a pretend kitchen with pretend food and other goodies. William immediately found a giant toy car to play with and spent his time mostly walking around with it, taking in the scene.

   
 The playground got busy quickly, and even busier still after they opened up the rest of the place for the older kids. We didn’t even finish exploring the entire place, but from what I saw there was a big, inflatable see-saw and an area with lots of costumes for dress-up games.

Cool Beans also offers a variety of classes (check the website for details) available for $6 a session, ages 2 and up.
  

Loggerhead Marine Life Center

Loggerhead Marine Center is an animal rescue and rehabilitation center, with a focus on loggerhead turtles. Their website didn’t exactly explain whethe Admission is by donation and the staff there are very friendly and knowledgeable. Walk in and you can start by reading about the history of the center and checking out their small but pretty aquarium.

Afterward, walk outside to see the “patients”. Meet Nacho Libre, Dinghy, Audubon, Checkers, Bowden, and the rest of the gang as they swim their way back to health in their individual tanks. You can watch them overhead and wait for them to take a peek out of the water, or crouch down and see them through the windows in their tanks for a close encounter.

   
      William was definitely intrigued by these shelled creatures, though he was also equally happy to play near the turtle statues and in the soft-floored kid’s play area.

   
 The center also has large windows that allow guests of the center to watch the vets care for the turtles in their turtle hospital. Unfortunately nothing was going on the afternoon we went, but it’s something worth noting. Loggerhead Marine Life Center also offers a variety of experiences, including Hammock Hikes, Fish Feedings, and Hatchling Tales (a story and activity time for kids 0-4 occurring on Wednesday mornings), among other activities. Check the website for details.
  
Juno Beach Pier
Juno Beach Pier is just a 3 minute drive from the marine center (and is actually managed by the center as well), making it a great second stop. While primarily for fishing, the pier is open to anyone with $1 to spare ($4 if you plan to fish). Stroll or walk your child along the wooden path and take in the majestic Atlantic. While Miami tends to have flatter waters, it was nice to see people fishing and kite surfing here among the waves. 

   

 Take special care when you bring your little one as this is mainly a place used by anglers and you might find bait and fish and equipment along the way. Oh, and if you get hungry, the snack shop at the entrance has everything from chips and cookies to water and ice cream to tide you over.
  
Honorable Mention: Barnes & Noble in Palm Beach Gardens

I’ve been to many a Barnes & Noble in Miami, but none as nice as the one off PGA Boulevard near my husband’s job. Their children’s section is large and well-stocked and includes a stage for reading time, tables with plush animals and other toys for kiddos to play with, and the piece de resistance for my son: a full Thomas the Tank Engine railroad, complete with various stops and plenty of train cars and engines to choose from. These are, of course, cleverly arranged right in front of a wall filled with numerous Thomas-related and other toys. You could easily come and spend an hour or longer (depending on your kid) here while you read, or read to them. 

  We allowed William to “select” a few books and walked out with about 5 new books and a double-decker bus from the Thomas line called Bertie.
There is also a Starbucks Cafe housed inside the Barnes, making it a great stop for a sandwich, a coffee, or some warm milk or a juice box for your kiddo.
I’ve got my eye on a few other places to visit, but for a short, fun, and frugal adventure with your toddler, these places can’t be beat. Have you visited the Palm Beaches with your child recently? What would you add to this list?

River Life, California Dreamin’ and Introducing the Happy Hollows

Epic mountains and deep cliffs. Chilly, Pacific waves. The most gigantic trees I’ve ever seen. Weather so perfect you’ll never see a frizzy hair day again (I can’t be alone on this…). A place where vegetarians aren’t expected to live off the fast food salad option. Ansel Adams. Harvey Milk. The Mamas and the Papas. Kerouac went there. And now, so am I.

It’s been years since I set foot on the West Coast. I was 21 the last time I found myself in California, and life was much, much different. But in three weeks, J.B. and I will be officially setting foot in San Francisco. Our first visit to the home of Full House, this will also be J.B.’s first time on the West. There are a million and one things I want to do while we’re there: go to the North Beach area and check out City Lights Books and all those old hangouts of Ginsberg and Kerouac and the rest, visit the California Academy of Sciences where I can explore a rainforest and learn about the universe and see dinosaur bones all in one trip, the Golden Gate Bridge-beautiful and also one of the most popular suicide spots in the world. We’ll be going to a Giants game (at J.B.’s request) and hopefully hitting up the Mission and the Castro and Chinatown and other neat little neighborhoods. But I think the part of our adventure I’m most excited about is driving down to Big Sur. Considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, Big Sur doesn’t appear to have a bad view in site. Beaches, Redwood forests, breathtaking cliffs. I mean, just look:

Bixby_Creek_Bridge,_The_Big_Sur,_California
Bixby Bridge – Taken from Wikimedia Commons

You know you want to drive down that road. And that’s what we’re going to do. Well, still need to rent the car but we’ve got a nice, little room just 10 minutes away from Pfeiffer Beach, which apparently has, among other things, purple sand. Check it:

pfeiffer beach
Taken from Flickr.com: kptripathi.

And I should have a new phone/camera (possibly the Nokia Lumia 928 – I’ve never had a smart phone before and it seems to be the one with the best camera) by then which will be essential in documenting at least some of this trip (I’m still pretty miffed at the asshole that stole my laptop last year…). Oh, and did I mention this will by 4th of July weekend? So we’re kinda hoping for something a little like this for our Independence Day:

Taken from allsparkfireworks.com
Taken from allsparkfireworks.com

 

Things, despite the bad moments, are on the up and up. J.B. and I have finally moved in to our new little place on the Miami River. We watch gigantic boats float a few meters away, driven by little tug boats on either end. And on Friday nights, since we’ve got a view of Downtown and the Marlins’ Stadium, we get to watch fireworks whenever there’s a home game. It’s these little things that remind me there’s still some magic left in the world. With everything we’ve lost this year, there’s no choice but to keep going. It helps when you finally start noticing the good in things-the sparkle, the shimmer, the hope.

Finally, I leave you with this new find-The Happy Hollows from Los Angeles, California. If you’re on the West Coast, check out one of their upcoming tour dates!

Wanderlusting: Nicaragua’s La Griteria

Image Credit: Flickr user joseferguson
Image Credit: Flickr user joseferguson

The fireworks hadn’t stopped since I arrived at Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua. It was now 6 a.m. on December 7, 2005. It was my second trip to Nicaragua and I couldn’t sleep. Like I said, the fireworks hadn’t stopped.

“Those fireworks, they go on every day starting on the 1st of the month and they basically go on throughout the rest of the year. And on the 7th, you’ll hear them every 6 hours, from 6am through midnight,” my aunt had told me over a breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, and fresh fruit. I never eat as well as I do in Nicaragua, I told myself.

La Griteria is technically a Catholic celebration honoring the Virgin Mary, but that’s not why I wanted to celebrate then and it’s not why I still celebrate it in a way now. The way my mom told it, the reason behind the celebration had to do with a volcano that had errupted somewhere in Nicaragua. The people of the town closest to the volcano ran to the local church and began to pray to the Virgin for a miracle, to stop the volcano from destroying their homes. And a miracle they did receive! Every home and every person was unharmed and so every year, the people gather to celebrate and shout to the heavens their appreciation for La Virgen.

Image Credit: www.teinteresa.es
Image Credit: http://www.teinteresa.es

Most of my Nicaraguan family had stopped celebrating La Griteria or La Purisima (more on that later) after they discovered evangelicism, but my Tia Con still enjoyed it and I wasn’t about to miss out on one of the biggest parties in the country. I knew there was more to it than that, but. My cousin already had the whole thing figured out: we’d walk around the neighborhood with our Tia for the first few hours and then hunt down where the pseudo-after parties were at. Her boyfriend at the time was part owner of a bar down the road from her house; he’d know what to do and where to go.

That afternoon, we began to hear the chants of the chavalas and chavalos grow as they congregated in the cobblestone streets. Up and down the neighborhood, people set up their personal altars to the virgin Mary, keeping their doors open for los gritos to begin. At 6 p.m. on the dot, the fireworks began to really fly, competing with the locals shouting, “Quien cuasa tanta alegria?!” (“Who causes so much joy?!”) to which one responds, “La concepcion de Maria!” (“The Virgin Mary’s conception!”). Clouds of smoke took over the evening sky as we finally made our way out the door and into the masses.

As the households opened up, people holding plastic bags and pillow cases walked up much the same way American children trick-or-treat on Halloweens. The older women would sing the typical songs sung at Purisimas while the kids eagerly waited to be handed wooden noisemakers, pieces of sugar cane, coconuts, cajetas, and other sweet treats. Others would chant the catchphrase of the eve and await a bag of rice or beans to fall in to their open sacks. People would comment to one another about the different altars, adorned with twinkling holiday lights, cotton balls for clouds, cardboard painted blue for skies, glitter, and flowers of all kinds.And every now and again, you’d even catch a glimpse of a Gignatona or an Enano Cabezon, like the ones below:

It reminded me of childhood, of going out into the main squares in Sweetwater, the Miami neighborhood I grew up in, and attending their version of La Griteria. It brought me back to my old Catholic days, when my parents would take me for the mass at La Divina Providencia Catholic Church, where hundreds of people would gather outside yearly on uncomfortable chairs for hours just to pray and give thanks to the Virgin Mary. And when the mass was over, the local Nicaraguan owned shops (and there are plenty in Sweetwater) opened their doors just like the people of Managua and Leon and Granada and Corinto and all of Nicaragua, singing the songs of the old matronly women, handing out the same sugar cane, the same coconuts that they grew up with.

A bit more toned down than the Nicaraguan festivities, but still with a lot of heart.

It made me nostalgic for my Mama Adilia, my father’s mother, whose Virgin Mary statue was always a source of curiosity for me as a kid. When my Mama Adilia was still around, the families would hold yearly Purisimas, which tie in to La Griteria. The Purisimas involve more prayer and singing, and are held in private homes with invited guests, usually on the day following La Griteria. In our family’s Americanized version of these traditions, the gifts also began to vary and it was not uncommon to find Magic 8 Balls and wind-up cars for the kids in place of the humble matraca. After my grandmother passed, the Purisimas stopped. The Catholicism ceased. And there was always a gap in the family that just couldn’t be filled.

But traditions, they can outlive the rest of us. And maybe this was why the people sang, I thought to myself. Maybe this was why even the poorest of people did what they could to get involved in the celebration. They were singing for those who were there before them, and singing with their children so they knew where they came from, and maybe they were even holding on to the possibility of miracles like the one that happened in that church near the volcano.

Or maybe it was just the fireworks.

That could be it too.

Day Tripping: Lakeridge Winery

Day Tripping: Lakeridge Winery

JB and I have been living in Central Florida now for a couple of months, and while the start was incredibly rocky, we’ve recently begun venturing out and exploring our surroundings like all adventurous folks should. I’ve always been of the mindset that every place you go has something to offer, so we’ve started taking little day trips around the neighborhood and to surrounding towns to prove just that.

On November 8-10, Lakeridge Winery opened its doors to the public for it’s 22nd Annual Holiday Open House. The winery, located in Clermont (population 29k and a good hours drive from our own hamlet, Sanford), is the largest in the state. Never having been to a winery before, I brought up the idea to JB and we were on the road soon after. Upon exiting the turnpike, one needs to only drive a short distance until you see the vineyards among this hilly and fairly isolated part of Florida. The place was fairly busy and we decided it would be wisest to cut to the chase and go straight for the free tour. It starts with a short video about the history of the winery and then some nice lady (or gentleman) herds the masses through a platform that overlooks the outdoor vineyard.

Yours truly enjoying the view at the winery.

We took a few more pictures but our camera batteries died pretty early on.

Afterward, you take a 30 second stroll through that walkway above the production area which leads you out into gift shop, which at the time was a complete madhouse. We walked around outside and then got to the wine tasting portion of the tour. I believe we sampled a total of about 8 wines, reds and whites and a blush, most of which were served chilled. My personal favorites were the Blanc du Bois (crisp and not too sweet) and the Cuvee Noir, which was exceptionally smooth (and which we still have a bottle of in our kitchen).

Holiday shopping mayhem and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet!

Once the tasting was over, we headed out to the food and entertainment area. While the vegetarian pickings were a bit slim, I was able to get the gyro lady to make me a veggie and cheese pita that was actually pretty phenomenal. The band played a whole lot of southern rock and after walking around the craft booths, we decided we might as well do another wine tasting (I swear I was still trying to pick which was my favorite!)

Oh, we also got to take an extra goofy photo of us standing inside a grape basket.

D’awwwww.

It’s not a good day unless you were willing to embarrass yourself a little at some point, right? Er.. right.

The only negative about the day is they wouldn’t open the bottle we bought from them while on the property. If you’re thinking of visiting and don’t want to end up paying too much by the glass, I’d suggest buying one of their bottles and bringing your own opener. It may be a bit out of your regular daytrip route, but i’d say it’s definitely worth the trip.

Lakeridge Winery’s next big shindig happens December 8th and 9th – this time it’s their Wine and Chocolate Festival. Drool-worthy, indeed!