Tooling Along on our Trail Bikes

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

Heading into this July 4th holiday weekend, we didn’t have much lined up in terms of plans, however we knew we wanted to get out on our bikes again. Our friends, Sue and Sean, were also around. Hurray! Let the planning begin! We looked at the weather and picked Saturday as the best day for our ride. Although we have talked about a number of trail options (and have a long list of places we want to ride), we weren’t set on where to go. We ended up choosing the Michael Castle Trail (in Delaware) and the Ben Cardin Trail (in Maryland), which Sue and Sean had ridden last year.

St. Georges Trail Head, Delaware

St. Georges Trail Head, Delaware

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

The Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

We picked the trail head at St. Georges, which had plenty of parking and bathroom facilities. It was very straightforward to find coming from our house, and took about an hour and a half to get there. We were met by the views of the soaring bridges and the beautiful canal right away. After lubbing up with sunscreen, we set off for Maryland and the Ben Cardin Trail. The trail was not super wide, but it was paved and flat. And, while the parking lot was pretty full, the trail itself never felt crowded.

The Canal

The Canal

We were surprised it wasn’t, as it was a lovely day to be out. Everyone we passed was very friendly, which we all noticed. We enjoyed watching the mostly speed boats out on the canal as we tooled along. A couple miles in, we needed to track away from the canal and that’s where we hit a couple of hills. Shortly after that, we were back along the water and heading into a segment of trail that was rocks, gravel, and dirt. Thank goodness Sue had ridden it before and knew it was a definite trail bike trail. A few areas were so rocky, I was sure even the trail bike would have trouble, but it didn’t. Or, rather, I didn’t.

Michael_Castle_Trail_Trail and Canal View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the Many Bridges Along the Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

One of the Many Bridges Along the Michael Castle Trail, Delaware

We arrived in Maryland to literally zero fanfare. No “Welcome to Maryland” or “Delaware Looks Forward to Seeing You Really Soon, When you Return to Get your Car” signs or mileposts marked the change. There was a small sign that noted the end of the Michael Castle Trail, but that was it.

 

 

The trail along the Ben Cardin was also paved and a bit wider and was noteworthy for the benches that periodically dotted the way. There were port-a-potties at the end of trail at Chesapeake City. It was a cute trail head. We stopped and walked around a bit. It was about a 10.5 mile ride from the car.

The Ben Cardin Trail, Chesapeake City, MD Trail Head

The Ben Cardin Trail, Chesapeake City, MD Trail Head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The return ride seemed to go a lot faster, which is always the case. Especially when you rode out the 10 with a headwind. After loading up the bikes, we went into Delaware City. We found a great restaurant, Crabby Dick’s, with nice views of the water and had a delicious lunch. We once again have more of the trail to ride, (and another excuse to come back to this area). The piece going further into Delaware from our St. George’s starting point. We were exceedingly happy with our 21 miles and overall delightful day.

All Smiles After Great Ride!

All Smiles After Great Ride!

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Bonus Day Fun

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. So long, in fact, that one of my fellow HoCo bloggers introduced me tonight as a retired blogger. Very funny, HoCoConnect! Because I have had such a good “Leap Day” and not because I was guilted into it, I am inspired to get back to my blog. (Smile)

Tonight, the HoCo Bloggers were invited to enjoy a meal at the new Nalley Fresh Restaurant, which is in the Dobbin Center plaza near Performance Bikes. Nalley Fresh offers a “Chipotle-style” make your own salad, wrap, or bowl. I think one of the more unique offerings, and there are several here, is the sweet potato base for your bowl. I did not try it, because I was drawn to the salad. There is a wall of lettuce options, and I asked to have a romaine and spring mix combination. From there I had to choose a protein, which wasn’t easy. The beef looked fabulous. There was shrimp and salmon, and three styles of chicken, and I was stuck in the land of too many choices. It was temporary. One of the very friendly staff members had told me to ask for a small taste of the protein to make sure I’d like it. So, I asked to try the plain, grilled chicken. It was OK, but I wasn’t sold on it. So, I took a chance on the whisky chicken. I proceeded to the next friendly server and picked a bunch of my favorite salad veggies, then skipped the cheese (as I do) and asked for ranch dressing on the side. I was offered a piece of nutty bread, which I accepted. It was a delicious salad if I do say so myself. It was very obvious why fresh is in the name. It was super fresh. On top of a great meal, John really liked the wrap he chose, too, it was fun to meet new bloggers and chat with the regulars. (I’m going to have a lot connecting to do on social media after I get this post up.)

I was happy to get to tell JessieX in person that I love her new blog series, The Uber Chronicles. It is so perfectly her. I was so energized by her excitement and our conversation that I’m sure that is also propelling me to write this post.

Earlier today I was able to get in one more Masters swim practice for February, and it ended up being about 500 more yards than the coach actually wrote for us. Note to self: It’s time to grab your prescription goggles so you can read what is actually written on the white board. It was a happy problem on a bonus day!

Go check out Nalley Fresh for yourself. You may even run into this guy:

Chef Nalley at the New Columbia, MD Nalley Fresh Location

And, if you’re lucky, there will be live music and you’ll catch him playing a mean harmonica.

#hocoblogs

 

Not So Picky After All

A "Green Bag" from Whole Foods

A “Green Bag” from Whole Foods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned something quite astonishing about myself this past evening. I’m still in a bit of shock. John was also amazed when I told him the news. It happened during a food tasting event. I was invited to attend the exclusive sneak peek tasting of the new menu offerings at The Counter. The Counter is the in-store diner at the Whole Foods Market in downtown Columbia, MD.

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter "Counter Fave"

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter “Counter Fave”


I am not a adventurous eater. In fact, I’m a straight up picky eater, who tries to act like a normal eater. I can pick the smallest particle of black olive from an empanada with my eyes (partially) closed. I can remove onion or pepper pieces from just about any dish with the surgical precision of a brain surgeon. I rarely order anything off a menu that I don’t modify in some way. And this picky gal found herself at a food sampling party. It was great. I ate breakfast sandwiches with cheese on them (I don’t eat cheese on any sandwich unless it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.) But that wasn’t even the amazing part. I ate braised kale and caramelized kielbasa. My husband is Polish and can attest to my non-sausage eating ways. But, this breakfast sandwich, called “Counter Fave,” was very tasty. Another, “The Biscuit” was also very good, and it had fried spinach and chipotle remoulade.

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter "The Biscuit"

Breakfast Sandwich at The Counter “The Biscuit”

I tried everything, as if I wasn’t a picky eater. Next up was Southwest Tofu and aged Cheddar Scramble. Yes! I ate Tofu! I ate kale and tofu and everything had cheese on it. It was really good. I’d order it and eat it again.

The Scrambler Breakfast at The Counter Southwest Tofu and Aged Cheddar Scramble

The Scrambler Breakfast at The Counter Southwest Tofu and Aged Cheddar Scramble

Another shockingly delightful offering I couldn’t believe I ate and really liked is from the lunch and dinner menu. It is the Avocado Tacos. Deep fried avocados, cabbage slaw, chipotle remoulade in a soft tortilla shell. The avocado has a plain breading and is deep fried. It has the most interesting and tasty textural contrast with the cabbage slaw. It’s a must try, if you’ve never had anything like it before. The chef who was introducing the samples told me that it is a customer favorite and was rolled over from the previous menu. So, you are in luck if it was one of your favorites.

Avocado Tacos at The Counter

Avocado Tacos at The Counter

For me, the best sample of the event, was the “Columbia Burger.” It is a blend of short rib and ground chuck. It was served with caramelized onions, mushrooms, special sauce on a Brioche Roll. I did not remove the onion. It was delicious. It was so delicious. I highly recommend trying it. The Counter also offers desserts. But what caught my eye was that they serve Milkshakes and MALTS. Yes, malts.  And, it is very hard to find malts around here. And an awesome malt…well, let’s just say, I’m in the Market for one (no pun intended!). I am looking forward to pairing one of those awesome burgers with a chocolate malt. 

The Columbia Burger at The Counter in Downtown Columbia, MD

The Columbia Burger at The Counter in Downtown Columbia, MD

The evening was obviously all about the new menu offerings, but I was equally if not more impressed with the Whole Foods Market Chefs and marketing team. They eagerly and thoroughly explained every item, answered questions, and made sure everyone had a chance to sample everything. It was an absolute joy to be there. I am grateful to have been invited to this sneak peek and can’t wait to bring my family back for dinner.

 

@HoCoBlogs

A Winter Trip to Buffalo, Yes, Please!

Beautiful Canal and Bridge, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Beautiful Canal and Bridge, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Thinking of taking a trip to the Buffalo/Niagara area, why not do so over the winter?

Yes, I just suggested that you should plan a trip to one of the reputed snowiest places in the U.S. that is not known for its skiing. To the very city where, on November 18, 2014 , a heavy snowstorm left a 7 to 8 foot swath of snow, courtesy of Lake Erie, on neighborhoods and highways in Buffalo suburbs in surgical fashion. The places that were hit, were hit hard. Others just minutes away got a dusting. The snow has long since melted. We were trekking up to visit family just after Christmas. The weather was mild and perfect for travel.

Most of the folks I know that go to Buffalo, go to visit family or have planned a family vacation to Niagara Falls. That is all well and good. However, I want to give you an awesome tip on a fun, family vacation in which Buffalo is THE, if not A destination, as well. There are plenty of fun things to do there now, including skating, curling, or biking (yes, I wrote biking. Ice biking, to be specific) on the new and recently opened Canalside ice rink. It is, as they say,  “on fleek”; awesome and amazing and wonderful all at once. I was very eager to skate on the rink, as soon as I saw pictures of it. I found, tried on, and then packed my skates. I was so excited.

Canalside Ice Rink When Closed.

Canalside Ice Rink When Closed.

Unfortunately (and fortunately all at the same time), the weather was very mild. It was too mild to skate on Saturday. The rink was closed, but because we were going to the Buffalo Sabres hockey game that night, we went downtown early to check out the recently developed Canalside area and the new HarborCenter. We walked around the waterfront and then ambled over to where the ice rink is located. It looked really nice and was a good size. We walked around it and moved on to our next stop: the new (716) Food and Sport restaurant in the HarborCenter that John really wanted to try. (716 is the area code for Buffalo.)

We had heard from family members that the restaurant is a huge hit and there is usually a wait. So, we thought we had planned accordingly. We got to Canalside around 3:00 PM and wandered around. There were a lot of people everywhere. This is a complete change from before the downtown redevelopment started. It used to be more like a ghost town than a destination.

But, clearly, it has become a destination. We walked over to (716) to put our names on the list at about 3:30/3:45 PM. There was a line of people snaking around under a pop up tent outside the door. As we were getting our bearings and finding our way into the line, we heard the young lady with the clipboard saying, “There is a three to four hour wait for a table at this time.” Wut?

Yes, she said that. Our perfectly planned outing hit another snafu…the first being the ice rink was closed due to the mild weather. It was not going to work for us to get a table, eat and make it to the hockey game on time.

Waterfront, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Waterfront, Buffalo, NY December 2014

 

Happily, with the help of John’s sisters and a nephew, we were able to find another restaurant that could seat us almost right away. We ate at the Liberty Hound, a quaint restaurant situated in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, at the original terminus of the historic Erie Canal. Afterwards, we walked over to the First Niagara Center for the game. It was a great game, which ended in a Buffalo win in a shootout.

 

Canalside Ice Rink Open! Buffalo, NY December 2014

Canalside Ice Rink Open! Buffalo, NY December 2014

Fast forward to Sunday. We found out that the rink was going to be open that afternoon. Hurrah! I was very excited, although some in our party were less than thrilled with the idea of going ice skating–at first. As soon as we got there and saw the throngs of people, the excitement spread through our party.

All Smiles!

All Smiles!

The ice was filled with people skating. We saw the ice bikes and they looked fun and manageable. We also saw a group getting a curling lesson and really wanted in on that activity. It was almost too much to take in, but we focused and found our ticket line. It seemed really long, but it went really fast. There was such a steady turnover of skaters that we hardly noticed the wait. I had my skates, but everyone else needed to wait in a second line to get their skates. That line didn’t take long either, thankfully. John zipped over to (716) to put our name on the list again and was told there was a 2 hour wait, which was perfect for us to skate then head over.

 

We all had so much fun on the ice. It was a blast. Some of us hadn’t skated for several years, so we were lucky to stay on our feet the whole time.

Happy Skaters!

Happy Skaters!

 

 

 

 

 

The entry fee and rental fees were very reasonable. I wished we had more time to take the curling lesson and to try the ice bikes. But, just about the time when we were starting to get fatigued, John got the text from (716) that our table was ready. Alyssa was able to get her skates off and sprint over to the restaurant first, to ensure we didn’t lose the table. The rest of us moved as quickly as we could to get there too. And, we were not disappointed. The food was fantastic. I had a house salad with steak on it that was delicious. There is no doubt that we will get back to Canalside on our next visit, and we highly recommend it – even in the winter.

 

Me and John Skating Together, Canalside Buffalo, NY

Me and John Skating Together, Canalside Buffalo, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canalside Ice Rink at Night Buffalo, NY December 2014

Canalside Ice Rink at Night
Buffalo, NY
December 2014

 

Money Saving Tips for Swimmers

Indoor Pool

Indoor Pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s that time again. Many folks are starting indoor swim programs, including high school teams, year round club teams (age group and Masters), lessons and Aqua fitness classes. For all of you who are going to be hitting the pool for exercise, competition, or just any day fun, here are some tips to help you save money.

 The Swim Suit – Usually the most expensive piece of “equipment” for swimming.

A) Fabric:You want to buy the best suit for your needs. How often are in the pool? If you are swimming one or two times a week, you are probably okay purchasing a suit that is made of Lycra. However, if you are in a pool that is heavily chlorinated and/or you are swimming more than two times a week, you should strongly consider purchasing a polyester suit. Each of the major swim suit manufacturers: Speedo, TYR, Dolfin, Nike, and Arena have a polyester suit option. These suits may cost a little more up front, but they more than make up for it in the length of wear you can get out of them.

B) Care: I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog post (you can read it here), but it can’t be said enough: rinse your suits in cold water and hang them to dry. Do not use detergents, rinses or soap. Do not machine wash or machine dry. Just don’t do it. Your suit will last longer if it is properly cared for.

C) Wear/Fit: The fit of your suit also plays a role in the longevity of your suits’ life. Wear a suit that fits snugly and does not have wrinkles or extra fabric hanging around. Avoid suits with significant gaps between the suit and your skin. There are many, many suit types and styles. Find one that fits your body to a T. Proper fitting suits last longer than ill fitting ones.

A Handful of Practice Suits

A Handful of Practice Suits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Goggles 

Wearing goggles is a must for lap swimmers. Finding a comfortable and well-fitting pair is essential to an optimal swim experience. Again, there are a multitude of styles and types. Clear or lightly shaded lenses are appropriate for indoor swimming. Mirrored and/or darkly shaded lenses are desirable for outdoor swimming. The key is finding a pair that fits your face. They are not one size/type fits all. Try them on before you buy them. If you wear glasses or contacts, you will likely want to consider prescription goggles. These are more affordable and available than ever before. Visit your local swim shop to see if it offers what you need. I could write an entire post on googles alone. Maybe one day, but for the purpose of this post find a pair that fits and will be comfortable to wear for the length of time you plan to wear them. Then, take care of them.

Don’t put your fingers in the eye pieces to wipe away the fog. Don’t spit in them or roll your tongue around in them. (Yes, this is a “thing.”).  And, don’t spend a ton of money buying “Anti-Fog” solutions and cloths. Most goggles say they are anti-fog. It lasts about a week, if that. My solution is to make an anti-fog mix of your own. (Note: This was told to me by a friend long ago. I can’t remember who. Was it you? Let me know and I’ll give you the credit for this fun swim hack.)  

Anti-Fog Goggles and Baby Shampoo

Anti-Fog Goggles and Baby Shampoo

In a spray bottle of your choosing (I used an old hair product bottle that I washed out), put about 1 to 2 parts Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and add about 10 parts water. Shake it gently before use. Spray the solution into your goggles before you start swimming, dip your goggles once into the pool, then put them on. You should have fog free lenses for most if not all of your practice. You can repeat this process as often as needed.

Keeping your fingers (and tongues) out of the eye pieces will extend their wear. Using this inexpensive anti-fog mix will also allow you to get longer wear from your goggles.

 

 

Swim Bags

The best way to extend the life of a swim bag is to allow it to dry as quickly as possible after it gets wet. This means that if you shove your wet suit rolled up in your wet towel into your swim bag after practice, make sure you pull it out as soon as you get home and hang the suit to dry (you rinsed it in cold water or showered in it at the pool, right?). Leave your swim bag open so the inside can dry completely. Moldy swim bags are gross.
You may also want to consider having two bags, one for clothes, towels, toiletries, and one for your equipment: fins, pull buoys, paddles, caps, and goggles: all the equipment that gets wet, but dries quickly. I use two bags. A backpack for toiletries and dry clothes and towel and a mesh bag for all of the above mentioned equipment.

 

I hope you find these money saving tips helpful! Let me know if you have other ideas. I’d be happy to pass them along in a future post. 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Rail Trail Ride in Western Maryland

 

Well, the Empty Nesters were at it again! We had wanted to do the second half of the Western Maryland Rail Trail this summer, so we took advantage of the kids being away visiting college friends this weekend to do it.

The weather was perfect — mid 70's and sunny. We jumped onto the trail in Hancock, MD at one of the trail parking lots. The lot was probably a half mile before the spot we turned around the first time we rode the first half of the trail. This Rail Trail trail is paved and flat, so think non-stop pedaling.

There were not many people on the trail at all today. The last ride we took on this trail (from Big Pool to Hancock) was on a week day and there weren't many folks on it then. So, I expected more weekend warriors on the trail, but, alas it was mostly couples probably more just a hair older than us. But, overall, around our age. The trail was peaceful and only the sound of nature could be heard. It was beautiful. It was completely wooded. While we could hear the traffic and see glimpses of route 70 on the first leg, this part of the trail was nothing but nature. I was on the lookout for black bears the whole time. They are found in great numbers (or at least high-ish numbers) in this area.

I never saw one. I guess I should be happy about that. But, we did enjoy the scenic views with tree-covered mountains in the background. We made it to the end of the trail from Hancock in about and hour and 15 minutes. So, round trip took us 2 ½ hours. We stopped and took water and stretch breaks, but by the end we were both ready to be done. I posted a 25.42 mile ride on my Map My Run mobile phone app. Yowza. That was a longer ride than I thought we'd do, but we Empty Nesters are tough. And when the going gets tough, we get really quiet and our focus intense as we try to get back to the car before we fall over (which we managed to do!).

 

 

From the Farmer’s Market to the Farm

Farmer's Market Lettuce

@HoCoBlogs

There has been much blogging and tweeting about buying local, buying fresh and supporting local farms. Today, I decided to jump on the farm stand bandwagon and went to the Farmer's Market at the Oakland Mills Village Center. I made it there about a half hour before it closed.

There were pros and cons to arriving so late, but I was determined to check it out. The main pro was that it was not as crowded as I'm sure it was earlier, so I could visit each stand and easily see what each had. The obvious con was that there were a lot of empty slots. I settled on broccoli from one stand, a large bag of mixed lettuce from another, and cookies from A Bite of Heaven, that we had for dessert. They were very tasty. I really liked the Snickerdoodles. It was a safe start. I came straight home and had a big salad for lunch. It was delicious, as one would expect.

Our “Perfect” Strawberries, Picked by Us

As if my big outing to the Farmer's Market wasn't adventurous enough, my mom and I talked ourselves into heading out to Larriland Farm for the “pick your own strawberries.” Alyssa was eager to join the fun, so off we went. There were a lot of folks in the fields. We picked about two rows and headed back to the main farm to pick our own spinach. We were on a roll!

This character was at Larriland Farm. He was not too interested in posing for this photo, but I took one anyway.

We had another big salad with our dinner that included some of the spinach from Larriland and a bunch of vegetables either sold out or not available yet from the farm stands. Delicious! I think I'm sold on making the extra trip to the farmer's markets.

I thought about what prevents (or has prevented) me from actively participating in farmer's market shopping. Three things popped into my mind: 1) I never carry cash and I assume that farmers will only take cash; 2) There isn't one on my beaten path, so I have to plan to make a trip to one; and 3) I've not really shopped at farmer's markets much, so it's hard to know who has the best produce. I'm sure it could be argued that there is no bad produce at a farm stand. But, I think just that little unknown has held me back. After today, however, I am more willing than ever to become a frequent shopper at these markets and farms.