Tuesday, July 28, 2009

biscuits, babies and brunch


We literally haven't been doing anything fun or exciting for the past few days. Mainly work, work and more work.

For those that didn't know, I (Ashley) recently started a new job within Syngenta handling internal communications. The new job is a great step towards my ultimate career goal of science writing and communications; but right now its really busy. Actually, to say it's really busy is an understatement. Its insane; but I asked for it so secretly, no matter how crazy it gets, I love it.

Casey's job is just as hectic. This past week, he was on a business trip and went on a version of Le Tour, but instead of Le Tour de France, he went on the Le Tour de South Carolina in his truck. Not nearly as glamorous. He's been working hard drumming up business for his company and sales guys with new projects happening right and left.

Also, our house-cleaner moved back to Wisconsin. That's really just rubbing salt in the wound!

To top it off, we've also re-started the "no sweets except on Sundays" policy; which has yet to last a full seven days. This means, on top of being crazy busy with our BlackBerries surgically attached to our hands in a house that reeks of dog hair and dust, we've also been cranky from either: 1) Sugar withdrawals or 2) Guilty consciences from sneaking Skittles when no one is looking.

So-- I tell you all of this this to say: WE NEEDED A BREAK. We capitalized on this weekend to catch up on some much needed R&R. This meant: BlackBerries in hibernation, kayaks hung back on their precisely-engineered (thanks, Casey) pulley system racks, no biking, running, hiking or otherwise tiring activities and no plans. It was fabulous. Really.

Saturday, we got up and tried out a new restaurant near NCSU. We had breakfast at the Flying Biscuit Cafe. (Sue, this was in honor of you!) For those that are unfamiliar with this Atlanta-born cafe: it's a hipster-esque, quaint, little restaurant in Cameron Village that serves a "healthy" and fresh version of breakfast all day (but with less sodium and bacon grease than Cracker Barrel). Overall, the food was pretty good (buttermilk pancakes and egg over easy with tomatillo salsa and blackbean cake) but it was SLAMMED and Casey says that his biscuit was sorely undercooked and gooey.

Afterwards, we took a trip to the NC State Farmers' Market and Whole Foods. We've been really trying to stick by a couple of policies surrounding our purchases lately:
  • Buy Local when possible
  • Buy fresh, whole foods (read: no Cheetos, processed Lean Cuisines or frozen burritos-- much to my dismay)
  • Buy environmentally sustainable products when possible (cleaning products, household goods, etc.).
Shopping at the Farmers Market each weekend enables us to meet two of the three criteria. After all that public interaction (it wears us out!) we took a nap and cooked a delicious new recipe for dinner. We should also mention that the Johnston County farmers grow some of the best canteloupe ever.

Sunday, we took brunch over to see our favorite set of triplets and their parents-- Eva and Jay. We can't say enough good things about the Melameds. They're the closest thing to family we have nearby and their kids are really cute. The Trips have moved to pureed foods now, so we got to help out with the lunchtime feeding of macerated chicken, cauliflower and apples. Yum. After we got home, we spent a little time picking up the dumpster that is our home and lounged.

See, I told you we didn't do anything fun. We're heading to see Harry Potter this weekend in IMAX and saying goodbye to our good friends James and Amy Goody (collectively called "The Goodys) who are moving to Texas next week.

PS: Where are the comments? I know we have more than just our parents and Sue reading... anybody out there?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Neuse River Day Trip


Today we took a trip down the Neuse River in the kayaks - the first time on the river with the new boats, and the first time off of flat water. Ashley, in her yet-to-be-named pink boat, and I, in the trusty "Cooper II," set off right below the Falls Dam at the south end of Falls Lake for an eleven-mile paddle. We were excited to go and expecting good things - the weather was fantastic, low humidity and such, and with the rain last night the river looked to be sufficiently high and swift enough to avoid bottoming out. As we were told by the guys at Paddle Creek (the kayak/canoe shop across from the dam, who frequently lead tours), "bro, the river is at like 250 right now!" We have no clue what this meant, but with such enthusiasm it had to be good.


Luckily, the excitable canoe guide was right - the river was running clear, and for the most part, moving at a decent pace and depth. There were a few shallow spots (the Neuse doesn't really widen up until you get closer to the coast), a good amount of logs, and a few small rapids. Although there's certainly no whitewater, there are enough obstacles in the water to keep things interesting. FYI, here is the rating system for river/rapid difficulty.

As I stated above, we did an 11-mile section of the Neuse, which is easily accessible from City of Raleigh launches, and about as far as you can go in Wake Co. without portaging around a dam. Unfortunately, we don't have many pictures because we don't have a waterproof camera, and aren't too quick getting the camera we do have out of a dry bin. We did see several blue herons and some larger raptors - hawks, ospreys, and what looked like a falcon (though I doubt that's what it was). There are a few old pumping stations, abandoned since the construction of new water system intake pipes and treatment plants, and several storm runoff lines flowing in - though the river is visually clean.

The City of Raleigh maintains the paddle launches (quite well, by the way), and their map and website are here. Next, we'll probably try out the Eno River (near Durham) and South Fork River (near McAdenville).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Catch-up

It's been way too long since we posted anything, but we've been busy going all around the state for the last month! So let's go in chronological order:

Beach Trip-lets
A few weekends ago we went down to Emerald Isle with all five Melameds and some other friends and family. We had a house full of crazy with nine adults, three infants, two dogs, two kayaks, and one motorboat. It was a surprisingly relaxing and low-stress weekend, and Jay and Casey got the Melamed boat running (after a three-year layup). The highlight and downfall of the trip was the short boat trip we took through sound, which was the triplets' first time out on the water. The hardest part was getting the Trips' into their lifejackets (akin to stuffing a 15-lb sausage into a nylon casing) , but after that they went to sleep with the humming of the engine as we rode along the channel. Zev didn't have a great day in general, but you can't blame him too much - it was hot, sunny, and his bottle was too cold. We did anchor for a bit and let the babies "swim" with assisstance, which they loved. The warm water felt great, and as long as you watched out for oyster shells, it was nice to wade around in. Further trips are definitely warranted.

Ashley Birthday
Fourth of July weekend we went down to McAdenville to celebrate Ashley's birthday with her Dad, Mom and family.On her B-day we went out on Mountain Island Lake (right south of Lake Norman) with cousin Anna and her husband Billy, who ferried us out there on their boat for a relaxing afternoon. We mostly just cruised around - it was a fantastically pristine lake, not at all like Lake Norman or Lake Wylie - saw some wildlife, and stopped briefly on a sandbar to let their two dachshunds out to play.

That evening we had Ashley's birthday dinner at Joe's house, where the menu consisted of skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, rosemary-lemon grilled chicken, grilled squash and zucchini, and a field green salad with creamy lemon-chive vinagrette. We had a good wine from Rag Apple Lassie vineyards , and finished off the meal with a birthday cake and ice cream (Brenda's in Belmont is now highly recommended).

The next day we went back up to Winston for Evan's graduation party, which was highlighted by the attendance of one Mr. John Gruenfelders, a Swiss-born friend and guest of Leah's family. It was not just John's presence, but the interaction between he and Granny that made the occasion. To recall, it went something like this:

John: "Hello, I am John, very nice to meet you."
Granny: "Ooh! You've got an accent! Where are you from?"
John: "Well... it is near Germany..."
Granny: "Ooh, Italy? (No.) Austria? (No.) France? (No). Holland?
John: "No, Switzerland!"
Granny: "Ooh, can you speak some Swiss!? You know, I love The Sound of Music - have you seen it? Do you remember World War Two? You know, that family just escaped right over the border away from the Germans and...

The conversation went on and on, both of them seeming to enjoy it, as they were still seated at the same table when we left two hours later.

We drove back to McAdenville for Michael's birthday celebration, but didn't get to partake because he was Shanghai'd to Tennessee in an attempt to surprise him. That's all we'll say about that.

After that, we headed up the Lincolnton to check out "Ashley's Birthday Fireworks" with the Cook clan. In all seriousness, the city of Lincolnton has the most elaborate fireworks display that I've ever seen. It probably rivals those of D.C. or New York, although really much fancier on a per capita basis. We enjoyed our seventh serving of birthday cake for the day with Karen, Carson, and Jerry, and then called it a night.

Kayak Purchase
When we were down in McAdenville we noticed that several stores were having kayak sales over the Holiday weekend, and we had been in the market for a while - so we went ahead and took the plunge (horrible pun intended). After we got back home and a Raleigh store agreed to match prices we saw down near Charlotte, we got two single boats, one slightly larger for that extra Cooper-carrying capacity that sometimes you just gotta have. We also got the requisite safety equipment and paddles.

Initial Kayak Trip
We took the yak-yaks out this weekend on Lake Crabtree for a try-out. It's about a 225-acre lake, so not too bad for paddling around on Saturday, plus we could get a feel for everything before we go down some rapid rivers. First off, kayaking is a LOT OF FUN. We just tooled around for about two hours, and had a blast. It was extremely windy out there, so the water was choppy enough to be slightly challenging. The lake itself is too close to the airport and RTP to have too much wildlife (save for a few herons, ducks, and catfish, but it's still a great little refuge in the middle of an otherwise developed area. The park is primarily attended for one of the best off-road cycling trails around Raleigh, but there are plenty of small sailboats, kite fliers, and canoe and kayak paddlers out too.

We had enough fun Saturday that we went out Sunday too. Cooper will give his impressions as soon as we find his lifejacket and can take him out.

We plan to spend the next few weekends at home-- finally finishing up that bathroom project and home projects that we've been backshelving for the past year. This coming weekend, though, we plan to take a day paddle down the Neuse or Eno Rivers. Also, we're heading out to see Bruno with the Melameds, Cecelia and other friends. We've been neglecting them all for so long; we are having to relearn how to interact with others besides each other for a while :)

By the way, if you have good boat names for the kayaks, please leave them in the comments!