Hiking with Hermione: Cole/Cold Mountain

The weather this weekend was pretty ridiculous. It’s the middle of July and in Newport News the high was only 75 degrees both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday we took care of some things around the apartment, and then I went shopping & Graham went to play golf. Sunday, we had planned to go to the beach, but we decided to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and go hiking. We packed our stuff up and made another three-hour drive to central Virginia to the George Washington National Forest. We took a trail that linked up with the Appalachian Trail and took us to Cole Mountain (also known as Cold Mountain). The trail was difficult, but incredibly beautiful. So, let’s get started!

First, how cute is our passenger? She’s always adorable, but with her tongue sticking out she’s seriously the cutest dog ever.2014-07-20 11.53.57-2She’s also impatient. Graham had to tie his shoe,  and she was not happy about waiting. 2014-07-20 01.08.292014-07-20 02.00.52We passed a couple of these really cool walls made of stones. I’m going to pretend that they’re made for historic reasons… like land boundaries, or something to do with the Civil War, and not just made by weird people who like arranging rocks in the middle of the woods.
2014-07-20 01.46.27 After about 3.5 miles, we finally got out of the trees for a minute and saw some beautiful mountain scenery. While the temperature felt amazing (when my cell phone signal came back, I learned it was in the 60′s!!!), I hate that it wasn’t a bright, sunny day. But even overcast, it was still beautiful out there.
2014-07-20 02.55.452014-07-20 02.56.47The hike was really, really difficult. Lot’s of elevation changes. I wanted to quit about 5 times. What made it worse is that I really, really had to pee, so I wasn’t drinking as much water as I usually do. But Graham had to be all logical and remind me that it would be a longer walk back to the car. So I stuck it out. The wildflowers on the side of the trail were pretty though. Focusing on the colors took my mind off the burning in my calves and my bladder. 2014-07-20 03.54.492014-07-20 04.01.572014-07-20 02.54.02
Finally, we got to the top. The top was different from any other hike we’ve ever done. It still had unbelievably beautiful views, but instead of a small peak, we were welcome by massive amounts of rolling hills, wildflowers and 360 degree views. What is even better is that we were the only ones up there. And we were up there for at least 30 minutes taking pictures and relaxing. Hermione loved it. She ran around and explored and sniffed and collapsed in the grass to just roll around. 2014-07-20 16.37.10-12014-07-20 03.38.382014-07-20 04.01.26

A few months ago I bought a tripod for my new camera. It’s really lightweight, so Graham strapped it to his backpack and we brought it with us. We love a good selfie, but sometimes it’s nice to get some of our surroundings in the photos, and not just close-ups of our faces. Graham set the timer before I was ready. He ran over to me while I had my High School Musical hairbrush in my hand (don’t hate…) and was definitely not ready. So this happened…2014-07-20 03.43.35

And I promise I’m not flipping anyone off…2014-07-20 03.49.202014-07-20 04.07.35Once we were finished, we packed out stuff back up and continued our hike back to the car, and the scenery just got more and more beautiful.
2014-07-20 04.08.522014-07-20 04.11.58 We were really close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and since we were in no real hurry to get home, we took that all the way back to I-64. It was absolutely gorgeous. As much as I loved our life in Arkansas, the scenery there doesn’t come close to what we have on the East Coast. They are home of the World Cheese Dip Championship though, so it’s still a draw as to which state I like better ;)2014-07-20 05.47.12

 

Recipe: Buffalo Chicken Pizza

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Almost five years ago, my mom & I roadtripped up to Boston for the week. We had such a wonderful time seeing historic sights and visiting so many beautiful places. But by far, my favorite part of the trip was eating a buffalo chicken pizza in Salem. It was a place called Tavern on the Square and our lunch was delicious. Well, mine was. My mom had momentarily lost her mind and was on a low carb diet. Who goes on a low carb diet on vacation? So, while I was indulging in amazing fried pickle spears and the best pizza of my life, she was eating salads and mashed turnips.

When Graham and I were in New England this fall, I debated over whether or not to go back to the restaurant and order the same pizza. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I seriously gave this way more thought than a logical person ever should. But I have this pizza on such a pedastel, I was terrified that I would order it again and be disappointed. So, we’re in Salem and I finally decide to go for it. We get to the restaurant, and I’m sure the waitress thinks I’m crazy as I start gushing about a pizza I had four years ago. She tells me she hasn’t been there very long and tracks someone else down to see if the recipe had been changed.

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It had. My heart broke a little, and at the same time I was a little relieved. The pizza that I had in 2009 would remain the perfect pizza, and I wouldn’t have to worry about what I ordered living up to it’s memory. Graham ordered the “new” buffalo chicken flatbread. It was very mediocre. It had corn on it. Who puts corn on a buffalo chicken pizza? It seriously didn’t work. At all.

The point of all of this is that it’s very hard for me to be pleased with a buffalo chicken pizza. Very hard. Most of the ones I’ve had at restaurants over the past few years have been good, but not great. Rather than live with the disappointment of never having an amazing buffalo chicken pizza again, I decided to just make my own. Here’s a warning though: nothing on this pizza is homemade. I used store-bought buffalo sauce and store-bought pizza crust, but this was really delicious. Graham and I finished the whole thing in one sitting (although he did eat much more of it than I did…).

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 ball of pizza dough
  • 1/2 cup of wing sauce
  • 1/2 cup of Franks Red Hot Cayenne Pepper sauce
  • 1 T. of butter
  • 3 T. of ranch dressing
  • 1.5 cups of shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees and heat pizza stone for 30 minutes. (Skip this step if you’re not using a stone, and just preheat the oven to whatever temperature you’re supposed to for your pizza dough.
  2. Cook the chicken by whatever method your prefer. I used a grill pan. Once the chicken is cooked, move to a cutting board and set aside.
  3. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a sauce pan. Lower the heat to the lowest setting & add the hot sauce & the wing sauce to the melted butter. Whisk together the butter and the sauces and let heat through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces and add the chicken to the hot sauce.
  5. Roll the dough out into a 12″ circle onto parchment paper or silicone baking sheets. Move the pizza dough to the heated stone or to a non-stick baking sheet. Add the ranch dressing to the dough, followed by half of the cheese, the chicken (with some of the sauce), and the rest of the cheese. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is brown.
  6. Drizzle extra sauce over the pizza before serving.

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What I’m Loving Wednesday: Trader Joe’s Edition

One of the things I missed the most about living in Arkansas was Trader Joe’s. And one of the main reasons I wanted our apartment was because it was literally right across the street from Trader Joe’s.

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Seriously. This was taken in the shopping center’s parking lot. That building you see is our apartment complex. I was sold as soon as the leasing agent pointed that out. Although the other wonderful features our apartment has are very much appreciated ;).

Anyways. Trader Joe’s. Home of so many amazing things. Every time I stop in, I find something else I love. And honestly, there have only been one or two things I’ve tried that I haven’t cared for. Here are a few of my (current) all time favorites. What are some of your favorite TJ’s finds that I should be on the lookout for?

The Gnocchi al Gorgonzola
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I saw this stuff on Instagram once, and mentally filed it away under ‘stuff I need to try’. One day I was at TJ’s on a carrot cake cookie run and I decided to pick up a bag of this for dinner that night. It was so good. Graham was amazed that we were just now discovering it, and that we had wasted almost a year of living right across the street from TJ’s and hadn’t been eating this all that time. The only problem is that according to the bag, it is four servings. For us it’s two. Oops.

Carrot Cake Cookies

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These cookies are probably my very favorite dessert item at TJ’s. I don’t buy them very often though. Since I love them more than Graham does, I tend to eat more of them than Graham does, and they’re not exactly figure friendly. But they are so, so good. The cookie by itself is wonderful. But when two of the cookies are sandwiched with a delicious cream cheese frosting? It’s magical. Whenever I buy these, I never even make it out of the parking lot before I open the package and eat one.

Coconut Caramel Dark Chocolate Bar

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Our first night in our apartment in Virginia was spent unpacking, grabbing a quick dinner at Panera and a stop by TJ’s on the way home for the necessities (i.e. wine & chocolate). I saw this candy bar at the register, and I couldn’t resist. I typically don’t like dark chocolate (its way too bitter), but this was amazing. It’s filled with caramel and the hint of coconut. The sweetness of the caramel balances the bitterness of the dark chocolate perfectly. I love these because it takes me a few days to finish it. I have 1-2 squares a day, and it’s the perfect after dinner treat.

Speculoos Cookies & Cookie Butter
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I used to be a cookie butter hoarder. When we lived in Arkansas, we’d always stop by TJ’s on our way out of Charlotte and pick up a few necessities. We’d always leave with about 8 balls of pizza dough and a jar of cookie butter. I used the cookie butter very sparingly, so it would last as long as possible. I’m so happy I don’t have to do that any more. I’m even happier that I discovered the Speculoos cookies on a recent visit. Speculoos cookies dipped in cookie butter is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

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I’m not good at pizza dough. I have no trouble making bread, but I can never get the yeast to work when I try to make dough. So, I’ve given up and just buy the premade stuff. This was more challenging when we were in Arkansas and didn’t have a TJ’s (I actually couldn’t find dough anywhere except for Whole Foods, and I was not driving 45 minutes for frozen, premade pizza dough…). I always just bought the Pillsbury stuff, which isn’t all that good. Every time we went home to Charlotte, we’d load up a cooler on the way home. We’d buy lots of things to bring back, but the cooler was full of Yuengling (you couldn’t buy it in Arkansas, pizza dough & livermush. TJ’s makes three varieties: regular, whole wheat and herb & olive oil. I love the herb and olive oil best, but I typically buy the whole wheat, so I don’t feel as guilty about indulging in pizza. This crust is so good, and it’s seriously only $1.19. We use it for all of our homemade pizzas, and every time it’s absolutely perfect. As much as I love making things from scratch, it is seriously not worth the hassle of dealing with yeast when I can buy a delicious product we love for $1.19. Seriously: $1.19.

Hiking with Hermione: Shenandoah National Park

This past Saturday we woke up early, packed up the dog (and her adorable backpack) and headed back to the Shenandoah National Park for another hike. This time a pretty mountain top view wasn’t our goal, but waterfalls were (which was a good thing since it was a super hazy day). We decided to do the Jones Run Trail, which ran alongside a stream and had three really pretty waterfalls. We took the Jones Run Trail just past the Doyles River Falls and then took the Brown’s Gap Fire Road to a portion of the Appalachian Trail which took us back to the Jones Run Parking Lot.

The trail was beautiful. It was lush, green & rocky. And I busted my butt about five minutes into our hike. No big deal normally (I am pretty clumsy), but I had my camera around my neck and landed on it. Luckily it was okay… just a few scuffs.

It was a really great hike, only a lot more difficult than I was expecting. It was mostly downhill until we passed the first waterfall, but after that it was all uphill. I thought I was going to die. I was wearing my heart rate monitor and once my heart rate hit 180, Graham got concerned. He thought my monitor was malfunctioning until he checked my pulse himself… We took our time getting to the top of the third waterfall, and thankfully it evened out shortly after that. By time we got back to the car I had burned 2305 calories.

Here are a few pictures of the beautiful scenery and our adorable dog. I really can’t express enough the importance of getting out and exploring your surroundings. A lot of my Arkansas friends complain about being in Arkansas because there isn’t a lot to do. Some of Graham’s coworkers complain about being here at Langley. Every place you live, military or not, has its ups and downs, but it’s all about what you make it. Get out and explore the area. Find fun things to do. Take day trips. We wasted two years in Arkansas, and I don’t plan on wasting our time here in Virginia.

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Hermione was instantly in the water. This dog loves the water so much. She couldn’t submerge herself completely, thanks to the backpack, but she still enjoyed it.

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Seriously, is she not the cutest dog ever? The puppy backpack people need to hire her as a backpack model right this second.

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We’re not nearly as cute as the dog is… Interesting tidbit: I’m wearing a King of Pops (Charlotte) shirt, and we met another couple on the trail from Charlotte. The last time I wore the shirt, I met a cashier at Trader Joe’s who was from Belmont.

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Since we drove all the way up to the mountains, we stopped at an overlook on the way home to admire the view. It was hazy, but still really beautiful.

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Recipe: Low Country Boil

 

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This past weekend my mom & her man friend were supposed to come visit. We had plans to go to DC on the 4th of July, and Saturday we were going to go to the beach, come home and I was going to make dinner. Making dinner for my mom is always an experience. She is the pickiest eater I have ever met, who lives on fast food cheese burgers & ice cream (somehow, she remains petite). We went out to dinner a couple of months ago with our friend Kelly. She ordered a Kobe beef burger and made Kelly taste it, because it didn’t taste right to her. Well, it wouldn’t when you’re used to eating burgers from McDonald’s… My mom is awesome, but her eating habits… not so much. We all love her anyways =)

Anyways. For their visit, I wanted a dinner that made a ton (I always like to meal plan with one leftover night figured in), I wanted something that was delicious, but nothing exotic or too out there. To be honest, I also wanted something that would allow me to use my huge, favorite serving dish…  Thanks to my instagram feed, I finally decided on a low country boil. It was something I had never made before, something that looked simple, and something that had the potential to be delicious. Our visitors ended up not coming, thanks to the hurricane. But since I already had all of the ingredients (including fresh corn from the farmers market & fresh, wild-caught shrimp, I went ahead and made it for just Graham and I.

Luckily it was delicious, because it made a TON. We had leftovers the next night, and Graham has taken it for lunch a few times. If you’re looking for a great meal to entertain with, consider doing this. It’s easy to change-up the quantity for more or less portions, it’s messy (which usually means fun) and it can be easily customized to each person. Serve it with condiments like spicy cocktail sauce, tabasco sauce or melted butter or just sprinkle extra seasoning on your individual portion for a bolder flavor.

Low Country Boil
(Recipe slightly modified from this one.)

Ingredients:

  • 6 T. of Old Bay Seasoning (plus more for serving)
  • 2 T. cayenne
  • 1/2 cup table salt
  • 3 lemons, quartered
  • 2 onions, halved
  • 1 & 1/2 pounds small potatoes
  • 2 whole heads of garlic; halved
  • 5 ears of corn, shucked and cut into thirds.
  • 24 ounces smoked sausage; cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 pounds large shrimp (about 30, preferably with heads)

Directions:

  1. In a very large stock pot or kettle bring 4 gallons of water to a boil. (This takes a while. Start early.)
  2. When water has come to a rolling boil add Old Bay seasoning, cayenne, salt, lemons and onions and boil 5 minutes. Add potatoes and garlic and boil for about 10 minutes. Add corn and sausage and cook for about 5-10 more minutes, until corn and potatoes are tender.
  3. Add shrimp and cook until they turn bright pink, about 2-3 minutes, careful not to overcook.
  4. Drain pot and transfer to a platter. Serve with extra Old Bay and with cocktail sauce and melted butter on the side.

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What I’m Loving Wednesday

Liz over at I Heart Vegetables recommended this book on her blog last week. I added it to my reading list on Oyster immediately. I am absolutely loving this book and I’m only 34% finished with it (according to Oyster), but so far I *highly* recommend it.

“A generation of smart, highly educated young people are spending their time knitting, canning jam, baking cupcakes, gardening, and more (and blogging about it, of course), embracing the labor-intensive domestic tasks their mothers and grandmothers eagerly shrugged off. Some are even turning away from traditional careers and corporate culture for slower, more home-centric lifestyles that involve “urban homesteading,” homeschooling their kids, or starting Etsy businesses. They’re questioning whether regular jobs are truly fulfilling and whether it’s okay to turn away from the ambitions of their parents’ generation.” (source)

So much of what Emily Matcher is writing about is resonating with me. Especially this quote: “Marcie Cohen Ferris, the American Studies professor, thinks that the New Domesticity phenomenon wouldn’t even exist without blogs, because educated women crave the kind of external validation they’re used to getting from careers. Until the internet, no one got much attention for cooking dinner. ‘This lifestyle wouldn’t work if women were raising their perfect, happy locavore children in the middle of the woods with no internet connection,’ Ferris says.”

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So… yesterday JK Rowling posted a brand new Harry Potter short story on Pottermore. My day was made. And yes, I still think that Harry & Hermione are meant to be together. Deal with it.

“But when word swept the campsite and stadium that a certain gang of infamous wizards (no longer the fresh-faced teenagers they were in their heyday, but nevertheless recognizable) had arrived for the final, excitement was beyond anything yet seen. As the crowd stampeded, tents were flattened and small children mown down. Fans from all corners of the globe stormed towards the area where members of Dumbledore’s Army were rumored to have been sighted, desperate above all else for a glimpse of the man they still call the Chosen One.”

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I love these containers for homemade ice cream. I first saw these at Marshall’s on my last trip to Charlotte, but was happy to be able to find them online. These containers are cute enough that I now want to go out and buy an ice cream machine.

I LOVE the idea of a printable in the guest room that has your homes wi-fi password. Too bad our password is 25 random letters and numbers, that Verizon won’t let us change. One of these days I’m going to get off my butt, put on some painting clothes, and get out guest room fancied up. These may make an appearance when I do.

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This Erin Condren day planner is screaming my name. I’ve been trying to decide for a few weeks now whether I should splurge on the Emily Ley Simplicity planner or the Erin Condren one. They’re very similar in price, and the reviews on both are wonderful, so right now I’m leaning towards the Erin Condren one.

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A Capital Fourth: 4th of July in Washington, DC.

My alarm clock went off this morning for the first time since Thursday. And with that the long weekend was officially over. I know, I know, I have every Monday and Friday off. But Graham doesn’t. So him being off Friday and Monday as well made my days off extra fun. We took the dog to the beach, we spent all day Monday riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens, we ate a lot of peach cobbler and we took a day trip to DC.

Back in 2007, my college boyfriend and I spent the week of 4th of July in Washington, DC. It’s one of my favorite American cities (Boston is #1, but it’s a much, much further drive) and the perfect place to spend America’s birthday. As soon as I found out we were moving to Virginia I got so excited about the fact that we would be able to spend the 4th in DC, and have been looking forward to it since last summer. My mom & her man friend were supposed to come with us, but Hurricane Arthur kept them in Charlotte. So, Graham and I got up Friday morning and headed out. I’m guessing the hurricane screwed with a lot of other people’s plans, because we didn’t hit any traffic until we got to the Pentagon and it didn’t seem as busy as it was seven years ago. Also. The high was 81! It still was hot in the sun, but oh my gosh… we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!
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IMG_2071The past few times we’ve been here, we’ve gone to Arlington (it might sound morbid, but it’s one of my favorite places in the city), but we’ve always just missed the changing of the guard. So, we made sure to get there in time for that on this visit. I know the men who do this volunteer for this and it’s a great honor, but I don’t see how they do it. I mean, it’s hot. And those uniforms aren’t exactly cool and breezy.

2014-07-04 16.42.06 So, one thing you may or may not know about me is that the X-Files is one of my favorite shows of all time. I can’t walk past the J. Edgar Hoover Building without taking a picture of the corner of it. The corners of this building were always featured on the show, so I have to pay tribute to Mulder, Scully, Skinner & the rest of the gang and take a picture of it. Sometimes I’m really dorky and take a picture in front of it, with a ridiculous smile on my face.

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The White House was completely blocked off. We found out after the fact that the Obama’s were hosting an event for military families. I think our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail…

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By 6:00, my feet were killing me and all I wanted to do was sit down. So, that’s what we did. We collapsed in the grass in front of the Capital Building. I would have been content to stay there for the rest of the day, but Graham was restless and itchy, so we got back up and walked around some more. We walked over to the Capital, to see what the set up was like over there. The concert started at 8:00, and you kind of have to choose between the concert or a pretty view of the fireworks. For the most part, it was impossible to see the Washington Monument from the Capital, since the trees were in the way. I cared a lot more about the fireworks, so we walked back to the parking garage, got Hermione’s dog blanket out of the car and went back to our spot in the grass. We people watched, took selfies, talked and just relaxed until it was time for the fireworks, and the fireworks were truly spectacular. Besides the impressive, traditional fireworks, they also had some that made hearts, smiley faces, and the letters “USA”.

It was also entertaining listening to the drunk people behind us singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to America during the fireworks.

IMG_2097Funny moment of the day: Graham was wearing his Carolina Panthers t-shirt. I wore my New England Patriots one. These two teams played each other in the Superbowl about 10 years ago. The Panthers lost, and their fans still hold a grudge. I honestly hate football, but I wear this shirt for two reasons. 1) It irritates Graham. 2) Like I said earlier, Boston is my favorite city. Anyways. Two people commented on the shirts and asked us, “didn’t they play against each other in the Superbowl?” I was pretty amused, since we’ve gone out wearing those a lot and that’s never happened before.

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It was a great day. And I have MAD respect for the police & the sanitation department there. There were so many people and so much trash everywhere… As soon as the fireworks were over it was like the floodgates were opened and everyone had the same goal: get out of the city as quickly as possible. We both thought it would take forever, but it actually only took about 20 minutes to get back on the interstate.

And here are a few tips if you ever plan on spending the 4th in our Nation’s capital:
1) Be sure to use the bathroom before you get to the Mall. Seriously. The port-a-potties had ridiculous lines, and by the time we walked back to the car, the smell was God awful. I had to pee for like 4 hours, but there was no way I was going into one of those. Most of the museums close at 7:00, so stop in one of those for clean facilities before staking out a spot in the grass.

2) Don’t be like Graham. Remember sunscreen & a hat (if needed). He has a shaved head and we were in the sun all day. According to Google, we parked 3.9 miles from Arlington National Cemetery. Not wanting to walk back to the car to get a hat & sunscreen, he stopped and bought what he needed. So, we wasted $20 on a hat he didn’t even want and sunscreen.

3) A parking deck is your best friend. Parking in DC sucks. It always has sucked, and always will suck. I don’t care for public transportation (we had a scary incident in Chicago), so I wasn’t crazy about riding the metro. After driving around for about 20 minutes looking for street parking, we found a parking deck literally right across the street from the Capital Building offering all day parking for $15. I hated paying for parking, but I also had peace of mind that our car wasn’t going to get towed, and we were parked in a safe place.

4) Bring some type of water bottle. It’s hot, you’re out in the sun all day, and hydration is important. There are plenty of people with coolers trying to sell you water, but why pay a $1 for a bottle of Deer Park when you can bring your own and just refill it throughout the day.