“I’d like to order the special, but please hold the side of children.”

 Banning ill-mannered children from restaurants

This morning, my local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, published an article touting yet another restaurant announcing a ban on kids. Surprisingly, this time it’s a pizza place.

Being ‘a picky traveler”, I totally identified with this news story as well as one that hit the news earlier this year about an upscale Italian restaurant in Mooresville, North Carolina instituting a ban on children under 5 dining at their restaurant. The incident that prompted the ban involved a child using an iPad on loud volume, disturbing other patrons. The parents refused to comply with polite requests to turn down the volume or turn the device off and were asked to leave. While the ban drew some criticism from insulted parents, it has had the delightful effect of increasing the numbers of customers from 50 to 80 a night. Bravo! I would definitely dine at this restaurant if ever in the area.

I researched restaurants that ban kids and found a lot of articles and posts online. The one that appalled me the most was the one about Cuchara, an intimate Mexican restaurant in Houston, Texas, full of delicate artwork, where a child scratched the restaurant walls with a quarter, causing $1,500 in damage. Where were this kid’s parents?! Did they not notice their “little darling” was defacing the walls?! Rather than a ban, the restaurant began handing out cards with behavioral instructions to customers.

Sometimes, the banning of children from restaurants can backfire, like what happened when the Lobster Pound and Moore in Nova Scotia announced a ban on loud kids . Bad choice of words? Yes. Bad policy? No.

People think of restaurants as public, but they really aren’t. Yes, you are out in public view, but most restaurants are privately owned. People who dine out need to accept that owners have the right to make rules that benefit their business and protect their patrons’ safety and enjoyment. Imagine witnessing a 3 year old running wild in a sports bar type restaurant and almost colliding with a server with a large tray loaded with food while inches away the parents and their friends and relatives partied and drank, oblivious to the possibility of impending disaster (yes, it really happened). Something like that can make one see why a lot of people don’t like out-of-control kids in restaurants.

Just an observance, but lately there seems to be an abundance of bad parenting.  A lot of parents seem to feel they are not accountable for their own or their child’s actions. There are also parents who are too wrapped up in their own enjoyment to pay attention to their offspring, taking a break from parenting. Example: think how a person might be after drinking that third craft beer. Is that person attentive to his children and should that person also be the one driving kids home?

Seems like today’s child rearing methods are certainly different from what was the norm during my growing up years – the “Kids should be seen, not heard” generation (my father’s words). My family traveled quite a bit due to my father being in the military. When my family went to a restaurant, we kids were expected to behave and exercise the good manners we had been taught. There was no getting up from the table and no electronic devices to keep us occupied. By the age of 10, I could order a complete meal by myself. (OK, so I was not a ‘normal’ kid.)

Not all kiddie diners are disruptive. I have dined several times at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa and never witnessed any out-of-line behavior from families gathered there to celebrate. On one occasion when my husband I dined at the uber-elegant Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort at Disney World, I noticed a mature beyond her years young lady dressed in her party finery enjoying the gourmet offerings and quiet conversation with her parents. The restaurant’s website states guests ages 10 and above are invited to dine at this establishment and describes themselves as a setting of refined opulence with impeccable service and world-class culinary creations; words that do not evoke a kid-friendly atmosphere. Hotels are getting in on the ban – I know of at least one historic inn filled with priceless antiques, that doesn’t accept reservations from families with children under six years of age.

In this chaotic world, manners really still matter and speak volumes about ourselves. Parents need to take responsibility for their kids’ actions as well as their safety in public. If they don’t, they don’t have the right to complain (or sue) if they are asked to leave or are banned from an establishment.

Every issue has more than one side and parents see this type of ban as discrimination. Think of it this way – if an adult behaves badly in a restaurant or bar (drunk, disorderly, etc.), they can be thrown out of the business. If the behavior is bad enough, illegal or threatens others, they can be arrested.

Everybody is aware that parents need a night out to have fun and sometimes you want to enjoy that time with your kids. Pick an age-appropriate restaurant. I understand that young children sometimes cry or have meltdowns (Trust me on this. I’ve done childcare of other people’s kids and oh, the things I know!) If your child fits this category, take your child somewhere quiet until the child settles down or defer dining out until the child has more developed social skills. If you can afford and desire to dine at “Le Fancy Bistro” don’t be a cheapo and hire a babysitter. It’s worth every penny and your fellow diners will thank you.

Dining out can be expensive these days, especially if you are looking for “an experience” which many seek. A return to civility and respect for our fellow diners can make for an enjoyable experience for all.

Additional reading with a humorous twist: The 10 Commandments of Dining With Children 

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Inns of Maine – Camden Harbour Inn

Camden Harbor Inn entry stairs & pumpkins

After an exhilarating afternoon of sailing on Penobscot Bay or a drive up US 1, this is the first sight that greets you as you pull up to the front of the inn you are spending the night at. Some might be daunted by all the stairs. Instead, marvel at the beauty of the symmetry of all those lovely pumpkins leading to the front porch entrance of the Camden Harbour Inn. A friendly employee meets you half way up, welcoming you by name (they do that lovely sort of thing at small inns) and takes the heaviest of your bags, making you feel at home.

As you check in, you are gifted with a petite box of chocolates and a stuffed animal that is one of four sea creatures. Receiving a cute green seal, he got named Oscar, before realizing that is the first name of one of the Maison de Hotels (owner/managers).

Camden Harbour InnThis luxury Victorian inn is a Relais et Chateaux property, a collection of boutique hotels/inns located around the world that are coupled with a gourmet restaurant as part of the property. At the Camden Harbor Inn, that is the award winning Natalie’s (but more about that later in this post).

Camden Harbor Inn from schooner

Perched on a hill up Bayview Street overlooking Camden Harbor, this inn has only 20 rooms, but what exquisite rooms and suites they are. Most are decorated to the hilt in modern European style, some featuring fireplaces and soaking tubs. Of course, this kind of opulence doesn’t come cheap. (Tip: If your travel plans are flexible, check their web site for last minute special rates or sign up for email specials.)

If you’re budget conscious, but desire a little taste of this cozy inn, book the Macassar – a functional room that features a king bed with luxury linens including a Cuddledown pillow top mattress cover that will make you feel like you are sleeping on a cloud (great comfort after a day of hiking). The best feature of this room is the great views of Camden Harbor from the windows. Wake up early enough to see a magical view of the sleepy little harbor with many sailboats and windjammers docked there, shrouded in early morning mist.

Camden Harbor viewed frm Camden Harbour Inn_688

An incredibly delicious gourmet breakfast is included in the room rate and is served in the dining area of Natalie’s. Enjoy the best Lobster Benedict in Maine, along with selections of fresh baked pastries and other breakfast items served with wonderful coffee and fresh squeezed juice in a beautiful setting. When the weather is nice, breakfast can be enjoyed out on the porch.

Camden Harbor Inn Breakfast

Natalie’s is also open for dinner and features creative dishes utilizing Maine’s bounty of seafood and other locally sourced ingredients. If you love lobster, definitely order their Lobster tasting menu for a variety of ways that lobster can be prepared.

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Discover the Headwaters Cafe – Not Your Usual Convention Center Food

The Headwaters Cafe in Saint Paul RiverCentre seems to be a well kept secret from out-of-town visitors. It’s located on the lobby level tucked down a side hallway as you walk the skywalk/tunnel system that connects the St. Paul Hotel, the Intercontinental, the Xcel Energy Center and the RiverCentre or you can enter from W Kellogg Blvd.  When you find it, you’ll be glad you did. No hot dogs or popcorn here. The food offerings are totally amazing because they are not your average arena/convention center food. Talking real food – fresh made soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, entrees and good coffees. It can be very busy at lunch hour, popular with the locals, but it is efficiently run. You order at the counter and when your food is ready, they call your number and you come pick it up. Prices are good value.

Their tomato basil soup is one of the best versions ever. Pair the soup with their Signature Rosemary Chicken Salad on a whole wheat wrap (or the croissant is usually comes on). The pecans, dried cranberry, apple, shallots and a light touch of rosemary blended in provided nice texture. The modern decor of polished wood, stainless and black trim give the dining area an industrial feel that is spacious and filled with light from the large floor to ceiling windows. They also serve breakfast and for evening events there is a bar serving beer, wine, cocktails and tasty appetizers. Hours vary based on events going on in the complex, so check their web site. If you are attending an event at the Xcel Energy Center, eat here before entering the arena.

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Love Affair With Fall Foliage

DSC01842 Love Fall Foliage? Is Autumn your favorite time of year? Sharing some photos to give a nice fall fix in case you weren’t able to make a leaf peeping trip this year or you are not blessed to live in an area that has fall. Keep scrolling and enjoy!

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Church Steeple & Fall Foliage, Camden, Maine

 

sunlite golden fall leaves

Sunlite golden leaves (near a pond off a logging road near Baxter State Park, Maine)

flaming fall leaf in tidal pool

Flaming Fall Leaf in Tidal Pool, Schoodic Overlook, Acadia National Park

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Early Morning Reflection, Acadia National Park, Maine

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On the shore of Eagle Lake, Acadia National Park, Maine

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Acadia National Park, Maine

 

 

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Red leaf floating at the edge of Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine

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Red Maple Leaf in Dried Fern, Hemlock Path, Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia orange fall leaves

 

 

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Florida – It’s A Jungle Down Here

June was a sad month in Central Florida. To add to the sorrow of shootings at the Pulse night club in Orlando, a two year old was snatched by an alligator and drowned. Those of us who live in here  know that “fantasyland” does not extend to daily life. I have been waiting out of respect for the Graves family to write something on the topic of alligators. With the publishing of a spot-on op-ed piece in the Tampa Bay Times by Darryl Fears (http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/column-the-natives-always-know-alligators-are-everywhere-in-florida/2282141), I figure it’s time.

I’ve lived in Florida for more than 35 years. Prior to moving here, we lived in the relative safety of Maine. We played in the woods almost daily, picnicked, hiked and even walked a quarter mile down the thickly wooded road to our closest neighbors to play. The one admonition I remember from our parents was to steer clear of bears with cubs.

Flash forward to my military dad getting an assignment to sunny tropical Florida. He gathered us kids together to tell us Florida is not like Maine. Forget playing in the woods or even stopping to pick roadside flowers. He told us there were poisonous snakes and alligators living there and we had to be aware at all times.

Our first exposure to alligators was when we visited Gatorland in Kissimmee. Opened in 1949, it was small classic roadside attraction in the 1970s complete with a giant gator’s open toothy jaws for an entrance. It was an introduction to getting to know our new state. We saw more alligators when visiting Silver Springs in Ocala. Outside of that, I don’t recall seeing alligators in their natural habitat; I just wasn’t looking for them. Now I can spot one even partially submerged in a canal while riding along Alligator Alley at 55mph.

Alligators are everywhere – fresh bodies of water and man-made lakes, retention ponds, canals, ponds on golf courses, etc. Rapid development has encroached on their home. I have swum in Wekiva Springs, gone tubing at Moss Park and swum in a couple lakes in my youth. I remember people swimming in Lake Downy in east Orange County every summer. People water ski on lakes here all the time. All the while I never gave it a thought that this is where snakes and alligators live. After reading about a fatality at Turkey Lake Park many years ago, I never swam in fresh water again.

I have a healthy respect for alligators and know to stay clear of areas where they commonly live. I never walk my dogs near bodies of fresh water after the one time I heard a low growl followed by a large splash into a pond on the other side of some trees where I was walking up on an adjacent sidewalk. By the size of the splash, I judged we escaped being attacked by a fairly good sized alligator. I live in a subdivision where alligators are a common sight, sunning on the banks of man made retention and landscape ponds and lurking in the water sometimes with only the area above their eyes and part of their tail visible. I have even seen two baby alligators up close – one in a drain culvert, the other behind a telephone pole on dry land. I would agree with Mr. Fears – alligators are lurking everywhere in Florida

(I am still more afraid of snakes and being bit by one. Even holding a Indigo snake has not quelled my intense fear.)

As to the argument that people from other states or countries are not aware that Florida being a tropical climate has tropical wild life – whenever I travel, I try to educate myself to what wild like I might encounter as a was to protect myself. Every one who travels should do that. It’s just common sense. We have to be responsible for our own safety. As for posting signs everywhere to warn of alligators – that’s a lot of signs. The fact is alligators move from location to location. Think of it this way – Very few beaches post signs about sharks, which we all know live in the ocean, yet people still go in the water.

I used to work at Disney back in the 1970s. One day I encountered a huge alligator resting across the entrance road to what used to be the Golf Resort while driving a bus. One of the guests suggested I get out and chase it off the road. Not on your life! I drove on the grass instead to get around and reported it when I got to the hotel. I can remember swimming once being allowed at the beaches but with the danger of bacterial meningitis, the no swimming signs were posted. There are lots of watercraft that run on the lake, so you could encounter one.

Unfortunately, it has been my experience to observer that there is sometimes a disconnect with some people when they come to Disney in regards to wild animals, something to the effect that some folks can’t differentiate between fantasy and reality. When I was working on Monorails, I heard about a guest getting bit by a snake near the ferry boat dock. When Medical asked why the guest picked up the snake he replied that he thought Disney snakes don’t bite! Thank God, it turned out to be a non-poisonous water snake. I say if it isn’t wearing a Disney name tag, it is a real animal and poses a danger.

It is wise to remember that Disney was built on swampy wetlands and thick forest, natural habitat to snakes, alligators, etc. It’s a jungle down here folks.

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Memorial Day Remembrance

Since today is Memorial Day, I have been thinking about what war memorials I had visited that I could write about. I came to the somewhat sorry realization that I hadn’t been to very many. A few memories stand out.

As a 11 year old girl, I can remember proudly marching in the Memorial Day Parade in Machias, Maine. I was the girl given the honor of bearing the American flag in front of our Girl Scout troop. The parade wound through town ending at the cemetery where a short ceremony was held to honor the fallen military. I felt so important that day.

The strongest memory for me was visiting the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor multiple times when my Dad was stationed in Hawaii in the 1960’s. Yes, more than 50 years ago, but the memories of those visits stay with me after all this time.

I am ashamed to say that I dreaded going to the memorial. We went every time we had visiting relatives in town. I was probably too young to appreciate what this memorial stands for and for a 6 to 8 year old girl, it wasn’t very interesting.

There is an overwhelming sense of how deep the harbor is; so deep that most, but not all of the immense 600 foot battleship is below the surface, but just barely. I remember sitting on the edge of the platform by the railing, looking at the dark, foreboding water below, watching the oil slicks that covered the water’s surface even after 2o years. At almost every visit, I did this, sitting and staring into the water, trying to comprehend the sadness of what had occurred that December day. How unfair it was that these 1,177 men (as well as those on land) were caught unaware and killed far too soon. Sometimes I would say a prayer for them. I would look at the names engraved on the marble wall, too many to remember – someone’s son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, friend, sweetheart.

Another thing I remember – while in Hawaii, my third grade classes were held in what had once been barracks on Hickam Airfield. The bullet holes in the walls of some of the classrooms were a creepy daily reminder of what had happened. At recess, I would stand under the huge shady banyan trees outside, trying to image what it must have been like for those men to try to outrun the Japanese planes shooting at them and if those trees offered any safe shelter.

This Memorial Day, let us remember the sacrifice of those who have servedour country. Some of them paid the ultimate price for freedom with their lives. They fight and die so we are free from oppression and live to realize our dreams.

 

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Lenten Dining Ideas – Fish & Chips

It is now the week before Easter and if like so many you are abstaining from meat for Lent, you may well be running out of interesting and delicious ideas of what non-meat meals to eat on Fridays. Raised Catholic, I know your pain. The Fridays of my childhood (not just Lenten Fridays, but all Fridays back then) my mother (God bless her!) served the dreaded and tasteless meals of Tuna Fish Casserole (the kind with the crushed potato chips on top), frozen fish sticks and fish cakes. There was an occasional meal of frozen breaded clam strips that were not much better. I did not know that fish had another and very real form until my sister caught a Rainbow trout when I was about 9 years old and I learned how good fresh caught fish could be. What’s even more amazing is that we lived four of those years in Maine with its abundance of fresh seafood.

Fast forward to today. No longer a Catholic, I married a Catholic who follows his religious requirements seriously. As an avowed foodie, the horrid meals of my youth are unacceptable. Even so, with seven meals (including Ash Wednesday) to plan for, I sometimes get tired and less creative near the end of the season. There is one meal we have at least once during Lent that my husband really loves – British pub-style fish and chips.

Fish and chips are served in all types of restaurants these days. Having actually eaten fish and chips at a very good restaurant and take-away shop in London many years ago, my standards of what constitutes good fish and chips is very high.

There are numerous English and Irish pubs (or imitations) in the Tampa Bay area. Here are four for now.

Topping the list is Cricketeers in Dunedin. Located in a strip mall right before going onto the causeway, it is a pretty good replica of an English pub with dark wood, dart boards and soccer on the big screen tellies. The menu has a good selection of English pub grub – think Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers n’Mash, etc. Go for their fish and chips, which are the best in Tampa Bay. Highly unusual is that they offer three types of fish to choose from – pollock, cod and haddock. Get the haddock – it’s worth the extra cost. The three pieces of fish are huge and the beer batter is just right – golden with a perfect crunchiness, not too heavy and not greasy. The fish is moist and delicious. Dinners are served with chips (fries) and coleslaw. I do find fault with their chips as they are regular fries not the wide planks one gets in the UK. IMG_0424The bonus – Cricketeers makes their own tartar sauce in house. For smaller appetites, try the haddock fingers appetizer. Fingers is the British term for fish sticks. The photo to the left shows they are not a stick at all, but thick portions of beer battered haddock served on a bed of shredded romaine lettuce. A side order of coleslaw makes for a perfect light meal. There are several UK beers to choose from to enjoy with your meal or teetotalers can have a mug of milky hot tea, great on a cool foggy evening or iced tea or soda. Cricketeers is very popular with the locals and can be very crowded. Wednesday evenings there is live music and all-you-can eat crab so the place is packed with senior citizens making it hard to get a table.

IMG_0705My second choice is The Pub at International Plaza’s Baystreet in Tampa. The Pub is another good replica of a British pub with a bit more upscale vibe. The servers wear kilt-style skirts with black tee shirts with the restaurant’s logo on the front and shnarky Brit comments on the back. Their version of fish and chips is very good  – one good sized piece of haddock with a light non-greasy beer batter accompanied by fries and coleslaw. Wash it down with their selection of beers from the UK.

Peggy O’Neills Irish Sports Bar and Eatery (West Hillsborough/Oldsmar location) will do in a pinch. The fish and chips can be hit and miss here – good one time and a bit greasy another. For a change of pace, I tried the beer battered shrimp ‘n chips The shrimp were ladened with too much batter which makes for a stuffed feeling after eating them. The best item on the menu is their amazing Cheese Soup.

At the bottom of my list is Maloney’s Local Irish Pub in Westchase. Every time I walk by here, the place is crazy busy. Besides the beer, I am obviously missing what others find good about this place. I can assure you its not the fish and chips. Their version is the strangest I’ve ever seen – the fish piece was totally flat like it had been pounded thin or something heavy had been placed on top of it. It was greasy and had an off taste. We have not been back here since.

We’ll keep researching more fish and chips in the Tampa Bay area and let you know where the best catch is in another post next year.

 

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