Category Archives: Fun

Gimme 5 – Awesome Restaurants in Sedona

There are many great restaurants in Sedona and today’s Gimme 5  highlights five of my favorite ones. The restaurants vary from Mexican to Italian to the local fare. I have been to all of these restaurants several times so I have a good idea of the repeat quality, which is good at each of the restaurants covered today.

Their Grilled Cheese on Texas Toast

1. The Cowboy Club – I love the Cowboy Club, which is on 89A in uptown Sedona. It is full of locals and tourists. The popular food here is western fare. My personal favorite is the combo appetizer platter of cactus, buffalo, and rattlesnake. It was great fun to order this platter with my kids and watch them try everything! They serve a lot of food so sharing is a good idea! I have not been in the Silver Saddle Room upstairs because I have been there in large groups or we have sat outside, but it serves the same menu and is for adults. Put your favorite cowboy boots on and head on down to the Cowboy Club!

2. Rene at Tlaquepaque – this is mostly the type of restaurant that you want to go to for a special occasion dinner. I went there with about 15 people and we had a nice long dinner. The food is old school, french (continental) cuisine with a little modernity thrown in for good measure! It is located in a very nice shopping are near the intersection of Highway 179 and 89A.

3. Oaxaca Restaurant – Oaxaca features traditional Mexican food more than tex mex. It was more authentic than most Mexican restaurants. It is in uptown on 89A and features a patio with a spectacular view of the Sedona scenery. My kids loved this place. The restaurant is a little like a rabbit warren  inside with a few small rooms and various seating places along with a big room facing the patio and view. It is beautifully decorated with colorful Mexican tile. Bring a huge appetite – they serve enormous platters of  food. My favorites are the chili rellenos and huevos rancheros.

4. Cucina Rustica Dahl & di Luca – Now, these are really two restaurants – one is the original Dahl & di Luca, and their sister restaurant, Cucina Rustica is on Highway 179. I prefer Cucina Rustica, which is the newer one. It features nice, simple, very tasty, traditional, Italian dishes. I have never had a meal here that wasn’t great! Sometimes it is very crowded and you have to wait – but the bar is long and the martinis are inviting. My favorite place to sit and eat here is outside on the patio.

5. Full Moon Saloon – now, technically this is really a bar and not a restaurant. I have only snacked here, drank a lot of beer, played a lot of pool, and sang a little karaoke. Anyone remember These Boots Were Made for Walking? Some karaoke artists took themselves a little too seriously, but the pool games were totally fun. The fire pits outside were a nice place to hang out while waiting for an open pool table.  This bar is one of the only spots in Sedona (and this one is in the same area/complex as Cucina Rustica, down the hill from the Hilton) that is open past 11 pm and serves any food after 9 pm.

I do have another restaurant that I would like to return to but, I can’t remember the name. It is a couple of doors down from Cucina Rustica down the hill from the Hilton. It had clean lines and great modern food. I’ll have to take a look when I am there again and figure out what it’s name is 🙂

Don’t forget to leave a comment – especially if you have a favorite restaurant in Sedona.

Guest Blogger Monica L. on Packing Tips for Backpacking Across Europe

Today’s Guest Post is from Monica of Travel Knit Read who just spent the better part of the last year traveling the world. She had to travel very light and that meant she had to pack very little and could not pick up much along the way.  After writing about my packing efforts on a recent trip with my family, I thought, “wow, how did Monica travel for most of the year with just a roller bag?” So, I asked her to write a little about it — Enjoy!

Monica in Barcelona

“Well, a dear friend of mine just posted to her blog about her packing tips for her travels within the US with her 3 kids. I thought I would post some packing tips after my 7 months of travel through Europe as well. After all these travel sites, including Rick Steve’s travel list, I do have some lessons learned and tips as well. As I traveled in the summer, most of these are obviously tips for packing light:

  • 3 technical dri-fit t-shirts (they dry quickly when you are sweating in 100 F or 40 C weather. They are also easy to wash and dry quickly and they never stink like cotton t-shirts. They are also way lighter.) Under Armour, Reebok, Nike, Adidas make them.
  • 2 pairs of convertible pants (with long shorts zipping off so the zippers don’t cut into your thighs while you walk) I lived in my Mountain Hardwear Yuma pants for 7 months. They also dry very quickly.
  • 1 technical long sleeve shirt (light colored)
  • 3-4 pairs of sport socks (they take the longest to dry of all clothes)
  • 1 pair of “>Havianas flip flops (make sure to choose a rubber pair, the thong parts must have a lot of room above the foot if they are too close they will cut into sides of feet. The thongs you can wear when showering in not so nice places and they will dry quickly.)
  • 1 pair of leather ” target=”_blank”>Teva sandals with suede footbed (they have the mostsupport when walking around and most comfortable)
  • 1 pair of very comfortable running shoes for hiking/walking in the rain/walking alot.
  • 1 pair of ” target=”_blank”>Birkenstocks (Everyone in Europe wears them in the summers, suede footbed and very comfy. They are made differently in Europe than in the US. The ones in the US are very hard and uncomfortable.)
  • 6 pairs of panties
  • 3 bras
  • 1 swim suit (1 piece is usually more convenient than bikini)
  • 1 head lamp (many streets are not lit at night, sometimes needed for hiking, caves)
  • 1 dress
  • 1 skirt (over the knee)
  • 1 fancy top to match skirt
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 Saree for the beach
    1 EnviroSac (nylon bag for the beach and shopping)  I like the Timbuk2 line of packable totes/backpacks.
  • 1 light fleece hoodie
  • 1 thermal long sleeve t-shirt (the best ones are ” target=”_blank”>Icebreakers made of Merino Wool made in New Zealand)
  • 1 sarong for beach coverup or travel towel
  • 1 windwall jacket (lightweight but warm on those cold nights – mine was from North Face)
  • Sunglasses (Maui Jims that are dressy yet light titanium wire frames so they are sporty as well)
  • Hat

All of the above should be very light for your very light backpack or roller bag. I used a convertible Eagle Creek Switchback 22″ bag, it converted from a roller bag to a backpack when the elevator did not work or when there was no elevator to speak of.

I have a few other hard-earned travel tips!

  • Do not pack jeans or wear them! They are heavy, do not dry quickly and hard to wash in the sink!
  • Sunscreen is a must. You should have 2 100 ml small bottles so that you can put it in carryon.
 Max out your tubes to the 100 ml or 2.5 oz size.
  • Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash, Moisturizer
 – Washing your stuff in hotel sinks is what I did mostly, so have 100 ml of detergent with you.
  • Don’t forget your meds! Antacids, Aspirin, Imodium, etc. in a small pill box.
 Sometimes if you travel with people, you will need eye mask and ear plugs.
 Buy the eye mask that has a nice fabric that is silk as they don’t leave marks on your face and are cool and feels nice on your face.
 Get the ear plugs that look like wax, they are malleable that conform to your ears. Only those block all sounds. The others will pop out and do not block noise.
  • If you are going to be gone for a long time, please get a light Netbook, iPad, or new 13-inch MAC but be sure to have combination locks for your luggage.
  • Try not to bring too much cash as you will worry about it more. Most places have ATM machines. The exchange rates for cash is always worse than ATM machines.
  • The best camera that people used was the ” target=”_blank”>Canon S95 (pocketsize) or Canon G11 (slightly bigger). I would have chosen the S95 if I had to do it again. I couldn’t take most night shots with my older camera.
  • Reading materials: Get yourself a Kindle or Kobo reader as carrying one lightweight item to read is way lighter than lugging around 3-4 books in your luggage. I read quickly and I left 4 books in different hotels around Europe which seemed like such a waste. I saw so many copies of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in hotel lobbies.

My favorite travel tip:
 After washing clothes in the sink, place clothes flat on a towel, roll up the towel, twist towel and wring towel tightly to wring excess water out of clothes. Then hang clothes to dry. Your clothes will dry overnight this way. Sometimes, you might want to have some fun t-shirts as you don’t want all your photos to be of the same clothes all the time so I did have a few Hello Kitty t-shirts that made for cute travel photos but they don’t last long and can be trashed and new ones can be purchased. That is all I can think of for now…”

Thank you for contributing Monica!

If you have travel tips of your own or tips for packing light, please leave a comment!

Gimme 5 – Great Places to Stay in Sedona

I travel to Sedona fairly regularly for work (I know there are places that are a lot worse that I could be sent to…say, Arkansas), so I have had the opportunity to stay in many different places there. While most of the hotels in Sedona are fairly small, a couple of the ones that I highlight today are big, and all of them are great for a family reunion or vacation. If you have a work retreat or event to plan, consider Sedona, you won’t be disappointed!

  1. The Enchantment Resort – this resort is a little out of the way, but it is very quiet and exclusive (rumor has it that we passed Madonna’s place on the way out to this resort). It was a great place to stay when my husband could travel with me. (We stayed there on election night which didn’t make the Bush – Gore election any more palatable). It is an amazing place. The spa was fantastic; the food was fantastic; the exercise classes were fantastic, but our favorite part was the location. You can literally walk out your door and go hiking on many different trails. It felt like we were on the edge of the earth. While they do have a conference facility on site, mine was not being held there, so we had to drive every morning for 20 minutes or so to get back into town and get to my conference. For work or vacation, this resort can’t be beat!
  2. The Hilton Sedona Resort and Spa – this place is great! I have spent the most time here and at the Amara, but this one is a mix of regular hotel, resort, and fun place to be. The hot rock massages at the hotel spa were wonderful and relaxing. I felt 5 inches taller walking out of there. The pool closes early and the hotel security didn’t appreciate a bunch of people climbing the fence to try out the hot tub after a late dinner! My favorite part was the golf course and being able to wake up and walk the course at sunrise. Rabbits and all kinds of wildlife were out there to say good morning!
  3. The Sedona Rouge – the Sedona a Rouge is a nice, peaceful hotel despite being on the main road, 89A,  in Sedona. The rooms were generously sized and appointed. The spa is quite relaxing and the tea served in there was a surprise. Sedona is a sleepy town with little night life. We had to pay the bartender to stay open later for our little raucous  group after coming back from dinner. The hotel is a little separate and disjointed but that’s what makes it quiet.
  4. L’Auberge de Sedona – the name should say something to you – like – “With my French name, I am going to be very expensive!” It is, but it is built into a hillside and backs up to Oak Creek and is very, very worth it. It is located at the North end of town on 89A and hidden down its own driveway – it looks like you are going to drive down an embankment into Oak Creek. The views from this side are stunning. The balconies of each hotel room back up onto the creek and make for a very peaceful evening.
  5. The Amara Creekside Hotel, Restaurant, and Spa in Sedona – this one is my personal favorite. The Amara is right next door to L’Auberge but is much, much less expensive. In fact, when I drove across country last summer and decided to stay a couple of nights in Sedona, I threw my idea of camping out the window and we stayed here. My kids loved the pool and being on the creek. I loved being able to sit out by the fire pit and have a glass of wine while the kids raced each other up and down the pool. The rooms are simple and elegant. The balconies are small, but the common area around the pool and creek  were much better for hanging out anyway. I had the best hot rock massage ever at this resort (the masseuse was named John) and they have since expanded their spa into a separate area, which is very tranquil.

All of these hotels are in the nice to very nice range – the prices and service range wildly from reasonable to very expensive. But, no matter where you choose to stay the views will be stunning, the spas will relax you, and you will have good food!

If you have a favorite place to stay in Sedona – leave more information in the comments.

Gimme 5 – Travel Tips – Be Prepared for Bloody Marys in Your Lap

Today’s Gimme 5 is all about travel tips and being prepared. It makes me feel like a boy scout giving the advice to “be prepared.” I guess all the boys’ activities are rubbing off on me!
1. Refill, Restock, Replace
The first tip is to check any pre-stocked supplies when you are packing to see if anything needs to be refilled, restocked, or replaced. Or better yet, restock your supplies when you return from your current trip. This tip is especially important if you need medicine on a daily basis. A couple things I never need to replace or stock is shampoo/conditioner or a hair dryer – all of the hotel rooms I have been in lately (read, for the last 7 years) have those items readily available.
I also wanted to share a tip sent to me from Bianca:
“One thing I like to do when I travel (to minimize on the liquids) is to take a snack size Ziploc bag and fill it with cotton balls (I count one for each night I’m traveling and put in one spare) and then I squeeze eye makeup remover all over them. Then I close the bag and let them saturate. Then, while I’m on my trip, I just take out a moist cotton ball and use it to remove my eye makeup at night. No need to bring the bottle of remover!”
I liked this suggestion even though I don’t use eye makeup remover. It applies to all kinds of other liquids that come in bottles that are bigger than the 3 oz. travel size.
2. Label Your Luggage – 98% of bags are black.* Be sure to label your bag with current contact information. (I recently found one bag that I got out for the kids to use and it had a tag on it from when I was in high school.) Labeling your luggage means labeling it on the outside of the luggage, in the luggage, and around the luggage. I always have a laminated business card on each bag, along with a business card or identifying information inside my bag (actually I put a card in each zippered pocket/section), and I also have an identifying  handle wrap that is bright blue. This marking or labeling can mean putting some kind of distinctive marking on your bag like colored duct tape on the handle or bottom/back of the bag. These steps help distinguish your bag from others, especially if your bag is black. Or better yet don’t get a black bag in the first place – I can always find mine because it is a dark green!
* I don’t know this for sure. I made it up because it seems like 98% of all bags are black!
3. Carry Cash – I hardly ever carry cash, but I have run into some taxis and restaurants that don’t take cash. I make a point of stopping at an ATM by one of the gates that I fly out of frequently. It can be a very big pain in the butt to ask the taxi driver to stop at an ATM so that you can pay him. Having adequate cash on hand is very important if you travel internationally.
4. Mind Your Manners – Shit happens… delays, security snafus, a plane change, a security check  where everyone has to deplane with their bags, whatever it is; when shit happens, find something to do that is constructive, helpful, or positive. Listen to music, talk to someone around you, make a new friend, but don’t start complaining or worse, berating an airline employee – none of that will do any good, or make the security check go faster.

5. Be Flexible – I don’t mean do Yoga in the aisle of the plane, even though I have seen that done; what I mean is, shit happens (see #4 above). And when it does, Be Flexible.  I once had an entire Bloody Mary spill on me right after I got on the plane – we were climbing in altitude and about three seconds after the stewardess set it down on my tray, the entire drink slid into my lap. Yep, that’s right, an entire Bloody Mary, in my lap. It ran right down my leg, into my shoes, there was ice all over me and the seat, and everything soaked into my pants. I thought I could just wipe the tomato juice off and let my pants dry – and change my (not so) white shirt. Nothing doing – when I got into the tiny plane bathroom, it was clear that my pants were soaked all the way down the leg and were not going to be wearable. I went back out and got a complete change of clothes out of my suitcase. I changed into a different outfit (complete with a sheriff’s badge as I was coming from Texas at that time) and I proceeded to make 5 new friends on that flight.
If you have a favorite travel tip – please leave a comment. I look forward to hearing what your favorite travel tips are.

Are Thin Mints the Perfect Food?

I love this time of year – the Girl Scouts are out in full force, selling cookies – in front of Trader Joe’s, Starbuck’s, Safeway, etc… but door to door? Hardly – they now have online set ups and parents to help them sell to all their friends. I haven’t seen a door to door girl scout in a very long time. About a month ago, when the order forms first went around by email (through their parents), I bought 5 boxes of Thin Mints. I did this so that each person in our family could have their very own box of Thin Mints.

Predictably, Jasper’s box was gone in a matter of minutes; Bryce didn’t open his box; Greg opened his box and shared right then and there with everyone in the Snow House; And McKinley and I shared most of our cookies while skiing over the next few days. We ate most of Bryce’s box of Thin Mints on the way home from the snow and we even had a few left to take with us on our trip to Florida the next day. (That would be where I discovered that I don’t recommend eating travel-crushed thin mints in white pants…).

Now onto the Top 5 reasons why Thin Mints are the PERFECT food?

  1. Thin Mints come in a single serving sized sleeve of cookies – OK – technically it is 3.75 servings in a single sleeve, but who’s counting?
  2. Thin Mints can be used to make a cheesecake crust. Try putting a sleeve or two of Thin Mints into the food processor with a tiny bit of butter and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. Thin Mints are a Great Mardi Gras/St.Patrick’s Day party food – who knew that Thin Mints went with lime jello blocks and whipped cream? 
  4. Thin Mints are great from the box, in the car, before you even get home and into the house! Everyone knows this!
  5. They are great straight from the Freezer. I hide sleeves of the Thin Mint cookies under the vegetables in the freezer drawer – no one in our household, but me, looks there.

I love Thin Mints, but all these extra works outs are killing me. Hopefully, the Girl Scouts will be sold out soon!

If you have another reason  why Thin Mints are the Perfect Food – please add it in the comments!

Day 8 – PEI or Bust – Oklahoma City to Hot Springs, Arkansas

Day 8 57196 odo 8:14 am

As we are leaving Weatherford, OK, the home of astronaut Tom Stafford, it is VERY foggy and overcast. It always takes longer to roust everyone out of bed and into the car than I think it will. It worked so much better when my brother and I drove across country in 2001 and we would get up around 7 and take showers. I would breast-feed McKinley then we would get on the road and drive for an hour before eating breakfast at some greasy spoon. You always felt like you had accomplished a lot before 8 am.

Getting the kids dressed, fed and into the car by 8:14 am should feel better than it does. Now we are headed to Oklahoma City to see the bombing memorial set up there a few years ago. One of the first things we saw was a license plate that said JASPER on it – an old rust colored clunker, like a Dodge Series K car. We see many pick-up trucks and old American cars and a lot of semi-trucks. Not much else on the road once you get outside of the SF Bay Area. We saw our second Mercedes today of the entire drive so far. We saw our first one driving from Albuquerque, which was a candy apple red one headed towards Santa Fe.

Bryce took one of the best sunset pictures from our trip out the window of our car driving into Oklahoma last night. Driving along the highway, you can see lots of funny things (see News of the Weird, below) including a unique guard rail system with poles and steel cable rather than the metal guard rail. I suppose the steel cable system would work just as well if the cables are tensioned properly. But the poles looked like a Semi truck would just take them with the truck and have a new hood ornament in place. Not too reassuring.

Jasper spotted an elk yesterday and a doe and fawn this morning. We saw more mowers today. We saw  signs for the “Canadian Valley Technology Center” about 20 miles outside Oklahoma City – sounded like an oxymoron all the way around to me. We passed towns names Church of the Rock (or maybe that was just a church name – I wonder what they worshipped), Antlers, Atoka, Muddy Boggy Creek. We saw Broken Arrow (instead of Broken Bow, where my Aunt and Uncle live). We passed Daisy, which had a population of 118 and where the Freewill Baptist Church welcomes you. And that’s where everyone was Thursday night.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial was simple, but moving. There is a long pool of water between gates marking the time of the bombing. We were there right after July 4th and saw a woman taking down all of the red, white and blue decorations. She was unceremoniously dumping the wreaths in a box on a cart. There were an amazing amount of tributes to the bombing victims on a chain link fence running the length of the memorial. It was the same way when we visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

There was a museum at the memorial too. Jasper and Bryce weren’t very interested in going to this one, but by the time we got out of the museum and walked around the copper and glass chairs dedicated to each victim, they were suitably interested. Bryce was very interested in the interaction between your skin, the water and the copper. One of the more moving things at the memorial was the ability to put your hand in the pool of water (about 4 inches deep) and place it on the memorial wall to leave your hand print. It was a nice reminder of how we are all interconnected.

Once we left Oklahoma City, it started raining those Texas-sized rain drops, even though we were in Oklahoma… It started raining so hard, people were hydroplaning about the freeway. I kinda felt like I was back in Hendricks County (Indiana) during one of those freak summer thunderstorms, with hail the size of golf balls. In the pouring rain, we passed the Middle O’ Nowhere Market in Reagan, OK. Somewhere in all that rain, (now I feel like I’m back at home in the midwest and have to talk about the weather), I succumbed to the drive thru at a KFC and A&W RootBeer place to get chicken strips, green beans, a biscuit, and a Dr Pepper that tasted suspiciously like diet coke –  blech – on all accounts! I only made it through the biscuit. Note to self – stick to Starbucks!

Now we are headed to South Eastern Oklahoma and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Not so surprisingly, we ended up on the road that was the most expeditious, which was a toll road – the Indian Trail Turnpike; although it was our first turnpike of the trip, it certainly would not be our last. We have somewhere entered into the Chocktaw Indian Nation. After my foray into the Navajo Nation, I’m sticking to the roads that aren’t faint and dotted on the map. I’m stickin’ to those brighter lines!

We stopped at the Visitor Center at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area to get our Junior Ranger booklets and go on a hike to explore the hot springs. Who knew there were hot springs in that area. During the torrential downpour that followed us the whole day, we had this amazingly lovely green dragonfly follow us on the trail. Then when we turned back, we spied an armadillo. We watched him for a few minutes – I kept getting closer and closer  to take pictures of him because my “would have been very useful at this moment” telephoto lens was in the truck. The armadillo (which has very bad vision as a species) finally spotted us and turned and waddled off. The boys got a great kick out of seeing an armadillo up close! (It reminded me of my friend Alison’s hilarious story about armadillos, more specifically, as she puts it, “blowing on an armadillo’s bum.”)

Soaked, we still had to pick up a bag of trash each to finish the Jr. Ranger program. I like the Jr. Ranger Programs where the kids have to pick up trash… makes them more responsible! We found about 400 cigarette butts. What a nasty habit! Yuck!!! There were so many cigarette butts that we made up our own game –  if you walked over one and then someone else behind you spotted it, then they could ask you to come back and pick it up. The Visitor Center building had been built by the WPA in the 30’s and felt like the heating system worked like it was still in the 30’s. Once I was frozen from the rain and ancient heating system, the boys finally finished their booklets and earned the Jr. Ranger badge. Outside, we spotted one of the cutest things  of the day: two little girls who laid down their giant golf umbrellas and scooted under them to play while they were waiting.

A few days ago when we crossed the Continental Divide and accidentally hit a chipmunk, I made a joke about road kill and a smart ass remark about it making a good dinner in Arkansas. McKinley didn’t get the joke, so that meant I had to explain it to him. Not good when you have to explain your own prejudicial joke to your child. But it did give us a chance to chat about stereotypes and eating other types of animals that you hunt.

Speaking of animals you hunt, we saw lots of long horns today. We passed a town named Frogville, which made me wonder if they had frog jumping contests like the ones in Calaveras County, CA. Last night when we filled up, we pulled into an empty gas station next to an adult bookstore which had a full parking lot. I always wondered what men did in places like that looking for “books.” I’m still wondering… I was already kind of annoyed from seeing these sexist freeway safety ads – “My daddy works here and will daddy be home tonight? Be alert be safe…” Don’t they have any working moms along the freeway? Probably not – they have better things to be doing!

We discovered that Broken Bow, OK is right next to the North Pole near the corner of Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Who knew… Once we made it into Arkansas, the bridge surface was lumpy and road quality dropped significantly. Thankfully – that didn’t last the entire time we were in Arkansas. We saw a ton more political and campaign ads in Arkansas – most of them were hand painted or spray painted. I was impressed that people cared enough to state their opinion and put it out in their yard. We passed Wagon Wheel Dance Land, which was a dance hall. Sounded like it might be a fun place to square dance! We passed Cane Creek, Mud Creek, and Rolling Fork River – which made me a little worried about what we might find in Arkansas. Can you tell it was my first time there and that I had a lot of preconceived notions about what Arkansas would be like???

We had called to home to make sure McKinley made it back safe and to cub scout camp and my husband, Greg, mentioned that we should go to the Diamond mine and see what we could find. We briefly toyed with the idea of going to the Crater of Diamonds State Park to look for my retirement package. But since it was so late and I didn’t know if they had a campground, I decided to keep going North and ended up going to Hot Springs instead.

We arrived at Hot Springs at about dinner time – with enough daylight to find a camping spot, see a little of the area, and then make dinner. There were mosquitos galore, rain drops kept falling on my head… it was incredibly humid (and made me very thankful I live in a no humidity area). Once we were done with our preliminary look at the Hot Springs main street, we hopped back into the truck to go find the campgrounds. We then found out that the campground was temporarily off-limits because of some multi-car accident, which was blocking all three entrances to the campground. Hmmm, they weren’t able to give us an estimate of when it would be cleared or even if there were open camp sites. Not a good omen.

Undeterred, I drove back out the way we came in and then to the south side of town to the entrance way on the other side, and waited. Actually, I didn’t wait very patiently,  I parked and got of of the truck to go talk to the Ranger holding up traffic.  I’ve never been one to accept the stock answer that it can’t be done… as I was walking over to the Ranger, what turned out to be the last tow truck, brought out a very mangled car. He yelled something at the Ranger who then opened up the roads — just like that, we were in. We decided to camp in an RV space because the only two tent spaces left looked dicey, as they were next to guys working on their motor bikes and they did not look like they were going to go to sleep too soon even if there were kids next to them.

We figured out their automatic camp site payment machine and then went to find a grocery store to get something for dinner. The boys decided they wanted to grill hot dogs. We learned that you don’t want to raise (or lower) the grill with the hots dogs going the same direction as the grill slats… you end up with hot dogs in the grill, not grilled hot  dogs. Nothing a little water wouldn’t fix… The camp site we picked turned out to be sheltered from most of the rain… I slept a little bit uneasily waiting for the mosquitos to quit buzzing around me – for some reason they really like me – and I was trying to discern if the rain was heavy enough to come through the trees and get us wet enough to hop back into the truck (because we didn’t have a tent). Well, about 7:30 am the next morning, we found out that the rain WAS heavy enough to come through the trees and get us wet. And we also found out that the boys can get dressed, packed up, and back in the truck in 5 minutes flat when it really did start raining on us!

News of the Weird (and fabulous facts):

  • Why is Diamond Bank’s logo a star?
  • A sign rusted so badly that we had no idea what it actually said
  • Gas was $2.49/gal. in Weatherford, OK
  • International Paper in Oklahoma
  • Gas is only $2.34/gal. near Hot Springs, AR
  • Awesome horse farm outside Dierks, AR
  • Amazing white column house and horse ranch outside Pearcy, AR
  • Weyerhauser in Arkansas means tons of logging trucks and mills,
  • McKinley Hardwood truck
  • First non credit card gas pumps I have seen in years
  • Ambush Adventures for River Rafting (not sure that is who I want planning a river rafting trip…)
  • Sign – Do not drive into smoke – what are you supposed to do? Stop and wait? Yup! Too many grass fires to know what you’d be driving into.
  • Sign – Drive Friendly – not sure what this meant? Don’t flip anyone off? Don’t tailgate? Wave to everyone? Find a driving buddy?
  • NM drivers in NM don’t move over, but they do move over in other states.
  • License Plates spotted today – SC MS

Remembering Birthdays and Anniversaries

This blog entry is inspired by my (dear) husband who forgot our 18th anniversary Monday. Our kids and I accurately predicted that this would happen. So, today’s blog is about remembering birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates and how you can help yourself!

Use a Calendaring Program – Using Outlook, iCal or something similar to track birthdays or anniversaries in your calendar is a great start to remembering those important dates. There used to be a plethora of websites to help you remember important dates, but I find that my address book and calendar work just fine together to show those dates. I like seeing those dates highlighted on my calendar  and automatically filled in from my address book. I love having them on Facebook. It makes it so easy to send that special person a message about their special day. It only takes a moment. If you are sending an actual card (or electronic one), you can set your alarms or alerts to remind you a week ahead of time to (get and) send a card.

I loved seeing my step-sister’s message to her mom and my dad on their actual  anniversary last week and I especially loved seeing the comments to her post. It was a sweet reminder that you never know what will work, and a not so subtle reminder that I forgot to send a card 😦 even though our family calendar has their picture squarely on their anniversary date of Feb 4th!

Start a Tradition – Traditions are important in helping you remember an event and plan for it – like giving everyone new PJs on Christmas eve, or serving breakfast in bed on your child’s birthday, or having your child (or spouse) wear a birthday crown all day on their birthday. I started a tradition for our anniversary of inviting close friends and those in our wedding party to dinner at our house on our anniversary (or the weekend before or after). This dinner tradition led to some pretty funny stories being repeated year after year – like my husband diving into the pool naked at one of his (supposedly) raucous parties before I met him. (We actually received a card with this picture on it one year for our anniversary, so I know he actually did that, but I’m still not sure about the veracity of the tales about the raucous parties.) One of my favorites was our 7th anniversary dinner where Greg’s best  friend and former roommate, Karl, gave us a meat cleaver with a message carved into it – G & S Happy 7th K & K and on the other side, “The Unknown Future.” The story behind that gift was that Greg and Karl had been roommates for a long time and that by our 7th anniversary, I was now the person who had lived with Greg the longest and the gift was Karl’s way of passing the torch (or meat cleaver in this case) to me. It was a funny reminder, and still is.

My friend Grace has a tradition of skiing on her (January) birthday. One year I played hooky at the last minute, left my house at 7 am, picked Grace up and made it to the slopes by 10 am. This year we had to postpone skiing on her actual birthday, but we did get to have lunch at a very cool place in Half Moon Bay and we will go skiing in a few weeks!

Be Vigilant –  It is important to not forget the little things that may have been started in jest or as a joke or just as a simple reminder of something fun or important. When my parents were married, I never, and I mean never, ever saw my dad give my mom a present. Paula, my dad’s wife (of 27 years now) doesn’t let him get away with that. He even sends me and my kids cards on Christmas and their Birthdays. I love that he does that! Now I just need to tell him that! In our household, my husband (usually) gets forsythia and tulips or freesias for me on our anniversary – these were some of the bulb flowers we had at our wedding. We also planted all of the flowers from our centerpieces at our wedding in our garden. When we moved, we dug up all of those bulbs and planted them at our new house (that was in 1994) and they bloom every year around our anniversary. On Sunday, during the Superbowl, mind you, my youngest child just went and picked them for me and put them in a vase – now that was sweet!

I’d love to hear what others do to remember birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates!

Day 8 – PEI or Bust – Oklahoma City to Hot Springs, Arkansas

Check out the full post here. It has taken awhile to post all of these blog entries from our trip and I wanted to leave them in order for my readers.

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Day 6 – PEI or Bust – Bandelier and Albuquerque

Day 6
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We didn’t get started this morning until about 9 am, which was a little later than I anticipated given the boys’ proclivity for having to go to the bathroom right before we get into the car… We ended up staying in White Rock which is near Los Alamos labs and about 8 miles outside Bandelier. We drove back past the closed campgound down into Bandelier, which was spectacular just after sunrise. When we arrived, it wasn’t crowded at all. I guess we found the secret to a pleasant experience at busy National Parks – get there when it opens. We picked up the Junior Ranger booklets and headed out.

Bandelier was totally awesome – to use an overused 80’s phrase from high school. There was a whole ruin that was round village with many rooms, big, small and a few enormous rooms that were used for ceremonial purposes. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and not too hot to start out (that came later). The essence of Bandelier was the three story high caves carved into the walls of the canyon. Some of them were set up so that we could climb into them. All of them were darkened from smoke. It’s amazing to me that more people didn’t die from smoke inhalation with that set up. We saw many more petroglyphs than we did on the limited “open” trails in Petroglyph National Monument. The boys had to design and draw a petroglyph of their own as part of the Jr. Ranger program – it s interesting to see what they came up with. Bryce, of course, drew his lobber logo.

It was on this part of the trip that we found out that McKinley was afraid of big bugs. We went to sit down to fill out part of the Jr. Ranger booklet and Jasper said “Ohh, look at that giant bug!” I don’t think I’ve seen McKinley move so fast before. He was like a shot out of a cannon! That discovery started an entire day of bug stories and hoaxes. My favorite was when we were almost done with the hike and we found a shady area to finish the booklets and McKinley was about to sit down on a bench when Bryce said – “don’t sit on that big bug!” McKinley jumped about 5 feet in the air to miss the (imaginary) bug. That incident started a chase scene which lasted the remainder of the hike…

The volunteer docent who checked the boys Jr. Ranger booklets was very thorough and kind. He must have been a teacher before he retired. He went through each page and each activity and then asked the boys his own set of questions. He sat side by side with each boy in turn before giving them their badge and administering the Jr. Ranger Oath. It was vary sweet. Once finished, the boys could check out the gift shop, which was a big hit.

We headed out of Bandelier and Los Alamos Nat’l Labs back to Santa Fe to find the Peruvian Connection and Coach stores. (I had done a little shopping reconnaisance before we left Sedona because I didn’t want to miss the Peruvian Connection outlet this time driving across country like what happened in 2001 when I drove across country with my brother). We discovered that Santa Fe traffic is crazy! On this El Camino like road, drivers would stop in the middle of the lane for no reason. Or they couldn’t figure out where they were or where they needed to turn, so they would just stop to take a look. A driver stopped on the merging lane to the freeway, no reason, just stopped. Made me never want to drive there again!

We finally found the Coach outlet (which we should have stayed on the freeway to find instead of driving through town, but we learned that afterwards.) I went there because I had a 40% off coupon. Fortunately, the Coach outlet had 20% off your entire purchase promotion going on that week… How can you go wrong with that? Jasper’s quote of the day, “Who would pay $150 for a purse?” followed shortly by Bryce, who said, “Mom, you have enough purses!” silly boys… You can never have enough purses…
They got a lesson in bargain hunting today- 40% off plus an extra 20% off. I had them do the math. They still like Nordstrom Rack better!

Next stop- the Peruvian Connection to check out their amazing sweaters! I have always loved the Peruvian Connection catalog – beautiful sweaters, mostly hand made, mostly pain in the butt kind of knitting with many colors, complicated patterns, etc. All stuff I could knit, but their prices are crazy – who wants to pay $400 for a sweater they can knit? But an outlet – that sounded interesting. So, I went to Santa Fe specifically for the purpose of seeing the Peruvian Connection Outlet. It was worth it – I tried on tons of sweaters which was fun because you can’t do that in a catalog… I found a few Christmas presents and one very fun sweater for me. The boys were great during all of this exploration. I had to separate McKinley from the other two boys and then they all spent their time playing games on their iPods/iPhones. Finally, mom was done touching everything and we could head to lunch.

We asked for a restaurant recommendation and the shop ladies suggested Tomasitas for lunch. It was near the Railroad station a couple of blocks away. Holy cow – that’s a lot of food!!! They served huge portions of everything on giant platters. I didn’t think the boys would eat it all but somehow most of it ended up being inhaled. We took a lot of mine with us to eat later. Today we discovered that Jasper doesn’t like Mexican food – who orders fried shrimp and french fries at a Mexican restaurant?

After lunch we headed back to the Peruvian Connection to get a present for Grandma Lee. We went to the market shops that looked like they must have been built in an old railroad station – nothing interesting so we decided to go find a few art galleries. We headed to Canyon Road to see all of the art galleries. This swanky area looked a lot like Carmel, CA with adobe type buildings instead of California Bungalows. Who knew that Bryce and McKinley wanted to see sculptures. Well, I think we spent the next 4 hours looking at EVERY scultpure in the 3 block radius where we parked. Once we started looking at art and got them off of looking at the price of each piece, they were very observant and creative with their own ideas about the art. McKinley called it the Fine Arts Block. Bryce loved the outdoor scultpures that were wind and movement oriented.

Once the galleries closed, we headed back to Albuquerque. We needed to put McKinley on a plane back to the Bay Area for Webelos camp so we found a hotel by the airport and then went to find dinner. I had put a list together of places visit or eat at before we left. On that list was the Frontier Restaurant which was across the street from University of New Mexico. (I found the recommendation in Sunset magazine). It was a huge college hangout with great food for cheap – $21 for 4 of us. That kind of pricing is hard to find if you have moved beyond fast food (which so far have avoided like the plague – no McDonald’s). I tried the frontier burrito with green chili stew on top. It was huge and I had to have help to even make a dent in it. The burrito was very tasty and the stew that was poured over the top had potatoes in it, which was a surprise. Jasper had a burger (in a Mexican restaurant…). The other part of the Sunset recommendation said the reason to go there was for the giant cinnamon rolls – so we may go back for breakfast and the famed cinnamon rolls.

We went back to the hotel and packed a bag with stuff to return with McKinley. We sent the 15 movies back with McKinley because the boys had watched them all by then (I’m still talking to myself on the drive because they have their headsets on to watch the movies.) I sent all of the National Park T-Shirts and gifts back with McKinley and anything else that we wouldn’t need on the rest of our trip.

Once we finished packing a bag for him and rearranging all of the other “stuff” and decided who was sleeping in what bed, I read a little before noticing that McKinley was sound asleep just as he laid down in bed. A day well spent!

License plates for the day:
Manitoba KY AL OH

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Day 4 – PEI or Bust – Heading to New Mexico

Day 4 – Heading to New Mexico by way of Northern Arizona
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We left  Sedona to head East to New Mexico and I was hoping to stay at Chaco Culture National Historic Park tonight (the map said there is camping there or close by…). I don’t usually like to back-track when I am driving but we ended up doing that to go back up 89 to get to US 40 and Flagstaff rather than going out through Sedona back to 17 N. Within in a few miles we ran into traffic that was completely stopped. There was a huge crowd at Slide Rock State Park which opened up at 9 am that morning. Slide Rock is a natural water slide in the side of the hill. They had blocked off entry into the park from our side of the road so people were going up and doing a u-turn at the end of the waiting traffic which just meant that our side stopped too. After making our way through that, it was smooth sailing up to Flagstaff and across the desert. But, it’s never a good sign when you start seeing signs for Road Work Ahead. And it’s definitely not a good sign when it says “Road Work for next 74 miles!”

One thing that struck me funny about our adventure in Arizona and in Sedona in particular was the use of roundabouts in Arizona. I’ve driven in Europe and England where roundabouts are used effectively. The roundabouts we encountered in Arizona were not effective, they confused people and made every bit of entering stop. Why not just put in a 4-way stop if that was your goal? The roundabouts in Europe are very effective for the traffic going straight (kind of a touch and go with the roundabout) and the circle is wide so that you can merge and not run into anyone. But the ones in Arizona had a huge middle with one lane around the whole circle, meaning everyone had to stop, circle slowly and then find the road that they wanted. What a complete waste of money in making those “improvements.”

We filled up in Winslow, Arizona. 56036 odo. We had to take a picture of the Winslow sign for our friend and colleague, Winslow Chapman. The boys got to drive in the back of his truck when we visited him in Florida at Thanksgiving so they think the world of him. Taking pictures from the backseat proved challenging sometimes but after a bit, Jasper and Bryce figured out how to put the camera on no flash which worked better with the windows up.

At this point we turned north to go to Canyon de Chelly (doesn’t rhyme with Jelly, but is pronounced like Shay, who knew). The green part of the map turned out to be the Navajo Nation with no road signs except for occasional hand-painted stakes, pointing random directions. Somewhere after a stop for a bathroom break for the boys, I started to second guess my choice of roads and felt slightly panicky about getting out of there and back onto a major freeway.  It was eerie to see so many state parks closed (some for repairs, some just closed). Two of them were Homolovi Ruins St Park and Jerome State Park (back down by Sedona. The painted desert was spectacular in its vibrant colors. I hadn’t planned to take any dirt roads but that’s what was on the map between us and Canyon de Chelly. Thankfully, the road I ended up on never turned to dirt. We passed several churches of different religions, one school, and one small store. If you needed milk, you had better have a cow, otherwise, you are driving for quite awhile to get it. I guess you don’t make unnecessary trips into town living in the Navajo Nation. The specific road into Canyon de Chelly was very dusty and there were tons of dust devils and dirt clouds everywhere and in one part tons of sand drifting across the road. I truly felt like I was in the middle of nowhere!

Once we arrived, we chose to take the South Rim drive and stop at all the lookouts. Some were amazing – the White House stop looked like a post card with a fake diorama. Tons of hawks flying around to make you pay attention to the edge of the canyon! The boys finished the Jr. Ranger program (which was one of the only ones so far to make them gather a bag of trash along the way) with a little bit of whining and some lunch. Some of the views from the lookouts reminded me of what Angels Landing at Zion looked like – 360 degree views from a point that was isolated in the middle of the canyon and was only accessible by a trail that seemed only passable by billy goats. Stunning views. Indians were at every stop trying to sell beaded jewelry – nothing that interesting. Seemed like stuff form china rather than true Indian works of art. I guess they have to make a living some how. I wish I had snapped a picture of one of them. One other thing that surprised me here was that someone had planted peach trees in the area many, many years ago  – there was one in front of the Visitor’s Center.

We were advised that if we were going to Chaco that it was only accessible by dirt roads and there were two ways in – from the North on a 13-mile dirt road and from the South on a 21-mile dirt road. If we had gone North, I would have wanted to stop at 4 corners. I decided it was going to be too close to dark by the time we got there to want to be on dirt roads, even if we were in an SUV. So, we went back down the road we came in on and went to the next main paved road and stopped at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site.

One thing I love about the National Park system is that you never know what you are going to find – of course, in places like Yosemite and Yellowstone you expect to see brilliant geological formations and natural beauty; but then you stop at some of the slightly out-of-the-way National Monuments and you get into the more interesting stuff.

Hubbell was definitely interesting. It is the oldest, continuously operated trading post in the US. The Jr. Ranger program was one of the better ones because it asked what if questions as well as the historical time line kinds of questions, along with word puzzles. In the museum/book store, I couldn’t pull McKinley away from the weaving loom, so I decided to go back in the trading post to look at the Navajo rugs. I thought I would find him one for his birthday to give him an example of what weaving looks like when finished. I looked at rugs and most of them were $250-300, but then I found one that had a really nice, quilting like pattern in back, white and red ( no browns or grays) and of course it was $1,295. Not what I was expecting, at all… Needless to say, I am still on a quest to find one for him.

The kids were mostly fascinated by the root cellar being built underground for food storage in the winter. While there, we discovered two new things about the Jr. Ranger program here – one, they gave out a flat piece of 11 x17 paper that turned into a Jr. Ranger hat – we hadn’t seen those in all of the years we have been doing these programs. The other thing they had at the counter was a banner in the shape of a ranger badge for kids to pin their ranger badges on. I solved that problem years ago when I made felt banners that looked more like a family crest for the kids to put their badges and pins on. But it was nice to see that the NP was making one available more generally.

When we decided to leave, Jasper decided he had to go to the bathroom, so the other two got to peruse the trading post for a bit longer and get some gum and candy. I bought a Navajo Cake (having no idea what it was, but wanting to try something native to the area). I couldn’t believe that the Hubbell trading post had Brown Sheep yarn for $3.75 a skein. Not that I needed more yarn (I had already brought two knitting projects with me) – but that was a good deal.

Continuing on to the next National Monuments and trying to find the camping site to stay the night was next on the agenda. We headed over to Gallup, New Mexico. The road quality improved significantly once we exited the Navajo Nation and the number of pick-up trucks diminished too. A few miles alter we left Arizona behind and entered New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.I have always thought that was a bold statement to put on your license plate. Who’s doing the enchanting and what is so enchanting about New Mexico? We were about to find out…

Gallup was a complete bust unless you were trying to buy fireworks at a significant discount (today was after all, July 4th and there was a high likelihood that they would be used immediately). The kids, of course, lobbied to buy real fireworks not the smoke bombs we had tried a few summers ago in the midwest. Recalling the thumbnail that had been blown off by an M-80 when I was about 10 years old and the aftermath, I declined to buy any fireworks.

At this point the sun was sinking and I wanted to get to the camp site before it was dark. I really don’t like picking camp sites in the dark, so I try to avoid having to do that. I wanted to have a quick dinner, fill up and go find a camp site. But the only thing that was open in town was fast food places. We end up stopping at Sonic drive-in – ugh, greasy, fried food… the kids loved what they ordered (which included ice cream) and I loved the onion rings which tasted very sweet like they had been dipped in cookie dough batter rather than the usual breading. My Dr. Pepper tasted suspiciously like Diet Coke, so I avoided that and tossed it at the first opportunity.

The last stop before filling up was to find a grocery store and get the ingredients for s’mores and stuff for breakfast. Finally some fresh fruit – cherries and grapes, as well. I drove out of the grocery store parking lot looking for a gas station between there and the freeway and it turns out I drove right past the only one; another u-turn in the same spot we had done one to get to the grocery store – now Gallup is really starting to bug me. The first part that bugged me was that the two places I tried to go for dinner were closed. Making fast food the only quick option.

At the gas station, it was Bryce’s turn to help out. Once we had the gas pumping, we cleaned the windows and tossed trash from the back seat. While I was cleaning up, a very weathered old Indian man in a plaid shirt, jeans, and a cowboy hat came up to ask asking for help in words we couldn’t hear or understand. We declined and he returned to a shade tree next to the gas station with two others just like him. Then we had a long talk about hobos – my kids are obsessed with hobos. They aren’t homeless, or down on their luck to the kids; they are hobos. I think they just like to say the word.

We continued on to El Morro to find a camp ground before it was completely dark. More Indian nation roads, very few signs, I keep hoping I am going in the right direction because the GPS isn’t that much more detailed in the Indian Nation. We passed many run down, abandoned places. I pointed out a bunch but the kids weren’t listening – they were onto what ever movie was next in their queue.  Bryce did disconnect long-enough to take pictures of the sunset. We found El Morro and turned in to see what it was all about and find teh campground – there were no signs to indicate camping. After driving a short way in, there was a sign to the campground. Only 12 spots and only 5 people there – we had many choices – we chose close to the bathroom so the kids didn’t have to wander far. We drove around twice and picked a spot next to a guy with a campfire going  and a guitar (we knew we would have to make friends to cook our s’mores because we didn’t have a place to put the firewood in our very full truck).

We put our tarp and sleeping bags out and got clothes for the next day and stuffed them in our bags to keep warm. It was decidedly chilly there after the sun went down and had lots of bugs. They were especially attracted to me and Jasper and the s’mores. We joined Bob and Debbie next to us for Sangria (bonus) and s’mores. They treated us to a mini-concert on the guitar. Bob also played the harmonica and Debbie played the flute. It was very relaxing and peaceful watching the stars come out and singing. We heard many sounds that night including fireworks. The sign coming in had an additional sign on it today “No Fireworks.” So, we didn’t actually get to see any fireworks on the 4th but we could hear them far away in Gallup.

One of the things I wanted to do on the drive across the country is introduce the kids to some classics – classic poetry, classical music, and classic books. The music and books were loaded onto a designated family iPod. But with their movies, I haven’t been able to command enough attention to put on a book or music. But I had brought an actual book to read at bedtime – the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After everyone was snuggled into their sleeping bags, under the millions of stars, I started to read about Huck Finn – only this really giant bug that pursued us at the fire with our s’mores was really attracted to the light. So, our book reading ended when that giant, very loud bug flew up under my collar and with me writhing around to get it out of my shirt… The head lamp was extinguished and we looked for shooting stars instead.

License Plates:

NH, IA (not many new ones today)

Interesting Things we spotted today:
Babbitt Tank Wash
Buffalo Range Road
Photo Enforcement Zone – not sure what this was, no explanation was provided; was it for speed?
Two Guns (town name)
Trucker Flat Wash – the kids were fascinated by the dry rivers; I just liked their crazy names.
Bread Springs

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