Showing posts with label travel both near and far. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel both near and far. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Empty Nest Vacationing, Biker Mama Style

It has been forever, it seems, since that carefree day way back in April 2006 when I wrote about how I longed to get rid of an old TV in our office and my husband had a tendency to hold on to things. Nine years, to be exact.

Nine years isn't long really, but now it feels like a whole lifetime ago, when I was the mom of a kid in grade five and working my way into the business of writing. These days, that nine year old is now closing in on twenty and has since moved out. I'm finding myself in a house that no longer has the pitter patter of other people's feet, and adjusting to being an empty nester is really strange.

Some time back in March when I was working something like 60 hours a week at four (yes! FOUR!) different jobs, I lay in bed on my only day off after working something crazy like 16 days in a row and declared that I was going on a vacation this summer. Some place where I wasn't required to cook or clean, that I didn't have to write, supervise children, or do anything work related. Eventually John and I pulled out all the vacation planning things, and soon we mapped out a trip via motorcycle to Calgary. In all honesty at first it was to Oregon but the Canadian dollar kind of lost steam and we didn't want to pay that much, so Alberta it was!

Empty nesting vacationing is totally different from road tripping with kids, let me tell you.  I'm not going to tell you all about it now, though, just wait! Exactly like when I used to write about road trips back when I had  a kid with me, this time I'm going to tell you what it was like taking a motorcycle to Calgary and back-where we stayed, what we ate, the funny things that happened along the way, and more.

There's nothing boring here- tornadoes and severe thunderstorms were involved, and we DID see one (or both) of them up close and personal-like. You're going to have to follow along to find out.

Were we all food revolutionary and healthy, like in our past road trips? No. You can't haul food on a motorcycle, and sometimes you just have to eat at whatever place presents itself. So that's exactly what we did, with some really interesting results.

Keep an eye out for the next posts! First stop, Three Valley Gap, BC.

The bike!
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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Delta Bessborough, Saskatoon (A Review!)

delta bessburough

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to stay in the Delta Bessborough hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In the interest of true disclosure I want to let you know that I was a guest of the Saskatchewan Pulse Farmers there for three nights, but I enjoyed the hotel so much that I wanted to share more about the property with readers in case anyone was traveling to Saskatoon this summer. I was not asked to write about the Bessborough, nor compensated to do so. I am writing because I loved the hotel, and I think you would too.

The Delta Bessborough is located in downtown Saskatoon, nestled among 5 acres of gardens along the Saskatchewan river. Built in the 1930s, this spectacular Four Diamond hotel has recently undergone a 6.5 million dollar renovation to upgrade the rooms. The beautiful architecture, service and location makes it a fantastic spot to stay when you are in Saskatoon.

First of all, here's what my room looked like. I was on the 2nd floor, looking out over the gardens where the Saskatoon Jazz Festival stage was directly below.

Room at the Delta Bessborough

What I really loved was the full sized pillows. I hate teeny pillows. The bed was very comfortable!  Everything was absolutely spotless. What you can't see what a nicely sized desk with a power bar complete with all sorts of usb ports and charging spots to plug in everything from my smart phone to my ipod, a laptop or more.

The room was efficient. A little on the smaller size, compared to some, but clever touches such as having the fridge tucked away and the coffeemaker in the closet were good space saving ideas.

One thing that I almost never do when I'm away is order room service, but the first morning I was in Saskatoon it was raining so hard, and I didn't want to walk around in a strange city trying to find breakfast, so I ordered breakfast. The first morning I had eggs benedict, and the second morning my choice was yogurt, granola, and fruit.

Yogurt, fruit, granola, toast, and coffee. What a great way to start the day!

The food was tasty, and the coffee some of the best hotel coffee I've ever drank. It helped that the coffee was Starbucks and came in a good sized carafe. Service was cheerful and efficient. I was really grateful for room service those two mornings, and was delighted that even when I tweeted the Bessborough about how much I enjoyed the breakfast, they answered!


The bathroom in my room was fairly tiny but had nice fixtures and did the job. I especially liked the Philosophy amenities. The hair dryer worked well, and the towels were fluffy. It was spotlessly clean, too!

I walked the grounds around the Bessborough, taking in the gazebos and fountains, views of the river and paddle boats going by. There is a mall and a few Starbucks locations nearby, as well as a movie theatre and restaurants. Probably the most major draw during the time I was there was the Saskatoon Jazz festival, which had Colin James, Metric, and Ziggy Marley playing. If you were there for the Jazz festival the Bessborough was the place to be, but if you were looking for a quiet space to re-charge, I think the noise from the festival may have been a little much. I literally could look out my window and watch the shows I didn't have tickets to. There was no sleeping early the first night because it was so loud, but by the last night, I was so tired that I literally dozed off right through Ziggy Marley reverberating off the hotel walls.


A gazebo on the grounds was a perfect spot for a young girl to get her prom photos taken.


The weather was a little unsettled while I was in Saskatoon, but it cleared up enough for me to walk along the river.

Overall, I'd highly recommend the Bessborough as a place to stay while you are in Saskatoon. I really enjoyed my stay and I can tell you, if I'm ever back in Saskatoon it will be the first place I look into.

Thank you so much to both the Bessborough for making my stay such a great one, and the Saskatchewan Pulse Farmers for inviting me! 

Why was I in Saskatoon? That's coming very, very soon! Let's just say it involves lentils, Chef Michael Smith, a farmer's market, and some lucky bastards. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Break Adventures: Purdy's Factory Tour

When I was small, a highlight of Easter was when Mom would tuck Purdy's Peanut butter eggs into our baskets.  Rather than loads of cheap chocolate, my Mom knew how to build a basket well-smaller amounts of amazing chocolate to be savoured and enjoyed.

I'm a long time Purdy's chocolate fan.  When we'd be in the city on vacation, the trip always included a stop at Purdy's for a chocolate dipped ice cream bar or some other confection.  Purdy's heart shaped chocolates were favours at my wedding, and I used a Easter bunny (on a motorcycle, no less!) to tell Hubs that I was pregnant.  When Kevin was old enough, I'd plot ways to get to a Purdy's before Easter to fill his basket with some of the same confections I enjoyed as a child.

When we finally moved closer to Vancouver and I realized that I could go on a factory tour, I was ecstatic!  I had missed it because of my birthday, but I'd go next year, right?  Wrong.  The factory tours suddenly were no longer.

So when Purdy's offered to show Kevin and I their factory over Spring Break, can I even slightly convey how completely and utterly stoked we were?

On came the funky hairnets and white lab coats, and before we knew it there we were, in the bowels of chocolate heaven.

It's Charles!
Mom, can we take Charles home?
We learned so much about Purdy's, and chocolate making in general, just in the factory tour. Firstly, all their milk and butter comes from a local farm and they source out other local ingredients when possible. Kevin was especially impressed that the cream fillings have actual fruit in them, not just artificial flavourings.

Making Caramel, Purdy's chocolate, chocolate factory,Vancouver
Straining the caramel
Also, did you know that the names of the products at Purdy's have meaning? The Todd bar was named after Todd, who not only invented the bar but who makes the caramel! We had some good discussions about the dangers of the job when Kevin told them how I burned myself making caramel last year. It's dangerous work, and these things are HOT.

Making Peanut Brittle!First bite!

Purdy's also makes things in fairly small batches so that they can keep the quality very, very high.  We happened to arrive just when they had finished making some peanut brittle.  Of course, we couldn't resist having a taste!  I thought those tables were so interesting-hot water runs through them when the brittle is  just poured so they can spread it out, but then cold water is to cool it down.

Kevin had some questions, of course.  He had jokingly wondered if there were Oompa Loompas ("they would be purple!") and a chocolate fountain.  No Oompa Loompas, just a very dedicated, highly trained staff-and no chocolate fountain, but there IS chocolate piped from holding tanks to the machines.

"OH, so if a pipe bursts you could just open your mouth and drink the chocolate," Kevin sighed. Gary, who is Purdy's head chocolatier and was our tour guide, laughed.

"That has happened before, and it's not that much fun."

Okay, so no chubby kids getting stuck in the pipes like on Willy Wonka, or trained squirrels that would've decided if we were good or bad eggs.  Likely a good thing.

bunnies!Assembly Line

With Easter coming, the factory was busy at work, turning out chocolate bunnies and filled baskets!  A worker sprays the inside of these moulds with chocolate (from what looks like a paint gun, really cool!), then they are attached magnetically to a machine that spins them.   Gary also stopped to show us the Caramilk secret.

Yes. We now know what gets the caramel INSIDE the chocolate, but it's a secret, so I can't tell you.  Shhhh.

hot off the assembly line
Haystacks, fresh off the assembly line. OH MY. These are my new favourite treat.

What was next after the factory tour? Stick around, because we then made our way to the kitchen, where Gary and Kevin cooked up the MOST wonderful chocolate confection I've had in ages.  We learned all about how to temper chocolate, the difference between ganache and gianduja, and some quick tips about making chocolate treats at home.  Those secrets I CAN share, and will in posts to come!

Disclosure: I was not paid to blog about this experience, nor did Purdy's cover our travel costs.  They did spoil us rotten and give us a bunch of chocolate treats to enjoy!  We paid our own expenses to travel on the ferry, etc.  
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

We Go to Eat! Vancouver

Last weekend Kevin and I took off to Eat Vancouver, a fun food and culinary festival at the Convention Center right in downtown Vancouver. Neither of us had gone before, but we thought it would be loads of fun to check out.

The day started off on a weird note; as we sat in the car in line for the ferry, a small child in the car next to us whipped open their door and smacked the back end of my car. The door was opened with such force that it actually made our car shake. Hubs was out of the car talking to the parents, who were really apologetic, and we exchanged driver information for insurance purposes. My car now has a dent in it.

The parents were really, really apologetic and we assured them that things happen, little kids do stuff that we can't control, and not to worry-insurance will take care of it. Little did we know at the time, the other driver didn't have insurance. Once we arrived home and I called our insurance provider, they told us that the other driver bought insurance a few hours after the fact. Eeep!

The rest of the day went without a hitch. Kevin and I were smart enough to arrive very early, so we had lots of time to walk around and look at the sights by the Convention Center since we had never been there before.

Vancouver Convention Center

Those huge egg like things were art inside the building, titled "Floats". We thought they looked really interesting. Kevin was most excited about the whale and kept saying it was Minecraft, which made me giggle. For the first time we had a close up look at the Olympic Cauldron, which is actually really interesting-the whole outside looks like frosted glass.

Since we were early, we had loads of time to look through the whole Expo hall at the exhibits before the masses arrived. Good thing too, because each vendor had samples! It was like visiting Costco for lunch, although this was sample heaven. We wandered through the building, talking to such great companies as Camino, Stonyfield Farm, Kitchen Basics, Windset farms, Bosa, Nature's Choice, Maple Delights, Honey Bunny, and My Garden Footprint.

Eat Vancouver

At Bosa foods we saw the biggest wheel of Parmesan cheese ever, another company was doing veggie art with ceramic knives, and we sat through a cheese tasting seminar with the Dairy Farmer's of Canada. Camino was obviously my favorite booth as we sampled all the juices, then tried out their bars and chatted with Jennifer from @caminolala on Twitter. There were other chocolate vendors in the building, but Camino was our hands down favorite. The chocolate is SO good. Also, did you know that the farmers who produce it grow the cacao bushes with the fruit trees for the juices, so the trees provide the shade for the cacao bushes, AND it gives the farmer a better cash crop? I think that's so cool. Jennifer kindly gave us a mint bar to sample and we broke it apart, devouring it greedily, as soon as we were home. I think it would be so yummy if you pressed a square into the top of brownie bites. The juices are also really, really tasty.

Despite the bazillion samples we ate that included things like specialty cheeses, sausage, bbq sauces, honey, chocolate, and more, around lunch time we were hungry so we headed over to the Bite of Vancouver, where local restaurants had small servings of some of their popular items that you could buy with tickets. The first thing we decided to try was this drink with dry ice in it, which looked like something from a Halloween party.

Care for a Drink?

Then my son, being the ever adventurous boy he is, found raw oysters.

For the Love of Raw Oysters

He brought it back to our table, eyes shining.

"Mom, you have to try one!"

"Uh, no thanks, I'm good." I've had raw oysters before, not entirely on purpose. We were in Australia on our honeymoon, the restaurant was dark, and I didn't realize what I was eating until I'd already downed a few. Then I was a bit revolted. Cooked oysters, no problem. Raw kind of turns my stomach. Unable to convince me, he slurped that baby back like a pro and smacked his lips.

"Mmm, salty. Good. I want another one."

He ate THREE.

Loaded down with what felt like a bazillion samples and cute basket of fresh mint that I had won from My Garden, we made our way through the crowd chatting with vendors, sampling, and looking at cool products. It really was fun to meet the faces behind some of our favorite local brands. There was a celebrity chef stage, but Kevin wasn't that interested. When I asked, he simply shrugged and said that it wasn't Jamie Oliver or Michael Smith, so he wasn't interested.

I think I've created a monster. Oysters and chef preferences? Oy!

Or last stop was at the Boylan booth. While we don't drink a lot of soda, every now and then we like a really good specialty soda, and Boylan or Stewarts are our favorite brands. Kevin selected 4 to take home and carefully carted them through the crowd.

Boylan Sodas

At the end of the day, we retreated from the crowds to a quiet spot and sat looking over the harbor with bowls of icy gelato.

"Mom, this was so much fun," Kevin mused as he licked his spoon. "Can we do Eat! Fraser Valley too?"

I have totally created a monster.
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Go to Toronto and All Kevin Gets is a T-shirt

View from the Plane

If anyone had told me that I'd be flying to Toronto a second time in less than six months, I'd have said they were crazy but there I was, once again flying to Toronto. This time, not quite so freaked out. I can rock this thing now! After navigating a bus and then a taxi, I found myself at Emma's house, with a very barky little dog that I swore hated me at first.

I accidentally woke up the entire house by waking up the same barky little dog at 7 am. SO embarrassed.

Hi. I'm Karen, from BC. I have a habit of waking up barky dogs early in the morning so that they wake up EVERYONE.

Not just that, but I have to carry chocolate in my suitcase that the dog finds, and then devours while we're busy. Cue me being worried the whole morning that the beloved dog? Will die. Death by chocolate. Death by the chocolate that I didn't even think to, you know, lock up.

Emma didn't seem too concerned.

Emma and I got the kids out the door, off to school, and then made our way down to Cityline. What the heck is Cityline? I didn't really know. I was just following along, after all!

It's a TV show!

Cityline? TV show. Us? Studio audience, along with a pile of people I know from Blissdom like Karen, Julie, Sharon, Erica, Nadine, and waaaay too many more to list. We were briefed on not chewing gum, when to clap, smile, and how to be a rocking audience. Everyone was so shocked to see me, because they didn't expect me to be all the way out there from BC, for goodness sake!

On the Set
Smile! You're on TV, ladies!

Erica Ehm!
The lovely Erica of the Yummy Mummy Club. She gave me a shout out during her interview, where I smiled and worried that a camera would zoom in on me with something in my teeth.

If you want to watch the whole show, go HERE.

After the show there was a tweet up at a really nice hotel (can I remember the name? Nope) in the down town area. There was swanky looking yummy food, lots of drinks, and we basically wandered around and talked to each other.

My creation

You always know the food bloggers because they are photographing the food before anyone eats it.

Karen and Emma kept asking me what I wanted to do downtown but the truth is, I know nothing about Toronto. I need to research more so that the next time I'm there I can actually have an intelligent answer rather that blurt out that I have NO IDEA so please just pick something for me, m'kay? We walked around a little, and stopped at the Dark Horse Espresso Bar where all I wanted was a drip coffee, which they didn't seem to have. So I ordered a French Press and while it was delicious and amazing, the pot was about the size of my head. Maybe. I exaggerate, just a little. Let's just say it was a lot of coffee and jet lag didn't stand a chance, because even my eye stopped twitching once I had that baby.

I picked up Kevin a t-shirt, which is very cool and he loves. I wish I'd bought myself one, now. The bonus is that while it has the Dark Horse logo on it, the shirt is a Me to We one-so money goes to Free the Children.

That evening, we decided to go out for dinner. Emma and I wandered around Little India and sampled some sort of food from a street vendor- some crispy round things stuffed with chick peas and potato, drizzled with a spicy sauce, and then you put broth in it and try to eat without dumping it all over yourself. So yummy! We then wandered down the road to Lahore Tikka, this ramshackle looking building that is covered with strings of Christmas lights and what looks like sari cloth, glittering in the night and smelling of amazing spices. Don't let the modest building scare you off-the food was the best Indian food I've had since I was seven and we had an East Indian family living across the street who would occasionally invite me to join them for dinner.

I then implored Emma to take a photo and send it to Kevin at home in BC, so I could gloat over the amazing dinner I was having while he ate the chili that I left behind.

I'm such a cruel mother.

Hey, he got a t-shirt, didn't he?

Next: We get caught in a snow storm, spend the day in the Kraft Kitchens, and I tell them how my teenager pitched a bottle of BBQ sauce in the garbage because of the sodium content.
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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Great Restaurant Find: The Pony

Since Hubs got his motorcycle, we've found excuses almost every weekend to take off for a ride. Last weekend we took off to Pemberton, a sleepy little town north of Whistler. The ride is so beautiful-curvy roads beside the ocean, gorgeous mountain views, and lots of forest.

I was so wishing I had brought my camera but I admit it's sort of hard to take photos when you're on the back of a motorcycle.

The plan was to meet a friend, but the friend couldn't make it so we found ourselves in Pemberton, and hungry. Roaring down the road back to Whistler, we suddenly spotted a busy little restaurant.

Busy=probably really good.

What we had stumbled into was the The Pony, a local favorite. Hubs and I sat out on the patio and ordered the shrimp club, and a grilled summer veggie panini. What then caught my eye was a little blurb at the bottom of the menu: " At the Pony we believe the food we eat should be fresh, clean, and produced close to home, for us that's Pemberton BC"

I don't think I've ever seen that on a menu.

I loved the patio. It was a bit small, but allowed us to people watch a little while we sat in the sun, chatting about the ride and what we planned to do over the week. Then the food came.

Fresh organic greens, topped with berries, goat cheese, and candied pecans. Grilled panini stuffed with melty cheese, pesto, and grilled veggies. Hubs and I looked at our plates, eyes wide, and both of us commented that we didn't think we'd be able to eat all the food in front of us.

Oh, but we really wanted to. Have you ever had something that is SO delicious that you just CAN'T stop eating it? You finish every last morsel and then even consider licking the plates?

I've never had a restaurant meal that was so fresh and delicious. The salad? Best side salad I've ever eaten. The panini? Kinda like a gourmet veggie pizza, all gooey and melty and delicious.

We relished every. Single. Bite. I wished again that I had brought my camera, so I could show you all what it looked like.
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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adventures in Boxing Week Shopping

Do you do Boxing Day shopping? We claim we don't, but the reality is that since we discovered Best Buy, we do. Somehow it just seems so wrong to pass up some of the incredible deals that are available after Christmas.

I mean, hello? DVD players for under $50? Are you joking?

This week we made a trek to Best Buy in Richmond, BC. For those of you that don't know the Vancouver area, Richmond is just over a bridge from Vancouver. The Vancouver International airport is there, and now there's the new 2010 Olympic speed skating oval. Hubs and I met at the Three Road Starbucks, were married in Minoru chapel, and Jake was born in Richmond Hospital. It always feels like coming home when we head over the Oak Street bridge.

We were in the market for a laptop for Jake this time. Before I get e-mail stating how terrible I am for spoiling my merely 14 year old child with his very own bling-y lap top, just know that there is a huge, un-blogable reason for it.

Anyway we walked through those Best Buy doors and the drooling commenced. Despite my claims that we aren't really a techie family, I guess we actually are. We may not do the whole gaming thing, but over the past few years we've (okay, *I've*) really gotten into it. If you see me out and about now I have my camera, Flip, cell, and possibly the iPod AND, I'm now drooling over the bigger, badder, SLR cameras.

I admit it, I'm totally hooked.

After 3 long hours of wandering in the store, research, choosing, talking, looking at cameras (ya I fit that in there because I'm just so clever), we finally settled on a way cool HP laptop. Took us forever because not only had we decided to take advantage of some awesome deals, but so did half of the population of the entire Lower Mainland (if you're not from Vancouver, the term Lower Mainland refers to a huge area surrounding Vancouver.)

What we didn't know was that Best Buy needed 24 hours to configure and format the thing.

Um...ya. We had been planning on catching the 5:30 ferry. Best Buy said that possibly they could have it ready in an hour and a half, since we weren't having that much done anyway, and since it was waaaaay past lunch time we decided to go to Tim Hortons.

Well that was the plan, anyway. Instead we went and danced around a traffic jam for 45 minutes because half of the city had the nerve to go and have a power outage.

A few hours later, Best Buy wasn't finished, and Hubs? He wasn't willing to leave the store to go get a coffee or whatever and kill time doing something other than sit and watch the Geek Squad format the computer. So we waited.

And waited.

Waited some more.

Waited until around 7 pm at night. It wasn't that bad, really. They were super apologetic and even gifted Jake with a $20 gift card to say thanks for waiting. When they saw how techie he was, the Geek Squad let him go in their super secret back room and watch them format his computer. He looked like he fit in back there, among all these guys and loads of tech equipment. His eyes glowed with delight and we giggled as he shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from touching everything, which is a trick Hubs taught him when he was little and around lots of breakables.

Have you ever spent hours in a Best Buy? I really got the chance to check out all the camera gear, accessories for my iPod, and we ended up picking up a new HP printer/scanner and some phones in the process. We also decided that dude, instead of buying our Christmas gifts before Christmas, next time we'll wait until Boxing Day weekend and shop.

We also had a chance to watch other customers. Like the middle aged guy who picked up his laptop, immediately turned on Skype, and began preening right there in the store, grinning into the computer with smouldering eyes and posing like he was just so hawtly sexy.

Finally, we were done. It was time to go. Best Buy was totally apologetic, but we had been fine with it all along. Apparently their network had been acting up (maybe because of that power outage) and things had taken far longer then usual. Computers are finicky and sometimes, it's just beyond their control. The staff were great and getting all angry wouldn't have helped things along away.

With a huge sigh of relief we loaded up the car and were all ready to go, when...

Hubs put the key in the ignition and turned it.

"Oh, SHIT." He held up the key and in the evening light, I could see what he was talking about. The key had come out of the ignition switch, with part of the CAR attached to it.

You may not be able to see the panic that this would cause. First off, we were just going to make the very last ferry of the night. If the car was broken, there is no way we'd make it to the ferry terminal which would mean an impromptu overnight stay, then a tow truck home, which would cost PILES of money. Being stranded in Vancouver miles from home isn't on my "fun things to do" list.

With Hubs old clunker car, which he insists we have to take to the city because he's terrified the pretty newish Toyota will become scratched on the ferry, we have had exactly THREE near break downs; all in December in Vancouver.

The car is telling us something, people. Maybe like "I'm old and tired and hate the city," ?

Hubs shoved the key and whatever was attached to it in the hole where the ignition is supposed to be and as we all fervently offered prayers to the Gods, the car started. I'm guessing it must have been from me petting the dashboard and talking to the car gently, begging it to please get me home and I will make sure we never, ever, force it to go to the city again. At least not with me in it.

The prayers didn't help when we finally were in the ferry line up and Jake and I hoofed it to Trolls for take out (since we hadn't had dinner and all of us felt like we were going to die from hunger), only to discover it was closed. The bartender cleaning up took one look at us and laughed. LAUGHED! Then we couldn't find an ATM because you can't use debit on the ferry, and we had resigned ourselves to eating ferry food for dinner.

You can imagine my relief when I discovered they took Visa, though.

Thank GOD for Visa, which allowed us to have big sloppy burgers and crispy fries, which normally wouldn't be my first choice but to be in Best Buy all day without food or water would make me ready to eat just about anything. (To be fair, it was pretty yummy.)

I admit, we were all nervous when it came time to drive off the ferry. Would the car start? Would we have pieces falling off in our hands again? Did we need to call a friend and lug all that newly bought computer equipment off? My cell phone had run out of juice as well and all the phone numbers were IN it, so how would we even do that?

Hubs gingerly turned the key as I whispered sweet nothings to the dashboard and Jake clutched his new toy in the back seat. We collectively held our breath and the car roared to life.

Whoo! High fives all around! We're going to make it home!

The next day I was at work when Hubs called with a fix it report.

"I don't know what the hell happened, but that piece is stuck on there again. Won't come off. I don't know how or why it came off in the first place."

Maybe the car was just trying to tell us something, like "Look you stupid humans, I'm too old for this shit. Take the younger car. Besides, if you had planned things better you'd have had snacks, drinks and some cash on you. Remember that for next year or I'll strand your asses in Richmond and you'll be hitch hiking home. Don't you remember the LAST two years when I broke down? Do I have to spell it out for you?"

Point taken.
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Monday, September 07, 2009

Travel Review: Ameritel Hotel and the Old Mill District, Bend Oregon

*This review was not sponsored in any way whatsoever. I did not receive any money, discounts, coupons, or offers of chocolate in order to write it. Ameritel didn't even know I was a blogger until the very end, when I asked the owner if it would be okay to write a review. I booked, we stayed, we LOVED, and I can't wait to share it with readers!

The Ameritel Inn in Bend, Oregon was one of the last hotels that we stayed in on Road Trip 2009, and I admit that I was skeptical about what it would be like. There was little information online, and really all I had to go by was the fact that I had seen it from the road once. Not really something to base a hotel on, but we decided to just go for it.

Sometimes you gamble, and you lose. This time, we gambled and hit the jackpot, baby.

This is the outside of the hotel:

The grounds were really, really nice and well maintained, with gardens and an outdoor area to sit and have a coffee and chat. You have views of the Deschutes River, the Old Mill District, and mountains in the background. It's really pretty! The location couldn't be more perfect either, but more on that later.

When you walk in the front entrance, there is a huge, nicely decorated lobby with lots of comfy places to sit. You can take your laptop and find a corner to work, or hang out with friends and have some of the coffee and tea that's always available. The coffee is actually really good, too. We didn't resort to finding a Starbucks instead. There's a little general 'store', where you can buy everything from wine to ice cream as well. Classical music plays gently in the back ground, giving the hotel a little more formal, classier feel. NICE.

The front desk staff were friendly and professional, and when I asked how much it was to upgrade my room, she actually did it for us at no extra charge! Wow!

There is a nice pool and hot tub, exercise room, computers available for customer use, and laundry facilities. All were super clean and worked impeccably!

Here's what our room looked like. The beds were soft and comfy, the pillows large and just the right amount of softness. It was nice and quiet, and just perfect. They also had Neutrogena toiletries, which I admit I squealed over. I love Neutrogena!

Also perfect? Breakfast. This hotel has one of the best hotel breakfasts I have ever seen, with a massive amount of choices! You can get everything from toast to eggs, sausage, crispy potatoes, you name it. All served on REAL dishes. You can't imagine how after weeks of travel and drinking coffee out of paper cups, this was HUGE for us. We loved it. Their crispy potatoes are the best too...yum yum yum. Oh, delish. You'd easily spend lots of cash just finding a restaurant where you could get that kind of breakfast, and at Ameritel it was included.

Looking down the Deschutes from a small bridge on a walking path at the Old Mill District. In the background is Ameritel.

Okay besides all the stuff about how wonderful Ameritel was, how beautiful and the fantastic service, the location just can NOT be beat. Not at all. Why? You are walking distance from the Old Mill District, which is THE place to be on a summer evening. Just take a super short walk down a paved path and you will find yourself at the Working Wonders Children's Museum. Descend some stairs, and you're right smack in the middle of the Old Mill District, where you can shop, go out for dinner, walk along the river, or catch a movie.

On the way stop and smell the virtual wall of wild roses along the path because wow, they are gorgeous!
Symbol of the Old Mill District; the REI building

We wandered through the shops, had the best ahi tuna sandwiches in the universe at Greg's Grill, and strolled along the river. It was romantic and peaceful, and just the thing to soothe our tired, traveling souls.

Isn't that what a vacation is supposed to be like, anyway?
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Fabulicious Friday #47: Fabulicious in Vancouver, BC

Back to school in my house means a celebration, and this year the celebration took us over to the Big City for some summer fun! Take a look at what we found in Vancouver that made this week's Fabulicious list:

1. Biking the Stanley Park Seawall, Vancouver

I hadn't biked the sea wall in years but it's always been high on my list of things I must do with Jake. We packed a picnic lunch, parked at Second Beach, and by 9:30 were biking the trails. The sea wall is just amazing-not only are the views just beautiful, but it's such a treat to ride your bike along the ocean. The trails are paved, flat, and the 8.8 kms just flew by! We stopped often to take pictures, marvel at the view, or look at the starfish along the shoreline.

The wildlife is so used to people that they let you get pretty close for pictures, too.

Once we finished our ride, we stopped for a picnic lunch at Second Beach and relaxed. I can't wait to go back and do this again!

2. Timothy's Frozen Yogurt in Steveston, BC

Timothy's has been in Steveston since 1989, and when I used to live in Richmond as a college student, it was the ONLY place we'd go to get ice cream. When Hubs and I were newlyweds, we'd stop and get a waffle cone and stroll the docks, holding hands.

So when Jake suggested we have ice cream for lunch after a hot and sweaty bike ride, it was the first place I thought of! At first he tried to order a cup, until I walked him over to look at where they make the waffle cones, fresh right in front of you, and form them by hand. For the yogurt, they take 2 blocks of plain frozen yogurt, put it in a machine with frozen fruit that you choose from a case, and the machine mixes it up. A warmish waffle cone and mango peach frozen yogurt? Heaven.

3. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Historic Site, Steveston Village

Since this museum opened, we've often planned to visit but never got around to it so this time Jake and I made a plan to visit. What a great place! Inside you get a first hand view of how the cannery worked-right from when the fish arrived off the boats, to canned and ready to ship to the stores. If your kids like "How it's Made", they will probably love visiting the cannery and seeing all the machinery. You can even get a guided tour, or just wander around by yourself.

4. Biking the Richmond Dyke and Garry Point Park

On day two of our back to school trip, Jake and I biked the West Dyke trail from Garry Point Park out to Terra Nova, which is across from the Vancouver International Airport. The views were beautiful as Jake and I watched eagles and hawks hunting, stopped to sample the wild blackberries along the trail, and watched the planes coming and going from the airport. I admit that the 11 km was a bit harder than we anticipated, but it was fun.

5. Ichiro Japanese Restaurant, Steveston Village

Back in the mid 90's when we lived in Richmond, I was practically known on a first name basis at the local take out sushi place, and for good reason! I was there at least once a week loading up on spicy tuna roll, california roll, and miso soup.

You can imagine my delight when Jake discovered that he loves sushi as much as I do. We found this restaurant by reading reviews online, and then hunted it down for dinner-not once, but twice!

Everything was delicious! Jake and I even sat up at the bar and watched the chefs make the sushi, which was a treat in itself. All this time I've been making my sushi wrong! Ooops!

I wonder what we'll come up with for next year....?
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

It Goes Both Ways

Stereotypes, of all kinds, abound.

Ah, Canada. The home of maple syrup and beavers, where people sport toques on their heads and speak fluent French, love poutine, and play hockey.

Where they say "eh" in the beginning, middle, and end of every single sentence.

Wait. Really? That's not true? You're kidding!

Our first eh-counter was in a Game Spot store in Bend, Oregon.

"But you don't sound Canadian," the guy narrowed his eyes at me, as if inspecting a bug that he wasn't quite sure of. "You don't say "eh" after everything."

"Um, ya. " (big sigh) "That whole thing about Canadians saying "eh" after everything? It's a stereotype. No different than you guys saying 'huh' or 'you know'. I mean, we do say it occasionally, as in "it's nice out today, eh?" but we don't say it after everything. That would just sound, um, kinda stupid. "

"Really? I don't know..." his voice trailed off and he studied my face carefully. "Are you sure you're not American? You sound American."

Ummm...yes, I know my nationality, thanks.

"Well Vancouver is really close to Seattle, so we probably sound the same. I mean, if I was from Newfoundland, I'd sound really different. Plus I've been in the USA for three weeks, so maybe I've picked up a slight drawl."

He was beginning to look like his head would explode from this new revelation. Soon, a video game caught his eye and he changed the subject, moving on to the best way to blow up animated people.

The next day we were at a farm that also was a family rock shop business, poking around and looking at the rocks on display. Suddenly a voice came out of nowhere.

"How did Canada get it's name?"

An older gentleman was sitting in the corner, grinning at us.

I opened my mouth to tell him the historical story that I know; the one where Jacques Cartier was talking to the Iroquois and they were pointing out the route to a village that became the future Quebec City. They used the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata", which means "village".

Only this gentleman wasn't curious about Canadian history, but instead was telling us a joke.

"Well these guys were all sitting around and put the letters of the alphabet in a hat, and then they drew them out one by one. So this guy says, "C, eh? A, eh? N, eh?" He guffawed loudly while Jake and I stood there, not really sure what to say. Um, what? Did he expect us to say "eh" like a trained seal?

Jake was clearly insulted and as soon as we were out of earshot, grabbed my arm and hissed,

"What the hell was that? Why was that guy making fun of us? That just makes Canadians sound stupid! "

"Jake the man was old, " I soothed. "He probably thought he was being funny. Just let it go, it's nothing to get worked up over." But I have to admit that a bit of me felt the same way. It's funny to a point but sometimes, you just get tired of it, especially when it comes off making Canadians look...well, DUMB.

The last time was at our hotel in Bend, when a friendly business man struck up a conversation with me and asked all the usual questions about Canada; what our health care is like, what we think of Obama, and then out of the blue, about the famed use of the word "eh".

"You don't say it after everything."

Again? Really? Oh my God, what is with this town? Do people really believe that?

"Nope." Okay I admit that I say it sometimes, but rarely.

"So it's just a stereotype." Ahh, he's catching on!

"Sort of. There are people out there who say it all the time, but not everyone. Just like how we don't all speak fluent French, live in igloos, drive dog sleds, and have snow all year round."

"Ahhh," he nodded thoughtfully, as if digesting a new revelation. "So what do Canadians think of Americans? You can tell me the truth, you won't hurt my feelings."

"Do you want to know what I think or the stereotypical version?" I grinned back at him.


His blue eyes twinkled and suddenly he began to laugh. We both sat there in the garden, laughing until our eyes watered.

"Point taken."

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Adventures on the Road

Some of the drives during a road trip can be interesting. When people tell us that we're crazy to drive ("geez, why don't you FLY?) we tell them that we can't! We'd miss so much! So while on Road Trip 2009, I actually sat with a note book and wrote down all the things that you would miss. Join us for a taste of Road Tripping, Cookie Jar style.

The agenda? Drive from Bend, Oregon to Omak, Washington. Not because there's anything particularly interesting in Omak, but we want to avoid the Peace Arch border crossing and there's a science supply place we plan to stop at.

-First stop: the Shell station in Madras, OR. Gas station bathrooms are usually pretty gross anyway, and I'm still traumatized by the one run by Mommy Dearest over in Colorado, so I'm a bit wary. This one has a sign taped on the wall behind the toilet saying,

"Please put the seat UP after using."

One glance at the disgustingly dirty, possibly disease ridden toilet seat and I considered writing,

"Please CLEAN THE SEAT and I may think about it."

-Pass through lots of flat, open, farmland with fields just FULL of wheat, barley, etc. Cows! Horses! Is that a deer?

For some reason, think of Pioneer Woman. Wow. She rocks. I don't think I could do the farming thing.

-We drive through a gorge. The scenery is pretty, really.

"Oh, look! Rocks! There's agates! Basalt! Blah, blah, blah" (insert some science lesson-y sounding thing here).

-The GPS is confused. It keeps telling us to go the wrong way, according to the map. We begin mocking it for the 74685th time that trip.

"What have YOU been smoking, Tom Tom?"
"Tom Tom is GOD, you must obey the Tom Tom or it will SMITE you!"

-We pass a sign saying we just drove by the 45th parallel, which is half way between the Equator and the North Pole. Wow, we've gone 5 parallels? (we used to live on the 50th)

-Jake keeps saying, "Muffins. I LOVE Muffins." WTH? I used to make muffins all the time and he would never eat them. Now the boy who snarfs down any food in sight has decided muffins are THE BEST thing EVER and he must have them.

-The scenery is gorgeous. The road has become windy, through forests and beside a stream. Mount Hood is looming from behind the trees. I almost expect little woodland creatures to come bounding out to greet us, a la "Snow White".

-Oh wait, that was once a raccoon. Maybe not. EWWWW.

-Snoring from the back. Jake is contorted into some weird position as he sleeps. Consider taking photo and posting on blog.

-I try to get a pic of Mount Hood, but the trees are in the way. Curse profusely and endure surprised looks from Hubs.


-Oops. There's a cop. We're speeding (Please don't give us a ticket)

-Suddenly I have to pee. A sign says that we are close to a gas station. Relax that relief is near.

-Hubs takes a turn off before we get to the gas station.

"Um, I guess that means who knows if we'll find a place to pee?"

-Have you ever noticed how hard it is to actually enjoy beautiful scenery when you feel like you are going to BURST like a water balloon because you just really, REALLY have to pee?

-Make Hubs pull over and do a road side pee stop. Make Hubs watch for cars. Realize that we are in a no-stopping zone because of rock slide activity. Oops! Pee fast and leave.

-Descend other side of the mountain into a valley full of orchards. Cherries! 95 cents a pound! Wow. At home they are $3.00 a pound at the grocery store. Feel annoyed that we can't take fruit across the border.

Wait. Fresh cherries make my mouth itch, anyway.


-Stop at Starbucks for coffee. Hubs mocks me that I can't seem to remember where it is, even though we've been there before.

Jake: "MMMuffins! They have muffins! I need a muffin!"

Does this kid EVER stop eating? Buy some blueberry muffins and then marvel at how delicious they are. Drag Hubs away from bikers as he gazes longingly at their swanky machines.

-Cross the toll bridge (geez it's narrow) and stop at science supply place to pick up chemistry equipment for Jake. Dismantle carefully packed trunk to try to wedge it all inside. Don't look to make sure everything is in the box because geez, we need something to do when we get home (like contact the store a zillion times to get the missing items and argue over brokerage fees that cost more then the items are worth)

-Curse at the Tom Tom. It's been smoking up again.

-Windmills! They are kinda big, close up.

-read and then snooze a bit until just outside of Yakima, WA. I'm not crazy about Yakima. We've stopped before and it was an "oh my God lock all the doors before we get MUGGED." moment.

-Stop in Ellensburg, WA for gas and lunch at Bar 14 Ranch House restaurant.

-jaw drop upon seeing our turkey sandwiches that appear to contain the meat from an ENTIRE turkey EACH. Whoa! Resolve to diet upon arriving home.

-Back the road again. 7150 km gone so far!

-Watch the thermostat climb as we drive farther north. Pretty soon it's 40 C. Ouch!

-Orchards, orchards, more orchards. Try guessing what kind of trees they are.

-What the ?!?!?! Driver pulls out directly in front of us without looking and we almost rear end them. Hubs slams on the brakes and all sorts of bad words come from all three of us. Whew! That was close!

-Finally pull into Omak, WA and check into our hotel. Relief! Grab some rootbeers while Jake and Hubs flake out on the beds and turn on the TV....only to find yet MORE coverage of Micheal Jackson.

-Lay down and try to get comfy, although the hotel is too cheap to have real pillows and instead has these tiny things that are only half the size. Dream of home.

Only one more drive to go.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Bird Whisperer

Road Trip 2009: Salt Lake City, UT

On our first day in Salt Lake, we decided to visit the Tracy Aviary. Hubs has this weird internal 'bird radar', because every time we go to a zoo/animal refuge with birds, they flock to him. Literally. Too bad they couldn't help us with directions to get there, too.

First, our GPS was being stubborn and wouldn't even admit that the streets existed. Hubs programmed it all, declaring it was fine, which was really confusing when we ended up in front of the Utah State Capitol Building at the other end of town. Hubs pulled over and made me ask some really hot jogger guy where Liberty Park was.

Confession: I didn't listen to a word the guy said. I was too busy looking at him. Good thing Hubs was listening-although in typical guy fashion, he didn't follow any of the directions.

After finally turning the Tom Tom off because it kept chirping things like, "Left! Turn LEFT!", we finally found Liberty Park and the Aviary. WHEW!

At the gate we decided if we wanted to just walk around, or if we wanted to pay extra and actually get to feed some of the birds. We decided to feed the sun conures. Was it worth the extra $3 each?

Oh boy, YES. Hands down the most fun we had in Salt Lake City.

We first walked around and looked at the birds and the sun conures immediately flocked to Hubs. Before we knew it, 5 or 6 were fighting for position in the cage to be as close to Hubs as possible.

Pretty soon it was feeding time! We were all given three Popsicle sticks with bits of apple on them and instructions to stand quietly while the birds came to us.

Which, of course, they did. It was hard to feed them AND get good pictures with birds on my head, shoulders, arms.....all the time praying that they would NOT poop on my head.

Of course they all flocked to Hubs and then promptly fought over him like young women. He didn't even have any food left, and they were all nuzzling him.

Jake began squealing; the birds first started on his head, but pretty soon he had four of them on his shirt nibbling at his hair, ears, and collar. I think it's because his shirt was the same color as the staff, and he possibly has the bird gene too.

They didn't like me quite as much, probably because I'm a cat lover. You know, maybe they thought I would eat them or something. The camera might have had something to do with it, too-I'm not sure they liked my snap happy personality.

Is it fun for kids? For sure. There were a bunch of smaller kids with us, and they had a great time. Plus nobody got pooped on!

That was a bonus for sure.
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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cookie Crumbs: Roughing It

Well dressed, perfectly coiffed hotel guest: "Is there a big box store somewhere close by?"

Hotel clerk: "No but we do have Walker Drug, and City Market. They should carry whatever it is you need."

Guest gasps, and steps back as if she has just been told she must survive in the wilds eating lizards and sleeping on slickrock.

Guest: "But...but...." (tone is panic, near tantrum state) "I thought Wal-Mart was EVERYWHERE!"


Walking on a boardwalk outside of Wall Drug in hordes of people, we hear the guttural wail of a teenager in front of us as he holds his cell phone to the sky in protest.

"What the HELL kinda town is THIS? There's no cell phone signal!"


Guest approaches front desk of hotel. The clerk is deep in conversation on the phone.

Guest: "There's a fire in my room."

Clerk completely ignores guest. In fact, continues talking on the phone and doesn't even acknowledge the guest is standing there.

Guest: "HEY! Excuse me, there is a FIRE IN MY ROOM."

Clerk continues to ignore guest, who leaves but returns a few minutes later to report that they managed to extinguish the fire.

Clerk: "What? FIRE?"
Guest: "I TOLD YOU there was a FIRE in my ROOM."

Clerk: "Oh I didn't hear you. I was on the phone."
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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Jeep Adventures

Road Trip 2009 Days 10 and 11: Jeeping near Moab, UT

When I was a kid, I loved our family vacations. Sticky marshmallows, the smell of a campfire, Dad telling us he would sleep with a hatchet under his pillow to keep away the bears. We'd spend all day in the lake and then walk up to the camp store just to get an ice cream cone.

Ah, camping. Let's just say that I still love the outdoors, but as I grew up I really began to realize just how much work camping actually IS.

Our favorite way to spend a vacation is still outdoors, but bumping along a 4x4 trail in the middle of nowhere, scouting out lizards, jackrabbits, and fantastic views. There's no roasted marshmallows, but ice cream is always included. My hotel includes hot showers, maids, and tasty restaurant food. Plus I kinda admit I love those little bottles of shampoo.

What were you favorite vacations as a kid? And what do you now as an adult?
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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The One Where I Die of Heart Failure

Road Trip 2009 Day 9: Jeeping Fins and Things (Day 8 was boring anyway. We slept. Ate. Shopped. Zzzzzz.....)

I should have known. Really, in retrospect, I should have picked up on the testosterone that was floating about our heads as a huge red flag WARNING.

Instead I got all caught up in the excitement. We were going Jeeping! Jeeping! There's a pretty red jeep that is all ours for three whole days and we're going to go rock crawling, and these people at Canyonlands Jeep Rental are way cool, and I'm so excited!

*deep breath*

Someone should've smacked me. Maybe I would've paid better attention to what I was being talked into doing.

In my defence, when it was suggested that we 4x4 the Fins n Things trail, I did half heartedly try to protest.

"No! Don't suggest that. No! It's rated difficult! We can't!"I shook my head and jokingly tried to cover Hub's ears, but I was still grinning. I didn't want to look like the sort of wife that ruins the guys fun, you know?

"Aw come ON, you've done Gemini Bridges, and Chicken Corners, you can do this one! It's awesome! You'll LOVE it!"

Oh, look. A dinosaur. Doesn't that look so innocent?

Hubs eyes shone with anticipation. He's been waiting all year to go rock crawling. ALL YEAR. The very thought of a challenging trail, where he could improve his skills, excited him. So I gave in, and Fins n' Things was the first trail of our 4x4ing adventure in Moab.

And so began three hours of complete, heart stopping TERROR.

Okay to be fair, it wasn't complete heart stopping terror the ENTIRE time. Just 85% of it. 85 % of which I spent curled up in a fetal position against the passenger side door, clinging to the handle with one hand and the other over my eyes shrieking,

"Okay so this time I'm actually IN the Jeep but damn it you just CAN'T MAKE ME LOOK!".

If I wasn't screaming that, it was more like,

"No. God, No. No no no no no no freaking way in HELL am I staying in this jeep let me out before I just jump out while it's moving because I am so NOT going up THAT and YOU JUST CAN'T MAKE ME."

Yes this is EXACTLY the spot where I took one look and declared "Hell NO", before practically jumping out of a moving jeep.

I really wanted to write a post about Fins N' Things and how fun it was. HONEST. Hubs had a fantastic time. He maneuvered us through places that quite honestly, if I did not have total faith in his ability I would have gotten out of the jeep and refused to get back in.

We'd bump along and come to some ridiculously steep section of slickrock. Hubs would be grinning like in the picture below and chirping,

"This is AWESOME!" Just look at that picture. I wanted to smack some sense into him.

HE would look like that, while I would be curled up in the corner looking out my window down into a canyon thinking,

"Holy f*$& we are going to tip and fall off the slickrock, and bounce of those boulders, and why the freaking HELL did Hubs let Jake bring that rock pick because if the fall doesn't kill us that thing definitely will and we ARE ALL GOING TO DIE."

Because I'm just not meant to be in weird angles like that on slickrock, with only canyon below.

So ya. You can see how it went.

Tourist Tip # 8: What YOU think is fun and your husband thinks is fun can be vastly different. Agree on middle ground BEFORE you hit the trail. Plus take a good map, lots of water, let the hotel know where you are going, all that good stuff.

The good news is, we survived. I was shaking, near tears, just about peed my pants in terror, and honestly it's surprising that I even got back in the jeep at all for the rest of the vacation.

Hubs let me pick the next trail-some very gentle, easy trail with no rock crawling at all, just to revive me.

We also made a pact; next year he gets a day out with this guy, touring the more extreme trails of Moab to get his rock crawling fix. WITHOUT me.

I'm going whitewater rafting instead.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

When Gas Jockeys Attack

Road Trip 2009, Day 7: Driving from Rapid City, SD to Moab, UT

When we planned Road Trip 09, we were pretty sure that we didn't want to do quite as much driving as we did the year before, when we went all the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico. That was just a bit FAR.

However, when we do drive, we do a good job of it. We went from Rapid City all the way to Moab, in one day.

View Larger Map

It was a long drive. Jake and I, worn out from our adventures in South Dakota, slept through most of it. We waved at Amber as we passed through Denver (okay not really, but I can pretend) and we marveled at the traffic that was at a literal stand still for miles from El Rancho to Frisco. Actually, we were more just grateful that it was the traffic going in the other direction so we weren't caught in it.

There were two notable instances on this drive:

First was a pee stop that we had to make somewhere in a mountain community outside of Denver, Colorado. The drinks with our Subway sandwiches had suddenly caught up with Jake and I, and we were dying. Really dying. MUST FIND A BATHROOM, STAT.

As we approached the front door of the gas station, a sign ominously announced that the bathroom is for paying customers only.

Okay I can appreciate that sentiment if it's a retail store, or a fancy restaurant, but this? This was a freaking gas station and Jake and I really HAD to pee. I mean, there would be serious leakage if we didn't find a toilet soon. So being completely shameless, I just shoved Jake through the door and told him to GO NOW. I'd appease my guilt after I relieved my bladder by buying some pack of gum or a drink or something.

At least that was the plan until I read a letter that someone had posted at directly eye level in the bathroom, so that whoever is using the toilet just can't miss it. The letter was directed at me, the person not getting gas and just stopping to use that precious toilet. It scolded me for being in the bathroom, and then listed all the reasons why the toilets were for paying customer use only, right down to the actual cost for toilet paper, electricity, water, and the attendant's time for cleaning up after such nasty, horrible people. The nerve of these people and their bladders.

My first thought was, "Good God, I'll bring my own toilet paper if you're that cheap." Then I stood up and went to wash my hands, and recoiled in horror.

More signs mocked me. Written in crude marker, duct taped to the wall, the paper towel dispenser, and the soap dispenser, it was as if some Mommy Dearest had snuck her way in and was scolding me, the guilty non-paying pee-r for using the precious bathroom.

"Do NOT allow Soap to DRIP in the SINK"
"Put your paper towel IN the GARBAGE"

I got out of there as fast as I could, and found Jake standing outside the door with wide eyes.

"Quick. Get out of here. These people are CRAZY." I grabbed his elbow and steered him out of the building, past the glare of the clerk who knew exactly what we had just done. I didn't look him in the eye because I just knew he was giving us a death glare.

"I thought you were going to get some gum or something!" Jake protested.

"MOVE!" Jake knows that tone of voice. The one that I can elicit through gritted teeth that says, You'd better listen to me or you are going to regret it.

Safely back at the car, we breathed a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished.

Tourist Tip #7: Don't make eye contact with the people manning the cash register if you must duck into this particular gas station. Their eyes have lasers. Honest.

The second notable experience was on Highway 128, just outside of Moab. We were on the last few miles of the trip, just winding our way past the Fisher Towers, when we encountered some tourists from Maryland in front of us, who were obviously very taken with the scenery.

They were so taken with the scenery that they were going really, realllllly sloooow. Then, to our shock, the driver's arm extended from his window, phone in hand, taking pictures as he drove.

Crazy tourists. The road is curvy, full of hills, why don't you watch where you are going instead of swerving and taking pictures? Or look, take that pull out and STOP, maybe?

Then suddenly, both hands, then ARMS extended from the drivers side, as the driver completely let go of the wheel of their vehicle and continued to take pictures of the scenery. That continued on and off for a few minutes while we watched, alternating between horror and amusement, wondering if these people would actually crash or something.

Finally we had opportunity to pass them, and we took it.

"Geez, that was rude," Jake suddenly piped up from the back seat.

"Ya people shouldn't drive like that,"

"No, that's not what I mean," Jake yawned. "Like, they fingered you as we went by, Dad."
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Treasure Hunt

Ooo! Pretty rose quartz!

Road Trip 2009, Day 6: Custer, South Dakota

I have always wondered what July 4th would be like in the USA. Do people celebrate more that in Canada? Is it a huge deal or just a BBQ and some fireworks? Last summer I slept through the fireworks in Moab, so this time I was determined not to miss it.

"I can't BELIEVE it poured rain all day at Mount Rushmore, and then they set off the fireworks and nobody could see a thing because it was so cloudy," fellow tourists were grumbling in the breakfast room that morning. "I traveled thousands of miles to see this. It's a once in a lifetime experience."

People in our hotel had left at 6 am to get a parking spot at Mount Rushmore, in order to see fireworks that were happening at 10 pm that evening. Apparently the place was packed to the hilt and even though it poured rain much of the day, that didn't deter anyone. Hubs and I were suddenly very grateful that we had chosen not to go.

In fact, the weather wasn't looking good that morning either. We were a bit worried that our second rock hounding expedition would be washed out.

One thing that we quickly learned though, is that it can be raining in Rapid City and in Custer, the sun is shining. Off we went again following Allan through the beautiful country roads of South Dakota.

"Oh! A deer! A whole herd of them!"
"Hey! A wild turkey!"
"More deer!"
"And more! This is crazy! I've never seen so many deer!"

It was true. We live in an area where deer are common, but we counted something like 20 deer on our drive. Later we were told that like the rabbits, the deer population has exploded.

This new location where we went rock hounding was AMAZING. I can't tell you about it though, I've been sworn to secrecy. (bwahahah)

"Okay. You want a rock that is clear, not cloudy. Or one that has a really deep color," Allan instructed, "The rain is really good, it makes it easy to pick out the good pieces from the not so great ones."

We each grabbed a bucket and a pick, plunked ourselves down, and scanned for rocks.

Good thing I brought get-dirty clothes for this very thing. I had a feeling we'd be doing something like this. It was hot, sweaty, work!

I guess that when some people rock hound, they just throw anything in their buckets. For us, it's quality, not quantity. I don't just want any old rock, I want a nice one! The problem is you find one really great rock and then just a few minutes later find one that's even better!

Allan was really, really great. He's so full of knowledge about rocks, the history of the area, and his enthusiasm about rock hounding was so genuine, so infectious, that it rubbed off on all of us.

My bucket...not full, but the ones that were there were NICE.

Jake was in heaven. What kid wouldn't enjoy foraging around in the woods for rocks? He found some garnets, tourmaline, adventurine, rose quartz, and a really cool clear quartz crystal. What I thought was very cool was that Allan actually went off with Jake and hung out with him, chatting and teaching him about the area, rocks, and the science behind it.

With some tour operators, it's obvious that they are into it for the money. They don't really care if you have a good time or actually find anything interesting. It was very obvious that the Scotts are in the rock business because Allan just really loves what he does. If you ever are in Custer and have the chance to stop by their shop, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.

As we dug around, we chatted and joked with each other, occasionally taking a break to have a swig of water or a snack. It was almost time to go but somehow, none of us could stop looking at the ground. We were addicted! Then out of nowhere, Hubs piped up,

"Honey, where's the first aid kit?"

I looked up from where I was sitting and there was Hubs; pick in one hand, blood dripping from the other.

"What the heck did you do?"

"Um..." he grinned sheepishly. "Well I was holding a rock in my hand, and thought I would try to split it with the pick, and it sorta bounced, and...."

OUCH. There was a really good gash, all bloody and painful looking, right in the meaty part of his thumb. He probably could've used stitches, really; but being Hubs, of couse he didn't get any.

Tourist Tip#6: Never, EVER, try to split a rock with a pick while HOLDING the rock. Ever.

Hubs just grinned, slapped a band-aid on it, and went right back to digging. Eventually we tore ourselves away from the rocks and went back to the shop to wash them off and box them up. In the end we came away with 3 large boxes full of pretty rocks. What are we going to do with them?

My theory: Allan showed Hubs his machines to cut and polish rocks, and now Hubs is hatching a plan to get a few of those toys for his very own. Or we could just tumble them and make them shiny. Some of them are gem quality though, and would make a nice faceted rock for a necklace, ring, etc.

Jake has big plans to get into lapidary (making jewelry), and so I think these boys are plotting something.

After we finished with the rocks, we changed and had lunch at the Elk Canyon Restaurant in Custer. It looks like a family run business, and had amazing Elk Chili in a bread bowl (spicy, meaty, smothered in cheese with a dollop of sour cream-delicious!). We poked around Custer, and then, realizing that we actually were sorta tired, we grabbed a coffee at Starbucks and went back to the hotel to relax.

There were flags everywhere! Allan gave us a couple to take with us, and Jake and I happily waved them around.

That evening we'd been told that fireworks would be nearby, and as the evening wore on, the people came in droves to fill the parking lot right across the street. They came with coolers, blankets, lawn chairs, and all camped out for hours right in front of the hotel. We decided to join them and sat out on the grass in front of the hotel for awhile, just watching. Little kids ran around with sparklers, people had their stereos playing, and some were even letting off fireworks right in the middle of the crowd. That part was kinda scary, actually. At home you'd NEVER see people letting off firecrackers in the middle of a crowd.

Finally, the 25 minute show started-it was amazing! I wish that I had gotten better pictures, but it got to the point where I just wanted to enjoy it rather than worry about a camera. So we sat back and took in the blasts of light and color, because even at home on Canada Day, the fireworks are never THIS good.

As we strolled back inside with the rest of the crowd, I commented to a girl from Texas about what a great show it was. She grinned back and with a toss of her brown curls said,

"Well, we always say in America to do it big or GO HOME."

Coming up: Next stop...Moab, Utah!
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