Our Arizona Adventure, Part 2: the Planning

IMG_4122Okay, so as soon as we heard about the whole Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives plan of my dad’s, my husband and I had a confab.  My dad has few things he really enjoys, and eating is one of them.  My mom and my aunt and I were discussing which museums to visit and where the best hiking was, and my dad was trying to figure out where the best bowl of red chili is.  I wouldn’t want to take away his vacation fun, any more than I wanted him to tell me that hiking was out because he can’t walk that far.

So, we had to plan for this.

Exercise

The best way to offset all those calories is to burn them off with lots of activities.

In addition to trying to plan active fun things to do (like hiking), I also conferred with my trainer and yoga instructor for advice.  I packed my new yoga mat, resistance bands (much better for traveling that my free weights), water bottle, walking shoes and plenty of socks.  I also threw in my swimsuit and sport towel in case my mother and I decided to grab a water aerobics class at one of the gyms near our Mesa resort.

My trainer said I had permission to only do 5000 steps on traveling days, but that I needed to get my full 10,000 steps in the days we were not driving, and that I needed to do at least half of them outside.  Also, when the front desk receptionist said that one of the two rooms we had reserved was upstairs, my husband and I immediately said we would take it, saving my parents the climb and giving us an extra exercise several times each day.

My husband brought his brand new running shoes, and planned on doing as much running as he could – even some trail running in the mountains while the kids and I hiked.  We had planned on the kids being able to be watched by my folks, but the cold that they had prevented them from doing just about anything this trip.

Food

There was no way we were going to avoid Mexican food while we were in Arizona.  In fact, during the trip we went out to eat sushi (El Paso’s sucked with cold rice while Phoenix’s was surprisingly good); Afghani food, Mexican, Native American, even Sweet Tomatoes and crappy pizza buffet (this was for the kids’ sake).  We went out for Mexican food a lot. 🙂

So how do you plan to avoid loading on the calories when you KNOW what you really want is a chimichanga smothered in green chili and a big bowl of chips with red salsa washed down with a bottle of Dos Equis (not really a margarita girl)?  Well, me and my husband hit on a plan for that.  We shared.  Every plate that wasn’t at a buffet, every restaurant.  We would decide what we wanted together, not worrying as much about how fried or soaked in sauce something was, because we knew we would be eating a reasonable portion of it.  That fry bread taco I mentioned last time with the chorizo?  I only ate half.  And it was more than enough, especially since I took a slice of the cheese crisp and dessert fry bread we ordered for the table.

I think this was a great idea, and I’m going to try to convince him that we should do this from now on.  I don’t think it will be a hard sell.

IMG_3993Small Packing Space

Like I said: 4 adults, 2 kids, one minivan, 10 days.  I figured that we should just pack like we were flying and do laundry halfway through the trip.

This is what I packed for me, along with my pillow.  I had packed a change of clothes and my pajamas into my backpack so that at our stop in El Paso, I could just bring in the backpack and leave the suitcase in the car.  The kids were limited to one big bag for clothes, toiletries, and the quilt my son insisted on bringing.  Then they each got one backpack to fill with stuff to occupy them on the drives.

Everyone was also required to bring clothes suitable for the memorial (nice but not formal) and clothes suitable for hiking.

As far as clothes go, I brought:

  • new grey yoga pants (size 2X, because the 3X are now falling off my butt!)
  • navy slacks
  • jeans
  • brown skirt (which I never wore because it ended up being too cold, and I forgot to bring shorts to wear underneath)
  • grey workout shirt, suitable for wearing in public, too
  • white button down shirt
  • navy shell
  • ivory/brown dressy linen shirt
  • brown dressy t-shirt
  • appropriate undergarments (except the shorts)
  • brown dress flats
  • navy fake Toms style flats
  • walking shoes
  • a few pieces of jewelry
  • pajamas
  • big fleece pullover that I usually use for camping

I didn’t want to bring my BIG fleece coat, because it is big.  I got it before I started losing weight, so now it swallows me up.  So I brought the fleece pullover I have worn to every cold campout for a couple of years.  It’s warm enough for weather in the 50’s, which is what I expected to see based on weather reports.  I also like the fact that it now fits me correctly; before, I couldn’t pull it over my hips, now it hangs over them. 🙂 But I should have brought the big one, because I would have been better prepared for the weather we encountered later in the trip.

The Next Adventure

The nice thing about looking at everything as an adventure is that the next adventure is right around the corner.  At the end of the year, my family is going to be driving halfway across the country (again) to go to Phoenix for my grandmother’s memorial.  We were going to fly because, frankly, that is one heck of a drive and 6 people in a minivan for 18 hours is gonna suck.

But not for $3000.

The gas, the food, the hotel rooms for 6 people is gonna cost a heck of a lot less than $3000.  So that is what we are gonna do.

Although this particular drive has been featured in my family’s history for generations, this time will be different.  It has been a LONG time since I have been to Arizona in winter.  Or rather, “winter”.  They have winter like we do.  Which is why it becomes so expensive to go there in the wintertime – all the snowbirds.  And we will be squeezing all six of us (my parents, my kids, my husband and I) into one minivan.

I think that I will definitely be taking advantage of hotel laundry facilities, because I will have to pack even lighter than for my flight to Utah.  At least I won’t have to pack real winter clothes and jackets.

So, the plan:

  • Day one: drive from Houston to El Paso.  O.M.G. 11 hours on the road is going to suck, but we will have 4 drivers. Stay at a nicer hotel in El Paso than the last time.  That rathole was awful.  No coffee maker in the room.
  • Day two: drive from El Paso to Phoenix.  Only 7 hours on the road.  The biggest issue is going to be the kids’ electronic devices, and how long they can hold a charge.  Because they will drive me crazy if they get bored.
  • Day three: Memorial.  Hmmm, maybe I will wear my navy blue again.
  • Days four through six: visiting family, especially the cousin who currently is gong to school in Germany and ask him what is up with all the stuff he is tagged with on Facebook.  Also visiting Phoenix, and showing off the local family landmarks to my kids – who haven’t seen them before.
  • Day seven: drive from Phoenix to Las Cruces, NM.  Pretty little town a little north of El Paso.  I like the towns in New Mexico, they have the familiarity of Arizona, with a touch of “different”.  West Texas has some of the same feel, but those towns feel very thrown together in a rush, rather than something that grew organically out of the desert.  I want to go back to New Mexico when I start getting into real hiking shape, and climb down into kivas and up into cavern homes.
  • Day eight: drive from Las Cruces to Kerrville, TX.  Another little 7 hour drive.  We decided to break up the drive home into three segments to make it a little easier on all of us.  I highly recommend this.  Especially if you have kids.  But DON’T stop in Fort Stockton.  Seriously.
  • Day nine: drive from Kerrville to home.  A nice short 4 hour drive and a whole nother day to get ready for work/school after this.

Trivial Details – Shoes

Do you know what shoes you’re wearing to Convention yet?  I do.  I just got them.  I love them.  Well, I will love them, once I have them broken in. 🙂  Are YOUR shoes broken in, yet?

I have super wide feet, and they are so fat that they are really tall, too, around the arch area (but my arch is fairly normal).  Which means, I have a hard time finding shoes.  If I actually find shoes my size, they are size 9EEEE (US).  Which means, I am pretty much limited to these.  So attractive, right?  Blech. (I do have a pair of these sneakers for walking, I’m almost ready to replace them, though, they’ve already seen over 150 miles in the past couple of months)

So, I generally have to buy men’s wide shoes and hope they fit and don’t look too “manly”, or get the widest women’s shoes in a size 10 or larger, and still my feet hang over the edges.  This is why I have a purse addiction instead of a shoe addiction.  Shoe shopping is no fun when nothing fits.

But I needed something that would look nice under my navy pants, and would work for walking around a convention hall, and around downtown Salt Lake City.  I’m a Quilt Festival veteran, so I know how important wearing comfy shoes is when you go to a convention.  I would love to wear sneakers, but as I said, I want to look nice. (I’m bringing my sneakers, though – I need them for working out each morning, so I will have them as a back up.)

So the search began.  And it has been long and hard.  Finally I found something promising.  Black ankle boots.  Plain toes.  Elastic gores on each side of the ankle.  And to top it off,  when I read reviews which talk about men having to add an insert because the shoes are just too wide, my heart starts racing.  Reviews that say they feel like mature versions of Doc Marten’s.  O. M. G.  Sold!!  Look at the nice round, boxy toe.  Real leather uppers that will stretch and eventually form fit to my feet.  Lug(ish) soles for traction on slippery convention floors, or for urban hiking, or for camping with my girls.

Now I just have to break them in, an hour or so of wearing every day around the house, plus maybe 10 minutes of just walking; and they should be just perfect by Convention.

It’s not required, but . . .

that doesn’t mean I don’t want/need a jacket.  After all, it is Utah.  In October.  And I’m from Houston.  But, rather than the stupid (already returned) badly fitting structured blazer, I’m going with a DIY solution.  I’m using this pattern (which is not as easy as it looks), so try to imagine the jacket in a navy blue ponte knit.  That pretty much EXACTLY matches the pants I bought at the beginning of summer (which are gonna be a whole lot looser on me now).

Like this, only cut out and sewn together. 🙂
IMG_3750.JPG

The pattern is way more complicated than any pattern I have used before, because it has this weird Y-seam going on at the shoulders.  I tried really hard, but I couldn’t get it to be perfect.  I’m okay with that, because the shawl collar is gonna cover that up.  I am VERY proud of my armscyes, though.  For you non-sewers, that’s the armhole.  This was the first time I was able to produce a perfect, non-bumpy, non-gappy, set-in sleeve.   So if you see me at the Convention, you are allowed to come up and compliment me on my sleeves, but no fair lifting my collar to see the craziness going on at the shoulder seams. *grins*

Trivial Details – Nails

Confession time:  I’m a nail polish whore.  Makeup on my face just irritates me and makes me sweat, which is why I generally don’t wear any; and I’m planning on bringing minimal makeup with me to Utah.  But I don’t feel “dressed up” if my nails are naked.

This is a fairly recent development, since when I was in school, I was a nail biter.  It took an act of will to leave my nails alone long enough for them to be  paintable.  And of course, my nails are naturally thin with a tendency to snag and rip.  So for the most part, I only needed two bottles of nail polish when I was in school – clear for pantyhose and tights, and black.  If I told you I wore a lot of plaid flannel, I bet you could pinpoint my graduation year pretty closely. 🙂 And since my toes were always locked in combat boots, I didn’t care what my toenails looked like.  Which is a good thing, because . . . lets not talk about that, mmkay?

Cut to now: I have literally every color of the rainbow in nail polish.  Except orange.  Because I hate orange, and 99% of oranges look awful on me.  I have also started going to the salon to get mani/pedis.  This started because my toenails actually were all long enough to do something with, but I’m still too big to be able to pull my knee to my chest and hold it while I try to paint my toenails. Soooooon . . .

For some reason, toenail polish (on me, YMMV) lasts for weeks and weeks and weeks; while polish on my fingernails lasts 2 days, max before getting a chip or snag or something.  Not a problem for me, I just go to my extensive polish collection and repaint.

I am not going to have time to repaint my nails in Utah.

So, I decided to try out gel nail polish (or shellac). Because my nails are so thin, I have never been interested in acrylic nails (seriously, I don’t need thinner nails which are permanently damaged on top of that).  But after doing a lot of research online, I decided that this would be the way to go if I want nice looking painted nails the entire time I was in Utah.  But I wanted to test them.  And luckily, I came to this decision more than a month before my trip. 🙂

IMG_3766.JPG

So my nails have had this pretty taupe color on them for the last 12 days.  As you can see, my nails have grown quite a bit since I got them painted (notice the unpainted nail by my cuticles?), but NO CHIPS.  In fact, the gel seems to have protected my nails from the snags I get constantly on the sides of my nails – I’ve only had to file a couple of rough spots over the past week and a half.  I did get a bad snag on my other hand, but I normally am filing every other day so this was definitely an improvement.

The plan is:

  1. Get manicure with gel nail polish.
  2. Go back to salon to get it removed when it looks like crud, or after 2 weeks – whichever comes first. (if it only lasted 3-4 days, it’s not worth it)
  3. Leave nails unpolished (or use my Julep nail polish, which allows oxygen get to the nail bed – important for recovery) for the next couple of weeks.
  4. Get manicure with gel nail polish the Monday before I leave so that my nails are fabulous all weekend long! (I’m thinking navy . . .) (also, remember to bring the sunscreen this time)
  5. Probably never get another gel manicure again, unless I have another trip where I want my nails to look nice for a week or more.
  6. Profit??? *grins*

Have you had a gel manicure?  How was your experience?  Also, if you are a nail polish whore like me and haven’t checked out Julep yet, you MUST GO. 🙂  If you want to help me earn credits, you can use this link.  I really am happy with their monthly boxes, and even splurged on the October full collection, because it’s awesome.  Not all of them are, though (September was fine, it just didn’t make me go “must have ALL THE POLISHES!!” the way October’s collection did).

Travel Planner

I admit it.  I’m kind of a planner addict.  I can’t help it.  Planners combine some of my favorite things into one super cool product.  Books – check, blank stationary – double check, pens of awesomeness – CHECK, and the ability to doodle out my stressful over-planning – DING, DING, DING, WE HAVE A WINNER!

Last year I finally allowed myself to look at the Filofaxing community online.  Whoa.  If you have no idea what I am talking about, this blog will give you an idea.  Who knew that keeping an organizer/agenda/planner/what-have-you would involve so much washi tape and stickers?  And the inserts on etsy?  OMG.

Even though I LOVE my iPhone, and use it religiously to keep almost all of my information.  I find that it is much easier for me to write something on paper than type it onto that tiny little screen.  I’m not slouch at typing with my thumbs, mind you, but I grew up in the era before laptops in school became commonplace.  I write very quickly, and (compared to my kids) very legibly (actually compared to my husband, too, which is why I have to fill out all documents that need to be read at some point).

I still have a tiny nubbin of a writer’s callus left on my middle finger.

So, I splurged.  I got myself on honest to goodness Filofax (a Compact Calypso in teal for other planner nerds), and when it arrived, I fell in love. The color is beautiful, the leather is wonderful, the size is . . . well, not that great for use as my regular life planner.  I decided that Personal is just too small for me and the 15mm rings don’t hold nearly enough of the things I would like to keep in my planner.

So, I’m thinking about using it for my planner for the trip to Utah.  There should be plenty of room for what I need to keep track of there.   I have searched and searched and SEARCHED for travel planning inserts.  There are some gorgeous ones on etsy, but many use just too much ink or are bundled in with too much stuff or are just way too kawaii for my tastes.  I like my cute in small doses, not blasted all over my life.

I will need to track:

  • airline and flight information
  • hotel information
  • contact information for other people from my Council
  • budget
  • list of souvenirs (for myself, my daughter, my troop)
  • daily schedule
  • Conversations I would like to go to
  • wardrobe planner
  • info on the proposals being voted on
  • journaling pages to just write down my thoughts in the evenings
  • maps of Salt Lake City (in case I get to move around the city), Utah (so I know where I am in the state), and Texas (to show people where I’m from)
  • researched lists of good healthy restaurants in the convention center area

What else would you want to keep track of in a travel organizer?

Hotel Cooking, the Reality and Resources

Usually, my plans work out great.  Not this time.

The shopping trip got postponed, and then we decided to stay at Sea World all day (which makes the ALL Day Dining Plan a good deal), and basically we ended up splurging on the most expensive (food wise) vacation we’ve ever taken.  I should point out our son is only 8 at this point, so I am looking forward to even more expensive vacations once he’s a teenager.

And the one splurge we were planning on? Dine with Shamu?  It got rained out. >.<

I still think the plan would have worked, which is why I am sharing it, but sometimes you have to realize that “All the plans of mice and men . . .” You tell ’em, Robbie Burns.  The kids were excited, we don’t eat out that often at home, so this felt very vacation-y to them. And it gave us the opportunity to sample the local eats, which is something we love doing at home.  Barbecue at a place so good, it was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (we thought the brisket that Guy raved about was okay, but the RIBS were AMAZEBALLS).  Tex-Mex from a restaurant owned by a family well known in San Antonio for their South of the Border fare (tacos with nothing but shredded chicken and guacamole? SIGN ME UP).

See what I did there?  I released my plan, and looked at the bright side of it’s failure.  My family didn’t hear me moan about how much money we were “wasting” going out to eat all day.  They didn’t hear me complain about how unhealthy all the food was (it did help that we were walking miles and miles at the park).  They just heard about the adventure.

I did good this trip.

Here’s some resources for you in case you want to try the adventure of hotel cooking for yourself:

  • Cooking With Your Coffeemaker – seriously, go read this site.  Read the story, marvel at the ingenuity.
  • Even NPR is talking about it
  • From the Kitchn
  • Really great post from The Traveling Praters, which got me thinking about packing a travel kitchen of my own – kind of a “duh” moment worth pinning 🙂
  • Freezer Bag Cooking info – If you have a ziptop freezer bag and access to hot water (not boiling), this site will show you how to make awesome meals that taste great, meals that fit any diet restrictions, and meals that are much less expensive than eating out or buying standard cook in the bag  camping fare.

Hotel Cooking, the Grocery List and Traveling Kitchen

My menu was made to try to not have the same meal over and over again, but to use the same items over and over again so they get completely consumed.  Kind of like a capsule wardrobe, only for food. 🙂  Here’s my grocery list, in case you want to replicate this menu:

  • 1 loaf of sliced bread
  • 4 muffins
  • 1 pack pita breads
  • 1 box granola cereal
  • 1 box couscous
  • 1 quart of milk
  • 1 quart of vanilla yoghurt
  • 1 stick butter (or whatever the smallest amount you can buy)
  • Salad dressing
  • 1 pound sliced turkey
  • 4 slices muenster cheese (or whatever you think would go well with turkey)
  • 6 oz. hummus
  • 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 1 single serving cup of applesauce (you only need about 2 T. per sandwich)
  • 4 bananas
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • container pre peeled and cut carrot and celery sticks (or baby carrots)
  • 1 cucumber
  • bag of mixed greens
  • 2 tomatoes

Things I packed in my “kitchen”:

  • aluminum foil
  • paper plates
  • paper bowls
  • paper towels
  • spoons, forks, knives
  • serving spoon
  • large bowl for making salad and couscous
  • knife
  • small cutting board
  • ziptop bags for leftovers
  • a couple of plastic grocery bags to use as garbage bags
  • soap for dishes

I don’t think the housekeeping staff should have to clean up after we use the room not quite as the hotel intended, so I intend to make sure everything gets cleaned up by us.  Which is why all the disposables – again, I would rather spend my time with my family than washing dishes, and I definitely DON’T want to be trying to fish couscous out of the drain because my 7 year old forgot to wipe his plate clean.  The disposables all come from my stash of old birthday party tableware and take out utensils, though, so I’m not being completely wasteful.

Hotel Cooking, the Menu

Whether you are traveling by yourself, with your family, or with your troop – you have to eat!  And sometimes the best room for the trip is the one that doesn’t come with a kitchenette.  Or a microwave.   Or a refrigerator.  By Mercury’s winged sandals, there had better be a coffee maker!!

Ahem.  Moving on.

Cooking in your hotel is one of the best ways to save money on a trip.  Eating out 3 or more times a day, especially at a hotel restaurant, can get super expensive super fast.  And cooking can cut those costs dramatically (just like it does at home).  But you have to have some equipment.  In my experience, the hotel room without a fridge is becoming scarce, and the room without a coffeemaker almost non-existent.  But as far as actual cooking?  Well, sometimes you have a full kitchenette in your suite, sometimes you have a microwave in your room (or down in the lobby), sometimes all you have is a coffeemaker.

There are several good resources online already for showing you how to cook using what is commonly available in a hotel room (and I’ll link to some at the end of this series of posts).  This is my menu plan when faced with a lovely room that only had a fridge and a coffee maker.

Day 1

  • Breakfast – coffee in the coffee maker; strawberries, yoghurt and granola
  • Lunch – turkey paninis made with the iron, salad
  • Dinner at Sea World, no point in leaving before the fireworks! 🙂

Day 2

  • Breakfast – coffee in coffee maker; rest of the granola, milk, banana slices
  • Lunch – rotisserie chicken, couscous made with the coffee maker, salad or veggies (I used the FBC method, rather than the Gizmodo method for the couscous)
  • Dinner out

Day 3

  • Breakfast – coffee in the coffee maker; muffins, all the leftover fruit
  • Lunch – a DIY assortment of pita bread, hummus, leftover chicken and turkey, carrots, celery, and cucumber slices
  • Dinner with Shamu (one of the splurges we were saving for)

Day 4

  • Breakfast – coffee in the coffeemaker; applesauce sandwiches grilled with the iron (to use the last of the bread)
  • Lunch – on the road!

So, if you’ll notice, I don’t really trust the coffeemaker to do my cooking.  Also, it takes soooooooo loooooong to cook things using a coffeemaker, even using techniques that make me trust the idea a bit more (like double heating the water by running it through twice and insulating the carafe with foil to raise the temperature.  I would rather be enjoying time with my family than babysitting a coffeepot.  Also, I will now be thoroughly cleaning every hotel room coffee maker and running an empty cycle through as soon as I get there based on what I now know people are doing in there.  I think it might be worth it to go buy a small bottle of white vinegar, just to be sure.

But when we got to the hotel room, I was struck kind of dumbfounded when I saw this:

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Yeah, kinda like a Keurig machine, only not.  I didn’t feel the need to immediately scrub the thing to get hot dog germs out of it, but I also was glad I didn’t plan anything that NEEDED to use a carafe to cook in.  I still could have done the couscous, though.  I just would have had to make it in individual servings, freezer bag cooking style instead of in one big batch.

Look, they updated the site!

Since registration opened last week, GSUSA updated the convention.girlscouts.org website with some actual information. 🙂  And since I know eventually this site will disappear (or at least be replaced with 2017 information), here’s what I’m seeing as new:

Schedule

They have a true schedule up, including lots of invitation only dinners and luncheons, most of which I won’t have an invitation to.  But this is what I think my schedule is going to look like, based on what I can glean from friends and what I would like to do:

Oct. 15 – arrive early, check in, relax a bit, start soaking up the lotion and drinking lots of water to deal with the desert.  My gills will not be happy, but with family in Arizona, I know how to deal with it.

  • 3-4:30pm – GSU session (Letting Girls Lead)

Oct. 16 – hit the ground running!

  • 8:30-10am – GSU session (GSLE Outdoors)
  • 10:30am-12pm – GSU session (The Highest Awards)
  • 1:30pm Hall of Experiences Ribbon Cutting (and then to the Hall of Experiences, probably my only chance!)
  • 5:30-6:30pm – Delegate Reception
  • 7-9:30pm Opening Ceremony (missed this in Houston, not missing it this time!)

Oct. 17 – time to get to work

  • 8:30am-12pm – National Council Session
  • 2-3:30pm Conversation of Consequence

Oct. 18 – rinse, repeat

  • 8:30am-??? – National Council Session
  • 2-3:30pm – Conversation of Consequence (maybe)
  • 6-8:30pm – Theme Dinners (I still don’t know if I want to do the “Outdoor Extravaganza!” or “Celebrating Cultural Arts!” They both seem very emphatic. 😉
  • 9-11pm – Adult Party (if I have any oomph left)

Oct. 19 – last day

  • 8:30-???am – National Council Session
  • 12:30pm – Closing Ceremony
  • pack up, fly home

But of course, I have no idea what my Council’s plans are for me.  Are they planning on letting us arrive a day early?  Will they pay for my hotel room Wednesday night?  So many questions still.

GSUSA has also opened up the Delegate only section of the website.  But I don’t have a password yet.  Maybe I’ll get one this week.  And no, I won’t be disclosing that information here.  Whatever it is. 🙂