Our Arizona Adventure, Part 5: Recap and Reviews

So here is a list of where we went/ stopped at with a brief heads-up:

Restaurants

  • Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q 24152 West Interstate 10, San Antonio, TX 78257 – One of our favorites back home.  We thought we were just going to go to an HEB to get gas and some deli sandwiches as we had an 11 hour drive to get through this day.  But when we saw Rudy’s at the same exit, plans changed.  Then we found out this was the ORIGINAL Rudy’s, and we got super excited.  And then we ate the food.  Yeah, this is one time when the franchise is actually better than the mom and pop original.  The ribs and turkey were both dry – not good.

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  • Sutton County Steakhouse 1306 N Service Rd, Sonora, TX 76950 – Google Reviews We stopped here on our way home after making it through the ice storms.  There’s not really a lot open in Sonora, TX, and we were trying to avoid chains as much as possible.  This was a good choice.  None of us had the steak, so I can’t comment on it.  But my dad had the little chicken fried steak, and the bite I had was delicious.  It only took up half the plate (which is little by Texas standards), wasn’t covered in a layer in breading thicker than the steak itself, and was super tender and well seasoned.  The salad bar gets some flack in the reviews, which is understandable if you don’t take location into account.  $3.25 for a very small variety and thick bottled sauces is not great for a big city, but having non-buttered, non-fried vegetables was worth the price, especially because the waitress let us have one salad bar as a substitute for the potato that normally came with the grilled chicken fingers my husband and I ordered, and charged us for the second.  We were surprised to get french fries on our plate anyway, but we were both good and passed most of them to a child, and left the others on the plate.  My daughter order a Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap, which was huge and pretty, as you can see.  If you go in with the right expectations, it was quite good.
  • Papa’s Pantry 515 Van Horn Street, Van Horn, TX 79855 – Google Reviews I already reviewed this place last time, so I will just say again, if you have to stop in Van Horn, TX, this is a pretty good place to stop.
  • Moonrise Spirit & Sushi 1320 North Zaragoza Road, El Paso, TX 79936 – Since my dad was not feeling well while we stayed in El Paso, we took the opportunity to go for sushi near our hotel (my dad hates fish).  This was a mistake.  The rice was cold in the rolls.  Like the roll had been made, then refrigerated, not made fresh when we ordered it.  The sauces were nice, except the dragon sauce – which was very mayonnaise-y, and American style mayo at that (not Kewpie), and not spicy at all.  I ordered one of my standard rolls, a spicy salmon roll, and it wasn’t spicy, and I had a hard time finding the salmon.  For what we got, the prices were far too high, and the free alcoholic drink at the end of our meal could not quite make up for that fact.  I don’t recommend this place.
  • Si Senor 1551 East Amador Avenue, Las Cruces, NM 88001 – Google Reviews My husband and I ordered a Cambray Burrito Plate with shredded chicken and green chili, which came with two burritos, beans and rice.  The burritos were HUGE.  The shredded chicken was dry.  The chili was good.  The chips came with four different sauces: red, green, a chile/sour cream sauce, and a chorizo/bean sauce.  And each dinner came with a sopapilla.  I liked the green sauce, but I wish the had put some inside the burrito, too.
  • El Charro Cafe 311 North Court Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85701 – Google Reviews Traditional Sonoran style Mexican restaurant that has been in business for 92 years?  Featured on food Network’s Food Paradise?  We’re in.  The carne seca was delicious, but dry.  The red chili was spot on.  The chips and salsa alone had us deciding we would come back on our return trip.  The lunch portions (which may be the same as their dinner portions) did not seem to be as hugs as they seem in the video I linked to.  Highly recommended.
  • Rania’s Kabob Grill 1674 North Higley Road, Gilbert, AZ 85234 – Google Reviews My husband and I shared the Butternut Borani, which was thick slices of butternut squash stewed in a tasty tomato sauce with a side of AMAZING Kabuli style rice (cinnamon with raisins, like I make sometimes at home, actually) and naan.  My vegetarian cousin had the same thing.  We all thought it was excellent.  Hubby and I also had a skewer of chicken for some protein, and it was perfectly cooked.  The sauces were all delicious, the naan was fantastic.  My daughter got the spinach rice, which was very tasty.  Highly recommended, and not expected at all!
  • Sushi Q 8841 North 19th Avenue #4, Phoenix, AZ 85021 – Google Reviews This was a hard place to find, around the corner from where we thought it would be in the middle of a construction zone, but I’m glad we did!  We ended up coming here after going to Castles and Coasters, and got there 40 minutes before the break between lunch and dinner ended, but they opened the doors for us and welcomed us in.  Quite a difference from the place in El Paso.  The rolls were all fresh made, questions were all answered, the fish was delicious, the rice was the right temperature, and since we were dining with my vegetarian family members, my kids decided to try the inarizushi and loved it!  The pricing was also very reasonable.
  • Rancho De Tia Rosa 891 North Higley Road, Gilbert, AZ 85234 – Google Reviews And of course, we had to have Mexican food while in the Phoenix area, not just Asian and Afghani!  We found this place as one of the few places near our hotel that could accommodate a party of 12.  I found the red and green salsas served with the chips WAY too sweet, and not spicy.  My uncle even requested the spicy sauce, and it wasn’t that spicy, but it was better.  It had a nice flavor, but there was still that cloying sweetness in the back.  My husband and I shared the Nuevo Chile Relleno (he loves chile rellenos).  This was delicious.  I loved the fact that it was stuffed with pork instead of cheese.  It was flavorful.  And it was small enough to offset the fact that I was trying to chip myself to death. 🙂  I wouldn’t say this was my favorite Mexican food of the trip, but I would certainly go again – I just wouldn’t request it.
  • We also ate at a local Subway and Sweet Tomatoes, but those are chains.  They were both good examples, but they’re chains.

Hotels

  • Hampton Inn – My mom and I decided we really enjoy staying at Hampton Inns on our last cross country trip.  The quality and cleanliness is fairly consistent across the chain, and though it is usually more expensive than some other nearby hotels, that price includes a full hot breakfast that usually has fairly healthy options.  Generally there are an assortment of cold cereals, oatmeal with toppings, juices, milk, yogurt cups, fresh fruit, a waffle maker and batter, hard boiled eggs, an assortment of breads and pastries, and two urns of coffee (mild and robust), decaf, and hot water with a dozen different types of tea.  There is also two hot dishes which get changed up each morning, so you don’t get bored with the same thing every morning.  The three times we stayed at a Hampton Inn this trip, we saw biscuits with Canadian bacon and cheese, biscuits and gravy, Western omelettes, scrambled eggs, and sausage patties.  We stayed at the El Paso East, Las Cruces, and Kerrville Hampton Inns.
  • Arizona Golf Resort 425 South Power Road, Mesa, AZ 85206 – Google Reviews This place is clearly in the middle of a transition period.There is a lot of structural work that needs to be done overall.  The fitness room is kind of a joke.  The golf course looked well maintained (to my unknowledgeable eye).  The breakfast buffet was almost literally the exact same thing every morning, with only variations on the fruit offering.  We stayed here because we got a discount since my grandmother’s memorial party was also here.  The meal we were served at the memorial (chicken in a mushroom sauce, pasta in marinara, sautéed squash, caesar salad, and antipasto plate) was delicious, but I could feel the butter going straight to my hips.  The rooms were clean, the towels bright white, and everything worked in our room.  From the constant glimpses I got of the maintenance guys, I know that this was not always the case in other rooms.  It’s not really a resort in the way I normally think of resorts.  It is clearly a hotel devoted to golf and the golfers.  For what we needed, it was adequate and budget conscious.  If you only need a place to stay in Mesa, this may not be your best option.  If you are looking for a luxurious resort, then you might need to wait a few more years for the 80’s decorating to get updated and the repairs to be completed.  Staff was all pleasant.

Attractions

  • Castles and Coasters 9445 North Metro Parkway East, Phoenix, AZ 85051 – Google Reviews We really liked this place.  We came here to let the kids have a few hours of not-serious time after the graveside service.  If you or your kids are coaster people, you could easily spend all day here, possibly a weekend.  I’m not sure it would stand up to a long weekend, though.  Two big coasters, lots of little coasters, and four putt putt courses.  Food was standard amusement park fare, and we only briefly glanced at the arcade on our way through to the ticket booth.
  • Amazing Jakes 1830 East Baseline Road, Mesa, AZ 85204 – Google Reviews Look, you know if you need to go to a place like this.  Bowling, later tag, go karts – something to burn off the kids’ energy.  We wanted something fun for the kids to do on New Year’s Eve, and this was the only option we found that didn’t involve copious amounts of alcohol.  The buffet, though – if you are worried about your food, I would skip it.  The pizza is barely better that at CiCi’s Pizza.
  • Lost Dutchman State Park 6109 North Apache Trail, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 –  Google Reviews Highly recommend!! This has great hiking trails for both walking and running, low elevation and high, easy trails and trails so hard they suggest 5-6 hours for a 1 mile stretch (2000 ft. elevation gain!).
  • Goldfield Ghost Town 4650 North Mammoth Mine Road, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 – Google Reviews Again, highly recommended!  We felt like we needed to something nice and touristy with the kids, so after hiking at LDSP, we stopped here for a couple of hours.  We got a nice lunch (my husband and I split a grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad, while the kids split a chili and cheese dog and fries).  We got a lot of great info from a friendly cowboy, who was doing jeep tours the day we were there but also participated in the gunfights on weekends.  We got the combination Mine Tour/ Mystery Shack/ Train Ride tickets which were very reasonable – $21 for adults and $13 for the kids (but you have to pay with CASH).  But the train ride was a good 40 minutes with a fabulous tour guide, and the other two tours were just plain fun!

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap

A while ago, I wondered if Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap was all that it was reported to be. From travel websites to camping websites, it is spoken of in the hushed tones reserved for holy relics.  I wanted to see how it stacked up as a travel product, and how it worked with my finicky hair and skin.

My hair is super fine and super straight.  We are talking so straight and flat that when I have tried to get perms in the past, they fell out by the end of the day.  It used to be that my usual hairstyle was waist length hair, twisted into a knot on the top of my head, easy and it doesn’t matter how thin it is.  (But people were always amazed when I took my hair down because it looks like it would be shoulder length when it is in a bun.)

My skin is red head fair (though my hair hasn’t been red since I was a baby), sensitive and freckled.  For some reason, my body has decided that my 30’s would be the perfect time to have major acne breakouts, instead of my teens.

20140614-082913-30553858.jpgI got a 2 oz. bottle of lavender to take on our trip to San Antonio in June, to see how I liked using just it in a hotel room.  I also wanted to see how much I used.  As you can see, using nothing but this soap for my hair, my body, and some light laundry duty for five days (showering everyday)  I used about half the bottle.  I enjoyed the very herby scent of the lavender, but it may not be for everyone – this is not sweet, but a true lavender smell.  San Antonio has hard water, similar to Houston; so the soap took some coaxing to lather up nicely, but it washed away very quickly and cleanly.  As suggested by several websites, I also used a conditioner to keep my hair my from getting completely dried out.

I also got an 8 oz. bottle of the peppermint scent, to use at home in a controlled environment.  I have to admit, I was curious about the peppermint zing I read about, too.  Well, yeah, it zings, allright!  Once you figure out how to lather up correctly, the longer you let the peppermint soap sit on your body, the more it feels cool and tingly. Especially anywhere you might have a cut or scratch.

I did not try it out as toothpaste.  I just couldn’t bring myself to put soap in my mouth.

My son also used the peppermint, and loves it – but he has a serious thing for peppermint in all forms.

So, my reactions?

  • Out of the bottle, in the shower, the scents are kind of intense, but they quickly fade as the soap gets washed down the drain.
  • I’m not sure I would recommend these as shampoo for people with already dry hair – they seriously strip all the oils off your hair!  And if you have normal hair, I definitely agree with using a conditioner every time.
  • But, that being said, it was amazing for my hair!  My hair dried very quickly without a blowdryer, and fluffed out as it dried – something which doesn’t normally happen, even with “volumizing” shampoos.  I got a pretty style without the need for gel, mousse, or hairspray – which all weigh my hair down and make me sweat when I go outside in the heat and humidity.
  • As a soap it worked as well as other soaps (I tend to use handmade goats milk soaps, or Ivory).  It didn’t make my skin crawl with dryness like Ivory, but it didn’t moisturize as well as the goats milk soap.
  • It didn’t make me break out any worse than I normally do, but I would not recommend using the peppermint for your face.  The fumes get very intense, and the peppermint oil in the soap is not fun to have that close to your eye area (I did not get any IN my eyes, but the delicate skin around them sure reacted!).  Look into “beezin” for info on why peppermint oil near the eyes is bad.

I am worried about taking it to the desert, though.  It worked well in a humid area, and I didn’t notice too much dryness with my skin or hair – but Utah will be a different story.  I remember that the way that first rush of desert air feels when you leave the airport – my gills hurt just thinking about it! 🙂

Does anyone have any experience with using Dr. Bronner’s while traveling to the desert?  Preferably from a highly humid region. *grins* Thanks!

 

My Big Girl Backpack

I am SO excited!  I just got a “real” backpack.  A couple of years ago, when preparing for my family’s trip to Orlando/Disney World/ Universal Studios, I got a Kelty Cardinal Convertible lumbar pack (fancy hiker’s fanny pack, *grins*).  It was highly recommended on a lot of sites for plus sized people planning this trip.  It gave me the option of carrying it just as a lumbar pack for most of the day, but then expanding it to a backpack once the souvenir shopping begins.  And all the straps would fit me. YAY!  Honestly, this is a great pack I used all the time for Girl Scout camping, family hiking, theme parks (both the Orlando trip and trips to Sea World).

But.

As a backpack, it is lacking.  The straps are just webbing, which make them very packable, but they hurt when you are wearing them for long.  The neckline, for lack of a better description, is not cut well, so the fabric tends to rub the back of my neck and dig in.  And it is strange looking on my back, not attractive.  This wouldn’t be a problem, except I was noticing that I was using it as a backpack more and more.

And I had Camelbak envy.

So, I took advantage of my REI dividend check and the Memorial Day Sale and got my new backpack!  It’s not for going backpacking, hiking out to a campsite and spending the night.  My physical fitness is not there, yet, but it is something I want to do eventually.  My new backpack is more along the lines of what I need now – something to hold a binder full of medical information, a fairly large first aid kit, snacks for 2-12, tools, jacket, plus whatever the girls need me to carry.  Or my kids.  Or my husband.  My husband and I trade off being pack mule.

So, what did I get?  An Osprey 22L Talon and a 100ml Camelbak reservoir.  It’s black, which is the only thing that doesn’t thrill me, but it’s okay.  At the store, you would have suggested that I look for another because there was no way that hip belt was going to close around my girth.  And this is too expensive to buy it on the assumption that “I can use it when I lose weight”.  I know you have some clothes like that in your closet.  We all do.

But I got it anyway.  Why?  Because I can sew!

I picked up some webbing at the fabric store, cut the original hip belt straps up and sewed in some new ones that are not just sized to fit me, but give me a little play.  I don’t expect to get bigger, but I don’t like having to fumble for the little bit of an end in order to cinch in a strap.

After removing one of the original straps.

New strap attached to backpack.

It was actually a really easy fix, less than an hour total for both straps.  And now I have a great new backpack – just in time for our next trip to Sea World.  I’m not sure I would survive Sea World in June without a hydration bladder. No pic of me in it, yet.  When I have a good one, I will post it. 🙂

New Bag: Village Tote

So, my Village Tote has arrived! I think it is going to work out perfect for me. It’s not my perfect purse by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it is the perfect carry-on. It’s a lovely beige tote bag that doesn’t really read as a tote bag. It also has a gorgeous blue lining, I think Baggalini calls the combination mushroom/Caspian blue.

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Standard Tote Bag Construction. On the front, there are three pockets: a large one with a magnetic snap flap closure, a small zippered pocket that is hard to see behind it (I’m not sure what the intention is for it, maybe pens?), and a large zippered padded pocket that fits my iPad, even in the keyboard case I have for it (which doubles the thickness).

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There are also deep full width slip pockets on each side, big enough for a good sized water bottle or umbrella. And one of my carry-on requirements – a zip bottom slip pocket with a magnetic snap closure. The bottom can be unzipped to allow it to slide over the handle of a wheeled piece of luggage so I don’t have to constantly carry it on my shoulder in the airport.

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This picture shows all the STUFF that I put into the bag in the next pic. Top row: organizer, coin purse that came with the bag, wallet, sunglasses, pen, sharpie, post-its, flash drives, hygiene kit. Middle-ish row: iPad in keyboard case, mini purse, patches, and other swag from the 2011 Convention (to represent the 2014 swag), lip balm #1, hand lotion, iPad and iPhone charging cables. Bottom row: my GS thank you cards, first aid kit, more Convention swag, lip balms #2 & #3, screen cleaner, keys, post-it flags.

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And room for a pashmina, snacks, a notebook, a larger organizer, and some Convention souvenirs left! I wouldn’t want to carry it around fully loaded, but for the plane trip, this will work.

Oh, and since I couldn’t get a good list anywhere of the interior pockets, there are:

  • Front side: one elastic loop for pen, lipstick, or lip balm; fairly large zippered pocket – you know, the pocket EVERY purse has.
  • Back side: Another elastic loop, one accordion pleated slip pocket, two pen pockets (deep enough and wide enough for sharpies), and a flat slip pocket about iPhone sized.
  • Sides: One side has a removable leash for keys (I have my flash drives on it). The other has a leash for the removable coin purse. The leash can be removed, too, creating a handle for the coin purse.

So sorry for the awful fuzzy pictures. These are actually the SECOND set I took of the bag, because the first ones were too dark. I’m an adventurer, not a photographer, sorry. 🙂

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This is probably how I will normally carry it. Not nearly as full. Oh, and that coin purse? I have plans for it. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!