Our Arizona Adventure, Part 3: the Adventure

IMG_4032  One of the castles at Castles and Coasters.  We spent an hour and a half playing putt putt, and then walked around to let the kids ride rides.  Avoided the amusement park food like the plague.

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View of the Superstition Mountains from the parking lot at Lost Dutchman State Park.  This was where we went for a wonderful hike with my aunt, uncle, cousin and his girlfriend.  Having my aunt and uncle along was like having our own park rangers hiking with us explaining what all the different plants, animals, and land features were.  My husband went trail running while the rest of us took a more leisurely pace for 2.75 miles around the base of the mountain range.  Since we’re from 0 feet above sea level here in Houston, I wasn’t sure how well I would take to massive amounts of elevation gain, but the 200 feet we gained over the course of the hike was perfect.  My husband’s trail got him much higher, and his quads are still killing him for it.IMG_4112After hiking, we took a nice touristy stop at a nearby ghost town.  We did the mine tour, the Mystery Shack tour, and the train ride, as well as tasting prickly pear fudge – which is delicious, btw.  I highly recommend getting 1/4 pound and splitting it 6 ways, like we did. 🙂

No pics, but we also went to an indoor amusement park type place, called Amazing Jakes.  The kids got to run around doing laser tag, bumper cars, mini coasters, and things like that.  Then the four of us played a round of bowling with a new friend.

We were staying at the Arizona Golf Resort.  I can’t vouch for the place as a “resort”, it was nice enough but the amenities are clearly geared towards the golfers.  However, it was lovely watching the jackrabbits scatter as my daughter and I walked along the the edge of the golf course.  And since it is such a big property, between walking from the room to the main building and all of the walking around at activities, I got 10,000 steps in pretty easily without stepping foot on one of the treadmills in their fitness room – the ones that I was pretty sure wouldn’t be able to take my weight for more than 5 minutes.

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Our Arizona Adventure, Part 1: the Bad

IMG_4101 My next big adventure (as I mentioned) was another cross-half-the-country road trip to Arizona.  Only this time, we were going to be going in winter instead of summer, and we were aiming for Phoenix instead of Yuma.  Oh, and instead of just me, my mom, and my kids, we were adding both our husbands to the mix.  In a minivan.  But that is just the beginning of the list of not nice aspects to this trip.

The occasion was not a happy one this time, unfortunately.  The clan on my mother’s side was gathering for a memorial for my grandmother who had passed away this time last year.  It took so long for us to get together because we have become quite far flung these days.  And actually, we are not the family members which traveled the furthest – my cousin who is doing graduate work in Germany gets that badge – but I think we are definitely the ones who drove the furthest (about 2700 miles total, including driving around Mesa/Phoenix for 5 days).  But we had to coordinate schedules for people coming from Germany, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Washington State, ranging through 4 generations.

And my father’s idea of a good time involves eating.  Good eating.  Greasy eating.  Both of my parents are from Arizona, umpteenth generation desert rat, and they were both raised on good Sonoran style Mexican food.  Then they moved here to Texas, and my father has been disappointed ever since.  To put this in context, Taco Bell is a very good representative of Tex-Mex – not too spicy, meats tend to be ground and sautéed rather than stewed and shredded, heavy reliance on flour tortillas, limited assortment of vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños), and a very tomatoey flavor to all the sauces and salsas.  My father would add that it has no flavor.  I’m not sure I would agree with that, but I will say Sonoran style takes way more time, Tex Mex is much faster to cook.

IMG_4127 All that being said, we went to Arizona, not California.  If you are trying to watch your calories, Baja (Southern California) style Mexican food is MUCH better, filled with fresh vegetables, corn tortillas, seafood, and light methods of cooking.  And on top of that, my father had intended on having our dinners dictated by restaurants given the Triple D Seal of Approval.  Luckily for my husband (who is in training for his next marathon) and I, Guy Fieri did the unthinkable and never visited a Mexican restaurant while in Arizona.  I will agree with my dad on this one – that’s like going to Texas and avoiding the BBQ, brisket, or Chicken Fried Steak, the foods that, in a way, define Texas cuisine.

Oh, and did I mention the fry bread?  And the Navajo tacos made by topping that beautiful fry bread with authentic chorizo, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese?  Made by Tohono O’odham natives?  So. Good.  So.  Many. Calories.

IMG_4035This was about to be a test of my (extremely weak) willpower, whether I could avoid eating back all of the 75 pounds I have lost so far.

More good news: My son brought home a cold from somewhere, and my father got one at about the same time – we are pretty sure they were different colds, though.  But it meant that just in time for our 11 hour drive to El Paso (stop one), four out of the six of us were dripping and sniffling and coughing and miserable.

So just how did I end up smiling?  Next up, the planning.

Decompression

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What an amazing experience Convention was.  But I am glad to be back.  Forgive me for not blogging while I was there, but I was honestly either too busy or too tired from being too busy. So you will be getting several posts about the Convention, about Salt Lake City, and other miscellany about the trip.

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No, the National Council Sessions were not actually this boring, I just suck at taking selfies.  Trust me, this one is better than the ones where I tried to smile. 🙂  The business meetings were actually pretty interesting, although the proposal I thought was going to be most controversial wasn’t and one of the ones I thought was a snooze ended up with quite a bit of passionate rhetoric.  I guess you never know.  The one thing I was told to be prepared for was for there to be LOTS of people going to the microphone to ask for the air conditioning to be raised or lowered – and it never happened.  Everyone pretty much stayed on track.  Well, except for one morning. 🙂

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This was Saturday morning.  We were having technical difficulties with our voting gadget, some were not working.  So the presiding officer used her executive privilege to have everyone sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the Board Members whose birthday was that day.  And then it became “Happy Birthday” to all October birthdays.  Well, we’re Girl Scouts.  It doesn’t take much to get us to sing.  After that came “Make New Friends” in a round, then someone from the Council behind me started a round of “Boom Chicka Boom“.  Then the Presiding Officer asked for a Girl to come up and help her lead a song.

That was a mistake.

First one Girl Delegate from the front row sprinted to the stage.  Then came a few more.  Then a lot more.  Finally, every Girl at the meeting was up on stage.  They started us off with “The Milk Song“, and then one of my troop’s favorites, “Princess Pat“.  After this, the presiding officer decided she had better take back control of the meeting and shooed them all off the stage. 🙂  It’s one of my best memories of the trip, though.

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I took time to explore the Hall of Experiences, picking up goodies for my troop, pamphlets to read, and samples to snack on (though I tried to limit those – I think I only ate 3 Girl Scout cookies the whole trip).  There were a lot of really great booths, a fabulous treehouse, and exhibits trying to get everyone excited about the new technology that will be coming to help us manage our troops.

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One of the focuses for this Convention was the Outdoor Discussion – how much is and should the Outdoors be part of Girl Scouting.  There was a pretty resounding, “DUH” from the Council.  The Girls especially were very loud about not only retaining and increasing the Outdoor badges and experiences currently in the program, but also complained that Ambassadors were left out of the proposed new Outdoor Badges.  It was interesting to see the concerns of Councils from around the country, from the completely urban Girl Scouts of Greater New York who have to put their girls on a subway and then a bus to get the girls to Camp in a different Council’s geographic area to the Councils that are desperate to stop having to sell off camp properties to the Councils which have so few camps that if their Older Girls want to go to camp they have to volunteer to be a counselor for the younger girls.

I realized how lucky I am to be in the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, where we have 10 camps spread pretty evenly around the Council geography.  We have a robust cadre of Outdoor trainers (and I can’t wait until I can rejoin them!), wonderful facilities at our camps (most of them), equipment for troops to use for free or rent for dirt cheap, and most importantly a climate that allows us year-round use of our camps.

I should have asked the ladies I met from Alaska what their camps were like . . .

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I picked the Celebrate Cultural Arts theme dinner.  It was pretty great, with a couple of Henna artists, a presentation from Eunique Jones about her “Because of Them We Can” campaign (plays a video automatically), and performances from local dance and music groups – Irish step dancers, a drum and bagpipe corps, an opera singer, a group of Basque dancers, and a group of Chinese dancers.  I think the performances could have been a little more multicultural, but I think the reason we had 4 out of 5 groups from Europe was simply because Salt Lake City is not as diverse a city as Houston.

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The goodie bag from my theme dinner.  A Dreamcatcher kit, a pen from the hotel where the dinner was (which also happened to be the hotel I was staying at), two leftover cookie sale necklaces, and a Jolly Rancher.  Le sigh.  I was way more excited to get a henna tattoo.  I hope it stays long enough for my girls to see it at our next meeting. 🙂

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. 🙂

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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).

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.

Traveling in a Carryon

One of the rules I have made for myself when planning for this trip to Utah is not to check luggage. Even though I will probably be flying Southwest (since I will be flying out of its hub, Houston, and it is one of the cheapest airlines around) which allows you to check two bags free, I just don’t want to have to deal with the possibility of lost luggage if I can avoid it.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of resources for traveling light in a carry-on (some of the ones I like best are listed to the side). Here are some of the thoughts I had that weren’t covered by those sites:

  1. As with most conferences/conventions, you are going to get stuff. Some of it will be good stuff (pamphlets helping you plan your troop’s trip to Our Cabana, for instance). Some of it will be edible stuff (samples from Little Brownie and ABC and Ashdon Farms and the other nut company) which will be useful for snacking between sessions or the flight home. And some of it will be things you may decide you don’t need to bring home (another metal water bottle). When I went to the 52nd Convention, I got a free tote bag filled with free goodies, including a windup flashlight and a metal water bottle – not the easiest things to pack home on a flight – along with my visitor day pass (not the Hall of Experiences pass, the volunteers got the good tickets).  I will need to remember to pack in such a way as to be able to bring home the goodies I want, and have the strength to say no to the goodies I don’t really want.
  2. Can I really fit all those clothes in one bag? PLUS SIZE clothes? We’ll see.
  3. Really? No navy based business travel capsules???? (Yep, still stewing about it)
  4. Is Dr. Bronner’s really all that?
  5. What is the best way to pack a suit into a carry-on?
  6. By all that is holy, I am going to the desert.  How the heck do I look professional when I can’t breathe due to altitude and lack of humidity?!?!?

Ahem.

So, with #2 on the list in mind, now that I have my capsule sorted out for the trip, I did a test run to see if I could get all those plus sized clothes in my undersized carry-on.  I made a big old sloppy bundle, and popped it in my suitcase along with some navy flats I found in the back of my closet (which I am NOT wearing, because the soles are floppy-broke and they are scuffed to heck, but they work for simulating the pair of shoes I will need to bring.

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Packed in the bundle is my suit jacket, suit pants, a pair of leggings to simulate the khakis I haven’t gotten yet, my white dress shirt, my beautiful overtunic, both tanks, my first aid kit and my hygiene kit to hold the place of my core, and the flats.  There is still plenty of room for all the stuff I might get at the convention (as long as I don’t go overboard and get a giant stuffed animal or a sleeping bag or something crazy like that), my pajamas, and my underthings.  But I need to do something about a core.  I can’t use my hygiene bag, since I will need to get at it in security.  And now I know that an Eagle Creek Quarter Cube will be way too small (that is what my hygiene kit is packed in).  So I am thinking I will get full sized Packing Cube to hold my underthings and pajamas and be my core.  So, I guess that takes care of #5, too, huh?

I’m currently testing #4, review to come later.

I need to do more research for #6, but I think I can safely say that I don’t have to worry about my makeup melting off (unlike here at home).  But I am testing minimal makeup ideas, anyways, because I want to look good, but I don’t want to have to fuss for an hour each morning.  I would much prefer sitting outside with a cup of coffee looking at scenery I don’t have at home.

Show off your pedicure!

School is out (I hate flip flops)!  Summer is here (I hate my fat feet)! Time to hit the pool (my toenails are actually cute, but no one gets to see them)!

Okay, so yeah, I have a love/hate relationship going on with summer.  I love not having to wear real shoes, or socks.  I’m a barefoot kind of gal – but that’s not allowed in stores, and kind of dangerous at pools.  So every year I start The Search.  The Search For Shoes That Will Fit.  I have extremely wide feet (WW if I can get it), fairly tall feet, but actually normal length feet (size 9ish).    Because of this, I have worn a lot of size 10s, a lot of men’s shoes, and a lot of whatever-will-fit-me instead of what-I-want.  My go-to shoe in the summer has been cheap Birkenstock knock-offs ($10 or less), which last a year, look like crap, but I can wear them long enough for the sole to wear down to fit my feet.

This year, I found AMAZING shoes, which I love – TOMS knockoffs (because women with fat feet aren’t allowed to wear TOMS).  I tried some from Avenue last year, was amazed at how comfortable they were, and nearly broke down in tears when they were falling apart after less than a week of wearing.  The Woman Within ones have been worn almost daily for the past 5 months, and are just now starting to get some holes.  But amazing as these shoes are – they don’t show off the cute pedicure I splurged on.

And what is the point of having a cute pedicure that only your family gets to see???

After several unproductive shopping trips (including one to Avenue, where the sweet saleswoman was personally mortified that she couldn’t get my feet into anything that would show off my toes), I sighed deeply and began searching the internet.  And I found THIS.  Kristen is RIGHT, these are Outrageously Comfortable AND Ridiculously Simple!    I grabbed a  pair of cheap flip flops from Joanns, a quarter of a yard of swimsuit fabric, and went to town with my mom’s help (I wanted to get the fit right, and my plus sized legs don’t fold as neatly and easily as Kristen’s do). TAH-DAH!!!

20140602-132933-48573166.jpgMy super cute new flip flops that fit!  Of course, they’re blue.  You have been here before, right?  Blue is my color. 🙂

20140602-132935-48575082.jpgLook – cute pedicure!  I know, fat feet, but cute toenails. 🙂  Look, no shoe is ever going to make my feet look like they should be in a shoe ad, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask that I can have sandals that don’t look like orthopedics.

I did make a couple of changes to Kristen’s original tutorial (watch the video, btw, makes it super clear to understand what she is doing).

  1. The swimsuit material is fairly thick and . . . um, not squishable (if that makes sense), so the knot in the front of the shoes (between the toes, and through the hole) would be too big to walk on comfortably.  Solution: taper the ends of the two sections of fabric until they are half the width, and the knot will easily slip up into the hole in the bottom of the sole.
  2. Also, my mom is a bit of a worrier, so she suggested I fill the holes with glue to add a layer of security .  But be careful what glue you use!  There is no point in filling the holes with a water soluble glue (presumably, you will wear flip slops around water – like at a pool).  Most of the shoe making resources online say that if you can’t get your hands on Shoe Goo, then Gorilla Glue will work.  Again, be careful though – Gorilla glue expands 3x, so do a sample first.  You won’t need to fill the hole with liquid Gorilla Glue!

Now I am ready for my next big adventure – our family’s summer vacation in San Antonio.  We’ll be getting the final bang out of our Annual Pass buck at Sea World and staying at a resort, where I am already booked for a new pedicure (I’m thinking blue nails this time, what d’you think?? *grins*).  And these are WAY better than the disposable foam flip flops spas give you so you don’t mess up your polish.