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!
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Our Arizona Adventure, Part 4: the Unexpected

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On our way home, we got hit by something completely unexpected. Snow. Ice. Winter. In places where the temperatures in winter rarely dip below 50, we drove in a landscape of white. Now many of you will look at this and say, “Yeah? So what?” In Houston, we are used to getting a dusting of snow about once every 10 years. In Arizona, it is pretty much limited to the mountain areas and the northern part of the state. We were driving from Las Cruces, NM to Kerrville, TX the day the storm hit, and I became terrified. We were surrounded by drivers who had NO EXPERIENCE driving in these kinds of dangerous conditions. I was in a car with drivers who had NO EXPERIENCE driving in these kinds of dangerous conditions. I was not a pleasant passenger to say the least, and the dozens of semi trucks spun out along I-10 did not raise my confidence.
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We stopped in Van Horn, TX to change drivers and eat lunch at Papa’s Pantry. This sign greeted us in the entryway of the restaurant.  The place was packed with weary travelers, and the parking lot was filled with ice scrapings.  The coffee was hot, the food all needed a little more salt, and the servers were clearly stretched to their limits, but overall it was a pleasant place to stop in an unpleasant situation.  My son got a sandwich made with homemade bread, which was delicious, and I would highly recommend to anyone if they find they have to stop along that section of I-10.

This pretty much cemented a feeling I had already had of absolute loathing for West Texas.  On our last road trip west, we stopped in Fort Stockton, which is where EVERYONE stops halfway across West Texas, because there are barely any other sizable towns in West Texas.  My mother and I immediately took a dislike to Fort Stockton, which gives the impression of nothing more than a way station for guys coming and going from the oil fields.  Bars, buffets, and overpriced hotels.  We avoided it like the plague this time – which makes for a very long drive across the wasteland that it West Texas.  No towns, no roads, no cell towers, just mountains that Arizonans laugh at, oil derricks, and wind farms.

It’s depressing as hell for this child of the piney woods.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, pt. 2

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I have now been using Dr. Bronner’s for about 3 or 4 months.   I’m a convert.  This soap works REALLY well for my hair, and works fine for my skin.

The hair thing is kind of unbelievable.  As I said, I have baby fine hair that gets weighed down by EVERYTHING I put in it.  And I live in a climate so humid the air conditioners can’t handle it.  Oh, and I have also come to realize, over the past few months as I have been changing my lifestyle, that I sweat from my head.  As in, I can spend a hard 30 minutes on the treadmill pushing myself, and I will have sweat pouring off my head in front and back – but my underarms? Dry as a bone.  I know, weird, but apparently, genetic since my mother is the same way.

And all summer long (except when actually working out), my hair was fluffy.  I mean, nice looking slightly volumized, fluffy.  Not static-y, because I used conditioner, but that weightlessness promised by so many products that FAIL for me.

My daughter, on the other hand, who has hair so massively thick we have to have the stylist thin it out  extensively, doesn’t like it as much.  So it’s not for everyone.  But if you have very thin hair that just lays there, you might give it a try.

I have also now tried the bar form, as well as the liquid form.  It works just as well, even for my hair.  I will say, though, that I believe the liquid has a stronger odor.  I have used both the peppermint liquid and the peppermint bar.  The liquid made me go, “Well that’s PEPPERMINT” (but in a good way).  The bar was more like, “hmmmm, if I stick it up to my nose , I can detect the aroma of peppermint”.  For both products, the smell washes away with the soap, which is nice if you don’t want it competing with your perfume or body spray.

I have tried the following:

  • Peppermint (L) – very strong peppermint smell, like a peppermint candy; be careful of fumes on face
  • Peppermint (B) – much weaker smell, I didn’t worry about the fumes, but I would still be careful of getting this in your eyes
  • Tea Tree (L) – strong herbal smell, not my favorite, but it makes you think “clean” – like the smell of bleach does
  • Lavender (L) – strong herbal smell, not sweet at all
  • Almond (B) – ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!! I am in love with this smell, and can’t wait to try it in liquid form.  This is sweeter than the lavender but not really “sweet”.

I like the fact that the smells are more like the essential oils than like a candy version.  It makes me think the Rose scent would be really lovely if you like walking through a garden.  I wonder if showering with a combination of the Peppermint and Eucalyptus scents would give me the same effect as those Vick’s Shower Soothers from years ago – I loved those when I was stopped up.

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. 🙂
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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. 🙂

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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).

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!