Road Trip to Everywhere

I don’t want to brag, but we road-trip like a boss.  Our practice has been made perfect over the last ten years, and we can literally decide to GO and have the car packed and ready in less than an hour.  How do I know this?  Done it.  (mic drop)

In 2014 we planned a two-week road trip with four major stops, and it was really the first time I relaxed and just enjoyed spending time with Mark and the kids without all of the “shoulds.”  Total game-changer.

Day 1:  We left Dallas and drove the roughly four hours to Stillwater, Oklahoma.  My uncle lives there, and we spent the day with family.

 

Day 2:  The next morning we grabbed breakfast and hit the road.  It’s about a nine hour drive from Stillwater to Colorado Springs, and we stopped along the way to examine cotton fields and admire the high desert scenery.

Day 3:  After spending the night in Colorado Springs, we drove out to Canon City, where we had booked a half day river-rafting adventure with Raft Masters.  It was my third or fourth time to use Raft Masters, and they didn’t disappoint.  The kids had such fun, and the experience was thrilling and memorable!  Poor Mark had to drive us to Estes Park after the rafting trip while the rest of us conked out in the car.  Fun can be exhausting.

 

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Day 4,5 and 6:  I can’t adequately describe our love for Colorado.  There just aren’t words.  Our hearts are restored by beauty, and Colorado has beauty in spades.  We spent three days hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and discovered a great (family friendly) hike to Emerald Lake.

 

Estes Park is a great place to prowl around, and there are numerous places to take a quick walk/hike just outside of town.  Also, we happened to arrive just in time for the annual 4th of July parade which was a total bonus!

 

Day 7:  By far one of the less interesting days on our trip was driving from Colorado Springs to Cody, Wyoming.  There wasn’t a lot to see along the way, but we did stop in Chugwater, Wyoming for lunch, and we’ve never forgotten it!  In fact, we now use it as a reference when describing small towns,  “Is it Chugwater small?”

 

 

 

Day 8:  Arriving in Cody was like stepping back in time.  The town has a deeply western feel, without coming off as artificial.  We stayed in the Moose Creek Lodge, and to my delight, there was a wonderful coffee shop right next door.  One of my favorite memories of the trip was made in that hotel.  Each night, tired from our adventures of the day, we’d all tuck into bed and watch The Andy Griffith Show.

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Day 9, 10, 11:  Cody is about an hour away from the Yellowstone gates, so we woke up early each morning, grabbed breakfast and COFFEE, and hit the road.  I mean, the scenery is gorgeous, so it’s a great way to start the day!

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So the thing about Yellowstone is that it is a HUGE National Park.  Honestly, you could spend a full week there, but we only had three days, so we hit the “major” sights like any self-respecting tourist family should.  Do I wish we had hiked out at dawn to see the Yellowstone wolves?  Yes.  Yes I do.  But the kids were little, and I could still run faster than them, so of course I was worried I’d outrun them if the wolves attacked.  I have a strong will to live, dear reader.

One afternoon Cara and I mounted up and rode the hills around Yellowstone.  We thoroughly enjoyed the breathtaking vistas and even got to see a big pile of grizzly bear scat…freshly laid and still steaming.  Our guide was so gracious and friendly, and watching my little slip of a daughter ride like a champ filled me with joy and just a wee bit of pride.   Ok, a LOT of pride.

We noticed a funny phenomenon during our visit to Yellowstone:  the first bison/elk/bear you see is completely thrilling.  You pull the car over, pile out and start snapping pictures like a National Geographic photog.  But by the third day, it’s “meh, another bison. (yawn)”.  It’s totally crazy, because IT’S A BISON, ya’ll!!

We saw elk, deer, bison, chipmunks, marmots and a great big grizzly bear foraging for food on the other side of the river.  What we found rather incredible is that these animals were near and around the geysers as well as their more “traditional” habitats.  I cornered a park ranger (as I am wont to do…) and asked one million questions about the marmots scurrying around Grand Geyser.  Apparently they can sense when the geyser is about to erupt, and they hightail it outta there to safety.

Day 12:  We left early from Cody, and drove about six hours to Mount Rushmore.  With stops along the way, we arrived mid afternoon.  I was both impressed and underwhelmed by Mount Rushmore, so if I don’t get back to see it again, I’m good.  The town around Mount Rushmore reminds me of Las Vegas, except western.  And small.

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Day 13:  So here’s the real gem of our road trip!  We hadn’t planned on staying in South Dakota for an extra day, but when Mark learned that Wind Cave National Park was in the area, we extended our stay an extra day.  First of all, to get to Wind Cave, you have to drive through Custer State Park-  what a beautiful place!  Aaaaand, there are numerous prairie dogs to see along the way, so that was fun for the kids.

Wind Cave is more incredible that I can describe.  The caverns are small, and the tunnels go every which way.  Our park ranger made such an impression in telling about the history, discovery and exploration of Wind Cave.  She was also patient and comforting to those of us (read: just me) who struggle with claustrophobia.  If you visit Mount Rushmore or South Dakota, you will not regret a stop at Wind Cave National Park.  By far one of the most wonderful national parks we’ve visited.

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We left Wind Cave mid afternoon, and started driving home.  Originally, we planned on stopping in Nebraska or Kansas for an overnight, but Mark decided to drive all the way.  Fifteen hours later, we pulling into our driveway, exhausted but content after our family road trip.

Day 14:  Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Fourteen days, three national parks, one national memorial and about a million miles.  It’s a lot to fit in, but we came home with so many great memories.  The kids expanded their worldview as they gained new understandings about ecosystems, geography,  indigenous peoples, map reading and surviving forced family fun.  Ha!

Next time?  We make the trek out to see the wolves at dawn, since I’m the slowest…just call me #wolfbait.

 

 

Harry Potter Birthday Party

For the past few years, we’ve gone “easy street” for birthday parties.  But this year, for my daughter’s thirteenth birthday party, she wanted a real party with a Harry Potter theme.

Since I have more time and less money to spend planning a party, I ended up making a lot of the decorations myself, rather than buying them.  The first thing I tackled was the sorting hat.

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I cut open a paper grocery bag and rolled it into a cone.  Then, using binder clips, I made the facial features; four inside to make the eye slits and mouth, and two on the outside to create the eyebrows.  After all the clips were where I wanted them, I used a spray bottle and paper towels to spray and wipe water all over the hat.  The idea is to get the paper nice and pliable, but not so wet that it falls apart.  When I was finished, I let the hat sit and dry for a couple of days.  The brim was harder to add than I thought it would be, and if I were to make another, I would do it all at once, rather than from two separate pieces. Here’s the tutorial where I got the how-to.

The house ties and house banners I made from felt fabric.  There wasn’t anything hard about making them, and I just drew the letters from an example I saw on Pinterest.

 

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I ended up running a stitch along each stripe on the ties to make sure they didn’t come off when the girls were running wild through the house.

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One of the easiest projects was a Platform 9 3/4 entrance with a brick backdrop and some poster board.  One thing that made a big difference in how it looked was we overlapped the brick backdrop by almost a foot and a half.

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For fun, the girls played “Pin the nose on Voldemort,” and it satisfying to laugh at “He Who Must Not Be Named” and his face full of noses.

 

When the girls first arrived, we “sorted” them into houses with cupcakes filled with different colored sprinkles.  Once they were assigned a house, they grabbed a tie and a wand. We made these from a kit with hot glue, paint and wax.

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Of course I made a chocolate cake like the one Harry receives from Hagrid on his eleventh birthday, compete with misspellings in green icing.

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I also served Chick-Fil-A nuggets, ham and cheese pinwheels, chips and these yummy delights:

 

For the table, I created “Mandrakes” out of knee-high hosiery stuffed with brown fabric scraps.  I attached leaves, and “planted” them in inexpensive clay pots.

 

 

 

The HARDEST project was finding a way to hang candles from the ceiling to re-create the great hall at Hogwarts.  I saw quite a few Pinterest boards, where they were attached to the ceiling with tacks and pins, but I didn’t want to ruin my ceiling.  So…

 

I attached a loop of string on each corner of a foam board using a big, fat plastic needle.  Then, I attached a single line of polyester thread to each LED candle, securing it with clear tape.  I poked five holes in each foam board and pulled the threads through, adding packing tape to make sure they didn’t fall out.  To hang the foam boards, we used a command hook for each corner, and attached the string loops to the hooks.

 

Fifteen candles gave a great effect, but if I do it again, I will try to get closer to 24 candles.

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All in all the party was a success, and the girls had a fabulous time!

 

Sofa-Bed Solutions

The fourth bedroom in our home serves a dual purpose. Most of the time, it is set up as my office.  I love the long workspace of my desk, and I spend at least an hour here each morning, checking email, doing Bible study and journaling.  Everything is at hand, and the space is cozy and comfortable.

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Several times a year, we convert my office to our guest room to accommodate friends and family who come for a visit.  When we bought the house, we considered our options:  Guest bed?  Or pull-out sofa?   Rather than have to work around a bed when we don’t have guests, we decided on a pull out sofa, and committed ourselves to finding a solution for the infamous sofa-bed mattress horror show.

The first way that we tackled this problem was by adding additional support to the sofa bed frame by way of 1×6 boards.  Mark, my clever husband, added two anchor pieces to “lock” the boards in place along the end of the frame.  Otherwise, our guests might find themselves on the giving end of a 1×6 board when they get up for a snack in the middle of the night!

 

Mark also numbered the boards for convenience, as they were custom fit across the entire frame.

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The boards do offer added support, but there is also some movement and flexibility by using 5 of them rather than a single piece of wood.

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Ahhhh…the sofa-bed mattress.  A tool of the Spanish Inquisition, no doubt, wrapped in a mattress cover, and sold to unsuspecting homeowners.  There just isn’t anything nice I can say about it, so I’ll move along.

 

We bought a three inch memory foam mattress topper at Costco, and straps to keep it rolled up for storage.  These things are unwieldy, and rolling it up is like wrangling a squirmy calf.  I recommend a second set of hands and a cocktail for afterward.  You’ll have earned it!

 

When my parents come to visit, I typically make the bed with two standard blankets, an electric blanket and a comforter.  I also stash an extra quilt and blanket under the bed in case they need some extra warmth.

This sofa-bed set-up works well, and although it can’t beat a real mattress/bed, my parents usually stay for a couple of weeks without complaint.  The extra time and effort it takes to set it up is worth it, because well-rested guests are happy guests!

 

Sequoia & King’s Canyon Nat’l Park

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”   John Muir

I’ve become a little lax in following actual rules since becoming a stay-at-home mom.   This past October, for example, I pulled the kids out of school for a couple of days so that we could jet out to our beloved California.  This has never, ever been done before in our household.  Mark and I are both educators.  We know how important it is to have butts in chairs all the days possible.  School is important.  Necessary.  But Mama gets lonely and a little bored at home all alone day after day…as evidenced by the many pictures of our cats in my Photos folder on my phone.

I convinced Mark that it was SUPER IMPORTANT to pause for a family getaway, and he agreed without too much of a discussion.  Maybe because of the cat pictures.  Or the way I enthusiastically greet him after work and follow him around retelling all the EXCITING  events of my day like a maniac.  Bless him.  He’s a good man.

We chose Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks because we didn’t have a lot of time, but wanted a big impact.  October is a great time to visit California– the weather is cooler and the parks don’t seem overrun with visitors.

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There isn’t a major airport near Sequoia/King’s Canyon, so we flew into LAX on a morning flight.  (It goes without saying that we got a great deal on plane tickets through Google Flights…it’s our go-to flight finder.  Our flights from Dallas to LAX were about $120.00 a piece.). The drive was roughly four hours, and once you’re in the mountains, the scenery makes the time fly by.

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One thing you should definitely keep in mind if you plan to visit Sequoia/King’s Canyon is that there are two entrances.  The North entrance is about a four hour drive from LAX, but it is open all the way.  The South entrance is under construction, and there are road closures and areas where the road is only a single lane.  We found very little traffic going into the park on a Friday afternoon through the North entrance, and even though it was a much longer drive, it probably saved us time in the long run.  When we left the park, we used the South entrance because we left in the morning.  The outbound lane moved along just fine, but the incoming lane was a traffic nightmare.

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The weather up in the mountains around Sequoia/King’s Canyon can be a little dicey in October.  The weekend we visited there was snow forecasted so we packed our hats, gloves and jackets.  Although we left before the snow, it was quite chilly and we needed everything but a heavy jacket.

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There’s lots to see in Sequoia/King’s Canyon, and as you might imagine, a lot of it involves giant trees.

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The kids were really in awe of the giant redwoods, and enjoyed walking the path around the groves.  Both of them, however, like to strike out on their own and bushwhack along trails and off the beaten path.

 

We pulled over quite a bit to hike around, and I bet this is what the kids will remember most.  The weather can change quickly up in the mountains, and at one point we had to call the kids back because fog was rolling in fast and thick.  By the time we got back to the car it was a complete white out.

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We stayed in the Wuksachi Lodge and Village in Sequoia and it was quite comfortable.  The lodge is not a Ritz Carlton, but it is clean and comfortable, with a ski lodge feeling.  One thing to note is that it’s quite a trek uphill from the parking lot to the lodge.  We had rolling carry-on luggage, and managed just fine, but there are luggage trolleys for those who have more to carry.  If you need assistance getting everything up to your room, just let the desk workers know when you check in.  They are happy to help those who need an extra hand.

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Finding food in Sequoia is a challenge simply because everything is so spread out.  There is a small store by the John Muir Lodge, and some snacks for purchase in the Wuksachi Lodge, so we brought our own snacks and drinks and stored them in the mini fridge in our room.  This wasn’t our first rodeo, ya’ll.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Wuksachi Lodge, and the food is quite good.  For dinner, I recommend making a reservation AS SOON as you check in because they have limited seating.  We did that, and got a decent reservation time, but others who did not had to eat dinner at 9 o’clock!   Also, be sure to request a window table, because the view will only enhance your delicious dinner.  We recommend the pot roast with mashed potatoes.  It.  Is.  Sogood.

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After two days hiking among the giant trees, and exploring the wild woods it was time to head out.   We left through the  South entrance and along the way we pulled over to watch a black bear meander through the tall grass.  She was beautiful!

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Once we left the park boundary, we stopped for lunch at the Gateway Restaurant and Lodge in Three Rivers.

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I can highly recommend the fish and chips lunch, and if the weather is decent, ask to sit outside beside the river.  It’s the perfect way to end a journey into the woods with those you love.

As always, I would love to hear from my readers!  If you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to comment below.  Thank you for following along!

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”  

                                                                                                           Seamus Heaney

When we first arrived in Dingle it turned out to be completely different than we imagined.   Sometimes the unexpected can throw me into a tailspin, but it turned out to be one of my favorite adventures during our most recent trip to Ireland.

Dingle is the name of a town, a peninsula and a scenic drive.  It is part of the Gaeltacht region; an area where Irish Gaelic is the predominant language.  Most signs are in Irish Gaelic and you’ll hear Irish Gaelic songs and ditties spilling from the pubs.  It’s really charming and beautiful.  We fell in love with the pastel colored buildings and busy streets in this fishing town, and can’t wait to go back for a second visit!

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We drove to Dingle on a sunny July day, after a three day stay in Kenmare.   First thing you should know is that Dingle is a rather large town.  Almost a city, in my opinion.  There are one million pubs in Dingle, and if you should happen to be there when the World Cup is going on (as we were), you can expect a. LOT.  of pub noise all through the night.  It didn’t bother us too much, and in fact, added to the flavor of our experience there.

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Another thing to keep in mind is that Dingle is a popular tourist destination.  Bus loads of people arrive there, and it’s crowded.  If we ever go back, I’d like to do it on the off season, when it’s just the Dingle-ites and a few of us lookie-loos.

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We stayed at Sraid Eoin House B&B in Dingle, and it was lovely.  The room was clean, fresh and inexpensive. It was bright and we had plenty of room to spread out.  The hosts were warm and friendly, and we were very pleased with our choice.

The REAL treasure of Dingle town, is that you’re at a natural starting point for an adventure around the Dingle Way.  Dear readers, this drive is worth every bit of the time you take to traverse it!  I can highly recommend Rick Steves Ireland guide as a wonderful road map to this adventure.  He kindly includes distances to each stop and a brief description of each.  We decided on the must-see stops as a family, and started out after breakfast and a cup of coffee to go.

One of the things that impressed us was just how ancient some of the sites along the Dingle Way really are!  We stopped at several ring forts (also known as fairy forts) from the Iron Age (600-500B.C.), and my kids were fascinated by their construction and purpose.

As an added bonus, one of the ring fort sites included some darling farm animals that we were able to pet and enjoy!  This really made an impression on my daughter who loves animals of all kinds.

There are also several groupings of beehive huts which are fun to explore.  Be sure to carry some cash, because many stops require payment of two or three euros per person.

What we appreciated about the Dingle Way is that we could stop and spend as much time as we liked at the sites that interested us most.  Being stuck on a tour bus, or being herded through the sites holds no appeal for us, and is the primary reason we prefer to rent our own car.

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The views are spectacular, and we stopped often to look around and smell the clover.

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After a full half day exploring the Dingle Way, we stopped for some lunch in one of the small villages along the way.  The area is quite popular now, as scenes from Star Wars were filmed there, and the local pub had two sculptures; one of Yoda and another of Darth Vader.  It was cute without being commercial.  My daughter and I shared AMAZING fish and chips, while my husband and son split a yummy pot roast lunch.  IMG_20180708_120748962_HDR

 

After lunch, we headed north toward the Cliffs of Moher.  This drive yielded one of the most interesting driving situations we had in Ireland! The “highway” out of Dingle is a single lane “two-way” road, with cliffs and mountains on either side.  It was truly beautiful, and I’m so glad we went ahead and drove that way, but there were a few hair-raising moments along the way!

You know, there are places we visit that are a huge hit with all members of the family, and this was one of them.  I got to see my kids excited about hiking around and exploring some really incredible sites, and we all walked away with the feeling that we had seen something we might never see again.  This area is chalk-full of magic and intrigue.  Don’t miss it!

Taisteal sásta! (which means “happy travels” in Irish Gaelic)

 

Skellig Michael

You know, I’m drawn to things that “can’t easily be done.”  Unless the hard thing is avoiding pasta.  I’m not drawn to that at all.   When I was reading through Rick Steves Ireland for the first time, I stumbled upon the section about Skellig Michael, and the idea of taking Mark and the kids on this impossible adventure took root.

Skellig Michael is a world heritage site, about 7 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland. There are two Skellig rocks; Little Skellig and Skellig Michael and both islands are primitive, rugged and inhospitable.  At around 800 A.D. a group of monks came to live on Skellig Michael, and their dwellings (as well as the 600 steps to reach them) are still there at the top of the rock.  These days, a group of somewhat salty men dedicated to preserving the island live on Skellig Michael on a rotating basis.  Bless them, because there is no running water, fresh water, electricity or flushing toilet to be found out there.

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During our first visit to Ireland, I scheduled a tour to Skellig Michael the day before we were to depart for the States.  Somehow, when reserving our trip, the issue of a departure time was never discussed and we literally missed the boat.  IMG_20180705_093503517

Skellig Michael tip #1:  confirm departure time and location several times before the day of your trip.

I’m not going to sugar coat the retelling of how I handled this monumental mess-up.  I was beside myself.  The thing is, my son was looking forward to our Skellig Michael excursion more than any other activity we had planned in Ireland, so I deeply felt the guilt of letting him down.

When we decided to return to Ireland, booking a Skellig Michael tour was the first thing I did.  We ended up booking with Skellig Tours with captain John O Shea.  Most of the charters to Skellig Michael depart from Portmagee, but John sails out of Derrynane Harbour, which worked well for us because we were staying in Kenmare.

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Skellig Michael tip #2:  Book as early as possible.  Star Wars has made this site wildly popular, and reservations go quickly.  I booked months in advance.

Let me be very clear about something:  the boats that take you out to Skellig Michael are smaller than you’d think.  And you’ll be crossing open ocean.  This excursion is only possible during the summer months (May to August) and even then, many trips are cancelled due to rough seas.  If you are prone to seasickness, buckle up.  This is no quick jaunt across a placid lake.

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Skellig Michael tip #3:  laying down on the boat will help with seasickness.

Disembarking onto Skellig Michael is described as “jumping off a trampoline onto an ice rink.”  (Rick Steves, Ireland)  I found that to be an accurate description, and although I was happy to be off the boat, I was immediately taken aback by how stark and uninviting the island actually is. Yes, I watched the videos and read the brochures, but the ruggedness is somewhat shocking.

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As I said before, there are 600 steps to the top of Skellig Michael.  They are uneven and cracked, and there are no hand rails.  Vertigo is an issue as well because the steps are so steep.

IMG_20180705_182047_184The real prize is reaching the top where you can explore the ancient beehive dwellings of the monks who lived there over 1200 years ago.

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And of course the view is spectacular!

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Skellig Michael is literally crawling with sea birds.  Their loud squawking will almost drive you mad, and the gulls especially, will dive bomb you for your sandwich.  However, it’s the adorable puffins that really make a lasting impression.  They are not afraid of humans, and will resolutely growl if you get too close to their nests.  Puffins are not aerodynamic birds, and watching them fly is a hilarious sight.

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The length of time on the actual island is short; about an hour and a half.  It’s such a remarkable experience, though, that I highly recommend making the effort to go if you have the chance.  The fact that humans existed on Skellig Michael is almost unbelievable given that the conditions are so harsh and inhospitable.

Skellig Michael tip #4:  Pack food for a quick lunch, but keep in mind that you will have to eat furtively while hiding by a stone wall because the sea gulls are overly aggressive and will swoop down and steal that sandwich right out of your hand!  I imagined a leisurely picnic at the top of the rock, but the reality was probably closer to a maximum security prison cafeteria…guarding our food and avoiding eye contact, while shoveling it all into our mouth as quickly as possible.

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If you must know, I did not, in fact, make it to the top of Skellig Michael.  There was a seasickness situation on the way over, and I think I almost died.  By the time we actually set foot on the island, I was dizzy, weak and shaking like a leaf…not a great combination for climbing 600 steep, death-defying stairs.  One of the salty preservation men bellowed, “Then why’d ya come at all, lassie?!?”  How do you explain to a pirate-y man with a ruddy complexion and copious amounts of chest hair that nothing makes you happier in life than seeing your children’s eyes wide with wonder?  What words really express the satisfaction a mother feels when she gives her son a rare and miraculous adventure that he will likely never have again?

Skellig Michael tip #5:  When explainging mother-y feelings to a pirate-y preservationist, just liken your love to the love he has for the island.  He will slowly nod and softly say, “I understand ye.”

 

 

 

 

My Top 5 Must-Haves for Air Travel

I get on a plane six times a year, on average, and it goes without saying that I always travel with snacks, water, my phone and something to read.  Over the last 8 years, however, I have also curated my must-have items for air travel.  Whether the flight is 2 hours or 12, these five things make travel less of a chore for me and my tribe.

  1.  Small backpack: I normally travel with just a carry-on, so having a small backpack to fill with in-flight necessities is a must.  My FAVORITE small backpack is the Swiss Gear City Pack Backpack.  I just love the design and layout of pockets, and this pack carries a lot of stuff!  The Patagonia Atom Backpack is also a nice size, and BONUS: the laptop/tablet pocket fits my MacBook Air.   Both of these backpacks fit under the seat in front without spilling into my “feet space.”
  2. Travel “cooler”:  I almost always travel with some type of fruit (If you pack fruit for an international flight, you MUST eat or dispose of it all before you land!) and keeping it chilled through security and boarding is easy peasy with an insulin travel case.  I purchased mine at The Container Store, but Amazon has many varieties as well.  The great thing about these, is that they are small, and the freezer packs contain gel, not liquid, so I’ve never had a problem going through security.  Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.22.09 PM
  3. Charging “Brick”:  I know that airports have MILLIONS of charging plugs, but just try to find one that’s working and available when your phone or tablet is at 2%.  Add children to the mix, and you’ll absolutely need one of these like you need oxygen.  We purchased our portable charger from Amazon, and it keeps us all charged!Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.33.26 PM
  4. Earbud/Charger pouch:  I LOVE my charger pouch from MochiThings.  It holds more than you think it will, and my earbuds stay tucked in the side pocket.  Plus, it’s easy to find in my backpack because of it’s round shape.  I’ve had mine for over 5 years, and it’s still in great condition.  I can normally fit earbuds, phone/tablet charger and a few other small things (like my car key and/or a flash drive) in my charger pouch, and still have room left over. Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.47.16 PM
  5. Foot rest:  Ok, about foot rests.  A foot rest is not, in any way, going to help your image.  They are not cool or nifty or neat.  They are utilitarian items which your spouse and children will make fun of any time you set it up.  Just wave, say “bye Felicia” and ignore those jokers.  Second, you can kindly disregard this recommendation if you are a normal to giant-sized person.  Foot rests are for Hobbits and short humans.  My rule of thumb is that if a flight is more than 3 hours, I pack the foot rest.  My wee legs get tired of dangling after about 120 minutes, but I can usually tough it out for a while if I know we will land soon.

    I bought this actual foot rest off of Amazon, and it’s the bomb.  Ten bucks for a world of comfort is a bargain, I say.

So in reality I pack a great deal more than the five items listed above along with my snacks, water, phone and book.  I’ve read enough zombie apocalypse novels to know that you should always travel with bandaids, Neosporin, a flashlight and a Sharpie pen.  But that’s a post for another day.

Happy travels, everyone!

 

 

Muir Woods National Monument

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”  John Muir

I like to think of the Golden Gate Bridge as the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,  so Muir Woods National Monument and all that lies north of San Francisco is obviously the magical land of Narnia!  It’s truly one of my favorite places in all the world, and there is SO much to explore.

A quick history lesson:  John Muir is the “father of the national parks.”  He lived in the 1800’s, and traveled all over the United States, studying nature and advocating for the preservation of land as national parks.  This is a MUCH abridged version of a super interesting dude, and I encourage you to read more about him, especially if conservation and nature are your jam.  How fitting that Muir Woods be named after such an important man!

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Muir Woods National Monument is just across the Golden Gate Bridge and to the west.  It’s only about a half hour drive from the GGB, and a worthwhile way to spend half or all of a day. The road into the woods is SUPER bendy, so if you’re prone to carsickness, I’ve found that opening a window to the chilly breeze makes a big difference.  But my goodness!  It’s a beautiful drive, and the air is just fresh and full of oxygen!

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You’ll want to arrive early, because the parking situation at Muir Woods is atrocious.  We normally time our arrival for 15 minutes before the park opens, and have always found a place to park.  If you wait to mid-morning, or even worse, afternoon, you’ll be walking a half mile to a mile before you even arrive at the entrance to Muir Woods.  And remember that fresh air?  Well, once the tour buses arrive, it’s not so fresh.  More of a “death by diesel” situation, where you want to take shallow breaths through the mouth as you cross the parking lot to the main entrance.

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Another reason to arrive early is because there is nothing so heavenly as wandering through the massive redwoods in the early morning quiet.  You’ll be able to hear the river in the background, and the wildlife is still out and about, getting ready for the day.  The way the sunlight streams through the trees, spotlighting small sections of the forest floor, as the mist is burning off is really beautiful.

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The main trail in Muir Woods takes you down along one side of the river, across and then back.  There are quite a few turn around points over the river, so you don’t need to commit to the whole circuit, but I highly recommend going back as far as you can.  Spend all the time you want to spend in this “cathedral of nature” before the crowds arrive, soaking in the magnificence of these incredible trees.  It’s like going to #church!

 

If you’re traveling with kids, they will LOVE exploring the hollow trunks and fallen trees.  There are lots of neat nooks and crannies for them to examine, and the size of the redwoods makes a huge impression on children.

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You’re probably wondering when I’m going to bring up the subject of food.  Well, right now would be the time!  About a month before we headed out to Muir Woods for the first time, I happened to be watching Food Network’s show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and they had a segment with Tyler Florence.  He was visiting Muir Woods National Monument, and shared his love for the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at the Muir Woods Trading Company.  I can attest to the fact that they are delicious and satisfying!  I also recommend the honey cornbread.  It’s.  So.  Good.

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After a bit of lunch, it’s always a good idea to go for a hike!  When deciding on a trail, you may want to talk to a ranger or park employee to get some input, or do a little research online.  There are quite a few trails off of the main path, but we have only explored two of them.  If you are looking for a GREAT hike, and have some time, I recommend the Canyon View Trail just off the path beside the Visitor Center/Trading Company.  There are several maps of Muir Woods, and here’s another.  The Canyon View Trail will take several hours if you go at a leisurely pace, but the payoff at the top is worth it!

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When you come up above the forest, and stand on the rock, you can see as far as the Bay. It’s really incredible.

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What I love about nature, and specifically Muir Woods, is that it levels and elevates man, stripping away all of the nasty ways we get tangled up in our “rightness.”  We are simply mankind, gazing upward together, feeling gratitude for a moment.  I find it impossible to hold on to defensiveness or judgement while walking among giants.  Being filled with awe leaves no room for scraping and clinging to what we think is “ours.”  I leave refreshed, with my heart wide open to the world beyond.

And also, I am pretty sure I saw Channing Tatum and (his wife at the time) Jenna Dewan on the main path in Muir Woods a couple of years ago, which is pretty much a celebrity endorsement of this post!  🙂  Happy hiking!

San Francisco, CA

“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art.  Every block is a short story, every hill a novel.  Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal.”  

                                                                                                                   William Saroyan

I first visited San Francisco in 2011, and fell in love.   I’d never seen anything like it in terms of architecture and style.  It’s as quirky and colorful as you imagine it to be!  The drive into the city from the airport is a buffet for the eyes as everything is SO different from where I live.  The buildings, the shops and the people are a gorgeous feast that awaken my artistic thirst.  I drink it in happily, and fall in love all over again!

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Flights from Dallas typically arrive at SFO around 10AM, so we drive directly from the airport to have lunch.  Let me recommend The Blue Mermaid (in the Argonaut Hotel) for a great spot to dine.  They have a nice patio (with heaters if it’s chilly) and the service is top notch.  Blue Mermaid has an award winning crab chowder, and it is so delicious!  I order a bowl of it and a side of garlic/parmesan French fries every time-  it’s my standard order.  Oh my goodness.  So yummy!  The Argonaut Hotel is lovely, and if you eat at the Blue Mermaid, you are welcome to visit the hotel restroom to freshen up after a morning of travel.  The Blue Mermaid is right by Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.  The area is REALLY touristy, but also a fun place to walk around.

Another really great place to walk around is China Town.  I’m sure there are several tours that include China Town, but since we ALWAYS rent a car, I can’t recommend one.  What’s really wonderful about China Town is that you leave just about everything “American” behind once you pass the boundary.  My husband is a Diet Coke drinker, and we could not find a single bottle in all of China Town!

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Exploring the shops and markets was such an adventure and we left with jade rings and figurines, origami Christmas ornaments, and neat gifts for the kids.  I highly recommend a stop in China Town!

Another really interesting place to visit is Fort Point.  Basically, it’s a fort built under the Golden Gate Bridge.  What I loved about this museum is that you can walk all around the fort- even up to the top where you see the underside of the bridge.  Just know that when the fog horn sounds, you’ll jump out of your skin!  It’s.  So.  Loud.

 

On the way to and from Fort Point you’ll pass Crissy Field, and on the Fort Point side of Crissy Field is a  Warming Hut and Cafe.  Not only will you find something lovely to nibble and sip, but they also sell unique gifts, books, and posters.  Definitely worth a stop.

Over the years we have visited Coit Tower, the Embarcadero, the Presidio, the Full House house and Lombard Street.  All are worth at least a drive-by depending on your level of interest.

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No lie.  Driving in San Francisco is a hair raising experience.  The city is so incredibly hilly, and there are times you feel as if you are driving straight up or straight down.  This is not the time to be driving a stick shift!

After wrapping up a glorious day in San Francisco, you’ll be primed and ready for a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I definitely recommend making a stop to walk along the bridge, if you have a chance.  It’s quite an amazing experience, and you will feel a deep sense of awe at what man has built.  Even if it’s a foggy day, make time to stop.

Just past the bridge on the north side, is an exit that will take you up to a lookout point where you can see the bridge and the whole city on a clear day.  It’s definitely worth the time, if you go when there are not a million cars trying to get up there.  We’ve learned that mornings are best.

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Driving across the GGB going north is free, but be aware that if you re-enter the city via the GGB, you will have to pay a toll.  Always ask your rental car provider for their policy on tolls.

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Take your time exploring San Francisco, or pack it all into a half day-  either way the flavor of this city will soak into your heart and stay there forever.  There are lots of reports out there about the decline of this majestic city, and I can reluctantly agree that we have seen some of that over the last 8 years.  However, we’ve never experienced anything that frightened us or put us off to returning, so my best advice is to simply practice safety precautions as you would in any other unknown place.  So open your heart, explore the hidden streets and share in the experience of this amazing city!

 

 

 

Ireland Itinerary 2018

Day 1:  Arrive in Dublin and drive to Trim.  Stop at TESCO in Swords along the way, to pick up the things we need.

Day 2:  Explore Trim until lunch time, and then run by the grocery store as we leave to pick up picnic lunch items for Skellig Michael.  Drive to Rock of Cashel on the way to Kenmare in the afternoon, and check in to Virginia’s Guesthouse.

Day 3:  Get up early and drive out to meet the boat for a Skellig Michael boat tour.  Arrive back in Kenmare late afternoon and take a nap!  Overnight in Kenmare.

Day 4:  Explore the Ring of Kerry and eat Banoffee Pie!  Overnight in Kenmare.

Day 5:  Leave Kenmare in the morning and drive to Dingle. Check in to Sraide Eoin House  BnB.

Day 6:  Travel the Dingle Peninsula Loop from Rick Steve’s book after breakfast.  Head to AirBnB cottage outside of Gort. Do laundry.

Day 7:  Drive from Gort to Cliffs of Moher and explore the Burren and the many loughs (lakes) along the way.  Overnight at AirBnB cottage outside of Gort.

Day 8:  Leisurely make our way to Dublin, stopping along the way to explore and soak in the last bit of the Emerald Isle.

Day 9:  Early flight to Iceland, and then home to Dallas!