Autumn Sangria

The leaves in Oklahoma are brilliant hues of mustard, caramel, tangerine, and lime.

It’s time for fires in the fireplace and scarves around our necks.

As the landscape and temperature change, so does my palate. Isn’t it funny how the changing of the season imparts an inherent desire for certain flavors? For me, fall conjures up images of spicy cinnamon and nutmeg,  crisp, cidery apples and beautiful ruby red pomegranate jewels!

Last week I went to my friend Amy’s house for “TV Night”.  This summer a handful of us lovely and rambunctious ladies met once a week to watch Bachelor in Paradise.  Since ABC is torturing us until January to air another season of the Bachelor franchise, we’ve decided to meet anyway because we can’t wait that long for an excuse to indulge in wine, cheese platters, and girl talk. We watched Bridesmaids. I had forgotten how hilarious that movie is! I took a big ‘ol batch of my autumn sangria.

I love a good cocktail that you can make a big batch of that guests can easily pour for themselves. Several Halloweens ago, I decided to take a classic crowd-pleaser and enhance it with the festive flavors of fall, and thus, my autumn sangria was born!!! It began very simply with red wine, apple cider and an apple slice in each glass and has evolved from there. So, take this recipe and keep it simple or embellish it!

Here’s how I made it this time…

A bottle of red wine. I used merlot.

Huh. Well, that doesn’t seem like nearly enough wine. Looks a little lame in this giant jar. We need another bottle.

Look. Even the wine opener is happy about this decision. It’s saying Hooray!

That’s better. I definitely recommend doubling the recipe if you’re making it for a crowd. Now for the apple cider. My absolute favorite is the spiced cider from Trader Joe’s. It’s already loaded with holiday flavor.

This measurement is really according to personal taste. I like my autumn sangria really appley, so I use at least a 1:2 ratio of apple cider to wine. Be cognizant of how sweet you want it.

In a pinch, you could stop there and be very happy.  But if you have the initiative, dice some apples.

A moment of keeping it real. Pouring wine and apple cider with one hand while operating a camera with the other is messy work.

Alright, dice those apples and let’s turn this into sangria!

If you have a few extra minutes for this next step, it’s a fun addition.  I just adore pomegranates. They are my favorite fall/winter fruit.

There are many different techniques for getting those beautiful little jewels out of the flesh- cutting it in half and whacking the peel with a wooden spoon, setting it in a bowl of water and allowing the arils to float to the surface… I, myself, like to put my fine motor skills to work here. I cut the pomegranate in half, score it with a knife in four places…

loosen those sections…

and gently separate the arils from the white membrane.

I find it oddly satisfying, like popping plastic packing bubbles. Add the apples and pomegranate to the sangria.

Beauteous. A note for later when you’re serving the sangria- the apples will stay afloat while the pomegranate arils will sink to the bottom. Do what you have to do for a perfectly balanced glass of fruited sangria!

Add a generous (or conservative) sprinkle of ground cinnamon, nutmeg (a little goes a long way) and ginger.

Stir, chill, and ladle yourself a glass! Not necessarily in that order.  Sometimes I like to add a splash of club soda upon serving for a little effervescence.

Doesn’t that just embody fall? Perfect for Halloween, Thanksgiving or a Tuesday afternoon. I mean evening.

I could leave well enough alone, but I’m honest to a fault. When I was leaving for Amy’s house and went to grab the sangria out of the fridge, I happened to notice the pears that Brady enjoys in his school lunch sitting on the shelf above the sangria.

I spontaneously grabbed two little containers and added them, juice and all, to the sangria. It got me thinking about all the ingredients I could add next time- diced fresh pears would be lovely. Pear or apple brandy, pomegranate juice, cinnamon sticks… This autumn sangria can be as simple or elaborate as desired and different every time you make it!

Ingredients

1 bottle red wine

2 cups apple cider

1 apple, diced

1 cup pomegranate arils

a sprinkle of ground cinnamon

a sprinkle of ground nutmeg

a sprinkle of ground ginger

Other Optional Ingredients

1 pear, diced

1/2 cup pear or apple brandy

1 cup pomegranate juice (if you use pomegranate juice, you may want to decrease the amount of apple cider so the sangria isn’t too sweet)

club soda

cinnamon sticks

Instructions

Simply mix the ingredients and chill.  Cheers!

Now, enjoy a sexy video about drinking sangria by one of Oklahoma’s own, Blake Shelton. Woo! If that’s what happens when you drink sangria, pour me a glass!

Sangria by Blake Shelton

Friday Night Lights

We’re well into football season and I’m about to make a big confession. It’s not going to be popular. In fact, living in a small midwestern town and saying something so absolutely preposterous and offensive could possibly get me stoned to death. The townspeople will soon be at my doorstep with torches and pitchforks, but I can’t keep this truth locked inside me for another moment!

I. Don’t. Like. Football.

(Pause for reaction.)

I’ve never been interested. It bores me to death. I’d rather…do anything else. I told you it would be a controversial admission.

In high school, I attended the football games merely to socialize in the stands. I chose a college that didn’t have a football team (I heart LMU). I love a good Super Bowl party, but again only for the social aspect and the festive food and drink. I even fell for a hunky All-American linebacker, a Texan no less, and he married me despite my complete lack of interest in the sport that so heavily influenced his life.

Hubba hubba.

John loooooves football. If you ask him, which season he likes best, he will not say fall or summer, he will answer, “football season.” And, at least once a month, he dreams that he’s a high school football player and he’s forgotten his helmet or Coach won’t put him in the game.

In the early days of our relationship, John would watch games all Saturday and Sunday (including the highlights before bedtime)(oy vey, that’s a lot of football), and I would lounge next to him reading book after book after book. When the kids were born… that ended for me.

One of those children turned out to be a sports obsessed son. Thank you, Lord, for blessing John with a sports obsessed son.

There have been fleeting moments when I’ve attempted to pay attention to games and at some point realized that my eyes were glazed over, my mouth was hanging open, and my mind had wandered elsewhere. I admit that I only even halfway understand the game, and half the time, I don’t know where the ball is. If the offense fakes out the defense, they have fooled me, as well.

But, now that we live in a state where people religiously fly their OU or OSU flags, and furthermore, in a small-town where the Friday night main event takes place at the high school football field, I feel I should conform.

This is Valentine praying to the football gods. The game baffles us. Help us to understand!

So…This is me committing to the quest of football fandom. Okay, let’s be real. This is me committing to going to the games with my family and trying to like it a little. And, I will happily put out yummy snacks and watch a little bit of football on tv as to interact with my husband a little during the long football season.

In the name of research and motivation, I have assigned myself some homework…

Look, I hunted down a heart-shaped hallow of a tree to show my devotion.

I have also purchased my Skiatook Bulldogs t-shirt from Walmart to wear to the games.

I’m well on my way!

If you see me in the stands, don’t judge me for being an imposter. Give me a thumbs up for my effort.

Go Bulldogs!!!

Watch this video, “The Boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney. It actually gets me a little verklempt about football!

The Boys of Fall

Clean Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

With the school year in full swing, I wanted to make a healthy breakfast item that Isabel and Brady could enjoy before school for days to come. Since I was out of my usual boxed banana bread mix, which let’s face it, is glorified cake, I found a retro banana bread recipe from my beloved school recipe book, circa 1990, and gave it a healthy makeover.

I replaced the white flour with a combination of whole wheat flour and almond flour. I swapped out vegetable oil for apple sauce, which in addition to the mashed banana, makes the muffins so moist, I wonder why anyone would ever add oil! With a few added touches of nutritious ground flaxseed and irresistable chocolate chips, this recipe is the perfect balance of healthy and indulgent, and my kids love it! If you don’t happen to have the ground flaxseed, leave it out, but it adds a nice boost of nutrition. This is how I made the muffins.

I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees.

Truth be told, this photo was an opportunity to show off my new kitchen towels gifted to me by my friend, Amy. Thank you, Amy, for seeing the potential in me to be a Real Housewife of Oklahoma. I am truly flattered! She also knows about my newfound love of cows.

Next, measure out the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Whisk to combine.

In a small bowl, measure out the chocolate chips. In my world, that means don’t measure them and just pour a whole bunch of chocolate chips into the bowl. Eat a small handful.

Put a tablespoon of the dry mix into the bowl and stir. This will help prevent all of the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the muffin tin while baking.

Time for the wet ingredients. Mash the ripe bananas.

Add the applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon. True, brown sugar and cinnamon are not technically wet ingredients, but I like to mix them with the wet ingredients. The brown sugar melts into the wet ingredients and the cinnamon permeates through the mixture.

I’d like to point out the beautiful, sturdy Pyrex mixing bowls that I’m using. They were my Grandma Margie’s. Coincidentally, my Grandma Isabel had the exact same ones. I love that I think of them both when I’m using them.

I also feel like I should address the elephant in the room. My lighting is horrible in this post. Maybe there wasn’t enough ambient light outside today. Maybe I need to take a lighting class. Maybe I need to invest in some other lights. You would never know it, but I had every window shade open and every light on, yet it looks like I’m cooking in a cave.  I borrowed Isabel’s desk lamp to supplement all the other lights in the room, but to no avail.

Lighting has never been my forte. Back in my LMU film school days, Diana Cracknell, Brian Horn and Seamus Smith, to name a few, used to help me with my lighting on my student films. Do you think they’d fly out to Skiatook, Oklahoma for a zero budget blog?

Such is life. Back to the muffins.

Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients, and stir to combine.

Now, mix in the chocolate chips.

Spray two muffin tins with cooking spray, as well as a 1/4 cup measuring cup.  Distribute the batter easily using the measuring cup.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Do the toothpick test to make sure they’re baked through.

While still warm, run a knife around the muffins to loosen and remove. Allow to cool on a cooling rack.

After a  few days in a tupperware, I like to move them to the refrigerator to ensure freshness.

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup almond flour

¼ ground flaxseed

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

Chocolate chips

2 mashed ripe bananas

¼ cup applesauce

1 tablespoon stevia brown sugar (or ¼ cup regular brown sugar)

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degree.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of the dry ingredient mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients, starting with the mashed banana. Add to the dry ingredients.
  5. Add the chocolate chips and mix well.
  6. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Lightly spray a 1/3 measuring cup with cooking spray. Add 1/3 cup batter to each well.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Iced Peach Sweet Tea Latte

After telling the tale of mine and Brady’s adventure to the Porter Peach Festival, I had a hankering for something peachy. So I went into the pantry to see what I could conjure up spontaneously.

Behold! I discovered that my bottle of peach syrup had survived the move to Oklahoma. In the last panicked hours of move-out day, John had taken on the job of cleaning out the pantry. He’s one of those people that is ruthless when going through things (I, on the other hand, like to keep everything),  so this bottle of random flavored syrup in my new home was a happy surprise, indeed.

So, I had my main ingredient. A very quick and easy drink vision filled my mind. Packed with ripe summer peach flavor… southern sweet tea…an Iced Peach Sweet Tea Latte! So simple, I can hardly call this a recipe.

I began by brewing some black tea (I used English Breakfast) in hot water. You can use two tea bags if you’d like the tea to be stronger.

Next, I frothed some milk. I love, love, love my Nespresso milk frother. You can either froth cold milk for cold drinks or steam milk for hot drinks. The blue light indicates that there’s cold milk a’frothing!

Ooh, professional! If you don’t have a milk frother, you can just use cold milk.

Add ice in a tall glass. Aren’t mason jars adorable?

Fill it about 2/3 up with tea…

…add a little or big splash of peach syrup and stir. Maybe since it’s sugar-free peach syrup, it will offset all of the Bluebell icecream I’ve been eating all summer.

Top with frothed milk and spoon on some of the thick frothiness.

I garnished my tea latte with some fresh mint from my California-grown mint plant from our previous and beloved front porch. A souvenir from my past life.

Seriously, this photo go could in a museum. Dutch Impressionism? I’m proud of my amateur photography skills.

"Still Life with Fruit, 1871-72" by Gustave Courbet Painting Print on Canvas Trademark Fine Art Size: 18" H x 24" W x 2" D

“Still Life with Fruit, 1871-72” by Gustave.

I’m just saying, there’s some resemblance.

Add some nice weather and a great book and you’ve got yourself a lovely afternoon. I couldn’t help it, Tea with Isabel looks so pretty in this photo. Peach Tea with Isabel… come on. It’s perfect.

Ingredients

1 or 2 black tea bags (depending on desired tea flavor and caffeine)

Approximately 1 cup hot water

1 cup milk

Splash of peach syrup (to taste)

Mint for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Brew tea bags in about a cup of hot water.
  2. Froth some cold milk in a milk frother. Use the cold milk setting. (If you don’t have a milk frother, you can skip this step.)
  3. Fill a glass with ice.
  4. Fill about 2/3 with tea.
  5. Add desired amount of peach syrup.
  6. Top with cold milk and stir. Top with froth.
  7. Garnish with mint.

 

The Porter Peach Festival

Now that Isabel and Brady have started school, and days of sleeping in and lounging around lazily and unproductively are a thing of the past, I am recommitting to being a more motivated and diligent blogger. With that said, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on an adventure Brady and I experienced over summer vacation.

When we lived in  California, I would see on the KTLA news (I miss you, KTLA news) announcements of upcoming festivals such as the Oxnard Strawberry Festival, the Long Beach Greek Festival, and the Orange County Fair, to name a few. I would always think, “That sounds like fun! We should go!” But, because of other plans or hesitance of spending a Saturday driving in traffic, we never did.

So, being in Oklahoma without kids’ sporting events to work around (yet) or weekend traffic to fear, I heard news of the Porter Peach Festival and I got excited. Brady shared in my interest, John and Isabel did not, so Brady and I drove for an hour southeast through Tulsa and beautiful countryside to the tiny town of Porter.

In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Porter had a population of 606.

I learned some interesting facts about the town of Porter from the festival program. Ben Marshall planted the the first commercial peach orchard in Porter in 1890. In 1904, he took his peaches and apples to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis which caused the orchard to gain national attention.  Porter peaches were shipped by railroad to supply grocery stores in the early 1900’s. As a result of this history, Porter began promoting itself as “The Peach Capital of the World” in 1983.

I parked our car on the grassy side of the road, and Brady and I hopped onto this John Deere tractor shuttle which transported us to the festival down the street.

We really felt anticipation of doing something totally new in our new home of Oklahoma. The first thing we did was  get our faces painted. Brady chose a Minecraft Creeper and I chose a peach!

As we were in the face painting booth, I noticed a line gathering behind the booth. There were free peaches and ice cream at the fire station!!! The concept of a full serving of dessert free to the masses was astounding to me. So, that’s where we headed.

I haven’t yet mentioned how crazy hot it was outside. I’m guessing it was 100 degrees, throw in the element of humidity, and this California girl was wilting like a peach bud! So, with many other festival-goers, we hunkered down in the shade of the firehouse garage and ate our Porter peaches and vanilla ice cream. The combination of the two was so sweet, peachy and creamy. It was the best thing we ate all day.

Next, Brady and I bought some ride tickets and went down the slide together. It was faster than I thought it would be!

Then we saw it. (Cue the ominous music.)

I don’t remember the name of this ride. I think I’ve blocked it from my memory. It started out very fun as we swung around in a circle and spun occassionally. Weeeee!

It picked up speed and my giggles and wees became fun screams. My LMU baseball cap flew off and landed on the ground somewhere. As the little car whipped us around and flung us into the air, our limbs dangling and the tumultuous sound of rickety metal parts holding our fate, my screams of joy morphed into screams of… discontent? Terror? Brady started shouting, “No, I don’t want to!” and I was recalling previous stories on the news  about freak carnival ride accidents. While a new concern grew that I was going to throw up my free peaches and ice cream, Brady was next to me yelling, “This is not how I die!” As we whirled passed the man working the ride, I shouted in a voice that I forced to sound pleasant, “Okay, I think we’re done!” After a few more bloodcurdling revolutions, the ride slowed and stopped. When the man helped us off the ride, I attempted calmly, “I underestimated this ride.” He replied, “Most people do.”

Normally, I am a total daredevil. I will excitedly brave the craziest rollercoaster at any amusement park, but I think sketchy carnival rides might be a thing of my past. Brady and I agreed that we would only repeat the slide.

Brady threw darts at balloons and won a stuffed owl which he named “Porter”. Notice Brady’s peachy outfit. We both dressed festively in shades of orange.

It was hoooot. And humid. There would be bands playing later that evening right underneath the quaint and very Americana setting of the Porter water towers, but after a snow cone,  our purchase of Porter peaches to support the cause and some kettle corn to take back to Isabel and John, we were ready to take the John Deere tractor shuttle back to our air-conditioned car and make the drive back to Skiatook.

It was a sweet advenuture that Brady and I shared together. Until the next festival!

Listen to Good Directions by Billy Currington.  In my mind, the story of this charming song occurs in a little town just like Porter!

Livin’ on Skiatook Time

Since the Womack family has arrived in the Skiatook area of Oklahoma, we have gotten exactly what we were seeking- a slower pace.

This is how we’ve been filling our days.

We’ve been riding the ranger on trails to find isolated views…

…to start Isabel and Brady’s driving lessons…

… and to get to and from the Lake.

Ahhh, the beauty of Skiatook Lake.

We’ve been having fun swimming…

…and tubing.

The scenery in the area certainly encourages solace.

Until a few days ago, we didn’t have wifi, and that was actually kind of nice. It was an excuse to not work on my laptop and an easy way to say, “Oh sorry, kids. You can’t play on your ipads, there’s no internet. You’ll just have to use your imagination like kids did in my day.” As a result, we were doing things a little backwards. We were reading on our patio and going to the library to work on our laptops and play on our ipads. I was kind of embarrassed and felt the need to explain that to the librarian.

Even our drive into town to the library or the grocery store is a relaxing venture.

We start by crossing the dam which is, in my opinion, one of the coolest places to be in Skiatook.

On one side stretches dark blue waters…

…and on the other stretches bushy green treetops for as far as the eye can see.

And then we head down into a beautiful, lush valley.

Look! Bales of hay! One of my favorite scenes. It looks like they’ve been artistically placed to decorate this field. And this type of scene is found all over Skiatook, all over Oklahoma. I love it.

We enjoy rolling down the windows and saying hello to our new bovine friends. Hi, cows! Mooooo!

They stare at us like we’re crazy city folk.

We pass scenic ponds…

… and majestic horses nibbling on grass. On this note, if you see a crazy girl taking pictures of your animals, don’t be alarmed. It’s just me.

More hay. This shot I pulled over and got out of the car for. A man driving by in his pick-up truck gave me a curious look. I imagine hay isn’t as exciting to the locals. Isabel and Brady told me I was embarrassing them and to stop being a tourist. I like being a tourist! It means that I’m appreciating and embracing what makes Skiatook special!

More cows…

…and a beautiful shady grove of trees.

 

We saw a turtle crossing the road and we decided to help it cross faster so it wouldn’t get hit by a car.

Ironically, I wrote a very similar scene in Tea with Isabel when Nina rescued a turtle from Highway 20. Here we were just about two miles from that very spot. A very strange form of deja vu for me.

And that’s our drive into town! I turn a reasonably short drive into a long one by pulling over so many times to take photos. Isabel and Brady have been extremely patient with me.

I’ve been waking up early before John and the kids wake to go for a nice morning walk or jog. It’s so peaceful to walk down this gravel road and not see another soul.

The lighting is gorgeous, a bright warm tangerine hue, as the sun rises into the periwinkle sky.

Sweet solitude. It’s just me and the birds.

 

I make my way across Lake Road and head into a neighborhood with big grassy, tree-filled yards.

Most often, the scenery warms me up with the cozy glow of sunrise…

…but occasionally the morning is a misty one.

I always, always, always make sure I can see Skiatook Lake on part of my walk.

It is so addictive.

Are you kidding me? That’s incredible. The water is like glass.

I’ve got a thing for the marina, too.

The sun is still rising!

So many opportunities for artistic photos. Honestly, I don’t get my heart rate very high stopping to take all of these photos! Oh, well. Maybe these walks and jogs are more for my soul than anything else.

Why did the tarantula cross the road?

Well, duh.

The turtle got help. The tarantula is on its own.

At some point, I check the time and realize I better get back down that gravel road before John has to leave for work.

We are loving it here. Stay tuned!

Tulsa Time by Don Williams

 

Take Me Home, Country Roads

(Admittedly, this block post is almost two weeks overdue! I am already accustomed to the slower pace of life! For the moment, my sense of urgency has left me. I’ve also been in the midst of unpacking boxes, riding around on a boat on Skiatook Lake and on a four-wheeler around gravel roads, and watching 4th of July Fireworks in friends’ backyards. And I don’t have wifi yet! But here it is, the last leg of the road trip…)

When we woke up in Amarillo, we felt so excited. Today would be the day.

I couldn’t help but have George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” running through my head as we packed up our suitcases to the view of the Amarillo skyline and headed to the car. I’ve attached the music video below. It would be practically unamerican to not mention George Strait in a blog that takes place in Texas!

Today’s drive had a completely different feeling. Just by looking at the scenery, we could sense that we were close.

During this nice long road trip, I had planned on finishing reading the book Next Year in Havana which hooked me in Palm Desert. I had a tote bag at my feet with Pioneer Woman magazines, a book about decorating country houses (thank you, Romina), and my kindle was loaded with Where the Crawdads Sing. I managed to flip through some of the decorating book, but that’s about it.

For the last few days, I have been perched in the front seat with my camera poised and ready, shooting photos of beautiful scenery as John pressed the speed limit. Please make note of my beautiful photography, some taken through dirty windows, and some taken in a hurry as I quickly rolled down the window with the desert and countryside whizzing by. That boy doesn’t stop the car for anything. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I have felt in my heart that this has been an adventure. The miles we have driven have been symbolic. We’ve been driving to the next chapter of our life.

I knew we were on the right track when I started to see fields with rolled bales of hay.

Last summer when we were visiting Skiatook, I was obsessed with taking the perfect photo of this scene. I must’ve taken thirty shots in various places. I even managed to get John to pull the car over a few times for me (a nearly impossible feat) so I could hop out and snap some photos. John, Isabel and Brady were getting tired of me saying, “Look! There’s an even better one!” Well, ironically, I took this shot running eighty miles an hour on the highway. I guess I’ve got it out of my system now! Or do I?

As we drove through Oklahoma City, I cracked up when I saw this street exit.

Gotta love it.

Is it me, or is the sky just neverending out here?

When we approached the Tulsa skyline, we knew our road trip had almost come to an end. In thirty minutes we would reach our destination.

We headed north out of Tulsa and exited the highway taking the back roads to Skiatook Lake.

Past lovely homesteads with lots of land.

Past the beautiful yet normal daily activites around here.

Past horses and cows.

To be honest, I didn’t do this stretch of land justice with my photography. It was all happening so fast at this point, we were just so anxious to get there. At one point, John scolded me as I snapped my camera all over the place. He told me to just enjoy it. Probably right.

We drove up rolling hills and around turns.

Get ready…

We’re almost there…

This is where it really gets exciting….

We’re home.

“Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait

“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver

 

The Road to Oklahoma

Last week, for the first time ever, from Palm Desert we drove east. We didn’t drive back to La Canada or straight to Legoland in Carlsbad like we’ve done in previous years. We drove east.

We watched as the landscape changed. From windmills and sand…

To low bushes and cacti…

To plateaus…

…to bigger mountains.

After about 6 hours of driving, the surroundings changed again and we drove into a mountainous town with pine trees!

We arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona, a beautiful place where I, myself, had never been. I felt like I could breathe easier with all of those trees arround. The next day we drove through the foresty terrain.

Eventually, the trees became more sparse and we drove to…

…one of the seven wonders of the world…

The great Grand Canyon! This was another first for Isabel, Brady and I. John had been once before in 1994 when he was in the army, driving to his duty station of Fort Irwin, California. An unexpected perk was getting into the park for free since Isabel is still technically a 4th grader until August. All fourth graders and their families get into National Parks free!

We loaded up our backpacks with snacks and three big bottles of water and headed down the Bright Angel Trail along the south rim.

It was a pleasant seventy degrees with a breeze. The hike was tough enough, I can’t imagine doing it with one hundred degree weather. As we were headed down the path, hikers were passing us with backpacks loaded with camping gear, some of them having spent the night down somewhere along the way.

I loved hearing various accents hike by me. They were a reminder that this is a destination for people from all over the world.  I met a guy in his twenties from Germany, a family from Sweden, and a couple from…wait for it…Oklahoma! Their road trip was taking them to L.A. The irony.

I have a theory that everyone loves a good view. This little squirrel is no exception.

He was so deep in thought he didn’t even notice me.

John, Isabel and I drank every drop of water we carried and enjoyed snacks of Cheez-its, pita chips and walnuts. The salt tasted so good and the protein kept us going. When we were almost out of water, Brady and I shared a juicy apple as we hiked back up and agreed that it was a saving grace that quenched our thirst.

I feel like when I’m holding a camera I really notice beautiful moments, large and small. Maybe I’m looking for them. As a result, I was constantly dilly-dallying behind Isabel, John and Brady. They got tired of waiting for me!

We only hiked for about 2 ½ hours, which was enough for us this time. Our friend Phill has hiked from one rim to the other, spending the night in the valley in between. Our friend Luke, a backpacking rockstar, once hiked rim to rim to rim in 18 hours!!! Both, very admirable…and not necessarily something I need to do in my lifetime. Haha!

What a fun family activity for us to experience together. When we reached the top of the trail, we felt like we deserved souvenirs from the gift shop and ice cream cones to enjoy with one exceptional view!

Gazing out at the Grand Canyon sure reminds you how small you are in the grand scheme of things!

The next day, we continued to move east. We drove to Meteor Crater outside of Winslow, Arizona.

50,000 years ago, a meteor crashed into the earth at this spot at a rate of almost 26,000 miles an hour. We watched a short film and spent some time in the small museum learning a lot of really interesting facts about this particular meteor crater as well as other meteors in history. The depth of the crater is 560 feet. You could fit 20 football fields on the bottom of this crater and fill the sides with 2 million spectators!

With Brady learning about rocks this year in second grade, he was fascinated by both the Grand Canyon and the meteor crater! He is always pointing out sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks. Thank you, Mrs. Gaska!

As we zipped along the historic Route 66 just out of Gallop, New Mexico, John said in true dad form, “Look! That looks like Radiator Springs.”

We all agreed that he was right.

It’s hard to drive along this route of jagged red rocks and tumbleweeds, and not imagine a time when cowboys and Indians roamed this stretch of earth. I couldn’t help but envision  an old Native American on horseback sitting on top of this bluff. This is where stories of the Wild West took place.

Wait! Is that John Bon Jovi up on that plateau at a drive-in movie watching “Young Guns 2” while he dramatically plays his guitar? He’s wearing tight leather pants and cowboy boots, he’s shirtless with a black vest and a native-type necklace, and his hair is waving in the wind! The movie screen has burst into flames! Calm down, I was only hallucinating. For hours driving through this setting,  I couldn’t get “Blaze of Glory” out of my head. Damn, that’s a good song. Don’t you just miss the 90’s sometimes? For that reason,  I’ve attached the music video below. Watch it. It’s so good.

Speaking of music, with the kids plugged into their ipads and headphones, John and I listened to the “Remember the Titans” soundtrack. With songs by Cat Stevens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell to name a few, we agreed that it is a great roadtrip cd. We followed it with Tim McGraw “A Place in the Sun”. On this note, John and I agree- we still love putting in a cd and listening to the entire thing. Together we still own hundreds of cd’s and we’ll probably never get rid of them. There are some things we don’t feel the need to evolve from. (Our entire roadtrip music lineup is below.)

We stopped in Santa Rosa, New Mexico to gas up and eat dinner. We were lucky to stumble upon Chico’s Tortas y Pinas Lokas Mexican Food.

Trust me. If you’re passing through Santa Rosa, you should eat here.

When you first walk in, you’re greeted by a real life iguana. Bienvenidos! Order the beef tacos.

I was so excited by the counter decorated with colorful jugs of aguafrescas, jars of fresh honey and packets of tamarindo candy. I settled on a giant glass of sweet and creamy horchata. I can never pass up horchata.

Meanwhile, a crew of ladies and gentlemen in the kitchen were hard at work making homemade tortillas and the like, and the few that looked up from their work and caught my eye, greeted me with a smile.

We started with chips and salsa. And, boy, merely calling them chips and salsa is an understatement.

Fresh salsa verde and fresh, homemade tortilla chips. I don’t even know how to describe the red one. Smoked chiles with a truly spicy kick!

They both paired beautifully with the beef tacos and chicken burrito filled with rice and beans.

Thank goodness I had my generous portion of cold, milky horchata to cool off my tastebuds!

Chico’s Tortas y Pinas Lokas is so unassuming yet with such straightforward, simple yet done right, authentic Mexican fare, and the price is right. Delicioso!

As we continued to drive with our end goal for the day being Amarillo, we passed the time by answering questions in the book, If… (Questions for the Game of Life) by Evelyn McFarlane & James Saywell. It has hundreds of questions like, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be? If you and the people you are with could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be? If you could suddenly play an instrument that you don’t already play, what would it be?” This sparked so much interesting conversation for the four of us. We definitely had our trends of answers. John’s answers were usually practical and mine were a little more… I don’t know, exciting? For instance, if you could have dinner with anyone from history, Isabel and Brady said their best friends, John answered Abraham Lincoln, and I answered Adam Levine wearing a tuxedo. If you had to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island with someone platonic (that takes Adam Levine out of the equation for this one), who would it be? Again, Isabel and Brady answered their best friends, John answered Bear Grylls so he’d know how to survive, and I answered, one of my very best friend’s Sharon, who lives in Israel and I don’t see her very often. We always have so much to talk about and, well, she’s just fun! Isabel and Brady had us “playing the If game” until I was tired of playing the If game. But, it kept them off the ipads… for a while!

Later, when we crossed over the stateline of New Mexico into Texas, Alan Jackson welcomed us with his lyrics, “Where I come from, it’s cornbread and chicken, where I come from, a lot of front porch sittin’…”

That right there is a big sky.

More of the telltale signs that we were in Texas started to appear.

We started to see big rigs representing familiar stores and restaurants- Braum’s, Hobby Lobby, Walmart… And more and more truck trailers transporting horses.

The stars at night are big and bright, (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas!

Without warning, John pulled off the highway.

The legendary Cadillac Ranch!

There were piles of cans of spray paint on the ground encouraging us to participate in this ever-changing expression of art. Isabel and Brady loved it.

This is our consecutive list of roadtrip music- Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (Greatest Hits), John Mellencamp (The best that I Could Do 1978-1988), Tom Petty (Greatest Hits), Restless Heart (Greatest Hits), The Best of Hootie & the Blowfish 1993-2003, Jason Aldean (My Kinda Party), Remember the Titans Soundtrack, Tim McGraw (A Place in the Sun), Matchbox 20 (Yourself or Someone Like You), The Essential Billy Joel (Disc 1), Alan Jackson (Greatest Hits, Volume 2).

Blaze of Glory

 

Fun in the Sun

We have continued our exit out of California with a week in Palm Desert.

It’s been like a week-long farewell party with the coming and going of seven families of very close friends. A few of these are my childhood chums…

The rest we met during the precious time we spent at St. George’s Preschool.

While Isabel and Brady were painting and digging in the sand with their little buddies, we were befriending their parents.

Through one magical preschool, we have become lifelong friends.

Here in Palm Desert we’ve spent the blistering days poolside, riding a waterslide on a constant loop, drinking frosty blended beverages in a cabana, and cooling off in the pool with our kids splashing around us rambunctiously. In the evenings, we’ve met at the outdoor grill to cook dinner and imbibe on evening cocktails and conversation as the kids frolic on the golf course.

When the giant sprinklers began its night-time watering routine, the kids ran through, soaking their clothes with the setting sun painting the sky in pinks and yellows.

A farewell party obviously comes with goodbyes, and there have been many of them this week as each family has gone home. It’s so strange, I don’t at all feel like we’re saying goodbye. I don’t think it has set in that I’m not going to see these friends on a regular basis for monthly ladies birthday dinners, Super Bowl parties, Memorial Day barbecues, summer Music in the Park, or watching The Bachelor every Monday night. I’m not worried about keeping these friendships strong. But there have been many mutual tears, just the same.

We are the last family standing. We have stayed for a few solitary days of Womack family time. We often like to do a new excursion off of the resort property to have a little break from pool time. Today we took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway upto Mt. San Jacinto State Park.

On the way, we passed some of the hundreds of windmills that power the desert communities.

We’re headed to the top of that mountain. Notice the desolate terrain we’re driving through to get there. It’s so hot and exposed. It’s drastically different than where we’re headed!

It took me over thirty years of vacationing in Palm Springs to finally do this excursion.

Here we go!

Up, up, and away! The bottom of the tram constantly rotates so we can see all angles on our ride up. Notice the vegetation along the creekbed from the snow run-off.

Everytime we pass one of these towers, the tram rocks and we have to hold on!

A tram passes us that is headed back down the mountain.

We’re pretty high!

That’s where we’re headed, to the top of that mountain.

We made it!

The ten minute trip travels two and a half miles and upto 8,516 feet in elevation. That’s a 5,873 foot climb!

Palm Springs is a long way down there.

It’s a completely different world  up here!

It was one hundred and four degrees when we left Palm Desert and when we climbed out of the tram, it was a cool sixty seven degrees! We left the barren desert and emerged into a forest.

We thought we would explore a bit.

Here I come!

We came across a stream to play in.

Where’s Waldo?

There were lots of sparkling goldish specks in the water.

We were sure we’d struck it rich!

“There’s gold in these mountains. I can feel it!” That was me channeling the old man from Gold Rush.

Brady hit rocks together in an effort to create arrowheads.

And John gazed out into the water pondering life and how lucky he is to have me.

I guess I’m lucky to have him, too.

That was a fun adventure. Oddly enough, the scenery reminded us of our annual camping trip in Big Pine, California, which we’ll be missing this year because of the move.

It’s almost like this was our little camping moment.

When we got back to the resort, I went for a walk by myself on the hotel property to play with my camera.

It interests me that the arid desert setting with it’s harsh, sharp plants mellows and becomes more beautiful as the sun and lighting soften. I experimented with that.

The pops of color are what make Palm Springs and its surrounding communities an oasis paradise in the middle of a parched environment. It was fun to photograph in a completely different setting. A far departure from my Downtown L.A. cityscape shots!

This blog has allowed indulged me with the experience of reflecting on each little phase of the move. I’m grateful for the moments to thank each place that has been a big part of this chapter of our lives.

La Canada is not only the place I personally grew up and lived such a happy childhood and  adolescence, but also the place where John, Isabel and I completed our little family of four when Brady joined us and we brought him home to our little abode on Patagonia Drive.

Huntington Beach was a beautiful haven where we were so blessed to spend so many family weekends and vacations with my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and my nieces. John and I have watched Isabel and Brady boogie board in the surf, frolic in the shallow water with their cousins, and I’ve personally helped them dig pools of water for sand crabs and create elaborate sand castle fortresses in a race against the next destructive wave.  Us adults had countless happy hours on the front patio as neighbors climbed over the low walls separating the houses to join us. We all decorated our wagons and bicycles with red, white and blue crepe paper and rode down PCH to the 4th of July parade and then returned to an all day neighborhood block party.

Since Brady was three months old, we have been coming to Palm Desert every summer with friends. Back then, we would put our babies down for a nap on a lounge chair under an umbrella as our toddlers splashed around in the wading pool with their mermaid Barbies.  At night, we would fiercely compete in a girls against boys Sequence competition on the balcony as the kids were fast asleep, snuggled up on the pull-out couch. These traditions have continued and evolved as our kids have grown, as well as the size of our group.

This week in Palm Desert marks the end of this chapter. Even as we plan on continuing these traditions on future summer vacations and holidays back in California, this marks the end of the reflecting, the end of our exit. For tomorrow, we will begin our trek to Oklahoma, with a few stops along the way, the entrance into our new chapter.

(Listen to this song! John just happened to play it for me, as I was finishing up this post as we sit on our balcony in Palm Desert. It reminds me of The Irish Blessing that I learned when I was a kid and it sure feels relevant today.)

Devil Knows You’re Dead

 

California Girl

While John drives all of our belongings and cat to Oklahoma, Isabel, Brady and I are beaching it in Huntington Beach. I think the kids and I got the better end of that deal.

I absolutely love the ocean. I’m savoring being exposed to this view of endless water knowing that in a few short weeks I will reside in a landlocked state. It’s true, while we lived only about forty five minutes from the beach, we really only went a handful of times each year. Yet, knowing it was out there, within reach, was often enough.

There’s something about the beach, with it’s repetition of waves flowing in and out, that is so mesmerizing and relaxing. I love the sight of it. I love the sound of it. I’m such a water girl.

Since John and I got married, Huntington Beach has been a home away from home. We’ve spent so much time down here with my family. After saying goodbye to our house last weekend,  it’s the perfect place to seek refuge for a little while.

When we were here in H.B. a few months ago over spring break, we came across an amazing donut establishment, Duck Donuts. Remember the hype over Krispy Kreme, the excitement of getting donuts still warm and dripping with glazed icing? I love Krispy Creme. But, this is better.

Well, this time, on our way to Trader Joe’s around five o’clock in the evening, we found ourselves face to face with Duck Donuts. We were hungry and we were about to go grocery shopping. Don’t you know that rule? Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. So, we basically had donuts for dinner. Come along for the ride.

First, you choose your glorious combination of flavors.

Next you watch your very own fresh, piping hot cake donut fall off the conveyor belt. It’s like a naked canvas.

Then you watch the donut magician dip your individual bite of heaven into a base icing, drizzle it with a secondary icing, and decorate it with toppings.

It’s still hot. It’s dripping with sugary icing. It’s a marvel. Brady named this one “the zebra”. Classic glaze and chocolate drizzle.

If you’re me, you try the citrusy flavors. Lemon with key lime drizzle… this one is orange creamsicle.

If you’re my mom, you order a maple glazed donut drizzled with salted caramel and topped with bacon. Hubba hubba.

If you’re my kids, you go overboard, and get your donut with a scoop of ice cream on top. Thrifty ice cream, at that.

If you’re any one of us, you scrape all of the icing off your plate. And, by the way, my mom won for best flavor choice. Bacon. Duh.

I feel obligated to tell you that the next day Isabel, Brady and I took a long bike ride.

The reason I feel obligated to tell you that is because we followed it up with lunch at Ruby’s.

If you ever visit Huntington Beach, one thing you must do, is eat at Ruby’s on the Huntington Beach Pier.  It just feels like such an event walking all the way out there, people watching, checking out surfers catching waves, and observing as people fish off the pier. It’s such a fun treat to eat at a restaurant jutted out into the ocean and listen to 40’s music while you dine.

What you see beyond this point, do not judge.

We decided to try something new. Okay, I decided to try something new. We started with crispy green beans served with a trio of dipping sauces- buffalo ranch, honey mustard and classic ranch (of which they do so well). It was such a great choice.

I went for a cobb burger and onion rings.

Oh yeah. Blue cheese, bacon and avocado.

And you must finish with a milkshake. There are many flavors to choose from.

I hear your loud judgey thoughts. Girlfriend, you might want to skip dinner! I hear you and I see your point. (Don’t worry, there’s an acai bowl coming up very soon.)

The next morning, Meagan, one of my great friends from high school who I hadn’t seen for a few years, came by to spend some time with me before the big move.

We went for a walk down to the pier and found the 602 Coffee House on PCH just north of Main Street.

Under the Signature Drinks section on the menu, activated charcoal latte  caught my eye. What??? The barista explained that charcoal helps whiten your teeth. Okay. So I ordered one with chai.

Provocative.  It didn’t really have a “charcoal” flavor. I really just tasted the chai. It was very good. Maybe a teensy bit gritty at the bottom, perhaps for exfoliating my teeth? Just kidding. But, I love trying interesting things. Meagan chose a lavender latte and loved it.

We decided to split an acai bowl.

I’ve bought those acai packets to put in my smoothies before, but never actually made an acai bowl at home.  It was so fresh and delicious, like a very thick smoothie or sorbet with a variety of textures from the fruit, a drizzle of honey and crunchy granola. I loved it.

We also split the avocado toast with arugula and sriracha. Crunchy, creamy, spicy and delicious!

I love independent coffee houses and 602 Coffee House is no exception. Both the coffee drinks and the food were fantastic!

On the way back, we did one of my favorite things, walking with our feet in the sand.

Love you, Megs!

Between spending some precious time with my parents, I also got to share some fun beach time with my kiddos. Isn’t playing at the beach the best? It makes me feel like a kid again.

We dug in the sand, we boogie boarded (yes, me too).

Isabel and Brady made beach friends and formed a boogie boarding posse…

…which allowed me to bathe in the sun and do some delightful reading (shameless plug).

I also did some treasure hunting and collected about fifty shells. I could look for shells and rocks for hours.

You know how everyone has a beach-themed bathroom? We have discussed that we, too, should have a cliche beach-themed bathroom in our new house in Oklahoma. Therefore, there was a lot of shell collecting with that purpose.

I even found a few rare gems of sea glass and heart-shaped rocks. Isn’t it strange to be taking all of these souvenirs of my own land?

In the same spirit, I bought myself a California baseball cap and cheese tray this week. I will take them with me proudly to represent and think about my sweet Southern California.

Well…

…That’s it. It will be many months before we’re looking at the Pacific Ocean again. But, we had a blast. It was good for our souls.

We said goodbye to my parents as we left the beach house this morning, and that was rough. Saying goodbye to so many loved ones is really hard. But, I am really excited about all that we will be saying hello to.

California Girls