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

 

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

 

I Love L.A.

Over the last few months, with the clock ticking down to departure date, I’ve asked myself, what is my L.A. Bucket List? What do I need to squeeze in before I go? I’ve lived in Southern California the majority of my life, so I’ve done most of the typical must-do L.A. things.

I’ve been to the Rose Parade many times. Seeing the gorgeous and impressive floral floats and lively bands in person is a thrilling way to celebrate the new year.

And hanging out in the streets of Pasadena with excited locals and visitors from all over the country and the world as the Goodyear Blimp looms over us makes us locals so happy to live in Southern California!

I’ve been to the Griffith Observatory.

It’s such a gorgeous place to see amazing L.A. views, including the Hollywood sign.

I’ve been to the  La Brea Tar Pits many times, as a child, and it was also one of the field trips when I taught first grade.

I’ve ridden the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and have done some damage shopping at Third Street Promenade.

I’ve been to Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I even saw a movie inside the theater (it was Double Jeopardy starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones).

I used to swing dance regulary at The Derby before it closed down. (A moment of respect for The Derby. Tear…) I’ve seen Marty and Elayne, the husband and wife duo, perform their lounge act at The Dresden as I drank a dirty martini.

I’ve been to every SoCal amusement park, seen countless concerts at the Greek Theater and the Hollywood Bowl. (If you look closely, you can see Harry Connick Jr. tickling the ivories.)

…We could be here all day, folks. But, I did come up with a few random items that I really wanted to experience. I am proud to announce that I have accomplished my very short list.

Get ready. This is a true adventure!

#1 Roscoe’s Chicken N’ Waffles!

I’ve been meaning to try this place out for decades!!! What can I say? I operate on a deadline.

This meal was certainly worth the wait.

Crispy chicken, buttery waffles, sweet syrup. And when the friendly waitress, asked, “Would you like collard greens and mac n’ cheese with that?” we said, “Yes!”

Oh, that’s a perfect bite right there.

My only question to myself is, “Why? Why did you wait this long to go to Roscoe’s? You damn procrastinator!” And the second question to myself is, “Is there time to go again? I need more!”

This place fills up quickly at lunch time. I suggest going at 11:30 and beating the lunchtime rush like we did. I’m definitely bringing John and the kids next time I go. They will love it.

Thank you, Celina, for being my cohort in accomplishing this bucket list item.

#2 The Slide on the 70th Floor of the U.S. Bank building in Downtown L.A.!

Holy cow, that’s a tall building. Let’s go up 1,000 feet and slide down plexiglass hanging over the edge, shall we?

I took this shot on the 70th floor looking down through the building.  Beautiful, yet ominous.

There are observation decks where you can take in the beautiful city views.

Look, there’s Echo Park!

A fun photo opp for any Angeleno.

Okay, enough stalling. Let’s see what you’re made of. Here we go!!!!!!

Truth? It’s not that scary. It only slides down one floor. I really wanted to feel my stomach drop. But, it is a very fun experience and I highly recommend doing it.

And then you can drink champage and eat some surpisingly delicious sandwiches from your beautiful vantage point.

Why not? Our kids were in school and we had a few hours to play! Thank you, Mary Ellen, for humoring all of my whims that day!

#3 The Cathedal of Our Lady of Angels

When we had finished the slide and lunch, we walked a few blocks to the Cathedral in DTLA. I had never seen it.

…It’s not what I had expected of a Catholic Church.

Mary Ellen pointed out that all of the Saints are part of the congregation due to the massive tapestries that line the walls. That was my favorite part.

We walked around the mausoleum in the basement to see who we could find.

On the way back to the car we passed some lovely sights…

The Walt Disney Concert Hall…

…and the Los Angeles Central Library, both of which I will have to save for another day.

It was a beautiful, fun-filled day in Downtown L.A. and we only had to pay a bargain price of $35 to park. Haha.

#4 Find Amazing Shaved Ice comparable to Hawaii!

Let’s face it- that’s a tall order.

Ever since I visited my friend, Kate, in Hawaii last year and experienced the best, most heavenly shave ice EVER (they call it shave ice), I’ve been trying to find shave ice in L.A. that compares. I’m not sure it exists.

But Isabel, Brady and I did find really great Korean shaved ice at Boba Loca in Montrose.

I don’t feel like I can totally compare it to Hawaiian shave ice, as it doesn’t include all of the yummy syrup flavors, but Korean shaved ice has got the texture down. It’s soft, delicate and fluffy, and that is hard to find. I’ve tried.

The ice cream, sweetened condensed milk and fresh fruit atop delicate snowy shaved ice is a beautiful combo. A happy find!

Boba Loca also offers a multitude of delicious boba drink combinations, as well as fusion iced tea, slushes, fresh squeezed juice and raw smoothies!

I’m pretty new to the boba train. A drink that you can chew? I like it.

This was lavendar milk tea and it was so good!

I’ve also had the jasmine milk tea and the rose milk tea. Clearly, I’m on a big floral beverage kick. The rose milk tea is currently my favorite. It was sweet, creamy and lovely, with a subtle rosey flavor. It was the color of blush just like Shelby’s wedding colors in Steel Magnolias. “My colors are  blush and bashful, Mama.”

We couldn’t resist trying the colorful butterfly lemonade. It was tart, sweet and a little herbaceous, due to the splash of cobalt blue butterfly tea which turns purple when it is added to the lemonade . I just read that butterfly tea,  derived from Asia, is known for its anti-aging and beautifying properties! (I’ll justify any treat, just ask me.)

Isabel was very happy with her chocolate banana milkshake. The point is, there are a plethora of beverages to try and fall in love with at Boba Loca!

Since you really can’t have a list of four things and call it an epic list, I threw in…

#5 Throwback Tuesday at the The Regency Academy 6 Theater in Pasadena! Isabel and I saw The Goonies  on the big screen!!!

It was a nostalgic and riveting experience. It made me feel like a kid again! The couple next to me had the foresight to bring Baby Ruths for the occasion. And since the tickets at the Regency Academy 6 Theater are so inexpensive, I let Isabel go crazy at the concession stand.  I didn’t help her at all (liar). Check out the amazing Throwback Tuesday lineup on their website.

There are countless fun and entertaining things to do in L.A. Sometimes it’s so much fun to be a tourist in your own town. Sigh. I really do love L.A.

There’s really only one way to end this post. Sing it, Randy!

I Love L.A.