Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Things You Don't Need

A couple of years ago I decided to only buy things if I really need them. The only things I've failed in this decision are socks, books and cameras, but I really NEED them so it doesn't count. Honestly, I don't get much enjoyment out of spending money and I get way less enjoyment cleaning and dusting the junk that was purchased back when I thought I needed to spend money on crap I really didn't need. 
Last week when I went on a shopping trip, for stuff I needed, I came across these fun notepads that look like sticks of butter. A few years ago I would have actually wasted money on them. Mostly because it reminded me of my school days. In college I had to take a Design I and II class and the professors never made it clear what the actual point of the courses were. Design what and what for? So when it came time to build stuff and explain what the purpose of my "product" was I always said, "to hold sticks of butter".  Seriously, if we were going to get ridiculous assignments I was going to give ridiculous results. I always put my best effort into it but looking back I could have had a better attitude about things. Instead of being slightly judgmental towards the professors' teaching methods I should have just asked questions.  I didn't need any butter holders, I needed to be more proactive in my education.  
Something else I realised I didn't need, my Amazon Prime membership. You know what, if I can't wait five days for something to ship to me then I need more patience. Amazon Prime was really nice to have for the last two years but getting stuff in two days just made me more impatient. I used to think getting a pizza in less than 20 minutes was the living end but after eating a pizza that someone spent more time and put more effort into I realised that pizza that took 45 minutes tasted so much better.
You know what else you don't need? Negativity. Sure it sounds like a dorky thing to say but trust me, if you can remove (not literally) one negative person/thing (probably literally) from your life you'll start to see the benefits. Soon you'll stop associating with negative people and you'll find yourself surrounded by positive ones. Those positive people will help you see an entirely new world. 
Something else you don't need, plain tomato soup. Seriously, if you're not putting basil and garlic in your tomato soup you don't know what you're missing. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Taos, You're Too Much

After leaving the ski lodge, where no skiing was done, we headed off to Taos, New Mexico.  To say the drive was depressing would be putting it mildly and it wasn't due to the company in the car. It was the landscape around us. The woman at the lodge mentioned to us that she admired the farms of the Midwest because they were so well "groomed". It was hard to believe the land we were driving by was what they use for farming. Every where you looked you could see broken down vehicles, shacks and various other large machinery just abandoned out in the middle of, I'm guessing they call it a field. We weren't sure what was actually growing on this land and we didn't see any livestock so I had to look up what they farm in New Mexico. According to this page we can thank New Mexico for pecans and a few other crops. For being called, The Land of Enchantment, it wasn't very enchanting to look at.
On our way into Taos we drove through the Earthship Biotecture homes. They looked neat but the area surrounding the homes wasn't much to look at. All I could think was, this looks like Mars and if we opened the car windows our eyes would start popping out of our heads like on  the movie Total Recall.
--------I wrote all of that on October 12, 2016 and abandoned it. Why? Because I felt like I only had negative things to write about Taos, NM.  It wasn't as great as we had anticipated but there were a few redeeming qualities, so I'll finish it up now,---
When we first rolled into town we hit the galleries and got something for lunch.  Taos is definitely a tourist hot spot, the downtown area was bustling which kept up the illusion that this was a great place. After we managed to get some lunch, everywhere was crowded, we checked into our hotel. It was very evident that it was going to storm.  I asked the girl at check in how long storms usually lasted around there and she kind of gave me a weird look. She clearly had no knowledge of a Midwest type storm where they can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 25 hours. The sky gave the illusion that the storm was going to be brutal and last for hours. It lasted about 5 minutes and didn't amount to much. Taos should be renamed The Land of Illusions.  While we waited for this heavy storm to roll through we scoured every touristy magazine that they put in the hotel room to find something to do. We struck out with the downtown area so we needed to see some other stuff. We didn't see anything interesting in the magazines and it was seeming hopeless to find something to do. I grabbed my phone and got on Instagram. I searched the hashtag Taos and thank goodness for those helpful tourists that tagged their photos so we could find some places to go. We first tried out the Taos Pueblo. It was quite an adventure just to get there. A dirt road with nothing nearby it felt like we had taken a wrong turn. Once we got there it was closed for some sort of repairs. We left there and went on the hunt for the large pair of glasses. Before we left on our trip we started a board on Pinterest where we pinned things that we thought looked interesting. One of those pins was the large pair of glasses on the side of the road. We found them and much to our surprise it was a whole sculpture garden at the Bareiss Gallery. The gallery wasn't open but we had fun walking around looking at the sculptures that are outside.
Something else we had pinned was the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. We had crossed it on the way into town and didn't think much of it. We figured we'd stop by on the way out of town to check it out. It was just a bridge after all. Since we couldn't find anything else in town we drove back out there and checked it out. I don't really have a fear of heights so this started out as no big deal. Then when I got nearly half way out I stopped and was ready to turn back. Amber was just starting to walk out and she couldn't figure out why I was ready to turn around already. When a large tanker truck drove by she quickly learned why I was ready to turn around. Sure I've been on bridges that shake, even when there aren't cars driving across them, but this bridge was shaking over a VERY long way down. I offered to let her stay out there and I'd head back. Surprisingly she did stay a little longer and took some pictures but we both agreed that a shaky bridge over a very long way down was an uncomfortable place to stay for too long.
Clearly we needed drinks after that experience. Lucky for us the Taos Mesa Brewing Company was just down the road on the way back to town. I ordered beer and nachos and they were both delicious. We sat outside which was very nice. Lots of people with their dogs, the setting sun and the live music was all relaxing after our tough day trying to find something interesting to do in Taos.
Sadly we both agreed that Taos wasn't our favourite place, but we gave it a shot.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

South Fork, CO

The sun setting in South Fork, CO

What's the saying, if you see a fork in the road take it.  Why did we choose South Fork, CO as a destination? Easy, it was in between Glenwood Springs and Taos, New Mexico.  Our goal was to get to Taos and we could have stayed another night in Glenwood Springs but the hotels were all booked or way too expensive.  The logical thing to do was to find a post somewhere in between the two and find a place. This was the scariest part of the trip for me. I don't usually throw a dart at a map and says let's stay there but that's kinda what we did. I've never heard of anyone going to South Fork before so I had no idea what kind of town we were headed to.
Turns out South Fork is a relatively normal, small town that seems to depend mostly on tourism.  We had just missed the Shady Burro Enduro, which is an enduro race through the mountains that's either 100 miles or 75 miles depending on which you sign up for. If you don't know what an enduro is ask your dirt bike riding friends. As we were going into town we could see all of the racers leaving town. Oh well, we were just staying for the night and getting rested for New Mexico.
It was a little obvious that this was a railroad town. In front of our lodge there were several old Santa Fe cars parked.  Seeing the old cars makes me sad that design and style seem to have gone by the wayside.  Sure one doesn't need their train car to look appealing in order for it to get you from point A to point B but still, it's nice to see that someone put in some effort.
Something else right across the street from the lodge was the cutest little church. Turns out the Holy Family Catholic Mission was actually someone's home before they donated it to be turned into a church.
Our main outing in the town was to a restaurant called Ramon's Mexican Restaurant. My friend REALLY likes tacos and she was anxious to try some from the area.  Me, I don't get too worked up about Mexican food. I can get some of the best Mexican food at home. Literally. The one Mexican dish I get worried to try at restaurants are Chile Rellenos. In different regions of Mexico they use different sauces and different chiles, and I'm a little particular about which ones I like. If your relleno isn't made with a poblano pepper then I might not like it. Over the years I've learned not to be too particular about the sauce and in this case I'm lucky I'm not. When it was brought out to me the sauce was pink, no lie it was pink and garnished with an orange. Did I order a fruit cocktail or a chile relleno?  I was brave and tasted it and it was good. Still have no idea why the sauce was pink or what the orange slice was all about but I ate it and I'd eat it again if I had the chance. The margaritas and chips and salsa were really good too. Ramon's did not disappoint. The only disappointing thing about this small town was that everything closed super early.
Apparently there are some good hiking trails in the area as well. Some of the people staying at the same lodge said they were going on a four day hike. If I ever found myself in the area again I would not hesitate to stay a night or two in South Fork, CO. You can read all about South Fork on their website here if you'd like. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Independence Pass

Sorry for the slow updates on the wild west trip but this leg of the adventure needed to be told via pictures. I had about 2,000 pictures to go through. I know, that's a ridiculous amount but I had two cameras and my phone to go through. As much as I'd rather be shooting film I was ever so grateful for digital cameras for this trip. After we left Glenwood Springs, CO we headed southeast towards South Fork, CO.  Amber was feeling adventurous and decided to take Colorado State Highway 82.  When she suggested it I thought, sure whatever, a highway is a highway, right? NO! I'm glad she thought of it and glad we did it so I don't ever have to do it again. I've been on mountain roads before but this one was, we'll just say exhilarating. From nowhere to go but down to snow on the ground, it was quite the ride.
I was the passenger on this scenic highway and I was too busy looking at what was in front of me to notice that it was a long way down and no shoulder. Amber quickly pointed out by shouting, OH MY GOD DON'T LOOK DOWN. Well of course that's exactly what I did. I had no idea we had been driving up a mountain. From this picture you can see we're up higher than the trees and the utility poles.
The mountains don't seem so tall when you're practically on top of one. This highway took us through some small scenic towns and the destination of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, Aspen.  Unfortunately we didn't find Mary Swanson or Samsonite but we did see a ridiculous amount of private jets. Way to leave your carbon footprint all over Colorado you private jet owning a-holes.
Right about the time this picture was taken I thought, this isn't so bad. We're pretty high up but it could be worse, we could be all the way up there. Then I noticed some cars way up there. I pointed up and said, look at those cars up there, surely we're not going up there are we? Yes, that's exactly where we were going.
Zooming in and cropping to help illustrate just how far and high up that tiny two lane highway was. Highway 82 crosses the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. The Great Divide, or the Continental Divide, is where the continent is divided by mountains and water. It begins in Alaska, goes through Canada, back through the US, down to Mexico and eventually ends in Nicaragua. I've crossed this in Mexico on what used to be the Mexican Federal Highway 40 (Carratera Interoceánica) a two lane undivided road that used to take 8 hours from Durango to Mazatlan, now it's been updated and only takes 3 hours. If I had to say which was better or worse I can't really say since I never driven through them, I was the passenger in both instances, but I can only imagine I'd have white knuckles for weeks.

That little line towards the bottom fourth of the picture is the road where we were when I took the previous photo. Independence Pass is in between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The elevation is 12,095 feet. It's the highest elevation of paved highway in the state of Colorado. There are gates that close off this portion of the highway during the winter. That's something I was seriously concerned about.  We normally drive through snow like nothing but where I live there are shoulders along the road for you to pull over if you need to. Forget about getting a flat tire on this highway or running out of gas, or having any kind of swerve room for slick road conditions. There's nowhere to go, it's either down or drive into the the mountain.
 You can see here, this itty bitty guard rail may not have seemed like much but it clearly served its purpose. I didn't want to mention to Amber how beat up the guard rail was as I didn't want to scare her and end up testing the full strength of it. When I later said something she said she did notice but didn't want to say anything either.
Again, the mountains don't seem so tall when you're on top of them. The clouds didn't seem so far away either.
I was excited to see snow. Not sure why, but yay! When we saw the snow we realised how far up we actually were. It also made sense that we were actually kinda cold while up there. It was close to a 15 degree temperature difference from when we started.
Once we went through the snow and said goodbye to Independence Pass we thought the insanity was over. Not even close! You can see the road in the lower right corner.  Up and down and around the mountain we kept going.
At the point when I took this picture I said, surely this is the end, that road down there is where we'll end up and we'll be "on the ground" again.
As we went around the corner and looked up, that line going through the side of the mountain is where we were. We were literally driving on the side of a mountain. This section of the highway was different from the rest. You could smell the water running through the rocks and when traffic slowed way down you could hear and sometimes see it it.  At this point I thought, what kind of crazy person would choose to drive through here? Mother Nature is still cutting her way down through this mountain, at any moment a big chunk of this mountain could decide to sled down itself.  Looking at it again from this picture it seems like no big deal.
From here we can see the water that was trickling down the side of the mountain.
Finally we made it to the end.  All along the highway there were people pulled over, where they could, to go swimming, tubing and whatever else there was available to do in the middle of nowhere. Every now and then we could see cabins/homes. We couldn't believe that someone would choose to live there and have to drive that highway to go into town to get stuff. As much as I'd love to be a hermit and live on a deserted island I'm still realistic in that I know I have to get toothpaste and potato chips from the store.
Up next, South Fork, CO, the Shady Burro and a grocery store that closed before it was dark. Seriously, are there vampires in South Fork?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hanging Lake

If you need to catch up on the first part of the adventure in Glenwood Springs, CO start here then come back and read this. If you don't care about caves and cheeseburgers you should probably just stay here.
After our adventure at the caves, taking a wrong turn and eating the best cheeseburger ever we woke up the next day ready to explore. My friend went to the hot springs. She chose the Iron Mountain Hot Springs over another place because everyone told her the other one was more of a water park.  She had nothing but good things to say about her experience. She merely mentioned the one guy in his budgie smugglers.
My morning was planned for Hanging Lake.  The woman at the hotel warned us to get to the park early as parking is difficult. She recommended 6AM and told me the hike would take 3 hours round trip.  Since my friend was dropping me off parking wasn't going to be an issue for me, but a 3 hour hike!?  What was I getting myself in to? A 3 hour hike at high altitude and it was too late for me to weenie out of it so I promised myself I'd go at least half way.
When my friend dropped me off there was a huge line of cars waiting to park.  Basically what happens is as soon as one car leaves the first in line gets to go park.  You simply have to drive around looking for that one empty spot. There are park employees directing cars the entire time. As soon as I got out of the car I set off down the path that takes you to the trail. It was paved and nice and I thought to myself, this is going to be a piece of cake, it's so nice and paved and well maintained. Uh, NOPE! The first quarter mile kicked my butt, mostly because it was going up and on some pretty rugged terrain and uneven surfaces. Oh and rocks, lots and lots of rocks. Along the way I caught up with a woman who told me she drove for four hours to get there and waited 45 minutes for a parking spot. They initially told her the wait time would be two hours but she really wanted to hike this trail so she waited. That's when I told myself to get to the top no matter what. The tough thing for me was that my friend was picking me back up at a certain time and there's zero phone reception on the trail so time was also a factor for me. After I reached the marker that said I was officially half way there the trail wasn't so bad, but that was me just getting my hopes up that it would be cake the rest of the way. The last quarter mile was what separates the mice from the men or so the saying goes. I'm no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rocks you have to climb are steep. I had to hoist myself up on them to get up over some of them.  There was a short amount of guardrail that gave little sense of security. The highest point is 7,040 feet which makes for a long way to tumble back down the trail. The nice thing was there was a great sense of comradery amongst the hikers. Those who were already on their way down were encouraging those of us who were on our way up. They kept assuring us that it would be worth it when we got to the top. You know, it better be. I wasn't going to let this hike be my Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone's secret vault. There better be something worth it up there. Once I got to the top I was glad that there was in fact something to see and benches so I could sit down and eat my apple and box of raisins. Never did such a lame snack feel so rewarding. Once you got to the lake you could go even further up to Spouting Rock. That path seemed a little more man made and easier to navigate.  The descent down the trail was almost tougher. You would think that going down would be easier but it was pretty steep so you spent the whole way down trying to control your speed.  One kid was going too fast and went face first into a rather large rock. He was fine, a little shook up but he learned his lesson. Once I got to the bottom I looked up and realised what a crazy fun thing I had just done. I was glad I went more than halfway.  It only took me 30 minutes to get to the top.  With a 15 minute rest at the lake the entire hike was just a little over an hour. Not sure where the three hour time was coming from but I read that in several places.  It also said that the hike was the equivalent of climbing 80 flights of stairs. I can't imagine it would take 3 hours to go that far but for some people it might. I also have to mention how shocked I was to see how many people were so ill prepared for such a hike. An older woman in sandals, people with no water and girls in short short shorts. Seriously, if you fall down and scrape your butt it's your own damn fault for not wearing something over it. Unfortunately bad hikers are not a rare breed. If you like hiking check out this short story about a guy who lost his job and took a hike.
After I made it back to the well maintained, flat trail I had time to kill so I painted until my ride came to get me. Once I was in the car we both declared it was time for food. We headed back to the downtown area and ended up at Doc Holliday's Saloon and Restaurant. The food was good, the atmosphere was really cool and the wait staff were really knowledgeable about the history of the building and Doc Holliday.
Up next is our crazy ride up and down the mountainside on our way to South Fork.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

After leaving Golden, Co. our final destination for the day was Glenwood Springs.  After a ridiculous 18 MPH ride through the mountains we made it and it was definitely worth the trouble. Glenwood Springs was by far the best place we stopped on this wild west road trip.  There was so much to do here, where to start?
After checking in to our hotel we decided to give Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park a try. For $27 I got a round trip tram ride to the top of the mountain and a tour of two caves. I only took one cave tour though, the King's Row Cave. Everyone kept saying it was the better of the two caves. They have a third cave but it's only open on certain days for special tours. Special as in, you have to be somewhat insane to choose to do it. Squishing through crevasses that are only 18 inches wide isn't my idea of a fun time. You might as well lock me in a coffin and let me try to punch my way through. You can watch a video of people going through this tour here if you're interested.  The park had a lot to offer as far as rides, entertainment and refreshments. What it didn't advertise was the amazing views you got from the top. There's a restaurant called The Lookout Grille and the name describes it well. The seating area outside gives a view of the whole town and the mountains surrounding it. While I was up there taking photos I was plotting and scheming on coming back to this very spot to paint. Besides a fun place to go it would be the perfect place to paint.
The tram ride up and down can be purchased on its own, you don't have to purchase the cave tour.  It would be worth it for anyone just wanting to see the views from up top. The park has incredible amusement park rides and I think the tram ride could be considered one as well. It was a lot longer to get to the top than I thought. From the ground looking up it seemed like it would take just a couple of minutes but we kept going and going. The Iron Mountain tramway goes 4,300 feet, one way, so just over 3/4 of a mile up and takes about 10 minutes each way. The park is at 7100 feet above sea level. The town is listed at being 5,761 feet above sea level so we traveled up quite a ways. On the way back down we shared a tram with a nice family. There was a young boy who was telling us about Pokemon Go and we asked if he caught any at the park. He had so much fun up there he forgot to look for them so his dad let him check while in the tram. He found one so the rest of the family grabbed their phones and got to work.
We got to the adventure park too late to eat at the restaurant so we went in search of a Mexican restaurant when we got down the mountain. The cheeky woman in the Garmin gave us the wrong directions then I was a bad navigator as we ended up back on the highway headed out of town. Luckily there was a rest stop where we could turn around. Even the rest stops in Glenwood Springs are beautiful!  We got out and walked around before we turned around and headed back to town. We decided to go back towards our hotel because there were several restaurants within walking distance.
We ended up choosing Vicco's Charcoalburger where I declared I had the best cheeseburger of my life and I don't just go throwing that statement around.

If I wasn't hungry I would have taken a better picture of the burger and the fries. I was so happy to have good fries!  A while back I wrote about my hate for the fries that most restaurants are serving now. They have some sort of disgusting crunchy coating on them and they're pretty much inedible. I rarely order fries anymore but I took a chance here. They were good old fashioned crinkle cut fries and absolutely delicious. I ordered a strawberry shake as well and I was in American food heaven. It did seem to take a little while to get my food but everything was cooked fresh so it was worth it. They had good music playing and I got a kick out of a father and son duo throwing bean bags at each other instead of of playing the game, so the wait wasn't that bad. After the meal we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our second day in Glenwood Springs. Stay tuned for that post!
Travel trip #58903- GET YOUR RECEIPTS  This sounds stupid, why get a receipt, it's just a waste of paper. It might seem like a waste of paper until you need proof of purchase. It's also a good way to cross reference any charges on your credit card. Over the years some shady characters have learned new ways to scam people. For example, the tips on credit card receipts. If you leave a $3.00 tip a knavish server might add a one in front of that three giving themselves a $13 tip instead. You hate to think people would do that but they do. Another instance is at the gas station. I avoid going inside to pay at all costs so I'm well versed in the multiple button pushing at the gas pump. I always push the button for a receipt. The main reason I do this is because I know a guy who once worked at a gas station that called the cops on a guy for stealing gas. The police caught up with the man and pulled him over and had him go back to the gas station. Turns out the guy paid at the pump but the guy at the station somehow forgot that part. He just remembered seeing the guy get gas and drive away without going inside. It was an honest mistake and nobody was harmed in the situation, but it's why I always get a receipt.  Just recently my cousin took a road trip and he got gas in BFE, paid at the pump, didn't get a receipt and went inside to buy something to drink. While inside the clerk tried to tell him that he owed him for gas. My cousin explained to him that he already paid at the pump and the conversation went on and on until my cousin put down the snacks and high tailed it out of there. If he had gotten a receipt he would have had proof in hand that he already paid. Getting a receipt never hurts and you can recycle them once your trip is over and you checked any questionable charges.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Golden Colorado

Day three on our road trip took us on a route that would avoid Denver at all costs.  We were warned about the traffic in Denver so we took a route that ended up going through Golden, Colorado. As we were approaching Golden I kept thinking it sounded familiar. Why have I heard of this place before? Oh, yea Coors beer. This was the first town in Colorado where I actually felt like I was in Colorado. We went through a couple of other larger towns, Loveland and Boulder,  but they were so new. All of the buildings were new and modern and they looked like they could have been anywhere in the US.  Golden had an older downtown area, but it was clean and kept up very well. It looked like more of an old west town. The town was surrounded by mountains too so the views, every where you looked, were spectacular.
Our main objective here was to get something to eat and stretch our legs. We walked around and found Buffalo Rose. They had live music on the patio so we found a shady spot and waited for lunch. The service was sooooo slooooooow but the food and entertainment were good so it sort of evened out. Seriously, it took close to 40 minutes for my chicken quesadilla. It was a delicious chicken quesadilla but still. After our long leisurely lunch we walked around the town. When we drove into town we notice people walking around with inter tubes.
There must have been a water park or something and we wanted to find it.  We followed some tubes down the sidewalk and found the spot where they were all going. It's called Clear Creek White Water Park.  You can bring your own tube or rent one and get in the creek and float down.  There were even some fishermen in the creek. There's a nice walkway going along the water.  Since we didn't have our swimming gear handy we walked on this pathway for a little while. It looked like if you kept following the creek you'd end up at the Coors Brewing facility.
We only spent a couple of hours in Golden but glad we did. It was a great pit stop.
Up to this point we avoided bad traffic and minimal construction zones.  We were glad we went around Denver, even though we really didn't know what the traffic was like. Unfortunately I-70 west of Golden was a nightmare. The speed limit was 75 MPH and we averaged 18 MPH for a long time. Going that slow we had plenty of time to contemplate what was causing the traffic jam. It's a four lane highway and all lanes were at a crawl.  Surely there was a horrible wreck. Nope.  The elusive runaway truck? Nope. Jack knife? Nope. Fallen rocks? Nope. A broken down vehicle in the middle of the road? Nope. NOTHING. Once we got out of the ridiculousness of an 18 MPH descent down the mountain we saw nothing that would cause anyone to go that slow. I came to the conclussion that we were all stuck in a bad game of follow the leader and the leader was someone who should have left their car in the driveway that day. My journal uses more colourful adjectives but we'll leave it at that. So this leads to travel tip #5324, make sure you use the restroom before getting back in the car. This stretch of the road trip was only supposed to be two and a half hours long, which any normal person should be able to "hold it" for that long. Unfortunately Google Maps, Garmin and Siri never plan for 18 MPH traffic. When you're stuck in the fast lane going nowhere there is nowhere to pull over to use the restroom.  On the flip side you should also make sure you have something to drink and some good tunes to get you through the madness.  In Chicago this sort of traffic makes people lose their stuff, but in Colorado everyone seemed so calm, like we were all in it together, so we all cooperated with each other to get through it. We joked that this must be the evidence of what legal marijuana sales can do.
Up next, I finally make it to Glenwood Springs, CO!  Some of the best adventures were done in this area so stay tuned.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wild West Road Trip Day 2 Conclusion

Day two of the wild west road trip ended at Terry Bison Ranch.  I was under the impression that it was just a fun name for a restaurant, but Terry Bison Ranch is a whole lot more than just a restaurant. It's a resort of sorts. There's a campground, amusement park, old west town, an assortment of animals and a train that goes through the bison herd. The restaurant is actually called The Senator's Steakhouse.  It's a large open building, equipped with a buffet and a piano player with questionable fashion sense. There were specials going on for Frontier Days and an extended drink menu with some interesting sounding names.  Unfortunately none of the servers could explain any of them. Our waitress informed me that she was given the drink menu to study so she could be prepared but evidently didn't do her homework. Since I couldn't order based on ingredients I ordered by name, a dead hooker. The drink wasn't very good, watered down gin and cranberry juice or something but it was fun having various servers stopping by asking how my dead hooker was.
After the food, the tunes and the dead hooker we went to the farm/zoo out back.  This is actually a great idea that more restaurants should try to do.  After a big meal it was nice to go outside and walk around.  I'm thinking a maze might be nice.  When you enter the restaurant you go in through a normal door but in order to leave you have to go through a maze. Hey, anything to slow the alarming numbers of new type 2 diabetes cases. The impressive farm had a catwalk that went above the pens so you were walking out on top of the animals below.  Not a great feeling if you're scared of heights or animals, but a cool way to see the animals if you're not a scardy pants.
Over all Cheyenne was a great place to visit. I'd definitely go back.
Here are a couple of travel tips for you.
Febreeze.  If you're not sure what this stuff is it's basically fresh smelling laundry in a bottle. It's a type of air freshener that is not only supposed to freshen the air but remove the bad odors too. If you look in the trial/travel section at the store you can probably find small bottles of it.  However if you're like me and have several of those spray bottles that come in those travel bottle sets you can fill one of those from a bigger bottle of Febreeze. Or you can make your own Febreeze from any of the zillion recipes you can find online, like this one here. I'm still not sure what those spray bottles are for.  What do you put in them? Well, I put Febreeze in mine now, but still not sure why they include one in every set of travel bottles. The Febreeze is nice to spray on the bed linens and wherever else you think smells like hotel room. Even the high dollar hotel rooms can tend to have an odor about them, like an odd mix of chlorine and musty air conditioner.
Power Strip.  You can get these starting around $5.  Stick with the lower priced ones in case you forget it.  It seems like a lot of hotel rooms are lacking in electrical outlets and or they're in the most inconvenient places. Besides being in inconvenient places there's usually only one free outlet. What happens if you're sharing a room and you both need to charge your phones? Or what if you're like me and you have two cameras, a phone, a tablet and a 3DS that all need charging? You need more than one outlet.  The power strip is also good for keeping you organised. If there does happen to be more than one outlet they're probably scattered around the room so you have a phone plugged in one place a camera in another and your tablet somewhere else. If you have them all connected to one power strip they're all in the same place, therefore lowering the chances of leaving something behind.
Coming up next is Colorado.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cheyenne, Cheyenne!

Cheyenne Trolley, the infamous billy club, Sanford's Grub & Pub, local attire & the lottery building, statue of Lane Frost and St. Mark's "haunted" church.
Hopefully that show's theme song isn't going through your head now. It is mine, and I apologise now if it is.....One day I'll write about my love/hate relationship with westerns.
If you're just now joining in on the recap of my wild west adventure you can begin here. After a day of driving the second day started out in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We began the day with a trolley tour through some of the historic places in downtown Cheyenne. It was about 90 minutes long and chock full of interesting information narrated by a very colourful tour guide.  The tour got off to a bit of a rocky start though. There was an older couple who were causing quite a raucous. Not even exaggerating there.  They wanted to board the trolley without tickets. The tour guide instructed them to where they could purchase tickets. They continued to try boarding. They finally left to purchase tickets. OR DID THEY!? In the time it would have taken to go purchase a ticket they came back without tickets but with a plan to save seats. After a round of arguing the elderly "lady" exited the trolley. The tour guide was very professional and handled the situation very well and we were finally able to start the tour. After departing I noticed the billy club under the driver's seat.  Was that going to be the next step?  Are the Cheyenne trolley tours so great that they have to use crowd control, or is it for insistent crotchety old people who are overwhelmed with the feeling of entitlement? Whatever it's there for we didn't get to see it in action. What a way to start the day!
Again, the tour was very interesting and very informative.  Some of the highlights were the true birth of Coors beer being in Cheyenne at a place called The Albany, not in Colorado. Most of the buildings in town were moved at some point or another.  A Swiss mason is supposedly buried within the walls of the St. Mark's Church when he died while building it. It's such a sensational story that Geraldo had to investigate.  And the right for women to vote started in Cheyenne, but only out of necessity, not because it was the right thing to do.
After our tour we checked out a few more things that took place for Frontier Days then headed off to find something for lunch.  We needed to find a place we couldn't get back home. Sanford's was where we landed.  I later learned from a friend that Sanford's is a small chain, mostly found in Wyoming, one in Fort Collins, CO and one in North Dakota and South Dakota. (Thanks for the info Ric!)I had the Gilligan Burger, minus the ham.  I'm allergic to pork so I couldn't eat most of the burgers that sounded good, they all had bacon, ham or onions.  I cautiously asked if I could have the Gilligan Burger without the ham.  In high school and college I worked in a restaurant and I know how some cooks dislike "special" orders so I'm always leery of making special requests.  The waitress assured me that it was fine and that people request it that way all the time. So I got a burger with teriyaki sauce, pineapple, a slab of cream cheese on top and a side of sweet potato fries. I declared it the best burger I've ever eaten. I may be allergic to pork but I sure made a pig of myself at Sanford's.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of day two in Cheyenne, WY.  I promise bison, peacocks, more pigs and dead hookers.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Go West Young (Wo)Man

This is the continuation of day one of my wild west road trip.  If you missed part one you can check it out here.
After leaving Elk Horn, Iowa, where we saw no elk nor any horns, we got back on to I-80 West towards our final destination for day one of the trip, Cheyenne, Wyoming. I know a lot of people who have some sort of irrational fear of driving on I-80 and I think it's fantastic. Yes, be afraid, be very afraid and stay away!  Seriously, it's nicer for those of us who know how to drive and aren't afraid, we have the whole road to ourselves. Plus the majority of the highway is 75 MPH compared to most highways that are 65 MPH and there are plenty of gas stations and rest stops along the way.  Even the shoulders of the road are decent sized if you have to pull over for any reason. Oh and the road side attractions will make you giggle until you wish you'd have been smart like an astronaut and put on an adult diaper before you left home.
For example, the largest covered wagon that happens to look like a bad joke about your mom bending over to pull up her girdle.  What's even worse is that it's not even a covered wagon, it's a building made to look like one and is currently a golf cart shop. Thanks for the laughs Nebraska.
The most surprising thing to me was the gradual yet constant climb in elevation.  Once we reached the Wyoming border my ears popped.  It never came to mind that they would because the whole way through Nebraska it all looked relatively flat. When we began our trip we were at 528 feet above sea level and by the end of day one we were at 6,062 feet.
We were constantly warned to fill up the gas tank before reaching the Wyoming border so we did and and we were fully prepared for nothing but barren lands the rest of the way. Much to our surprise there were truck stops all along the way. Oh well, better safe than sorry?
The first day of our trip was a little over eleven hours but we gained an hour when changing to mountain time from central time.  We also left the humidity at home.
Whenever I travel I take a journal.  Some days I spend more time writing in it and other times I just put down notes, keep receipts and take pictures in order to later jog my memory.  This time I used the one I started last year on our trip to Minnesota and continued on. The little journals from http://www.live-inspired.com/green-inspired/ are the perfect size to pack and write in.  One of my goals when packing is to go as small and light as possible. These don't take up much room and weigh next to nothing.
Referring back to my little journal I put notes about how the sun setting on the plateaus was really gorgeous.  After reading that I remembered it more clearly, it was the moment where we both were excited because the scenery was finally different from back home.  It was what we were hoping for, seeing new sights and experiencing new things.
In a way traveling is like a fountain of youth. Remember back to when you were a kid and everything was new. Everything was exciting and it was fun to see and learn new things. We can't turn back time but we can experience that feeling again by going new places, meeting new people and doing new things.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Road Trip 2016: Elk Horn Iowa

Last year my friend (since the first grade!!) and I took a short road trip to Minneapolis, MN. We then decided that we need to road trip every year. This year we decided to go on a trip through the mountains. We went to so many new places and did so many fun things that I can't cram it into one post so I'm going to go place by place. This first post is about a small town in Iowa called Elk Horn. I'd never been there nor heard of it. There was a sign on I-80 that mentioned the town and that it had a windmill. Not the new windmills you see at the wind farms, which are all over Iowa, but an authentic windmill from Nørre Snede, Denmark, It is supposed to be the only authentic operating Danish windmill in the United States. This town is about the size of the neighbourhood I live in. The last census has this listed as a town of 662 people. We stopped at a restaurant called The Flour Mill. If you're on Facebook (I'm not) you can check out their page here Flour Mill.  I didn't get the chance to take a photo of my lunch but I can tell you it was delicious. The pizza oven was broken that day so I chose the Veggie Pesto Sub. Of course I picked off the broccoli but other than that it was, as they say, worth writing about.
The windmill seemed to be the big attraction in this small town so that was about all of the exploring we did in Elk Horn.
One of my new year resolutions was to go to five places I've never been before so this counts as one.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Elevator Music and Spider Bites

I'm not usually one for remakes, re-dos, rebirths and anything "born again", but this album is kind of fun. It's more of a re-imagined than a remake. It's also just a step above elevator music so it's relaxing but not annoying. Which makes me wonder, what happened to elevator music? It's been years since I've been in an elevator with music.
Makeshift bandage with plantain and masking tape. Look at all of those other bites. I must taste good. 
Yesterday I was out painting with some of the crew. It was a lot of fun and funny enough we all decided to paint the same subject and set up around a patch of coneflowers and Queen Anne's Lace. I stepped over to see what my friend John was doing and as I was talking to him I got bit by a spider. Yea, how completely rude, I was having a conversation with my friend and this spider just decided to crawl up my leg and bite me. Totally unprovoked, not even near its web, what a turd! This is just further proof that, while in a group, if something bad is going to happen it's going to happen to me. Lucky for me another friend, Cindy, was with us this time. She had the cure for what was ailing me, plantain. I was confused at first too because I couldn't figure out where she was going to find a plantain where we were. Those only grow in tropical locations, right? Wrong, well wrong plantain anyway. Here's a link to information on the more readily available plantain. This weed grows everywhere, I just never knew the name nor that it would help take the sting/venom out of a bite. She pulled up a couple of the leaves and instructed me to mash them up, put it on the bite and put a bandage over it. Well, I didn't have a bandage on me but I had a roll of masking tape, which is normally for taping watercolour or pastel paper. I left it on for the remainder of the day and guess what, no itching, no burning and just a small red spot remains.  This may be old news to you but Cindy was the only one in the group that knew about it so I thought it was worth sharing.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pretty, Pretty Gross

Picture found via "Unfortunate Food" on Pinterest. 
If food has to look good before you eat it makes you high maintenance then I might be on the highest rung of the ladder.  Then there's the smelling of the food. I know that drives some people crazy but guess what, if your food smells funky, it probably won't taste any better. Remember your school cafeteria food? It was obvious nobody in that kitchen was passionate about what they were doing.  The bad attitudes and poor food presentation certainly came out in the food they served.
Roasted Tomatoes via "Simple Pleasures"
Then you get something like this, that's been put together on a plate in seemingly random order but it looks so good because it's not random. The person who made this dish took the time to make it presentable but not too overly artistic. This is simplicity at its best and damn it if it's not making me hungry. Even Web MD says that "appearance is important as taste if you want to stick to a healthy eating plan". There's something to the way things are presented. Companies spend millions of dollars to make sure their products are presentable. Why are we so high maintenance?
Then it goes too far. @DrakoTsunami posted how his mom put Listerine in this bottle. Why? Who knows but it's kinda getting me feeling like my Listerine is less worthy. Does it still work the same? I'm sure it does, but look how pretty!
The shrimp in a bottle is not as pretty, but it is for sale! Are they just testing the limits here or is there really a demand for stuff like this?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Italian Chicken, Italo Disco, Italian Horror

Italo disco was a short lived genre of music coming from Italy during the late 70s to the 1990s. It's mostly known for it's use of drum machines, synthesizers, vocoders and Italian singers singing in English. May not be your cuppa tea but it never hurts to put something new in your ear holes. That last sentence is not approved by your local ear, nose and throat doctor, use some common sense and don't literally put things inside your ear holes.
Here's your easy, tasty recipe that isn't really Italian but the salad dressing says zesty Italian so we'll go with it. Actually, did you know Italian dressing isn't even Italian? Shocking, but no, it's actually American based on a Sicilian recipe. Zesty Sicilian doesn't sound like such a bad name.  You can use any vinaigrette of your choice in this recipe but the Italian is a pretty well-liked by most.
What you'll need: Chicken, Italian dressing, potatoes and Parmesan cheese.
Set the oven to 400 degrees F
Place the chicken in a baking dish. I use chicken breast tenderloins but you can use whole chicken breasts if you like.
Pour 1/4 cup Italian dressing over the chicken.
Wash and cut your potatoes in wedges. I used the smaller golden potatoes. If you use larger potatoes cut them in smaller pieces so they will cook all the way through.  Place the wedges on top of the chicken.
Grate 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and sprinkle on top. You could buy the pre-grated cheese but absolutely do NOT buy the crap in a can, that's not even cheese. There was an investigation back in 2012 and the factory that produces the majority of that canned cheese uses filler like wood pulp. So when you see a can of 100% grated Parmesan cheese believe that it's 100% grated, but not 100% cheese.
You can add salt and pepper to your liking.
Bake for one hour then enjoy. If you want to make this recipe stretch you can add tomatoes, bell pepper and zucchini.
Here's your Italian horror. If you've never seen the movie Suspiria you need to do that now. It's one of Dario Argento's masterpieces of horror. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas brings new light to the movie.  Even if you've never seen the movie it's a good insight into the behind the scenes of the movies. She even has a section dedicated to the crew that worked on the moive. It's hard to imagine the backlash a director of horror movies would get but evidently it happened. Why Argento got raked over the coals from the feminists is a bit strange considering this film has close to zero men in it. I don't usually go for this type of book that discusses someone else's work, don't get me started on art history books, but this is well written. Heller-Nicholas doesn't force-feed her opinion of the movie, it's very well researched and well presented. You can check out the book on Amazon and be sure the check out the movie too.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Where You Bean All My Life?

Sorry but I forgot to mention before that baked beans are also on the list of food served in hell. You can order it with your canned tuna and banana flavoured candy. It's no surprise that the baked beans, chocolate and soap scene in the movie Tommy grossed me out beyond belief. I never realised the scene was supposed to be Mrs. Walker (Ann Margaret) hallucinating and the scene took three days to shoot. Can you imagine having to be around that many baked beans for three days? Eww.
Funny enough I very much like green beans. I'll even eat canned green beans.  For some reason I've always been under the impression that cooking fresh green beans was hard. Again, it must be some childhood experience where the lazy adults make a big deal about cooking fresh vegetables and just grab for the can.  Cooking fresh green beans takes just about as much time as opening a can and warming them up. All you have to do is blanch them. No, not the sassy Blanche from Golden Girls, but blanch as in boiling water, putting the vegetables in for a few minutes, then removing and putting them in ice cold water. That's all you do. Boil water with a tbsp of salt put the beans in for 3 to 4 minutes, remove from boiling water and either run under cold water or put in a bowl of ice water. That's it. You can season them if you wish.
In my quest to chocolate cover everything, I grabbed a package of Nutter Butter. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate but every once in awhile get a craving and these chocolate covered "things" hit the spot because it's not too much chocolate. These absolutely did not disappoint. You just need a package of the Ghirardelli melting chocolate and the Nutter Butters.  Follow the directions on the package for melting and simply coat the cookies in chocolate. They set up in about 10 minutes in the refrigerator.  If you want to be really clever you could decorate these. Some ideas that come to mind are to add pretzels for antlers and eyes and you have reindeer for Christmas. You could dip them in white chocolate and make snowmen or ghosts for Halloween.
The book I read this week is The Outsiders. I've seen the movie more times than I can count but after reading one of S.E. Hinton's other books I knew I had to read this. She wrote this when she was 16.  That's right. SHE.  On my art blog I recently wrote about how some people make a big deal about whether a painting was done by a man or a woman. It always strikes me as funny because what's the difference? If you like a painting you like it, it doesn't matter if a man or woman did it. Same with this book. If you've seen the movie you'd probably assume that it was done by a man. Well, technically Francis Ford Coppola is a man and he directed the film, but it was written by a woman, so think on it for a minute.  The way Hinton writes, she makes it hard to put the book down, even to put the book down so you can blanch green beans. I'm glad I watched the movie before I read the book because I would have been having issues with the "socs". Greasers is easy to figure out but socs, I kept saying socks and reminded myself that's not how it's pronounced. If you want to read the book you can read it online for free here.  If you want to read more of Hinton's work you can check out her titles on her website.  Considering The Outsiders was her first book, you can only imagine how much better her other books are.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

No Time

Trying to come up with an excuse for not posting here lately is unnecessary. Thinking on it, I used to post new stuff more often simply because it was a way to get out of doing other work. When I find that I enjoy the work I'm doing I don't make time for things like this. There's a real grown up word for that, PRIORITIES.  I know a lot of people who complain about not having enough time in the day to do what they want.  It's pretty simple, if they prioritized they would get it all done. Also, if they would quit wasting time complaining about not having enough time....
Sometimes there's this other issue that's called, oops I forgot. That's what happened to me yesterday. I totally forgot I said I would make chocolate covered strawberries and Oreos for a going away party being held today. So I found myself in the kitchen at 1:45AM dipping things in chocolate. This is even after I told my friend earlier in the day that I had to do this. It just simply slipped my mind. When I mentioned this to my friend she commented that it would make a good Valentine's gift. That thought never occurred to me either, nor did the impending day of doom covered in pink hearts. She did have a great point and it definitely got me thinking. You can order chocolate covered strawberries and have them delivered. I used to patron Shari's Berries quite a bit.  They're reasonably priced, reliable and the customer service is impeccable. One time they screwed up my order and they refunded all of my money, even though they only messed up part of the order. This is a great place to order from if you want to send someone a gift who lives too far away to hand deliver them yourself.
These chocolate covered strawberries have started taking off in the last few years. Everyone jumped on that bandwagon and the bandwagon is not cheap. A local grocery store makes them and they're priced at around $20 per dozen, but they leave the stems on. That may be a better investment than flowers, but you can buy a nice bouquet at Aldi for $8.99 or less. So with this super easy and inexpensive alternative you'll be able to gift your valentine with flowers and chocolate covered strawberries for the price of just the strawberries at the store.
All you need is a bag of Ghiradelli melting wafers and something to heat the chocolate in. I swear I don't work for Ghiradelli, but if they'd like to offer me a job we could get cracking on an ice-cream line. Anywho, the wafers are around $4 for a 12 oz bag or $12 for a 2 pound bag. The strawberries usually aren't that expensive but I haven't checked to see if stores raise the price around Valentine's.
Wash, pat dry and cut the stems off of your strawberries. As I mentioned before, the grocery store leaves the stems on and I really don't like that. If it doesn't bother you then don't worry about it and leave them on, but it takes little to no effort to remove them. Then you follow the melting directions on the bag. Using the microwave directions is best because these wafers will melt at a low temperature which is wonderful. I've made chocolate covered stuff before using "old fashioned" methods where you have to really heat up the ingredients for the chocolate to melt, then when you go to dip stuff in it you burn your hands. If you follow the directions these wafers don't get scorching hot and you won't burn your fingers. You can get your hands really dirty if you want, or you can stick a toothpick in the strawberry and dip it. If you want to cover the berry completely you can use a spoon or spatula to pour over the entire berry. Then place it on a baking sheet, or any kind of flat tray. I put parchment paper down first, surely wax paper would work as well. They only need 15 minutes in the refrigerator to harden so if you forget, like I did, you can still whip these out in about 30 minutes. There are white chocolate melting wafers you can purchase if you want to add decoration, or you can sprinkle crushed pecans or even just candy sprinkles. These are just a little more special than store bought because you made them yourself.
Sargent and the Sea is the book I read this week. It retails for $50, but I picked it up at Half Price Books for $19.99. If my 3rd grade math doesn't fail me I'd say that's more than half price. I'm a huge fan of Sargent, I don't know anybody who isn't. Seriously, when was the last time you heard of anyone looking at a Sargent and saying, my five year old could paint that? That's what stuck out at me about this book. I remember reading a post somewhere, Instagram or something, where an art student had a conversation with his teacher. The student was lamenting how he wished he could be like Sargent. Meaning he wished he never had a bad painting, drawing, sketch etc. His teacher then said, do you think Sargent kept his bad paintings/drawings? Surely he threw them away and only kept the good ones. This, is a conversation that can be debated until the ends of time I think. But that's what stuck out to me, there's a paragraph in this book that leads you to believe that Sargent NEVER made a bad painting or drawing. Someone even said that Sargent, only a few years into his career, already knew everything about painting and there was nothing else for him to learn. That was one man's opinion and most likely didn't reflect on how Sargent personally felt. But looking at his work it's hard to imagine what else he needed to learn. Some other nice things about this book are excerpts from letters he wrote and of course the pictures. I don't know if I'd pay full price for this book as it seems to be written by some obnoxious art historian who analyzes things far too deeply, but for $19.99 it was a bargain.
I'll leave you with my monkey grass hair. I've purchased some of those grow in the house herb thingies before and they didn't work. I was at the store the other day and walked by the section with seed packets and peat pots. There was a display of Buzzy's Animal Hair grass grow kits. They were only a couple dollars so I thought what the heck. With zero expectations I followed the directions and waited. I only had to wait two days for my monkey hair to grow. This is about a week's worth of growth. I cut the hair after I took the picture. I would say this would be fun for a kid but obviously it's fun for little kids and big kids both. They come in all sorts of animals too.