Twice as Nice – West Texas Edition

Photo via Mural from Alpine Art Walk

Photo via Mural from Alpine Art Walk

The past two weekends my family and I headed out West, some would say WAY out West. About 495 miles from Dallas lies the magical town of Alpine, Texas. Home to Sul Ross University, (which made a cameo in Richard Linklater’s amazing “Boyhood“), 30 miles from mountainous Fort Davis, 30 miles, in the other direction, is Marfa, my beloved Marfa, in another direction for less than 30 miles is Marathon, home of the Gage Hotel but more worth noting, 12 Gage Restaurant.  Want more?  Alpine is 70 miles from Big Bend National Park, 60 miles to Balmorhea, scuba diving in the desert anyone??  Basically it’s a hub bub of all kinds of goodness, here’s the 800 arrows take on it all.

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Soft Shell Turtle and fish at Balmorhea

 

Where we stayed:

Weekend 1:  Air BnB – Casita Velveeta (listing no longer available on Air BnB), in case this place does reappear for rent I wouldn’t recommend it, even at $85.00/night, it felt like we over paid.  Our friends stayed here using VRBO and it was lovely!  If you don’t want to rent, I would recommend the Guest Lofts from the Holland Hotel, these can get very pricey but start at $125, and for a very simple stay I’d check out Antelope Lodge (starting at $85/night, it’s where I’d like to stay next go around).

A glimpse of colorful Casita Velveeta and school on the road with the kids.

A glimpse of colorful Casita Velveeta and school on the road with the kids.

Weekend 2:  We stayed at the Alpine Rock House, which is a nice part of Alpine (a little farther from the train horns), you can easily walk to Plaine for your coffee or Blue Bell needs. it’s a beautiful house, great for a family but also wonderful if you were traveling with friends, lots of room to spread out.  Last word on renting versus a hotel, the kitchen is great to have because while the restaurants left a lot to be desired the natural grocery store is amazing!

Pointing the way to Holland Hotel Guest Lofts

Pointing the way to Holland Hotel Guest Lofts

Where we ate:

Alpine

Judy’s Bread and Breakfast is about the only breakfast game into unless you count McDonald’s, which I don’t.  It’s not good (yes I even tried the cinnamon roll, I still won’t call it good), but the place and people are great and it’s one of those things that makes Alpine a nice place to live.

Guzzi Up – If you must go here don’t have pizza, I repeat do not have pizza, salads are pretty good.  Also unless you love the latest tween rock videos (personally I’m a fan) you may wanted to be seated away from the TV’s, they are huge.

La Trattoria or La Trot (if you’re trying to be a local) – meh.

Reata – Really expensive meh.

Plaine – Sister to Frama in Marfa, this laundry mat, coffee, ice cream bar is awesome-ness.

Little Mexico Cafe – You are better off going hungry.  Couldn’t find an online presence for Little Mexico Cafe, but it’s on Murphy Street.  Do yourself a favor, keep on walking to Los Jalapenos which was closing as we pulled up but looks very promising!

Blue Water Natural Foods – Not a restaurant, but if you rent a house you can stock up here with most of what you could find at Whole Foods or other natural grocery.  Great quality  produce, impressive selection overall, it’ll be my FIRST stop to stock up next time we are in Alpine!

 Marathon –

12 Gage Restaurant and White Buffalo Bar – You can order from the bar menu while dining at the restaurant.  Venison sliders, butternut and apple bisque, the lovely puff pastry below.  Wash it all down with Ranch Water (tequila, Topo Chico, lime juice and ice) and enjoy the party!

Veggie Puff Pastry filled with quinoa, veggies and feta from 12 Gage

Veggie Puff Pastry filled with quinoa, veggies and feta from 12 Gage

Marfa – 

We didn’t try anything new this time, revisited old favorites, all were good!  Food Shark – fatuous salad with hummus and falafel,  Frama for chai latte, Maiya’s for a Paloma and ragu (yes it’s $22 for pasta, yes I still think it’s worth it).  Sad we couldn’t swing by Museum of Electronic Wonders and late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour but instead we were watching the cool kids at the Trans-Pecos music festival at El Cosmico.

 

What we did:

photo via my husband (really that goes for all photos unless otherwise noted)

photo via my husband (really that goes for all photos unless otherwise noted)

Day trips:  Lajitas – I’d skip this in the future and would not recommend, basically just a fancy resort in the middle of the desert, food was terrible.

Terlingua – Fun to see this little town, less than an hour outside of Alpine and the drive is spectacular especially if you get a cloudy day bringing a storm like we were lucky enough to witness!

Terlingua's La Kiva

Terlingua’s La Kiva

Balmorhea – A Texas State Park with a spring all decked out for swimming, snorkeling and even scuba diving.  Depth goes down to about 25 ft, 3 ft being the most shallow.  Water was a comfy temp once in but cold enough to put your game face on before jumping. High dive provided fun and loads of entertainment for all the viewers.  We headed out before eating but I hear there’s fantastic Mexican food right outside the park (also allows for camping and cabin stay).  Insider tip:  To get the fish stirred up arm yourself with some cheese crackers and spray cheese – gross yes, but the fish went nuts!  To tempt the soft shell turtle “weenies” or hot dogs (are these the same?)  work best but watch your fingers while swimming, your little piggies look a lot like weenies too!

Balmorhea was by far our kids' favorite part of the trip.

Balmorhea was by far our kids’ favorite part of the trip.

Marfa – While Marfa is known for art, food, cool kids, our cool kids love it for the train tracks.  While it might not be the kid friendliest place, my kids think Marfa is a treasure trove of “stuff by the train tracks”.  We flatten coins, they rock hound, get dusty and dirty, really what’s not to love.

Those boots look familiar?  The Blundstones just keep going!

Those boots look familiar? The Blundstones just keep going!

we stopped in at the Trans-Pecos Music Festival happening at El Cosmico and couldn’t take our eyes off of the side show game involving hammers flying into the air, banging an opponents nail into the stump (in the middle of the circle) and lots of hipster watching.  Ah, Marfa!

If you are curious about the  all male players rest assured the ladies were next up and ready to fling some hammers!

If you are curious about the all male players rest assured the ladies were next up and ready to fling some hammers!

Alpine – We attended an outdoor dinner presented by Times Ten Cellars at their vineyard  overlooking Cathedral Mountain.  This isn’t a regular happening but we’ll certainly try to make it to these randomly schedules dinners as often as we can.

Our greeting as we arrived on the gorgeous scene at Times Ten Vineyard.

Our greeting as we arrived on the gorgeous scene at Times Ten Vineyard.

The west Texas skies were kind enough to provide us with a side show throughout the evening, the sunset, that gave way to the breathtaking scene below all while 5 courses came and went,  wine glasses were filled and drained, and prices of Alpine real estate were discussed at every table.

Cathedral Mountain

Cathedral Mountain

Really you can’t go wrong with a visit to this part of the world.  So many things to see and do even if you just sit and watch the sky.  Grab your crew, pack up the car and have a nice journey, stretching and napping are encouraged.

They grow up sooooo fast.

They grow up sooooo fast.

One last mention of thanks to my handsome husband, for two amazing weekends and always going above and beyond (including looking after my sun hat long after the sun disappeared).  Love rocks.

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Better than OK

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Guess where this is.

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Here’s a hint, it’s in the United States.

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It’s less than a day’s drive from my home in Dallas, TX.  Any guesses?

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O-k-l-a-h-o-m-a, Oklahoma!  OK.

Yeah, actually it’s only about a 3 hour drive and BAM, you are away from it all.  In a highly un-us move we took a completely impromptu trip last weekend.  It kind of went like this,

Me: “Sigh, kids start school next week, sigh.”  “Wish we could squeeze in just one more trip.”

My husband:  “How soon can you be ready to go?”

Me: “Go where?”

My husband:  “Broken Bow, OK”

Me:  “10 minutes yipeeeeeeeeeeeeee”

For awhile we’ve been interested in finding an easy getaway to enjoy the outdoors and disconnect from our daily life in the city.  We wanted water access, trees, quiet, stars at night, hiking options and easy to get there and home in a weekend.  Consider that list checked!  Yes, it’s way better than OK, it’s amazing.

Happy Labor Day everyone.

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P.S. For the Casons, here’s our nod to Goldsworthy……turned out a little more Olaf though.

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But you know our inspiration was truly about “the rivers and the tides” (hee hee hee hee)

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5,000 miles and 163 pee stops later….

Meet the passengers: B1, B2, C1, C2 and C3

Meet the passengers: B1, B2, C1, C2 and C3

We did it!!  Holy Moly, my little idea to take 5 kids under the age of 10 from Texas to California with one other brave mom in her Storm Trooper (also known as the white minivan) is now complete and my final answer is…….it was a success!  Hear me out, days 1 thru 3 while we were logging about 500 miles per day and trying (but failing) to find a groove I was fairly certain I’d made a huge error in judgement.  After all 7 people in one car for 7 hours per day, 5 days in a row is a lot to ask of a grown up let alone a 5, 7, 7, 8 and 9 year old.  Up the ante on this little pressure cooker by breaking an iPad, then a DVD player, then a pair of “ear muffs” (also known as headphones), for good measure have your iPod start to malfunction and you are ready to start checking flights from Nowhere, New Mexico to San Francisco, California!  Thankfully, it never came to that.  We were armed with a HEAVY dose of humor, and we made it and even smiled and laughed along the way…..in between the pee stops that is.

Here are a couple tips we picked up.

Tip 1:  It’s really helpful if your nightly stop has a pool.

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While the “adults” planned the next days’ travel strategy pool side, the kids happily went insane.  Nothing quite like a cannon ball to express your daily frustrations.

Bonus points if you can find something like this for your lunch break.

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Or even this random gas station treat.

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Tip 2:  Electronic distractions are certainly helpful, a movie can provide maybe 30 minutes of quiet, however that peace and calm usually won’t last.

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The other mom had packed up Lego Hero Factory (in that nifty clear container at the bottom of the pic) and these provided hours of entertainment for all our little passengers.

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Tip 3:  One exciting stop for the way out and one for the way back is plenty.  Especially if one of those stops is the Grand Canyon.  We opted for the North Rim and were able to stay inside the park in wonderful cabins that were more comfortable and hospitable than most of our other hotel stays.

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Super comfy beds and since there is no wifi or cell service to be had the park provides free long distance to check in with loved ones.  See below my daughter’s first experience with a phone that has a chord – that’s exciting stuff!

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Even more impressive than the phones with chords is the canyon it’s self!  My son’s 7 year old words were, “It looks like a cool bath tub for giants”.

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But the best thing about sleeping in the park is the canyon at sunrise, I highly recommend this!

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Tip 4:  If you’ve been driving for 5 days straight try to give yourself at least a full week outside of the car.  Your destination should provide lots of easy fun, no helicopter parenting required.

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Tip 5:  When in doubt follow the signs.

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And last but not least…..

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Dear Best Western

Traveler Beware!!

Traveler Beware!!

Having recently completed a cross country journey allowing me to stay in many fine establishments across our great country I can say without a doubt, your hotel was the worst.  Not to throw out the apple tree due to one bad apple, allow me to limit my comments to the Best Western Santa Fe Inn Amarillo, Texas.

Let’s begin with the name, “Best Western Santa Fe Inn” – there was nothing ‘Santa Fe’ about this ‘Inn’, it’s confusing, overly long and sets up an expectation that the hotel clearly has no intention of reaching toward.

Now the room – when staying in an unfamiliar place it is generally helpful to have lights by the bed or beds.  A lamp, a switch for over heads, a sconce or two – a light switch clear across the room which ignites a dim lamp in the far corner is unhelpful when reading in bed or rising when it’s still dark outside.  Secondly, when offering a “Clean Remote” it’s generally helpful that it is indeed clean. Although I find it wasteful, the concept is that remotes are disposable allowing each new customer a fresh clean remote.  Our remote had been wiped down – sort of, there was still “schmutz” on the power button and sides.  Thirdly, privacy curtains, although the blackout shades are particularly helpful to block out the morning sun, it’s also helpful to be able to fully close curtains when your room faces the parking lot.  A 12″ gap does not provide the privacy one might hope for.  On to the carpet, while placing carpet in front of the bathroom sink area is an interesting choice, it does experience greater  wear due to water, constant standing for brushing teeth, drying hair, flossing, etc.  Whatever synthetic “softener” you used to create the illusion of thickness in this particular area resulted in a greasy residue that sticks to your feet and smells weird.  Lastly the bed, traditionally I prefer something softer than the floor, when my 7 year old son, won’t even bounce on the bed because it “hurt his bottom” when he sat down, I’d say that’s a touch too firm.

Shall we go outside to the “pool”?  We’ve had our share of hotel pools on the trip, usually the color is something akin to blue, the greenish hue at the BWSFI (that’s Best Western Santa Fe Inn) was green and cloudy.  Hmmm, a little concerning but not as concerning as the number of dead insects floating on the top of the water.  But having 5 children  under 10 in a minivan for 8 hours requires some release, so we allow them all to jump in.  What’s missing?  Towels!  It’s not uncommon for towels to be missing from the swimming area, but this was the first time I had to ask the front desk “helper” for the towels and then receive a lecture about only asking for one towel for guest and she’ll count how many people are swimming.  She can actually do that from her front desk station since she can see the pool clearly – might have been nice to send someone out with towels when she saw us swimming but maybe she figured we’d air dry.

I could go on about breakfast, security, hotel employees, wall non-thickness but after about 10 nights staying in different hotels each night suffice to say that the Best Western Santa Fe Inn Amarillo, Texas was the WORST EVER, like EVER.


Walking in LA

Hotel Andaz Los Angeles

Hotel Andaz Los Angeles

Last weekend my husband and I took a solo trip to Los Angeles for a friend’s birthday.  It’d been over a decade since I was last there…… I believe swing dancing was involved if that gives you an idea of the timeline.  This time was a world wind adventure of our friend’s favorites in Los Angeles, here’s a little taste of the weekend:

We stayed at the Andaz hotel, pictured above, contemporary style, comfy beds and pillows, amazing location with a bird’s eye view of Sunset Blvd.

I enjoyed one of the best croissants I’ve had outside of France at The Little Next Door.  I would for sure comeback to this place if I ever find myself in Los Angeles again.

The LIttle Next Door Los Angeles

The Little Next Door Los Angeles

We went skateboarding from Santa Monica to Venice beach and back – my first time ever on a skateboard, we chose this board because we loved the song in their you tube video and they looked like they were having so much fun! Despite my great hope, watching this video 15 times did not immediately turn me into an awesome skater lady, I did however fall in love with skateboarding.

Lunched at Fred Segal where I could barely contain my “Clueless” quoting.  Our lunch was fairly fantastic as well.

"Lucy, where's my white collarless shirt from Fred Segal????"

“Lucy, where’s my white collarless shirt from Fred Segal????”

I went to a ping pong club called SPiN at The Standard in downtown LA and watched my birthday friend have a Forrest Gump moment but in longer shorts.

SPiN Standard

SPiN Standard

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Forest Gump Ping Pong Diplomacy

We paused at a 100 OCT rally party held at Hotel Roosevelt, in case you are unfamiliar with this event allow me to fill you in.  Wealthy people (usually men over 40), buy expensive cars, possibly modify these cars to make louder sounds or go faster, then they enter this “race” from San Fran to LA, they make stops along the way to have fancy meals and look/talk about each others’ cars.  Not my thing, but I was sort of impressed to hear one person figured out how to create flames from the modified titanium exhaust on his Lamborghini – cause when is shooting fire out of something not fun?! (Did make me think of the poor pedestrians in Los Angeles, people DO indeed walk in LA but the drivers sure don’t like it, now it seems they might be in danger of getting singed).

Finally on to dinner where we enjoyed an incredible mediterranean meal at The Little Door.

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And that was just Friday – Goodnight Los Angeles!

P.S.  Here are a few places that I did not have the chance to visit due to our schedule but if anyone out there visits please share your thoughts:

Sqirl for some jam, The Detox Market to explore the latest greatest in the natural beauty world, Moon Juice for a smoothie, Dosa, Matteo, and New High (M)art for Beatrice Valenzuela shoes among other things for shopping,  The Sweat Shop to chastise them for their poor name choice and have a sauna and finally Pound for some super fun rock star fitness!

 


Road TRIP!

National Lampoon's Vacation

National Lampoon’s Vacation

I’m in the midst of planning a 4,000 mile road trip for myself and my kids this summer.  For bonus points I wrangled another mom to join me along with her three boys.  Some quick math sums up 2 moms + 5 kids + 1 minivan + 4,000 miles = genius.  I can already picture us laughing around the dinner table 10 years from now, “Hey mom remember when you thought it would be fun to cram us all in a minivan and drive to California!”  Then, of course, hilarious tales will unfold that only can happen in a car with a 5, a 7, an 8, an 8 and a 9 year old.

My own mom had this same brilliant idea.  My older brother, sister and I would pile in the station wagon (with wood panelling) and head up to New England from Texas.  There were marathon recitations of “The Dark Crystal”, The Beatles sing alongs, spelling games that have scarred me for life (I still sweat if forced to spell in public).  We were crammed in among luggage, slept in motels, stopped at the requisite tourist attractions.  There was no GPS, no DVD players or iSomethings, it was my mom and her AAA TripTik and her spirit of adventure that caught us up in the magic of a summer road trip.

I couldn’t tell you half of what I saw on those summer trips in our station wagon but I remember us being all together, I remember having fun, I remember sleeping on floors, I remember trying to make a lollipop last for hours because it was all the entertainment I had.  I have no idea what it’s going to be like on the “mom” side of things for my own upcoming road trip.  But even if the whole thing turns out to be more difficult than I ever imagined it’ll be worth it if we have even one crazy dinner conversation about it years from now!

Wish me luck.


Un, Deux, Trois to Uno, Dos, Tres

Last year at Palais-Royal

Last year at Palais-Royal

This time last year, I was walking thru France with my family.  This year’s break called for a much simpler outing, but enjoyable and inspiring all the same.

San Antonio….. not what you were expecting?  Me either!  We actually started our journey in New Braunfels, this may offend Texans near and far, but I’m not a fan.  San Antonio on the other hand, how have I missed this jewel of a town??  Home to the Alamo and SeaWorld, though neither were of any interest, another claim to fame is their Riverwalk.  What’s so exciting about a line of water running through a city?  I don’t have a poetic answer but it puts two of my most favorite vacation things together – eating and walking!

photo via internet

photo via internet

I’ve strolled down France’s The River Seine, New York’s Hi Line and many lesser known places and I’d put San Anotnio’s Riverwalk up there with any of them.  My first impression was, “It’s so clean!”.  And then, “The details!”.  It always helps when you have NO expectations, or in my case misinformation.  I was excepting a totally overdeveloped, Disneyland type, commerce filled stroll.  Certainly you can find that along parts of the Riverwalk, but near the newly improved section of Museum Reach, which is where we spent the majority of our time, I was sublimely happy.  I heard around 10 different languages and accents during our stroll, the kids counted ducklings (we got to 50), we watched an epic fight between a hummingbird mother defending her nest from an imposing grackle from the glorious open air restaurant of Ocho (so good we ate there twice).   Yup, we were very pleasantly surprised indeed, I look forward to another trip!

Where we’ll stay:  Hotel Havana

Where we’ll eat:  Ocho

What we’ll do: Walk……okay maybe we’ll go see the Alamo too.