Category Archives: Travel

Home from the UK

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There really ought to be safeguards in place when logging in to write my blog, for example, how long have you been awake?  Because I have been awake for (counts on fingers) 24 hours, with a one-hour nap on the plane home.  I woke up at 6am London time (the sun was so bright in our hotel room) and was so squished in the middle seat on the plane, it was uncomfortable to nap.  I’m trying to get back on Tempe time; my goal is to stay awake until 11.

My advice to you is this:  VISIT WALES!!!  There are miles and miles of verdant countryside, and from the coast road, the sea views were breathtaking.  The people were so friendly and polite and all seem gifted at the exchange of light banter, happy to ask where we were from and what we’d seen.  We saw ten castles, each different and exciting in its own way.  My favorites were the hill-top ruins with nobody around except for us, where I could close my eyes and imagine myself there 1000 years ago when the castle was inhabited . . . and I’d listen into the wind for the whispers of ghosts.

We began our trip in London, staying at my all-time favorite hotel, CitizenM Tower of London.  It’s always a thrill to be in vibrant London, my favorite big city.  We spent three days exploring the city and revisiting favorite museums, on foot and by Tube.  We are lucky enough to have visited the National Gallery the past four summers . . . and it never gets old.  I always get goosebumps seeing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and they had a special exhibit of 75 Monets!  He’s always been my favorite, and we spent hours looking at pieces we’d never seen before. THRILLING.  The British museum was full of school children and large, rude Japanese tour groups, but we were able to push through them and say hi to the mummies, the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and of course, the Rosetta Stone.  We did NOT yell, “Godzilla” to distract the Japanese tourists as suggested by a friend (haha) so as to get closer to the exhibits, but seriously, the groups we came upon were impolite and did not share space well.

It was so great to get home and give BIG HUGS to our son William and his girlfriend Katherine.  Ruby the Wonder Spaniel and the cats (Cosmo, Tilly, Olive, and Maisy) were very happy to see us as well.  Shortly after we arrived home, the kids left for the movies and Hubby checked stuff on his computer in the office, so ever since I’ve been singing loudly which is something I couldn’t do for two weeks  living in hotel rooms.  We were road tripping through Wales, but any time I tried to play music, we would quickly become lost. The navigation was very demanding and I had to stay sharp:  “In .5 miles take the second exit from the roundabout to B4047.”  Seriously, any time I daydreamed and we missed a cue from bossy British navigation lady, we ended up on one-lane roads with huge-ass tractors coming at us at 40 mph.  (What you do in that situation is run your car into the hedges and exchange happy waves with the other driver.)  If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Oh shit,” our bar bill would have been covered in full!

I’m finally feeling sleepy.  Jet lag sucks, but it’s a small price to pay for my two weeks of adventures in the beautiful UK.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

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May

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Because it’s a time of endings and beginnings, May is definitely my favorite month of the year.  The spring semester ends in May, and we feel exhilarated and celebratory for all the work we’ve accomplished in our classrooms, whether we are teachers or students.  Anticipation for summer travel and summer projects is keenly felt.  Summer is a time to reconnect with friends and enjoy lengthy family dinners followed by a good game of Shanghai Rummy.  (I’m thinking a few games of Feely Cup are in order . . . )  I’m pretty sure my family would say in May, Mary is completely spastic, but I would respond saying, “I’m feeling positively giddy!” (My earworm this week is The Wind by Cat Stevens.)

May is also a time when our college student moves back home.  We couldn’t be more excited to move William home from Flagstaff this Saturday (you might recall Eve moved back home at Christmas to finish her degree and save some cash).  I’m trying not to be too worried about transporting William’s huge bed and couch to a storage unit three miles from campus in Hubby’s RAV4.  I have a strong feeling the Universe will smile upon us and all will go well.  If, instead, there is some bad karma to be reckoned with, I will be cleaning the apartment toilets at 10 pm while Hubby is out renting a truck to haul all our crap.  I’m trying not to give this move on Saturday much energy, instead focusing on how happy we will be to have William back home for THREE WHOLE MONTHS!!!!  With Eve here, too, it’s going to be a crazy, fun summer for sure.

Speaking of having our adult children back home, I wish I could travel back in time two years and slap my “oh pity me” self, who was so super angsty about becoming an Empty Nester.  OMG, what a WHINER she was.  Apologies all around to whoever had to hear my sad story about how my kids were abandoning me.  I’ve hated change my whole life, but once it happens, I’m filled with renewed vigor and vim.  (I know it’s usually “vim and vigor,” buy I’m doing a social experiment to see if I can change it.)  Hubby and I actually embraced being the only two people in our house (besides the three cats and Ruby the Wonder Spaniel).  The house was always clean and quiet, and we never ran out of toilet paper or toothpaste. There were always milk and eggs if we wanted them.  After raising three children, it felt extremely civilized (but a little boring).

If I could turn back time, slapping my old pitiful almost-empty-nester self would not be at the top of the list.  I would change a thousand things before changing that one thing.  At the top of my list of things to change would be being a better student instead of being such a wild child, visiting my grandparents in Illinois more often, being more patient with my children, and appreciating how good my life was even though we had little money.

I’ll wrap up with an interesting story from my classroom today: Our students begin the year at age three, and most of them have reached their fourth birthday now.  They are a very social, distracted bunch, so I appreciated when my lead teacher, put in place a strict lunch policy.  All children were to stay in their seats “attempting” to eat their lunches until the clock read 11:55.  This has been a challenge since our students don’t know if 53 or 59 come before, or after, “55.”  Today one boy thought he noticed the clock moving BACKWARDS, and Andrew (wise beyond his years), said, “Time never moves backwards. If any one of you can figure out how to go back in time, you will be the most famous person in the world.”  This gave them so much to think about that they quietly finished their sandwiches and fruit, their tiny containers of hummus, applesauce, and yogurt, and went out to recess with full bellies to play.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

Friday Again?

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Life has been SO busy.  Every Friday, I say to my family, how can it be Friday again so soon?  The novel I’ve been trying to finish for book group sits gathering dust on the coffee table, my house looks like a bomb went off (a pet hair bomb), and the poor dog is itchy and needs a bath.  It seems either we are at work, or we’re being social, and then we’re too tired to clean the house (or the dog)!

One wonderful reason for not doing housework:  My aunt and uncle are in town from Illinois!  It was a last-minute trip, and we’re having so much fun hanging out with them.  Aunt Linda loves Changing Hands book store, so we spent an hour there, looking at every little thing.  We had long, relaxing dinners at both Pedal Haus and The Perch (I would recommend both).  If you haven’t been to The Perch, their “thing” is lots of exotic birds in cages.  They are all rescue birds cared for by professionals.  But man, they can be LOUD!  We had fun “chatting” with all the beautiful birds while waiting for our food to be served.  Due to the loud music and the loud birds, we were having a bit of trouble hearing each other.  We joked about how old we’re all getting.  I am a terrible joke teller, but managed to tell this old thing: “A woman goes to her doctor.  Doctor, she says, I’m having a terrible case of silent toots!  Can you help me?  And the doctor says, the first thing we need to do is get you a hearing aid.”  Ba-doom-cha!  (Apologies all around.)   I’m hoping we’ll see my aunt and uncle again before they had back to the chilly Midwest.

In other news, we teachers are counting down the weeks until summer vacation.  After this weekend, only EIGHT WEEKS LEFT!  I’m feeling worn down lately and am so happy when my lunch break arrives each day, when I have about 20 minutes to eat, and play Words with Friends, and look at Facebook.  Today while browsing Facebook, I almost spit out my sandwich reading a meme called,  “Name Your Vagina by using the name of the last movie or tv show you watched.”  Okay then:  Either Shameless . . . or New Girl!  LOL!  Ahhhh, the Internet.  What did I do before Facebook brought such class and sophistication into my daily life???

After lunch today, my lead teacher and I looked over photos from the entire school year to be used in the year book.  We were amazed at how much we have accomplished and how much our students have grown.  I love my job, but teaching preschool can be pretty intense mentally and physically and on some days, really overstimulating.  I can’t imagine doing anything else!!!  I’m 99% sure there’s no other job that includes as much laughter as we experience every single day, teachers and students alike.  I’m looking forward to summer travel and having time to lunch with my best gal pals, but I’m also feeling a great sadness knowing that soon my “kids” will be moving up a grade and having adventures of their own . . . without me.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

Vaughans Gone Wild in San Diego

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A few weeks ago on my Spring Break from school, Hubby and I took a five-day vacation in San Diego, California.  This charming coastal town is an easy five-hour drive from our fair city of Tempe, AZ.  It was our first visit in 18 years!  We’d taken the kids to Sea World when they were little, but for whatever reason, we didn’t have a good time AND it was expensive, so we crossed it off our list.  After all these years, I’m happy to report that I HEART SAN DIEGO!!!  Mountain views, beautiful foliage and flowers, charming restaurants, great people watching, and clean beaches—-I can’t wait to go back!

And now I will attempt write a Very Professional Trip Report, and not drivel on and on like an idget like I usually do.

PROS:

  • We saw way more elderly couples than college students, which was a happy surprise.  (I was worried about obnoxious crowds of frat boys.)
  • We stayed at the Bahia Resort at Mission Beach, which was affordable and on the bay, but not within walking distance of any restaurants off site. But I felt the location between Pacific and Ocean Beaches was a good compromise. Next time we would want to stay near Pacific Beach.
  • Our hotel room was right on the bay, and directly out our sliding glass window was the marina where around 200 boats were anchored.  The two Riverboats which the hotel uses to transport hotel guests north to the Catamaran Resort go in and out of this bay.  (We never were there at the right time to ride the river boats.) We had little foot traffic by our room, except for the mandarin ducks and mud hens, which often pecked at the closed glass door to our hotel room.
  • San Diego Breweries:  There are a zillion charming places at which to drink delicious craft beers.  (Apologies for the overuse of the word “charming” but seriously, San Diego oozes charm!)  There are tap rooms which do not serve food, and there are brew pubs with full menus. We Ubered to Stone Brewery our first night, since it is, without a doubt, the mecca of breweries in the Southwest.  The service and food were incredible (quite pricey meals at $30 per plate), and the building itself is super cool with HUGE amounts of seating. Nobody has cooler t-shirts or better beer, hands down.  Lots of good people watching, too!
  • Travelling off-season, we had easy parking and no waiting at restaurants. I’m certain this is not true in the summer months.  Nice though that there was still a fun, tourist vibe . . . even though it was off season.
  • We live in the desert where it NEVER RAINS.  So though we had a few cloudy days with sprinkles of rain, that was actually a plus for us.  WEATHER! YAY!
  • Visiting the Birch Aquarium at Scripp’s was so much fun.  We arrived just in time to see the fish feeding in the humongous kelp fish tank.  Two divers swim into the tank, and the crowd can ask them questions.  It was super fun, and also very informative.  We patted ourselves on the backs for visiting this busy tourist venue at the perfect hour—NAP TIME!  All the families cleared out around 1:30, and we had the place mostly to ourselves.  We saw so many strange and wondrous sea creatures, and also enjoyed the amazing views of La Jolla from our high vantage point.
  • We visited a shell shop from which you can access a sea cave.  I’m glad I was brave and decided to follow Hubby on the 120 slippery steps down to see the cave. The cave was dug in the 1920’s, and I’m sure every owner since then has been making money hand over fist.  The line was out the door to pay our $5 per person to see the cave.
  • We had Eggs Benedict every day.  The best one was at World Famous on Pacific Beach.  It featured a crab cake base, instead of an English Muffin.  YUMMMMY!

NEGATIVES: 

  • Our Bahia Hotel was old, thus the walls were thin. The first night the neighbors (two adult men) next to us talked all night until 6am in boisterous voices.  They drew my attention later in the day, sitting at the bar, and I felt like approaching them, but instead decided to ask at the desk.  They had checked out . . . whew!  I was tired after a night of holding a pillow over my head to block the noise.  We had one quiet night, then the weirdest thing of all:  The new neighbors had their tv turned on high to a religious station. I kid you not, every few minutes I heard the preacher saying the word, “Lucifer,” in bold, chiding tones.  The next morning I went to the front desk, and they assured me they would assist me, even if it was just a loud tv.  Lucky for me, we had another quiet night.  (Hubby sleeps like the dead and heard none of it.)  (Note to self:  Investigate into sleepy drugs for our next vacation.)
  • Driving in San Diego is pretty tricky.  Thank God for Google directions, which often said, “In .2 miles, cross four lanes of speeding traffic to turn right.”  Certainly not safe after ANY alcohol, so we Ubered a lot, which added to our vacation budget, for sure.   Also driving over the mountain areas one-hour out of San Diego, we had thick fog which was a bit unnerving.  Hubby has nerves of steel, and we arrived safe and sound.
  • The Uber drivers we’ve had in the Phoenix area are very professional and good drivers.  HOLY MOLY!  Our first San Diego Uber experience was disgusting; the driver had obviously chain-smoked in his car, then sprayed some noxious odor-remover.  I rolled down my window and tried to not smell.  The next night, our driver was a young man who appeared to be a) in a hurry or b) on some sort of stimulant.  We careened down the highway, miles past our hotel when I spoke up and said, “Ummm, I believe you’ve gone past our hotel.”  Not saying a word, he made a U-Turn and had us back on track toward our hotel.  90 mph, not braking for turns, it was a Wild Ride for certain.  I said a prayer, “Thank you, Universe, for my wild and splendid life.  It appears it may be ending in a few minutes.  Amen.”  And then we arrived at our hotel.  I caught my breath and said, “Wow!  That was VERY EXCITING!” with a laugh.  In the rear-view mirror, I caught a glimpse of smile.  Until you walk in someone’s shoes, right? I don’t know what his deal was, but wow, it was frightening.  Yet we lived to have another fun day in beautiful San Diego, my new go-to for Spring Break.  Who’s in to go with us in March 2018???

Cheers,

Mary

 

Spring Break 2018

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I’m feeling very happy this evening because I have only ONE MORE DAY of school before it’s my SPRING BREAK!!!  WOOT WOOT!!!  I love my job, but I’m ready for a week away from our preschool monkeys, er um, students.  I love them, but I think I’ll love them more after a week off.  Truly we have so much fun with picnics on the big playground or picnics in our garden, dancing to new songs, playing with Beanie Babies, playing dress up, crafting so hard, and having special visitors, like Tyler’s pet guinea pig, Mr. Sparkles.  I LOVE HIM! (I meant Mr. Sparkles, but I love Tyler, too.)

Hubby and I dithered over vacation destinations and settled on San Diego.  I almost booked us to Cabo (cheap this time of year) and found out it’s a hot destination for ASU fraternities and sororities.  GOOD GRIEF!  I would have been sooooo mad spending our money to be in the middle of a scene from Girls Gone Wild!  The last time we were in San Diego, William was in a stroller (now he is 20).  So likely 18 years ago. It’s a five-hour drive, and I’m enticed not by the beaches (California beaches are terrible compared to our beloved Puerto Penasco, MX beaches), but by the seafood and breweries!  I’m calling our trip a “brewcation.” I’ve mapped out our favorite craft breweries—we’ll visit Stone, Ballast Point, St. Archer, and Coronado Brewing Co.  I’ve booked us a whale watching trip one afternoon.  I’m skeptical if we’ll really see a whale, but the boat has cocktails and snacks, so I’m all in!

The best thing is we’ll come home mid-week, and I’ll still have four free days before going back to work.  I plan to get some stuff done around the house and do some hiking and see friends.  On Friday night, William returns home from college for his Spring Break!  I miss him sooooo much.  (We all do.)  We’ll have him for a whole nine days—LIFE IS GOOD!

I’m getting the laundry done so I’ll have all my clothes to choose from to pack for our trip.  It’s going to be about ten degrees colder than here, so brrrrrrr that it will be only in the mid-60’s and cloudy every day . . . but don’t you just know most tourists will be wearing sun dresses and flip flops.  And I will want to wear sweaters and boots, because 65 and cloudy is COLD.  We desert dwellers are an odd lot, this I know for sure.  Our new-ish clothes washer sings a beautiful little ditty to announce the load is done.  I thinks it’s the greatest thing ever, and I need to know if there is a job called “Appliance Composer,” and if so, how does one get that job?  How many man hours did it take to create the 25-second melody?  Did several musicians spend weeks dreaming up the perfect tune?  Did executives in pin-stripe suits solemnly sit around a conference table while said ditties were presented and chosen?  To me, the whole thing is very curious.  I have questions.

And now I have to share with you the YUMMIEST recipe.  It’s currently in direct competition with broccoli soup for my favorite lunch dish.  It’s Creamed Spinach with jalapeno peppers . . . and it’s absolutely heaven on a plate.  I found the recipe online and changed several things.  For one, the original recipe called for evaporate milk.  WHAT???  I substituted regular milk, and it was great.  It occurred to me you could skip the oven and do it stove top to save time, but I think baking it gives it a better texture.  ALSO, it only made enough for maybe six people.  Next time I will double it to have leftovers.

CREAMED SPINACH WITH JALAPENO PEPPERS

2 12-ounce packages frozen leaf spinach
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup yellow onion, minced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced fine (I often use the stuff from the jar–don’t judge)
1/3 cup whole milk (or half and half)
1/2 teaspoons each salt, and white pepper
8 ounces Monterey Jack Cheese, cubed
1 jalapeno pepper, minced fine (add another pepper if you like spicier)
1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)

Cook spinach according to package instructions, saving the spinach water (I use a Pampered Chef microwave steamer).

In a medium pan, melt butter, then add the flour to create the roux.   Add onion, cooking for about five minutes.  Add spinach and remaining ingredients, stirring over low heat until mixed well.

Place in a greased 9×13 casserole.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Cheers,
Mary

 

 

Soup Days

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By Golly, it’s been a long time since I posted anything here.  To be honest, I was plumb tuckered after all of the many wedding festivities!  Hubby and I hunkered down for a good two weeks, only making last-minute plans with friends.  What wonderful memories we have with friends and family from the wedding weekend!!!  Thanks again to everyone for their well wishes for the young couple.  Pat &  Sam’s wedding will go down in the books as one helluva party!

But now we are back to our usual busy pace, very happy and productive. I’ve planned a Spring Break trip for Hubby and I to San Diego, and both of us have spent approximately a bazillion hours looking for cheap flights to London for a summer vacation to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  If you fly to JFK first, the flights are reasonable, but then you risk missing connections which adds stress.  I’m sure we’ll figure it all out.  I heart London so much, and we will spend a few days there before renting a car to tour (drum roll, please!) . . . WALES!  Wales has amazingly beautiful countryside and a rich history; you can’t swing a cat without hitting a castle.  Right now I’m revisiting a novel I read in my youth about Welsh history called Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman.  At 704 pages, I’ve assigned myself 50 pages a day so Hubby can also read it before our trip in late June!  It’s so good that it’s hard to put down.

I’ve spent way too much time googling stuff the past few days and giggled while viewing my browsing history.  Here’s a brief list:

  • Dulse Seaweed butter–a chefs secret weapon (can’t wait to try it)
  • Black Panther movie trailer (looks good)
  • Cheddar Broccoli Soup recipe (YUM!!!)
  • How tall is Charlie Barnes? (never did find that–he tours with Bastille)
  • List of the busiest US airports (Atlanta, LAX, then Chicago)
  • Phoebe Buffay’s fake names (just couldn’t remember Regina Phalange)
  • What is motor boating?  (er, umm, that’s what I thought it was–too much time reading weird stuff on FB lately!)
  • Henry Plantagenet family tree (to assist while reading a historical fiction novel)
  • 24 Things Not to Miss in Wales
  • SOOOOOOO much flight pricing!!!!!!!!

I’m just INTERESTED in stuff, you know?  Now I’ll give you the soup recipe.  I changed it by adding two potatoes and decreasing the amount of cheese and butter and flour.  My family thought it was delicious!  I love to make soup.  I find it homey to have a large pot bubbling on the stove, filling the house with yummy aromas.  My daughter bakes to relax.  She must’ve had a really stressful week since she made three different types of macaroons on three separate days this week!

Broccoli Cheese Soup
1/2 cup butter
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup flour
5 cups broccoli, chopped small
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut in half
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you prefer)
4 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and white pepper to taste
one teaspoon chopped garlic

Get out a big-ass pot.  Melt the butter, adding onions and sauteing until soft. Stir in half a cup flour to give the soup some legs to stand on.  Add in chicken broth and milk, then the carrots, potatoes, and the star of our show–BROCCOLI!  Reduce the heat or else the milk will foam up into a huge cloud, which will spill all over your stove top and be a nasty mess.  (This happened to a friend—not me, of course.)   I simmered everything for maybe 45 minutes, testing the carrots with a fork for softness.  When all veg are tender:  add salt, pepper, and garlic, then stir in the cheese.  I used an immersion blender because the potatoes were still in chunks, and also because it’s a fun toy that I rarely get to use. Plus it scares the bejeezus out of the cats, which makes me laugh.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strong Women

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I am in Mexico.

Hubby and I drove down yesterday morning.  We were greeted by a smooth-as-glass sea and short-sleeve weather in the high 70s.  Bonus:  In the group of 20 single-level condos, there are only three occupied.  It feels downright sinful to have this slice of Paradise all to ourselves.  The ocean water is very cold.  After walking barefoot in the tide pools, I was eager to put on my thickest socks to warm my icy feet.

I brought a stack of novels and magazines, but instead sat in a chair on our patiodaydreaming and watching the birds dive into the ocean, admiring a long line of at least twelve dolphins swim slowly by.  I breathed in and out, letting my thoughts go here and there, losing myself in the gentle movements of the ocean.  I smiled thinking about happy hour with best friends the night before.  I LOVE my bossy friends–the strong women who don’t just smile and nod, but instead snort and say, “You’re doing it wrong!”  I was told I am too intrusive in my adult children’s lives, and more importantly that I am NOT allowed to wear sensible flat shoes to our son’s wedding in two weeks.  “But I want to dance all night,” I whined.  They patiently showed me photos of pretty shoes that would not hurt and would have hours of dancing built into them.  Another friend has been coaching my diet, sending me great ideas of how she lost weight last Fall, and another friend tells me how bad my brassieres are every time I see her.  To G, S, T, L, and L:  I will stop starving myself, and I will go to the mall this week to buy pretty party shoes and a new bra.  And I’ll consider not texting my children every day (not making any promises)!  I’m honored to have your love and friendship.

Speaking of strong women, I re-watched Terms of Endearment for probably the twentieth time.  You know, that old movie with Shirley Maclaine and Debra Winger.  (I love the expanded viewing choices on Mexican Netflix.)  The scene where Debra Winger gives her mom a small goodbye sign with her hand as she is dying gets me every time.  I thought this movie was an appropo choice since this past week I’ve been negotiating  a new situation of co-existing with our adult daughter.  The film gave me lots to think about and induced some waterworks from yours truly.

I mopped up my tears after the movie and went out on the patio to say goodnight to the stars.  Hubby and I gasped!  It was so dark you could barely see your hand in front of your face, but the sky!!!  The sky looked as if someone had thrown a hand full of diamonds onto black velvet.  It’s been years since I had a proper view of the stars.  The vastness and beauty felt overwhelming!  I was filled with an immense sense of peace while breathing in the ocean air and admiring the sparkling heavens. I felt as if the Universe was giving me a big hug and telling me, “Everything is going to be okay.” (And I’m pretty sure I heard, “And wear comfortable shoes to the wedding.”)

Cheers,

Mary