Category Archives: Food

Texas Bucket List

For all you Texans, you get this. You probably have a Bucket List, but then you have a separate Texas Bucket List, for things that every Texan should do. For all you non-Texans, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can get here some day and check all these things off of your list. Luckily there is now a song dedicated to a Texas Bucket List. It’s called My Texas, and it’s by The Josh Abbott Band. There is also a little known guy named Pat Green that sings along with him. You may have heard of him?

Anyway, the list in the song has pretty much everything you need to do in Texas – here is the breakdown.

1. Climb Enchanted Rock    CHECK    At least 4 times

2. Drink a cold Shiner down in Luckenbach    CHECK     Of course I have! And I’ll do it again, too!

3. Take your baby to the River Walk     CHECK     And I’m planning on going in March again!

4. Float the Frio River       CHECK     Used to do this every summer as a kid!

5. Listen to Red Dirt music on the radio      CHECK     Back when I was in high school, we had a good Texas country music station. Not anymore….

6. Eat Cooper’s In Llano*         (sort of) CHECK        I have an * by this, because I have had Cooper’s from Llano, but I haven’t had it IN Llano. They were leftovers a friend brought for me to try

7. Go to the Houston Rodeo    CHECK     Pretty much every year of my childhood, and I showed a steer in Houston

8. Sing “Carry On” at a Pat Green Show     CHECK        I saw Pat Green AT the Houston Rodeo

9. See an Abilene sunset

10. Catch a trout in Port A(ransas)

11. Heard the words to “Corpus Christ Bay”      CHECK      Robert Earl Keen is one of the best – I know all the words!

12. Watch fireworks on PK (I had to look this up, it’s Possum Kingdom Lake)

13. Have a kolache when you go through West*   (sort of CHECK)       Again, the * means I had them when a friend (the same friend who brought me Cooper’s from Llano by the way, brought me some, but I haven’t had fresh ones. Doesn’t matter though – they were still A-MAZ-ING.

14. Heard of the Larry Jo Taylor Fest

15. Go to the Fort Worth Stock Show     CHECK     I showed a steer here too

16. Sing along with Cory Morrow     CHECK      Did this 3 times last year!

17. See a hill country sunset    CHECK      It’s beautiful every time

18. Hike through Big Bend    CHECK      I practically lived there for 6 years while I was in college!

19. Let your hair blow through the Lubbock wind

20. Be somewhere that they call you “friend”    CHECK     I count a lot of places, most of them in Alpine. You always run into someone you know there!

21. Go to the San Antonio Rodeo    CHECK       Showed a steer here too…

22. Sing “Everclear” at a Roger Creager show        CHECK          At least 8 times

23. See an El Paso sunset     CHECK       Best place in Texas to get factory direct boots, but it was quite a drive to get to even when I lived out West. So of course I saw the sunset!

So as you can see, it’s a lot of sunsets and listening to good country music. I’ve done most everything on this list. I think there are a few things that need to be added to it though. See live music at The Salt Lick (and get the Family Style bbq meal. Just trust me on this.), go to Wurstfest in New Braunfels, the Llano Crawfish Open, horseback riding on the beach on South Padre, have a beer on the Front Porch of Terlingua, swim in Jacob’s Well, see a Willie Nelson show, drive down a hill country road to see the bluebonnets at their peak, watch the sunset over Lake Travis at The Oasis, drink cold Texas beer on a hot Saturday night, go 4 wheeling on the Brazos River, eat Huevos Rancheros at Bob’s Taco Station, eat at  ALL of the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints, and go on every brewery tour (this is going to be a hard one, since new breweries are popping up all the time!), smell the wild Mountain Laurel blooming, get a Round Rock donut, go to Pete’s Piano Bar, and climb Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas. Sounds like I’ll be busy, because I have a few more to do. And the things I’ve marked off the list already, I’ll probably do again.

On Earth As It Is In Texas.

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Luxury Backpacking

As soon as I found out that I was getting Good Friday off of work, I called Hubby and said “WE HAVE TO GO CAMPING!” I hadn’t gone camping since Grad School, with the exception of one Canoe Camping trip that we did with a couple friends 2 YEARS AGO.  I had been feeling the itch to go camping for a while, and that was the perfect weekend to do it. Living in Texas, just about anywhere you want to get is a day’s drive to get there, so you want more than just one night away to appreciate the time you spent outdoors, not just in your car getting there.  The most beautiful areas of Texas are west of my current location, and the closest pretty place is about 3 hours away. But of course, since I didn’t know I was getting Good Friday off until most people already had their Easter plans, most of the pretty places we wanted to go were all booked up.

Enter – Inks Lake State Park. This is a tiny state park on a tiny lake which is part of the Colorado River chain of lakes in the hill country.  It is south of Lake Buchanan, which is a much larger lake, but they had campsites available for the Easter weekend so I booked it as soon as possible. The drive to Inks Lake was beautiful.  My favorite landscape type – rocks, hills, cactus, and huge trees, surrounded us. And to top it all off, we were having an amazing wildflower season, so the entire drive was breath-taking.

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Puddle in the rock
Puddle in the rock
Adorable little cactus
Adorable little cactus
China berry blooms
China berry blooms
Teeny Tiny succulents
Teeny Tiny succulents
Buckeye Selena King
Buckeye Selena King
Claret Cup Cactus
Claret Cup Cactus
Hubby at the top
Hubby at the top
Dry creek bed
Dry creek bed
Prickly pear skeleton
Prickly pear skeleton
Indian Paintbrush and rocks
Indian Paintbrush and rocks
Butterfly on Indian Blanket
Butterfly on Indian Blanket
Bluebonnets on the trail
Bluebonnets on the trail
Giant Spiderwort
Giant Spiderwort

The reason I say we were “luxury backpacking” is because the trail from the car was only 1.5 miles.  The backpacking we were used to was 12-16 mile long hikes in the mountains. Very different.  Because of the short distance we were going to be traveling we took a few items that we wouldn’t have carried on a 16 mile hike in the Chisos Mountains. Such as: eggs, wine, cookies, my giant camera with giant lens and a tripod. Things such as these were typically left at home on previous trips to save on weight. And on longer hikes where we didn’t have refrigeration, we would have to bring all of our food with us and it usually consisted of some sort of noodles and a packet of tuna or something. Since this was LUXURY backpacking, we only brought one day’s worth of food to camp at a time (and it was really awesome food at that!) That way we could keep all the extra food in the car in the big cooler, nice and cold, and go get it the next day when we had nice light-weight empty packs to carry.

Day 1: We got to the park at about noon and headed into our camp site. Then we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the trails and hills around us. I was constantly taking pictures and Hubby was walking around exploring and waiting patiently for me to finish whatever I was trying to take pictures of. When we got back to camp we started making dinner – home-made beef stew and biscuits.

While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn't go well.
While Hubby cooked dinner, I was practicing my night-time photography techniques. It didn’t go well.

This is not quick or easy over one small burner, but as I write this it is literally making my stomach growl, thinking of what a great meal it made.  The stew cooked pretty slowly since it was fresh, raw potatoes, carrots, and onions, but once it was done, Hubby put it off to the side to cool while he made “biscuits.” Now, I say “biscuits” instead of biscuits because although it was Bisquick biscuit mix, we didn’t have a way of baking them. Instead they were more like biscuit pancakes. Hubby wasn’t sure how they were going to turn out so he didn’t want me to get my hopes up, but they were perfect! Slightly burnt in the middle where the flame hits the pan, just enough to give it that campfire flavor. We ripped them in half and dunked them into the perfect stew. The only problem was that there was a bit too much food, and no way to store any leftovers. I felt guilty about throwing it away because it was so good, and there isn’t really a good place to throw food anyway (because raccoons can always figure out where you put food) so I enjoyed my gluttony and pretty much couldn’t move for the rest of the night.  For dessert we had Whole Foods cookies from the cookie bar, drank our adult beverages, and then hiked to the top of the hill by our camp to watch the stars.

It was a perfect night.

(Except for one thing. My camera had a little accident. >:{ So these are the only photos I have from the trip. BUT it was still a fantastic trip, and my camera is fixed, so all’s well that ends well, right?)

The next day we hiked around and watched the boats at the boat ramp, got some sodas at the general store, and even headed to Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was pretty much next door, to check out the cavern.

Now, you might be thinking, “come on World Traveler…you have been to Carlsbad Caverns. How can ANY cave even top that? What’s the point of even going to other caves after you have seen Carlsbad?”

Well Fellow Adventurers, first of all, I find all caves interesting, but this one had the strangest back story you have ever heard! First, it wasn’t a cave formed by water dripping over eons creating beautiful “sculptures” but it was formed by an underwater river. It was also a hang out for Comanche Indians, smugglers, bandits, train robbers, and at one time it was a Speakeasy. Yes. In the middle of nowhere Burnet, Texas, there was a Speakeasy in a cave.

Longhorn Cavern Speakeasy

(Photo courtesy of http://bougiegrnk.blogspot.com/ where you can read all about his travels, too!)

The cave was an awesome surprise on this trip that we wouldn’t have had time to do if we had only gone camping for one night instead of two. We went back to Inks Lake State Park, watched the boats some more, and then headed back to camp for a nap, and then we watched a spectacular sunset on the hill overlooking Inks Lake.

This trip couldn’t have gone better, and we definitely plan on going back, maybe taking a couple of the dogs with us next time. I recommend this park if you were thinking about going!

Panoramic Sunset
Sunset Over Inks Lake

 

 

 

Why I Love Canadians

My Canada trip started out pretty rough.

But the saving grace for the entire trip was that I was in Canada. You know what else is in Canada?

Canadians.

I swear, they are the nicest people you will ever meet.

They go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable. It’s quite refreshing.

After my terrible first day, things started looking up.

My baggage showed up in the middle of the night…

My warm clothes!

And even though I had asked them to, the front desk people didn’t call me at 1 am to tell me it was here. And you know what? I’m glad they made that decision – what was I going to do with that information at 1 am? Run down and get my bag? No, I would have said ok, great. I’ll pick it up in the morning. So why call and wake me up about it? Better to just let me sleep and figure it out later. They are so nice.

I found out that my rental car wasn’t going to be ready until 10 am. I notified the people I was in town to see, and instead of waiting around all day for me to show up, they offered to pick me up at my hotel and take me to the property. Nice warm truck being driven by someone who knew where they were going? I’m in.

And when I was done for the day, he dropped me off at the rental car place. And this was my rental car…

Super Awesome Rental Car
Super Awesome Rental Car

They said that because I was so nice and patient with them since they had run out of cars the day before, they were only charging me for an economy car, but gave me an All Wheel Drive Kia Sorrento.

And a free GPS Rental.

See! When you are nice, nice things happen!

However, I didn’t have time to go see the polar bears.

It was an hour drive and they close early in the winter, so instead I drove to nearby Hersey Lake and took some photos, adding 4 new species to my bird list in the meantime!

Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse
Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Hairy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red breasted Nuthatch
Red breasted Nuthatch

And I also got to see something completely new and foreign to me…

Hersey Lake, frozen solid
Hersey Lake, frozen solid

First time in my life I had seen a lake frozen solid. It kind of scared me, I’m not going to lie. I was sure if I ventured too close to the edge I would fall through, even though those are snow-mobile tracks going across the middle of it!

Snowy path around the lake
Snowy path around the lake
Sunset and snow
Sunset and snow
Birch Trees
Birch Trees
Birch Trees in the Snow
Birch Trees in the Snow

I met up with John again in the hotel bar that evening. The hotel staff were all having their staff Christmas Party, so it was me and him watching hockey in the bar and showing each other pictures of our dogs.

I had told him the night before after he so kindly paid for my dinner, that I would pay him back the next night. I’m sure he thought I had forgotten, but I always try to keep my word so I made sure to meet up with him again. Since the hotel staff were having their Christmas party and the restaurant was closed, we went to The Restaurant (I’m not making that up).

It was a dive restaurant (my favorite!) that was attached to a gas station.

I told John that I had to have the traditional Canadian dish of french fried and gravy, what the Canadians call Poutine. He said that The Restaurant was the best place in town for that, so that’s where I wanted him to take me.

Poutine
Poutine

We didn’t realize that they were close to closing when we walked in, but we ordered our Poutine (Quebec style, with cheese curds) and a couple sodas and sat and talked for a good while. There aren’t many people that I can just sit and talk to as if I have known them for years, so it was nice to be able to do that after I had had such a crappy trip.

After dinner the waitress came and got our plates with her purse in her hand, ready to go. We didn’t even notice that she was waiting on us! We got out as fast as we could and apologized over and over for making her wait. I paid for dinner like I told him I would, and then he asked if I had ever been to Tim Horton’s.

I had never heard of Tim Horton’s.

But apparently it’s another Canadian thing to do.

We ordered our coffee (decaf since it was like 9 pm by this time) and John had me pick out a Christmas ornament. He refused to let me pay for the coffee and ornament, saying, “it’s Christmas!”

Then he gave me a “toonie” which is the Canadian $2 coin, because he wanted to make sure I had actually seen a Polar Bear on my trip.

toonie

Again, we sat and talked like old friends, and enjoyed our coffee. He talked about once when he thought his eye was about to pop out of his head and I talked about when both my eardrums blew out in grad school. Then we discussed the differences of healthcare in Canada and in The US. It was great. John said that he had been trying really hard to NOT say “ahe?” the whole time (he apparently wasn’t doing a very good job of it because it was like every sentence) because “it’s so typically Canadian,” but all I did was laugh and say something along the lines of “I think it’s fine – you are Canadian afterall….”

The second day of my three day trip was spectacular.

John was a welcome new friend, and I hope we keep in touch.

Everyone else I met was so nice and made me wish I lived in Canada, simply because everyone in the country is automatically your friend.

However, seeing as how this was the temperature the entire time I was there…

That's in Fahrenheit.
That’s in Fahrenheit.

…I don’t plan on making the move any time soon.

How to Have An Awesome Vacation While Not Blowing Your Budget

Over the summer after our trip to the Keys, I wrote a guest post for my sister, That Clever Chick, about vacationing on the cheap. I had done a little plug for it here, but I thought to myself, ‘why on EARTH would I force ALL of you to divert from the post you were already reading to read another post?‘ Especially because I know you, fellow travelers, and I know that you got so drawn in by my stories and descriptions that even though you thought, ‘I’ll read this post and then go to the guest post and get two posts in one day!‘ that you completely forgot to read it, didn’t you?

So, here it is, in all its glory. How to Have An Awesome Vacation While Not Blowing Your Budget.

Enjoy!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

My sister, Beans, has a great blog of her own, but every once in awhile I can convince her to throw some text my way so I can take a nap. Here’s her guest post about saving money on vacation:

There are many ways to go on vacation, and there are many ways to save money.  For most people, these things cannot go hand-in-hand.  That is because many people think that a vacation isn’t a vacation unless you splurge on everything that you wouldn’t normally splurge on.  That is pure insanity to me, but…to each his own, I guess.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand if you are going to have a romantic get-away, and you plan on eating fancy food, drinking fancy wine, and getting massages every day.  But usually people do not do these things on every vacation.  Vacations don’t have to be a romantic get-away, because technically you should have romance all year long, not just in the jungles of South America, living in a bungalow for a week, getting waited on hand and foot.  But that’s a rant for another day.

No, vacations mean travel, seeing the world and other cultures, and experiencing new things that you can’t experience by watching the Travel Channel (because let’s face it, the Travel Channel has just become a channel where you watch people eat weird “food” items now). There is a way to travel on the cheap and still have a great time, and I’m going to give you some tips on how to accomplish this!

The first thing Hubby and I do every year is pick where we are going to go.  That is probably the hardest part anyway, right?  I think the easiest thing to do when planning a vacation is deciding on the dates of travel, and putting it down on the calendar.  If you write something down on the calendar, you are much more likely to do it, rather than putting it off for something else.

The next thing we do is book the plane tickets.  And this is done MONTHS in advance.  Every year we book our vacations in December and plan to go on them in May, so by the time the trip actually arrives, it’s almost like you have a free trip planned, because the travel has already been paid for.  In fact, this year I had enough frequent flyer miles to get free flights to Key West, so it really was free to get where we were going!

Over the next month we book the hotel and the rental car, and pay for as much of it ahead of time as possible.  Rental cars can’t be paid for completely in advance, but if you get the Loss Damage Waiver (which we do every time we rent, no matter what) then you can pay for that before you get the car, and that is usually half the cost of the rental car in the first place.

Another tip is to go before tourist season, if possible.  Now, this has pros and cons, so this is mainly a personal decision.  One benefit is that hotels are usually not full, so you can ask for a free upgrade for your room, and you can easily get a room with a view of water for instance, instead of a view of the parking lot.  However, sometimes tours (such as SCUBA or Snorkeling tours) have a required number of people that need to be signed up for the tour before they can take the tour group out.  So, since it’s before tourist season, you are risking not being able to go on the Ghost Tour of Seattle or something because not enough people signed up the night you planned on doing it.

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Another great money saving trick is probably the simplest, but most people would never think of.  FIND THE GROCERY STORE.  Most hotel rooms have a mini fridge in them, right?  And you probably never use the mini fridge, do you?  This is the easiest, cheapest way to do several things: buy sandwich fixin’s and make a picnic on the beach.  We even brought a collapsible cooler with us on our trip, so we could keep food and drinks in the car.  Buy sodas, bottled water, and/or sports drinks to keep you hydrated while you explore the area and buy a small bottle of liquor to mix in with the previously mentioned beverages to relax by the pool.

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Remember not to buy more than you will consume while you are on vacation.  True, you can check your leftover beverages in your luggage, but if your bottle of tequila starts leaking under the plane, I have a feeling that the other passengers will not be happy with you when you land.  It is easier just to go back to the store if you ran out of something.  Also, keep in mind that some cities, like Austin, have banned plastic grocery bags, so maybe you would want to bring some reusable green bags with you too.  Sometimes your hotel room will also have a microwave in the room.  If that’s the case you just scored big, because that means that when you DO go out for dinner, you can bring your leftovers back with you for another meal! Or midnight snack, whatever.  Either way, it saves a trip to the vending machines, right?  Or you could be like my Hubby, and not even require a microwave.  (He’s not a picky eater).

One of the most expensive parts of vacationing is the food and drinks.  I know that when I was leaving for our last trip to Florida, several people told me to “drink pretty drinks!”  I’m not saying I snuck away from the restaurant to mix a quick rum and Diet Dr. Pepper and then run back to the restaurant, but while we were relaxing by the pool or on our patio over-looking the bay (from our free room upgrade) I didn’t waste my time or money ordering drinks from the hotel bar, because I had my own adult beverages that I could mix as I pleased.  The price difference? At the hotel bar, the mango daiquiris that I was drinking were about $6 each.  The Kraken Rum and Diet Dr. Pepper that I mixed in the hotel room? About $1.50 each.  Big difference, right?

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We made a plan to eat most breakfasts and lunches in the hotel room, but dinners were usually spent out on the town.  That’s the key to a good vacation – you can’t be worried about how much it is costing the entire time, because then you won’t have any fun.  If you find cheaper alternatives, you can still indulge a bit, and save money at the same time.

Also, go to the Visitor’s Center for the city you will be staying in.  They always have flyers for nearby attractions, and they usually have discount rates, coupons, or Buy One Get One Free tickets that they hand out like it’s Halloween.  Trust me on this: the guy at the Key West Visitors Center really must have wanted me to get drunk, because he gave us about 15 Buy One Drink Get One Free tickets for various bars on Duval Street.

Be sure to check Trip Advisor too.  This can be a big help in knowing what is and what is not worth spending your money on.  My suggestion is to go through all the flyers in the Visitor’s Center and pick out some things that sound interesting.  Then go online to Trip Advisor and check out the reviews for those places.  Who knows, you could accidentally find a place that lets you hold orphaned sloth babies that is $300 a person to go to, but you may find out that it’s worth every penny, because with the purchase of an entrance pass, you get a free pet sloth baby.  Some things you can’t know until you find out other people’s experiences.

Sometimes even free places aren’t worth the money it would take to drive there, so take other people’s opinions seriously, and consider your options.  That said, because Trip Advisor is so important to travelers, be sure that when you get back to your hotel that you review the places that you went on your adventures, too.  Whether they were good, great, or just plain awful experiences, people want to know what to expect.  I know I have written some awful reviews of companies in the past, but I have also written glowing ones.  YOU HAVE THE POWER.

Also there are Loyalty Programs – hotels, rental car companies, and airlines all do loyalty programs.  If you travel for work, you will rack up free car rentals, free hotel stays, and free flights in no time.

If you are going to buy Souvenirs – I have quickly learned that most people don’t want a random crappy shot glass from a bar they have never heard of, from a city they have never been to.  You don’t necessarily need to buy gifts for everyone in the family, or everyone single person at work.  If you feel the need to buy something for work people, like if you are talking about your upcoming trip to a friend and the annoying guy in the office announces, “I hope you bring us something good, since we have to stay here and slave away!” then buy something small, consumable, and that everyone will like: CANDY.  I’m sure every little town is famous for one thing or another.  Key West is of course famous for Key Lime Pie.  I was not about to buy and ship actual pies home for everyone at work, but I did consider Key Lime Pie Salt Water Taffy.  I of course didn’t get my coworkers anything, but that’s beside the point. I still THOUGHT about doing it.

Many places are not cheap to visit, but if they were, then they wouldn’t be very good vacation destinations, because they would be packed with people all the time, right?  So if you take my advice, hopefully you can plan out your next great vacation, and people can be jealous of you while you are getting a tan in the Caribbean, riding elephants in India, or petting wild meerkats on the African savannah.  Who knows, maybe soon people at your office will start trying to predict your next adventure, like the people at my office do with me?

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Safe Travels.

Clever Chick Note: Saving money is about priorities; you’re saving to do the things you want rather than thoughtlessly letting money slip through your fingers. If you approach your vacation the same way you can take MORE vacations, or more expensive ones. Have fun!

Traveling with Brodie

A few years ago while I was in Grad School, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and live there for a month during a Primate Behavior and Conservation course, put on by DANTA.  It was one of those things that I asked my parents if I could do it, and I was totally expecting them to say no.  Instead, my dad, The Intrepid Traveler, decided not only to let me go, but since I had never traveled by myself (much less out of the country by myself), he decided to go with me.

The plan was to go down about a week early and do some Site Seeing on our own. Then when it came time for the course, The Intrepid Traveler would go to the airport, and I would meet up with my new classmates. Sounds like a great plan, right? Flawless even? When the Intrepid Traveler is involved, nothing ever goes according to plan, but it is always an adventure!

As much as he travels, you would think he would speak 50 languages and have friends in every village. He would blend in. Disappear. You would never see him again.  But the truth is he could get lost in his own museum (Love you, Dad!).

First of all, we asked AT&T if my phone would work in Costa Rica, and they said yes. It did not. We rented a car rather than get driven around in taxis. This also did not work. We are used to roads in Texas. Where if you miss your exit, you can just take the next one, and turn around. I thought it was that way in all of the US, but apparently not (more on that a different day). But apparently, missing your exit in San Jose is a much bigger deal than we thought. Somehow we managed to always find our destinations, but I think that was mainly the tourism people being used to stupid Americans, and giving really good landmarks as directions.  It also didn’t help that neither of us speak Spanish. Yes, yes I know. We are the stupid Americans that don’t bother to learn other languages and expect everyone to speak English. But Spanish is HARD!  The good thing was though, that we made a great team…more or less. Most everyone we encountered did, in fact, speak English. Of course they had Spanish accents but they were speaking English, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Except for my Dad. They would be speaking to him, in English, and he would look at me and asked what they said, because their accents were too thick for him to understand. So I was a great translator! From Broken English to English! I wonder if I could turn that into a career….

Now since this was a few years ago, and all but about 6 of my pictures somehow got corrupted by the time I got back to the US (I’m still upset about that!), I’m a little fuzzy on our adventures. However, I know that Dad and I went to a coffee plantation which was really cool, because we were the only people on the tour and go to look around at everything there. We also stayed at some really cute hotels, ate at great restaurants, and got to go white water rafting.  My favorite city in Coast Rica was La Fortuna.  There is a massive volcano that we could see from our hotel window, and the town had a very relaxed, surfer attitude.  Our first night in Costa Rica, we actually found a restaurant called Tex Mex. We thought that would be a safe bet to ease ourselves into the culture, so we decided to check that out. It turned out that the owner of the restaurant was from Las Vegas, Nevada, and came and sat down with us to tell us the secrets of Costa Rica. Such as, cover your luggage (or anything you have in the back seat/hatch back) with a black blanket so it is less obvious you have anything in there. I remember this vividly, because at our hotel the next morning while eating breakfast, my father asked the boy working there if he could buy the blanket from our room to cover our stuff.  The poor kid. He probably had no idea what my dad was thinking. I’m sure he thought Dad was going to murder someone and wrap them up in the blanket or something. As it turned out, the owner of the hotel wasn’t there at the time to ask, so the boy just said we could have it. I’m sure he didn’t want to upset the homicidal American by telling him he COULDN’T have the blanket. So as a thank you, Dad tipped the kid extra. At least we think we tipped him extra. I never could get that exchange rate right.

Come to think of it, we did see on the news that night a boy who was being publically flogged for giving stuff away at a hotel….I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

Anyway…

White water rafting was a blast. We had never done it before, so we were stoked! After going through a little demonstration with the guides, we headed down the river.  During the calm parts of the river, the guide also served as a naturalist tour guide, teaching us (but mainly me, because I think I’m the only one that cared) about the birds we saw, and he even made a special stop to find a species of bats called Long Nosed Bats, that are known for sleeping under leaves and on crooked tree trunks.

CR - Long-nose Bats

We found them, and I got a great look at them before they flew right over our heads. So cool!

After a week of driving around lost in Costa Rica (and in the rain because apparently it was the monsoon season…oops) it was time to go our separate ways.  Dad was to get to the car rental return and go to the airport, and I was to go to The Hotel Aeropuerto. That morning as we were leaving the hotel to head to the car return I said, “Shouldn’t we get directions?”

Dad’s. Exact. Words. “I’m sure we can find it.” Oh good. Since that’s been the way this WHOLE trip has been going, right?

We were up on a mountain heading into San Jose, and you could see the airport from where we were, so I thought maybe, just maybe, he could get us there. Except that every time we would exit off the highway, or even go straight on the highway, I swear the airport got further and further away. It was like it was in a parallel airport universe.  We ended up pulling over and asking directions a couple of times. When that didn’t work, Dad actually got a guy to drive in front of us and LEAD US TO THE CAR DROP OFF. The whole time I was thinking, he’s going to drive out into the middle of nowhere and demand more money. He’s going to rob us. He’s going to get lost himself, because he doesn’t have permission from the Airport Overlords to enter the parallel universe.  But it worked.  He got us to the drop off.  I couldn’t believe it. I guess all the years of travel have paid off for Dad!

The final challenge was telling my taxi driver where to take me from the drop off.  Dad sometimes speaks really quietly because his ears are a little out-dated and he thinks he’s speaking at a normal volume. He told the driver to take me to the Aeropeurto Hotel, but he said hotel so quietly, I was afraid the driver would take me to The Aeropuerto!  Not the same thing, so I tried to make sure it was HOTEL Aeropuerto, but when I started to say it, the driver just nodded and waved me off. Fingers were definitely crossed as I headed away from Dad, but I ended up at the right place.

So a few things I learned about Costa Rica while I was there:

  • Summer is the rainy season. Don’t go then. Mud slides are a daily occurence, and the mosquitoes get bigger and meaner with every raindrop. They are like Gremlins.
  • Pay very close attention to the road signs. If you miss your exit, just pick a new destination further down the road. It would be easier than trying to turn around.
  • The hearts with halos that you see painted all over the road and intended to remind drivers to be careful – every heart represents a pedestrian that was killed by a car. And only if they died on the scene. If they died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, they  don’t count. There are halo hearts EVERYWHERE.

I wish I had pictures of this trip. I guess it’s just an excuse to go back. Now that I know what I know, I think it would go much smoother. Maybe I’ll even take my dad again…?

10K does not mean 10,000

I’M BAAAAAAAAAAAAACCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!

As I’m sure you have noticed, I haven’t been posting in a while. That is because I have been in school for a week! Ok, not so much school, but a continuing education course, to learn all about wetlands. Totally work related (i.e. I didn’t pay for the class), interesting, and I got to be outside for half a day all week, during beautiful weather. Life is good.

And now that I’m back, I can entertain you with a couple of adventures I had while I was cut off from the interwebs.

Hubby and I have the same birthday. This makes it easy to remember, but at the same time, there is no longer a day just for me. For years I didn’t have my own birthday cake, because Hubby and I met at our job, so I went about 7 years of having to share a birthday cake with him until I got my current job, where not only does Hubby not work with me, but I’m the only February birthday in the office, so I get the only cake for a month! Ok, so it’s a little selfish, but that’s the only reason we celebrate birthdays anyway, right?

I guess I could get back on track…. Hubby and I have the same birthday, so this year for our birthday we decided to do the Houston Rodeo Run 10K. My New Years Resolution was to run 10 miles.  Originally the goal was to run 10 miles without dying, but now I’m actually seeing that I might be able to run 10 miles without stopping! And this is coming from the girl who just last year could hardly run 1 mile without stopping.  Now people look at me like I’m crazy when I say, “what? It’s only 6 miles…”

This was our first 10K, and I was really excited about it! I have done a couple 5Ks…This is how they went:

First 5K – West Texas. Homecoming Fun Run for the university. We started out going UP the steepest hill in town. Literally. Then run around a couple of neighborhoods, go back up a hill, and then back down the first hill. It was pretty brutal. The lady behind me kept coughing up phlegm and spitting it out. *hork!* The best part of it was that I knew one of the police officers who was running traffic for the race, so when he was done at his post, he got back into his car to drive to the finish line. (I was one of the last runners) so as he drove by, he got on the loud-speaker of his police car, encouraging me to keep going. That’s what I love about small towns. Right there.

Second 5K – Shriner’s Mud Run, Humble, Texas June 2011. June. In southeast Texas. It was awful. This was only the like 2nd Annual too, so they weren’t very organized. As soon as the starter pistol was fired, everyone took off, but in the very beginning, there was a giant mud pit and muddy hill to go through and over. Slippery muddy hill + beginning of the race = gridlock. Not only that, but did I mention it was June? In southeast Texas? Where the humidity was about 80% and it was 90 degrees by 9am? Even the water that we ran through was hot. And to top it all off the “official photographer” was only taking pictures of me when I was walking and looked like I was going to die. Why would I want to commemorate that moment in my life? When it was so hot outside that instead of drinking the ice water that was provided for us at the water station, I threw it down into my sports bra to cool off. Does that sound like something you would want a picture of? Cuz I sure didn’t. Of course all the pictures of Hubby made him look like he was in a running magazine. He was running in all of his pictures for one, which made me want to kill him, but he was also smiling. SMILING?!?! Who can smile while they are running in 130 degree weather?! He looked like he was having the time of his life. Not fair.

But this time was different. I have been training like crazy, running between 15 and 20 miles a week, and lifting weights to make my arms and legs stronger. Obviously you want strong legs for running, but you also need strong arms because you use them in your momentum, so if your arms get tired, you have to work the rest of your body harder to make up for it, making you tired faster.

This was my first race with a timing chip!

The Rodeo Run was great – it was the 25th Anniversary, so it was pretty well-organized, and we got there early, so we had some awesome parking near the finish line. I was prepared to run in shorts, but I was wearing sweats over them before the race because it was in the low 50s. I ended up running in my pants too just because I couldn’t imagine standing there waiting for the race to start, and freezing wearing shorts. 

Ready to Run!

So with my wicking shirt, running pants, amazing running shoes, and my handy-dandy GPS running watch, we hit the road for the race.

Now, I understand this is for charity (The Houston LIvestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship Fund) and I’m far from professional, but there were some stupid people we encountered while we were there! First of all, you are asked to line up in order of your running pace. so if you run a 4 minute mile, you should be in front of the people who run a 12 minute mile. We did what we were supposed to do, and got in the area of the 10 minute mile runners. Then I saw a sight in front of me: 4 women all together, wearing full makeup, with their hair done. One of them even had big heavy earrings in. And she was in front of US?!?! I don’t think so. So we walked up to the 9 minute mile area. Apparently we should have been at the like 7 minute mile marker, because for the first two miles we spend so much energy passing people who were already walking (and walking on the LEFT side), we were tired way early.

At mile 3 there was a bridge. Yuck. Bridge = Hill. And hills give me “The Fear” but I was happy to be able to pass people on the bridge as they slowed down. Then to our right, we saw the leaders of the race. Coming back up the bridge. At mile 5. We had to do it twice. Needless to say, I had my doubts.

By mile 4 I thought I was going to have to start walking. I was so disappointed, but my hips were hurting, and my tendons in my right calf were so tight I could barely flex my heel. But I pushed on. Hubby was my little puppy in front of me, looking back making sure I was still there, and encouraging me to continue. And it totally worked. By the time I got to mile 5, I knew I could make it forward to all the SWAG!

Crossing the finish line!

And sure enough, we finished in 1:05:13! I wish I had the energy to carry a camera on this run, because there were some people I wish I could have taken pictures, of, but I couldn’t even wear my heart rate monitor for the whole race! A word from the wise – that thing chafes after 5 miles! I really thought I was going to look down and there would be a giant blood stain on my shirt from the HR monitor.

When we got to the after party, SWAG was everywhere! They were giving away bagels, bananas, water, BEER, frozen yogurt, Go-Gurt, trail mix, Honey Milk, and all kinds of other stuff.

I was pretty tired by the time we got to the car, and even more tired by the time we got home, but it was my birthday so I did what I wanted. I TOOK A NAP.

Pizza, hot wings, and beer were the birthday dinner I had dreamed of for days, so we had that delivered to the house. Happy Birthday to us!

Galveston, oh Galveston…

Like I’ve mentioned before, one of the good things about my job is I get to travel. Not too much, and not too little. On Friday I had the opportunity to spend the day in Galveston and this time, I was prepared!

Binoculars and camera in hand, I was able to bird while working! And this time, I even remembered to keep a note pad with me so I could list out the species I saw. I’m getting better!

As soon as I got to my location, a group of Brown Pelicans flew right over me. ♥

Love.

I got out of the car to walk the area, and was attacked. By these.

Actual Size
 
Seriously. You would never have thought it was February, cold, and rainy based on the number of mosquitoes that surrounded me. It was like Jumanji. I got back into my car, and 5 of them followed me in. I sat there, swatting at them one by one until I was sure they were all dead. I looked out my window, and 3 more were trying to get in. I almost expected one of them to poke a hole through my window and try to stab me that way.
 
Luckily though, they were only bad in the tall grass, so I just avoided that as much as possible. When I knew I needed to go through the tall grass, I kept my mouth closed, squinted my eyes, and ran. Yes, I was running away from mosquitoes. I’m sorry, but something that tiny (ok, these weren’t TINY by the way) and easy to kill should not be able to bite through BLUE JEANS. My hips have been itching for days now because I got bit so many times!
 
When I was finally away from the tall grass I was walking through a wetland area in my mud boots. The entire area was sandy and was covered in little bird tracks, big bird tracks, house cat tracks, dog tracks, and these:
 
Crab tracks

 

These are the holes and tracks of tiny little crabs! I’m not sure what species (I don’t know much about crustaceans), but I think these are the kind of crabs that come out of their hole as soon as the tide goes out and they clean the sand of any edible microscopic creatures before the next tide comes in. This is solely based on my combined limited observations and Discovery Channel, so if you know what species they are, please tell me!
 
 After I finished up at my work location, I drove around the nearby neighborhood and did a little birding. I’m sure the people who lived there were wondering why a Prius was parked in front of their house, but I didn’t care- I was having fun!
 
I was able to identify Short-billed Dowitchers and a Northern Shoveler in one pond area, and in the next there was a Snowy Egret and a male Mallard. He was quite photogenic!
 
"Do you have food for me?"

 

 After I finished up in town, I went to get some lunch at Fisherman’s Warf.
 
Not the same Fisherman's Warf as in San Fransisco

 

It’s a Landry’s restaurant, so it’s a little pricey if you don’t stick to the lunch menu, but it’s really good, you have a view of the water, and you get to sit right next to a replica Clipper Ship, called the Elissa. It’s such a pretty ship!
 
I feel like I've gone back in time....but there are still antibiotics

 

Last time Hubby and I went there, we took some friends who came to visit us over Thanksgiving in 2010. It was cold and windy, but they had never been to the beach before, so we took them down to Galveston to let their son (at the time 5 years old) feed seagulls and let them find seashells like every person int he world should do at least once in their lives! We sat outside on the dock at the restaurant, watching people load up the cruise ship that would be leaving soon, and watching dolphins jump in the port. It was perfect! This time I didn’t see any dolphins, but I had a great lunch and worked on reading Moby Dick. Very fitting, I think.
 
I couldn’t decide what kind of Po-Boy to get for lunch, so the waitor suggested that I combine two different items, like shrimp and oysters. I told him I had never had oysters before, so he thought that was a good choice.
 
The left side is shrimp, the right side is oysters

 

Meh.
 
The shrimp was amazing. The oysters tastes like Canola Oil. But hey, it’s good to know, right? I’ve been told fried oysters isn’t the best way to try them for your first time, but that was the only way they were offered (at least in my budget).
 
But check out their kitchen!
 
I love me some Cephalopods!
The whole time I was getting ready to go down to Galveston, my fear was that it was going to be nuts. Why? Because of Mardis Gras! I was convinced that the streets would be littered with tourists, it would be a hectic drive, and I would be miserable.  As it turned out, I was there early enough in the day, that they were simply shutting down a few streets and setting up parking areas. Not too bad! In fact, the town was actually pretty dead, so I was able to drive around downtown and look at the beautiful architecture!  Next time I go down there though, I will have a driver, so I can take pictures of all the beautiful old houses- some of them are from the 1860s!
 
Before I left, I was determined to get a really good picture of Pelicans in flight. Ok, it didn’t happen because I only saw them flying while I was driving. On the interstate. On a bridge. Couldn’t exactly pull over. But I did get a cute picture of these guys on a dock by a bait shop.
 
Taking a break
 
Bird List from February 17, 2012
Brown pelicans
Cormorants (not sure which species)
Boat-tailed Grackles (I don’t usually count these guys, but if I put them on this list, I never have to include them again!)
Eurasian collared doves (see Boat-tailed Grackles)
Loggerhead Shrike
Killdeer
European Starling (see Eurasian collared dove)
Northern shoveler
Short-billed Dowitcher
Western/Least Sandpiper (not sure which species)
Snowy Egret
Mallard
Redwinged black birds, in their Winter plumage
And about 500 species of seagulls. Yes. 500.