• Learning and Exploring

    Pompano Beach, Florida Family Vacation

    My dad found out maybe a year and a half ago that he would be offered a retirement package, so we had family (marrieds and all) vacation planned for ages. We went to Pompano Beach in the Fort Lauderdale area (which is near West Palm beach where all the celebrities and such are; we were driving behind a Ferrari through that area). We left a few days after Christmas and came back a week into the new year. Most of use drove and so we stopped in St. Augustine on the way there and walked around a bit. The weather was too cold to do much, but we did see some pretty, old buildings.

    We are usually a Gulf family. We went to Jekyll Island, GA a couple years ago (our last vacation as an entire family, I believe), and I wasn’t impressed by the water, to say the least. Now, the water was less gross here, but trust me, it’s not the Gulf or San Diego. Mom and I weren’t really impressed with the beach overall although the lighthouse was lovely (the loveliest was the first night with the pink sky behind it . . . I didn’t have my camera or phone then), but we enjoyed it for what it was.

    We were able to get into the water a couple days, and visited the beach almost everyday. I came back with a nice selections of shells and coral (first time for the latter) which I hope to put into a shadowbox. The house wasn’t on the beach but had private access through a corridor, under some trees, over a bridge, and through some grass. We traversed this a couple times before noticing the trees were FILLED with HUGE iguanas. EEP. Actually, it was hilarious to watch them in their perches. Apparently, the NYT had an article mentioning that it was so cold iguanas were falling stunned from the trees; we didn’t see that happen.

    We played tons of new games that many of us received for Christmas, one of the favorites was a game called “Things.” We watched some movies and comedians (you know, real ones, not the goofs in our family), swam in the heated pool, and some people went golfing, played tennis, and went putt-putting. Dad made his traditional Alton Brown recipe doughnuts for New Year’s (I thought they were his best yet). We ate at a Cuban restaurant for one lunch, and we picked up doughnuts twice from a local bakery.

    We mostly saw birds (quite a variety) on the beach after passing through Iguana Headquarters, except one or two days when we say these freaky Portuguese Man O’Wars. If Mom hadn’t said something, I probably would’ve stepped on them since they look like plastic bags. We saw pretty long white birds (they looked so thin they would break) along the highways by standing pools of water, but not much else (my sister and brother-in-law left early and went through the Everglades and saw tons of alligators), except for (we think) dead pumas on the side of the road (I think twice, I’m almost positive once; I am sure I saw a massive cat’s tail and what else is that particular shade of tawny?).

    We had tons of fun, took family photos, and then returned home to the cold although I think we missed the near-to-zero worst of it.


  • Learning and Exploring

    My (Lack of) Travel Experience

    I’ve been reading a lot of travel blogs lately (am I late to this or have they particularly exploded recently?). I’m not well-traveled, but I’d like to improve that. But I will never be a traveler of the sort on these blogs. I’m a homebody, I burn out easily, and I’m not usually ever all that interested in one thing (rather extreme and also, boring, imo), so I’d prefer travel as a part of my life not THE focus. And I’m afraid I would start to quickly not see it as exciting and interesting; I’d rather keep it a bit rare and special (that is a theme with me; if I read or watch something to many times I can almost hate it). Anyway. I thought I’d highlight some of my and my family’s travel experience. I will be in Florida soon!

    My mom’s family took road trips all over the days when she was growing up. My grandparents have taken many trips all over the U.S. in their retirement. They’ve visited Canada and Israel as well, and my grandmother visited Switzerland. My Dad’s family moved from Texas to our current (my and my Mom’s family’s) state, but I don’t know if they ever traveled again. I was born in Michigan as my Dad worked there for several years after college, and then we moved back. Dad’s job has taken him all over the world, but he isn’t adventurous. Even though we were home-schooled, he didn’t take any of us with him overseas. We have, however, traveled with him domestically. Travelgirl has traveled to the Caribbean, Central American, and Oceania (she lived there for several months). I have my passport but haven’t used it yet. I hope to use it within the year at least once.

    We (as a family) stayed in the South and Midwest until the end of 2006. Florida is where everyone goes around here. Or the Smokies. I have visited a few less than half the states, but I haven’t explored all the ones we visited. Sometimes we went with Dad to boring places and stayed in a hotel and swam. I’ll only mention states in which we visited an interesting place.

    Arizona. We visited the Grand Canyon. And driving through the state and seeing the landscape is an experience.

    California. I’ve been twice. We visited San Francisco and Monterey Bay area in January of 2007 with Dad on a work trip. We visited the San Francisco Bay in a boat, the Sourdough Factory, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Monterey bay aquarium, a winery, and various seashores. Then we visited San Diego in May of 2016 during our epic two-week road trip. We visited the zoo, La Jolla Cove, and the beaches. I think Mission Beach the prettiest I’ve been to.

    Colorado. We drove through here on the way back. Colorado is another one of those states which driving through is an experience.

    Florida. My parents took me to Disney and Sea World as a tiny child. I barely remember it. We’ve visited the Gulf at least three times, once to St. George Island.

    Georgia. Visited Jekyll Island. The Island is gorgeous but the water brackish. We saw two turtles released to the ocean.

    Illinois. Chicago once. Chicago area later to visit friends. We ate Chicago style pizza that time.

    Kentucky. Mammoth Cave.

    Michigan. Holland.

    Missouri. St. Louis twice.

    New Mexico. Beautiful, another of those driving experience states. We visited Albuquerque.

    Tennessee. We visited Chattanooga. We’ve been to the Smokies three times.

    Texas. Dad’s family is from there but we aren’t close to his side, so we’ve only made one family trip to see his grandfather on his ranch. We drove through (another experience) North Texas and visited friends in the Fort Worth area during our grand trip. We also stopped at Palo Duro Canyon.

    Utah. So beautiful. An epic drive, but we also visited Zion and Arches.

    Virginia. Williamsburg twice, and Monticello once.


  • Learning and Exploring

    Geography and Travel Links

    Seterra. This is addictive. I want some blank maps, some games (I am almost certain playing “Where in the World” helped our geography), and this map to help me better my geography.

    Life in Germany. I like looking up U.S. vs. some European culture blank. Most of them have attitude and possibly language or topic issues. So it was nice to hear from a kind, Christian raised American kid. And he is funny.

    Sometimes all the places that one can visit is overwhelming. Here is UNESCO’s lists and maps of World Heritage Sites.

    And here is how to find U.S. National Parks (historic and natural), Battlefields, Trails, Monuments, Seashores etc. by state. I’ve been to these parks: Arches, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Petrified Forrest and Painted Desert, and Zion.

    Other national sites I’ve visited or seen: Alcatraz (boat ride, but we didn’t actually visit island); Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial (it was being redone, so it was empty), Blue Ridge Parkway; Colonial (Jamestown, we didn’t see Yorktown); Mohave Desert (we drove through and had to turn our air conditioning off and ride with our windows open per the signs); Petroglyph National Monument; Point Reyes National Seashore, and several National Memorials and Monuments in D.C.

  • Learning and Exploring

    Chicago Pizza

    We went to visit friends near Chicago a couple months ago. So we couldn’t go to a downtown place, but we still did manage two pizza places in one day, the first for thin crust and the second for deep dish.

    We ate at Aurelio’s first, and we ordered one big (18″) pizza and a couple people got a few other items. I got pasta and a salad and had a tiny bit of pizza. But between 8 women and teenage girls the pizza disappeared (with some encouragement and challenging). Also, if you go, you need to ask for brick oven crust to have the best crust made on the old ovens.

    For supper we ate at Beggar’s, a restaurant in an old theater. I had enough brains to get a iphone photo of the pizza but not enough to get one of the venue :(. And here we had deep dish. Now, I am not a pizza person in large part because I am not a tomato person, so I was not expecting to love a pizza famous for tons of sauce. I didn’t, but I loved the crust from this place. It might have sauce in it (oh, contradictory person) as it was peachy colored, but in any case it was delicious.

    After pizza we wound up with ice cream from an old-fashioned ice cream shop called Gayety’s. Perfect.

  • Learning and Exploring

    Blogtember Challenge: The Biggest Adventure I’ve Been On in My Life

    I am linking up here. I just went on my biggest adventure this year. My mom, four sisters and I (we actually didn’t fight too much, lol) spent two weeks road-tripping across the West and Midwest to San Diego and back. This was a flyby trip except San Diego, we stayed a couple days there.

    I could go back to all those places, but I especially would like to go back to San Diego and Albuquerque and to see more of Colorado than the mountains from the road! I have seen the Atlantic (only once in my memory, Jekyll Island; if I visited when tiny I don’t remember it), the Gulf multiple times, and the Pacific twice (the first time was the San Francisco Bay area . . . in January), and the beaches and water in San Diego are the most beautiful that I have seen; I enjoyed the water too even though it was May, and the curving waves that came at different curves and angles were quite interesting.

    Here are my posts, the middle ones are more photo heavy.

    Part 1 Oklahoma
    Part 2 Texas
    Part 3 New Mexico
    Part 4 Grand Canyon
    Part 5 San Diego
    Part 6 San Diego Zoo Part 1
    Part 7 San Diego Zoo Part 2
    Part 8 Last of San Diego
    Part 9 Utah
    Part 10 Colorado and Kansas

    And I was able to buy some goodies (NOT touristy things either)
    Travel Treasures

  • Learning and Exploring

    Final Thoughts of Our Western Survey Trip

    Most of us kept a travel journal. I painted two simplistic paintings on the spot and some rough sketches. I glued in a ticket and a menu. I have added in more details and will continue to do so until I feel it is complete enough, but I need to make a better effort next time by writing quotes, memories, activities, etc. down sooner before I forget.

    I may have mentioned this before, but I added 7 new states for a total of 22 visited/lived in. Now, some of these we only drove through, but I am counting those anyway.

    We brought plenty of car entertainment (far too much; we hardly used any, and we could have used the space), but my youngest sisters provided quite a bit on their own. For example, the first day we were regaled to the entire first verse of “God Bless America” for every.single.U.S.flag my little sisters saw. I feel like we were in flag territory that day too.

    My foodie attempts failed, miserably. I will keep suggesting, but I just need to realize I will probably have to try new places on my own, we are a rather unadventurous and VERY impatient family when it comes to food.

    I recently finished a book on Native Americans which mentioned the economy of casinos on reservations. We saw the evidence of that. We discovered that as reservations have their own regulations, casinos are allowed on reservations in states that do not allow them in other areas.

    I loved seeing all the wildflowers. I feel like the areas of my state that I frequent most do not have the variety that I saw on this trip (or they are mostly yellow and white). I know that picking wildflowers is often illegal, so I did not pick any, but I wished I had researched to see if I could pick some in order to have a few for my travel journal.

    We did not get very far into the trip before I decided to make dream itineraries for other road-trips such as the northwest, northeast, and Blue Ridge Parkway. I would prefer to be less crunched for time and to make foodie exploration more of a priority.

    I did finish one of my photography classes and started reading my photography book before the trip. I brought two spare batteries and two extra memory cards. I replaced my battery maybe twice but used the same (16 GB) memory card even though I shot RAW. I learned some points during the trip and when going through my photos.

    I still overshot, mainly at the zoo; I had my face to the camera the majority of the time there when I should have focused on my favorites and animals unique to the San Diego Zoo. Part of the reason for the the overshooting was the inability to tell how well focused the photos were. I came home with around 1200 (I think) photos. I would shoot and then delete the photos that I could tell were bad, but I need to purge at least 50%. I need to hone my skills, so I can take fewer photos faster (I was hounded about my speed) with a higher success percentage, but I also need to choose my moments and subjects. And I need a good tripod and self-timer if I want quality evidence that I went on the trip!

    I posted unedited and lightly edited photos on this blog, but my main focus is a photo book, and I need to learn more about optimizing RAW photos with editing. I think I will give myself several months to complete this project because 1) I made myself sick of the photos quickly 2) I need to learn more, and 3) I do not want to feel rushed. I also need to research a reasonably priced, high quality photobook. I do not want to pay too much, since no matter how I edit my photos, they will not be professional quality, but I want my effort to pay off.

    A Few Notes for Future Trips
    -Better prepare for photography and art/travel journal (I think I want an insta camera to some quick moments for journal).

    -If I want good food, I will have to buy it. But we should have made the effort to have a cooler. Jerky, nuts, dried fruit, fruit, fast-food etc. is not the greatest diet.

    -Wetwipes are a must; I packed some homemade ones and these proved so popular we bought more.

    -Calculate space for purchases (I toted around a box for my fragile goodies which cause grumpiness).

    -Because of entertaining sisters and sound sensitivity the audiobooks and Adventures in Odyssey mainly served to take up much needed space rather than entertainment. If you can (we couldn’t in that car) take advantage of downloadable options.

    -The coin laundry in hotels is EXPENSIVE. So you have to find a balance between space and expense when packing. Even on low outdoor and exercise days, I did not really want to re-wear clothes after using disgusting restrooms, so I washed clothes more often. Washing in the sink isn’t really an option if you are staying only one night it most hotels because clothes won’t have time to dry.

    -Knits, knits! I ironed too much. I know most people won’t really have that issue, but I really need more casual and easy elegance clothes.

    -I missed a few beauty tools/toiletries. Luxury yes, but I would have been happier with them, and they would have been small. I could also have downsized a few more items.

  • Learning and Exploring

    Travel Treasures

    I bought a few jewels on my trip and picked a few things up off the beach in San Diego (most of what the sea washed in was GOBS of seaweed which is disgusting . . . sayeth the Gulf child).

    In Albuquerque we stopped at Genuine Southwest Arts and Gifts, and I bought two lovely bowls and a pair of glass earrings. The first bowl is made out of micaceous clay which is only found in New Mexico.
    Some sidewalk vendors lined some store fronts in Albuquerque, and I found a lovely turquoise and silver pendant.
    On a San Diego beach I picked up this stone and these mussel shells.

    And in Utah, I bought this tiny piece of Navajo pottery from a roadside vendor.

  • Learning and Exploring

    U.S. Southwest Survey Vacation: Colorado and Kansas or We are Getting Tired of Makings Stops

    We did not make much of an effort to find sites (other than for gas and food) at which to stop for Colorado and Kansas.
    I found Colorado’s landscape refreshing after the barrenness of most of the other states.

     We saw a brick road in Kansas although of red brick. I think that building is of the yellow sandstone that probably inspired The Yellow Brick Road.
    Away in the distance is Fort Riley; we heard artillery go off and saw the smoke from this lookout.

  • Learning and Exploring

    U.S. Southwest Survey Vacation: Utah

    After leaving California we drove through Nevada (only item worth mentioning is that we drove through Las Vegas . . . not nearly as large as I thought) and Arizona again (through a lovely, very close gorge of the Virgin River) and then Utah (where we stayed at the creepiest hotel of the trip).

    We climbed on large rocks to the view the sunset at Pioneer Park which also featured an old jail in the rocks. The next morning we drove to Zion National Park and walked/hiked a couple trails. Then we headed to Arches National Park for quick photos.

    Pioneer Park 

    Zion National Park

    Arches National Park

  • Learning and Exploring

    U.S. Southwest Survey Vacation: Goodbye, San Diego

    When not at the zoo or hotel or running a mini, we visited Ocean and Dog Beach, Mission Beach (first two photos), and La Jolla cove (the rest of the photos). We briefly stopped at the beach there but decided Mission Beach was nicer so went there instead. Mission beach was the nicest, but we liked to watch (from the supposedly clean Ocean Beach) the dogs run and play on their beach.
    I loved how near we could get to all of the adorable roly-poly sea lions (and maybe seals; I know for certain that seals are in the last photo since we saw one with its awkward flopping). I was surprised it was allowed, but someone in charge was watching and called out to maintain a distance. One baby sea lion was snoozing so close to the stairs it could have gotten stepped on; I thought it was one of the rocks at first. Some of the sea lions complained or snarled at people who got too close. I loved the furry looking ones and felt like I could pick up one and squeeze it (I love furry animals especially).

  • Learning and Exploring

    U.S. Southwest Survey Vacation: San Diego Zoo Part 2

     “Hi, Sven!”

    “Hello, Mumford.”
    This jaguar rolled around and stretched right by the edge for several minutes which was quite fun.
    See the tongue peeking out?

    This cheetah jumped up when he/she saw a tour truck and came right up to look at it and then ran along the cage following it. The cheetah was too active/restless plus there were too many large signs to get great shots.