Yellowstone- America’s (First) Best Idea

The National Parks are nicknamed “America’s Best Idea” and I tend to agree. We were so lucky to visit Yellowstone again this year, as America celebrates the National Parks’ centennial. If you haven’t made the trek out to Wyoming to see it, find a way! The magic of Yellowstone never gets old!

We entered through the South entrance and the place was crawling with visitors, as it usually is in the summer. We didn’t stop to visit any of the thermal features this trip, as our furry companion is not allowed outside of the parking lots. We met up with my sister, Beth, and her boyfriend for dinner and drinks. They are working in the park for a second season this year. We stealthily crept back into our van once it got dark to sleep in the employee parking lot. Every single camp site was claimed that night and “boondocking” is prohibited anywhere in the park. Apparently, rangers are known to knock on car windows and issue tickets for violating this rule!

We set a 5:30 wake up call and get down to the Hayden Valley for some wildlife watching. Clint brewed some coffee on the hood of the van while we waited. It was a chilly 31 degrees! We were able to spot elk, lots of bison, two black bears and a coyote. All in all, a successful trip!

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A lone coyote out and about 

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Scout keeping an eye out for wildlife!

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Two black bears ambling around a meadow (the 2nd one is further back)

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Early morning bison watching

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Lamar Valley 

Shadow Mountain- Teton Wilderness Dream

After a few days of driving and a night at the (free) Lander City Park, we were ready to make our way into the woods. Our first destination was Grand Teton National Park, specifically Shadow Mountain in the Teton National Forest area.

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Before making camp for the night, we drove up to Jenny Lake for a walk around the shore. The water was gorgeously clear and I only wish that we had trained Scout to ride along in a canoe! She did make a nice splash into the lake, though. I wan’t able to stand the freezing waters for more than a minute or so!

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This area is a road that meanders through the National Forest and up to the top of Shadow Mountain, overlooking the Antelope Flats and the whole Teton range. Every turn offered up some killer views of the mountains! The dispersed sites are FREE for campers. We staked out a site about halfway up and waited for sunset. The road was dirt and gravel, with steep grades and sharp turns. We saw several truck and camper rigs, but I couldn’t imagine towing anything up there! Our van did just fine, albeit a bit on the bumpy side. For the exact coordinates and directions to our “boondocking” site, click over to Campendium. 

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Next up- Yellowstone! Our third time there in as many years and it never gets old.

Gearing Up

We are gearing up (literally and figuratively) for another long trip this summer. Our destination? Alaska – the last frontier!

As we get some travel time under out belts, planning becomes a little easier with each trip. We have made all of the packing mistakes and have pretty much pared our gear down to the bare minimum needed to be comfortable on the road.

This summer, however, we’ll be plugging along in a brand new “road wagon.” Yes, our faithful steed, the old Malibu has retired from her long days on the road! We purchased a Dodge Caravan a few months ago and couldn’t be happier with it. SO. MUCH. ROOM. We’ve spent a couple of weekends designing and building a bed for the van with lots of storage underneath for all of our stuff. We’re hoping eliminate the need for those late nights pitching the tent in the dark. The van will be transformed into a cozy “house on wheels” minus the whole bathroom and kitchen situation😉

Here’s the current situation:

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A peek under the platform

 

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6” plastic storage tubs slide in and out of the back hatch. 

 

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Sliding storage accessible from both side doors with extra room behind the front seats. 

 

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Joist hangers hold the “slats” firmly in place

The whole system can be removed in just a few minutes and breaks down into individual pieces for storage when we’re not on the road. I have ordered a piece of 4” firm foam to throw on top for a mattress. I’d say we spent about $50 in lumber and hardware. About the same cost as a night in a cheap hotel!

Weekend in the ‘Noog – See Rock City!

We spent a spontaneous couple of days in Chattanooga last weekend – out of the desperate need to spend some time together in the car! Talking, listening to podcasts, singing along to our favorite jams and planning our next meal. Like a breath of fresh air, I say!

The first place we headed on Saturday morning was Rock City – the iconic Chattanooga tourist’s destination for about 85 years! I had visited Rock City years ago as a kid and honestly expected to be underwhelmed. Don’t these things always seem so much bigger when you are little? We were both pleasantly surprised by our foggy, drizzly morning in the enchanting Rock City!

Sadly, we didn’t get a single photo of the beautifully creepy “Fairyland Caverns,” which would have been even more enjoyable for someone who was tripping on acid. Absolutely weird and unexpected.

We spent the rest of our weekend trolling the shops at Northshore and snacking on some amazing food. Clumpies homemade ice cream, City Cafe breakfast, and Terminal Brewhouse beer and pizza!

Podcasts are Taking Over My Free Time

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I’ve noticed that over the last few months, I’ve almost completely stopped listening to music or morning talk shows on my 30 minute commute to and from work.  The Podcast has replaced my jams! Here are a few of my favorites lately, and a particularly interesting episode or two from each to get you started.

Side Note – I listen to podcasts on my iPhone using the Podcasts app, which is free. It compiles episodes like an RSS feed collects your blog posts.

1.Freakonomics – There’s a reason this show is so popular. It is informative and well produced. I also love Stephen Dubner’s sense of humor. I’ve read all of the “Freaknomics” books and I love the podcast just as much. This show drops weekly (on Thursdays).

My favorite episodes are “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language” and “Does Early Education Come Way Too Late?”

2. Stuff You Should Know – Produced by “How Stuff Works,” this show can get you hooked on a seemingly straightforward topic (such as Tupperware or public relations) in a few minutes. The hosts, Chuck and Josh, are also great comedians.

My favorite episodes are “How Grimm’s Fairy Tales Work”  and “How Tupperware Works” 

3. The Longest Shortest Time – This is technically a show geared toward parents, but every episode I’ve listened to has been great for this child-free girl. Hillary Frank is not afraid to venture to any topic!

My favorite episodes are “The Accidental Gay Parents” (2 parter!) and “The Scarlet A”

4. TED Radio Hour If you enjoy a good TED talk, you will love this show. I like that is is focused on one topic, but features many speakers with different viewpoints.

My favorite episodes are “The 7 Deadly Sins” and “Building Better Cities” 

5. 99% Invisible – Roman Mars takes a close look at the things in the background of our lives. Like the fortune cookie or credit cards. Fascinating and quick!

My favorite episodes are “Dead Letter Office” and “Penn Station Sucks” 


 

Taking a Kitchen into the 21st Century (on a Budget!)

About 18 months in, I realized that I never gave a final update on our Ikea kitchen! I wrote a little about why we chose Ikea in a couple of previous posts. Overall, it came down to a balance of value and quality. I’m glad to say that after living with the kitchen for a while now, I absolutely love it! I would use Ikea again in a heartbeat on another kitchen – even if I had a bigger budget. I feel that the quality is much better than stuff we’ve seen at big box stores and the value is incomparable. Now, for the good stuff!

Here’s our kitchen when we purchased the house back in August of 2013. Holy paneling.

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IS-4rj5r0v4upnhBesides the obvious aesthetic problems, it was very dark and the storage was not functional at all. You also can’t see the water damage from a washing machine that must have been there a looong time ago. It was, however, a pretty good size.

Here we are on day 1: notice my dad’s gleeful look! He couldn’t wait to get started with that sledgehammer. The day we bought this house is a day he lives to regret. Sorry, Daddy!

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After LOTS of demolition and many trips to the dump, we had an empty shell to work with. We also cut a pass through into our living room to allow more natural light into the kitchen. Good move!

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Many layers of linoleum flooring scraped and gross water damage in the left corner!

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fresh new subfloor installed by yours truly, Clint, my dad, and a family friend. Also, the paneling is gone! 

This whole thing took place over the course of about six months, with many changes and decisions along the way. The old adage about home improvement is true – you’ll spend twice as much time and money as you thought. After drywall and flooring were installed, we picked up our Ikea kitchen, assembled the many box cabinets, and installed them.

kitchen-assemblyWe also installed a butcher block countertop and bar – also from Ikea. Here’s what my kitchen looks like today, after all those months of blood, sweat, and tears!

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We ended up adding a ton of storage with those corner cabinets on top and bottom. In fact, I still have a few empty cabinets! I love the classic white shaker style doors and black hardware. We also chose black appliances to maintain that look. I know stainless is all the rage, but I fear it may be the “harvest gold” of the future! The kitchen still feels custom to me, even though a carpenter or cabinet maker didn’t touch it. Being able to choose every detail is what made the whole process worth it!

If you’re looking for a kitchen re-do and aren’t afraid to get down and dirty and DIY – go for it!

Splurging in Seattle for the Weekend

We were so excited to come to the Pacific Northwest on this trip – 2 states that neither of us hadn’t visited! After a few days in the woods, we were also pretty hyped to check into a nice hotel for a couple of days. We snagged a deal on the W Seattle on Hotwire (of course) for about 50% off. Not too shabby! We were able to cruise right into town without much traffic and find a parking garage adjacent to the hotel. Hotel parking was $61 per night! Ouch! We saved a lot by parking the car ourselves, but any big city means parking can cost a pretty penny.

All of my parking woes dissipated once we checked into our swanky room.

mmmm... plush beds!

mmmm… plush beds!

I made haste with the extra Bliss bath products and jumped into a bubble bath. Priorities, right? We ran to Target – 3 stories, by the way – for a few restock essentials. A quick Yelp search yielded tons of restaurant options, but we were in the mood for a good pizza and headed a few blocks to Serious Pie. And serious it was! I wish I would have gotten a picture! After a restful night in that cozy plush bed with some HGTV, we got up the next morning with one thing in mind – food!

We are self-proclaimed foodies, and Seattle’s Pike Place Market is the place to sample. We created our own “food tour,” if you will, starting with the city’s best macaroons at Belle Epicurean.

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come to mama

IMG_4349After that nutritious breakfast, we headed straight to the market. I was overwhelmed with how many booths there were! And the fresh flowers were amazing. I told Clint that it would be perfect for a wedding – show up and pick out what looks nice for $5 or $10 per bouquet! I wish we could have gotten some.

had to sample some roasted nuts

had to sample some roasted nuts

lavender!

lavender!

didn't sample the octopus

didn’t sample the octopus

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We continued the food walk at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. I’m kind of a cheeseaholic, so this place was right up my alley. We ordered the Flagship grilled cheese sandwich and the “Worlds Best” Mac and Cheese. I have to say, it was pretty darn good! I know a good mac and cheese…

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perfect balance of flavors - jack cheese, fresh basil and tomato

perfect balance of flavors – jack cheese, fresh basil and tomato

soooo creamy

We had a few other snacks, but finished up at Le Panier, who also claimed to have some of the city’s best macaroons. We ordered croissants, and they were perfect!

i bought one of these cute prints from le panier to hang in my office!

i bought one of these cute prints from le panier to hang in my office!

I finished out the day shopping at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale right down the street from our hotel. We had the best day being tourists in Seattle. This is a city that I can’t wait to visit again. Next up – a mini family reunion in Yellowstone!