Blogs

California, Road Trip, The World A to Z, Travel

S is Also for Sniff

On our recent California road trip, with the top down, Greg and I realized you can smell all kinds of things you’d miss with the windows rolled up. 

It reminded me of family trips when I was a kid. We had a great big station wagon with wood panels on the side. On vacations, we’d pile in and hit the road with the windows open; the air conditioning off. Dad said the A/C made the car get worse gas mileage, so … no A/C unless it was CRAZY hot. We’d let the breeze waft through our hair, and stick our hands out to surf the slipstream… 

But I digress… On this trip as we drove through the Central Valley, top down on the convertible, we passed huge, vast farms stretching as far as the eye could see. I suddenly smelled garlic. I inhaled deeply. Ahhh … fresh garlic. “Are those garlic fields?” I asked. Greg didn’t know, but a few seconds later we realized there was a big truck loaded with garlic bulbs up ahead. The curative powers of garlic made me calm.

I started sniffing the air. It was filled with amazing, thrilling aromas.

The aroma of tomatoes fills the air near fully loaded trucks.

There’s a hint of tomato as we passed a pair of tomato trucks, filled to nearly overflowing. When we pulled off for gas, a mower emitted the classic summer scent of freshly mown grass. 

Bits of hay fly through the air along with the hay’s fresh-cut scent.

A hay truck spewing tiny blades of hay into the air also delivers the bouquet of fresh hay! 

Some trucks are more stinky than others.

Sure, there are still those not-so-pleasant smells: an 18-wheeler with its punched-hole trailer packed with animals destined to be steaks and pork chops; the occasional roadkill carcass baking in the summer sun sending my fingers up to pinch my nose like I did as a kid; trash trucks reeking of, well, stinky trash. 

Oddly, I noticed you can smell heat. If you’re not so sure about that, the next time someone comes in from being outside in the summer sun, take a sniff … sure, you can smell the sweat, but that smell of sun-baked heat is there, too.

Rose farms outside Phoenix are almost always in bloom.

The best thing is, there are also those everyday smells to tickle your senses … fresh cut grass often includes a wild onion smell, rose fields outside Phoenix send the fragrance of the blooms into the air, the mouth-watering scent of grilling burgers and barbecuing ribs generates a grumble from your tummy. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Remember to take in the smells wherever you go.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Arizona, California, Food, Road Trip, The World A to Z, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

Breaking the Rules: S is for Sip, Savor and Sightsee

When I started my 26-year-plan to see the world alphabetically, I had only two rules: Never go back to a place you’ve been before and the trip has to be outside the 48 contiguous United States.  “S” is for Sip, Savor and Sightsee broke both. 

I blame COVID-19.

International travel is nearly impossible in this worldwide pandemic, so we threw-out the rule book and came up with a two week road trip plan instead. Most of the places we went were new to me, but Greg had been to nearly every one. 

Over the coming weeks, my blogs will mostly focus on where we went and what we did in depth. For today, allow me to share some overall thoughts about the trip as a whole.

The route for S is for Sip, Savor and Sightsee.

The route: From home we headed to Palm Springs, then up to Harris Ranch in California’s Central Valley on the way to Napa and Sonoma for some wine tasting. We built in a weird little weekend break in the middle to fly east to visit my daughter and her three kids, spend time with a few friends (albeit VERY briefly), and take care of some personal business. Back in California, we headed down the coast to Ragged Point (just south of Big Sur), then on to Paso Robles for more wine tasting, then home with another short stop-over in Palm Springs. In both directions we were able to sneak in a couple of minutes with Greg’s mom, who lives in an assisted care facility and is in lockdown due to the virus. 

When we started out, the trunk was full, including a few things we delivered to Greg’s mom.

Two weeks away from home in a two-seat roadster is a packing challenge. Thank goodness for the heat of summer. We didn’t need anything bulky or heavy (although we did take a sweater for cool evenings). We even managed to squeeze in some items we delivered as a care package to Greg’s mom.

Google said the entire route should be 1406 miles. In the end, with all our diversions and wandering, we put 2303 miles on our car’s odometer. In two weeks, we did not have a single day of rain and spent MOST of our time in the car with the top down and the wind in our hair.

We experienced stunning views, foggy mornings and sun-filled afternoons, astonishingly good meals, a wide variety of comfortable beds, friendly people, surprises, challenges and, as expected,a plethora of delicious California wines. 

A few lessons learned:

Planning is EVERYTHING! We knew our route. We made reservations (which are essential for most places during the pandemic). The planning allowed us to make changes easily and enjoy where we were without worrying about what was next or what would happen if something went wrong.

Patience and smiles go a lot further than you expect when a challenge arises. We were able to change hotel rooms (twice!), get a great recommendation for a hot air balloon ride when we got home (ours was cancelled due to heavy morning fog) and receive discounts and free extras just by being nice to staff members.

When you notice you’re ready to go home before the trip is supposed to end, road trips make it possible. We ended up shortening our vacation by a day and a half.

Conversation and relaxation are lost arts that we managed to find by taking our time and going with the flow.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Grab a map, plan a trip and hit the road!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z, Travel

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know.

I recently found myself walking past a former place of work. It was a Monday at 6pm. I looked around and noticed there was no traffic. None! This is a place that would normally be jammed with cars honking and jostling for a car length edge at the stop light. It was surreal, even a little unsettling. 

What happened to rush hour?

Nearby, where I was meeting friends for dinner, I saw the same thing. Empty tables, no one at the bar elbowing their way into an opening and trying to get the bartender’s attention.

I know this place. I’ve driven it, walked it, even flown over it. It’s what I know.

To be fair, it was a nice surprise. I didn’t come here to be reminded of the traffic. I came to spend time with friends. They arrived with Greg … all smiles. 

We chatted the way friends do, catching up and sharing stories of our lives since the last time we were together. I stopped noticing the unusual setting, my spirits lifted. 

The familiarity was absolutely about who we were with, not where we were or what we knew about this place. 

After dinner, we strolled back to their condo and shared a bottle of wine over more stories and laughs. 

We talked about plans for the future. Geoff shared the premise of a new book he’s working on. Tal had us all laughing about a study she’d read about the type of person who believes in conspiracy theories. Greg and I filled them in on ideas for upcoming trips. 

Chillin with friends.

The evening turned late and we got up to go. There were hugs and promises to visit again soon. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Comfort and familiarity with loved ones is worth the trip.

Food, Musings

The Art of Effective Complaining

My mother-in-law turned 90 recently. She didn’t want a party or celebration, but family members kept asking for one until Greg and I told her she should consider changing her mind … peer pressure? She gave in and we decided a small gathering in her senior living facility would be the perfect solution. Her friends and family could gather to fete her with minimal fuss.

Maggiano’s is a family place.

Mom loves Maggiano’s. Almost every time we get together as a family, we end up there for a big dinner. It seemed an easy decision to use a Maggiano’s catering option. The pasta bar fit the bill perfectly and I called the restaurant closest to her to arrange for not one, but two pasta bars. We planned to pick them up the afternoon of the party with time to get the food back and set up before the guests arrived.

Fast forward about a month. I had called to confirm the order three days before the party and everything was set. Greg and his brother-in-law went to pick up the food while I stayed back with an impromptu decorating team of my sister-in-law and niece. That’s when things started going wrong.

The pasta bars weren’t ready. In the end Greg and Brian waited 45 minutes for the food. By then everyone was in such a rush we didn’t notice all the missing items … it was a lot!

The food arrived with the guests and despite the kerfuffle, the small party went off without a hitch. Only those in the know had any idea anything had gone awry. Greg and I, however, were seething inside. 

I am not usually one of those people who makes a fuss, but this was different. We’d paid a lot of money and received significantly less than we paid for. We waited until the party was over, still stewing on being shorted. We decided to hop in the car, drive back to Maggiano’s and say something. Both of us knew we had to get this off our chests.

We walked in and immediately asked to speak to the manager in her office, wanting to keep our complaint for her ears and not those of other patrons She took us into her office and we explained what had happened. We managed to stay calm and simply stated the facts. We told her why we had chosen Maggiano’s, how we called, showed up early, waited too long and failed to check our order because by then we were in a hurry.

Before we’d even finished filling in all the details she interrupted. This was utterly unacceptable! She was NOT happy with what had happened. We had expected an apology. We did not expect her reaction. She offered to refund the entire bill! We were gobsmacked, stunned, completely floored! 

She told us a reasonable complaint with facts and calm details was the exception rather than the rule. She wanted to keep us as customers and told us the service we had received was well below her standards and those of Maggiano’s. She hoped we would accept her offer and return again in the future. We thanked her profusely and assured her that the reimbursement was not only unexpected, but generous and rare. 

We’ve been back to the Maggiano’s in Woodland Hills only once. We would have been back more but our visits to Mom have been slowed by Covid restrictions. It’s on our short list of favorite places to eat when we’re in the area and will remain a favorite.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. You shouldn’t have to be treated unfairly or unreasonably while you’re exploring them, but when you do, speak up … nicely!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Arizona, The World A to Z, Travel

Tombstone. It’s Not What You Think.

Tombstone, Arizona. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen several movies about this shoot-em-up, good-guys-versus-bad-guys Arizona desert town. I added the Gunfight at the OK Corral to my Arizona bucket list when we moved here. This is a classic old-west-meets-tourists-town … right?? WRONG!

Above the mine a display invites you to try your hand at panning for gold.
Headed underground.

For starters, Tombstone was a mining town … not a cowboy town. That bit of information surprised me. We included a tour of the once booming silver mine on our visit. It was surprising to learn there are hundreds of miles of mines weaving their way through the mountains around Tombstone and even under the town itself. Our tour guide shared tales of the mine and miners as we explored the cool, underground passageways. He explained why miners would do the back-breaking, often deadly work involved in digging through tons of rock for bits of silver veins — money! Miners earned four times the average worker. In the old west it was one way pioneers thought they could get rich.

We ascended out of the mine and walked the two blocks to boardwalk-lined Fremont Street. Costumed gunfighters hawked tickets to one of at least three shows designed to lure tourists in to relive the storied Gunfight at the OK Corral. Only one is performed on the site of the original corral. It’s now surrounded by high stucco walls to keep non-paying eyes from enjoying the campy re-enactment of the famed shootout. 

Good guys and bad guys meet on the street.
The good guys share weapons.
The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday.

Knowing the show was a classic “tourist trap,” we paid for admission and found seats on the metal bleachers shaded by colorful canvas tarps. Gunslinging “good guys” Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and his brothers took on the “horse thieving” MacLaurys and Clantons with b-level acting. It was fun and silly … and historically semi-accurate. 

All around town, in saloons and shops, locals will share the true tale that there really were no good guys or bad guys when the shootout occurred. History shares several versions of the events of that day and hearing about them on the dusty streets of Tombstone was fascinating and eye-opening.

Icy cold refreshments and air conditioning.

Craving a little cool refreshment, we headed for Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for a late lunch and ice-filled adult beverage. We reasoned it was the modern version of a shot of whiskey as we channeled the Old West. 

The view from the stagecoach window.
An authentic Butterfield stagecoach. Hop aboard and see Tombstone.

After lunch, we climbed aboard an original Butterfield Stage Coach for a narrated ride through town pulled by a pair of mules. We rocked and bumped past Wyatt Earp’s home, the old jail house and several historic sites as our driver described the people who’d once called Tombstone home occasionally interrupting his tales with a warning to hold on over particularly bumpy sections of road. We both wondered how you could ride on a hard bench in a tiny stagecoach across vast expanses of unpaved prairie and deep-rutted wagon trails for days at a time. 

Tombstone once dubbed itself “the town that wouldn’t die” and it’s holding true to that moniker. The tale of the gunfight, made famous in Hollywood movies, is the core of the town’s focus on its wild west roots. As tourist-centric as many of the sites are, there’s a lot to learn here. A little warning, almost everything comes with an admission charge. After all, Tombstone is like many places around the world that are still alive because of tourists. Everything you’ll want to see is walled off so entrepreneurs can charge an admission fee, but if you look past the cost of admission and vendors hoping to entice you to buy a souvenir, you can find the old west here. The boardwalks along the street still echo with the clip, clop of cowboy boot heels. The pedestrian-and-stage-coach-only Fremont Street is still dust-covered and the absence of cars means you can get a sense of what the sounds and smells of a hot, desert town would be like under the weight of Levis and chaps. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. If you’re lucky, your explorations will open your eyes to a little bit of history you never knew. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z

Tubac … Call First

I am a shopper. I love to find the hard-to-find and unique items native to anyplace I visit. I support shopping from local businesses and family-run or artist-owned shops. It should come as no surprise that a recent trip south of Tucson included a stop at La Entrada de Tubac … a collection of shops and restaurants off Interstate 19. 

I’d seen the brochures for this out-of-the-ordinary outdoor mall and was excited to check out the galleries and stores. Sadly, Covid has left its mark on specialty shops like the ones here and many were closed temporarily; still others were simply closed on Mondays … the day we visited. 

This may sound like a recommendation to avoid La Entrada, but it is not! The few shops that were open were filled with treasures and trinkets. The closed shops showed off even more treasures through their windows. 

We will head back to Tubac in the fall and spend hours browsing the Mexican art, homemade furniture, galleries of paintings and sculptures. This time we will call first to make sure Covid restrictions are lifted.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, make sure it’s not closed before you try to explore it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, The World A to Z, Wine/Cocktails

Try It Again, You Might Like It This Time

Let me kick this blog off by stating for the record I am WELL over 21 and a wine and (mostly) vodka drinker. Greg, however, prefers gin in his cocktails with an occasional Scotch or whisky if the evening calls for it. With that in mind, when Total Wine and More sent out an email inviting me to a virtual gin tasting of Aviation American Gin with owner Ryan Reynolds, I thought it would be right up Greg’s alley. Besides, with so many travel restrictions in place, an online tasting seemed like a safe “trip” for an afternoon.

Everything’s ready. Let the tasting begin.

We headed off to the store with the ingredient list in hand and even dutifully purchased Aviation Gin. Greg’s go-to is typically Bombay or Tanqueray. We got everything set up in our aviation-themed bar and signed in at the appointed hour.

Greg’s ready to mix the first drink.

Ryan popped in and out of the event with his fabulously snarky, sarcastic wit (Hey … turns out we are both VERY fluent in sarcasm!) while bartender/mixologist Travis Tober of Aviation Gin taught us how to create three cocktails. I was leery, but promised to try the drinks, even sipping it neat side-by-side with Bombay for a comparison.

Waiting for my first taste.

WOW! As we learned in the YouTube Live event and with our own taste buds, American gin is not the juniper-forward gin you’re used to! It’s slightly citrusy, sneaks in a little lavender and cardamom then finishes with just a hint of that bitter, piney juniper flavor. I LIKE IT! 

We tried an Aviation Negroni, an aperol-splashed G&T (that’s bar code for gin and tonic) and a refreshing gin and soda with a twist of orange. 

Hey Ryan, come on over! We’ll share Aviation Gin with you in our aviation-themed bar.

It was a quick 30 minutes, but we even managed to sneak in a quick selfie with Ryan on the laptop screen!

What are the lessons here? 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. First, sometimes you can explore new things without ever leaving your home. Second, don’t say no just because you THINK you might not like it, you never know when you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

(Ryan, if you’re reading this, you have an open invitation. PM me, K?)

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Arizona, Road Trip, The World A to Z, Travel

With Kids or Kid Free

Summer vacation! Family travel season! Here’s a piece of advice from a well-seasoned traveler … know what to expect! Parents are looking for places to spend time with their kids. Singles, empty-nesters and child-free couples are looking for ways to avoid all those kids. No matter which way you prefer to travel, with or without kids, there’s one thing for certain: If you end up in the wrong place it can ruin your day. 

You have a couple of choices … go with the flow or avoid at all costs. Just know that whichever you choose, unless you are booked at an adults-only venue, you are likely to encounter little ones at some point. You will even see families with children enjoying a meal in a bar. 

It’s easy to say, but even if you travel all the time, you can still find yourself in frustrating situations like the one that recently happened to us.

Recently, Greg and I made reservations for a mine tour in Tombstone, Arizona. Reservations were required due to Covid-19 restrictions, so I chose a time slot online, paid for the tour and we showed up at the appointed time.

As we checked in, we noticed a “family” of five. It turned out to be grandparents with three grandsons in tow – a boy of about ten and a pair of seven-or-so year-old twins. In the five minutes we waited for the tour to begin, the twins were loud and rowdy and the older brother was a bit of a bully. We gave each other eye-rolling “oh no!” glances. Neither of us had expected kids. I can’t explain why we didn’t expect them … maybe it was the cost of the tour; maybe it was the fact that a mine tour isn’t typically what draws people to Tombstone. No matter why they were there, we braced for a disrupted tour experience!

Our story has a happy ending. Our tour guide saw the same interaction between these three brothers and shut them down in the first moments of the tour. When they started to act up mid-tour, he shut them down again. “Dan” repeatedly warned the grandparents about the dangers in the mine for anyone who wanders away or doesn’t pay attention. He wasn’t mean about it, but we got the sense that he was more serious with our tour, hinting at a few jokes, but holding back others. We laughed it off and moved on, spotting the group several times at other locations as we strolled the town. 

We like kids! In fact, a tradition we’ve started is to offer a “trip with Grandma and Grandpa” as a birthday gift when each of our grandchildren turns ten. Turning Ten Comes With a Trip was a huge success. I’ve often remarked that one of my favorite sounds is the sound of laughing, happy children. BUT … when you’re not expecting kids and the potential for explosive fun or drama that comes with them, it can throw off your mood – don’t let it by being prepared.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored and kids want to explore it, too. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, The World A to Z, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

An Idyllic Find in Southern Oregon

A friend recently sold her home in tiny Jacksonville, Oregon. She and her husband are downsizing and moving north to be closer to her daughter. When she expressed concern about figuring out what to get rid of and how to pack it all up, I offered to help. She gladly accepted and we coordinated dates for me to fly up for a week of sorting, purging, packing and playing. (After all, all work and no play just isn’t an option).

The view through the trees as a rainbow appears over the Rogue Valley.

She picked me up at the tiny airport in Medford … six gates and ONE luggage turnstile … and gave me a bit of a driving tour as we headed to her beautiful home overlooking the entire Rogue Valley.

I was gobsmacked! We drove through Jacksonville and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was positively idyllic. I even joked that it was a bit like Stepford (a reference to the movie, Stepford Wives). We laughed about how true my comment was.

For the next five days we enjoyed coffee and fresh pastries her husband picked up each morning from a local bakery. Each day we tackled a different room. We dug into cabinets, closets and every possible hiding place in her kitchen, dining room and bedroom, making tough decisions about what goes and what stays. We made a run to Goodwill, donated boxes of dishes to a niece and piled more items for another Goodwill run.

Her husband spent his days in his office, making his own tough decisions about books and memories. When he wasn’t packing his own boxes, he was bringing up piles of items from downstairs … more decisions. 

The Carefree Buffalo welcomes you to browse.

But it wasn’t all work. By mid-day each day we threw on a light jacket and headed to a favorite restaurant or nearby destination. That’s when the true flavor of this charming location came through. The shops in Jacksonville are packed with fun, unique items that called to me. I picked out an adorable Lazy Susan to take home as a souvenir … and promptly realized it was too big for my small suitcase. Thank goodness The Carefree Buffalo offered shipping!

We called home and had her husband come meet us for drinks and dinner one night at their favorite restaurant, The Bella Union. A table out back offered shade under the thick canopy of vines supported by steel I-beams. Fountains softly gurgled as the waiter delivered icy cold cocktails. My pear martini is a local favorite since this is pear orchard country.

Dancin Vineyards
The picturesque vineyard includes plenty of food and drink options.
I tried several wines.
The stone-fired pizza is delicious.
There are plenty of options for a wine lover.

Over the weekend, we had a reservation at a local winery, Dancin Vineyards. A solid menu offered lunch choices including a delicious stone-fired pizza. We sipped and chatted and I marveled at the view under blue skies as the waitress described where the grapes from my wine grew. 

All the way over to the red barn.

“From the red barn to the road, right over there.” She pointed across the property to an adorable red barn just beyond rows and rows of perfectly laid out grape vines. It was all I could do not to swoon. 

Desserts … why choose just one.

We found it impossible to choose a single dessert from the menu, so we just got one of each … it was indulgent and ridiculous and FUN!

The next morning we were back to the task at hand, but with our afternoons packed with a little more local sightseeing I left feeling rested and accomplished and filled with memories.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Having a local show you the secrets is a great way to explore it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

California, Musings, Road Trip, The World A to Z

In Praise of the Hotel California

On a dark desert highway …

Our ears were buzzing; our backs tightening. Road tripping in a two-seat roadster has its merits, but bombing down the interstate at 75 mph is not one of them. With the clock approaching 7 p.m., three-plus hours of driving still ahead of us, and a desert thunderstorm threatening, we decided stopping for the night made sense. With a strong cell signal on I-40 outside Needles, CA, Judy perused the upcoming options. 

The lone Marriott property (it’s our go-to chain) in Kingman, AZ was sold out, but the Best Western in Needles looked promising. It cost a little more than we thought we should pay, but it received good ratings on Trip Advisor and looked like the best among the limited choices. She booked the room.

A half hour later we pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of the two-story motor lodge that looked just like the thousands that dot the interstates across the country. We ducked in and on our request Diana recommended River City Pizza Company about a quarter of a mile down the road. 

The room, like the rest of the motel, was just like thousands of motel rooms that dot the country … a king bed, two nightstands, a small table with a pair of chairs, a low dresser, microwave, fridge and standard bath. The furniture was dated and a bit worn, but the bed was crisply made and the carpet clean. The air conditioner hummed softly and blew fresh, cold air — a bonus since they can often be loud and musty.

We called in an order for pizza, grabbed some ice from the machine off the lobby and poured the last of our pre-made cocktails (brought from home) into the plastic cups near the sink. 

We toasted the joys of getting off the road when you’re hungry and tired just as the pizza arrived — fresh, hot and really good! We celebrated the little things, thankful to be off the road as the winds picked up and the storm hit.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes taking a break makes the journey even better.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020