Mommy does a happy dance!

It was the middle of September when we arrived back at the Cherry Creek State Park located near Denver, Colorado. We had an enjoyable and enlightening seven week sojourn that took us to the Midwest and back (I put a map of the trip at the end of this post). Family visits and exploring new territory made for a memorable trip.

Cherry Creek State Park

“Is that you, Ms. Ingrid”, the deer asked quizzically?

As pleasurable as the trip was, it was nice to be back in familiar territory and enjoying regular visits with our daughter again.  I was also relishing the full hook-ups.  After seven weeks of partial to no hook-ups, it was nice to be back in luxury.  Let the cleaning commence!

Colorado State Parks

We enjoyed a wonderful campsite at Cherry Creek SP and loved the neighbors

After getting caught up with chores, we found time to visit with old friends and connect with new.  Fellow blogger Larry, his wife, and sister-in-law were passing through the Denver area on their way back home in Tennessee. Larry and I have followed each other’s blogs for a while now. Thus, when the opportunity to meet up presented itself, we jumped at it.

Bloggers

Blogger luncheon – from left to right; Al, me, Pat, Bev, and Larry

Since we were camped at opposite ends of the Denver Metro area (well over an hour apart), we rendezvoused at the C.B. Potts Brewery in Highlands Ranch where the conversation AND laughs (and maybe even some Beer) flowed freely for nearly four hours.  Obviously, we all had a great time and now with both of us bloggers slowing down the travels, it’s time to get back in the kitchen.  Larry is always cooking up something yummy over at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings and I can always use a little inspiration.

Daughter and I go for a hike in the Colorado Rockies

Daughter and I go for a hike in the Colorado Rockies

Ok, now for the BIG news…..  Before we left Denver around the end of July, our daughter, Ashton, had been talking about needing a change.  When she visited a close college girlfriend last spring in Texas, she started thinking about moving to San Antonio or Austin, Texas.  The thought came somewhat of a surprise to hubby and me considering she’s our little mountain goat who has always sworn she would never leave Colorado, but seems she may have inherited that gypsy gene after all.

Could this gal ever leave Colorado?

Could this gal ever leave Colorado?

So, there I was in northern Illinois visiting with my dad when the phone call from Ashton came in.  Hmm, it was an actual phone call versus a text message, which of course sent me into mommy worry mode immediately.  I hurriedly answered the phone, “Is everything okay?”  Ashton responded in an upbeat tone, “Yep, sure is.  I’ve decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona”.  SAY WHAT!

Ashton having a reflective moment at St. Mary's Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

Ashton having a reflective moment at St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

In order to understand my utter shock you have to understand, during every visit to Phoenix that daughter made, she repeatedly announced, “I could never live here”.  To some St. Mary's Glacierdegree, she didn’t even like visiting, but considering her brother lived in Phoenix and we (her parents) spend a great deal of our winter in the area, she would visit to be with family, but always reluctantly.

I won’t bore you with all the ensuing calls, text messages, and emails that followed after her initial heart stopping announcement, but I would like to preface, not once did our daughter EVER ask us for our help or assistance regarding the move.  However, that didn’t stop hubby and I from going into parent mode and canceling our Upper Michigan Peninsula leg of our trip and returning to Denver a few weeks earlier than originally planned.

One of just many advantages to RV travel is the ease of changing plans.  A few clicks of the mouse here and a little research there and ta-dah ….. we’re onto Plan B which in this case included exploring South Dakota and eastern Nebraska on our return to Denver.  And if you all remember, Plan B turned out great!

Mommy does a happy dance!

Mommy does a happy dance!

Quite frankly, I was so excited for Ashton to embark on this new journey that I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.  I had recommended this move to her for the past couple of years and each time I even mumbled the thought, I was met with a rude dismissal.

Perhaps, she just needed a little time to mull the idea over.  Regardless, I’m one happy mom having both my children in the same city.  This year will have our family of four spending Thanksgiving and Christmas together for the first time in five years.

I’m still dancing, can you tell?  …..  Next up, the big move.

On our last day in Denver, we witness the eclipse

On our last night in Denver, we witnessed the eclipse

Eclipse

St. Mary's Glacier

Ashton and me – St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

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Our Boomerang Trip – Badlands

South Dakota, BadlandsFrom Mitchell, South Dakota, we continued our westerly trek.  I couldn’t wait to get to Badlands National Park.

South Dakota’s Badlands holds a special place in my heart.  I was a mere 14 years old the first time this gal from Illinois laid eyes on this incredible land.

It was the first family excursion in my dad’s new pride and joy; a brand new motorhome.

South Dakota Badlands

Badlands, South Dakota

That was an exciting adventure for our family of five, because this was a trip that didn’t entail fishing in Wisconsin, my dad’s favorite pastime.  Family vacations ALWAYS centered around camping near fishing action.  No fishing involved during this trip!South Dakota, Badlands

My brother was eighteen at the time and getting ready to head off to college.  Dad put him in charge of navigating, which was a much better choice than my mother, who could get turned around in the blink of an eye; directionally challenged one might say.  While the guys were up front driving and navigating my little sister, mom, and myself sat at the dinette table taking in the sights out of the motorhome’s big windows.Badlands, South Dakota

The barren, rugged land made mom quite uncomfortable. While the rest of us were oohing and aahing, she sat in silence.  You see, mom and dad grew up in Germany, even my brother was born in Germany and this kind of vast desolation doesn’t exist in her homeland.  This was like nothing she’d ever seen before and it made her feel uneasy.

South Dakota, BadlandsWe stopped at various pull-outs and scenic overlooks before it was time to decide where to camp for the night.  Dad was definitely feeling adventurous during this trip and decided to take the twelve mile rutted and rough gravel-dirt road to the primitive campground.  It wasn’t a campground, but merely a designated parcel of land allowing overnight camping.   I don’t even remember there being a pit toilet, just raw open land.  Ah yes, this is what us RVer’s now refer to as boondocking.South Dakota, Badlandsprairie dogsThis was definitely not mom’s idea of a relaxing vacation and I remember her freaking out as my brother and I took off exploring.

I wanted to see buffalo and maybe even a rattlesnake.  I saw neither during that trip but wasn’t disappointed because the adorable Prairie Dogs captivated my attention.South Dakota

So here I am, umpteen years later and oohing and aahing every bit as much, if not more, as I did years ago.  I really wanted to camp at that same primitive campground from the family trip, but with temperatures in the 90 degree plus range, we opted to stay at the Cedar Pass Campground with electric hook-up so we could run our air-conditioning during the heat of the day. camping in Badlands

Cedar Pass

Loved my view! Cedar Pass Campground – Badlands National Park

However, a trip to the primitive Sage Creek Campground was in order.  I had to refresh my memory.  Unlike my last visit, this time I saw plenty of buffalo aka bison.

camping in the Badlands

We pass herds of bison on the way to the Sage Creek Campground

We turned off the main paved road onto a well maintained gravel road.  The road was in much better condition than all those years ago.  We continued the twelve miles down the road passing herds of buffalo in the distance.  The sky was hazy with smoke drifting down from the Pacific Northwest wildfires.South Dakota Badlands

Not only was the road very well maintained, the campground turned out to be a little more developed than all those years ago.  There were picnic tables and pit toilets…. no water.  The campground is used predominantly by tents, but is also accessible to RV’s.

camping in the Badlands

Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park

Bison routinely meander through this campground causing a need to watch where you step…. fresh Bison droppings wouldn’t be fun to step in.

Buffalo in the Badlands

The cars give perspective showing how large Bison are.

I assure you, on our next visit to the Badlands National Park we WILL definitely be Badlands National Park, South Dakotastaying at this campground.  I’ll admit though, I did have an uneasy moment with one Buffalo.

I was sitting in the truck taking his photograph when he started to approach me; heading straight toward me and the driver’s side door.   As his pace quickened in my direction, I dropped my camera and put the truck in drive, not waiting around to see what his intentions, if any, were.  Perhaps we made eye contact a little longer than he liked or perhaps he just wanted me to scratch behind his ears horns.  Didn’t matter, I was outta there!

Bison have been known to attack, so ample distance, a wide berth, and good judgment should always be heeded.

Badlands National Park

Check out the wounds on this guy!

After my fun moment of reminiscing and communing with buffalo, we continued on the scenic drive to the town of Wall, located near the Badlands National Park western entrance.  This is definitely a tourist attraction complete with plenty of souvenir and T-shirt shops.

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug is the focus of this tourist draw and although Al and I usually shy away from such venues, we found ourselves entertained.  The story of the Hustead family is one of tenacity and the pioneer spirit.  You can read their fascinating story here.  We were also surprised to find a place where you can still get a cup of coffee for 5¢.  Granted, we’re not talking designer coffee (aka Starbucks), but for a nickel it was a tasty cup of Joe.

Wall Drug

The corridors at Wall Drug were filled with old photos and newspaper clippings. History buff hubby loved it and even non history buff me, found it enlightening and interesting.

Three T-shirts later (yeah, I have a thing for T-shirts), we headed back to camp.  I spent the next couple of days close to camp observing natures beauty.

Badlands South Dakota

Beauty near and far!

Upon first glance, the buttes, spires, and pinnacles of this steeply eroded land may look desolate.  But if one looks closely, diverse and beautiful signs of life can be discovered.Badlands

There’s an abundance of rich and varied vegetation, including one of the largest mixed-grass prairies in the country.

Badlands National Park

 

 

And then there’s the bountiful wildlife.  A watchful eye and a silent slow pace will reward onlookers.

This land of extremes, evokes a sense of mystery.  While living in my RV surrounded by the Badlands, I immersed myself in this surreal landscape.

South Dakota, Badlands

I share the amazing scenery with my friend perched on the picnic table.

Badlands National Park

these little blue birds offered a sharp contrast to all the unique colors seen in the Badlands

South Dakota, Badlands

Mountain Sheep abound in this harsh environment

Badlands National ParkThe weather can be extreme but when approached with a preparedness, the Badlands can offer an endless supply of pleasure and fascination.Badlands National Park

Due to the smoke-filled, hazy skies and extreme heat during our visit, our explorations at Badlands National Park may have been minimal, but the visit was equally as memorable and special as my childhood experience.Badlands National Park

I’m so glad we changed up the trip and added this stop to the itinerary.  I know….. I’ll be back! (she said in a heavy Austrian accent)Badlands National Park

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Our Boomerang Trip – Part I

I can’t believe it’s September already.  It seems like just yesterday when I was in the planning stages for our Midwestern excursion.  And here we are, it’s the middle of September and I’m back in Colorado where we started six weeks ago.  It was pretty much an out and back trip….  Kind of like mimicking a boomerang one might say.

Let’s do a quick recap of the first part of our trip…..  We pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park (Denver) at the end of July and after a quick overnight in a Cabela’s parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, (forgot to add this stop on the above map – oops) we arrived at Starved Rock State Park.  We took in a couple of days exploring this interesting Illinois State Park before driving up to the Paul Wolff Endangered CranesCampground.  I loved the location of this county park.  It was an easy 20 minute drive to my dad’s place which allowed us to visit with him often, and if we had wanted to take the train into Chicago, the train station was only 5 minutes away.

From our Elgin location, we moved over to Rockton, Illinois, where we stayed at Al’s sister’s place for a wonderful ten-day visit.  After Rockton, our next destination was Baraboo, Wisconsin.  I was thrilled with the hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park, but the highlight of this stop was my visit to the International Crane Foundation.

Green Bay PackersAfter communing with cranes it was time to commune with friends in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where I was challenged to wear a Packers Jersey.

After my momentary lapse, we moved over to Algoma, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan.  This is where I discovered Door County and its magnetic personality.  Quite frankly, I fell in love with the area and could’ve stayed a month.  I can imagine the fall colors around here to be stunning and worth sticking around for.

Algoma, WI

Camped in Algoma, WI. The marina on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Loved camping on this peninsula with water on 3 sides. Sunrise Cove Marina and Campground was basically a gravel lot with electric hook-up and thus merely ok, but the location was great; waterfront & walking distance to town.

As much as we considered hanging around Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a little leaf peeping, we decided to turn the RV around and head back west to assist our daughter with a project.

Foggy morning

Early morning fog as we drive through Wisconsin

So with Plan B in mind…. It was time to say good-bye to the Midwest and mosey in a westerly direction.  The morning of August 27th started off foggy as we began our journey west.  We put in an eight-hour travel day (360 miles – 574 km) that first day, crossing the entire state of Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.

Wisconsin

We enjoyed driving some back country roads but sure hoped this bridge was high enough. No height was specified and an RV crew cut was NOT part of our plans. Fortunately, we did see a tall truck pass under first.

We stopped frequently and even enjoyed a road side picnic near Necedah, Wisconsin.Ship Rock Wisconsin

By dinner time that first day, we checked into a campsite at Myre-Big Island State Park, near Albert Lea, Minnesota.  This is a heavily wooded state park and even though they market the White Fox Campground loop as the prairie loop, it is in no way situated in a prairie.

Albert Lea Minnesota

Myre-Big Island State Park. We’re camped in site 55 White Fox CG loop.

Albert Lea Lake

After an eight-hour day in the truck, it felt good to stretch the legs and check out the trails

Albert Lea Lake

Albert Lea Lake – it was disappointing that there were no trails with access to the water’s edge.

We originally intended to relax and spend two nights at this state park, but it was raining when we set up.  It continued to rain all night and was expected to not let up for another day.  So we hit the road early the next morning, wearing rain gear as we broke camp, and drove through the rest of Minnesota in a consistent and steady stream of rain.Minnesota

A few miles into South Dakota, the rain stopped.  We encountered sunny skies with a hint of haze caused by the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  Just in time for a late lunch, we set up camp in the Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Cabela's

We’re parked in the distance at the Cabela’s in Mitchell, South Dakota

Cabela’s had a HUGE area for RV’s.  The semi-trucks seemed to be parked off in another lot and there was even a separate area for equestrians complete with horse corrals.  This turned out to be a great place to overnight, complete with pond.

Cabela's

The smoke from the wildfires gave the sky an interesting hue at sunrise.

Cabela's

Although overnighting at a Cabela’s is free – we always manage to find something to buy.

Next stop; South Dakota’s Badlands and Black HillsBadlands
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Let’s get social

After enjoying regular luncheons with my dad, it was time to give him a break and find someone else to chat with over lunch.  It didn’t take long before fellow blogger, Ilex of Midwestern Plants, and I were setting up a time and place to meet.  Ilex is anything but shy, but does shy away from posting her photo on the blog.

friends

Ilex and me

So once a time and place were arranged, she graciously sent me a photo of herself letting me know I wasn’t meeting some crazed old guy.  Let’s face it, one crazed old guy in my life is plenty …. hehe!

After a mere three-hours (trust me, we could have talked longer), Ilex and I  parted ways determining it would be a blast to camp together some day.

The next day, I met an old friend for lunch.   St. Charles, Illinois, seemed to be a nice half point for us to meet.  Brenda and I originally met at a postnatal exercise class 28 years ago.

friends

Brenda and me

Shortly after Brenda’s son and my son started kindergarten, Al and I (and our kids) left Illinois and moved west. Somehow Brenda managed to kept track of all my changing addresses.  Over the years, I always looked forward to receiving her Christmas cards with the latest family photo.

We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty-some years and it was wonderful reconnecting and filling each other in on our lives and that of our children.

St. Charles, Illinois, is a quaint little town that sits along the Fox River.  It’s located about 40 miles (64km) west of Chicago.  I noticed the town is cutely decorated with foxes throughout.

Fox River

St. Charles, Illinois, sits along the Fox River

Brenda was running late for our luncheon, which didn’t present a problem for me or my camera.  I wandered around the town a little and slipped into the Hotel Baker, a historic landmark.  After all, I’m always on a quest for blog material.  And with my dear readers in mind, I proceeded to roam around the hotel snapping photos ….. that is until the manager interrupted me.Jenny McCarthy wedding venue

I had just completed taking some photos of this stunning event room when the manager approached me with a quizzical eye and stern comment, “Can I help you?”  Being quick on my feet I responded with, “Why yes.  I’m looking for a wedding venue for my son”.  He didn’t seem to buy it and informed me that I’d need to set up an appointment with the gal at the front desk.  His body language indicated where the exit was.  Now I know how Julia Roberts felt in Pretty Woman.

historic landmark

me in the lobby of the Hotel Baker – just trying to blend in!

A little factoid I did not know until I started putting this post together:  Turns out Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg chose this historic hotel to celebrate their wedding weekend with family and friends.  I’m sure we all care and wish them the best 😉 but that might explain the managers concern; perhaps I looked more paparazzi than Julia Roberts hooker.  Reality; more like an RV traveler in a non-RV world.

St. Charles, Illinois

elevator doors at the Hotel Baker

Although the hotel is rather small, some of the historic details were quite interesting and beautiful.  I can see that the Hotel Baker makes for a lovely wedding venue.wedding venues in Illinois

Thanks Ilex and Brenda for your company and taking the time to share lunch with me.  Next up, we move to Al’s sister’s place and ever closer to the Illinois – Wisconsin border.St. Charles, Illinois
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Losses are never easy

cactus flowerWell folks, I had a post all written and ready to go out today sharing the continuation of our travels through Colorado, but I’ve decided to hold that one off for a few days. Today I want to share the joy of forging friendships through the blogosphere.

Over the past three years, I’ve had the honor of developing some wonderful friends through the blogging world.  Some of these friendships have developed into more than internet based relationships, which has been an unexpected pleasure beyond my wildest dreams.  Coffee dates, hiking meet ups, and brew pub get togethers with fellow bloggers have turned into true and hopefully long-lasting relationships.  Due to geography, most blog followers will remain as internet friends, or ‘cyber friends’, and that’s ok too as I treasure those friendships as well.

One blogger I was looking forward to running into one day was Wayne from the Blog Turn when the road does.

DragonflyHe and his wife, Rhonda, went full-time in the RV shortly before Al and I did, and we’ve been following each others blogs ever since.

Our comments flowed freely back and forth along with emails.  Sometimes our emails were lengthy, especially when it came to subjects like best route to take or truck engine issues.  Other times, the emails were short and humorous. Our last communications centered around food and the healing effects of proper nutrition.

Wayne was struggling with a terminal illness and was willing to think outside the box.  Wayne was the impetus for me starting a second blog, a blog centered around healthy eating. He wanted me to share some recipes and ideas with his wife, and thus Dally in the Galley was launched.

The way in which our conversations flowed, one would think we had actually met face to face.  Unfortunately, I won’t have that privilege as Wayne recently lost his battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis.  I still can’t believe how quickly the illness progressed.  Even after a dear friend shared the tale of the loss of her brother due to the same illness, somehow I hoped Wayne’s story would end differently.

squirrelAnd although we never actually met, I still viewed Wayne as a friend…. albeit a cyber friend and the loss saddens me greatly.

The day before his passing, Al and I were hiking near the town of Frisco, Colorado.  The elevation was well over 9,000 feet.  As we climbed in altitude taking in deep breaths, my thoughts wandered and I said to Al, “I hope Wayne is ok”.  While I filled my lungs with air my eyes welled with tears.  I was overcome with a flood of emotions.  I felt a sense of unease, great sadness, and concern for Wayne.

On the other hand, I was thankful the thin air had little impact on Al and me and our ability to hike and breath.  Any huffing and puffing Al and I did was no different from what we experienced in Arizona at a much lower elevation.  I counted my blessings and was grateful for each contraction and expansion of my lungs.  Breathing was something I didn’t take for granted that day.  Thoughts of Wayne were ever-present.

loss of a friendI watched my mother struggle to breathe while loosing her battle to COPD and I knew Wayne too was struggling for each breath.

I was saddened beyond words when a fellow blogger, another cyber friend, sent me a message letting me know Wayne had passed.

I extend my thoughts and prayers to Rhonda and the rest of the family for their loss.  May they find comfort and peace knowing Wayne was well liked by many; those he met in person and those he met online.  We all viewed him as a friend ….. a great loss to the blogging community.

Rest in peace my friend…. my cyber friend….. you will be missed !!!loss of a friend

A Labor of Love

saguaro flowersSometimes I just don’t know where the time goes. The month of April and beginning of May whizzed by as hubby and I managed to stay incredibly busy.  So what exactly kept us so busy?

The major project was helping our son with some remodeling and updating on his home.  Logan bought his house at the perfect time.  Four years ago the housing market in Phoenix, Arizona, had bottomed out and with the help of his mom (moi) he found an awesome deal.  However, the house had been vacant a year and a half and was in dire need of some attention and TLC.

Upon initial move in, the house was given a good scrubbing and a little painting.  The rest would need to wait until Logan could rebuild his savings.  In our opinion, a young person purchasing their first property in their early twenties is quite an accomplishment, especially when you consider our son had absolutely NO financial help from us or anyone else.  Hubby and I merely provided support and housing knowledge.

remodel

The finished living room. The only things purchased new – carpet, wall clock, curtain rod

IKEA

shopping at IKEA is always fun

This visit, Al and I had a ton of fun spending our son’s money during this remodel phase.  We laughed as we watched Logan stress out throughout the entire process.  Is this what’s known as ‘pay back’?

Our son is rather frugal and hates spending money.  Of course, I had a great time shopping with his credit card and going over budget.  Even Al (who is not a shopper) had a fun time at IKEA and the many visits to either Home Depot or Lowe’s.  We hadn’t realized there was part of us that kind of missed the housing industry.  So much so, that Al and I jumped into remodel mode and took over.  We felt this was perfect timing to educate the son on how to remodel.  However in the middle of the project, Logan got very sick followed by an allergic reaction to some medication.  That meant Al and I needed to step into overdrive.  Besides, it was just a matter of time before the open road would be calling and those RV wheels would start moving.  So the project needed to get done asap.

No complaints from us, as Al and I were in our element and having a grand time.  This was a labor of love after all and nothing our son expected.  As a matter of fact, he felt guilty not being well enough to contribute.  Not a problem, he was after all supplying the funds and allowing his mommy to go shopping 🙂

Even though Logan spent more (well actually, I did the spending!) on the updates than originally budgeted, he couldn’t stop smiling by the time it was all said and done.  Although he grew up around new construction and fix and flips, it was never his ultimate responsibility or his nickel until now.  According to him, “All the stress was worth it in the end”.

Hmm, how many people does it take to change a light fixture?  Obviously three!

Logan steady’s the ladder while Al climbs to the top of the ladder and plays electrician. I’m on the plant ledge as an extra set of hands.  Team work at it’s best!  Oh, and do note, the wall color is a lovely, creamy beige that took on a funny tint in the photos… grrrr.  I’ll have a word with the photographer about that 😉

remodelingConsidering we were working on a rather tight budget, I think the improvements turned out nice.

So what all was done?  The majority of the interior was painted by professionals and supervised by hubby and me.  All the carpet was replaced.  The new carpet was purchased and installed by Lowe’s. BTW – We had a great experience dealing with the Scottsdale Lowe’s (Kevin at the Scottsdale Rd – Frank Lloyd Wright Rd location).

Logan and a couple of buddies moved out all the furniture and later replaced (we do draw the line at heavy lifting).  Al and I removed and disposed of the old carpet and pad.  I purchased and hubby installed EVERY light fixture inside and outside.  I did some yard work;  trimming plants

pomegranate

Logan has a pomegranate tree in his backyard

and adding pots.  I painted bathroom vanity cabinets and Al installed hardware.  Once the new carpet was installed, I went into decorator mode to pull it all together.  I still have some things upstairs to tend to that I’ll address in the fall on our return to Phoenix.

We organized the garage (considering more than half the stuff in there is ours, it was the least we could do).  There were a bunch more odds and ends that we did just not worth mentioning but also time-consuming.

If I had my druthers and a larger budget, the word “gut” would have been used.  My son cringes with fear as he envisions his savings account deplete whenever I say I can’t wait to “gut” your kitchen or let’s “gut” that bathroom.  “Take it down a notch, mom, take it down”, would be his response.  I was also dying to replace all the furniture and have the exterior painted, but a young, straight guy in his twenties doesn’t much care about décor as long as he has a comfy place to crash in front of a big screen TV, he’s a happy camper.  So take it down I did… darn those budgets 😦

Logan

my son, Logan, and Me.

saguaro flowersWe bid farewell to our son in Phoenix and the beautiful blooming saguaros last week.  Not without lots of hugs, kisses, thanks, and enjoying more than one celebration which included plenty of cheesecake.

During our time in Phoenix, we celebrated Al’s birthday, Logan’s birthday, and Mother’s Day repeatedly.  Come on, after all that hard work, a little play was needed.

And speaking of play, I can’t forget to mention my blogging pals.  By hanging around Phoenix as long as we did, that offered me the opportunity to meet up with a couple of blogging gal pals.

Anne from the blog Vannilla and I finally managed to arrange a meet up.  What a treat to finally meet and after a 3 hour lunch we parted ways with the promise to touch base again in the fall.

Vannilla Rock

Anne and me at Kierlands Commons in Scottsdale, AZ

blogger

Nancy and me

Nancy and I spent free admittance day at the Botanical Garden having way too much fun snapping away with our cameras.

And then I always have to meet my blogging friend Amy when we can find time in our busy schedules.  Amy was the first blogger I met face to face.  That was almost 3 years ago.

The remodeling and socializing kept us busy enough, but we filled our schedule with even more……  I’ll share that in the next post.horticulture

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Blogging Lessons Learned

We all start blogs for different reasons.  I started this blog a little over three years ago as a means to personally document our travels and keep family and friends up to date on our journey.  I’ll admit, it’s morphed into something much more than I ever expected.ButterfliesI never anticipated the social aspect of blogging and the making of some wonderful friends along the way…. what an amazing discovery.  Some of those friendships will remain cyber based while others have and will develop into more.  Thus, I’m very pleased I started the blog.

Botanical Garden

new friendships are forged – Nancy from Two Trails One Road and I enjoy a day at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ

The past couple of weeks, hubby and I have been doing some remodeling on our son’s home and having a lot of fun in the process.  I know, our son thinks we’re crazy too. While painting cabinets, my mind wandered as I thought about blog material.  “What ever shall I write about?”  I thought about how comfortable I’ve become with writing and sharing.  It sure wasn’t that way in the beginning.   It took me awhile to find my style, my voice, and learn some lessons along the way.  So today I thought I’d share a few of MY personal thoughts and opinions on blogging and a few lessons learned.

blogging 1011.  First off, there’s no right or wrong way to blog.  Blogging is personal.  Some folks blog as an outlet to express themselves while others hope to monetize their site.  Some of my favorite blog sites are the ones that are educational.  I’ve picked up great photography tips as well as discovered some ‘must see’ places to visit from other bloggers.

2.  Finding my voice.  It took me awhile to find my voice and style.  I really struggled with this in the beginning.  I remember watching American Idol years ago and the judges would always tell the contestants to make the song their own. That’s easier said than done, but in the end it’s all about being yourself, being honest, and true to yourself. There’s no need to copy or plagiarise.

3.  Writing has never been easy for me.  I can’t tell you how many times I stare at a blank computer screen with severe writers block.  It took me awhile to find what works for me.  I need to visualize.

bloggingAl and I went on a fabulous hike several weeks ago and I couldn’t wait to write about it, but couldn’t seem to find the words.  A friend of ours wanted to know all about the trail and whether or not he and his wife should attempt the hike.

As soon as I envisioned myself sitting across the table having a drink with Gary, the story of that hike made it onto the blog in quick order.  So now whenever I get stuck with that blank computer screen, I visualize I’m chatting over coffee with a dear friend.

4.  White space.  It’s important to break up text with paragraphs and pictures.  By breaking up the text it’s easier to read and less overwhelming.

5.  Speaking of pictures – always, always include a photograph, cartoon, or graph of some sort to hold the reader’s attention.  Think of an ad in a newspaper.  All ads have some visual content that draws the reader’s eye in.  It’s important to add that visual content even if your blog is writing based.  That visual aid will help tell the story and keep a reader’s attention.  It’s also extremely important to display the photo or graph large enough for readers to see it clearly.

Do not expect readers to click on an image to enlarge it. Most folks don’t have the time or inclination to enlarge individual photos.  I know I don’t.  I will however enlarge a gallery when it’s displayed in a slide show fashion, IF I have time.  In many of my earlier blog posts, my photos were entered in the thumbnail or medium size format.  It was only after a couple of seasoned bloggers recommended that I post my photos in a larger format that I started doing just that.

wild donkey's

Are you listening? Yes, I’m all ears!

6.  Write an About page letting folks know what you and your blog are all about.  Before I decide to “follow” a blog, I always read the About page.  Not everyone is

blogging tips

I’m not afraid to show you the real me!

comfortable posting a photo of themselves, but I find a photo along with general information of residency to be more engaging – more relatable.

7.  Editing is a biggie.  I’ve learned to edit and then re-edit…..   proof read, reread, and spell check.

I try to do my homework on a subject by doing proper research before publishing. I do get it wrong sometimes and am never insulted when a reader enlightens me to my faux pas.  I also like linking to other sites giving my readers the option of more information if they’re interested.

Keeping my posts simple and under 1,000 words is my goal.  If I have a long story, I break it up into parts.

8.  And then there’s the social aspect of blogging; this has been the most fun for me.  Make sure your Gravatar is linked properly or other bloggers can’t visit your site. That is if you enjoy the social aspect of the blogosphere, and if not, that’s ok too.

I love receiving comments and responding, but every now and then a troll stops by…. you know, someone looking to pick a fight.  I can honestly say in the time I’ve been blogging I think I’ve only had 2 such encounters.  So embrace the positive comments and ignore the negative ones.lizard9.  Be a student….. as I read other blogs I pay attention to design, layout, ease of site navigation, and other details.  I also check to see how my blog shows up on different devices.  I use my hubby’s laptop to check how fast my site loads.  Some WordPress themes load faster than others.  You don’t want a slow site or you may not have many readers.

Design – Is the site easy to navigate?  Can a visitor quickly tell what the blogs purpose is?  What color text to use?  Black with white text versus white with black text?  A lot of blogs specializing in photography use a black background with white text.  Supposedly the photos show better.  My aging eyes have difficulty with the black background.  Thus, I personally follow only one or two blogs that use black with white text.  Give me a nice white background any day whether the blog’s focus is photography or writing.garden photography10.  Write for yourself first.  Remember this is suppose to be fun and we don’t want to make blogging feel like a job (unless that’s the intent).  Some say publish posts consistently and on a schedule. I say… post when you feel like it.

Oops, I’ve surpassed my 1,000 word count limit….. happy blogging!
BUT one last thought, my cyber friend Sue and I had a telepathic moment…. check out her recent post on “Getting more blog comments” – click here for more insightful suggestions.

WordPress For Dummies

A Tourist Destination

While February found us exploring southern Arizona, March had us meandering around the Phoenix valley.  Phoenix, Arizona, has become a regular stomping ground for hubby and me ever since our son moved here five years ago.

Superstitions

approaching the Superstition Mountains located on the far southeast side of the valley

Phoenix AZOver the past five years, Al and I have taken advantage of our visits by exploring all corners of picturesque Maricopa County.  As an RV’er, we’ve found this area to be one of the most RV friendliest of places giving us oodles of parking options.

Not into RVing?  That’s ok as the lodging options are endless in that arena as well; from quaint Bed & Breakfast’s to Mega Resorts and everything in between.

Superstition Mountains

Spring in the desert

Maricopa County wants you to visit.  It’s a tourist destination.  Whether you spend a long weekend or spend the entire winter, all visitors are greeted with open arms and offered amenities for just about anyone’s personal interests and taste.  And with nine months of beautiful weather and plenty of sunshine, it’s no wonder northerners flock here during the winter months.

Speaking from experience; June, July, and August can be uncomfortably hot making it near impossible to engage in any outdoor activities.  This is the desert after all.

Arizona hiking trails

hiking near Phoenix during spring time

Spring TrainingThere’s no shortage of beautiful Golf Courses, wonderful hiking trails, or delicious restaurants.  Then there’s the various festivals, music venues, and sporting events.  This past February, Phoenix even hosted the Super Bowl.

Folks that enjoy baseball usually plan a vacation to Arizona in March to take in a Spring Training game.  The Cactus League is big business around here.

With only so many hours in a day, hubby and I picked our priorities for the month of March.  Hiking, socializing, and festivals seem to top our agenda.  Since I’ve already posted on some of the hiking we’ve done around Phoenix, I’ll focus on the socializing today.

bloggers

We enjoy happy hour over at Mike and Linda’s of “Bear Tracks Blog”. Mike fixes cocktails while I prepare nachos.

We reconnected with some old friends and met new ones along the way.  New friendships were forged with fellow bloggers.  As bloggers following each other on the internet, we seem to know a lot about one another but rarely meet in person.  It’s always an entertaining time though when we do connect face to face.

Since Phoenix is such a great place to live AND visit, it’s not uncommon for one to live here full-time, part-time (like me), or sometime meaning there’s always another blogger in the vicinity.  So if you visit Phoenix, be sure to put it out on your blog – if you’re into socializing that is.  You never know who will reach out to you and say, “Hey, I’m in the area.  Interested in meeting?”

Phoenix ArizonaThat said, it’s easy for two strangers to quickly become new friends.

A one hour coffee date turned into a three-hour chat fest with Nancy over at Two Trails One Road.  We could have easily moved from coffee onto cocktails as we got to know one another beyond our blogs, but alas obligations had us bidding farewell to each other.

We were so engrossed in our visit, that neither one of us remembered to take a photo.  Oh well next time, as I am sure there will be a next time.

Another morning I headed off to a Fine Arts Festival in the town of Carefree; a community on the far north side of the Phoenix valley.  This was my second time attending a festival in this lovely community.  The first time was with fellow blogger LuAnn and involved chocolate.

Carefree Festivals

Al and Mary from Tales from the Backroad

art festivals

Me and Mary in front of her stunning photography

No chocolate involved this time, but meeting this artistic couple was right up there.  Mary and Al are a couple of VERY talented people.

Mary writes a blog over at Tales from the Backroad.

Not only was it great meeting Mary and Al, I loved seeing their art work.  Did I already mention how incredibly talented these two are?  Impressive!  I hope to run into them boondocking in the desert next season.

The communities of Carefree, Cave Creek, and old town Scottsdale are known for their art galleries, unique one of a kind shopping venues, art walks, and festivals.  It almost makes me want a house again.  I’ve always appreciated the arts and find people’s talents almost mind-boggling.  I’m amazed by the vision of an artist and awed by the wonderful sculptures and paintings one creates.

If fine art isn’t your thing, stay tuned for a little rough and tumble type of Expo we attended.  No arts or crafts involved…. it’s a guy thing!arts and crafts festivalsI’ve managed to do a bunch of previous posts on Phoenix, Arizona.  For another post with some different info, click here.  AND if you’d like to meet a lot of bloggers all in one place, consider attending the WordPress Event being held in Phoenix on April 18th.  Click here for more info on Press Publish.

Kiera Grace Family 10 Openning Collage Frame, 14.5 by 28.5-Inch, With 4 5 by 7-Inch and 6 4 by 6-Inch, Black
Learn to Paint in Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings: Pick up the skills * Put on the paint * Hang up your art

Express Yourself

It’s a rainy and cold morning along the Texas Gulf Coast, perfect for me to stay home and get some much needed housework accomplished.  But first, I’m inclined to share some photos I took this past week while taking full advantage of some fabulous weather.

Brahma calve

looks like someone has some skin to grow into!

Today’s WordPress photo challenge is Express Yourself.  Initially I was at a loss as to which photos to share but then I remembered visiting these cute little Brahma calves.

Their cuteness and expressive little personalities captivated me and when these three started walking towards me I couldn’t help but think of the opening scene to the 1970’s TV show the “Mod Squad“.Brahma cattle

Oh, how I wanted to be Peggy Lipton.  I was in Junior High School at the time sporting brown frizzy curly hair and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t achieve those silky straight tresses.prince charmingFailing to achieve that Peggy Lipton look, I wondered would there ever be a prince charming on a white horse in my future?Chesapeake Bay Retriever One can pray, hope, and look to the skies for answers, but only time will tell if one is fortunate to find true love.roseate spoonbillIn the end, I found it was important to be myself and not try to be something or someone I’m not.  And  then, only then did I discover love…. love for myself and a partner.  Be true to yourself and free to express yourself 🙂Texas Gulf Coast
The Mod Squad – Season 1, Volume 1

A Little Girl Time

Colorado State ParksI just love waking up to a sunrise over water.  This was my view from our campsite at St. Vrain State Park, Colorado on Sept. 8, 2014.  Not a bad way to start the day, eh!

coffee with a view

I enjoy morning coffee and a sunrise at St. Vrain State Park, Colorado

I couldn’t wait to throw on some clothes and go for a morning stroll.  The waters were calm and the birds were chirping.   Yes, I do love camping near water.Colorado State ParksColorado State Parks Colorado State ParksI strolled around the state park taking in the still beauty of the morning.  It turned out to be a wonderful day filled with explorations and ended with dinner over at LuAnn and Terry’s place.

Thank you Terry and Lu for a lovely evening and to LuAnn for a very tasty meal.

It didn’t take LuAnn and I long to reconnect.  We first met here online as fellow bloggers a couple of years ago and then met face to face in February 2013. We were quick to set up a girls day, but our plans needed to be flexible due to the fickle weather.Colorado State Parks I’d been wanting to explore Chautauqua Park in Boulder and when I made mention of this park to Lu, she was game.  We were both really looking forward to a hike but we awoke to a rainy and dreary morning.  The weather forecast was for more rain, but as we were ready to head out on plan B (shopping at an indoor mall) the skies cleared.Boulder trailsWe took full advantage of this window of opportunity in the weather and set off on the trail at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado.  The trail was a steady uphill climb heading ever so closer to the base of the Flatirons that had me winded due to my nonstop chatting.

Flatirons Boulder Colorado

the Chautauqua Park trail is a steady uphill climb – a view of the town of Boulder and the red roofs of the University of Colorado can be seen in the distance

Boulder ColoradoSince we weren’t sure what the weather was going to do, we opted for a short stroll that day instead of a serious hike and of course, these two shutter bugs had to stop for plenty of photo ops.  Those are the Flatirons in the distance.Flatiron Boulder Colorado After our lovely stroll, we headed over to the Flatiron Mall for a little shopping and lunch.  It turned out to be a day of plan A and plan B.  Yes, it was the perfect girl’s outing that was over way too soon!Flatirons Boulder Colorado Patagonia Lightweight Travel Sling Black The SAK Iris Cross-Body,Black,one size