Category Archives: Travel

Dutch oven mac and cheese

Another camping adventure.

We are getting our camping system down to a system — what to bring, how to set up and take down, cooking and dishes. Most recently, we headed out to a camp ground along the Pacific Crest Trail. Having the PCT there made for great hiking! The weather was clear and we saw lots of mountains. We camped next to a tiny lake. It was quiet, with only a few other camping parties.

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Lakeside

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A tidy camp is a happy camp

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The SIsters

Cooking-wise, we tried out the dutch oven mac and cheese. It’s a keeper. We had a little miscommunication about the temperature for the dutch oven (my husband thought I wanted it as hot as for pizza, but alas, I only wanted 375 degrees). Luckily, the recipe calls for opening it and stirring after 30 minutes so were able to salvage our dinner. The burnt crust at the bottom was actually quite good too. I looked at a zillion recipes on the internet and zillion minus two all started with pre-cooked macaroni. Who wants to deal with that on a camping trip — either bringing cooked pasta with or cooking in camp? Not us. Continue reading

Travel Planning

The summer is all about gardening and hanging out in the Pacific NW. The Olympic track and field trials. A little camping. Bike rides. Ball games. Foster dogs from the shelter. Canning salsa. Golfing with friends. Drying apples. Making fig jam.

And travel planning.

Looks like we are going to spend two months in Mexico this winter and I can’t wait. It will be our longest trip to date. Yes, I get anxious leaving home for that long, but soon after the plane takes off, I put it behind me and turn toward the adventure. We are planning to start our trip near Ixtapa with some (scary for me) surfing lessons administered by an encouraging long-time seldom-seen friend. Following Ixtapa, we will take an 8-hour bus trip to Guadalajara to spend time in Ajijic, a town on Lake Chapala. That will be followed up with some more nights on Lake Chapala, either Chapala itself or Jojotepec, or the hot spring spa at San Juan de Cosala. After, we will board the bus to Puerto Vallarta and the boat to Yelapa.

Love that Yelapa place! I look forward to seeing friends, playing croquet, relaxing on the beach and eating well.  We will spend a month there and I will still be sad to leave.

After Yelapa, not sure, but likely a car rental and drive down to the Mayto/Tehuamixtle area for a few days of super-quiet remote beach time. Or a a spell in the mountains (via bus) in Mascota and Talpa. We will finish up the trip with some big-city activities in Vallarta and head home to springtime in Oregon.

It can be frustrating to try to figure out logistics — where to fly in, which places we can go by bus, what fits in before and after our Yelapa reservation, searching AirBnB and other lodging sites. It’s also fun and exciting. We enjoy our enjoy travel three ways: planning and anticipating, the trip itself, and then the memories. A way better payoff, to my thinking, than a buying a big screen TV or a fancy car or a bigger house or cable TV or more stuff.

Says the woman who bought a new dress last week …. (See prior post)…

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Stuff vs travels: struggles of a minimalist wannabe

I have been flirting with minimalism (voluntary simplicity, living with less, whatever) for years. We (I) don’t need so much stuff. I learned that from clearing out 80 years of my parents’ stuff when they passed. We live in a small (by American standards) house; we don’t have new cars or new furniture; and I try to resist the lure of consumerism. This lack of buying and debt helped us to retire early. When I do have the urge or need to buy, I head for the thrift store or online used-clothes shopping. I prefer travel, experiences, decent wine, and donating to charity. Though I have a long way to go, I try to walk my talk. (And luckily, my husband has the same values.)

This past winter, in Mexico, I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I had thought it sounded too cutesy for me but a friend recommended it. And now I recommend it. After our Mexico trip, I “Marie Kondo”d my closet and started on the rest of the house. I got rid of half (or more) of my clothes. I got rid of boxes of books and other stuff.

Marie Kondo says to pile up ALL of your clothes in order to sort and tidy. I did it -- it works.

Marie Kondo says to pile up ALL of your clothes in order to sort and tidy. I did it — it works.

Not pretty! But I did it!

Not pretty! But I did it!

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Plastic Bag Omelets

An inconvenient thing about camping is messy pans and no running water. A breakfast with almost no clean up? Plastic bag omelets. You will need one heavy-duty ziploc quart-sized freezer bag for each person.

Bring a pot of water to boil on your camp stove.

You can prepare these before you leave home and pop them in your cooler. Or prepare them on-site.

For each omelet, scramble eggs (2 or 3) in a bowl with a fork. Add some salt and pepper if you like. Pour them into the plastic bag. Add your favorite omelet ingredients. I am partial to a combination of chopped spinach or kale, feta cheese and olives. My husband likes some grated cheddar, chopped onion and bell pepper.

Once all the ingredients are in the bag, press out as much air as you can and then seal it up.

Put the bags into the pot of boiling water and lower to a reasonable boil.  Cook about 13 minutes. To test for doneness, remove a bag and kind of squish it — put it back in if the eggs are still runny (or take it out if you like runny eggs).

Omelets being cooked

Omelets being cooked

When done, open bag and slide omelet onto your plate. Use the hot water in your pan for your dish washing.

Caution: make sure plastic bag does not get holes melted into it by the camp stove! This can lead to water leaking into your eggs, a sad, but still edible, outcome.

Served with a little salsa and tater tots leftover from prior day's lunch at Takoda's.

Served with a little salsa and tater tots leftover from prior day’s lunch at Takoda’s.

So gorgeous

So gorgeous

First camping trip in … a long time

We took off on Wednesday to spend a few nights in the woods. The weather prediction was iffy, but we had cleared our calendars and decided to go anyway. We drove east on Highway 126, stopping at Takoda’s for lunch to fortify ourselves. Our original plan was thwarted when we learned that Highway 242 is still closed for the winter (evidently scheduled to open on June 20).

Instead, we ended up at Coldwater Camp on Clear Lake. After setting up our tent and tarp and pulling the pizza dough out of the cooler to rise, we started a walk along the lake. The lake lives up to its name as it is incredibly clear. So many shades of deep and bright blue, really lovely. We kept walking and ended up going all the way around, which turned out to be 5 miles.

Setting up camp

Setting up camp

Clear, clean, cold water

Clear, clean, cold water

First night’s dinner was dutch oven pizza and kale cooked in a little butter. Dessert? Need you ask? S’mores! I think it is the only time we ever eat marshamallows.

Dutch oven deep dish pizza

Dutch oven deep dish pizza

The rain held off until we were snug in our tent and we heard it off and on throughout the night. The next morning was rain-free, however. We made our plastic bag omelets with a side of re-heated tater tots (leftovers from Takoda’s). We packed up our lunch and headed out along the McKenzie River trail. A little chilly, but rain-free. Due to our lack of map and a disagreement about which way to go at one point, out hike ended up being very long. In fact, it was the longest I had ever hiked — 15.5 miles. We were dang tired when we got back to camp just as it started to drizzle. Our box of garnacha tasted perfect (highly recommend the 3-liter box of Vina Borgia!).

Wine is very important when camping

Wine is very important when camping

McKenzie River

McKenzie River

The drizzle let up and we did an easy dinner of bean and cheese burritos, salad, and more s’mores. We had rain again overnight. Unfortunately, it didn’t let up in the morning. We ate our oatmeal under the tarp and and we packed up all of our items in the rain.

An excellent first trip and we were super lucky with the weather. Can’t wait to go again!

Nightfall

Nightfall

Bug bites in Cuba

If there had been one, I would have won the award for the most insect bites on our trip to Cuba. It’s an award I am familar with from a variety of other life experiences. This time, I won because of my scarcity mentality: the belief that I need to save things “for later” for a time when I might need them “more.”

Our trip to Cuba included several days of kayaking and a little snorkeling in additon to the “people to people” touring (which was also great, don’t get me wrong). The tour company sent us a long packing list, which included bug spray. I brought a “natural” bug cream we got in Puerto Vallarta last winter and two DEET towellettes that were leftover from some other trip. The day we kayaked in the mangroves of the Zapata National Park wetlands, we were to told to bring bug spray. Of course, I thought, I might need those DEET towellettes “later” and I only brought my natural bug cream onto the kayak. The mosquitoes were tiny, fierces and plentifal when were kayaking through the narrow channels among the mangroves. I had a long sleeved shirt on, with a hood, but legs were ripe for the biting, exposed in the kayak. I rubbed on the bug cream with vigor, but alas, that night, discovered I had more bites than I thought possible. And more than anyone else on the trip.

When has it ever worked to save someting for later, when you might need it more? Why do I keep thinking it will work? Perhaps a lesson of several days of painfully itching legs with disgusting oozing bites might help me to realize that the time is now — if you brought your DEET towellette, use it for Godsakes when someone says to bring bug spray on a paddle through a mangrove swamp. If you end up needing it again later in the trip, you will get bit then, saving you days of suffering. Trust me on this.imageimage

A Visit to the Homeland: Burgenland. An unlikely tale of regrets, spas, wine, and photos of old houses

A Visit to the Homeland: Burgenland. An unlikely tale of regrets, spas, wine, and photos of old houses.

When my husband and I decided to take a cruise down the Danube River, it seemed like the perfect time to try to find the town in Austria where my grandmother had been born. When my mom died, I found a lot of old documents and photos among her things, including my grandmother’s immigration papers, certificates from Austria written in an incomprehensible script, and lots of old photos. I also had a family tree I had made in high school, with my grandmother’s help, that listed the names of her parents and siblings. These were all shoved in various boxes, willy-nilly, among other photos and relics. One of the relics, in fact, was a plait of my grandmother’s hair that she had cut off when it was still the color of mine. I started digging through all of this and began to piece together a plan of where to go.

My grandmother lived with my parents and me in Chicago from before I was born until after I had moved out at 21. She was 70 when I was born and played a huge role in my upbringing. She was at home with me when my parents were working. I remember her taking me on long walks (yes, she was in good shape, up until her late 80s) and teaching me to bake. My grandmother could also be a stern and suspicious woman, critical of everything, disapproving. Her grown kids respected her and told tales of her strictness. My mom told me that my grandmother had been raised by an older sister after their mother had died, a resentful older sister who was quite mean. Having no real model for motherhood, she did the best she could as an immigrant during the depression, raising my mom, her two sisters, and six step-children.

I live with regrets about my relationship with my grandmother. As a child, I didn’t have the empathy for her history that I do now. I only knew that when I spilled some flour while helping her bake, she would say sternly, “Why did you throw that down?” Nothing was ever right or good enough. When I became a teen-ager, she listened in my phone conversations and snooped in my bedroom when I was not home. She criticized my clothes and friends, and arguments often ensued. “Leave me alone!” I would say, and she would mock me in her German accent, “Leave me alone!” It seemed that finding hapiness or joy in anything was an affront. Her sayings haunted me for years until they were finally (hopefully) dispelled by therapy: “Laugh before breakfast, cry before dinner,” and “First you laugh, then you cry.” Those mottos were a caution to her daughters, and to me, that to enjoy anything was tempting fate and fate’s cruelty would punish you later.

I regret that I didn’t do more to try to understand my grandmother, to learn more from her experience. I regret that I didn’t learn what it was like to emigrate from Austria in your 20s, to come to a strange place and make your way by living with some relatives, working as a housekeeper, and then marrying a fellow immigrant with six motherless kids. I regret I didn’t learn more about her story, the place she came from, the people she left behind, the poverty and hopelessness that must have motivated her to leave all she knew and gamble on her future. Given the hardships she endured in Chicago — the kids, the Great Depression, the husband who drank too much, the big city life — I am not sure if she would have said that the wager paid off.

My research into my grandmother’s past led me to discover she had come from the Burgenland region of Austria. This is a small strip of land that had been part of Hungary at the time my granmother was born in 1895. The events of World War I transferred this region to Austria. When my grandmother emigrated in 1922, she came from Austria. My mother had told me that my grandmother spoke Hungarian as well as German. I never knew why or thought to ask. Research tells me that folks in Burgenland spoke three languages back then –German, Hungarian and Croat. It’s a border area, a mixing place. Even today, road signs are are in both German and Hungarian. My ability to research was limited by this language issue, as original birth records, while perhaps are accessible on the internet, are in Hungarian. Spellings of towns and people’s names are different and incomprehensible to me. I don’t speak German but can at least read it, sound things out, and type them into Google translate. Hungarian, nope.

I found a helpful internet group called “Burgenland Bunch,” who admitted me to its membership after vetting where my grandmother was born. Maps on their site helped me to locate her town and also to understand the Austrian/Hungarian border issue.  I also developed a snail-mail correspondence with an 80-year-old distant cousin, who had more information.

Armed with my documents and photos, we rented a car in Vienna and drove to Bad Tatzmannsdorf. This seemed the closest place to my grandmother’s town of Podgoria that had lodging. My husband booked us at a family-run pension. The town is known for its thermal baths. We drove into town at dusk, tired, and checked in at the pension’s restaurant. After travels in Munich, Vienna, a river cruise, and Budapest, we were spoiled by English-speaking people everywhere. Not so in Bad Tatzmannsdorf! Luckily, our hotel owner spoke English. We refreshed ourselves with a drink in the restaurant bar, next to a cozy fire, and then set out to explore on foot.

We were in the central square/park of Bad Tatzmannsdorf. It was the off-season and it appeared that almost everything was closed. We quickly located a place to eat and decided we had better get dinner immediately, as it seemed possible that the few open places would be shutting soon for lack of customers. We ate in a dim restaurant in a basement. Like our pension, it was decorated in a style that Americans would remember from the 1970s. The staff did not speak English. We managed to find vegetarian and fish sections on the menu, used our phrase book to read the items, and to order. A happy surpise was the reasonable price of good local wine.

After eating, we spied “Burgenland Stube,” the local bar. We were able to order red wine (blaufrankisch, bitte) with our few German words and took a seat in a booth. The wood-paneled room was smoky, booths full of folks talking and some playing cards. The 5 or 6 stools at the bar were full of men smoking and chatting with the bartender, a friendly woman in sparkley-pocket jeans with her blonde hair in an up-do. It was clear we were the only foreigners, and perhaps that it was unusual to get foreigners here. The crowd thinned a little and we had another glass of wine. When the bartender came to our table, I asked her if she spoke English. “A little,” she said. We visited with her for a short time. I asked her about the drink advertised on a small handwritten poster on the door, Sturm. From her description, it sounded like partially-fermented wine, and was available a short time only. I said I might try it the next night. We paid 9 Euros for our 4 glasses of wine and said Wedersehen.

The next morning was bright and shiny. At breakfast, our hostess asked what our plans were for the day, if we intended to go to the spa. We told her we were headed to Podgoria and asked if she knew where it was. Her husband, who did not seem comfortable with English, grabbed a map and drew us a route. The lines he drew didn’t seem to correspond to roads, but he was confident and told us to follow signs to “Weiden bei Rechnitz.” Armed with our map and my documents and photos, we headed out. In the daylight, we could see that the area was lovely. Rolling hills, farmland, tiny and impossibly clean towns, deciduous woods that were displaying their fall colors, goregeous vistas at the top of every crest. We saw deer and hawks, some livestock. We followed road signs on twisty narrow lanes, through a variety of small towns — most of them so small they seemed to lack a store or restaurant or public building of any kind.

The road to Oberpodgoria

The road to Oberpodgoria

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