Mmmm. Meat Candy.

May 23, 2016
Everything is bigger in Texas. Including our appetites. We ate an obscene amount of barbecue during our three day trip to Austin. Which leads us to our next question... is there such a thing as too much BBQ? The answer is no! It's a carnivores dream. Truly. Of course, Texas offers a whole lot more than smoked meat. But that's what brings us back again and again. There's just nothing else like it.

It was almost a year to the day that we returned to Austin. Airfare was $39 each way on Frontier. We stayed with Alice again via Airbnb. Her place is comfortable and convenient so there was no question that we'd return. We booked a car rental last minute via Hotwire and it worked out beautifully. I love it when the stars align.

You might remember it was last year's trip where I busted my ankle walking down Rainy street. Needless to say, I was eager to conquer the city this time and return home without injury. I'm happy to report we had an amazing time without incident.

Our first stop was the newest Cooper's location right downtown. We still favor the one in Llano, but this one couldn't be more convenient. Our eyes were a little bigger than our appetite, but we still crushed a fair amount of pork and beef ribs, burnt ends, sausage and macaroni & cheese. The pork ribs remain my favorite. The mac was outstanding, better than I remembered it. The next morning, we drove out to the Salt Lick. Having been before, I knew I like the sausage and burnt ends best. In fact, they have the best burnt ends in all the land. It's what I call meat candy. It's so fantastic I bet it could convert vegetarians and vegans. I saved room for black berry cobbler this time around. A bit of sweetness after the saltiness from meats is simply a match made in heaven.

Later on, we grabbed a snack at Rudy's. We have never been before, I typically have an aversion to gas station food. After so many recommendations I made an exception, and I'm really glad I did. Turns out they have the best brisket. The trick is to order it moist. It's perfection. Juicy, but not overly fatty. They have irresistible creamed corn too. We returned the next day for more. Rudy's has locations outside of Texas too, they can be found in AZ, NM, CO and OK. We'll definitely be making a stop on our next trip to Phoenix.

No trip would be complete without a stop in Lockhart. We again completed the trifecta by dining at Kreuz, Smitty's and Black's. It never disappoints. We couldn't possibly eat another bite so we took a drive with no destination in mind. We found ourselves in Gonzalez, TX and I saw that Shiner Brewery was nearby. Yes! But my bubble burst when I saw they are closed weekends. Fortunately, our drive was made worthwhile when we came upon Buc-ee's. Have you heard of it? Oh my! It's the ultimate convenience store. The New Braunfels location is the world's largest with 120 fuel pumps. The Gonzalez store is smaller, but still impressive. Among many things, they have a jerky counter. Incredible. What's most surprising was we walked out with only a small single serving of Blue Bell ice cream. Which was no small feat since the treats are practically endless, the retail portion goes on for days. Oh, and the best part? The bathrooms were spotless. Do stop if you ever get the chance.

Every time we've visited Austin, we've made the drive to Lake Travis. We enjoy the area and a stop at the Oasis always seems to be a must. This time, though, was much different. It wasn't a ghost town. There were hoards of people. Why the difference? The lake is now at capacity. Record rainfall after years of drought sprung the area back to life. It gives me hope for Lake Mead (it was just reported that it's at all time low) and Lake Las Vegas. Check out these photos from our three trips:







Pretty wild, right? We enjoyed a couple afternoons at Oasis Texas Brewing Company. The view is amazing. They have some tasty beers - I was fond of the IPA and Frank preferred Joe Dirt. He was able to enjoy a cigar on the patio, and we kept ourselves occupied with a competitive game of drunken Jenga. Good times!

Lastly, we spent time downtown at Craft Pride and Halcyon. Craft brews are alive and well in Austin. I wish there was more time to try them all. We only had one meal that wasn't BBQ and that was a quick stop at P. Terry's Burgers. With a "Fresh is Best" perspective we figured it was worth giving it a whirl, but it made us miss In-N-Out. Sure they offer bacon, but there's just no topping a Double Double.

Needless to say, the trip was over much too fast. Keep on keeping it weird, Austin. See you soon.

A Day at the Park

May 10, 2016
My sister moved her family to Las Vegas last July. It seems they are beginning to settle in, Amy started working a couple weeks ago after taking time off to care for Addison and Alexis. Jeff is gaining new responsibilities at his job, their blood is thinning (it is wild when 70 becomes "cool") and Nick is doing better in school. It seems the change to a year-round school took a bit of an adjustment. Initially, Amy was missing rainy days, but we've had an abundance of them this year thanks to El Nino. So, she's really only been longing for grass, water and trees.

Mother's Day was the perfect opportunity for us to make a trip to Floyd Lamb State Park at Tule Springs. I'm a little embarrassed to say I've never been. Even after 13 years here in the desert, there are still plenty of firsts yet to discover. It's about a 45-minute drive from our place so we all piled in the Suburban and took a cruise. We arrived about two o'clock so the park was fairly crowded. We brought blankets, fishing poles and a cooler loaded with beverages. We first settled in near one of the smaller ponds just passed the entrance, but it was pretty chaotic. There was a lot poop (fowl & dog) on the ground and we had a run in with mouse that was originally thought to be a snake. Amy doesn't dig snakes and I have issue with mice so we were both uneasy.

As luck would have it, a friend texted Frank, he also happened to be at Tule Springs. He was with his family fishing on the big pond. Fortunately, there was space nearby and he didn't mind us crashing his party. We relocated and found the new spot much more to our liking. It was near the petting zoo too. As an added bonus, the kids were able to get in for free right before closing. We invited more friends to join us, and by the end of the day we had a large group of twenty. The park itself was smaller than Amy had imagined, but it did in fact deliver on water, grass, and trees. It was a beautiful afternoon and a good time was had by all.

My Mother's Day Wish

May 6, 2016

February, 1980 - My mom eagerly waiting my arrival.

I am a daughter, sister, wife and friend. Being a mother has never been on my to do list, but what an incredible job. I have great admiration for all moms out there. I don't think there is anything that is more challenging, nor rewarding. Honoring moms one day a year hardly acknowledges all they do for us - they should really be celebrated every day. The least we can do is tell them how much their love and sacrifices mean to us. I know I told my mom over the years, but I, now, know the extent of which I took her for granted. The void I've felt for the last 233 days is proof.

I was pretty independent from a young age. After being an only child for seven years, I so desperately wanted a brother or sister. When I got both, I was over the moon. I had more interest in tending to them than being a kid myself. I took on a great deal of responsibility, I was self-reliant and didn't need much guidance. And that didn't change as I entered adulthood. I never felt the need to go to my mom with the little things or the big ones. I just sailed along; I'd casually mention when things were particularly great or when I'd meet bumps in the road. It wasn't until she was gone that I realized that I never really needed her because she was always there.

It becomes so apparent when you can't just pick up the phone, send a text or email. You try so hard to fill that void with memories. I find myself grasping for as many as I can recall. I dig through old photos desperate to fill in blanks and recover forgotten times. The worst part is no new memories can be made. All I can do is cling to those I gathered over my 35 years, and wish for more. So, this Mother's Day, I ask that you take a moment on Sunday and let your mom know you care. This could be with a phone call, laughs over brunch or a longer hug that usual when you say hello or part for good bye.

You'll earn bonus points if you snap a photo of mom when you celebrate this year. One day, it's sure to be the greatest gift to your future self. Take the time to record the memories that will later be cherished by you and loved ones.

If your mom is anything like mine, she was never fond of having her photo taken. Growing up, she was always the one behind the lens. When I found the love of photography she'd so rarely stay in frame, mostly she'd squirm away or conveniently vanish the moment a camera was in sight. Fortunately, I was rather sneaky and I nearly doubled the photos of her since Nick was born. I suppose the joy of her grandchild distracted her from the click of the shutter, and boy am I glad too. Those are the photos we'll turn to when we tell Addison and Alexis about their "Horsey Grandma" and the ones I will hold most dear.

And to the motherless, this mother's day honor your mom the best way you know how. Maybe by telling a favorite story, reminisce over old photos or carry on a tradition? It will be hard, but no more difficult than every day that's passed since she were last able to tell her, "I love you."

Eat. Drink. Nap. Repeat.

May 4, 2016
It had been over a year since I'd last been to San Francisco. So, when Frontier was offering $19 one-way fares it didn't take much else to be lured. When I mentioned it to Frank, he was immediately on board. Booking accommodations on Hotwire has worked out really well for us in the past, so it's always my first stop when researching rates. The wharf was extraordinarily expensive this time around, it forced me to look at other neighborhoods. I secured a great rate at the Intercontinental in SoMa. The various booking sites, nor Airbnb could not come close to their rate.

It was a mighty nice hotel with excellent customer service. Great location and the most comfortable pillows. I really enjoyed our stay. We spent more time in the room than usual because I wasn't feeling that well. I was just sick in February, too. As a matter of fact, I don't feel like I ever fully recovered. I thought allergies had taken a hold of me, but the nasty cough returned and wiped me out. I was really happy we had such a nice place to lay my head. The view from the 23rd floor was pretty great too. Forgive the quality of photos - I failed to pack my camera this time around so everything was captured by cellphone. By today's standards my S3 is practically a relic.

You may recall a stop at Petite Deli was always a must on previous trips. We made friends with the owner, Young. She was simply the kindest and had a special knack for whipping up sandwiches. She's now retired, and sold the business to a long time customer. Frank paid it a visit, but it lost its magic. We didn't feel compelled to return so it gave us and opportunity to try something new. Next door to our favorite dive bar, Toronado, is Rosamunde Sausage Grill. It's a small spot with outstanding sausages. It's the perfect stop after a couple pints. M'mmm beer sausage and german potato salad! I do believe we found a new tradition. Of course, we felt right at home when we bellied up to the bar for some Pliny. I also had a fantastic beer by Anderson Valley, it's their blood orange gose. I'm not typically a fan of fruit beers, but the sourness of this won me over. Yum.

We grabbed bites at old favorites like the Crabhouse, Saigon Sandwich, R & G Lounge and Hot Cookie. They never disappoint! We also had lunch at Scoma's which is always worth repeating.

We also returned to Suppenkuche. We found it several trips ago. They have really delicious German treats. I'm not sure if I'm most fond of the food or the beer!? We went for brunch and opted for potato pancakes and german ravioli with eggs and ravioli. Which just so happened to be one of my favorite breakfasts... ever. Delicious doesn't begin to cover it. I told Frank he has created a monster. This would be a must from now on, brunch has never thrilled me - until, now, that is.

No trip would be complete without ample time spent near the Maritime Museum watching the world go by. It's Frank's favorite and it is a relaxing way to spend the afternoon. The people watching is never dull and the view is incredible.

We used Uber/Lyft to get around. Mostly, carpool fares. It takes a bit longer, but it saves cash. We had a couple really great drivers and a surprising number of pretty poor drivers. It was a bit sad to see the quality of drivers decline. The worst was on the way to SFO. The ride we picked up outside of Hot Cookie was a woman driver that seemed to grow bored with the ride and claimed her car wasn't properly accelerating. She stopped at a gas station, suggested we find another ride and promptly bailed. Maybe there was a real problem, but it certainly didn't seem like it. Frank offered to look under the hood, but she seemed disinterested. Just odd. Meanwhile, we called for another ride and the driver managed to drive past us three or four times. Then, once we finally waived him down he drove like a mad man the entire way to the airport. It was like we crossed into some sort of weird twilight zone... just bizarre in every way.

Aside from that hiccup and not feeling so well, it was a great trip. San Francisco is such a fantastic city.

Take the Money and Run

April 27, 2016

I've been a fan of the Steve Miller Band since I was a kid. My dad had records or I'd hear 'em play on XRT Chicago. It might not have been the most appropriate of songs, but I did my best to pass on my love of the greats of yesteryear by playing "The Joker" for my little brother and sister. My sister, at about 4, was more fond of it, I think it was her favorite after Spice Girls. Both were on repeat on her Fisher Price boom box, we'd sing along... good memories.

The Greatest Hits 74-78 was one of the first CDs I selected from Columbia House. Remember that? I wonder how kids today ruin their credit?? I listened to that CD so many times I think it wore thin, it no longer plays. Frank and I have tried to see Steve Miller numerous times and the shows have sold out or been cancelled. When Frank received an offer from the Colorado Belle for two tickets, room and dining credits he immediately called to book. It just so happened to be our anniversary weekend. Perfect! Frank told me the great news. I was excited, but I was afraid it was all too good to be true so I didn't get my hopes up.

But the time finally came, we drove down, checked in and collected our tickets. It was a beautiful day, light breeze and near perfection. This show might just go on! We had dinner at the Loading Dock patio and enjoyed the live bands on the Riverwalk. We played a little video poker until it was time to catch the free shuttle to the Laughlin Events Center. They pick you up right by Pints in a fancy air-conditioned tour bus. It filled up fast and we were on our way. The Events Center is an outdoor venue directly behind the outlet mall. Due to road closures for the event, it would be faster to walk, but the free shuttle is much appreciated. The venue has floor seats and bleachers. It's small enough that I don't believe there is a bad seat in the house. There are a number of food and drink stands. Prices are reasonable: $6 beers or $30 buckets. The restrooms have flushing toilets and running water.

There was no opening act, so the band got right to it. I couldn't believe it! I was finally seeing The Steve Miller Band. It was a great show. They played all my favorites, talked to the crowd and jammed a bit. I've never seen so many guitars used during a show. It was awesome.

We walked back to the Belle afterwards, I played video poker and keno. Frank tried his luck at blackjack. We had hoped to "Take the Money and Run," but the Belle had other plans. Neither of us were winners, but it was a nice getaway.

April? Is It You?

April 11, 2016
I'm not sure how it's possible, but here we are four months into 2016. The last few days we've had more than our share of April showers. I'm typically one that requires a daily dose of sunshine, but I didn't mind the storms this weekend. They brought heavy rains, lightning and thunder. With any luck, they washed away much of the pollen that's been driving my allergies bonkers. I had gotten sick before our trip to Nicaragua, and I haven't been able to fully kick the cough since; I have this tickle that remains. Hopefully, the cool crisp air will cure it.

Over the past couple weeks, I celebrated a birthday. Somehow, 36 feels more relaxed, but more achy. I swear I can barely put one foot in front of the other without something hurting. I'm thinking about trying yoga or something to loosen up. I need to do something. I've been at odds with the thought of exercising. I know I need to do it, but it feels so impossible. I keep telling myself as soon as our elliptical (purchased in Sept) is operational it's game on. We keep experiencing issue after issue, though, it's getting pretty ridiculous. Hopefully, the end is in sight. Anyway, I had a great birthday! Friends and family went out of their way to make me feel special. Rather than a fancy expensive strip dinner, this year, I opted for a fantastic meal at Mariscos Playa Escondido. It did not disappoint. We followed that up with drinks at Atomic Liquors. It was just my speed.

A week later, Frank and I celebrated 19 years together. Craziness, I tell you! We had plans that kept us from honoring the occasion, but we'll also have our wedding anniversary coming up on the 17th. That will mark 12 years of marriage. Plus, we have a few trips planned this month so it will be nice to getaway and spend quality time with one another. Frank surprised me with tickets to Steve Miller Band in Laughlin so we'll head there next weekend. After that we'll go to San Francisco and Austin at the end of the month. I had to take advantage of the great fares that Frontier has been offering. It's a bummer that they don't participate in TSA Precheck and all the extras can be annoying (if not avoidable), but when you're talking $38 round trip to SFO or $98 to AUS. I was sold!

Granada - Take Two

April 5, 2016

Little orphan Annie was right, "the sun'll come up tomorrow!" I was up and at 'em determined to make Granada "our bitch" or at least have a better day. We kicked the day off on the right foot with breakfast. Guests are given choice of a traditional Nica Breakfast, eggs or pancakes. You sit at communal table and the staff takes care of everything. It's quite the spread. They helped us organize a private boat tour of the Isletas at 3 o'clock. We appreciated the help getting that squared away.

Just before ten, we were off to Mombacho Cigars. Our data still wasn't up and running, thankfully, it was an easy find. There was plenty of street parking too. We wanted to do a tour, and one had just started so we joined in. We were given a lesson in growing tobacco, a history of the colonial house, followed by an all access tour and ending with a real hands on experience of cigar rolling. Our guide Jim was from Chicago so we immediately had that in common. His passion for cigars runs deep, he's very knowledgeable and his excitement is contagious so it was a joy to take the tour, even though, I am not a cigar aficionado. I opted not to roll a cigar, but Frank did ($10) and he now has a much greater appreciation for a well made stick.

Mombacho Cigar Factory tour

Look at that tile! All the cigars are pressed in molds before wrapping

Aging cigars

Frank rolling his own cigar

The building is gorgeous and fully restored. The tile work is drool worthy. And there is a rooftop patio with amazing city views. It will later become a bar and cigar lounge. Mombacho or Tierra Volcan (in the states) is in its infancy, but I have no doubt it will become a greater success than they ever dreamed. They take the time to put out a quality product and go above and beyond to keep their employees happy. There is only one machine in the entire factory, it measures the psi to ensure a good smoke. The rest is all done by hand. It's quite the operation.

view from the roof of Mombacho cigars

Mombacho volcano

City views from roof

After the tour, we hung out in the lounge chatting with the guys. Drinking Flor de Cana rum, while Frank smoked a couple cigars in order to best choose which he'd bring home. Before we knew it, we had to rush back to the hotel to meet our guide for the Isletas tour.

Our guide arrived with a driver promptly at three. We were dropped off at the boat docks on Lake Nicaragua. Here, we met our captain from the isletas. Our guide was from Granada, his family owns an orchard. He is a guide for all nearby sights. He learned English just by conversing with visitors. We were impressed. He knew much about the area and was happy to answer questions and would elaborate when he'd capture our curiosity - like discussing the rivalry between Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans or the ruins in Leon.

Mombacho volcano & lake Nicaragua

Each of the islands are privately owned

Saw more egrets that any other, but there were a variety of birds

The sights were beautiful. The 365 islands were formed by Mombacho, each is privately owned, most by rich and famous. Many have caretakers that live on site. One, appropriately named, Monkey Island was purchased for the owner's pet monkeys. Five live on the island, they feed off the fruit trees on the island and have grown fond of taking snacks from visitors. They've tired of citrus fruits, but they didn't seem to mind when I fed them clementine segments. Lucy came aboard to go for a ride around the island, but quickly demanded off to raid another tour boat when she spotted they had avocado.

One of the monkeys tried to escape the island via power lines, but quickly learned why his plan was flawed. As a result, he lost much of his tail. The other monkeys did not follow. Now, they eagerly await visitors and anticipate their treats.

One was purchased for the owner's 5 pet monkeys

This guy lost his tail on the powerline trying to escape

Lucy likes to go for ride around the island

They offered to stop at a restaurant on an island if we cared to stop for a drink or bite, but we were content to head straight back. We had plans to have dinner at Charly's. A recommendation from Jim at Mombacho. When we docked we met back up with our driver. Our guide asked if we minding riding with another couple since our hotels were near each other. Of course, it was no trouble. The tour was relaxing and very enjoyable. I was nervous about the heat (breezy), direct sun (shade) or exhaust fumes (none). Frank is known to suffer from sea sickness (it was calm) so he was concerned about that, but from the door to door service through the duration of the boat ride; It was a fantastic experience. Many thanks to Miss Margrit's for making the arrangements ($25pp).

We freshened up, and then hailed a taxi to Charly's. We shared a ride with a local woman, our driver had us to our destination in a jiffy. Charly's is a guest house and German restaurant. Authentic German cuisine and imported beers right here in Central America. Who would've thunk it? We wanted one of everything but we showed restraint and started with goulash, followed by a variety of sausages, sauerkraut, the best potato salad, spaetzle and finally a crepe with fresh jam for dessert. It was a feast!

When we couldn't possibly consume another bite, we settled the tab and had Charly call us a taxi. The driver arrived quickly, he too, had a local family already in the car. We squeezed in, he wasn't familiar with our hotel or places we knew nearby. We failed at trying to convey directions to Miss Margrits. Somehow, I've managed to never learn the words for left or right. Luckily, the kind lady beside me helped us out by translating my hand directions. I made good use of my newest vocabulary word "despacio" when we approached our stop, followed by an "aqui, por favor." Phew, we made it. Then, we settled in for our final night in Nicaragua. All in all, I must say it was a pretty great day. Before I drifted off to sleep, I couldn't help but think about when I read somewhere that advised visiting Granada or Leon, but not both. Sure, both are colonial cities, but they are vastly different. It would be a disservice to heed that advice. Even though, we didn't love Granada. The tours alone were well worth the visit. In any case, I always find it best to form your own opinion whenever possible.

The next morning we packed our bags and had one last Nica breakfast before leaving for the airport. The drive was expected to take an hour, but we feared we could run into issues so we left plenty of time about 2.5 hours. We hit construction in Managua so it took just over an hour. Returning the rental was very easy and they gave us a lift to the airport. No issues with check in, but we had a slight hiccup in security. I had forgotten to transfer Frank's cigar cutter from my purse into our luggage so it was confiscated. Frank was salty. It was a really nice cutter. Lesson learned. We had plenty of time to kill we walked the length of the airport which took all of ten minutes. We stopped for a bite to pass time. It was expensive, but I finally got to try a quesillo. I ended up trading Frank for his nachos. There was too much cream for me, but he enjoyed it.

We flew United back to Houston, but we were stuck at the gate because a passenger refused to turn off his cell phone. We had to wait for him to be escorted off the plane and while his luggage was retrieved. The delay caused us to miss our connection home. Customs was fantastic due to our new Global Entry status. Frank and I gifted it to each other this Christmas. It is worth every penny for the that alone, but the TSA pre-check access is pretty awesome too. We were rooting to be stuck til morning so we could grab some Texas BBQ. But no such luck, they had us on a flight a few hours later. There were severe storms most of the way home so it was a very turbulent flight. By the time we arrived at T3 we were very thankful to be home. Another adventure was in the books!

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