Let's Just Go

Traveling with no regret

7 Tips To Prepare for Travel Disruptions: The Importance of Flexibility When Traveling — September 28, 2020

7 Tips To Prepare for Travel Disruptions: The Importance of Flexibility When Traveling

“We can’t direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.”  -Thomas S. Mason

Canceled or delayed flights, lost luggage, bad weather, mechanical breakdown, illness, and yes, even a pandemic can derail or, even worse, cancel your travel plans. I hope you’ve never experienced any of these in your travels but the more we travel, it’s likely that a disruption will present itself from time to time.  It’s a fact of life.  And while it’s not always possible to prevent such disruptions, the pessimistic side of me would advise you to expect life to happen and encourage you to consider the what if’s.  When your plans start to fall apart, the question is, will you?

Vacation plans disrupted

A year ago, we planned a trip to spend time with family on a Barrier Island along the Gulf Coast.  Reservations were made, flights were purchased.  And then came the 2020 pandemic.  For our personal wellness, and since I am chronically ill, we opted to cancel our flights and drive.  We usually prefer to fly so we’re not “wasting” our vacation in the car.  This was no small decision for us since the drive would mean 14 hours of driving, not including stops. but we knew that driving meant controlling our environment, making us feel more comfortable about traveling 5 states away. 

2020 has been the year of what’s next, hasn’t it?  So, as if a pandemic was not enough to deal with, when it came time for our trip, a major hurricane started to churn in the Gulf and even though we carefully watched the forecast, the storm had it’s own idea on where it planned to go.  Inevitably, gaining strength just off shore and rolling right over the town where we were meant to spend our vacation. 

Our decision to drive turned out to give us the blessing of flexibility.  Not only did it afford us more security and social distancing, but it made us more flexible in terms of being able to side step the worst of the storm.  Our original plans to fly would have been canceled when the airport we were set to fly into closed due to the storm.  That would’ve left us at home with no vacation at all!  (Oh the horror!)

As we got closer to our destination, the storm made its turn and the weather deteriorated even for us so we sheltered until it was safe to get back on the road.  However, as Hurricanes do, the storm did so much damage, we had to abandon our plans and we started looking for a way to salvage our vacation.  Where can we go with no reservations?  Thankfully, being in Florida and having the flexibility of our own car meant that we had good options to choose from for an alternative vacation.  We found a quiet, cozy Airbnb near the beach for some restful vacation time with places to explore and a lot of yummy food to try.  It was definitely not the trip we planned but we were able to explore a beautiful spot we would probably not have explored otherwise and we enjoyed our time there.   

Radar image of Hurricane Sally. Credit Weather.com

Be prepared, just in case!

As you plan to travel, there is an endless list of things to consider but how many times have you considered what to do if life gets in the way? 

It can be impossible to prevent a disruption to your trip but the best remedy is to stay as flexible as you can.  I admit that despite being veteran travelers, for most of our travels, the only planning we usually make regarding travel disruption involves buying travel insurance.  We’ve been lucky!  However, since I have a chronic illness and my condition can be very unpredictable, travel disruptions are always in the back of our minds every time we prepare to travel.  

Considering the time and money spent to travel, it is a good idea to consider what you would do if your travel is interrupted so that you are not left in a panic.  It’s a good idea to know what your resources are if and when something happens.

Daria Shevtsova/Pexels

Tips for handling the what if’s

Unexpected things will happen when you travel and no amount of planning can really address every situation.  However, these are a few suggestions to help you cope.

Use a Travel professional.  I have written a blog on why using a Travel Professional is a great idea.  Read all about it at https://letsjustgo247.com/?p=399.

Pack essentials for a delay.  If you travel with prescription medication, always travel with plenty for your trip and several days extra in case your travel plans are changed and you’re stuck somewhere unplanned.

Your carry on.  If you’re flying, a well stocked carry on is a must and  can be a life saver if your flight is delayed or canceled.  If your luggage is lost in transit, a spare set of clothes, toiletries, and snacks could make the inconvenience a bit more tolerable.

Pack a raincoat!  Watch the weather forecast for your destination as you prepare to go.  Always pack a raincoat (my #1 packing tip)!  Pack weather appropriate clothes and shoes.  Remember, a rainy day on vacation is always better than a sunny day at work!

Road trip what if’s. It’s always a good idea to make sure your vehicle is in good working order before heading out.  No one wants a flat tire or over heated engine.  However, the security of roadside assistance is also a plus when dealing with unexpected mechanical issues.  To make long trips more bearable, stop frequently, switch off drivers, and break up long drives into multiple days.  Play car games, listen to music or audiobooks, and consider having snacks and beverages within easy reach.  All great ideas to make the experience fun.  Don’t be in a hurry and remember that traffic is inevitable.  All of these suggestions might seem obvious, but they can make long drives a little less grueling.  A road trip can be a great way to travel if you plan for the what if’s.

Keep your cool.  Let’s face it, not all travel is perfect, especially the flying experience.  My advice is to try to be as flexible as you can and breathe.  If you’ve worked with a Travel Professional as you planned, reach out to him or her if you need help.  Other resources if you need help can include your tour guides, concierge, or even local welcome centers when you need alternative suggestions.  Listen to their suggestions.  They might have even better options for you.  If you don’t lose your cool, it’s easier for the professionals who can help to do everything they can.  Staying calm helps the situation resolve quickly.  The professionals trying to help you will be as thrown by the disruption as you are but they want to be helpful and get you back on your way.  Being pushy or loosing your cool just ruins your day even further.  

Kaboompics.com/Pexels

Our recent experience has inspired this advice and I hope you find it helpful.  I’m also betting there are many of you that have experienced travel disruptions that were more like nightmares and I’m sure you could write a book!  If you have any great tips to share, please be sure to comment below.  Just know that your travels are not always going to be Instagram filter worthy unless you want to share the reality of the experience!  

Safe Travels and don’t forget to pack your raincoat!

Cooking As We Travel — September 7, 2020

Cooking As We Travel

We have had a great summer, loving our RV and the fun of taking our home on wheels to new places and experiencing new adventures.  So far, one of the best things about traveling in our RV has been being able to cook outside and taking the meals we love the most with us.  We’ve had some great food in beautiful spots.  Everything tastes great outside!   

Rose Mary’s Fried Rice

Not only did we eat great food in our RV this summer but we were asked to participate in the Rootless Living Magazine Summer Cookout Series which was tons of fun.  Over the course of a couple weekends, we used our RV and Blackstone Griddle to bring Rose Mary’s Fried Rice recipe to life to share with the RV community.  Check out the article and all the other great recipes included in the series at https://www.rootlessliving.com/rose-marys-fried-rice/.

While Roger and I were dating, his Mother, Rose Mary, taught me how to make her home-made Chinese meal which includes the fried rice and the family favorite, Egg Rolls!  I never saw a recipe but I’ve made the recipes my own over the years and we’ve shared them with family and friends for special occasions and on random weekends when we have a craving.  Rose Mary even had a great set of Chinese dishes that she would get out when the family would sit down to enjoy her Chinese and when she and Roger’s Dad sold their house and set out in their RV as full timers, she gave me a portion of the set, which I hold dear and try to use often! 

To get part of our favorite meal on the road, Rose Mary’s Fried Rice has gone from a wok to our Blackstone Griddle and I paired it with Grilled Asian Garlic Steak Skewers.  The two are easy to make on our griddle and are a great pairing for a Chinese take-out kind of meal in the woods!     

Putting our meal on the griddle

The rice comes together quickly so I prep all of the ingredients and then start to cook.  To make things easier, I cheat and use boil-in-bag rice.  You can easily adapt the recipe servings up or down depending on how many you’re feeding by making more rice and doubling your other ingredients.  We use pork in the rice, well, because that’s how Mom makes it!  And while our family might raise an eyebrow or two, you CAN use chicken, shrimp, or go vegetarian and add onions, or peas and carrots.  Make your favorite take out fried rice.  The sky is the limit!  

Ready to eat!

Rose Mary’s Fried Rice

Ingredients

Canola oil

1-2 bags of boil-in-bag rice, cooked and cooled; you can also cook rice in an Instant Pot or stovetop if preferred.

1-2 packages of thin cut boneless pork chops, diced

2-4 eggs, scrambled

1 bunch green onions or scallions, chopped

Low sodium soy sauce to taste

How to make it

-Cook the rice whether you use boil-in-bags or rice in your Instant Pot.  Set aside. 

-Lightly oil your Blackstone Griddle and cook the pork on medium high heat until cooked through and no longer pink.  Remove from the cooking surface and set aside. (If you don’t have a Blackstone, you can use a wok on your grill)

-Lower the heat.  If you are opting to add any vegetables, this would be a good point to cook those on a lightly oiled surface, removing them to join the pork. 

-Still on a low heat, add a little oil to your cooking surface and scramble the eggs until cooked completely.

-To the cooked eggs, add the cooked rice, pork, scallions, (veggies, if using) and soy sauce to taste.

-Stir to combine and continue to stir to prevent the rice from sticking and to heat the dish through.  Serve and enjoy right away.

Grilled Asian Garlic Steak Skewers Alyssa Rivers at

https://therecipecritic.com/grilled-asian-garlic-steak-skewers/

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds top sirloin steak, cubed

1 red onion, cut in large chunks

2/3 cup soy sauce

6 garlic cloves, minced (I cut back on this just a shade)

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon grated ginger

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

Sliced green onions for garnish

Skewers

How to make it

-In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil,  vegetable oil, sugar, ginger, and sesame seeds.  Add the cubed steak and toss to coat.  Marinate for 3 hours or overnight.

-Preheat the grill to medium high heat. 

-Thread the meat and onion onto the skewers.

-Grill 8-10 minutes until the meat is done to desired liking.

**Note/Tricks: If you love garlic, go for the 6 cloves in the recipe.  I cut back on it just a bit to balance out the flavors. You can buy your sirloin and cut it into cubes or buy it already cubed which is a short cut that I use. 

If you like Chinese Take out like we do, I promise, making your own is a wonderful treat and it is really easy to make.  It’s not too late to try these recipes out and we truly hope you enjoy this meal!

3 Reasons to Visit New Orleans — August 24, 2020

3 Reasons to Visit New Orleans

“We dance even if there’s no radio.  We drink at funerals.  We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of other who don’t.”  -Chris Rose

Whether you call it the Big Easy, NOLA, or the Crescent City, New Orleans, Louisiana is a vibrant, historic, eclectic, and culturally rich city perched on the Mississippi River that every traveler should experience at least once in their lifetime.  French, Spanish, West African, and Southern historical influences on the city’s culture have resulted in a City with it’s own unique cuisine, music, art, architecture, and yes, even it’s own language.  It’s a charming city like no other!  But why should you go?   

Beautiful New Orleans architecture

Eat great food

“We don’t measure our seasoning. We just sprinkle and shake until the spirits of our ancestors whisper.”  -Unknown

Food is a big part of travel and New Orleans proudly shares it’s culinary heritage with every visitor.  If you are fearless in your food adventures, the list of dishes to try is long and delicious!  Be sure to seek out and try Gumbo, Etouffee, boiled Crawfish, Po Boys, Bananas Foster, King Cakes, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice, or the New Orleans Muffuletta.  Each of these dishes can be easy to find and will surely reinforce the New Orleans culture all around you.  

For us, our visits to town always start gleefully enjoying Beignets at a NOLA institution, Café Du Monde.  And while some might say that visiting Café Du Monde is the tourist thing to do, for us, it is a distinctly New Orleans must stop!   Established in 1862, Café Du Monde is open 24 hours a day and closes only for Christmas Day and the occasional Hurricane that ventures too close to New Orleans. 

Cafe Du Monde, 800 Decatur Street

In the 18th century, the French settlers to the Gulf Coast brought coffee and the Acadians (Cajuns) from Nova Scotia brought other French customs such as the beignet.  Followed by a coffee shortage during the Civil War that led the New Orleans Creoles to develop Chicory-blended coffee and you have the distinctly New Orleans coffee and beignet combination served at Café Du Monde. 

A Beignet is a square piece of dough that is fried and covered in powdered sugar.  Made fresh, each order comes with three Beignets and I always warn that, if eaten properly, you will be covered in powdered sugar by the time you’re done!  If you’re a coffee drinker, pair your Beignet with Chicory Coffee, or what appears on the menu as Café au Lait.  Find these delights at Café Du Monde at 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA. 

Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe Du Monde

Listen to great music

“I’m not sure but I’m almost positive that all music came from New Orleans.”  -Ernie K. Doe

For me, New Orleans is the most vibrantly and demonstratively musical city of our travels.  Especially in the bustling French Quarter, you can hear music on nearly every corner or exuberantly pouring out of restaurants or bars with the differing tunes crashing together in the street as you walk along. Considered the birthplace of jazz, the music of New Orleans has been influenced by the varying ethnic groups that have lived in the city throughout it’s history and the music you will hear has a distinctive swing like no other.  In fact, when you hear it, I dare you to stand still!  Most of us have at one time or another, enjoyed the music of New Orleans born musicians Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr., Fats Domino, and Aaron Neville and The Neville Brothers, to name only a few.  The City of New Orleans celebrates it’s musical traditions with abandon and as you plan a visit, consider participating in the endless party sure to be happening in town.  You can choose from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, French Quarter Festival, Voodoo Music Experience, Bayou Boogaloo, Crescent City Blues & BBQ festival, Buku Music &Arts Festival, Cajun Zydeco Festival, Central City Festival, Satchmo Summerfest, Freret Street Festival, Jazz In The Park, and of course, Mardi Gras. If you’re not in town for a festival, remember that in New Orleans, every day feels like a party and it’s likely that you can find some toe tapping street musicians who make walking The French Quarter feel like a celebration. 

Street Music in New Orleans

Explore the History

“When you go to New Orleans, you’re not just going to a city, you’re going to an entire culture.” -James Carville

Founded by the French, occupied by the Spanish, and the most important city in the South during the Civil War due to it’s position at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the size of the Port of New Orleans, the city is rich in cultural and architectural history.  A quick visit to the city should include a walk through the famous French Quarter, one of the most historic neighborhoods in NOLA, photo ops in Jackson Square, and a peek inside the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. 

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

Stepping outside of the French Quarter, a recommended ride on The Saint Charles Streetcar is an easy way to see more of the city.  The Saint Charles Streetcar is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world.  Live Oak trees that drip with Spanish Moss line the route that passes dozens of antebellum mansions, Loyola and Tulane Universities, and Audubon Park.  Buying a ticket from the driver makes for an easy, enjoyable ride through one of the most beautiful parts of New Orleans.

The St. Charles Streetcar in the Garden District

Bonus

While in New Orleans, if you have time, an hour outside of the city is Oak Alley Plantation.  On the west bank of the Mississippi River in Vacherie, Louisiana, and a true snapshot of life in the antebellum south, Oak Alley is a beautiful 28 acre property named for the double row of twenty eight 300 year old southern live oaks that create an 800 foot canopy that give the Plantation it’s name. 

Oak Alley and it’s magnificent Southern Live Oak Trees

Built in 1837 and now designated a National Historic Landmark, Oak Alley was established to grow sugarcane.  Today, a visit includes tours of the “Big House,”and truthful exhibits about the Civil War and slavery at Oak Alley as well as the Sugarcane Theatre where the history of sugarcane cultivation is explained.

To plan a visit, find Oak Alley at www.oakalleyplantation.com.

Each time we visit New Orleans, we have a different experience but it is always an adventure.  There really is no place like New Orleans especially when you have a local guide (we are lucky to have family in the area) to help you immerse yourself in the spirit of the city.  If you aren’t that lucky, do your research and have a great time.  A visit to New Orleans and falling in love with the food, the music, the history, and of course, the people is highly recommended.

Enjoy your visit! 

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”  (Let the good times roll!)

Virginia State Parks Campground Series, Part II: Belle Isle, Pocahontas, and Powhatan State Parks — August 17, 2020

Virginia State Parks Campground Series, Part II: Belle Isle, Pocahontas, and Powhatan State Parks

“Let’s go camping and not come back for a while.”  –Unknown

When I was growing up, my parents took my brother and me to several Virginia State Parks that left us with memories of horseback riding, butter churning, summer days swimming in a pool, and fishing at the edge of dams and beautiful lakes.  Little did I know then, that as an adult, my Husband and I would look to the beautiful State Parks of Virginia for our camping adventures. 

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) takes pride in managing 38 State Parks with an obvious focus on land conservation and access to all Virginians and others visiting our State, boasting a State Park within one hour of every Virginian.  Within the parks, there are more than 500 miles of trails, thousands of campsites, cabins, and recreational spaces and facilities for biking, boating, fishing, picnicking, swimming, and equestrian space. 

For today’s blog, I am highlighting 3 of the Virginia State Parks in which we have camped so far this summer; Belle Isle, Pocahontas, and Powhatan State Parks. 

Belle Isle State Park: Address: 1632 Belle Isle Road, Lancaster, VA.; Opens March 1 and closes the 1st Monday of December; Rates: $35 per night, $245 per week (*rates vary per website); Acreage: 733

Website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/belle-isle

Sunset at Belle Isle State Park

The location of a Virginia plantation in the 19th century, Belle Isle still partially functions as farm land.  It is the first State Park to be purchased by the State of Virginia under the 1992 Parks & Recreational Facilities Bond Referendum and boasts 7 miles of shoreline on the Northern Neck of the Rappahannock River that provides a diverse habitat for birds and wildlife. 

For visitors, the park offers picnic shelters, hiking, biking, bridle trails, motor boat and car top launches, bicycle and canoe rentals, playgrounds, boardwalk and fishing pier, and overnight lodging. 

The campground hosts 34 sites, 1 bunkhouse, 1 cabin, and 1 lodge.  Amenities include a full service bathhouse, dump station, water and electric hookups, fire rings, and picnic tables.  The park also offers a hike-in or boat-in primitive campground. 

Our huge site at Belle Isle State Park

Our Review: We found the park to be very spacious, clean, and well maintained, with heavily wooded campsites, plenty of wildlife for a Disney Princess, and beautiful sunsets that can be viewed in wide open spaces over the nearby river.  The park was one of the most remote of this group and making sure we had the supplies we needed was important.  The nearest spot to grab supplies was 30-45 minutes away in each direction. 

Pocahontas State Park; Address: 10301 State Park Road, Chesterfield, VA.; Open year round for camping; Rates: $35 per night, $245 per week (*rates vary per website); Acreage: 7,950.

Website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/pocahontas#cabins_camping

Named after Chief Powhatan’s famous daughter, Pocahontas, and 20 miles from Richmond, Virginia’s State Capital, Pocahontas State Park is the largest and oldest State Park in Virginia, established in 1946. 

Pocahontas State Park has three lakes and hosts a large aquatic center, boat rentals, banquet halls, cabins, picnicking facilities, 2,000 seat amphitheater, 90+ miles of hiking trails, bridal trails, and is the site of the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum that is dedicated to depression era workers responsible for developing what would become Pocahontas State Park and the National Park Service’s Prince William Forest Park. 

The campground has 130 sites, 4 Yurts, and 6 cabins.   Amenities include full service bathhouses, dump station, water and electric hookups, fire rings, and picnic tables.   

Our first site at Pocahontas State Park

Our Review: This is a very big park with something for everyone.  It’s services are busy with day use visitors and despite the large campground, it is well maintained and quiet.   Our first site was across from the children’s playground and a wide open space for games.  Our second site was heavily wooded and private.  So close to Richmond, the park itself  feels like a wooded oasis in the middle of suburbia. 

Powhatan State Park; Address: 4616 Powhatan State Park Road, Powhatan, VA; Open from the 1st Friday in March to the 1st Monday in December; Rates: $35 per night, $245 per week (*rates vary per website); Acreage: 1565

Website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/powhatan#cabins_camping

The beautiful wide open spaces of Powhatan State Park

On the James River and 45 minutes from Richmond, Powhatan is the newest State Park in Virginia, founded in 2013.  It sits remotely positioned in the northwest corner of Powhatan County among wide open farm land.  The park offers a playground, boat launch, bridal trails, 12 miles of trails, and fishing.

The campground has 3 yurts and 29 campsites with some pull through sites that can accommodate up to RVs up to 60 feet.   Amenities include a full service bathhouse, dump station, water and electric hookups, fire rings, and picnic tables.  The park also hosts a canoe-in or hike-in campground accessible by the James River.  There are 9 primitive sites that are open year round.  These sites have a composting toilet but do not have water or electricity. 

We could not see another camper from our site in Powhatan State Park

Our Review: The smallest of the parks we’ve visited so far, it is one of our favorites.  It is quiet and well maintained.  The sites are well positioned and spaced out.  This is however, the first Virginia State Park that warned us to be Bear aware, warning campers how to secure their equipment and food stores from area bears.  While we did not encounter bears on our first trip, we did see deer that come to the road and trails. The rangers were friendly and informative and there were regular patrols through the campground. 

We love our State Parks.  Of those we have visited so far, many of the sites are “site specific,” or by reservation, but there are also sites that are first come, first served.  Check in is 4pm and check out is 1pm.  Each park is very distinct in it’s landscape but the campgrounds are maintained in a consistent manner.  Some sites are gravel while other are black top and we’ve been happy to have been in at least two sites that have been level! 

We have enjoyed a summer in the Virginia State Parks and plan to explore as many of the other parks as we can while continuing to go back to our favorites as well.  We look forward to fall camping and enjoying a warm fire and the fall colors.  We recommend the Virginia State Parks, not only for camping, but for anyone that enjoys outdoor activities.  If going for the day, be aware that there is a $5 parking fee in all of the parks. 

Our State’s moto is, “Virginia is for Lovers” and that is true.  If you love lakes, beaches, mountains, hills, wide open spaces, and walking in the woods, Virginia has a State Park that you will enjoy.  Come visit us!

3 Styles of Camping: What Style Do You Prefer? — August 10, 2020

3 Styles of Camping: What Style Do You Prefer?

“Making memories one campsite at a time.  –Unknown

As we prepared to buy our RV, we dreamed of all the fantastic places we would go with our new equipment in search of adventure, rest, and space.    As we have started to plan, make reservations, and started exploring, we have discovered the importance of understanding what style of camping we prefer. So, what style of camping do you prefer?

When you started thinking about buying your RV, I bet you thought to yourself, “This is a cheap way for us to vacation as a family.”  We thought that too and it can be true and false! For today’s blog, I’m not addressing the cost of the actual RV and what seems like the endless gear that you will need (or want) to camp safely and comfortably.  Instead, we’re talking about where you’re going  when you pack up, hook up, and head out.  What type of camping are you comfortable with and how much are you willing to pay?   

Uplash/Airstream Inc.

Whether you are a full timer or a weekender, if you are on a budget, and let’s be honest, a lot of us are, you should know that the cost of camping can vary wildly and some factors, like the time of the year, location, or the type of camping you prefer can mean a campsite can be pretty pricey or maybe event free! Some of your considerations should be: how big is your rig?  Do you need water, electricity, sewer, and other amenities?  Where are you going and what do you want to do when you get there?  Do you like all the creature comforts of home or are you a minimalist seeking wide open spaces and a more basic, budget friendly (free) camping experience? And of course, for those of us who boarder posh and minimal, there are option for us as well.    

Types of camping

Boondocking/Dry Camping/Dispersed Camping:  The early settlers of the United States could be considered boondockers-in the extreme! They pulled over and camped where ever they could. Today, the boondocking style of camping means that you are going off grid and camping for free. Also known as dry camping or dispersed camping, boondocking means that you are self contained and not connected to resources like water, electricity, or sewer.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows campers to camp for free.  In most of these areas, you can stay for up to two weeks at a time.   The upside is that BLM land is in some of the most beautiful parts of the United States so you could end up camping in a campsite like no other and you could possibly be out there all by yourself or with a very few like minded folks that you can see across the landscape!  BLM land is also “off road” so there will not be paved roads and campsites.  This can sometimes mean muddy or rough terrain.  For this option, you have to consider if you can get in and out of an off road situation safely and you have to carry in all supplies that you will need such as water, gasoline for your generator or an enhanced battery or solar option for power, if preferred, and all other necessary survival supplies.  A grocery store or gas station is definitely not around the corner from these spots and it is also likely that you will have poor to no cell service and thus no internet service. 

Uplash/Rob Hayman

State Parks, National Parks & Harvest Host: State and National Parks are great options in which to camp.  For the State Parks we’ve visited, most sites are large and we often have a nice space between us and our fellow campers.  Virginia State Parks offer water and electricity with an off site dump station and very clean, well maintained bath houses.  State Parks and National Parks also offer great trail systems and are often part of an outdoor recreational system around bodies of water, mountains, natural sights of all types, or even beaches so the “entertainment” factor is typically about where you are rather than a resort feel.  For this option however, if you have a big rig, be aware that some of the older State and National Parks may not have sites large enough to accommodate you.  At 26 feet, we are not big but we have already found some State Parks that we won’t fit in!  Also, depending on which park you are interested in, the more popular ones fill quickly.  Some take reservations while other are first come, first served.  Some National Park Campgrounds offer water, electric, and sewer, while others do not.  Be sure to do your research so you are prepared. 

Harvest Hosts: If you like the idea of Boondocking but there is no BLM land near you, as is our case, Harvest Hosts is a membership that gives you access to a network of 1000 wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, museums, and other unique locations including golf courses that host RV’s on their properties.  This option gives you an overnight camping spot in a non-traditional setting for free with the expectation that you will support the business on the property.  Who doesn’t like a good wine tasting, scooping up some fresh produce, milk, eggs, or meat for dinner, or playing a round of golf?  The Hosts do not typically provide services that you would find at a campground so this is a boondocking option but a small number of Hosts do offer electricity or water.  This could be found on the Host’s information page which you would have access to with your membership.  You can use a generator but it is recommended to check with your Host first out of courtesy to them and any other HH members who may also be at the location. Find Harvest Hosts at http://www.harvesthosts.com.

Uplash/Andrew Hunt

RV resorts, Private Campgrounds, Thousand Trails: You can choose to stay in a private RV Resort if you prefer to have more of the creature comforts.  Just know going in, you’re likely to pay a pretty penny for all the extras that are often offered such as elaborate pool facilities, shuttles to nearby attractions, equipment rentals, game rooms, events and entertainment, cable TV, and laundry facilities, to name a few.  Private resorts can and do set their own rates that often vary by season and/or location and those rates can sometimes be eyebrow raising for us. In our experience, some private campgrounds mean tight quarters with your neighbors.  This is usually not an option we enjoy but it is a great option for fun family activities that are scheduled on the hour and a way to entertain your kids.  

Thousand TrailsThousand Trails is a membership campground company operating private trailer parks and RV resorts.  The membership is a one time fee with annual dues that give you access to network parks and resorts within your chosen plan.  Again, do your research. When considering a Thousand Trails membership, consider where you want to go, the locations you would have access to, and how much you will use your membership. You can find them at http://www.thousandtrails.com.   

So, what style of camping do we prefer?  We like to get away from the everyday and we learned quickly, as weekenders, that we like to get into the woods and we prefer our space.  We have stayed in a campground in which we had neighbors within steps which we did not enjoy. We have quickly fallen in love with Virginia’s State Parks, finding them well maintained and in great locations.  We will be squeezing in with the crowds once in a while, knowing that this may be required to get where we want to go. We also have a Harvest Host membership that we plan to use for the first time very soon.  I’m sure that I’ll share that adventure with you too! 

Do you have a style of camping that you prefer?  I’d love to hear what style of camping you enjoy and why.  Regardless of the option you prefer, the important thing is that you choose what you’re comfortable with and that you have fun!

Grilled Bruschetta Pizza; A Joy of Summer — July 27, 2020

Grilled Bruschetta Pizza; A Joy of Summer

“It’s a smile, it’s a kiss, it’s a sip of wine, it’s Summertime! Sweet Summertime!”  –Kenny Chesney

There are so many joys of summer: swimming in the pool,  digging your toes in the sand at the beach, swinging on a rope and dropping into a clear, cool lake, heading into the woods with your family in your RV, or family fun at an amusement park— there is so much to enjoy about summer!

One of my favorite joys of summer are the vegetables that are at their best in the warm summer months like summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn on the cob, and fresh herbs of all kinds. I love a good farmer’s market or the blessings of a neighbor’s good will and overly abundant garden for fresh vegetables.  In a pinch, even the grocery store gets better produce options in the summer!  I love to cook and the fresh summer ingredients certainly help me to make yummy, healthy summer eats. 

One of our favorite summer meals is Grilled Bruschetta Pizza.  This summer, we grew our own Cherry Tomato and basil plants specifically to make this recipe.  Thankfully, our plants did not disappoint!  We’ve also been blessed by our neighbor’s garden with an abundance of sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes of yellow, orange and red.  I’ve made a lot of Bruschetta and we are making the best pizza this girl and her guy can ask for. 

The colors of summer! Bruschetta ready to top the pizza crust.

If you like a flavorful, light summer dinner, Grilled Bruschetta Pizza is a great recipe to try.  It’s easy to make at home or take with you on an RV trip. 

The Star: What Tomatoes Work Best

While this summer, we have enjoyed the sweet Cherry tomatoes that we’ve grown, Roma tomatoes are a good option as well.  Use your favorite tomato but a sweet, fresh tomato variety makes this recipe a delight.  Tomatoes have a lot of liquid inside them when you cut them so I always squeeze the liquid and the seeds out and then chop them into small bites. 

The Co-star: Roasted Garlic

Depending on how you feel about garlic, you should know that when you roast it, it gets sweet and mild and it really shines in this recipe.  To start, I roast the garlic earlier in the day to allow it time to cook and cool so it’s ready when I’m ready to put the Bruschetta together.  To roast the garlic, peel away any loose layers of the garlic head skin.  Cut the top of the garlic bulb off to expose some of the cloves.  On a sheet of aluminum foil, sprinkle the cut garlic with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Lightly fold the foil around the garlic and place it into a 400 degree toaster oven or conventional oven for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the garlic bulb.  I always check it when I start to smell the garlic cooking, testing it with a fork.  The garlic should be fork tender.  Allow the garlic to cool completely and then pop the garlic out of the head and chop.  YUM!

Mixing up the types of tomatoes!

I recommend roasting two heads of garlic.  I find that, for us, one head is not enough for this recipe and while two heads might be too much, the remainder of the roasted garlic can be used in other recipes that you might use garlic in and it can be saved in your refrigerator for a few days for later use.   

The Supporting Cast: Pizza Crust

You should know that I struggle with yeast and dough.  As a result, I avoid any recipe with yeast.  If you are a Yeast Guru, then make your own crust!  (Lucky Duck!)  The cool thing is that you can make this part how you wish and the pizza crust options are up to you and the preferences of those you’re feeding!  We have used Naan, fresh pizza dough (from the pop-can in the biscuit section of the grocery store, cooked on the grill), and pre-made crusts of all kinds.  We like the crust to be thin and crispy so the Bruschetta becomes the star of the show. 

Bruschetta Pizza on the grill

Grilled Bruschetta Pizza

Ingredients

Sweet, fresh tomatoes like Roma or cherry tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 Red Onion or Sweet Onion, finely diced

1-2 Roasted heads of garlic, chopped

1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh basil, julienned

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Mozzarella, shredded or in chunks (whatever your preference).  Mozzarella is a mild but gooey melted cheese and doesn’t mask the other flavors.  It plays well within this recipe.

Pizza Crust of choice

How to make it

  1. Roast the garlic in advance so it is cooked and cooled when you are ready to assemble the Bruschetta-see tips above.
  2. Prep your ingredients.  Chop the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and julienne the basil and place in a bowl. 
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle lightly with sale and pepper.
  5. Combine gently all ingredients with a spoon. 
  6. Shred or cube the cheese in tiny cubes. 
  7. Spoon the Bruschetta over the pizza crust and top with cheese.
  8. Carefully place pizza on a pre-heated grill on medium heat.  If you are working on a grill, cover.  Grill for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. 

Slice and enjoy!

My personal heaven with Angels singing!

This might be a great summer recipe but let me assure you that when we are deep in January with temperatures outside dipping below freezing and we are missing summer most, this is still a recipe I go to when I really miss the warmth of summer.  In the winter, the pizza can be placed on a cookie sheet and popped into the oven at 400 degrees until the cheese is melted and the pizza is hot.  It’s a great hint of summer just when you need one. 

I hope you enjoy this simple taste of summer, anytime of the year!

8 Tips For Buying Your Dream RV — July 20, 2020

8 Tips For Buying Your Dream RV

“Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.” –Lewis Carroll

I had the TV on the other day, just for noise. I wasn’t really watching but a commercial caught my attention when I heard the voice over announce that “2020 is The Year of the RV vacation.”  For us, that has been very true and we have plans to take our new RV out through October.  My guess is that we are not alone and we know that a lot of you are out there shopping!  Good for you! 

As we reflect on our purchase, we want to share some advice that I hope you find helpful as you look for your new home on wheels. 

  1. Do Your Research

When shopping for an RV, the options can seem endless and I can’t recommend enough that you research, research, research!  We shopped RV shows, watched YouTube videos on the models we were interested in (EVERYTHING is on YouTube), and read reviews & blogs on RV manufacturers and their products.  We are pretty certain that by the time we made our purchase, we likely knew as much or possibly more about the RV we bought than the salesman who sold it to us and by the time we were actually standing in our RV with that salesman, we had no questions whatsoever.

Understand that our purchase was not a sudden one.  In fact, we researched and shopped for two years.  That might seem extreme but we felt that this was a major purchase of a piece of equipment we wanted to be sure we understood how to operate safely.  We also wanted to be sure our new RV would be well made and had all the features we were looking for.  Having camped as kids, we remember the fun and adventure of it all  but as kids, we didn’t understand all the ins and outs of owning and maintaining an RV and there is a lot to learn!

2. Rent an RV before you buy

We rented an RV early in our marriage and went from Miami to Key West and had a great time!  In the fall of 2019, as we were working on our decision to buy our own RV, we rented again in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania to make sure we still enjoyed RVing.    

Renting gets you into an RV at a reasonable price without making a commitment you might find out is not a good one for you or your family.  Renting helps to get a feel of the space and a chance to try out basic equipment.  It’s a great litmus test before jumping into a major purchase. 

We enjoyed our two rentals with Cruise America, www.cruiseamerica.com.

Trying out a rental in Pennsylvania

3. Know your budget

How much do you want to spend?  When you start looking, it’s easy to fall in love with the RV you don’t want to afford!

4. What kind of camping do you want to do?

As you consider what kind of RV you want, the right choice means considering your needs and abilities and knowing your boundaries. 

Are you a weekend warrior or full timer?  Will you camp in a RV park with full hookups or will you consider boondocking?  How many do you need to sleep?  Do you have “toys” you want to haul?  Are you an empty nesters and want to be nimble and small or big and luxurious?  WHERE will you camp and can those places accommodate the size of your rig?

Consider the size of your rig.  Along with how many your RV needs to sleep, how large are the holding tanks? If you want to go to the National Parks, could you fit your 40+ foot Toy Hauler in a campsite?  We asked ourselves, how small where we willing to go?  There was an answer!  One of the biggest issues for us was bed position.  We didn’t want to have to crawl over each other to get in or out of the bed.  We are tall so a corner bed felt coffin-like and was a firm no!

We are all different in our opinions of how we enjoy the camping experience and no one way is right or wrong.  However, considering what type of camping you are open to is a good place to start.

5. Know your resources

Do you have RV dealers in your area that are reputable and have good reviews?  Do they sell the type of rig you’re interested in?  For us, we are not fans of what we refer to as a “slick salesman.”  We prefer someone that is informative, helpful, knows the product, and is not going to give an intense sales push.  We will run from a dealership or a salesman that seems desperate to have us sign on the dotted line.  We also recommend that you consider the level of customer service your dealer will offer.  Are they open to helping you with questions?  When you reach out to them, do they respond quickly?  If you aren’t comfortable with how you’re treated, find someone else!  If you have family or friends that bought an RV, ask them where they made their purchase and if they were happy with the experience.

6. Go to an RV show

I lost count of how many shows we went to!  However, I can identify the biggest ones: the Hershey RV Show in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 2017 and the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa, Florida in 2020.  We also hit every local and regional show we could in between. 

Looking over the ocean of new RVs at the 2017 Hershey RV show. Ready to shop!

RV shows are a great place to see a wide variety of RVs with very little sales pressure while still giving you the opportunity to kick the tires, sit in the space, and take a look up close.  Keep an open mind.  This was great advice we got in Tampa. Believe it or not, while we had an idea of what we wanted, we had still not made a decision when we arrived in Tampa. 

Look at everything!  Can you see yourself in the space?  Check out the storage spaces, bathroom, and the bed.  Do you think you can handle the size of the RV you’re considering?  Will you pull and if so, do you have a vehicle that can tow the weight of your dream RV?  Every tow vehicle is rated differently so do your research.  Check the owners manual for your specific vehicle (most can be found on line).  Don’t take any salesman at his word when he tells you, “Sure!  Your truck can pull this!”

BA & Blanche make a great pair!

7. Consider all the options and narrow down your choice

By the time we went to Tampa for the RV Supershow, we were getting close to a decision.  On the first day at the show, our focus was on trailers and Class Cs.  We had been going back and forth with the pros and cons of both options for months and hoped that a big RV show might help us decide. When we stopped for lunch, I felt it was time to check our progress so I asked my husband, “Trailer or Class C?”  Our responses were trailer for me and Class C for him.  After all the research and shopping we had been doing since 2017, I must admit that I was a little frustrated that we were still undecided, believing that this was the show where we could make our decision at last.  We were struggling.  So after we finished lunch, we kept going.  By the end of the day, we had found what we thought was the perfect fit for us and we decided to sleep on it and come back the next day to talk with the representatives of the RV again and possibly make a deposit.  The next day, we decided to take one last look at Grand Designs before making a final decision.  I had fallen in love with Grand Designs at our first ever RV show in 2017, we examined them again at the 2017 Hershey show, and their RVs got my vote from the very beginning.  My Husband liked them too and going back that last time, helped us to make a decision.    We did not buy at the show but we left feeling that it was time well spent because we finally knew what we wanted, without a doubt. 

We bought a 2020 Grand Design Imagine XLS, 22RBE.  While we eventually came back to nearly the first RV we ever considered (and fell in love with, by the way), we made sure to consider all the options and we are confident knowing that we chose the right rig for us, for now…  We named her Blanche.  We paired her with our RAM 1500 Bighorn! We call her Bad Ass, or BA for short. 

Our new Grand Design Imagine XLS 22RBE

8. YouTube & Thinking Outside the Box

If you aren’t wild about buying a new RV, consider the other alternatives, which can be just as diverse as buying new.   As part of our RV purchase, we have watched hours and hours of RV YouTubers, listening to their advice and enjoying where they take us on their travel.   

There are YouTubers out there that live in vans, buses, and used RVs of every shape and model.  These are people that are handy and creative and see potential in building out their tiny homes on wheels to fit what they want their adventures to be.  We’ve watched in awe as they’ve taken an empty van or dilapidated RV that no one would give the time of day and turn them into the coziest homesteads on wheels.  This is always an option for the brave, creative souls that want to live simply.  

Whatever option you choose, I would always recommend doing so with research and consideration, knowing that, it’s okay if it ends up not being perfect.  We learned so much through our process and now that we own an RV, the learning is still happening!  I think even the most seasoned full timer would agree that every day brings something new to learn.  The RV community has great advice in on line groups as well. Just check Facebook and Instagram to start following a group or an individual that inspires you or you feel a kindred spirit with. Please feel free to reach out if you would like some suggestions.  

Best wishes to you as you look for your home on wheels and safe travels!

S’mores: 5 Versions of Your Favorite Childhood Treat You Need To Try This Summer — July 13, 2020

S’mores: 5 Versions of Your Favorite Childhood Treat You Need To Try This Summer

“Life is better when you add fresh air, a warm campfire, bright stars and s’mores.”  —Unknown

Whether you’ve had them as a Girl or Boy Scout, over a grill in your back yard or over a fire on a camping trip, a S’more is a marvelously simple and delectable treat!  I loved them as a child and still adore them as an adult. I hate the idea of a hot coals in a grill or fire going to waste when there are S’mores of all kinds to be made and enjoyed and the simple ingredients are perennials in my pantry. 

Never waste hot coals!

S’more are fun for kids of all ages and while the original version sparked our love, let me help you to think outside the box and make your next cookout dessert one that everyone will talk about!  To that end, I am dedicating an entire blog to the beloved humble S’more and several of the variations I have come to love.

The Original

S’mores as God intended!

You know it!  It’s the version of S’mores that you fell in love with as a kid.  Roast a soft, fluffy marshmallow on a stick over an open, smoky fire, or right over some red-hot charcoal left over from the grilled dinner and you have the star of the show. Sandwich your toasty treat between two pieces of graham crackers together with a piece of a chocolate bar and Viola!  There you have it.  Simple, sweet, gooey, messy, and if you’re not licking your fingers when you’re done, you didn’t do it right!  Do it again!

Fudge Striped Cookie S’mores

Easy Peasy!

Roast your marshmallow and sandwich it between two fudge striped cookies.  This one can’t get any easier to make. 

Ritz Cracker S’mores

S’mores with Ritz Crackers! My favorite!

To me, there is nothing better than a salty-sweet combination.  Roast your marshmallow and sandwich it between two Ritz Crackers.  With this option, I’ve used a chocolate bar and a peanut butter cup as my sources of sweet.  The peanut butter cup is delicious!  In fact, there is a thin version of peanut butter cups now that are great for this version.  This is my go-to favorite and I make sure to have the supplies for this version on every camping trip we take!

S’mores Cones

Mission: to make S’mores cone

This is a fun version for the whole family or a group of friends.  Set up a “buffet” of ice cream cones and any filling you can imagine to fill the cones.  To build your cones, you’ll need, well, cones.  We opted for sugar cones to experiment.  Next time, and what I would suggest, is a larger waffle cone so you have more room for your goodies! 

Start with mini marshmallows in the bottom of your cone (not too many to start).  Layer in other fillings such as strawberries, raspberries, or bananas.  Make sure to mix in your chocolate too along with more marshmallows.  For the chocolate, consider chocolate chips, Rolos, or my favorite, peanut butter cups.  

Peanut butter cup, banana, and marshmallows! Oh my!

My favorite combo was a peanut butter cup, banana, and marshmallows.  YUM!

Wrap your cones loosely in aluminum foil and place over your hot coals.  It only takes a few minutes to melt your chocolate and marshmallows and warm your cone, which is what you’re after.  If your heat source is really hot, be careful not to leave it on too long or you will burn the cone.  

NOTE: With kids participating, adults should handle the hot wrapped cones and the goodies inside will be very hot so care should be taken when taking the first bite.    

S’mores dip

S’mores Dip. Great to share with friends! Photo by @orange.tree.square.

This was a July 4th treat for our friends and this option is definitely fun for a group. My friends were happy to participate in this test for the blog! (Thanks guys!)

Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 450 degrees.  Over a low flame, heat a small cast Iron skillet, melting 1/2 tablespoon of butter in the bottom and sides of the skillet.  When the butter is melted, turn off the heat.  I used enough chocolate bars to cover the bottom of the skillet but you can use chocolate chips if you prefer.  Top with mini marshmallows.  In the preheated oven, toast the dip for 5-6 minutes or until the marshmallows are toasted.  Serve right away, placing the skilled on a trivet. Dip pretzels, crackers, or graham crackers into the dip and enjoy!

Note: Be sure kids know that the skillet will be very hot. It might be a good idea to spoon the S’mores goodness onto a plate if there is a concern.

There are endless combinations to the beloved S’more.  I plan to continue to experiment and hope to find more versions I can share with you in another blog soon!  I mean, this is the best research for a blog EVER!

If you have a favorite version you think I should try, oh yeah, and blog about, be sure to reach out! 

With Love, Waco; How we planned our trip to Waco, Texas — July 5, 2020

With Love, Waco; How we planned our trip to Waco, Texas

“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met.” –Unknown

There was probably a time when Waco, Texas was not a tourist destination.  But then, along came Chip & Joanna Gaines and their HGTV show, Fixer Upper!  It seems like everything they touch turns to gold and we all want to see and experience the positive and beautiful changes that Waco has experienced.  The Gaines and their show have certainly put Waco on the map for many of us. 

Of course, like so many, I am a fan of all things Magnolia so we planned a trip to Waco.  With some research, we had a wonderful trip in and around Waco and this is how we planned our trip. I hope that what we learned can help you to plan an equally memorable trip to Waco. 

Magnolia Market; Waco, Texas

The best time of year and the best day of the week to visit the Magnolia Silos

Weather and crowds are always the biggest considerations for us as we plan any of our trips. This was especially true as we planned to experience Waco. From our research, we saw that many recommendations indicated that crowds were smaller in the fall so we planned our trip for September.  The summer tourist rush had subsided and the kids were back in school and it is generally a time of year that we prefer to travel anyway.  In addition, the oppressive summer heat of Texas had backed off and while it was warm, it was not uncomfortable as we explored.   

We also learned that the day of the week played a role in crowds as well.  We planned to visit Magnolia Table and the Magnolia Silos on a Monday morning and had no crowds at all.  If you choose to go on a Monday, be mindful that because of smaller crowds, some businesses in downtown Waco are closed on Mondays so be sure to check the hours for any peripheral business you would like to visit in the downtown area to be sure they are open.

TIP: when considering the time of year to visit the Magnolia Silos, be sure to check their website for the events that they host like Silobration or the Silo District Marathon.  These are busy times with big crowds and while the events look like tons of fun, hotels, parking, and getting onto the Magnolia Silos campus will take some patience.  The Magnolia Silos is a grown up Wonderland, family playground, and foodie delight all wrapped up in one place so there are likely to be lots of people when you visit.  Our Monday in September was perfect!

Stay in a “Fixer Upper”

Where we chose to stay was frankly, the part of our trip that I looked forward to the most.  For the same price as a hotel, we opted to stay in an Airbnb.  And not just any Airbnb!  We stayed in one of the houses that Chip & Joanna remodeled on their show.  We stayed in the house that appeared in Season 3, episode 2, “The Brick House.”  This was my favorite house that Chip & Joanna had on their show.  I loved it!  We were able to get some groceries and make a few of our own meals so we didn’t have to eat out for every meal.  It turned out to be a quiet, comfortable place to stay after a fun day of touring that was centrally located to everything we wanted to do.  Staying there instead of a hotel truly enriched the trip and reinforced why were in Waco.  See an Airbnb link below for details on how to rent the house or check out the Magnolia blog to see the house before and after: https://magnolia.com/our-show/episode-02-brick-house/ 

Fixer Upper, Season 3, episode 2; “The Brick House”

Our house was clean, cozy, and just as cute as it was the day it was revealed on the show after it’s remodel.  In fact, right next door was another Fixer Upper home, “The Giraffe House.”  For those of you who have used Airbnb before, our house has a “Superhost” status and our host was fabulous at making us comfortable, checking on us before, during, and after our stay and she was available if we needed help. 

Staying in a Fixer Upper home is easy.  A LOT of them are now rentals so be sure to check Airbnb for your favorite Fixer Upper home if you’d like to truly have a Fixer Upper experience while you are in Waco. 

Such a comfortable place to stay in Waco!

Our trip plan

In my research, I noticed that a majority of those who head for Magnolia are “Girl’s trips” that look like lots of fun.  My Mother in Love joined us for the week and we met her in Dallas and headed to Waco.  My Husband is the best!  He drove his Mother and me anywhere we wanted to go and waited patiently while we shopped.  He’s a good sport! He had some fun too!

We used Waco as home base and midpoint for everything we wanted to do in the time we had.  Below was a rough plan of our trip:

Day 1; flew into Dallas and drove to Waco. 

Waco is about an hour and a half from Dallas so coordinating flights and meeting Rose Mary in Dallas worked well.  Once in Waco, we found our home for the week, grabbed some groceries, and headed out for some Tex-Mex before calling it a day. 

Day 2: Our day dedicated to Waco

Magnolia Table; Waco, Texas

Breakfast: In keeping to the all things Magnolia, we started with breakfast at Magnolia Table.  The restaurant is known for big crowds so we were there not too long after the doors opened at 8am and we were seated right away.  They only serve breakfast, 8am-3pm, Monday through Saturday.  For me, the highlight was the delicate and complex Lemon Lavender Donut Holes.  Don’t wrinkle your nose! (I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too).  They did not taste of potpourri or soap at all.  They are lemon, floral, and sweet all at once.  Try them!  You won’t be sorry!

Magnolia Table; Eggs, Biscuit, sausage, hash browns, and Lemon Lavender Donut holes! Fuel for a day of shopping and touring!

Magnolia Market Silos & Waco Tours: After breakfast, we headed for the Silos to shop and enjoy the grounds of Magnolia Market Silos.  The Silos grounds are set up to be very family oriented and you can play lawn games in the green space, enjoy the gardens, grab a meal or a sweet treat, people watch, and shop to your heart’s content. 

Around 11am, we joined a group for a wonderful tour of Waco with Waco Tours.  The tour included stops by several of the actual houses that were renovated on Fixer Upper, we stopped at Harp Design Co., owned by Clint Harp who played an integral part on Fixer Upper,  stopped at Heritage Creamery for a taste of the most delicious ice cream on the planet, had coffee at Common Grounds, stopped by the Dr. Pepper Museum, visited the campus of Baylor University, and saw sights in and around Cameron Park.  We also learned a lot about the history of Waco and it’s people from our knowledgeable guides.  It was a great way to see Waco with actual locals who love their home town and we would highly recommend that you consider a tour with them early in your trip so you can go back to the places they point out during your stay.  Our tour enhanced our time in Waco and helped us get our bearings.  They also offer river boat tours on the  Brazos River that we would’ve taken if we’d had more time. The staff is tremendously helpful and make you feel like family.

Waco Tours. A comfortable way to see all of Waco with locals who love their home town.

Lunch: After our tour, we went back to the Magnolia Silos to have lunch.  On their campus, you can choose from any number of food trucks for a quick bite to eat.  For us, that was the humble Grilled Cheese at the Cheddar Box Food Truck.   Crunchy and cheesy, it met our expectations for one of our favorite comfort foods and we paired our sandwiches with Iced tea from another food truck, Alabama Sweet Tea, which was served ice cold in a reusable mason jar.  Very Southern!

Cheddar Box Grilled Cheese and Alabama Sweet Tea Company; Food Trucks on the Magnolia Silos campus.

Before leaving the Silos for the day, we felt compelled to grab treats to take home from the Magnolia Bakery.  Serving cupcakes, cookies, and cinnamon rolls…we wanted them ALL but we took home enough to keep our sweet tooth satisfied for our stay! 

Cookies, Cinnamon buns and Cupcakes! OH MY! Magnolia Bakery

Before calling it a day, we headed back to Harp Designs Co. to shop around. 

Day 3: San Antonio

Waco is 2 hours and 40 minutes from San Antonio. We made the day of it, taking a boat tour of the River Walk and had lunch in a Tex-Mex restaurant overlooking the water.  After lunch, we had a short walk to the Alamo.  I have never seen it so we toured the inside, trying to imagine what happened there so many years ago when today, the Alamo is eclipsed by the skyscrapers of San Antonio. 

The Alamo; San Antonio, Texas

When we got back to Waco, we visited Waco Suspension Bridge. 

Visiting the Waco Suspension Bridge

Day 4: Dallas

On day 4, we made a quick trip to Dallas to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Center.  I love history and this is my third Presidential Library.  President Bush’s Library is very interactive and unlike the other Presidential Libraries I have visited before.  The exhibits start, as all new Presidential terms do, with hope and dreams for a better future, specifically with the inauguration and Mrs. Bush’s role as First Lady.  However, the first turn into the exhibits, sets the tone for what came next in Mr. Bush’s Presidency.  The lighting is dark and you hear sirens.  You are in the portion of the Library dedicated to the horrible events of September 11, 2001.  The contrast from the room before is dramatic and in the middle of the room is a twisted piece of one the World Trade Center towers.  While I expected the story to be told, it felt like a place of reverence to see the twisted steel.  The exhibit as a whole was powerful.  It is a humbling place that tells the story of that horrible day and beyond as well as how the events shaped Mr. Bush’s Presidency.

Twisted beams from the World Trade Center; a poignant reminder of a terrible day.

The library exhibits remain darkly lit through the period that followed the Terrorist Attack on our Country and there are interactive exhibits around the wars in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan including a fascinating one that puts you in the President’s shoes.  In this exhibit, you are in the Situation Room and you are given a situation that President Bush had to deal with when he was President.  You are given updates by “experts” and you see news reports on the events as they happened.  You have a series of buttons in front of you and when prompted, you have to make a decision.  On the screen, you can see what decisions others in the room made.  The moderator then tells you what decision President Bush ultimately made and why.  It was fascinating to get the perspective of how a President must make the decisions he must make with the information and advice he is provided.  We all grow up wanting to be President and spend our adulthood criticizing those who hold the job but after experiencing that exhibit, I can say with certainty, I do not envy the people we elect to make those decisions.  I’m always amazed that in a four or eight year term, our Presidents always seem to look much older.  Now, I certainly understand why!

A giant interactive touch screen that lays out the wars in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

There is a full size replica of the Oval Office from President Bush’s time as President.  This is worth mentioning because it was the first that allowed you to walk into the office and sit behind the desk while others we have seen were not interactive.  This is a really neat touch. 

A replica of President George W. Bush’s Oval Office; George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas

Other parts of the Library highlight the First Family’s life while in the White House.  There is a section on the First Pets and a delightfully funny retrospective of Mr. and Mrs. Bush by their daughters Jenna and Barbara.  The exhibits end exploring The Bush family and what they have done since leaving office. 

No matter your political preferences,  it is a great place to visit and if you have to opportunity to visit any Presidential library in your travels, I encourage you to experience one.  I have visited John F. Kennedy’s Library in Boston and Ronald Reagan’s Library in Simi Valley, California and while each one is different and striking in their own ways, Mr. Bush’s Library is very engaging and interactive, which we enjoyed very much. 

Day 5: Free day to explore more of Waco

Our last day in Texas was left as a free day on purpose.  We had done some driving throughout our trip so our plan was to stay close and go back to anything in Waco we might want to revisit, like Heritage Creamery (read more about them in a previous blog: https://letsjustgo247.com/?p=652) or the bookstore at Baylor University.  We enjoyed some shopping at Spice Village (not to be missed-there is something for EVERYONE!), and enjoyed one last Tex-Mex meal while we had the chance to get something authentic.  The rest of the day was set aside to relax and enjoy our little Fixer Upper Airbnb and prepare to head for home.    

Here are some direct links to all these great places to help you plan your trip:

Magnolia Table: www.magnolia.com

Magnolia Market Silos: www.shop.magnolia.com

Magnolia Bakery: www.magnoliabakery.com

Waco Tours: www.waco-tours.com  We met reps of Waco Tours across the street from the Magnolia Market Silos.  They took us by golf cart to their main offer where we met our group and boarded our van for our trip  They have wonderful guides and everyone associated with them were friendly.  Take a tour early in your visit if you can.  They take you to places around town that are worth going back to for more time!  They even took us back to our car, parked just outside the Magnolia Market Silos. 

Cheddar Box Food Truck: www.cheddarboxwaco.com

Alabama Sweet Tea Company: www.alabamasweettea.com

Harp Design Co: www.harpdesignco.com

Heritage Creamery: www.heritagecreamery.com

Airbnb, The Brick House: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/36237369?location=Waco%2C%20TX%2C%20United%20States&adults=2&check_in=2020-12-01&check_out=2020-12-05&source_impression_id=p3_1593959144_2qj0zL6FZr92ZjXs&guests=1

The San Antonio River Walk: https://www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/

The Alamo: https://www.thealamo.org/

The George W. Bush Presidential Center: https://www.bushcenter.org/

Spice Village: https://spicewaco.com/

We truly enjoyed our time in Waco.  Overall, Waco feels like home–like any town.  Chip and Joanna Gaines have made a positive impact that seems to have injected growth to downtown Waco and sparked new businesses that no doubt, have served many who live in Waco.  It is great to see. 

I hope I’ve been able to give you some ideas for your visit and I hope you enjoy your trip! 

A Weekend Getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains — June 30, 2020

A Weekend Getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains

“Let’s find some beautiful places and get lost together.”  –Unknown

We own an RV that we use to escape on weekends and so far, it’s been great fun.  While our long term goal is to RV for longer periods to some bucket list places, currently, we are weekend warriors exploring our home state of Virginia.  Recently, we ran away to the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Living along the East Coast of Virginia, we are lucky to have the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains not too far away.  The mountains are beautiful in every season and regardless of the time of year, a cool mountain breeze and an epic overlook always puts life into perspective.  

If you are passing through Central Virginia or are in need of a weekend adventure, here are some top ideas for you if you have a few days in the Blue Ridge.

Visit Monticello: Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Monticello is the home of Thomas Jefferson our Nation’s third President, Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence, diplomat, and architect.  Monticello is still, to this day, a reflection of Mr. Jefferson’s love of architecture and gardening.  Perched on a mountain above Charlottesville, there are sweeping views in every direction, lovely gardens to stroll through, and friendly docents and Jeffersonian experts always ready to teach you the history of the place and answer your questions when you visit.  Before you visit, check the website at www.monticello.org for ticketing and helpful hints for your visit.  If you’re a history buff, love architecture or gardening, Monticello is a great way to spend several hours.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Pick your own fruit:  There is nothing better than picking your own fruit right from the tree.  If you are looking to pick your own or grab a taste to grab and go, visit the farms below.  Be sure to check out their websites for the crops in season and the wonderful goodies you can enjoy like apple cider and apple cider donuts!

Find them at www.chilesfamilyorchards.com

Carter Mountain Orchard, 1435 Carters Mountain Trail, Charlottesville, Virginia (apples).

Chiles Peach Orchard, 1351 Greenwood Drive, Crozet, Virginia (peaches).

Spring Valley Orchard, 3256 Spring Valley Road, Afton, Virginia (cherries).

Tom Swinnen/Uplash

Skyline Drive: Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road that runs the length of the National Park Service’s Shenandoah National Park.  It runs between Front Royal, Virginia and Charlottesville.  Skyline Drive is known for it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, waterfalls, and epic views.  For details about the Drive and where to stop or stay, be sure to visit their website at www.visitskylinedrive.org.  

A mountain view

Wine, Beer & Spirits: If you like wine and beer tastings, the Blue Ridge of Virginia is the place for you!   I wouldn’t begin to make recommendations here since for medical reasons, I drink very little.  However, know that there is an abundance of wineries, distilleries, & breweries throughout the area.  Do your research and always ask a local for a recommendation–or try them all!  

Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis/Uplash

A visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains always makes me a believer of our State’s motto, “Virginia is for Lovers.”  Whether you’re looking for adventure or a rest, I hope your next trip to Virginia is just what you need.

Enjoy your adventure!