Friday, July 06, 2007

Power Hour

While each day takes on a life of its own on this trip, there is usually one thing for certain. Somewhere between 2pm and 6pm we crash for a bit back at the motel. Always wondering if we'll venture back out, there's never much question as undoubtedly that "power hour" rejuvenates us and gets us ready for round two (or three...or four...).

My favorite power hour occurred a few days ago in Memphis. We'd done a lot--Graceland, Neely's, Slave Haven, and the National Civil Rights Museum--and we all needed a break. When we got to the motel we did the usual--a little resting, a little blogging, and even some Webkinz. At the start we thought that there was no way we were going back out. After all, it was around 6pm already. 7pm we all jumped up and got ready to head back to Beale Street for another round of ribs, blues, and fun.

Today, our siesta (we are in New Mexico!) began at 2. A bit early but no less necessary for recharging our batteries so we can head down to Old Town Albuquerque for an early evening of shopping and strolling.


Laundry List

Watching the spinning of washing and drying machines can certainly make you dizzy, but luckily, we don't have to do it very often. Today just happened to be one of those days. As we approached day seven as our clothes' bags go, we found washing our clothes necessary. Instead of washing our clothes in the one washer and drying them in the one dryer they have at the hotel, we decided to go to the laundromat. We found one in Albuquerque that was empty besides us.

Mommy and Daddy filled up the washers with our clothes while Z and I played Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and pinball. After about 23 minutes, the clothes were done being washed and were ready to be dried. Daddy and I loaded up the dryers because Mommy was tending to Z (he wasn't feeling well). The dryers were done in about 30 minutes and it was time to fold.

I lined up the bags from one to six (we hadn't worn day seven's clothes yet). I had made a list of what we wore each day so that we would have an easier time putting our clothes in the correct bags. We learned our lesson with that last year when we had to guess which outfit went with each day. Mommy and Daddy folded while I put the outfits in front of the bags they went in while looking at the list. Apparently, it came in handy because we managed to get all the outfits in their correct bags.

Even though it took a while to wash the clothes, it was fun because we all got to work together.


Of Pits and Pyramids

One of our fun little diversions on this trip is checking out college basketball arenas. I mean, we are hoop heads after all. So far, we have hit the Pyramid and the Pit. Trivia question: Name the universities associated with these two fabled stadiums. Answers below. These are on the heels of last year, when we drove up to Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse and UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. It's always great to catch a quick glimpse of the spirit that exists locally around the university in town. For a few minutes, we were happy to be in Lobos country!


PS: University of Memphis (The Pyramid) and University of New Mexico (The Pit)

48 Degrees!?

While the rest of the West apparently sweats it out under record breaking temperatures, here we are in Albuquerque...chillin' out (literally!). Yesterday morning, when we reached the lower terminal of the Sandia Peak Tramway, the temperature at the summit was 48 degrees. That's right...48 degrees! Later, after our four-mile crest hike (notice Z's arms inside his clothes), a storm came through the mountains, depositing hail all around us. Luckily, we were safe and sound inside the restaurant at the summit. Except, of course, when we decided to run outside and frolic in the hail and freezing cold weather (Desi move, Des!).

Meanwhile, down in Albuquerque proper (a measly one-mile high), the temperatures have been maxing out in the 80s, until today when the thermometer hit the low 90s. Even at that, it's not really uncomfortable at all. The air is nice and dry and it cools off quickly in the evening. It just feels good to breathe here, if that makes any sense. (Julie says she understands what I mean!)

I'm afraid our weather party is about to end, however. Tomorrow, we cross into Arizona. Triple-digit temperatures, here we come...


Family, Fitness, Flora, Fauna, and Food

Majestically jutting out from the high desert of New Mexico is a true gem. Standing 10,678 feet above sea level, Sandia Peak is a must-see for travelers to this region.

For hikers and naturalists alike, Sandia is paradise. The world's longest tramway deposits you near the top where your journey may begin. (Although some choose to hike the 4,000 plus foot elevation from bottom to top.) The payoff...numerous ecosystems, varied flora and fauna, and views that cannot easily be topped. From moss that resembles an "old man's beard" to aspens and meadows sprinkled with wildflowers, birds (including hummingbirds!), bears (which eluded us this time), gorges, rock outcroppings, and boulders beautifully placed by nature, there is never a dull moment.

For the Ballas the perfect ending to any hike is a good meal. We were not disappointed as there is a restaurant up there (no kidding) called "High Finance." The food is outstanding and the views as you can imagine are spectacular.

Sandia is simply sensational.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Red or Green?

Until last summer, I had no idea there was such a thing as New Mexican cuisine. Not Mexican food, not Tex-Mex, but New Mexican cuisine.

The distinguishing characteristic of New Mexican cuisine is chili. Here's how it works. You basically take any southwestern dish you know and love (for example, tacos) and slather it with chili. Just a few minutes ago, in fact, I downed a "Blue Corn Enchilada Plate" at Los Cuates, which may just be the best New Mexican restaurant of them all. It certainly is one of our all-time favorite places to eat...anywhere.

Here's how the menu describes the dish that's now in my belly: "Two flat enchiladas layered with cheese and onion on blue corn tortillas, served with refried beans and Spanish rice. Topped with melted cheddar cheese and your choice of red or green chili. Includes two sopaipillas and honey." So good I think I'll need one more plateful before we head out of Albuquerque!

When I ordered the dish, the waitress asked me the most ubiquitous question in all of New Mexico: "Red or Green?" You see, the chili comes in two colors, with two very different tastes. For my money, the right answer is always green. But, hey, that's just me. (Salsa Verde is always in my shopping cart when we go to Trader Joe's.) Plus, the salsa they put on the table (with tortillas) when you sit down is red, so I figure I get the best of both New Mexican worlds in one sitting!


Cadillac, Cadillac

Today we stopped at the Cadillac Ranch. We brought four cans of spray paint, orange, black, pink, and blue. We each had our own can and I had black. Dad and I worked on writing Duke and St. A's. I made a friend named Chase. We climbed on the cars after I showed him how to climb. Then he had to leave so I climbed on the highest part of the car and used some spray paint. Dad ran out first, then Mom, then Julie. I never finished mine so I gave it to someone. When we left we had to stop at a gas station to wash up. Hope all you readers have a happy 4th of July!


Big Texan Shoot Off!

"Pow!" the sound effects shouted. "Pow!" another 'bullet' sounds as Mommy, Daddy, Z, and I practice our shooting. The contest for best score at shooting targets in the shooting gallery at the Big Texan would start any minute. (Yes, we went back to the Big Texan again this year on our way through Amarillo, Texas. We couldn't resist!) We had arranged that the girls would go head-to-head and the boys would go head-to-head. Then, for the final round, the girls' winner would go head-to-head with the boys' winner. This idea was created during lunch over a meal of steak, grilled cheese, and chicken fingers.

But since we hadn't practiced our shooting for a year (the last time we were at the Big Texan), we had a couple practice turns to try out our aim. Then the practice turns were over and the showdown began!

First the boys went. Since we all decided that the pistols were easier to handle than the rifles we were all on equal ground. The start buttons were pushed and the boys began firing. 100, 200, 300, 400, it was neck and neck. Finally they both finished all 15 of their shots as Daddy pulled ahead with 1200 while Z was left with 1100. Daddy had won round one but it was left to the girls to decide who he would be up against.

Now, for some strange reason, when up against pressure, I seem to have awful aim when it comes to shooting. This differs from when I am not against pressure when I get close to perfect scores. So as our start buttons were pushed I was an amateur compared to Mommy's diligent and almost perfect aim. With a score of only 600 to show for it I lost to Mommy's 900. She got to move to the next round and face Daddy for a winner's prize (something from the gift shop!).

Z and I pushed the start buttons and the final round began. We shouted their scores as each bullet hit the target. Daddy finished quickly with a score of 1100. It was up to Mommy to decide the winner. She had three shots left when she missed one. Mommy had to make one of the next two shots to win. She made both of them and won the shoot off with the score 1300. We were all excited about Mommy's win and we headed over to the gift shop to get her a prize. The bulky Big Texan key chain, which now hangs on her key ring, shows that Mommy is the Big Texan shoot off champion!


Seven Things That Make Bricktown a Cool Spot

1. Bourbon Street Cafe (nice blackened salmon [Norwegian!] and seafood saute...not to mention the cool waiter dude!)

2. The 3-D dungeon ("It was creepy," according to Z-man. Julie's take? "Very cool and full of scary surprises.")

3. The canal (It's gotta be man-made, right? I mean, we're in a neighborhood smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma City!)

4. The white egret chillin' in the middle of the canal (Maybe it is a real body of water!? Unless...hmm...the egret is mechanical...hmm...)

5. The great big American flag (They're still taking it down, right Des?)

6. Drink Z's (Too bad you're not 21 yet, Z!)

7. Refurbished railings to hang on (loads of fun, the kind of fun you'll never read about in any official guide...but that's never stopped us, right gang?)


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Serenity Amidst Torment

This year when we stopped to pay our respects at the Oklahoma City memorial, I was struck by thoughts of the children whose lives ended so abruptly and the families whose lives would never be the same.

Around the back side of the memorial is a separate, less attended area at the site where the day care center playground once stood. Around this area is a fence with bells attached--one for each of the children...a place for respectful prayer and reflection. It is hard to believe that those children would be in their mid to late teens now. Yet I can only imagine them as children stopped in time.

It's sad to imagine that in such a beautiful world such hatred exists. As a family, we talked about this fact but also quickly discussed our role in this world--to leave it a little better than we found it. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. This memorial certainly stopped us in our tracks and reminded us of this in a vivid way.


Cloud Watcher

Driving across Arkansas, I was "cloud watching." I took note of the huge white puffy clouds that looked like cloud kingdoms crossing the blue sky. Although it was a bright, sunny day there were tons of cumulus clouds in the sky.

I could also see far off dark clouds that surrounded the cumulus ones. As we got closer to Oklahoma, the clouds became closer. (Now I don't know how many of you have heard about Oklahoma's 17 day straight rain streak and the flooding, but it has been going on.) Then, as if by magic, we crossed the Oklahoma border and the sky became covered with dark rain clouds.

As we neared the Sonic we would be eating lunch at, it became even more cloudy in the sky. Then, suddenly, after we ordered, it started drizzling and then raining more violently. We all decided to wait it out in the car until the storm let up a bit but the rain was relentless and we finally just decided to continue on the road.

It is not every day that you are a cloud watcher and just happen to arrive in a state where a storm has been going on for 17 days on and off but you can leave it to us to get that done!


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sonic Stress

So today's a big drive day...474 miles. We decide to break things up a bit with a stop in Little Rock. Next stop...lunch somewhere around the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. We recall stopping at a little country buffet place last year (going in the opposite direction, of course) and decide that we will try to eat there again...

I think it's at this exit.
Maybe it's at the next exit.
I think it's this way because I remember that building over there.
Me, too. No, I think it was on a hill. Look there's a hill that way.
Mom, I really need to use the!

Needless to say, we never found the restaurant so we did what was necessary and prudent. We went to Sonic. (We did need to fill that once-a-trip requirement, anyway!) I can still taste that extra-long chili-cheese coney and probably will for days. (The commercials are much better than the food.) In any case, all our bodily needs were met and it certainly wasn't our last meal!


Little Rock

Today we stopped at Little Rock for a stretch and to see the town again. Last year we looked for the actual "little rock" but never found it. After we parked we went to the farmer's market. We bought some food and went on a search.

Instead of walking around we looked for someone to ask where the little rock is. We found a store but the owner wasn't there. So Dad asked the police. They told him it was at the foot of the first bridge to the left. (Oh, I made a mistake because Dad was looking at a map not asking the police.)

I spotted the little rock first and climbed over the railing and touched it. We took a lot of pictures. (P.S. I took a rock.) Then we left Little Rock with excitement.


Monday, July 02, 2007

"Early morning, April 4

Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride"



Livin' Large on the Lisa Marie

Since it is illegal to visit Memphis without a token trip to Graceland, today we decided to take in one aspect of Elvis pop culture that we skipped on our last tour--his airplanes. During his glory days, Elvis purchased and refurbished two planes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II in his usual gaudy 70s style--lots of suede, funky colors, and even 24 carat gold seat belt clasps.

While it was interesting to once again participate in the legend of Elvis, I was struck by a comment mentioned in one of the film clips presented during the tour. Apparently, Elvis once realized that Lisa Marie, his daughter, had never seen snow so he fired up the plane engines and had his pilot take him and her to Colorado so she could play in the snow for a few minutes. (Yes, a few minutes.) I guess I was supposed to be impressed by his attention to her "need," but I was actually saddened by the thought that a few minutes in the snow was supposed to replace a more consistent childhood--one filled with attentiveness and attention.

While Elvis' music is certainly worth listening to and worthy of the praise it has received, his lifestyle certainly is not. Sometimes those who seem to have everything have little. Sometimes those who seem to have little have everything.


Rub Fest '07

By now, you've heard what Julie and Z are collecting. Well, what about us big kids? Since we are passing through barbecue country from North Carolina to Memphis to Texas (not to mention Cajun country!), Desi and I have decided to stock up on rubs and sauces! Already we have grabbed some quality product from Blues City Cafe (on Beale Street) and Neely's (ahh...Neely's!). And there is much more tasty stuff to come...

So what are we going to do with all of this good seasoning? You all are hereby invited to Rub Fest '07!!! From August through the end of the grilling season, we will be showcasing rubs and sauces from all around the South. There will be lots of chicken on the Weber (not to mention the occasional cow and pig). Just follow your nose...

But don't come just yet...there's lots more hunting and gathering to do before the festivities can begin!


In the Back Seat

When I am in the back seat guess what I do...

I read books like Deltora Quest, I look out the windows, write blogs, take naps, and listen to music. I also play a big role in the trip. I climb in the back seat to get food and drinks from the cooler. Sometimes I fall down if the car turns. Oh, I forgot to say that I do invisible ink books. This year I am collecting key chains. (Julie is collecting post cards.) After the trip I will put the key chains together and make a necklace.


Picking Up Where We Left Off

When you're on a 37 day cross-country trip, you are bound to meet some people you know along the way. One group of people we saw were my friend Sydney and her family. I have known Sydney since we were in first grade, when her family lived in Maryland. Since then, they moved to Tennessee and since Tennessee was on our path, we stopped by their house for some lunch and some fun.

We, meaning, Sydney and I, had fun getting captured by Z and Connor (Sydney's 5-year old brother) and helping Cameron (Sydney's 7-year old sister) escape being captured. We also jumped on their trampoline for a little while, but that was short-lived because the boys started squirting us with water guns.

Of course, the adults were talking downstairs, as always. Thanks to a delicious meal, we all got stuffed to the brim. Our visit was summed up when Joe and Jamie (Sydney's parents) took us to see the neighbor's huge backyard pool, which had recently been finished. With hugs till next time, I'd like to say thanks to Sydney and her family for a great visit!


Backseat Trouble

If you want to get pulled over by a police officer, let me ride in the very back of your car. Ask Andrew...I've done it twice to him, including the other day in Asheville.

We were going back to the hotel from a great dinner at Early Girl Eatery (an awesome nouveau Southern cuisine place). Desi and I were sitting on the floor in the back of the minivan (the third seat had been taken out). Last year, it was Z and I, in the back-facing seat of the Crown Vic wagon (a sweet ride!).

That first time, the officer wanted to check to see if Z was old enough to ride in the third seat (he was). This time? It turns out Andrew's rear lights were out.

Coincidence, you say? Perhaps...How about we test my "troublemaker" theory next time we all get together?


Jesus' Face

Saturday evening, we went to church in Asheville. It was half way through the Mass when I saw something on the cross. I saw Jesus' face on his stomach. He had a crown, two big eyes, a beard, a mouth, a nose, and a light coming from his ribs. After that, I immediately told Mom and she told Dad and I told Julie. We all could see it and were amazed. It was so cool and I think people should go see it at the Basilica in Asheville.


Two Brothers From New Jersey...

...Hanging out in the mountains of North Carolina. 'Nuff said...


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sedona, Goldens, and Rock and Roll

Well, the trip got off to a great start yesterday, with a stop for lunch at Lynn and Scott's place in Greensboro. As usual, the food was outstanding--shrimp salad, chicken salad, corn on the cob, two types of iced tea, tort and fruit for dessert. We did indeed "arrive hungry and leave full" as Scott suggested. Thanks guys!

We actually first met Lynn and Scott right after we got married, when we were hunting for our first Golden Retriever (Fortune's Duke of Destiny!). They were kind enough to take a chance on a young couple who were renting a house (probably not usually a good demographic for responsible Golden owners!).

Then, over the years, we discovered we all have a lot more in common than our love for the breed. There was the time that we road-tripped down to Greensboro for a Bruce concert. Turns out, Lynn and Scott were going too. Then it got really cool. Same section! Same row! In a sea of 20,000 people, there we were, against all odds, virtually next to one another!

And then there was the time we were sitting in their lovely yard (eating well, of course!) and we first heard about a place called Sedona. We were totally blank slates...Sedona? But our curiosity was piqued and we made sure to pass through there on our road trip last year. Needless to say, it will be a longer stay this year!


Bags...Revised and Resubmitted

This year's packing was a bit more intense because we needed to add a few accoutrements like golf clubs and tennis rackets. (Julie insisted that we leave the bikes home...I guess she didn't want to have to keep looking out the back window to make sure they were still there for 6000 miles!) As a result we needed to tweak our seven bag plan. We invested in a more compact, sleeker model (total cost, $7.35). They take up less space and are easier to move around. They fit one day's clothes for all of us perfectly. Thanks to the kids for helping me size them up...they actually come in several sizes...the larger models are $2.00 each so these were even more cost-effective!