Category Archives: Exploring

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Ice Ice-land Baby

My mom mentioned that she was traveling to Europe and back via Reykjavik, it immediately perked me up. I’d always heard about Iceland and it’s majestic gnome land. Since Denver became a hub for Iceland Air recently and flights were 6 hours to Reykjavik, I jumped on it. What better way to have girls trip than a place that neither of us had been too. Both my mom and I had been pressuring my brother really hard to come since we hadn’t done a family trip since our road trip back east. Heck, who knows with all of our schedules if it would be ever possible again? Then Tate bought a house and the peer pressure was off. My mom didn’t want to guilt him, but secretly Tate had already bought a ticket.

So, Tate and I took off a Tuesday afternoon. Mom had no idea that he was on the flight since I was meeting her there from her trip back from Luzern. I tried to keep my mom from booking as many excursions and hotels as possible because I know adding a 3rd at a later time would be a bit more of an issue.

Iceland Air was a breeze. The food was expensive, a precursor to what we knew we would be experiencing when we get there, but it was quick and painless. The flight left at 5pm in Denver and would land in Reykjavik at 6am. It was so nice to not spend the money on another hotel but I knew I was going to drag a bit the first day. Iceland, known for it’s northern lights, even had them on the ceiling of plane in flight. Ahhh the details.

We land in Reykjavik and Tate and I immediately separate. He puts on his hoodie, and I head out into customs. I grab my bag and head to passenger pickup where my mom was eagerly awaiting. I, quite nervous flubbed my words to not giveaway the surprise but my mom likely thought it was just jetlag. So, we headed to an ATM so I could get some Krona when the surprise began to unravel. A gentleman who spoke mainly Icelandic came up to my mom and asked if she could take a photo of him and his ‘friend’. Odd as it sounds to ask a stranger to take a photo at the ATM in an airport, my mom agreed and began taking a photo of this stranger and his ‘friend’…zooming in and out, trying to get the perfect angle and STILL not knowing that this ‘friend’ was my brother. Finally, as awkward as the Icelander must have felt, we were beginning to think my mom was never going to guess it was Tate. So Tate started laughing, as was I and took off his hood. My mom was in SHOCK! Total shock. So much so, that she was speechless. Takes a lot for that to happen. Tate and I were imagining the scene and both of us thought she would shriek say something like ‘TATTEEEEEEEEEEE, how could you?’ But we’ll take her being speechless, that doesn’t happen…ever.

IMG_0014 After the shock wore off, we quickly went to our rented car- mind you the one that was rented for two. We crammed our bags (well moms several bags from her month long trip back in Switzerland, my suitcase and Tate’s tiny backpack and headed on the road. What I love about our travels, as a trio is that we don’t have plans when we get started. We figure it out as we go. We knew how close the Blue Lagoon was to the airport so that was the only trip that I booked in advance and had three tickets. With mom and her new hot springs, I knew that we wanted allow a day for that, so I’m glad we did. We got there first thing, changed into our robes and dipped into the 104-degree temperature thermal springs. The water, a milky blue smelled of sulfur but it kind of reminded me of home. The cold stone and FREEZING temperatures were just like the days when we would get off the ski hill and go straight to the hot springs. It was the perfect balance to our day. Tate and I were both very jet lagged and mom was in heaven, doing reconisenze every corner of that place. She took photos of the towels, changing room, everything. And every step she took in that place she became more and more inspired. It was really cool to watch.

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Our grocery-getter

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We went to Iceland during their shoulder season. The daylight was very similar to Colorado but it was around 32 degrees day and night the entire time we were there. The reason it’s the shoulder season is because the Northern Lights normally don’t start until October when it gets dark much earlier. The summer also brings a lot warmer temperatures but longer days. I’m really glad we went when we did because we had a good balance…except for the Northern Lights.

We left the blue lagoon and started our road trip. We knew that we wanted to head up the southern coast so my mom made a reservation at a hotel that was on trip advisor. The Hotel Ranga sat along the lush green coast and was notorious for viewing Northern Lights. They had wood loungers specifically viewing and they had a call service that would call us in the middle of the night if they had any indication of the arrival of the lights. As we drove along the coast, we would stop at all of the landmark places and take photos. Everything was so lush and green. The island had an interesting contrast of inhabitable places and very lush green spaces. It was like being on Mars. Because of the constant wind, trees wouldn’t grow very high. The only vegetation seemed like it was due to human interaction. Trees were planted in rows and rows and seemed very manufactured but beautiful at the same time. We would drive past these towns that seemed like absolute ghost towns. Not a person in sight, no vegetation and no decoration on the exterior of the house. Nothing could withstand the wind. It was really eerie at first. It seemed like a scene out of an apocalypse movie. I had seen the Secret Life of Walter Mitty where he goes to Iceland and there is no one in sight. He later learns that there was a Volcano eruption and everyone had evacuated. That’s exactly how Southern Iceland fealt to us. While beautiful, it was desolate. Green for miles and miles. Rolling hills and jagged mountains that were black, very black. Volcanic erruptions overtime had caused everything to turn black. It wasn’t a porous rock like what I had seen in Hawaii, it was more sandy then anything.

Wee bit windy on our drive
Wee bit windy during a stop along the coast

Our first night we stopped a little bit earlier since we were all tired. The howling wind and our relaxation at the Blue Lagoon made for sleepy travelers. We got to our room, changed and grabbed a drink. That’s when I realized just how expensive this place was. As an island, I can imagine that most things are imported. They do try to grow as much as they can with greenhouses warmed and watered by the natural hot water. But most of the brand name things had to be imported. Also, all of the hot water on the island is from the ground hot springs. There aren’t hot water coolers, just straight from the hot springs. It’s very efficient and free for Islanders, but holy cow it smells. I never felt like I was clean the entire time. I smelled like rotten eggs when I got out of the shower. Forget about drinking it and brushing my teeth. It definitely is an acquired taste and takes time to get comfortable with that.

Loungers for the northern lights at the hotel
Loungers for the northern lights at the hotel

So, I ordered 3 Bailey’s and coffee for $65. I bout spit out my coffee, but then would have lost about $4 worth of goods. We drank, chatted and then head to dinner at our hotel. The restaurant had a quaint crowd. Only the people staying there really ate there and it was all authentic Icelandic food; reindeer, salmon and puffin….PUFFIN? And to top it off, they translated the names of everything with photos on the menu. Let’s just say the puffin was tasty, but could have done without the visual.

A reminder of what we were eating was printed on our menu. How nice of them.
A reminder of what we were eating was printed on our menu. How nice of them.

The next day we got up got the hotel breakfast of bread, lunchmeats and cheeses all with a side of cod liver oil. Tate took the bullet on that one. I could tell by the look on his face – that wasn’t a gamble I was willing to take.

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Then we were off on the road. We had heard from several people to hit up the Golden Circle, which I researched and mapped out on the way. We found a local map, so mom would navigate, Tate would drive, and I would….sleep. I think the combination of the colder weather; overcast and howling wind it kept me sedated the entire trip. I would get in the car and the first 5 minutes, I would be asleep for a catnap. Thankfully I didn’t miss much scenery, but I could stay awake! That day, we drove further up north on the southern coast to see a wool factory, take a walk on the beach of Vik and see most of the golden circle: the waterfall Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. When I first started researching the trip, a few people had advised to stay in Reykjavik and take the bus tours of all the places we wanted to visit. That we would get the history and no hassle of driving, but I’m glad we choose the inverse. For one, we got some time as a family and we were agile. We could run in and out of specific places and not wait for all 50 people to pass the gift shop.

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Gullfoss Waterfalls, so beautiful!
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The beautiful beaches of Vik

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Strokkur geyser
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Saw this from afar during our drive and had to stop. I swear gnomes live here

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We stayed the night in the Geyser town in a cabin of a quaint hotel. Just like the night before, the hotel had the only food source in the town. Icelanders must not go out to dinner much. This time I opted for fish and definitely wasn’t disappointed. Nightlife isn’t much in these remote towns, so we grabbed the bottle of wine that we bought at the store the day before and just chatted in our cabin while watching the BBC.

The next day we woke up and finished out the rest of the Golden Circle, visiting the beautiful national park Þingvellir, and headed back to Iceland. We tried to take a detour, which was a decision we’ll always remember. This road went right over a glacier and was snow packed the entire way with not a single sight of another driver the entire way. Our little KIA was pushed to the limit. But we made it back to our final town of the trip Reykjavik for the evening.

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Lots of gates with no fences, not sure the reasoning but I’m sure there is a nice fable about it

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We were still on the quest to see the northern lights that day so once we checked into our hotel, we all bundled up and headed out for dinner and drinks looking outside constantly to see a glimpse of the greens and purples of the lights. Unfortunately, the night passed away and no sign of the lights. We later found out that there were pockets outside of the city that were seen, but it was too cloudy by Reykjavik. There is also an app that can predict where they are seen that night. My suggestion for next trip is to follow that and stay out of the city. Reykjavik is a great town. It has some history to it, but it’s very much a young and social city. As a family, we weren’t entirely interested in the nightlife, which is boasted as the best in all of Europe. If we were to go back, I likely wouldn’t stay again in Reykjavik. It’s a city, like all others. It has typical fast food, restaurants, clubs, and shopping. I got my fill of the shops in a few short hours after seeing the pricing. But, I thoroughly enjoyed the people watching:)

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DSC_0265Our last morning we woke up, gorged ourselves on an Icelandic breakfast of Skyr yogurt with granola and breads and headed out towards the airport, stopping and seeing the sights along the way. We quickly got to the airport and bid farewell to an amazing trip with memories to last a lifetime. Now, on to the next trip!

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Icelandic Breakfast

 

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Coachella-ella-eh-eh

When Amber called me to tell me that she had an extra ticket to the biggest music festival on the planet, I jumped. Ok, maybe squealed first, called Scotty and then jumped. It was always a bucket list item but I just never thought it was attainable. Tickets are outrageous, it requires a flight, hotel, and a few days off of work. Scotty and I have planned so many trips throughout the year that I just didn’t think it was possible. None the less, a few weeks later I packed my bag with festival-ware (also known as barely there attire that doesn’t match) and headed to Palm Springs.

The experience during Coachella is like none-other. Celebrity sitings, 24/7 concerts and just crowds full of people that are happy (artificial or not:)) It was such an incredible vibe. We would spend our mornings and early afternoons at the pool. This wasn’t just a hotel pool – it was vegas style. DJ’s, people in costumes, inflatables and dancing. I almost felt bad for the few families that brought their children to the pool, then I figured hey, they came to Palm Springs DURING COACHELLA. This whole city is there for Coachella.

Then the afternoons we would get ready and head for the venue. We rented beach cruisers and just biked over to the venue. Definitely a must for anyone who goes. Traffic is intense to get to the venue, but we cruised (literally) right by.

Coachella just had this buzz about it. The weather was perfect, not too hot during the day and not too cold during the night. There were balloons strung throughout the entire venue, 5 stages, beer gardens throughout and various entertainment elements throughout. Amber and I tried the silent dance party….ummm, we could have done without that. But everything else was so fun. I ran into Victoria’s secret models, bloggers, and various celebs were there throughout the event all incognito and just wanting to be there for fun. Seriously, what a great time and was just what I needed to get away from the daily house woe’s and the emotional spring that I had. It was very refreshing and great to spend it with my bestie.

Here are the lineups that we saw:

  • Chromeo
  • Martin Garrix
  • Calvin Harris
  • Beck
  • Ellie Goulding
  • Capital Cities
  • Arcade Fire
  • Disclosure
  • Zedd
  • Empire of the Sun
  • Outkast

Sad I missed this:(

  • Lana Del Ray (side note: saw her at Red Rocks after and she was terrible. Made the right choice in missing this one)
  • Muse
  • Pharrell (We were both super bummed that we missed this one but there was a serious sandstorm and we were over it)
  • ZZ Ward
  • Lorde
  • Solange (this was a running joke for the both of us. Throughout the weekend we would jokingly ask if people were going to see Solange. Then when we left Friday night early because of the sandstorm we shared a cab with a guy who was on the PR team for Lorde and he asked us if we went to see Solange. We both laughed and he goes, ‘really? don’t you know if you see Solange, Bey is bound to be there as well?’ Sure enough, read the tabloids that night and sure as shit Beyonce was there.)
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Silent dance party – party of 1

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Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

IMG_0011I’ve always wanted to feel a bit more comfortable in the kitchen, it’s a scary place. Using a knife is foreign to me, I never time my meals right so the couscous is done looooong before the chicken and I always stick to staple meals, never venturing out. I would love to someday look into my fridge and see absolutely nothing to work with, but manage to scavenge through the freezer, pantry and fridge to make a kick a$$ meal for 8 all in an hours time. So, I started researching cooking schools because I wanted to go somewhere that could teach me the essentials, not just one night of cooking where it’s a group and we learn to cook a themed meal. I wanted to start from scratch. Day 1: This is the Kitchen. Day 2: This is how you hold a knife….that kind of basic cooking. I came across Cook Street and knew it was a perfect fit. They’re located 1 block from my house and they had a classic essentials class for 4 weeks. It was perfect! I started my first class the first week of March. I was a bit timid not knowing how advanced others were but quickly we all could relate. Everyone was there just to learn, not show off, so we were off to a good start. The first day, we learned how to make le grande aoli, an omelet and semifreddo. I was SHOCKED by the omelet. No ingredients other than herbs and eggs and it was the most delicious omelet I have had in a long time. I’ve been showing off my omelet skills ever since:)

My view
My view

Delicious semifreddo

My homework and it turned out awesome!
My homework and it turned out awesome!

The second week it was knife skills. It was so fascinating to feel much more comfortable with a knife. We learned the basics of cutting vegetables and other ingredients. I was in awe at house easy and how misunderstood I have been this whole time on cutting things like onions, peppers and garlic. MIND. BLOWN! The second week we learned how to make pasta (from scratch, booyah!), poach chicken, understand what mirepoix really is, and combine that all into delicious chicken soup. Oh yeah, the most delicious chicken noodle soup ever! We also learned how to bake a tart, and combine an arugula salad.

Making Pasta
Making Pasta

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The finished project
The finished project

The third week was a toughy for me. Gutting a fish was not on my list of things I ever wanted to learn. I went in full steam knowing full well that I would never have to do something like this ever again. Cracking bones, devaining, fileting…all of these were not on my top list but I did it. I survived, but was a little weak at the knees for sure. On top learning how to gut and pan sear a fish, we learned how to make couscous, gratin (not the potatoes – veggies), pan sauce and crepes suzette.

Where it all started
Where it all started
here fishy fishy
here fishy fishy
Pan Sauce
Pan Sauce
Vegetable Gratin
Vegetable Gratin
Couscous Salad
Couscous Salad

The final week was sad to know it was coming to an end. It was also the day I was going to learn how to grill. I laughed at the instructor when they said we were grilling. He knows that my husband would never let me tough a single thing on his coveted grill, doesn’t he? So, for shits and giggles I learned how to grill. It really was an art form learning how to get the perfect grill marks on a steak(for the beef tagliata). We also grilled veggies (summer squash) and topped it off with chopped pesto. We finished the meal with a chocolate mousse. About died and went to heaven when we had that. It was pure deliciousness and went STRAIGHT TO MY HIPS! But worth every calorie.

Check out those grill marks
Check out those grill marks
The finished product
The finished product
Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mousse
Chef Piper
Chef Piper

Looking back, I’m glad I did the class. I’ve made the omelets several times, poached veggies and pan seared chicken. But most importantly, I feel comfortable with the tools we have. It’s empowering. BONUS alert for you ladies out there: In our household whoever cooks doesn’t have to do the cleaning. Did I just sign up for a future of no dishes?! Hell yes!

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Winter in Wonderland – a Weekend at the Cabin

Ever since I was little we’ve had a cabin way back in the woods of Colorado. I loved going up there as a kid. Tate and I would play with the cabin neighbors on summer weekends and just do what kids do – roast s’mores by the fire, swim in the pond, ride four wheelers and mountain bike. It really was a dream for us. But eventually, as I got older – it wasn’t like I started hating the cabin, I just chose to stay in Glenwood with friends for the weekend and gradually didn’t go as often. As an adult, it has been years since I’ve been to the cabin and it’s something that my mom has been holding against us from the day I met Scotty. She will go several times in a month, it really is her happy place and we still haven’t been up there since Scotty and I met.

We decided this winter would be the time. Its tough to go to the cabin just for the weekend because it takes about 5 hours to get there, so we wanted to make our trip worth it. We decided that between Christmas and New Years would be a good idea. It’s a time that both of our offices are pretty dead, so we took a few days off of work and drove to the cabin. The cabin isn’t as easy to get to in the Winter. We had to drive about 5 hours to get there and then packed our stuff in a snowmobile and schlepped our stuff 20 minutes to the cabin. It really is surreal when you get there. The cabin lies on a peaceful mountain with about 9 neighbors within a 20 mile radius. The cabin sits on a pond in the middle of a field and is only heated with propane and the water comes from a spring. So, no electricity, no cell service…it’s really like stepping back in time and it’s my favorite time of year to visit. The pond is iced over, the deck has 4-5 feet of snow on it and there is always a fire going to keep the cabin warm.

When we got there we were immediately greeted by my eager mother. She was pretty anxious and we kind of kidded with her a few days prior saying that we couldn’t go, so I think she really didn’t believe we were coming until we were actually sitting in the cabin. Bear in mind that Scott grew up on a farm in Texas, but he really is a city boy at heart. He didn’t know how to operate a snowmobile and just took a while to understand the cabin code. Like shoes must be off before you set foot in the house, but don’t leave the boots outside for more than a few minutes because they’ll be frozen solid the next time you put them on and thus making it near impossible to step into. Then there’s the peeing rule. It’s a dude thing I guess, but it’s allowed to pee off the deck at the cabin if you need to go at night so the toilet noise doesn’t wake everyone up. Scotty learned that you have to pee where people won’t walk, because there’s nothing more embarrassing than a stream of yellow right for everyone to see:) And lastly it’s vital to keep the door shut. It takes a day to heat the cabin up with the fire and anytime the door is left open, the heat quickly escapes. He’s learning, but there was a trial and error process beforehand.

What I love the most about the cabin in the winter is the peacefulness. There really isn’t much to do outside aside from snowshoeing and snowmobiling so a lot of time is spent inside reading, playing games and catching up. There aren’t the distractions of a TV or cell phone so it’s really undivided attention at it’s finest and I really enjoyed catching up on my reading. We ate well and played well the whole time. Each day, we would gather with the neighbors and go on a snowmobiling trip with Coop, Tate, Scotty and I and would head out into the abyss. It was never a dull moment. Scotty would flip his machine, or I would find a tree well – there was always a opportunity to get a workout when snowmobiling. But it was a blast! Scotty had a grin from ear-to-ear. He would get coaching by Sandy (one of the neighboring cabin owners and actually a previous owner with my mom on the cabin) or my step dad, Coop. I have a feeling we got him hooked. He was standing on the machine, doing turns and had much more confidence after the third and final ride.

It was overall a great weekend. Mom fed us well; eating and drinking like kings and we all got to spend our second Christmas together as a family. I hope we can get to the cabin this summer, but for now, here are photos of our adventure.

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Getting ready for the ride
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My house slippers at the cabin. Pretty frightening
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Tate setting off a rocket…no clue why, but it was fun to watch
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At the top of Mt. Baldy after a 3 hour snowmobile ride. You could see for hundreds of miles
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Tate and Al
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Pit stop
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Had a throw a little panorama’s in there.
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Scotty thinking that throwing me in the snow was retribution for me kicking his butt on the snow machines!
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Mr. Handsome on his ride
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I couldn’t help it, it’s just too funny! He loved this bear during nap times. Should I be worried?!

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Ain't she a beaut?
Ain’t she a beaut?