Monday, November 25, 2013

Christmas List Done. Check it.. twice!

It's not even Thanksgiving, but I already feel like the world is in full-on Christmas mode.  The decorations are up at Union Station, friends are already setting up their Christmas trees, even my ipod seems to shuffle more carols into my playlist.  It fills me with so much nostalgia and panic at the same time.  Nostalgia because I love the traditions and family and decorations. Panic because so little time for so much tradition and family and decorations! I shake my fist at you and all your holiday craft decorations, Pinterest!  And I didn't have a "friendsgiving"! And since when has that become a thing? Am I a bad friend? I'm not sure I can handle any more cooking or decorating.  And so many sales! And what do I buy everyone? And what do I tell them to buy me?

Who am I kidding?  That last one is actually the only one I have figured out! I have been trying to keep a running list on my phone all year just for this occasion! See, this year is a little tricky because we are also moving around the holidays (extra fun!) and putting most household stuff into storage. So as much as I would love beautiful house/kitchen goodies, I also don't want to wait until stuff like that gets out of storage to use them! Maybe you know someone who doesn't need or have room for house stuff? Or you just  need help getting gift ideas flowing? Well I am sharing my wish-list today in case you need some inspiration! (Honestly not meant as a hint for anyone - except maybe my husband!)

1. Rain boots: commuting in the rain makes for some \ sad and wet feet.  I used to have some rain boots my mom got me, but after a few years of wear they developed a few holes and don't keep the rain out anymore.  I like the shiny look of these ones, and while this teal version from target is also nice, I really want them in yellow.  And a yellow rain coat.  Because I want to look like the Morton Salt girl.  (I mean, I don't actually want to look like her, but I really do want rain gear in yellow.  If you're already wearing something that huge, it may as well be a fun color.)

2. Long sleeve dress: Am I the only one who want a long sleeve dress that isn't a fitted sweater dress with a turtle neck collar?  Big collars get too hot, any amount if wool makes me itchy, and I need something that will still look good after I've eaten pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies for a month.  It's surprisingly hard to find winter dresses which meet that criteria! I love the colors and geometric look to this dress from LA/Ghana-based company Osei-Duro.  I don't love the price or that it's sold out, but this one is in stock and still has a nice shape.  Add some leggings and a belt and I think the cut would work well for most.

3. Yoga and other exercise gear: So, I am late to the party on this, but I started taking yoga classes at our gym a few months ago and I love it!  I also biked to Whole Foods for organic bread last weekend, so I have become the epitome of the millennial/ city-dweller/ hippie (not to be confused with hipster) stereotype. I'm usually not particular about what I wear for exercise and think some of the exercise gear is just a gimmick, but with all the stretching and upside down poses in yoga, appropriate clothing would come in handy.  I like this lulu lemon yoga tank because it is long and fitted enough to stay put.  I also don't think we're going to stay members of the gym too much longer, so I'm asking for yoga videos, new running shoes, and bike accessories like gloves and a water bottle.

4.  Buxom lip gloss: When it comes to beauty products, I often feel torn, wondering if higher priced stuff is actually worth it.  Here is one case that I am sure it is.  Buxom lip glosses are some of the only lip gloss brands that actually works for my super sensitive and always-chapped lips. (Health alert: I've read that common lip balm ingredients actually make your lips even more chapped, causing a sort of lip balm addiction.  The ingredients are camphor, phenol, and menthol.  This explains why my lips seem to worsen with certain chapsticks because they are worsening. Hi, my name is Sarah and I'm addicted to lip balm.)

5.  Jewelry: I have one long pendant necklace my aunt gave me for Christmas years ago. I wear it a ton since it works so well with any kind of neckline, and I think I would like another in another color.  For example, this one by Charming Charlie. I mean really, when is versatile jewelry ever a bad gift?

6.  Small kitchen gadgets:  I know I said I don't want kitchen stuff, but I have two exceptions.  The first is this collapsible whisk.  I am kind of psycho about keeping my stainless steel pots and pans from scratching, which makes this plastic collapsible whisk not only fun but perfect for any kind of pot.   The second is a compact food scale. Because we often buy food in bulk, I have to guesstimate on whether or not I'm using the right amount in recipes.  A food scale would take out the guessing and would make a number-lover like me so happy!

7. Experience gifts: This isn't pictured, but I've seen articles that talk about how spending money on experiences instead of stuff makes us happier.  Of course, because I want to maximize happiness per dollar spent, I love the idea of giving experiences as gifts.  This could be a local cooking class, overnight hotel stay, tickets to a sporting event or concert, restaurant gift cards, etc.  (Ok, I didn't read all the articles I linked to.. some of them were a bit long, so I gave you many choices.)

So that's what's on my list and hopefully it provides good brainstorming on gifts for others (or maybe your own wish list).  Of course, there's always more stuff I'd love to have, but the entire J. Crew and Restoration Hardware catalog contents are not really an option.  (I shake my fist some more at you and your pretty stuff, Pinterest!)  Really, my big quandary now is what to get Jason?  I might have to look for ideas on Pinterest.  I clearly cannot win.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Go West, Young Man

When we first arrived in Phoenix, I kept anxiously checking new sources, hoping that the government shutdown had ended.  The main attraction to come to Arizona for was to see the Grand Canyon, but as our trip coincided with the government shutdown, it was closed along with all the other National Parks.  Once we arrived in Sedona though, we realized the shutdown was somewhat of a blessing in disguise.

If Phoenix had me wanting to be a cowboy, Sedona made the quote by Horace Greeley ring with truth, as not much has changed since 1865 except maybe the food: "Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country."

Sedona is beautiful.  It's beautiful in a way that's different than the Grand Canyon.  Known as "Red Rock Country," the mountains are a rusty red.  Rock formations rise up in all directions dotted with yellow flowers and green valleys.  With hiking trails are all over the place, wine country only 20 minutes away, and a beautiful resort to relax at, spending the day in Sedona instead of driving two hours each way to and from the Grand Canyon didn't seem like much of an inconvenience.  Without the shutdown forcing us to stay in Sedona, we wouldn't have had the chance to experience such a beautiful part of the country.  We've both seen the Grand Canyon before, so missing out on it this time wasn't too crushing.  I did feel pretty bad for travelers at our hotel from Europe who had their once-in-a-lifetime plans derailed.

We took the scenic route, SR 179, from Phoenix, and it certainly lived up to it's name. On the way we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument, which had some ancient dwellings carved into a cliff face.  Well, at least that's what the guide book said because it was also closed as part of the shutdown, and we were never able to see it from the road like we had been hoping.  We also stopped at Chapel of the Holy Cross, the church built into the rocks pictured above.

The town itself is a little touristy, but there's a section where 179 and 89A meet that's got a bunch of art shops that looked like they'd be fun to poke through.  Also, I'm not going to be the best person to explain this, but there's a lot of New Age belief in "vortexes" in Sedona, which from my understanding are places of spiritual energy.

One of the fun things we did the first night was go on a star-gazing tour.  We drove about 20 minutes from the town to where the tour group, Sedona Star Gazing, met, then walked into a field where chairs, blankets and telescopes were set up.  When we first got out of the car that night and looked up into the cloudless night sky, the stars were brilliant enough to see the Milk Way.  The woman who got out of her car next to us audibly gasped and the tour operator commented, "You must live in the city."  That's exactly how I felt.  Even growing up in the suburbs, there is way too much light pollution to see the stars like we could out there.  The tour guides had some powerful laser pointers with which they were able to trace out the constellations before giving us glimpses into the telescopes.

Armed with new knowledge about navigating by star and leftover airplane pretzels as rations, I felt like Lewis and Clark exploring uncharted wilderness on our hike the next day. Or maybe Jason was whomever was the cooler of the two, and I was Sacagewea.  Of course, Sacagewea probably didn't forget to bring a backpack for the water and camera, or use her Banana Republic purse with one strap over each shoulder as a substitute back pack when two hands were needed to climb up and down the rocks.  Also, Sacagewea probably didn't ask other hikers to take their picture, just not too close up because she forgot her makeup bag at home.

There are so many hiking trails in the area, but I thought the ones we did provided a good sampling of scenery and views.  Most of them are state run, so remained open during the shutdown.  The first was Cathedral Rock Trail, a short but pretty steep 3/4 mile hike up to the top of what's known as Cathedral Rock, a unique rock formation with nice views. We also went to Red Rock Crossing, where a few feet from the parking lot the river runs in front of a beautiful view of Cathedral Rock, said to be the most photographed view in the state.  We did walk along the river a little here, but as it was pretty flat and forested, so none of the other views were very spectacular.  I think you can access the spot from a few different directions too if you want to hike more (and not pay the entrance fee).

The Cathedral Rock Trail took us to the gap in the rocks on the left

The view of Cathedral Rock from Red Rock Crossing

The last hike we did was called Devil's Bridge.  Because we had a tiny compact, our car wouldn't make it up the road that lead to the trail head, so it was about a mile and a half from the parking lot off the main road to the trail head, and another mile and a half to the main attraction of the hike, a large natural rock arch, although the scenery on the way was pretty nice.

We picked up some more "wilderness survival tips" at one of the more themey restaurants in town, the Cowboy Club, where they served deep fried prickly pear cactus.  So I figured if we got lost, I could navigate by the starts, and if we found a deep fryer, we could eat cacti.  As far as eating goes, I think the best meal we had was at our hotel restaurant, Hundred Rox (Kimpton restaurants FTW again).  We didn't have time, but if you are going and need a recommendation, the Elote Cafe is supposed to be good too. A hot sauce shop in town, the Jerome Ghost Pepper Company had some great fresh salsas.

The day we drove back to Phoenix, we thought about hiking the Airport Mesa trail, which is supposed to have good views, but we decided stopping along the way for wine tastings sounded better.  So good thing we actually weren't Lewis and Clark because the maps would have only gone as far as one day's worth of hiking.  And without a way to fry the cactus, who know what we would have eaten.

We didn't take the scenic route on the way back, but we did take the wine route!  Go south on 89A to Page Springs Road, where at least three different wineries are all clustered in the middle of the road.  We did a wine tasting and got lunch at our first stop at Javelina Leap Winery.  The guide book mentioned they had tours, which we thought would be fun, especially since we made it right in the middle of the harvesting season.  We were directed to where the owner was sitting at a table in the middle of the outdoor work area and invited to take a seat for the introduction of the tour.  After explaining some background about agriculture, he started pointing to the vats that held the fermenting grapes, the presses on the other side of the patio and the barrels just visible in the room across from us, and then the tour was done.  Mind you, we were sitting in the same place the whole time.  Jason and I thought it was pretty funny, and probably the only one-stop "tour" we've ever been on.

At least we didn't have to go far on the tour at Javelina Leap Winery.  The view from Page Springs Cellars.

The next stop, Oak Creek Vineyards was right next door.  Good thing too, since we were pretty wiped out from that intense tour!  Our favorite vineyard was the last stop, at Page Springs Cellars.  The wines were less expensive and tasted better least to our unsophisticated pallets, plus a shady deck out back overlooked the scenic grape fields.  The guys pouring the tasting were extremely knowledgeable and chatty, which might have been more appreciated if we weren't ready to head back to Phoenix.

So even though we didn't get to see the Grand Canyon, we hope to come back for that in the future.  We both were glad for the unexpected chance to see more of Sedona, and also that we didn't actually have to blaze a wildness trail ourselves.