Giving Thanks in Plano, Texas

I had very specific goals for Thanksgiving this year, and my husband was kind enough to agree to accommodate me in making them happen. I’ve been following the Auto-Immune Protocol since July in an attempt to reverse some of my auto-immune symptoms, and because it is such a strict diet, partaking in Thanksgiving without making the meal myself wasn’t an option. 

So when my friend Charlie offered to host us for Thanksgiving while we were in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. But after much back and forth, it was clear this would work for us. Three nights camped in their driveway with electric hookups and showers; a chance to cook my own menu (with assistance on turkey, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts); and the chance to socialize a bit with friends. Their home in Plano, right next to Dallas, is gorgeous and in a lovely neighborhood, and it was a great place to spend a few days. (I will be sharing the full details on my menu successes and surprises here.) They have a wonderful group of friends and neighbors that we enjoyed spending time with. 

While we were in Plano, I attended a screen acting class, which was fun. I also took some nice walks and picked up a rental car, courtesy of our insurance company. And I loved having a full kitchen to spread out in and cook. 

So far the Dallas area has beautiful weather – we ate outside on Thanksgiving – but it isn’t a very attractive city. Our campground is more than a half hour away though, on a lake, and it really couldn’t be more beautiful. 

We plan to visit downtown Fort Worth today and we might explore in the coming days as well depending on how inspired we are. We’re feeling thankful for this beautiful campground and for friends and family, and we are using this time to regroup and plan what’s next. 

My theater company in NH is performing before Christmas, so I have lots of prep work to do for that, and Ross has work to do to prepare for his gigs as well. So we will need to leave time for work as well as play. 

Thanks for reading! I will share more photos and stories in the coming days. Hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. 

Advertisements

O-klahoma!

Yesterday was a long day, with showers and wind interspersed with some beautiful scenery amidst what was mostly nondescript Oklahoma towns. 

One of the first we passed through, after a great night’s sleep at Walmart, was Afton, Oklahoma. The downtown’s buildings looked almost entirely gutted or long vacant or fire-damaged. It was really sad. We also noticed a few ads on junk cars dressed as police cars that read “Been Bad? Call Brad!”. Apparently it’s a bail bond service. Sad that that is such an in demand industry. On the other hand, there were lots of video stores in Oklahoma, including Family Video, which is hiring! So if you miss the days of Blockbuster, try Oklahoma!

This was our first time really seeing American Indian nations. Different tribes have their own license plates and it was neat to get a glimpse as we passed through. Of course there are many casinos but the Choctaw Casino is like a gorgeous city unto itself in the middle of nowhere! Anyone want to see Franki Valli and the Four Seasons there in a few weeks? 

The best part of the drive was driving over Lake Eufala. I knew NH mountains would be hills out here, but I didn’t realize our lakes are like ponds in comparison! This one goes on for many, many miles, and the combination of hills, foliage and lake was incredibly gorgeous, even on a cloudy day. 

Churches (and sometimes schools) were very different in Oklahoma. They often looked like strip malls! We haven’t seen any like that in the Midwest or the Northeast. I wonder if anyone has photographed the churches of the U.S.? And today Ross taught his first Skype lesson from the RV which was awesome. I found us a town with excellent cell signal (Verizon) and we parked at Loew’s, which had usable internet for emails from our vehicle without a booster!

Some of the hills we passed yesterday reminded me of Tennessee. Other things struck us as different though. Apparently “Bag of burgers” are a thing at multiple places here? Braum’s looks like a cute, quaint chain with their own cow’s dairy and ice cream. Oklahoma also had some weird highways where cars could enter and exit from cross streets (and occasionally you’d have to stop completely) which felt really unsafe. 

So far, Texas seems like suburbia in steroids. Everyone drives incredibly fast and the ramps aren’t built for slow drivers. So far we haven’t seen much if any sign of public transit either. Just strip mall after strip mall with too many cars. My friend told us a plus and minus out here – you aren’t a close drive to the ocean or mountains. BUT everything is open almost 24 hours, which is handy. 

Last night we socialized with our friends (I went to a screen acting class while Ross enjoyed drinks and conversation) and today I will be picking up a rental car and baking and preparing for tomorrow. I will be preparing almost all of the meal for 7 people (not the turkey and probably not one of the veggies) so I definitely have some work to do! Our insurance company has been giving me headaches so I hope it all goes smoothly today. 

Cross your fingers that my key lime pie is not only edible but vaguely reminiscent of my grandmother’s. It’s going to be fun!

The Best Rest Stop Ever?

Yesterday was a long day, but we powered through and we are hopefully within a day’s drive of our destination today. Moving forward we would like to limit the driving to more like 5-6 hours plus stops, but the car issue definitely set us back. On days where we sightsee, we want to drive even less. 

Although the internet was only useable during the evening when the Visitor’s Center was closed, the Lamoni, IA rest stop makes the most of its location in a way I haven’t seen before. Art permeates the building, with the Mormon Trail as a centerpiece. The gorgeous design includes lots of comfortable seating, and against the wall are booths with Internet and seats so that you can work with electricity (and heat!) in comfort. The rest rooms are really nice too.

Outside you’ll find a pet area, tons of picnic tables and some historical information in the area. An outdoor patio invites you to linger. Two additional walking trails are worth a look. One leads to an overlook of the river. It’s a nice walk, even if the foliage is a bit overgrown like it was when I was there. And the other leads to an absolutely incredible spot on the lake with a picnic table to enjoy the views. There are also walking trails (not handicapped accessible) that look like they go around the lake, but I wouldn’t explore that without an orange vest at this time of year.

I absolutely loved waking up to the sunrise here. What beautiful (and free!) views.

Other things we did yesterday:

Got gas in Kearney, MO (and resisted the excellent Krispy Kreme displays)

Crossed the Missouri River

Walked downtown of historic Independence, MO, home of Harry S. Truman and his library; full of beautiful homes and sidewalks and diverse residents (at least one that didn’t seem thrilled we were visiting!)

Drove through Kansas, including a few city areas that were crazily busy

The highways had “exits on exits” which weren’t our favorite

Drove the Frontier Military Historic Byway

Enjoyed the look of Fort Scott, KS (future trip?) which seemed fun and historic

Enjoyed this pretty state with lots of lakes and trees 

Visited Missouri for literally another minute before entering Ohio

Stayed warm although it got down to 25 degrees outside our RV (40 in)

We had hoped to stay at another rest stop last night, but they actually close it down after hours so we found a different free parking lot (Walmart) to crash in. Miami, OK is home to eight American Indian nations and it is kind of fun to be in Miami! We were also charged the car rate when we exited to pay a toll, $.75, so that was fun. 

Today we will head toward a friend who lives outside of Dallas for Thanksgiving. No grand sightseeing plans for today. We are ready to relax our pace after this. Thanks for reading!  

Dining in Des Moines

We had originally hoped to leave Iowa on Monday, but after a ton of frustration with our car insurance, we didn’t get the word that the car would be totaled (and hence no reason to stick around) until late Friday. After getting our electric step adjusted (will need to order a new motor, but at least it’s all the way in now), we drove back to our friend’s in the crazy wind before some snow came in. So we planned to leave Sunday morning, after the wind fest was over. 

We had an admirable goal of 9 am but by the time we were actually ready to depart it was closer to 11:30. We said our goodbyes to Dan and Aoife, to their cats Buddy and Zoe, and to my adorable dog friend across the street, a collie. We were off. 

We stopped an hour or so in for a quick break in Mason City, which looks walkable from the brief bit we saw. I visited my first Hy-Vee grocery store. They’re quite the experience! This one has pizza, Italian, Asian cuisine (all in mini stores along the outside) as well as a pharmacy, a huge alcohol selection, great deli and bakery and everything you’d expect. I grabbed some additional Thanksgiving essentials since a friend of mine in Texas has invited us to join them!

We passed through Ames, IA, as well, which has a university and a bus system for public transit as well as lots of lakes and nature trails. We didn’t explore, but maybe next time we pass through. 

Our main goal for the day was to visit a food co-op or natural food store. Since we hadn’t been in Des Moines yet, we headed there, only a few miles off our route.

Gateway Grocery was beautiful, with a market cafe attached. Parking was a challenge in the RV but we made it work. Don’t bring a big rig here unless you want to park on the street. The little glimpse we had of Des Moines showed us some very nice neighborhoods worthy of further exploration. 

The Grocery was quite overpriced for most things, but the food was really high end which helped make up for it. Ross was tired and had worked hard all day, so I treated him to some Spicy Pork Belly Ramen. He loved the pork, enjoyed the spicy dish and kept raving about it, so I think I did good!

After our food adventures I grabbed some dinner and we headed to our destination, a rest stop in Lamoni with wifi and walking trails that other RV-ers had found really welcoming. We had quite the adventure getting there – we tried following one of my apps for a gas station and spent way too long amidst corn fields and deer – but we worked it out and got back on course, found gas and found the rest stop. It gets dark so quickly now. We were settled into bed before 8 am! 

The temperature dropped to 25 degrees last night (winter weather camping isn’t our favorite but we are very capable) so we are glad to be heading out of Iowa!

Today we might make a quick stop in Kansas City as we pass through. Time will tell how far we get. We can stay in Texas tomorrow night but we can also wait until Wednesday if we don’t want to rush, so we will see how the driving goes. Thanks for reading!

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Meet a Deer

Well, I was thinking I should update you all on our adventures in Iowa. This past Friday Ross and I had an amazing adventure in Minneapolis. After getting the boring stuff, like prescriptions and mailing things, out of the way, we headed to the Mall of America before enjoying an amazing AIP-approved dinner and an original show with friends. (Incidentally, my friend is a Smithie like me, and although we worked with each other a few times in college, I didn’t know her well. This trip is proving to be a wonderful way to meet new people and strengthen existing connections!) 


Saturday we left their gorgeous home to explore downtown Minneapolis. We had tons of ideas but the focal point became a historic tour of the Old Stone Arch, ruins and the land bordering the Mississippi here. There are also amazing free things to do in this city – Art museum! Zoo! Botanical Gardens! – but the walking tour was perfect for this gorgeous, cool fall day. 

Afterwards, we headed to Pumphouse Creamery because they offer coconut milk ice cream and lots of gluten-free options, and although you should follow my ice cream blog for the full story, suffice to say that we had an absolutely phenomenal experience we will be shouting about for a long time. We even took some with us! 

Our last plan was to head to Build a Bear in the MOA. Ross had gotten me a $100 gift certificate for my birthday, and he’d received one for $50 from his mom so he could build something too. I got to be a child for a few hours (I was able to build a bear and a bunny) and I seriously had the most wonderful time. It was so fun that when they offered me a $50 gift certificate for only $25, I said yes!

After grabbing dinner (we kept it under $20, yayyy!) we grabbed coffee for Ross who had a two hour drive ahead of him. 

It was an uneventful drive. Well, until we were four miles from our destination. Ross turned off his high beams as a car approached – just as a deer decided to launch itself into our car. 90 minutes later we were towed back to our friend’s house, and now we wait to see what’s next. We have great coverage but we do wonder if they will want to total the car given it has over 200,000 miles. And if they repair it, I imagine it could easily take a week or two, so we may be spending Thanksgiving in Iowa after all. (So much for avoiding the 20’s as we head south!) 

Whatever happens, we are extraordinarily thankful that we are safe and that we have a comfortable, free place to stay with friends. Our RV steps aren’t working right so we will try to fix them while we are here. Stay tuned for more adventures with Ross and Jamie!

There’s Nothing Halfway about the Iowa Way

So begins the song that’s been rollin around my head (thanks, Meredith Wilson) since we entered Iowa about a week and a half back. We really came here to visit friends and get some stuff done, but we’re managing to have plenty of fun along the way. 

We are in a tiny town of about 100 people, but there’s a nice neighborhood feel and I usually get out for a walk each day, particularly enjoying the river views. Ross and I have also visited Decorah twice, which is a lovely college town that is home to Luther College. It has some gorgeous architecture, an extremely walkable downtown with fun historic information and murals and all of the chains and big box stores one needs for the essentials. (Including a 24 hour Walmart. Why can’t NH have more 24 hour stores?) 

One museum we haven’t visited yet (it’s pretty pricey for us) is Vesterheim, the four story National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center. It looks like it would take at least four hours, so plan ahead around the guided tours of some of the out buildings. 

The fact that we skipped the museum doesn’t mean we have lacked for activities. We did some shopping (I couldn’t help it – the dress and the cowboy boots were gorgeous and the boots were at an unheard of price) and picked up some goods and goodies at the New Pioneer Co-op and at the bi-weekly farmer’s market. They’ve also got a music store and a game store, so Ross was a happy camper, and we bumped into the headquarters of StoryPeople, a wonderful company that makes artsy books and wooden things that are colorful and with wonderful stories. I’ve always enjoyed their products at fancy galleries/boutiques in New England and have given a few as gifts. Who knew they were based in Decorah?!

We managed to catch a wonderful concert by the community orchestra last weekend. A local professor was the soloist for Rhapsody in Blue, and the concert also included works by Bernstein and Copeland that were very well done. Best part? The concert was free! 

Our first RV puzzle has come up. We have a small power steering leak. So we need to find someone to fix that, ideally before we leave but definitely soon. Stay tuned for that one.

Otherwise we have been super busy transferring prescriptions, lining up health insurance, revising resumes and websites and lots of other important things. Still tons to do, but we are making progress – and Ross booked his first gig from cold calling! 

Lots to do. And the election and the pipeline are making me nervous. But we are blessed and thankful to be here. Thanks for reading!