Friday, July 26, 2013

Sugar n Spice Cookies - for friends

We're getting together with friends (Mary & Mike) tonight to share our recent travel stories.  They were in Scotland & we were .... you know where we were.

We love to get together to eat & laugh & eat some more.  Today I made Sugar 'n Spice Cookies from a recipe book that belonged to Mike's Mom.  The title of the book is Betty Crocker's Cooky Book copyright 1963.  It's a spiral bound cookbook & here's a photo of the cookies followed by the recipe ~

They smelled amazing while they were cooking & David declared his sample "good ones".
Sugar 'n Spice Cookies
3/4 c. shortening
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. molasses
2 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. ground cloves
3/4 t. ginger
confectioner's sugar
Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix in shortening, sugar, egg, and molasses thoroughly.  Measure flour into bowl.  Add dry ingredients (except xxxx sugar) to flour & stir.  Stir into shortening mixture.  Form in 1" balls [I used small scoop] and place 2" apart on greased baking sheet.  Bake 10 - 12 minutes.  Roll in confectioner's sugar while still warm.  Makes 4 dozen 2" cookies.
When we get together to share stories we like to eat appetizer-type food [& prefer to go out on the boat, but tonight looks like it might get rained-out].  To go with the cookies we'll have tortellini pasta salad, cheese & crackers, cornbread with sausage, salsa/cream cheese roll-ups, fresh fruit & cookies.  I've made a double-batch of the Barefoot Contessa's Iced Tea & we'll have coffee with dessert. 
What do you have when you get together with friends?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer 2013 Travel Review - 5 West/Northwest States

This trip involved 2 cross country flights (coming & going) and over 4100 miles of driving after arriving in California.  I will not include the names of any hotels/restaurants that I wouldn't recommend.  If the name is here - we found it to be fine for our purposes.  Of note - we brought our AAA maps & I highlighted the route as we went along.  It will make it easier to pass along details if asked.
  • July 3, 2013

Leave car at Pre-Flight Parking in Chelsea, MA.  Printed out 15% discount coupon online & they have a loyalty program.
7:42 p.m. - Fly from Boston to Oakland, CA on JetBlue (direct flight & 1 bag allowance per person).  Flight was delayed due to plane coming from Tampa through thunderstorms.  The first of the daily Five Crowns game was held in at the gate seating area.
Car rental from Thrifty (best price via AAA)
Stay at Holiday Inn hotel in Oakland (via  We had a little trouble finding this hotel since there are 2 right near the airport, but the location was perfect after a long flight & the staff was very welcoming at 1:00 a.m.

  • July 4, 2013
Breakfast at IHOP
Stop for groceries, etc before beginning the long drive.
Drive north on Route 101 to see the Avenue of the Giants & Redwood State Park.  A tiring day due to flying last night, but full of beautiful sights & we avoided the heat wave that was being experienced.  The Redwoods were just as impressive as we expected.
Arrive at hotel in Crescent City, CA
Dinner at a local restaurant that I wouldn't recommend (David's fried chicken arrived frozen on the inside)

  • July 5, 2013
Breakfast at hotel
After talking to people at Logan International Airport & looking at the map we decided to extend our day by a detour to Crater Lake National Park.  It's the only National Park in Oregon & was worth every extra mile that we drove.  Not to be missed!
Lunch at Dairy Queen ($5 lunch special was one of the best deals of the trip)
Arrive at Super 8 hotel in Kelso, WA (via
Swimming in the hotel pool.

  • July 6, 2013
Breakfast at hotel.  The Puyallup Little League team was in town for a tournament.  A fun group of young boys.
Drive to Seattle up I-5
First stop - Pike's Place Market.  We found on-street parking & enjoyed the Market.  We picked up 1/2 flat of raspberries, blueberries & marion berries for the ride.
We stopped at a gelato shop near Pikes Place Market for salted caramel, chocolate coconut & raspberry gelatos.  YUM!

We drove through the City to the Space Needle & found on-street parking.  The wait to go up in the Space Needle was a couple of hours.  We decided to pass on the long wait & add to our afternoon itinerary. 

We stopped in Enumclaw, MI for additional information re: Mt. Rainier.  The gentleman in the Visitor Center was both helpful & entertaining.  He recommended that we take the gondola ride to get a view of Mt. Rainier.  Off we went & it was a very calm ride up (in an enclosed gondola car) & some photos of a partially hidden mountain due to the clouds.
We stopped for an early dinner/late lunch at The Wood Shed restaurant in Naches, WA.  We had pizza (very good) along with a reuben (delicious).
We spent the night at the Days Inn in Ellensburg, WA (via

  • July 7, 2013
We headed out with plans to stop at Willow Springs Station Restaurant in Cheney, WA as I had a certificate from  Our breakfast was very good & we were full for the day.  We picked up I-90 to continue across Washington State headed for Montana.
We cut across Idaho & soon after crossing the Montana border stopped to get David's fishing license.  While he was filling up the car with gas we went to the store nearby for 3 huckleberry shakes.  Huckleberries look like blueberries & they were in season in Montana.  You see Huck signs everywhere.
We continued along I-90 for Columbia Falls, MT.  After checking in at the Meadow Lake Resort (highly recommend a stay here.  It was part of our RCI timeshare pool) we began exploring the area.
Dinner was at the Nite Owl Restaurant on Route 2 in Columbia Falls.  We selected it based on the number of cars parked out front.  We had a delicious dinner & found out later that the 2nd restaurant at that location (The Back Door) has very good BBQ.
I loved this greenhouse advertisement along Route 2 in Columbia Falls.
  • July 8, 2013
After breakfast in our condo we drove the 15 minutes to the Glacier National Park entrance.  We paid the $25 fee for a 7 day pass & began the drive on the Going to the Sun Road.  We stopped for an easy walk at Walk of the Cedars to have our first "inside" experience in the park.

  After lots of photo stops we made it to the end & had lunch at the Park Café.  It had been recommended on many sites & was worth the accolades.  We took side roads back to the condo & cooked dinner on the grill.  After a swim in the pool we were ready for sleep.
Here's St. Mary's Lake -
  • July 9, 2013
We had breakfast in & then we were off to explore another part of the Park.  We had received recommendations from the concierge at the Resort to try & have pastries at the Polebridge Mercantile on the way to Bowman Lake.

 We enjoyed blueberry bear claws & sticky buns.  They were fabulous & we even had a hula hoop lesson while sitting at the picnic tables outside.  Bowman Lake had a mirror-like surface with a few people swimming, dozing next to it & hiking along the trails.  On our way back we saw a magnificent golden eagle.  Here's a sunrise photo looking over Lake McDonald.

  • July 10, 2013
We planned for an all day river rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.  We'd looked at options & chose Glacier Guides for our guide service.  Our guide (Elena) was excellent & there were 9 of us in the large raft.  We had a leisure float in the morning (learning some basic skills) & a delicious lunch on a river bank.  During the afternoon we were ready for the Class II & Class III rapids.  We bounced through Jaws, Bonecrusher & Could Be Trouble with laughter all around as our front men (both retirees from Michigan) found themselves trying to paddle air several times as they were soaked.  It was the hottest day of our trip & perfect for being splashed by the river.

  • July 11, 2013
I love train stations & wanted to see the Whitefish, MT depot as our son had stopped their when he took the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago (completing his train travel across the country.  [He'd been on the Lake Shore Limited from Springfield, MA to Chicago as a boy]).  The station at Whitefish didn't disappoint.  It is a beautiful tudor-style station (still in use).  Most stations out west are rustic style, so this was a treat.  They have a small museum with a volunteer (Charlie) full of interesting information.
Frozen yogurt at the Red Caboose in Whitefish was a yummy treat (sold by weight).
We had a mediocre lunch (won't name the sandwich shop) & took a little break in the afternoon.
For dinner we headed to Polson, MT for dinner at The Nook (which I'd found on  This was a little tricky to find as the restaurant is inside of the Best Western.  It's a beautiful location on the edge of Flathead Lake.  They had live entertainment so we had a concert & dinner.
  • July 12, 2013
We were ready for another day in this lovely location, but were still looking for a fishing spot.  We took a look at the Glacier National map & headed out.  We had planned to drive to Canada, but saw Bear Creek on the way & decided to stop.  4 sweet cutthroat trout were caught.  They are beautiful fish & it made bringing the fishing poles worth giving up 1 piece of luggage.  We decided to stop at The Park Cafe' again since we didn't have room for pie the first time.  It was just the right choice.
We headed back along the Going to the Sun Road
 & stopped for a lengthy hike & we were rewarded with beautiful vista views after internal waterfalls. 
 It was tiring, but definitely worth it.
  • July 13, 2013
We checked out of our condo a day early in order to head back to Oakland.  We had a long day of driving through Montana & down to Idaho on our way to Pocatello.  We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Ameri-Tel Inn in Pocatello (via  The front desk woman was helpful & gave us 10% discount cards for the Texas Roadhouse.  Off we went for an early dinner & then another game of Five Crowns before bed.
  • July 14, 2013
We enjoyed our best hotel breakfast of the trip at the Ameri-Tel Inn & we were on our way to Nevada.  We'd added 2 additional stops to this drive.  We wanted to stop at Craters of the Moon Park.  This volcanic landscape was such a contrast to the lush green of Glacier National.  After this park we continued along with plans to stop in Twins Falls, NV to see the "Niagara of the West".  We had a little trouble finding it, but then found a reference to Shoshone Falls & we were on our way.  The Falls were a little low on water, but the park is quite nice with good illustrated information kiosks.  It was a welcome stop during a long day of driving.
We arrived in Elko, NV.  This stop was chosen due to its location to the highway in order to continue on to California.  There's not much to recommend Elko, but we did have a delicious Basque-style dinner at the Toki Ana restaurant.  The desk clerk had recommended 2 other restaurants but they were closed due to it being Sunday.  Our dinner was family-style & included:  chicken/rice soup, salad with ana dressing [salad consisted of lettuce with dressing], our entrée (pork & lamb chops) along with ana potatoes (similar to scalloped potatoes), rice, spaghetti and frozen green beans.  We didn't have room for dessert.
  • July 15, 2013
We had a long day ahead of us & started out early from Nevada.  We couldn't find a breakfast stop & ended up at McDonald's.  We try to eat at local restaurants, but there weren't any along the way.  We were on our way to Placerville, CA (formerly known as Hangtown).
We added another side trip to Lake Tahoe since we had the time & hadn't been there.  It's just as beautiful as we expected.  There were tons of houses for sale. 
As we entered Placerville we were hungry & decided to stop for soup & salad at the Buttercup Pantry restaurant.  It was just what we needed after a long day in the car.  We checked into the Historic Cary House Hotel (via  The desk clerk (Josh) was helpful & after a little hiccup re: the room we'd booked we upgraded to 2-room accomodations.  The hotel is historic & lots of interesting people had stayed there (Mark Twain, Ulysses Grant, etc)  The town of Placerville closes early & most shops close at 5 p.m. or aren't open on Mondays.  We wandered up Main Street & stopped in at the Painted Owl.  If I lived in this town I would be buying their items or taking their classes.  We were still full from our late lunch so opted to have ice cream (dinssert) at Mel's Diner.  We ate at the counter & enjoyed every bite.
  • July 16, 2013
We had breakfast at the hotel (it was the most disappointing hotel breakfast we'd had).  We were on our way to San Francisco for the day.  We wanted to have enough time to wander around Fisherman's Wharf.  The weather (unexpectedly) was very nice.  We had lunch at Lou's Fish House.  We followed the 49 Mile driving tour & went over the Golden Gate Bridge.  After returning I navigated our way to Lombard Street so that we could say that we'd driven down the crookedest street.  It was a little scary (no desire to recreate the Streets of San Francisco show), but we were glad that we'd done it.  We had enjoyed a delicious meal in Little Italy when we were last in San Francisco, but I didn't bring the name of the restaurant with me.  We turned a corner onto Columbus Street & found Piazza Pellegrini.  It was an authentic Italian meal & we could almost close our eyes and be back in Rome. 
At 11:59 p.m. we boarded our JetBlue flight back to Boston.
What a trip ~
It was worth every minute of driving and even the red-eye back to the East Coast.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Basics of Travel - our way

We travel more than most people & it seemed like a good idea to start keeping a record in one place.  I thought that the best place to start is with how we start planning for a trip, what sites we use, what elements we include with every trip & anything else I can think of.

Up to 1 year before we travel we start planning.  Here are some of the steps we take ~>
  1. Determine where we want to go (either because we've found a good price on a flight, need to use timeshare points, want to check off another destination on our list, or because we're attending a meeting). 
  2. Determine dates of travel (using as broad of a time period as possible & keep in mind what time off I'll have accrued at work)
  3. Set up flight alerts using and using multiple departure cities (typically Hartford, Boston & Providence).  We also expand for multiple arrival cities (since we don't mind driving).  Having a range of dates and airports is helpful.  Note that SouthWest Airlines has to be checked separately.  We've found that the best fares are usually 42 - 90 days before the date of departure & Tuesdays/Wednesdays are our preferred travel days (both in terms of cost & returning with a few days before having to return to work).  Additionally, we really don't want to pay for luggage so that does factor into what airline we use. 
  4. Begin building itinerary.  I actually create a table in Word that I put the dates of our vacation & then start filling in the details as soon as I have them [including any confirmation numbers that I receive, complete addresses, local telephone numbers].  This itinerary sits in the very front of either a binder with page protector sleeves or a large envelope [depending on trip].  It stays in my bag throughout our entire trip.  I sometimes add notes if we take a detour or do something different.
  5. Check rates for rental cars.  Recently we've been utilizing as we're AAA members & their rental car rates have been the best.  We have a credit card that covers the insurance for rental cars so we always pass on the extra insurance.
  6. Determine route.  This is a little complicated as we often have 2 laptops working at the same time.  We use & move the route according to what we want to see/where we want to go.  We do print out the route & we bring our GPS, but I also ALWAYS bring AAA maps and/or an atlas if we're out of the country.  If (for any reason) the GPS doesn't have a signal (or the phone doesn't have a signal), or we want to expand our trip (since we often get an early start) I bring physical maps.  I bring highlighters & have been charting our trips the past couple of times.  It's fun to look back.  If I'm looking for ideas on what to see I've used
  7. Work on where we're going to stay.  I like to know that there's a bed waiting for me every night.  We are part of a timeshare group that allows us to stay in resorts that are part of the participating network.  Sometimes there isn't availability or a resort where we want to go.  We've used since after 10 days we earn a free stay.  Additionally, I've found deals via social media (,, etc).  I always check the online reviews of hotels and restaurants via & it's a good idea to call the hotel directly to see if they'll match the rate or if there are specific questions re: the room.  Always read the fine print.  Our grown children have used in both the U.S. and in Europe with great success, but we haven't tried it yet.
  8. Once we have an idea of where we're going & where we're staying I look into what we're going to eat.  I have utilized  You can often find coupon codes for  Again - I check as well as one of my favorite sites is a great place to get advice on "where to eat".  If we're staying in a timeshare condo we always make a stop as soon as we arrive in town at the local grocery store (we try to support local stores vs large chains).  We get a member card at the courtesy booth in order to get the sale prices.  In order to save on our food costs we usually eat 1 meal out & 1 meal in (either breakfast included in our hotel or cooked if we're staying somewhere with cooking facilities).  We'll have a late lunch & then either have dessert in or something light later in the day.  Our family likes to graze so we usually have the following in our car (stopping at a grocery store when we pick up our rental car is an early stop):  bottled water [we bring a collapsible 6-pack style cooler that folds flat], packets of CountryTime lemonade [I can't drink anything with artificial sweeteners), mixed nuts, peanut butter & crackers, tortilla chips & salsa [our "go to" condiment], dried fruit [we picked up dried apples from a local vendor on this trip] & any fresh fruit from local farm stands. 
  9. Determine where we're going to leave our car.  We have used Park n Fly options when we've taken an early a.m. flight from Boston.  This has been a good solution for us as we're in the city ahead of time & the rate to leave our car at the hotel & take the hotel shuttle to Logan is cost effective.  If breakfast is included - even better.  If we are taking a later flight we have been leaving our car at Pre-Flight.  They have a frequent flier program that earns 1 free day of car parking [on a future stay] for every 4 days.  Additionally - they have a 15% off discount coupon online.  When we go out of Bradley we use Z Airport Parking.   Their rates are very good & they have our car started & waiting for us when we return.  We haven't travelled out of TF Green Airport in a while, but I think we've just looked online for a good price.
  10. Here are some additional things that I wanted to include. 
  • Take the time to find the best credit card for your use.  We have a card that doesn't charge a fee for foreign transactions (important when we're out of the U.S.).  Additionally, this card earns points which can be used for gift cards (which we've used for gas cards & restaurants) or cash back (which we use to pay for some of the travel costs). 
  • Note that Cracker Barrel restaurants have a program where you can pick up an audio book at one restaurant & return at another.  The fee wasn't much (less than $5) & can make a long trip very interesting.  Alternately - borrow some from the library or download onto a reader/iPad.
  • It's fun to prepare a travel playlist.  Either burn onto a CD or create for the iPod & bring the adapter for the car. 
  • Travel books - my favorites are the DK Eyewitness series, but there are some other good ones.  Make photocopies of applicable pages if you don't want to bring the entire book.
  • I save up magazines that I subscribe to for a few weeks before we travel.  They're a treat when I don't have time to sit & read quietly.
  • Coordinate clothing around 3 colors (this trip was teal, white & khaki).  We do check the weather for where we're going & if it's more than 1 week I do laundry.  My goal is to travel with 1 carry-on per person & 1 piece of checked luggage.  I don't want more than I can carry if I have to go up stairs.  We always pack a complete change of clothes in our carry-on in case the luggage goes somewhere else.  Try to not over-pack.  You want room for purchases.
  • Bring a deck of cards & a card game.  Our favorite card game (right now) is Five Crowns.  It's a good way to pass the time at the airport.
  • Carry the travel documents (including the itinerary) in a large Ziploc bag. 
  • Check with the hotel at check-in re: any discounts they have for local attractions/restaurants.
  • Pick up business cards from places as you go along.  It's easy to forget the names of good restaurants/vendors & you might want to go back (or recommend them to a friend). 
  • I've seen the idea of sending yourself postcards as you travel.  It seems like a good idea, but we haven't done it yet.  We recently saw someone in Glacier National Park stamping her postcards with the date/location stamp that can be found in the Visitor Centers. 
  • Bring your own shopping bag (folded up in your luggage).  I can almost guarantee that you'll use it.
  • Bring an empty water bottle and/or a travel mug for coffee. 
  • From one of my closest friends (Mary C) - Start each day by asking each other, "what is the one thing that you'd like to see/do today".  If everyone has a chance to weigh in on what's going to happen there's less chance of disappointment.  This simple idea has changed the way we travel.
  • Look at purchasing an Entertainment book if you're going to be staying in 1 area for a length of time.
I'll add to this as I think of things, but this is a good start.  I'd love to hear comments/suggestions.

  • Add 7/26/13:  I bring along space saver bags that you can squeeze the air out of (not the kind that require a vacuum) to bring back dirty clothes (or even clean clothes) so that I have room for more purchases.  It's amazing how much room you can save.
  • Sign up for TravelZoo for weekly deals.  We've traveled using their specials to Europe & you can find some great savings, but you have to act quickly.