Tuesday, June 30, 2009

STAYCATION: Festival Season

One of my favorite things about summer is the plethora of special events and festivals to pick from. They are usually free (or really cheap) and family-friendly ways to really get to know a community or local tradition. Of course, they almost always fall on the weekends, and we all know that summer weekends are packed with travel or other extracurricular activities, so it's impossible to take them all in. I highly recommend, however, trying to get to a few and am dedicating this staycation post to some festivals we've recently attended.

We hit Boise's Greek Food Festival at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church every year, and it keeps getting better and better. It's usually held the first weekend in June and is filled with yummy eats and Greek dancers. The lovely little church is open for tours, and the real highlight is the delicious trays of Greek cookies and baklava that you can buy in the church basement. They sell out fast, though, so it's imperative to go on Friday rather than Saturday.

Eagle Fun Days is also held in mid-June, and this was the first time we attended. While we didn't go to all the events offered (the Wet and Wild Parade does sound like a lot of fun), we did take advantage of the free family night at the rodeo. It was the preparatory "slack" event, sort of a practice run for the cowboys' and cowgirls' timed events. It was the first time Lucy had ever been to a rodeo, and while it wasn't as exciting or organized as a real rodeo performance, it was a fun, laid-back way to introduce her to the quintessential Idaho sport. The beer and sno-cones were cheap, and the girls got to hang on the fencing and see the animals up close and personal.

The highlight of our festival-going thus far this summer, however, was the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest in Weiser last weekend. I'm proud to say that I was born in Weiser, and it's always worth a staycation day, as it is less than 1.5 hours away from Boise. However, I highly recommend you go during Fiddle Week, which is always the third week in June. The history of the Fiddle Festival, which began in 1953, is a bit ambiguous and mythical, but I found a really compelling and nicely written little article about it's history here. The whole town gets a-hoppin', as there are carnival rides, bluegrass bands, local food booths, a parade, garage sales a-plenty, and a bike rodeo as well. The real magic, however, can be found as you wander around "the Institute" behind the high school, where the fiddlers make their camp and stage impromptu jam sessions all day and night. The official competitive rounds, featuring world-class fiddlers from around the world, are held at Weiser High School throughout the week. They culminate in the final round to award the Grand National Champion on Saturday night.

Eric and I were gifted stellar seats three rows from the stage (thanks, Aunt Terri!), and had a great view. In addition to the competitive round events, there were other wonderful musicians that entertained the sold-out audience that night, including these two, Mexican guitarist Miguel De Hoyos and fiddler Alex DePue, which absolutely knocked our socks off. I am not kidding you, people, these are amazing musicians. And, of course, watching the intensity and improvisation of the fiddling finalists, like this young fella from Corvallis, Oregon, was exciting. While the final competition lasted a little over four hours, we were completely enraptured by the live musical talent before us. (Plus, it was a real date! With no kids! And included a sushi dinner beforehand!)

It's been so fun experiencing the local flavor and history of these Idaho communities as a family and we have plans to continue throughout the summer. So, grab your kids or load up some friends and head to Emmett to pick some cherries, to the local synagogue to gnash on some kugel, to Blackfoot to hit the horse races at the fair, or to Fort Hall to celebrate the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. I guarantee it is a unique way to learn something new and have a helluva a good time in the process.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

STYLE: The Snuggie

It was around Christmastime that Lucy first started talking about The Snuggie. Those damn commercials were on every other half hour and she immediately fell in love with the mint green one, saying how she really needed it for "watching her shows." And, look! It comes with a light so you we can read books in bed, Mama! And you can get TWO! I'll get you the navy blue one so you can snuggle your baby! She and I talked many, many times about all the things you can do while in your Snuggie because the commercial gives you all sorts of asinine ideas like your family of four can get matching ones and wear them to football games. It became an instant joke around not only our house, but across The Internets, including a hilarious parody of the commercial on You Tube. I have to admit, it sounded pretty nice to me, because, really, my ARMS DO GET COLD when only using a blanket and trying to use the remote.

But, we soon decided to abide by The Compact when January 1st rolled around, so I knew it was out of the question. I tossed around the idea of making Lucy a Snuggie out of an old robe turned backwards, but I knew that wasn't going to fly. Luckily, Aunt Hayley and Uncle Dom kept The Snuggie in mind when Lucy's birthday rolled around.
They found it at Winco Foods, which apparently sells all kinds of made for TV products now, because I also saw the Topsy Turvy there. There were only two left (!) and they were both brilliant blue, but Lucy didn't seem to mind. I'm not kidding you - the kid shouted out with glee when she pulled off the wrapping to find the all too familiar box staring back at her. And, apparently, Lucy's not alone. All the kids at the party knew what The Snuggie was and seemed to be, um, a bit jealous.

It was an immediate sensation and passed around for all to try on. And, I'll admit it, we love the silly thing. Lucy and I cuddle in it when we are sick and it is pretty nice to snuggle up to my baby Alice with it on, especially in cold winter months. However, don't be fooled that you can wear it around the house, let alone around town, and walk easily. It's much like wearing a way too long robe backwards. Call me a sucker, but for the smiles it put on Lucy's face and for the many weeks I wore it, crying on the couch after The Layoff and drowning my sorrows in The Food Network, it's easily worth the $19.95 (plus S+H).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

THRIFTY: Hits of the 70s

My favorite thrift store here in the Treasure Valley is the Idaho Youth Ranch Outlet on Irving Street, between Orchard and Curtis in Boise. I love supporting the mission of this thrift store, as well as the killer prices, especially at the outlet location, where the unpurchased and undesirable items make their last hurrah. The outlet's goal is to move items out quickly, so most things are unpriced. At the end of your shopping extravaganza, you roll your cart onto a large scale where your items are weighed and you pay a mere 50 cents a pound. The outlet is in a big, often dirty, warehouse and you have to be willing to dig, as the environment is more like a giant garage sale than the typical, more organized thrift store. But, let me tell you, there are treasures and deals to be found. A few weeks ago I bought a like-new Baby Bjorn front carrier for my expecting sis-in-law. Those things retail around $80 and sell used at children's consignment shops for around $20-30; I only paid around 25 cents. I often find great items for kids during my thrifting, but last week's purchases were especially sweet.

Now, I know I'm unusually sentimental and nostalgic, but I was so excited to find these little items from my childhood to share with my girls:

I has this exact same 1979 Mickey Mouse Disco vinyl album as a kid and Lucy picked it out at the thrift store. Nary a scratch on it, not to mention, it features "Macho Duck."

But this Fisher Price Parking Ramp and Service Center from 1970 stole my heart thirty years ago and has done so again. Do you remember how cool it was to crank your cars up the elevator while the people rode in the side? And the bell rings as the stop sign lifts? And after your car speeds down the ramp you can fill it up with gas?

Both these finds were in near excellent condition, albeit a bit dusty, probably from being stored in someones parents' garage for the past three decades. I'm so glad they passed them on for me and my family to enjoy again. And let me tell you, we have already danced the hours away to "Watch Out For Goofy" and picked up some really fast Matchbox cars at a garage sale that fit PERFECTLY in our little service elevator.

p.s. I've opened up the comments to all, not just those with a Google account. I'd love to hear from you, especially if you, too, have memories about that sweet FP Parking Ramp and Service Center.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

CULTURE: Sweatin' With Richard

A few years ago my friend Brittany Powell told me about what an incredible and fun workout she was getting Disco Sweatin' in her basement with Richard Simmons. I told her I was an avid Jazzerciser, and as we exchanged stories, we realized that the concepts of both our exercise routines were very similar - low-to-high-impact dance workouts in kitschy outfits to top 40 tunes, either of the past or present. Also, they are both workout routines that are easy, fun, and not in a gym filled with uber fitness freaks, which are definite musts for both of us.

The main differences were that Brittany's workout was cheaper (Jazzercise costs around $35 per month) and could be done on her own schedule in her home. WITH RICHARD SIMMONS. Brittany is such a fan of his exercise regime, she has dedicated entire artworks to him. (Below is an image of Gone Sweatin', her 2007 Contac paper installation of a living room, complete with a DVD playing a video of her doing Sweatin' To The Oldies. Gallery patrons were invited to don their headbands and hightops and work out in the space.)

I was sold and ready to give Simmons a try. The local Jazzercise schedule wasn't fitting very well into the rest of my life schedule, anyhow, and the new year was fast approaching, as was our new life living The Compact. It seemed a perfect time to give it a shot.

I went a little nuts on Ebay and Amazon.com searching for all the Richard Simmons workout videos I could find and let me tell you, there are ALOT OF THEM. I settled for Disco Sweat on DVD and the quintessential Sweatin' to the Oldies 1, 2 and 3 on VHS (I'm old school that way; yes, we still use our VCR often). Since then, Lucy found me Dance Your Pants Off at the Deseret Industries thrift store downtown Salt Lake City and Groovin' in the House in another second hand shop for $1-2 each. We moved the coffee table out of our family room, making it the perfect spot for my morning workout routine.

Each video is around 50-60 minutes in length. I usually pick one video and do it all week, changing each week so as not to tire of them too quickly (which hasn't happened yet, and I've been doing them since January). Richard Simmons is a legend in the workout world, and I love his quirky, hyper mannerisms, even first thing in the morning. The routines are a bit jazzy and may be complicated at first for the less coordinated, but if you hang in there you'll catch on and will be able to adjust the intensity of your workout. The oldies music is a hoot, as is the 1980s attire of my "fellow classmates" on the videos. It's also a great way to get your kids into exercise; Lucy loves doing the routines with me and lusts after Simmons' sparkly tanks. The only downsides, thus far, are that only Disco Sweat has an abs/floor routine and there are very few weightlifting routines on any of the programs. I've become such a big fan that I've already planned a visit to workout with Richard, IN PERSON, at Slimmons Studio next time I'm in L.A. and have even checked into his Cruise to Lose. If you're looking for a fun, cheap workout, look for a Richard Simmons video next time you're at the Goodwill or the library. Not motivated to exercise alone? Invite some buddies over, dress in your best disco gear, pull out your TV and DVD player to set up a mini Sweatin' Studio in your garage or backyard, and serve Mimosas and doughnut holes afterwards just to keep it real.

Monday, June 8, 2009

STAYCATION: Albertson Park + Ben's Crow Inn

While sometimes we have an entire day or weekend to devote to our staycations, often we only have a half day or so in between mowing the yard and doing laundry to relax and fool around. It's always nice to spend at least part of our weekend not tending to regular life duties and exploring what our local scene has to offer. I thought I'd share our little Sunday morning adventure as another alternative to a doable staycation on a budget. We also had my inlaws in town, so it is a nice way to share some local Boise haunts with visitors, too.

We started out getting iced coffees to go (a rare treat for Eric and I) and loaded the kids and the stroller in our Jeep. We headed to Kathryn Albertson Park near downtown Boise off of Americana Blvd. The weather was cool and perfect and there were very few people in the park. Albertson Park is known as a beautiful outdoor wedding venue (in fact, I married my father and his wife at the Eyrie shelter a few years back), but it is often overlooked as a lovely place to walk.

There are two miles of paved paths that weave you through a nature trail. The fresh smell and chirping birds are therapeutic, and truly make you feel like you are miles from the city. Wildlife abounds, as there are often deer in the park in early mornings or evenings and tons of geese. Just a few weeks ago there were baby ducks waddling all around. This time, we were thrilled to catch a family of turtles basking in the sun on rocks and got to see their tiny babies up close. Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures (the scenic shots I stole from here), but I did get this one of Alice taking in the gorgeous spread of pink water lilies.

Lucy really enjoyed collecting twigs, feathers, and pine cones for the fairy houses she builds in our backyard, and we enjoyed the leisurely walk with our family. Since there are no play structure and no bikes, rollerblades, or skateboards allowed in the park, the environment is more calm and natural than many of the other city parks.

After about 1.5 leisurely hours strolling the park, we were all hungry for some lunch. Since we'd never been there, we decided to make the journey out to Ben's Crow Inn.

Since it's WAY down Warm Springs Blvd. on your way to Lucky Peak, it makes for a great scenic drive for out of towners. You can either wind through downtown or around Boise State University and then lead them down the historic district of the biggest, loveliest homes in the city. You'll also pass the Old State Penitentiary, as well as the site of the Shakespeare Festival. Ben's Crow Inn is a great little dive bar to stop at after boating at Lucky Peak Reservoir, floating the Boise River at Barber Park, or biking along the Greenbelt (here's the entrance for bikers off the trail).

I'm sure the wood paneling, red retro Budweiser light fixtures, and jukebox may seem intimidating to parents, but rest assured this place is kid friendly, and they even have high chairs and a kids menu. The picnic tables out back and rolls of paper towels on the table also signified my kind of family dining. The place is known for their buckets of clams, so of course, we ordered the biggest one we could.

They served them in an old Jackpot, Nevada casino slot machine coin bucket (since I'm a fan, Barton's Club 93 to be exact), which made me even more excited. It was 3 1/2 lbs. of bliss. I've seriously never tasted clams so delicious before. $29.95 got us the clams, a side salad, and some french fries. In addition, we ordered some of their halibut fish and chips (also crispy and lovely) and, of course, a pitcher of beer. While the bill was a bit pricey for lunch, it was truly worth it. We're always up for exploring local hidden gems, so stay tuned for more mini staycation posts in the future.

Friday, June 5, 2009

STYLE: Coffin Couches

So, of course I fell in love with Coffin Couches when I first discovered them a short while back via The Internet. These ingenious entrepreneurs/artisans have stolen my heart with their reasons for using discarded coffins from Southern California funeral homes. First, their unique recycling vision should be applauded (you can read more about it here and here). Also, just look at their attention to style, craftsmanship, and color. I'd kill for this cutie:
If only I weren't recently laid off and abiding by The Compact, I'd love to throw down the $3,500. I'd die to have this one for my living room:
The second reason I love Coffin Couches has to do with my former life as a mortician's assistant and my freakish interest in the history of the macabre but fascinating American way of death. I became a death art expert in graduate school, working as an art historian for Minneapolis' Lakewood Cemetery, one of the more famous cemeteries in the country, as well as writing my thesis on the history of American funeral homes. Strange how the odd but interesting path my life has taken also influences my taste in home decor.