Wednesday, July 29, 2009

IDAVATION: Johnson Creek Guard Station

Several months ago I began researching a cheap overnight Idaho destination - an "Ida"vation - for Eric and I to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. The Boise Weekly had run this little story about renting this 1920s ranger cabin near Yellow Pine for just $50 a night and I knew it would be perfect.

I got on this website to find out more details and the spot looked perfect for us - a rustic getaway in the middle of nowhere with fishing nearby. I called and booked our night for July and got my mom to agree to stay with the girls - it was our first night ever away from Alice and I was a bit nervous, as there is no telephone service for miles. Also, it was FOUR HOURS AWAY. When I called the Cascade Ranger Station to ask about emergency contact info, they informed me my mom would have to call the Sheriff at home and he'd drive to the cabin and find us in the event something should happen.

We packed up our supplies, which included essential items like beer, playing cards, Reeces Pieces, fly fishing rods, this lovely, amazing book on CD from the Library! for our long hours on the road, and our binoculars. It has been years since we had just tossed some things in a bag and hit the road. This little luxury was monumental for us. No diapers! No coolers filled with formula and sippy cups and Goldfish crackers! No Polly Pockets! No Dora movies!

We were, however, thrilled to pack up the wine and sushi for dinner. Eric joked that it was probably the first time sushi had ever entered that cabin before. I think he's probably right.

The cabin has one bedroom with two twin beds and two cots, not the most ideal sleeping arrangement for a lovers getaway, but we made due. The cabin could really accomodate quite a few others if you brought an air mattress or tent for the backyard.

We shared the grounds with these sweet boys and they loved hanging out with us, watching the amazing sunset over the mountains and the deer coming down to the creek to get a cool drink.

Eric and I spent the afternoon fishing along the creek, playing rummy, and exploring Yellow Pine, which I had never been to before. It's a little village, known mainly for their annual harmonica festival and had a couple of saloons, a mercantile, and about two restaurants. My favorite part was the little pioneer cemetery and makeshift pet cemetery the local residents have added. We also spent some time hiking around the Forest Service property, following the deer trails into the mountains and even found the original cookstove from the saloon and hotel for miners that used to grace the site back in the 1800s, it's intricate detailing wasting away in the wilderness.
All in all, it was a lovely mountain respite from the city and the accommodations were charming. It is really far to drive for just one night, though, and you must have a tough rig that can withstand the narrow and steep gravel and dirt mountain roads. Also, there is a little prairie landing strip that is popular with Idaho aviators, so we were surprised by the amount of air traffic, which kind of took away from the still quietness of the mountain setting. Next time, we plan on bringing our girls and some other friends and staying a few more nights. And this time I'll happily load up the Pack-n-Play travel crib, water noodles, juice boxes, Barbies and coloring books.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

FOODIE: Crockpot Crazy / Green Turkey Chili

We love our Crockpot here in the Pence-Brown house. Eric, the real chef of the family, is a wonder at whipping up savory dishes in the morning before work, turning the Crockpot on low, and, back when I was also working full-time, we all returned 10 hours later to a hot, yummy dinner. I'm not too bad at the Crockpot myself, but that's the joy of the Crockpot. YOU CANNOT MESS UP A CROCKPOT MEAL. You just toss all the ingredients in, turn it on, and voila, insta-grub (well, 8-10 hours later, that is). You do have to be a planner, though, by having all the ingredients on hand and have the time to cut and dice everything while trying to get out of the house in the mornings. And, I've found, superior Crockpot recipes are really hard to find.

That's why, when I was sitting at the doctor's office in my little paper robe in the exam room a few months ago and I came across this recipe for Green Turkey Chili in an issue of Woman's Day magazine I tore it out. Now, I don't normally condone ripping pages out of waiting room magazines, but there were two copies of the same magazine there, one now unvandalized. Plus, the fact that the recipe was so good that I'm sharing it on my blog, redeems me. The link above will take you directly to the recipe and as I said before, it's good. Really, really good. We've made it several times now, sometimes with turkey and it's also delicious with chicken. We will bake up some canned biscuits (seen above), make some cornbread muffins, or just eat it with tortilla chips on the side. We like our food extra spicy, but you can adjust the ingredients to your taste. And, as always, a Bud Light with lime washes it all down oh so well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

KIDDOS: Boise Parks + Rec

This summer is the first time we've really taken advantage of the Boise Parks and Recreation Summer Activities since we've been working full-time in previous years. From sculpture class to nature camps, they offer a range of activities that are around $20 for Boise residents for a 6-8 week class. They offer a summer full of swimming lessons for kids that usually run Mondays thru Thursdays for two full weeks. We chose the Borah Pool since it was fairly close to our house and fit our schedule. The instructors were young and fun and Lucy learned the back float this year.

She has also taken two dance classes at Fort Boise Community Center which have been fantastic. She loved the 4-and-5-year-olds Storybook Ballet, where they did fun movements based on stories the teacher would read each class, and has just started a kids movement ballet and tap class there as well. The instructors are exceptional, and the facility is really nice.

I really wanted to sign her up for some art classes here this summer, but, of course, I procrastinated and the classes were all full. If you live in Boise, you should receive a paper copy of the summer activities guide in the mail, or you can pick one up late spring in various places around town. I highly suggest you do, but be sure to sign your kids up early, as the classes fill up fast. They also offer great classes for adults, from cooking to dance, to more obscure things like how to travel to Quatar on a budget. I took Sewing for Beginners last fall with some girlfriends in an evening course held at a local junior high for a similarly cheap rate.

Monday, July 20, 2009

FOODIE: Summer Reading with Sizzler

At the beginning of June, Lucy joined the Boise Public Library's Kids Summer Reading Program. They win prizes and gift certificates for reading a certain number of minutes, and since we read every night, she quickly filled out all her "tickets" and claimed her prizes. One of them was a free kids meal at Sizzler. It may be embarrassing to admit, but we had NEVER BEEN TO A SIZZLER BEFORE. We were excited to give it a try, because I have been lusting after their all you can eat seafood commercials for some time. Much to Eric's delight, but my chagrin, we were surprised to find it was also a GIGANTIC BUFFET.

I am not a fan of buffets, but do love me a nice salad bar, so decided to give it a try. You order at the front counter, and of course I got the all you can eat fried shrimp and steak platter; it comes with a beverage and salad bar trip for only $15. Eric got the all you can eat buffet, which included the salad bar, a taco bar, soup, desserts, ice cream, and a drink for around $10. Lucy's $6 kids meal with the buffet and dinosaur chicken nuggets was free, and Alice, being just one-year-old, also ate for free.

I meant to take more pictures of the food but forgot before we devoured it all. We all enjoyed our meals; I thought the steak was delicious as were the unlimited amounts of shrimp. The buffet offered enough variety to satisfy my picky kids and was clean and fresh.

The highlight for Lucy was, of course, the ice cream station. It was here that I noticed the large amount of senior citizens that had just joined our dining atmosphere. Granted, we were eating dinner at 5pm, as we had skipped lunch and were starving. The folks were friendly and loved chatting with the kids, and one particular gentleman told me all about his diabetes and his beloved Toyota Tundra while we stood in line for the sugar-free ice cream.

All in all, our first experience at Sizzler was a good one. It's a great place to take families, as your kids have unlimited options and will find the buffet style eating fun. You can get your adult "steak on" at the same time and the all you can eat option seems to be almost orgasmic for most men. I have to admit, we probably wouldn't have ever tried Sizzler (at least until we were 55 or older) without the incentive of Lucy's summer library reading benefit. Our experience was a good one, though, and the bill wasn't outrageous. We'll definitely keep it in mind next time we have the great-grandparents in town or a crowd of especially picky eaters to satisfy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

STYLE: Posh Papoose Hats

My girlfriend in Los Angeles sent the girls these darling reversible sunhats handmade by a creative, entrepreneurial mom she knows who works from home. Her company is called Posh Papoose, and I soon discovered they also make equally hip play mats and baby slings.

The hats are made from sturdy, funky prints. Alice is wearing the Jade Pop Hat and Lucy got the Sakura. They can fold up quite small, fit well on the head, and have a wide brim to protect precious soft skin from the sun. I love that they are super cute and practical, not to mention perfect for summer. Mostly, I love supporting other amazing mothers who have started their own successful and unique small businesses on top of that other demanding full-time career of being a Mom.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

KIDDOS: The Wildlife Wonders of Cabelas

My baby girl, Alice, is obsessed with taxidermy. She seriously considers these stuffed wild creatures her friends, and talks to them lovingly in her toddler gibberish, petting them softly. And she can pick them out in the oddest of locations, even mounted to the highest most obscure spot on a restaurant wall. Lucky for her, she's growing up in Idaho. And we have a new, lovely, FREE taxidermy museum to take family excursions to called Cabelas.
Conveniently located near the Boise Towne Square Mall and Hooters, Cabelas is a haven for sportsmen and sportswomen of all types, which pretty much covers, um, everyone who lives in Idaho. If we weren't on The Compact, we'd be probably be splurging on all sorts of cool gear, like the lounge camp chairs with sunshades for $49.99. However, it is still a great place for adults to look around, too, while your kids have a wildlife experience to remember.

Lucy took this shot of the African animals display at Cabelas, and you can see more (crisper) images of the store here on their website. There are three of these large exhibits, and many other taxidermied birds and large game animals hanging above your heads throughout the super store.

My girls were mesmerized, and I think Alice thought she'd died and gone to heaven with all the other lovely dearly departed animals of her dreams. Both girls also loved the fish aquarium, which I didn't get a photo of, but rivals the aquarium at any zoo in Idaho. It's well worth a trip with the family - they have great old fashioned candy treats as well, and it's cheap fun. You can teach your daughter how to spot a rainbow trout while picking up some Smartwool socks for camping and get your shotgun cleaned all in one stop. You can't beat that!

Friday, July 3, 2009

STYLE: Vintage Kitchenware

I am addicted to mid-century modern design, especially housewares from the 1940s through the 1970s. I am also addicted to a good deal, and my training as an art curator and historian gives me not only a keen eye, but some extra knowledge of superior discount style when I see it at garage sales or the like. Our little ranch home on the Boise Bench is overflowing with mid-century kitsch, and our kitchen is no exception. There are two particular vintage brands that I am in love with and can't get enough of: Pyrex and Tupperware.

Pyrex was created by a savvy wife of a Corning Glass Works scientist in the early 1900s. Her husband was working on some really sturdy glass lanterns for the railroads and she got the brilliant idea that that same strong glass might make a perfect baking dish. She was right, and Corning expanded their durable glass into dishware that the housewives loved. They continue to be a very popular brand, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a household without some sort of Pyrex dish today. I, however, am in love with their vintage designs and colors and love to use them for leftovers instead of disposable plastic tubs and for mixing batches of cookies. They are much cuter, and fun to bring potluck dishes in. Pyrex can often be found at thrift stores in pristine condition for $3.99 or less. The really rare 1940s sets (like the red, yellow, and blue stackables above) can go up to around $40 at antique shops.

I think my affinity for vintage Tupperware stems from my childhood, as I recall my mom's Tupperware parties in our living room and carrying deviled eggs in her Tupperware travel container to neighborhood barbecues. It's another American success story, as in 1946 Earl Tupper molded the first legendary airtight seal on a strong, plastic, stackable container. Just two years later, Tupperware launched perhaps one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns in our history - the home shopping party held for, and by, homemakers. It not only provided fashionable and affordable kitchenware, it provided many women the ability to work part-time on their own time while still caring for their families at home. (PBS did a fabulous documentary called Tupperware! a few years back that I highly recommend.) Although today there are many Tupperware knock-offs, nothing compares to the original. Tupperware parties are still popular, as are their products, but, again, I am a sucker for the colors of the 1960s and 70s. They can be found at garage sales and thrift stores for well under $4, but haven't yet made their debut at any antique stores that I know of. Retro Pyrex and Tupperware are fun items to collect, make our kitchen more colorful, and make leftovers more exciting. What more can a housewife ask for?