Friday, June 25, 2010

KIDDOS: Holiday Inn Express

We've spent a fair amount of time traveling with our girls over the past six years and after staying at the Holiday Inn Express several times now, I can't recommend it enough for families. The prices are extremely reasonable (typically around $119 a night) and the place tasteful, clean and lovely. Luckily, you can now find one in almost every American city. The rooms have always been comfortable and they offer cribs for free, although these days we opt for two queen beds. The bathroom has both a shower and a tub which, for me, is a prerequisite with kiddos. All the exciting channels are offered on the TV, including indulgences like the Disney channel and Nickelodeon, neither of which we get at home. (For mamas and papas there's HBO! OMG! BIG LOVE & TRUE BLOOD FTW!) My favorite part of the rooms, though, is the free wifi and the microwave and mini fridge. It is such a life saver to have immediate internet access for directions to the local hot spots and a grocery store so you can stock up on snacks and a dinner or two. The microwave is wonderful for warming up restaurant leftovers for lunch the next day. I don't know about you, but dining out with kids is not my favorite thing to do, not to mention it's expensive and typically unhealthy.

The hotel also usually has a lovely yard space and a killer indoor pool, hot tub, and exercise room. On our recent three-day trip to Pullman, Washington, for a chemistry conference, the girls and I swam daily for hours at a time. We also spent a nice amount of time outside playing with toys and tossing around balls and frisbees when we weren't exploring local parks.
They also have really nice patios with seating and it's much easier to eat those store bought snacks and lunches outside rather than inside your hotel room with kids (although Parent Hacks recently posted this brilliant idea). And speaking of food, the Holiday Inn Express offers a fantastic complimentary breakfast buffet and it's not just donuts and coffee, friends, it's full on eggs and bacon and biscuits with gravy and fruit and yogurt and granola and three kinds of juice and more. And the all day coffee bar also offers hot chocolate and spiced cider packets, which was a real treat for my girls and free beats Starbucks ANY DAY in my book. The highlight of the food service, though, is the just before bedtime fresh-baked cookies and milk. In the lobby from 8-9pm pajama clad kids cuddle up on the couches for a special treat. And I'll admit, I love it, too. The staff was lovely and helpful, giving me a city map and directions at the front desk, helping me locate Alice's beloved 'silky' she lost at the pool and selling me $1 laundry soap from the gift shop for some laundry (yes, they have on-site washing machines and driers, too!) after my coffee hit my cleavage and puddled into my bra instead of my mouth one morning. This hotel rocks, ya'll. I can't recommend it more.

PROJECT 52 DATE NIGHTS: Ice Cream and Eye Candy

For this date night I took an idea from Simply Modern Mom's suggestion list. In theory it sounds fun and is something we all do all the time alone - rifle through magazines and pick out things we like: vacation spots, furniture, haircuts, clothing. The date part of it is sitting together and picking out items you think the other person would like or look good in or would hate. I served up some ice cream sundaes and set up the patio. We had a variety of magazines to choose from, like O, Sunset, Southern Living, InStyle, and Martha Stewart Living. Eric and I clearly know each other very well. He picked out the correct diamond ring from a wedding ring round-up in one advertisement. I knew he'd love to kayak and he knew I'd never do it in a million years. I'll admit, it got a little messy when we decided to pick the cutest celebrity or model on some pages and I got his girls wrong. Wha?! That ONE?! Really. Hmm. With the collagen and bleach job? It was there that the initially cute idea turned a little sour. It wasn't our favorite date so far. But I'm upping the ante this weekend.

Monday, June 14, 2010

CULTURE: A Button Collection at the Boise Public Library

I'm a collector of things, so it's no wonder Lucy was born with the habit as well. I collect Paint-by-Number paintings and old souvenir travel plates and vintage Tupperware and Pyrex, in addition to Vera scarves and tiny bird sculptures and my old pregnancy tests. I'd have a hundred little odd collections if I didn't consciously limit myself and also have the need to purge on occasion. (I am working on being more balanced in my life rather than my usual imbalanced.) The love of teeny objects runs in the family and a little over a year ago Lucy began collecting buttons. We find vintage ones at garage sales and cute shaped ones on clearance at JoAnn's.

She started pinning them to corkboards like material specimens and labeling them in her own categorical way: plastic, metal, silk, etc. My favorite labels are 'pirate' (for nautical themed buttons) and 'stars' (for star-shaped buttons, of course). A large plastic ice cream bucket holds all her buttons until she has time to sort and pin them, and the button boards used to hang on her bedroom wall until Alice got big enough to attempt eating them.

Our favorite neighborhood library, the Hillcrest Branch of the Boise Public Library system, sits in a mid-century outdoor strip mall on the corner of Overland and Orchard Avenues. It's fairly new and we've spent a great deal of time here for storytime, art classes, selecting weekend movies and picking up requested books. This cute wooden display case sits right next to the front door.

The library allows locals to display their quirky individual collections in it for a month at a time. We always love exploring the case; during February it hosted a beautiful group of antique paper Valentines. Last month was a collection of Star Trek memorabilia, exhibited by our local Trekkie club. Lucy was chosen as the exhibitor for the month of June, and she spent several days labeling and reorganizing and planning her display.

I love that this exists, I love that people collect things and I love to explore the reasons why. It's fun, it's a hobby, it's an addiction, it's a comfort. At least, that's why I collect, and I think Lucy is just trying to make sense of the world. She's a very creative little lady, and her attention to detail is amazing. She's growing in so many ways lately that my bones are aching just watching her. Besides losing teeth, this week marks her learning to ride a bike on two wheels and her first sleepover at a friend's house. All these seemingly unconnected and small life acts are pulling her a little further from me and a little more into her own. Whether it's buttons or rocks or bottlecaps or Matchbox cars, mentoring a little collection in your little collector (or just taking your kids to see other collections at museums and such) can be a learning and growing experience for you both.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

PROJECT 52 DATE NIGHTS: Rummy with Nachos / Dominoes with the In-Laws

I'm a little behind posting our dates, I know, so this post includes our dates from the past two weeks. Life really gets in the way of blogging during the summer months. Which also is making it a little trickier to actually fit our alone time in between camping expeditions and leisurely evenings in the yard with family and friends. Not that we're complaining, though. Anyhow, Eric planned this nice little night a few weeks back. We hadn't eaten dinner until the girls went to bed, so he conjured up my favorite - nachos. And surprised me by setting up the table with candles and getting out the cards for a game of rummy. I grew up playing various sorts of card games, including rummy, with my Grandma Shoda. She is a serious card player, so I learned the rules early in my life. I taught Eric this game and he loves playing it as well, coming from a family of hardcore pinochle players. We've missed playing games together, as most of the game playing we've done lately includes hide-and-seek or Candyland. It's something that we hope to continue, as it seems card playing is becoming a lost art these days, especially with people of our generation. Eric and I have fond memories of going to the neighbors' houses as kids in our pajamas and falling asleep on the couch with our little friends as our parents downed beers and played hand after hand of cards.

This past weekend we had Eric's family in town visiting, and since it was the first week of June, it was once again my month to plan the dates. Sunday night we got out the dominoes for a game of Mexican Train with my inlaws. We've played lots of games with our inlaws over the years and love doing so. This date lasted for several hours, as we shared snacks and laughs. Both of us come from families who have long traditions of playing games together and we hope to pass that on to our kids. And if its Disney Yahtzee for now, that'll do.

Friday, June 4, 2010


For Mother's Day Eric planned a little road trip to Idaho City. For those of you who haven't been, it's an old gold and silver mining town that once was home to several thousand residents and something like 41 saloons and hotels. It was a thriving and thrilling Western town, complete with gunfights and burlesque dancers and a Chinese herb shop. Now, it's become a tourist attraction, as it lies about an hour outside of Boise en route to Stanley and Redfish Lake, both popular destination spots. We've been to Idaho City several times, but mainly, like I mentioned, going to or from somewhere else, so we haven't had the time to really explore it.

That Sunday morning we headed out early to get breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants in the area, Hilltop Cafe Kodiak Grill. Unfortunately for us, we didn't make reservations in advance and apparently lots of other fans flocked to the joint before us. So, we headed into Idaho City and found a saloon serving an all you can eat buffet that, um, sucked, to say it nicely.

We didn't let our bad buffet deter us, however, and were excited to find out that lots of the local touristy venues had just reopened for the summer season, including the Boise Basin Museum. Like all other tiny Idaho historical museums that I love so much, this one was filled with local artifacts donated by families and business owners. There were great old maps, stunning glass bottles, the mail slots from the original post office, and an original James Castle drawing (Castle is Idaho's most famous outsider artist and grew up in a town near there). Of course, the place was run by a super sweet volunteer who tried to answer my questions about the architectural preservation efforts of the city and sold the girls 25cent old fashioned stick candy from their gift shop.

Right near the museum grounds, in the heart of the city, also lies the old jail. You can walk through the thick wooden walls and inside the three cells and see the spot where hangings occurred. We took a break in the city park to have some snacks, kick around the ball and watch the birds. The girls ran around, up and over bridged creeks, enjoying the warm spring day.

Of course, since it was Mother's Day after all, I took advantage of it and Eric watched the girls while I perused several of Idaho City's antique shops, which also had just opened for the season. They had some pretty fun things, but, like all tourist cities, I thought they were way over-priced and left with a handful of vintage matchbooks from Waikiki and Scottsdale, AZ.

This, however, might just be the greatest junk/thrift palace I've ever seen. It holds court on a downtown street corner and has, unfortunately, been closed to the public for years. I'd love to know the status of this place and get a chance to go inside.

The highlight of our trip, however, was Pioneer Cemetery. As a death art historian, I worked for Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis in graduate school, one of the most famous cemeteries in the country. I'm a fan of these beautiful landscapes and have converted my family as well. They are so peaceful and lovely and a natural haven in the heart of the city. And the West is home to some fantastic old pioneer cemeteries that are little gems to our communities.

This one was no exception. It spreads for acres across a wooded mountainside, with winding dirt paths leading from one gated resting spot to another. It's been well preserved and is still an active cemetery, with a section dedicated to the burial of the more recently deceased. This is a haven for photographers, as the architecture of this cemetery is stunning to capture and see.

We ended our day at the Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor for homemade huckleberry ice cream cones. Sitting outside on the covered wooden sidewalk of Main Street watching dogs and ATVs cruise up and down the road was the perfect way to end our Idaho City staycation. We're lucky our state boasts a number of these Old West towns, preserved for future generations, and Idaho City is a real treasure.