Review: Free Tours on Foot

We have a few trips planned for this year so we wanted to stay semi-close to come for Spring Break.  I offered the family the choice of a beach trip or New Orleans.  They both chose New Orleans (well… my daughter may have actually picked beignets but I understood).  We love New Orleans and go every couple of years.  It’s about 9 hours from the house but it’s a destination we all enjoy.

Given that we’ve been before, we wanted to specifically pick activities that we haven’t done before.  My daughter became obsessed with the idea of doing a ghost tour (I know, she’s a quirky kid).  As I started to research them, the #1 rated tour on Trip Advisor was Free Tours By Foot.  Honestly, it sounded weird so I scrolled on.  Eventually it came up again as a suggestion so I was off to research whether it was a scam.  All of the glowing reviews finally persuaded me to give it a shot so we booked a ghost tour for a small booking fee (some of the more popular tours have booking fees, but most tours are free).

The tour company says that they don’t want you to pay for a tour that you aren’t totally happy with but I did some research before we left to see how much people tipped generally.  I found that other people seem to tip $20 each (still cheaper than booking a tour and tipping).

Before our scheduled time, I received an email with a meeting place and a picture of our tour guide. Our guide was fantastic.  She guided us around the French Quarter stopping to tell us true stories of creepy happenings.  She was honest and funny.  There were a lot of other tours wandering at the same time and a lot of the other tour guides wore costumes or other cheesy getups.  I was so glad she wasn’t like that.  Just a real person telling real stories.

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The last stop on our tour was the story of Delphine LaLaurie who was caught locking up slaves and murdering them in a torture chamber.  Rescuers found a 70-year-old black woman trapped in the kitchen during the fire because she was chained up while LaLaurie was busy saving her furniture. The woman later revealed that she had set the fire in an attempt to escape LaLaurie’s torture. She led authorities up to the attic, where seven slaves were tied with spiked iron collars.  The LaLaurie’s unfortunately escaped a mob of people and the police but their amazing mansion still stands.

At the end of the tour, I honestly expected to be pressured into tipping but she just offered to give food or drink suggestions and said she would be around if anyone had any other questions.  I tipped her $60 ($20 for each of us) and went on our way.

If you are looking for a great, cost-effective tour option, I would definitely suggest checking them out.  I see that they have a variety of tours available in a few cities.

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Impractical Festival Style

You guys, the coolest thing happened.  I won 18 day VIP passes to the Kerrville Folk Festival.  I’ve been eyeing this festival for a possible weekend trip when I came across a giveaway from Everfest.  I couldn’t possibly be more excited and am going to camp out as much as feasible for the festival.

In addition to tackling the daunting task of figuring out what to pack and eat while living in a tent for 18 days, I’ve been sort of geeking out on Pinterest looking at festival fashion.  I know it’s kind of shallow but I can’t help it.  The problem with some festival clothes are that they aren’t super practical for festival life.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten old so I can’t fully relate to clothes that aren’t cute and functional.  I mean, I’m going to have to parent in whatever I pick.

Without further ado, I present some of the more impractical festival styles that I’ve come across in my search.  I did link them for you if you think I’m crazy and need to get your hands on them.

First up, anything white.  The dirt, the spills, the potential for rainfall.  So much goes wrong when I wear white anywhere but at a festival, it all seems so much more likely to be destroyed.

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Anything sequin.  I love me some sequins but I almost always regret life decisions when I wear them because they rub.  The combination of sweat from dancing all day combined with the rub from the sequins would seriously annoy me.

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Tights.  Need I say more?  I avoid them like the plague in my daily life so I couldn’t deal being outside in the heat all day in them.  They are so damn cute but I’ll have to admire from afar.

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Rompers.  Again so cute…. until you have to pee and you’re sitting in a portapotty (or behind a tent) naked.

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Texas Bucket List

jakob-owens-422373-unsplashI’ve been living in Texas for over a decade.  I have to admit it’s been a bit of a love/hate relationship (don’t tar and feather me).  There are some really fantastic things about Texas and some serious drawbacks.  Through it all, I can say the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that things are what you make of them.

When I first moved to Texas, I relied heavily on recommendations from other people about what to do and where to eat.  It honestly came up really short for me a lot of times.  I’ve figured out that this is really because my criteria differs from theirs.  For example, when I ask for a BBQ restaurant and people suggest Bill Miller….. this isn’t going to work for me.  But I’ve learned to accept that this is somehow a solid BBQ option for some people (I humbly but strong disagree).  Through it all, I’ve found that I need to dig and really find my place.

Once I understood that I needed to make this place my home in a way that makes me happy, I’ve enjoyed it MUCH more.  In an effort to appreciate it more, I’ve put together a Texas bucket list.  The thing about this bucket list is that there are things on here that I’ve done (but I would suggest you check out) and a number of things that I REALLY want to make sure I do.  Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions.

  • Luckenbach
  • Enchanted Rock
  • Tubing
  • Big Bend
  • Lavender Fest in Blanco
  • Jacobs Well
  • Palo Duro Canyon
  • South Padre sea turtle rescue
  • McDonald Observatory
  • Marfa
  • Cadillac Ranch
  • Caverns of Sonora
  • Sixth floor museum
  • Gorman falls
  • Congress Street bats
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Dinosaur Valley
  • Fort Worth Stockyards
  • Hamilton Pool
  • Natural Bridge Caverns
  • Terlingua

Enchanted Rock

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Before I had my daughter, Bob and I had been to Enchanted Rock many times.  It is a massive granite dome that is about 95 miles from Austin.  The trails are fairly limited so we prefer to make it a day trip to climb to the top of the dome then go down into the cave.  My daughter is finally big enough to do some spelunking so we set our sights again on Enchanted Rock for an overnight trip.

Any adventure requires some hiccups and uncomfortableness so the night before we left, I couldn’t sleep.  There is no good reason for this – my mind just decides sometimes that sleep is totally overrated and we should spend potential sleeping time thinking about everything under the sun.  I only slept 3 hours that night and drug myself through the day at work until I picked my daughter up from school after lunch.  The drive out to Enchanted Rock was fairly brutal because I was so tired and we finally stopped in Llano to get an energy drink to survive the hike to camp.

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Totally a fake smile

We opted to camp at Moss Lake because it’s a little farther hike so we thought it might not get as crowded.  My lack of sleep made me really irritable on the two mile hike to camp.  I tried to just shut up and keep moving my feet for fear that I’d take out my annoyance on my family unnecessarily.  Bob didn’t help his case by suggesting a “short cut” to the campsite (recipe for disaster).  I started to question his sanity when I realized how hard his shortcut was.  I finally persuaded him to turn around and we ran into some park rangers.  They told us that his way was shorter but that it was a class 3 scramble (especially fun with packs on).  I criticized his map reading skills as we worked our way to the longer but easier trail.

There isn’t a consistently good source for filtering water at the campsites at Enchanted Rock so we hauled in all of our water (so heavy).  Bob ended up with the brunt of it and was suffering so I eventually took his daypack and wore it on my front to help alleviate his load a bit.  My pack was 37.5 pounds but my Osprey Aura is amazing and the weight is really never a problem.

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Elegantly balancing on rocks

Once we finally got to Moss Lake we quickly picked a spot with a little bit of trees and a great view of Enchanted Rock (our campsite is the picture at the top of this post).  Once we got camp set up, we enjoyed chicken tacos and cauliflower rice (all shelf stable!) for dinner.  For the rest of the night, we just relaxed at camp while Quinn explored, jumped around and balanced on rocks.

Sleeping that night was bothersome because 1) it was really hot in the tent even with the vents and doors open 2) we ended up with only one neighbor but they were really noisy 3) my brain wouldn’t shut up.  We also heard a lot of coyotes but they are much less annoying to me than a laughing neighbor.  When I can’t sleep when camping, I tend to read (because what else can I do in a tent?).  One of the few luxuries that I allow myself while backpacking is my iPad for reading books.  I can easily read a book per night so it’s actually lighter for me than dragging actual books out with me (I finished 2 books on this trip).

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Taking a rest on one of many false summits

In the morning, we woke up slowly enjoying our Starbucks via and enjoying the still of the morning.  I live for the mornings at a campsite.  It’s truly one of my life’s greatest joys.  For breakfast, we just had some breakfast sausage jerky, dried fruit and granola bars.  When we were finally motivated we armed ourselves with plenty of water and headed out to summit Enchanted Rock.

Although Enchanted Rock is only 425

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feet up, you’ll be heading up most of the hike so it is fairly strenuous.  A lot of non-hikers do it each year but it is challenging.  Just take your time, take a break when you need it and keep climbing to the top.  Once finally to the top, you can take in the 360 views of the Texas Hill Country.

Near the summit of Enchanted Rock is an entrance to a cave.  We like to head in here and cool off with a quick snack.  Considering how hot it was on the day that we went to Enchanted Rock, the cool in the cave felt glorious.  We put on our headlamps and explored the cave a bit (as far as Quinn was comfortable).

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Echo Canyon Trail

After the cave, we climbed down from Enchanted Rock and headed back to camp.  We opted to take Bob’s shortcut trail (Echo Canyon Trail) back.  It was a fun little hike with a lot of boulders.

Once we got back to camp, we laid around for a bit and ate some lunch (summer sausage and crackers).  Bob and I tried to lay down and take a nap but couldn’t really get comfortable in the heat.  Once we finally got up, we realized we were consuming a lot of water.  We were going to need to go refill it but decided instead to just pack up and head out.  The heat was starting to get to us and the prospect of hiking 4 miles roundtrip for water was less than appealing.  We packed up quickly and hiked out.

We took advantage of the showers so we could go have dinner in Fredericksburg.  The showers didn’t have doors which was shocking for Quinn but she quickly washed up anyway.

In Fredericksburg, we enjoyed dinner and a beer at the Hill Top Cafe.  All in all, an excellent trip.  21752897_10101324600332935_7406200665987541099_o

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Crockpot Recipe Roundup

When fall returns, so does my daughter’s crazy schedule.  She takes several hours of dance and gymnastics.  Not to mention school activities and my work schedule starts to get busier.  When we get home from a full schedule, my family is STARVING so I’ve tried to master the art of serving dinner in a few minutes.  The crockpot is fabulous for this but I’m not always a big fan of meals cooked in it.  I hate meals that end up being all one flavor and texture.  Here is a roundup of some of the things that I actually like from the crockpot.

Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin

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Slow cooker sage short ribs in a gorgonzola cream sauce

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Slow cooker stick chicken drumsticks

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Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

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Chicken Gnocchi Soup

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Greek Potatoes

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Slow Cooker Cinnamon Rolls

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Social Media Creepers

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I run several social media accounts (personal and public) so I get more than my fair share of social media creepers.  Some of these people are innocent but just terribly socially awkward.  Some of them are much more serious, unfortunately.  Here are my tips for dealing with these jerks.

  1. Ignore them

As I said, many of these people are just socially awkward and trying to connect.  Typically I will just ignore an initial message and this is enough for them to move on to creeping someone else.  If they persist, I’ll just tell them something like “I’m not interested”.  This honestly is fine for 90% of the weirdo messages that I receive.

2. Block Them

I sprinkle the block button around like glitter.  Life is too short to have to interact with idiots.

3. Delete the Public Messages

Don’t leave up weird comments on your public posts.  Delete them so that it doesn’t encourage like minded morons to leave their own creepy little gifts.

4. Trust Your Instincts

You are under no obligation to be polite to cretins.  If your instinct tells you that an interaction is off then you are probably right.  Even if you were originally talking to them and realized during a discussion that something was off.

To Cozumel, With Love

If you follow me on social media, it is no secret that I really love Cozumel, Mexico.  I visited three times this year alone.  When my feet hit the ground in Cozumel, I feel so happy and energetic.  I’m planning to blog about some of my favorite restaurants and activities in the upcoming posts but this post is some of my the reasons that I return again and again.

  1. The scenery is stunning. 

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I’ve been to many areas in the Caribbean but I swear that the water is prettiest in Cozumel.  You can try to convince me otherwise but I absolutely love the water in Cozumel.  It feels like a painting.  The crystal clear waters, spectacular sunsets, and endless beaches make me fall in love over and over.

Cozumel also has my husband’s favorite beaches.  He actually hates the beach. It’s a miracle that our relationship has survived this obvious character flaw.  His complaint about the beaches is the sand.  He hates how it gets all over everything and can be difficult to wash off (I know, he’s weird… for better or worse, you know).  BUT he doesn’t mind the sand in Cozumel.  Apparently it is magical sand that washes out more easily.

2. The incredible people

Almost all of the people that you encounter are so friendly.  The warmth and hospitality of the people in Cozumel  is amazing.  From the moment you arrive to the island you will feel the warmth of its people, because in Cozumel hospitality is not just a practice, it is a lifestyle.

I love to just hop in a taxi and ask for a restaurant, beach or activity recommendation.  The people love to talk and will recommend something perfect.

3. Safe

I realize that Mexico, in general, gets a bad reputation.  I also acknowledge that in many areas that reputation is unfortunately earned thanks to drug cartels and corrupt governments.  However, I’ve never felt unsafe in Cozumel.  I’ve been all over the island and never felt uncomfortable.  They even have tourist police walking around because they take safety extremely seriously.  I would suggest that you take similar precautions in Cozumel that you would take anywhere else though (maybe I should write a blog about this?).

4. Tons of adventures

A lot of people just bar hop in Cozumel and that is fine for them but there is SO much more to do.  The scuba, snorkeling and snuba in Cozumel are amazing.  Plenty of other water sports are also available.  There are opportunities to see and interact with wildlife.  Of course you could just be a beach bum.  You can try a lot of different foods and local cuisine.