Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pop music accords

Listening to music in the car on long road trips has always been a point of contention between us.

Ryan prefers his iPhone, full of carefully cultivated playlists for each season. The lists are filled with his favorite bands, such as the Black Crowes, Pearl Jam, Rush, The National and Jimmy Eat World, to name a few. He constantly tries to fine-tune my underdeveloped listening muscles. Car trips become an hours long game of me having to ineptly guess answers to "Who's this?"

I have particular trouble discerning four 1970s/'80s bands, prompting Ryan to create this mnemonic device: It's what you use to Journey from Boston to Chicago.

He just drops the correct band name out of the phrase as appropriate. The fourth band, in case you hadn't guessed it, is REO Speedwagon.  (All of them sound EXACTLY alike to me!)

Meanwhile, I prefer audiobooks on long trips. Ryan will listen along for a while, but he can only focus on them for medium-length bursts. And because he does the bulk of the driving, I switch over gladly when he needs a jolt of music.

When I do listen to music, it's usually pop. I confessed to Facebook last year that Sugar Ray's "Every Morning" is one of my Top 25 most played songs on iTunes. Other embarrassing gems on that list include Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Mika's "Any Other World," and a pair of Taylor Swift songs: "Love Story" and "White Horse."

At any rate, this spring I got very tired of being the quizzed and never the quizzer. We were driving through Nashville in April and trying to find a rock station as a break from Ryan's Baseball Tonight podcast (the other thing he listens to for hours). And I happened across a pop station playing a Taylor Swift song. So I turned the tables on Ryan:

"Who's this?" I asked.

He guessed his default female artist (Pink), then Katy Perry, then finally got it right.

I knew the next artist, too. And so we passed the rest of the trip testing each other on pop songs from the 1970s to now. Ryan has learned that some pop station time makes me a much more agreeable car companion, and so he deployed this tactic liberally on the long stretches of our western trip.

As a result, we pulled together a playlist of the songs we heard most on this trip. It's up to you to decide which we liked and which just wore us down to the point of inclusion.
To convince you that Ryan was an active participant in this, I did make tapes: 


That's a wrap for this year.

A run with a view

The trail.
The views are the best part about going running where we live in the Shenandoah Valley.

But it will be hard to top the ones from our western trip. Just the sheer diversity of scenery was incredible. It was even worth getting up at 5 a.m. (to avoid running in triple digit temperatures).

My favorite was the trail in Tucson about a mile from Gena and John's house that went into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Although, it was definitely not a run in which mile times mattered. Going up the first mile of the trail was nearly 12 minutes both because it was steep and because I was trying not to get myself killed. I ran with my iPhone (ostensibly to reassure Elizabeth in case I got lost but really so I could take some photos).

A view of the valley from the top of one of the hills on the trail. Yes, that's the moon. It was 5:30 a.m.
After careful study, beach running is easier than trails. These are some of the snapshots of my early morning runs in San Diego, where we stayed near the Pacific.


Those are the stones I had to cross to get up to the biking/running trail from the inlet. 
Running at the Grand Canyon is challenging for a different reason. The Grand Canyon's rim trail near where we stayed is paved and relatively flat. But the trick is not getting so distracted by the spectacular views that you run right off the cliff.

Seriously, how amazing is that view? 

The rim trail in the early morning light. The only other people who were awake at this time were the people hiking up the canyon from Phantom Ranch. One group told us they left at 3 a.m. 
Our return to Phoenix was obviously a scenic downgrade. But there were still some interesting urban features.
Yes, that's a 25-cent water station in a random Phoenix neighborhood.  But I brought my own with me, thank you. 

And the city had a bunch of murals. Some were artsy. Some were culturally relevant. Others were big ads, like this one on the side of the Diamondbacks' stadium Chase Field. But it featured dogs at a baseball game, so I couldn't resist.
Added bonus of taking pictures on these runs: It was a great excuse to stop and take a breather. 
As for the other sights, I spotted a snake -- not in Arizona, but crossing the bike/running path in San Diego. (Sorry, I kept running and didn't stop to take its photo.) I came close to a couple of rabbits in Tucson. But that was about it. No bobcats or coyotes or gila monsters or scorpions.

Now it's back to plain old views of the Shenandoah Mountains to west, the Massanutten Mountain range to the east and the green fields of the valley in between.

What we ate & drank

We didn't eat nearly as much Southwestern/Mexican food as we feared. But we did try some really interesting things.

Sonorana tacos: Gena took us to a stand in Tucson. As she walked up, she told us it was way nicer than when John first brought her. "They have real windows now," she said. "The walls used to just be corrugated aluminum." Despite the minimalistic surroundings, the hot dogs were pretty good.

For those who are curious, Wikipedia has a basic description of Sonoran hot dogs.

Photo courtesy of Gena. 
I eat about one hot dog a year. This was worth it.

Eegee's: Gena and John also shared their favorite Tucson sweet treat with us and they share the name of the chain, Eegee's. They are similar to Slush Puppies at 7-Eleven, but they are mostly shaved ice with chunks of real fruit (and taste much better).
A Mango Tango Eegee for the road.
Best ballpark treat: Chase Field has the Terraza open on Friday nights and sells Hispanic fare. I had a delicious raspados - mango, crushed iced and lechera (sweetened condensed milk).

Best ballpark deal: It was Taco Tuesday at Petco Park - grilled mahi mahi tacos were two for $5. They were so good that they knocked Seattle's Safeco Field out of the top spot for best ballpark food.

I felt a little guilty for preferring it to GABP fare.

Best named beer: Malicious Journalist at OB Brewing in Ocean Beach. To our dismay, it was an IPA and neither of us was willing to drink it.

Best beer we did try: Wren House Brewing Company's Kolsch.

The best thing we ate (and perhaps the best thing I've ever eaten that wasn't cooked by my grandmother): The dative relleno from Cafe Sevilla in San Diego. This tapas dish consisted of medjool dates filled with cabrales blue cheese and wrapped in bacon. No description could do them justice.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Elizabeth crafts a souvenir: Part 2

In a world where souvenirs are often plastic and made in China, one woman dares to be different ... even crafty.

This summer, E-5 Productions presents: Elizabeth Crafts a Souvenir Part 2 (Hammer Time)


The best $1 I spent

Ryan loves long car trips. He also really loves to play games on long car trips.

His favorite is the license plate game. Really.

In the past, I'd wake up from a nap and he'd start listing states for me to document. After years of hastily scribbled lists in his reporter notebooks, I broke down last fall and bought an app that allows us to track them all.

The most we'd gotten was 47 during our trip to Florida in March.

We ultimately added Montana and Nebraska on our trip to Florida in March, missing only Utah, Nevada and Hawaii.

Unfortunately, that app wouldn't update with the new version of iOS. So I bought another license plate app, States & Plates, to use for this trip. (A free version is available, but I ponied up the money for the ad-free version.) Ryan loves this version because it allows you to pick a starting state (Arizona) and assigns points based on the distance to the different states you spot.

Admittedly, this quest for 50 does sometimes require cruising the parking lots of toursist spots (like those at the Grand Canyon).

At one point Saturday, he turned right when the sign clearly directed us to "Turn left to exit."

When I pointed out the mistake, Ryan just grinned and said, "But there might be a Nebraska plate in this parking lot" on the right.
There wasn't one in that parking lot, but we did finally locate a Nebraska - in the third parking lot we tried that day as we departed the park.

That was state no. 43. We found the elusive Hawaii plate while walking through a parking lot in Flagstaff.

Mississippi, the state that is unusually difficult even when traveling in the South, was spotted during a serendipitous walk through a YMCA parking lot in Phoenix.

And we eventually recognized a Louisiana. That state and California need to differentiate their primary plates. They use the same red script at top that ends with an "a." Even the "L" and "C" look alike from a car-length away. The difference? A blue border on Louisiana.

We finished the western trip with 48 (missing only Rhode Island and Maine). Now, to convince Ryan that we aren't perpetually playing (he wants to start over again back in Harrisonburg).


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sign of the day: Ryan notices a missing L

No explanation necessary, I hope. Ryan's goofy grin says it all.



(At least five of the eight elevators in the hotel suffer from this same "spelling error." Another just says "P.")

Monday, June 19, 2017

Elizabeth's POV: The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hike at the Grand Canyon


No one has ever mistaken me for a nature girl. I have steadfastly refused to "camp" through 12 years of marriage, much to Ryan's dismay (those early years of Girl Scout camping thoroughly cured me of any desire to sleep, cook or use the bathroom outdoors). Earlier on this trip, Gena asked with obvious concern whether I had even brought sneakers on the trip. (I reassured her that I had.)

Therefore, I was trepidatious about the Grand Canyon leg of this vacation. Ryan kept talking about hiking - wandering aimlessly on trails 6 to 8 miles long in blazing heat. Obviously I survived, but it was a tough day. Ryan on several occasions accused me of "Brooke-ing" it - a reference that likely will make sense only if you watched the 29th season of the Amazing Race.

Early on in our hike. Notice the lack of a smile. 

The National Park Service tells you to expect any hike to take twice as long on the way up. Hike down into the Grand Canyon an hour, and expect it to take two to get back. Inexplicably to me, it gets far hotter as you go down - it was around 87 degrees at the rim Friday but 109 at the bottom. The park was under an extreme heat alert.

We left for our hike about 8:45 a.m. They really recommend that you leave earlier than that to avoid hiking during the worst of the sun (10 a.m.-4p.m.). I didn't really enjoy the way down because I was too nervous about tripping and about how far Ryan was going to push us to go. Fortunately, I think Ryan got some really nice pictures that I can look at later.

A view from not-quite-halfway down the trail. 

The way back was torture. I stopped -- literally -- at every shady rock or after five minutes, whichever came first. Even Ryan admitted afterward that my face was such a vivid shade of red that he wasn't sure I was going to make it.

 I had no idea Ryan snapped this shot, but I remember exactly what I was thinking: How am I ever going to get all the way back up there?
But I did. I'm not eager to do it again, but I did come away with some valuable lessons that I now call "The Indoor Girl's Guide to Surviving the Grand Canyon" (patent pending):
  1. Buy hiking boots. My sneakers didn't give me enough grip on the clay trails, and I slid often. I also didn't have the ankle support that I needed. Alternatively, I might have fared better with walking sticks to improve my balance.
  2. Pack higher sunscreen than you think you'll need. The NPS recommends SPF 50 at minimum. We had that on our arms and legs, but I could have used it for my face, too. Also remember to reapply sunscreen after you get to the top of the trail because you will have sweated most of it off.
  3. Bring one more bottle of water than you think you'll need. We drained 4 bottles, then refilled them on the way back. We ultimately had one left at the top. I had to persuade Ryan to bring the 4th, but even he admitted it was a good idea afterward. 
  4. Make sure your salty snack (to off-set your water intake) actually contains salt. We brought low-sodium trail mix by accident. Gena also recommended bringing Gatorade; helpful advice that we ignored because I think Gatorade tastes disgusting. But we bought a bottle after reaching the rim, and I don't think anything has ever tasted better in my entire life. 
  5. Sunglasses and a hat are essential. Lighter-colored clothes are recommended and would have been nice. I didn't have any, since I almost exclusively travel with black clothes to avoid ruining them with my constant spills. No matter what color you wear, you will be coated in red dust that has mixed with your sweat to form a gross paste. 
  6. Go at 5 a.m. Even though you think nothing civilized happens that early in the morning, you will save yourself a world of pain by being off the trail by 9.
  7. Remember that your Significant Other has many great qualities, even if none of them were on display on this particular day. And hope that your SO remembers the same about you.
    Ryan in his "King of the World" moment at the nadir of our hike. 
  8. Never ever hike with someone training for a marathon. Ryan ran a half in April and is training for the full 26.2 in September. I am in better shape than I have been in years thanks to two months of barre and Pilates classes that have strengthened my legs and core. Still, I did not have the fitness level to go as far as I did, and should have argued more firmly with Ryan about it. His energy and enthusiasm were super annoying - he never sat down once and when we got to the top, we said "Ready to hike the rim trail?" In the blazing sun! For miles! Next time, I'll be sure to invite friends to come with us - one who can go my pace and one who can go his. Otherwise, I fear the result will be either death or divorce. 
Dessert in the desert was the highlight of the day. 
For Ryan's radically different perspective, read this post.