Gone Abroad Part 2: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Last week I wrote about the first 10 days of our trip to Europe last summer, where we were visiting my husband’s family. We were really craving a warm, beach vacation with a warm ocean or sea to swim in. England really doesn’t offer that, so we knew we would need to head to the continent.We were originally considering the South of France so we could visit my husband’s best friend, but this didn’t fit into our vacation budget. several friends recommended that we consider Croatia. Neither of us had been before and upon studying up on the country, it looked like a great place for us to relax. I considered various places in Croatia based on our requirements, and the kid friendly nature of what we wanted to do, and decided to take us to Dubrovnik on this trip. The place is drop dead gorgeous so how could anyone say no to this!IMG_6586 

Dubrovnik is an amazing city that flourished as a major trading port in the 15th Century. It’s rival, another amazing city, was Venice. The City of Dubrovnik is a UN World Heritage site, and as you walk the car-less Stradun Stradun(Dubrovnik’s main street pictured to right) it is hard to imagine what this city has seen and been through. A major earthquake rocked the Dubrovnik and southern tip of Croatia in 1667 destroying the majority of the city. It fought against invading armies of the past, and more recently was bombed by Bosnian forces during the “Homeland War” which started in 1991. Based on all of that, you might not think this is a great place for kids, but it welcomes children with open arms (and they often get a more friendly greeting than their parents do!).

IMG_6630 Our Favorite things to do:

There are so many things to do and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to stay busy here.

We loved hanging out on the Stradun and watching the nightly guard changes (where a drummer and guards walk the Stradun in cadence).

The city has a very large festival schedule and the city teems with life all summer. Various performances (theatrical and musical) can be found all over the city in the summer. Many of the shows start around 9:00p we found, so if you littles are able to stay up that late, it is fun. The city itself feels really safe and walking around at nightIMG_5175 gives a completely different feel than that of day, when the cruise ships are in and the place is packed full of tourists. It was my favorite time to explore the narrow streets and duck into the small tourist shops. It is also the best time to find a place to eat, or stop in for a drink or to get some amazing ice IMG_0640cream (it is more of a gelato). Our favorite gelato was in a shop right on the stradun. We liked the flavors and textures the best, but even better were the guys working there. They love to play with the customers, making you think you had taken your ice cream but ending up with an empty cone, acting like they are dropping your cone, and creating some amazing ice cream birds. By the end of our week we felt like locals here as they always waved and called hello when we passed by. Try their “Facebook” flavor. It is actually pretty good, albeit very blue!

Hitting the beach was a big purpose of this trip. Like most of the beaches in the Mediterranean, the beaches are pebbles and not the soft sand like we are used to in America. The water is warm and lovely to That red shirt on the beach is Mick. He was always easy to spot! Just heaven.swim in and our favorite beach was only a 5 minute walk from Old Town (picture on the right).  We liked this beach because it was close, had a gradual grade into the sea (which makes it great for kids), had some waves but no dangerous under-tow (like we are used to), and you had an amazing view of the Old Town. We made sure to get there relatively early (no later than 10:00a) so we could find a place to lay out our towels. By noon the beach will be packed and it will be difficult to find room. You can also rent an umbrella for a few dollars at the beach if you want to have a little shade. That was really handy. There is also a place to buy drinks and they do tube rides behind motor boats here. We enjoyed the swimming and snorkeling and this area was free from sea anemones which can really ruin your day (be on the look out!).

  IMG_5232Another place we really enjoyed swimming was just outside of the Old Town wall at Buza I. We had read about the two Buzas in our tour books (Buza 1 one will be marked with graffiti on the wall), and were able to find them during our walk around the wall of the city (which I will get to next!). Buza means “hole”, and that honestly is what you are looking for to transport you to these relaxed bars where children are welcome. Buza I offers a nice rocky perch to lay on and relax, and when it starts getting too warm, you can jump straight in to the sea. This one felt more relaxed than Buza 2, which reportedly is where Bill Gates likes to hang out when he visits. Buza 2 has many levels and tables with umbrellas. It feels more like a proper outdoor bar. Buza 1 had a lot of people laying out on towels or sitting on the rocks, with a bar up the steps with a few tables. Our son is a bit of a daredevil, and was looking for higher points to jump from. We reckon the highest point he and my husband jumped from was about 10 feet above the water. Make sure you check depths before you jump to stay safe. You will want to get here early as well, to claim a nice spot to relax. Sunset is an amazing time to be here too!

IMG_0583Walking the ramparts is a nice way to get your bearings and to pass 2 hours. We were In Croatia in August and it got hot, so we made sure to do this early in the day to beat the heat a little. It costs 100Kn per adult and there are two entrances (one at each gate to the city). The other advantage of going early is to beat the cruise ship traffic that comes into town between 11am and 3pm. The walls get jam packed. While walking the ramparts you will notice the roofs are different colors in the city. One thing we learned is that a majority of the houses were shelled during the “Homeland War”, so when you look out over the city and see bright red roofs, they are new. If they are faded and orange, the house wasn’t a direct hit.

This is a trail you can hike up and down. Just zig and zag all the way down.The Dubrovnik Cable car is not to be missed. The gondola ride to the top of Mount Srd from the city was also a favorite for all of us. It gave us such a wonderful bird’s eye view of what we were enjoying, and appreciation for what generations of people have built. It was a short walk to the base of the cable car from our apartment and it cost 100Kn/adult and 50Kn/kid. If you prefer, you can also make the hike up the mountain from the city. There is a nice path, but it can be hot, and it is a steep grade. Some people take the cable car up and hike down. We considered that until we double checked the shoe situation and called it off. Make sure you have good walking shoes if you want to hike!

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While at the top of Mount Srd, we decided to check out the Imperial War Museum. The Fort was originally built in the Napoleonic Era. More recently the fort was used to defend Dubrovnik during the “Homeland War” and the attacks between 1991-1995. The Fort now houses a museum that has various displays telling the story of Dubrovnik and the losses it suffered while being attacked and how the people fought to save it. They were very brave and the situation looked absolutely horrific. This might be better for older kids (ages 9+). We found our son was interested in the videos, but most of this went right over his head.

Back in town we checked out the Aquarium one afternoon. I would say this is something to do if you are bored and need something to do indoors. We found the tanks very small for the number of creatures in each and the place was a bit depressing compared to other Aquariums we have visited. They have won many awards for their Marine Institute however and a lot of good work is being done by the people there.

IMG_5242An excellent activity is to take either the shuttle boats or ferries to neighboring islands. We decided to pack our swim gear, lunches, and sun screen before boarding the shuttle boat to Lokrum. The island is just off the coast of Old Town. The boat ride takes 10 minutes or so. The island provides some great The bird is the same color as the seaswimming spots, a fun exercise and play park, a nice botanical garden, tide pooling, an old monastery to explore, hiking trails, and you get to see loads and loads of peacocks, bunnies, butterflies, and cicadas. It also offers a nice little cafe to get drinks, food and ice cream. The shuttle boat runs back and forth IMG_0679between the Lokrum marina and the Old Town port every half an hour or so, which makes it easy to go back and forth. We wish we had explored the island earlier in our trip as we would have spent more time here. It was a really nice way to get away and be with fewer people. It allows you to get away IMG_0670from many of the tourist and feel more like a local. Many locals come here to swim, their culture is very sea and swimming oriented from what we saw. I will say the island can be quite loud due to the Cicadas. It is constant noise that you will not escape until you leave. We swam at a few locations on the island. There is good swimming for everyone on the island from the smallest and newest swimmers to daredevil cliff jumpers. There is a small lake called the Dead Sea on the island that is recommended for young children, for example. We couldn’t help taking one last swim before heading to the boat, dropped our towels and swam at the area next to the marina. It is a great place to swim as you can see the boat coming in and get down to the dock quickly, but watch your step as we saw anemones there.

mmmmmmmmm....snacks!

Walking the market in Old Town was great too. There were so many wonderful local delicacies and snacks to try as well as many hand-made items to see. We loved these tasty candied orange peels especially. It was really neat to see what the different vendors had and there was also fresh, local fruit which was especially tasty after a morning of swimming. Near the market we also found a pizza and sandwich place which offered some of the most amazing french fries we have ever had. we also loved the special french fry box they came in. It just made us happy (doesn’t it look like a smiley face?). We don’t tend to eat a lot of fried food, but these we made sure to stop and have (and highly recommend!).IMG_6497

After all of those candied orange peels, ice cream and french fries the kids might need a place to run. We found a little park with a small playground just outside the Pile Gate. There were a few swings, a little slide and some climbing frames. I think there was a little see-saw too.

IMG_6484 Lastly, one of our favorite things to do after dinner was to walk through the marina and out to the pier to watch the sunset and see the boats go in and out. It was a nice, relaxing way to end busy days. The breeze would pick up and refresh our souls and you really feel like you are out More fish feedingthere with the locals. A few people would pack a picnic dinner and bring bottles of wine and sit on the benches enjoying their evening.

Some times we would bring extra bread with us that was left over from lunch or dinner and feed the fish in the marina. It was fun especially for the Lad and schools of fish would rush over as soon as the bread crumbs hit the water.

 Where we lived:

We decided to stay in the Old City of Dubrovnik, which meant we were with in the city walls. This was great because you are in the heart of it all, but the Stradun is the low point, and after a day of walking and playing in the sea, the stairs seemed like a lot! Our streetI got my steps in every day and was working off all of that ice cream!

We found our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment through VRBO, and it was awesome. The picture to the left shows our “street”. The apartment we stayed in was built in the 14th century and had been fully update. It was very comfortable and the people who own it are very accommodating and nice. We had a kitchen to make our breakfasts and lunches, a nice living room where we could watch movies, and it felt very safe and clean. We would highly recommend it and loved living there for the week. The area we were in was relatively quiet and we were 35 steps (honestly) from the bakery.

Other options in the city are staying in Sobe, which are private rooms in people’s homes that are rented out. This is a great option for people travel as a couple or as an individual.  All accommodations are all rated and you will see the signs with their ratings on their doors. All of the bigger hotel chains are outside the city walls.

Croatia was a wonderful place to have a relaxing vacation, especially with kids. In the future, if we head back to Croatia we want to explore more island and other parts. Have you been to Croatia and where would you recommend we go? 

 

Favorites: Multi-tool Clip!

I grew up watching MacGyver. He was so awesome! When he found himself in a jam he would search his pockets and his surroundings and could make a bomb and a trap to catch the bad guys with a gum wrapper, two potato chips, some dental floss, some potpourri, a wet noodle, and a herring. I might be remembering that wrong, but he was always prepared and he always caught the bad guy.

I have to admit I squealed a little bit when I read an article about a designer in Israel who wanted a better clip to hold his yarmulke on. He designed a clip that not only does that job, but 7 more on top! Let’s face it, those Swiss Army knives are useful, but can be bulky.

I immediately put this on my birthday list, sent it to my husband, and being the awesome guy he is, he ordered me 4 clips 6 months before the start of my next journey around the sun (I have a total keeper!). Check this out!

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It has a trolley key, a small ruler, 2 flat head screw drivers, a flat Philips head screw driver, a saw, a wrench, AND most importantly it will keep my hair our of my face! SCORE!

The clip is a little bigger than the other ones I use on a regular basis, but it also holds more hair back.

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At $9-ish dollars each, it is a fun and reasonable gift for those who have it all. And maybe for those folks who always find themselves in a pickle!

Que the MacGyver theme song!

Gone Abroad: First stop, England!

As I am getting back into the blogging thing right now, I thought I would finish up a few blog posts I started from this summer about different things we did. We don’t just camp in the summer, although we do a lot of that. We also take trips to places where we are not camping! We like adventure and exploring, and sometimes it is hard to put that teardrop in the overhead bin! 

My husband is originally from England and every couple of years we try to get “across the pond” to visit family. Each trip we try to incorporate English culture and heritage, as well as fun, into our visits to give our son a taste of what his daddy grew up with and also to learn about his English heritage.

We spent 2 weeks in Europe last summer (2014): 10 days in England and a week in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I wanted to share some of the great family friendly things we did on this trip. Starting with England!Hey look kids, it's Big Ben and the Parliament

Our last trip to England was 2 years ago, and you can see those activities written up here (there are reviews of the RAF Museum in London, Warwick Castle, Legoland Windsor, Sea Life Aquarium and The Science Museum of London). Our guy was 4 turning 5 on that trip, so younger kids will appreciate those things. This time he was 6 turning 7, but we were also spending time with his cousins who are up to age 12. These are things that are great for that age bracket (and above, but the adults had a great time too!).

One of our many train stops on the trip

In London

My husband’s family lives just outside London, making it a short 30-minute train to get to the heart of things. We have our choices of museums, shops, castles, historic sites, and all of our special sight-seeing adventures. Public transport is amazing and we never take a car into London for a couple of reasons. 1) Parking is a nightmare. 2) There is a tax charged to each car that goes into the city, making the day that much more expensive. 3) There is a certain amount of relaxing that happens as the train tick-tick-ticks along the tracks, and we have been caught catching cat naps. Lets get to the activies!

Off to the lovely Natural History museum

The Natural History Museum of London 

This trip our guy had a chance to go to the Natural History Museum with his Nan and Grand-dad, while dad and I checked out another museum (see the next paragraph). This is an amazing Museum for so many different reasons. First, as an American walking up, I was struck not just by the size of the building but by the architecture, which is absolutely stunning. When when you walk in and see the many exhibits available, you realize you could spend a week here and not see everything. There is something for everyone here, including the littlest people!

IMG_4062One thing our son really loved on previous trips was a walk through the hall with the animals that had been stuffed. As a little person, getting to be so near big animals and not have them move allows you to get a good look. Things were right at his level, which was awesome!

The museum had a butterfly house set up as a special exhibit, where you could walk through and observe various varieties of butterfly flit-fluttering around. Grandparents, parents and kids alike enjoyed their time with the butterflies.

uk-swiss-2013There is always a dinosaur exhibit on display featuring a T-Rex and other large creatures as well as their fossils. Queues were long and there was a wait (it is always this way, no matter where you go in England when the school children are out). Our son enjoyed this, but the grandparents were less than thrilled. The museum boasts many more exhibits, but time didn’t allow for too much more on this trip. This is one of our favorite museums in London and we try to get back when we visit. While the museum admission is free, there is a small fee to enter the special exhibits. We highly recommend this museum for kids of all ages.

The Churchill War Rooms and Museum

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While our son and grandparents were at the Natural History Museum, my husband and I checked out the Churchill War Rooms and the Winston Churchill Museum. This was one sight I really wanted to see on this trip and we thought we would wait to take our son for when he was a bit older and knew a bit more about the wars. The War Rooms were where the big decisions were made during WWII and where Churchill, his family and his staff were kept safe during the blitzes on London. The day the war ended, they turned out the lights, closed the door, and walked away. The doors were only reopened to the public in 1984, after being off-limits and restricted for nearly 40 years. One of Churchill’s cigars is still in the ashtray and the pins representing troop positions are still on the maps, standing at attention as they did on the last day of the war.

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As a life long student of history, it was pretty amazing to see. Within the War Rooms Museum is the Churchill Museum which pays tribute to the great leader. My husband was particularly impressed with the exhibits and said he learned so much more about the man. We really recommend this museum if WWII is of interest or you are a Churchill fan. Adult tickets run £17.50, and kids under 16 are free. There are handheld self guided tour devices that each person gets upon entry to explain what you are seeing. Kids over the age of 9 will get more out of the exhibit than the younger ones as they will be better able to understand the concepts.

Propoganda

Mama, the crown is made of Legos? Really?

Hamley’s Toy Store 

Hamley’s Toy Store is a legend in London. I had never been before and my husband remembered it from his youth, so we took our guy over to check it out. It will not disappoint. It is a 6-floor toy store with every toy imaginable. The best part is the live presentations of how various toys work and kids getting to try them before buying. Staff is lively and friendly, and make the whole experience really fun. We found the toys to be higher priced than other stores (noticed this especially with the Lego product), but going in and having a bit of fun costs nothing but time. They also have candy and ice cream in case you have spent a long day walking the streets of London and need to refuel with a lot of sugar!

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The Tower of London 

The Tower of London was something we held off on until this trip. Last time we did Warwick Castle, which gave the Lad a taste of castle life set in a fun way (and not too heavy). The Tower is different. Used as a jail and a place of torture, as well as where Ann Boleyn and other royals were beheaded, we thought he should be slightly older to see it. This trip we went and he thought it was quite interesting. He especially loved seeing the armor knights wore, the great halls, and the Royal Jewels, as well as prisoner’s graffiti. Get there early and go straight to the Crown Jewels. As the day goes on the crowd gets bigger and it makes it harder for smaller people to see the treasures.

Yes, we saw them. No, they are not made of Lego.

They offer special work books (called Trails) for kids to work on while visiting the castle to learn a little more. They are free with your entrance and available at the visitor’s center. The line for walking the ramparts and for the torture exhibit were DSC_6376things we missed (they were very long and the day was getting late). One special thing we saw while we were there was the commemoration of the start of WWI. An artist was commisioned with creating a ceramic poppy that memorialized each soldier from the Commonwealth lost during the war. The poppies were placed in the moat and spilling out of windows and around the draw bridge engulfing the Tower of London in a sea of red. The display was removed on 11 November. It was absolutely stunning and very moving.

Entrance to the Tower is £22 per adult and £11 for kids older than 4.

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While we were at the Tower, we took a short walk across the one of London’s most iconic landmarks, the Tower Bridge. We didn’t have time this trip, but learned they have tours of the steam rooms, and will show you how the bridge, a former marvel of technology, raises and lowers. You can also go to the top of the towers and have a look at the city and the Thames from above.

 St. Paul’s CathedralIMG_4328

St. Paul’s Cathedral is another of London’s most famous landmarks. Many Americans who are old enough to remember the 80s will recognize this as the church where Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married. The original St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in 604AD, however there were constant fires and rebuilds and the current St. Paul’s was designed by Christopher Wren and was finally completed in 1711. It took 35 years to construct the cathedral we see today. Since then the church has survived many tragedies – and has been seen as a symbol of wartime resistance and strength, a place of great celebration in weddings and Jubilees, and serves as the final resting place of some of Britain’s most famous people.

 

Inside the outer dome, and up the rickety steps to the topPrepare to spend a couple of hours exploring here. Entry for adults is £17.00,  children 6-17 are £7.50, and there are discounted tickets for students and seniors. The entry gives you a hand-held self-guided tour. The Cathedral is absolutely stunning, and if you are brave enough to tackle the rickety stairs to the very top of the dome, you will get some of the best panoramic views of the city of London.

Rings are down already and the games ended on a couple of days before.

 

Outside London

Chessington World of Adventure

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We thoroughly enjoyed a day at Chessington World of Adventure with the cousins. We had kids ages 6 through 12, and there was something for everyone. Chessington is an amusement park with various rides, a zoo, and resort all set on a former estate. This is the next step up from Legoland Windsor, but a step below Alton Towers from a ride stand-point (great for kids 5-12). There is 1 upside down ride (Ramses Revenge, which was having mechanical issues while we were there), several really fun rollercoasters, giant swings that spin, play spaces for kids, shows featuring animals, and lots of ice cream and treats. We found it very busy, and decided to buy fast-track tickets for a few rides, which made the day slightly better by not having to wait in line for everything. It was loads of fun and I have a feeling we will be going back on future visits.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

We took the train to Portsmouth for a fun day out at the Historic Dockyard. The dockyards will take you through 800 years of British Naval History. This might sound like something you might take a miss on, but don’t. It is really quite good! A family Pass (online you save 25%) is £58.80 and is good for a full year and for all main attractions. Here are some of the things we did at the Dockyard.

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Action Stations

Your ticket will gain you access to the entire Dockyard and nearly all of the activities (special activities will cost a small fee). We started off at Action Stations. This was a building which housed dozens of interactive adventures. Britain’s tallest indoor climbing tower was an absolute favorite of ours. They also had a neat moving climbing wall which allowed the kids to do continuous climbing (until their little arms were too He thought this was awesometired to go on. The routes have varying degrees of difficulty allowing each person to test their abilities! It was a great intro into what the Royal Forces have to do with some of their training. 

 IMG_0709Outside of the climbing there were several more activities to do. There were simulators for shooting down enemy aircraft, and for being in a plane or helicopter doing search and rescue. They had obstacle courses for  kids up to a certain hight and also a hand to hand combat tutorial. They also taught a bit of science in their displays as well.

 

 

HMS Victory

 

 

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 Then we then walked down to the HMS Victory, which is the world’s oldest commissioned warship. HMS Victory still has a full-time Royal Navy crew and hosts special meetings and dinners. Amazingly this entire ship is built of wood and has been in dry dock and lovingly restored to its IMG_0725full glory. This is the ship where Nelson died during her last battle, the Battle of Trafalgar. Walking her decks you’ll get a sense of the life the men endured and what their accommodations looked like. You might be surprised at what they were up against and how they overcame it. The ship itself is gorgeous and the history inside is amazing.

From her upper decks, you get a nice view of the Dockyards and which ships are in port. Many are still in IMG_0733use by the Royal Armed Forces, and there are places that are restricted, but several of the ships are available to view from the dock. While we were there the HMS Illustrious was in port and for sale. We couldn’t go inside but marveled at her from the dock.

Last up, a boat tour around the harbor

 Time was tight for us, so we decided not to tour the HMS Warrior or explore the Mary Rose Museum. Both are amazing exhibits from what we were told and we will make sure to go in on another trip. Our guy might have enjoyed the HMS Warrior, but it was suggested we wait until he was a little We got to see lots of Her Magesty's destroyersolder for the Mary Rose museum (his Nan said his older cousin wasn’t as interested when he was our guy’s age).

We did enjoy the guided harbour tour. The guide made the tour a lot of fun and had a wicked sense of humor. The boat takes you around the harbor showing you different ships in port, they tell you the history of the area, and point out other points of interest. We all really enjoyed it.

IMG_5271In Portsmouth there is a nice shopping area. We headed to a great pub there for lunch, and while we were eating noticed an interesting thing happening on the river. There were these strange balls, with people inside. They looked like giant hamsters! Of course we had to check it out and Nanny made sure the lad had a go. He said it was awesome and a ton of fun. He highly recommends it and mom and dad thought it was a great way to burn off some energy too!

The trip was fantastic and it was so much fun trying out so many new things.

Have you been to England and done any of these things? Are there things you have done that we should check out? Let us know in the comments!

Favorite: Sweet and Salty Snack (Cranberry Almonds)

I decided to take a little hiatus as we were done with camping for the season, we were heading into the holidays, and I was busy trying to appease the Snow Gods, much to my dissatisfaction. I figure, if you can’t ski, plan your camping trips! We are making limoncello out of lemons over here!

As I thought about our camping this summer, I was thinking about some of my favorite snacks, and I got a craving and bought a few of the things I needed today. I am not a runner, but I am trying to be, and I am training for my first 5k. I need some of the snacks I like for my hikes right now to help with my hunger, and my favorite one is salty and sweet, just like yours truly! Here is how I make my salty sweet cranberry almonds! It really could not be easier!

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You should probably clear about 3 minutes on your calendar for this one (just depends on how long you want to “shake it!”).

Here is what I used for this batch:

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I really like the full salt almonds, but I am trying to protect my heart a little bit, and the 50% less salt adds just enough salt to satisfy me and I am not a bloated in the morning. It isn’t to my taste using the salt free almonds (I love raw almonds all on their own, but with the cranberry and exercise I prefer the salt). These cranberries are a bit plumper and not quite so dried out, which makes them extra delicious.

I take a gallon sized zipper bag and pour the full bag of cranberries and the full bag of almonds in. Seal it up and give it a good shake to mix everything really well. Open the bag and enjoy! Seriously. That is it!

The salt helps replace the salt you sweat with hiking and running, the almonds give you some great protein, and the sweetness/sugar gives you a little boost of energy. Sometimes I throw in some salted sunflower seeds to change it up a little bit! This packs well in lunches, backpacks, tiny kitchens, in your pocket, on the ski lift (sigh), and is easy to snack on in the car!

What are your favorite snacks for your exercising and camping? Share them in the comments below!

Recipe/How To: Beef Jerky

I make beef Jerky a few times a year. We love it while camping and we love it for skiing. There is just something about it that gives you a little extra energy. I tell myself, if I can make it to the top, my Jerky prize is waiting! It is silly, but the salt in it helps with dehydration, the protein in the meat and the sugar gives extra energy, and the garlic keeps the Mosquitos away (okay, not really, but if one person in your group is eating it, everyone should!).

Here is how I was taught to make it by my dad. This is the recipe I grew up with and it tastes like the outdoors to me.

I start off by going to Gardner’s Meat Market here in Portland and getting my jerky meat. They have the beef already sliced and the 2lb packs of meat are in their freezer. You can get your meat from any butcher and they should be able to slice it up for you. I let everything defrost at home before we get started. This recipe is using about 6-6.5 lbs, because that is roughly what my smoker holds.

After the big thaw happens, I rinse off the meat and pat it dry.

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I then mix together a combination of granulated sugar, brown sugar and sea salt. I have adjusted the recipe a bit from my dad’s here with my ratio and adding brown sugar into the mix. I like the difference in sweetness it creates.

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I like to use about a cup of granulated sugar, 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar, and 3/4 to one cup of sea salt. I taste the mixture and it should be sweet and salty. If you think it needs a little more of something, add it. This is not an extract science and it changes with every batch for us. Once everything is mixed together it should look like the picture below.

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I have the pieces of meat laid out on towels and start by sprinkling the sugar/salt mixture over the meat.

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I then start placing the meat in a glass baking dish, seasoned side down. I like having these high sides for when “juices” are released from the meat. It won’t spill over, making a huge mess in the fridge. I lay things long ways on one level, then switch to width wise on the next level, and continuing to alternate between levels so moisture can get out. As I place the seasoned side down, I sprinkle more of the sugar/salt mixture over the top (the unseasoned side). And keep layering until I run out of meat.

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When I am done with the seasoning portion, I put the dish in the fridge to sit for 24-28 hours. As juices are release I use a baster to suck the juices up and discard. I put a kitchen towel that has been rolled up in the back of the fridge to raise the back of the dish up so the juices are forced to the front. You want the meat to dry out quite a bit.

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After the 24 hour fridge time, I take everything out and give the meat a good rinsing. I want to get any residual sugar/salt seasoning off. I then dry the meat with towels again and cut the big pieces into smaller pieces that are more our style. We like smaller pieces so they are quick snacks and will fit easily in our pockets. It also cooks faster in the smoker if the pieces are small. I use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the meat. It goes quickly that way.

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Once I have my small pieces, I season one side with granulated garlic (my favorite is in the picture below) and coarsely ground black pepper.

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I sprinkle the spices over the top of the meat.

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After seasoning the meat with the garlic and pepper, I hang the meat on the rack from the smoker. Bits that are too small to hang over one of the bars are laid flat either on the very bottom rack or if there is room on the top rack. You don’t want pieces to overlap or they will cook unevenly.

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When the rack is full or I have used all of the meat, I head outside to my smoker. We have a covered patio, so I am able to use the smoker even when we are smack in the middle of our 9-month rainy season!

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For my jerky, I really like using cherry wood for the smoking. I like the slightly sweeter flavor the wood gives the meat. I have use hickory before and that is a fine substitute, but the flavor will change.

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I fill up my wood pan and check it every 3-4 hours, adding more wood chips as it burns.

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Smoking times are going to vary due to several things. It always take my jerky far longer to finish when it is raining. Humidity plays a huge factor in the “done-ness”. You want to make sure the meat is cooked through, or it won’t keep and you will have to keep it in the fridge.

This batch in these pictures was done on a 73 degree day, where it was sunny. I put it in around 12:45pm, and pulled it out around 2:00am (a good 14 hours). My timing was not ideal, but it was what our days schedule allowed.

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The meat will shrink up quite a bit, and the 6.5lbs of meat was able to fit in a gallon sized zipper bag for storage.

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Give it a try and tell me what you think. Did you make adjustment you think I would like? Share them in the comments!

Favorite: Salt!

I have had to take a little break from blogging. The end of summer became crazy busy with trips overseas to visit family and vacation (pretty soon I will post a link here so you can read about it), getting the Lad back in school, and settling back into our time zone and schedules.

Now that I am settled, I have a little more time to blog again, and I have a confession. I have already admitted to my love of avocados, but I have never admitted to my love of salt. Luckily, living in Oregon I have an amazing store near by, but not too close, that I love. The Meadow is a shop specializing in salts, chocolate and bitters. This is my go to for any specialty salts I need, including my salt blocks.

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The big one on the left is my new one, the one on the right is my well loved one.

If you have never cooked on a salt block, it is amazing. I see it like cooking on a mixture of a grill and a sauté pan. Many friends ask what I cook on it, and I can list steaks, scallops, salmon, halibut, shrimp and pork chops. You can also fry eggs and vegetables. Salt is an amazing conductor of heat and I can get my blocks up to sear meat easily (425-435 degrees F), all while naturally seasoning my food. You can also use them on BBQs and in your oven.

Salt blocks are also amazing conductors of cold. Put your salt block in the freezer for a couple of hours and use it as a serving platter for cheeses, deli meats and salamis or any other items you would like to keep cold at parties (you can not use blocks you have cooked with if you are going to do this, and vice versa, so you have to commit one way or another).

They are very versatile. Here are some other ideas from the Meadow.

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I also really like regular salt too. I was recently in the store and tried these two flavored salts:

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I had never considered Vanilla salt, but I think it will taste amazing on chocolate ice cream. They also suggested using it in cakes and pies. I think that would be delish as well!

The Black Truffle Salt is incredible. A little goes a long way, and my current favorite use is on popcorn. I made a batch this morning (you can see how I make popcorn here) and my 7-year-old decided he was just going to take the big bowl with him until I called him back. Not so fast young man!

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Mmmm, salt. Another spice of life!

Campground Review: Nahalem Bay State Park (Manzanita, OR)

Just a few days after we got back from our 3 week roadtrip, we headed to the Oregon Coast for a school camp out at Nahalem Bay State Park. It is just outside the small town of Manzanita, which is 20 miles south of Cannon Beach. If you are driving from Portland, it will take you right about an hour and a half, depending on traffic.

Like all of our campgrounds on the coast, if you want to camp on summer weekends, reservations are a very good idea. You will want to make them at least a few weeks out too as the campgrounds really fill up.

The campsites at Nahalem Bay vary on exposure. The site next to ours had very little protection, and was wide open to the playground. Our spot had some protection, but the first few days were very windy and we were being blasted. If you get a spot closer to the beach, in front of the massive sand dune you will be far more protected and it will give you slightly more privacy.

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Here was our camp site in Loop B. We were very close to the playground and the bathrooms. Bathrooms were clean and kept up well. They have flushies, warm water, and free showers.

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There was a nice play structure and a field area, which was great for the water balloon fight and field games we did.

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There are no beach views from any of the sites, but the beach is a very short walk over the dune. The beach was a lovely stretch of sand and the water was like the ocean always is in Oregon…chilly! People up the beach were kite boarding and we flew kites and played in the sand. It is a really nice part of the coast.

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The park also boasts hiking and biking trails, there is fishing and boating in the bay, and the town of Manzanita is about a mile away for easy access to ice cream, shops, and restaurants. It is also only a few miles up the road from Oswald West State Park where a lot of people go for surfing and swimming.

As far as campgrounds on the coast go, this one was great and we will stay here again on our trips to the coast. It is a great landing pad at night as you explore the Northern Coast during the day.

Tips & Tricks: National Parks Newspapers

After doing national parks for the last three years I have learned a few things. 1) If you can book reservations do it, and do it early. 2) Hit the visitor Center first thing so you can figure out where you are going and what you are doing. 3) Most importantly, when they hand you the newspaper when you enter the gate, give it a good looking over!

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These park newspapers are a huge wealth of info from Ranger talks, to hiking suggestions, to park notices, to maps.

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They give you information for the time you will be there and more and they also tell you about the different sights to see. Many of them have the most important or most visited placed laid out based on how long you are there to visit (which was awesome for us).

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We also found shower information and learned about laundry facilities.

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Outside of the Visitor’s Center, this was the most important thing we had a look at with each visit. In fact, the visitors center often told you all of the things in the newspaper (but I still like to dig for secrets, so it really is worth talking to the folks in the. Visitor’s Center too!).

When you visit a National Park, be sure to read the park newspapers for the best planning of your stay. I also just learned they have many of them online. If you go to the National Park website of your choice and search for “Park newspaper” you can download it ahead of time, and in multiple languages!

National Park: Yosemite National Park (CA)

Yosemite has been a place I wanted to visit for a long time. We decided to spend a good deal of time at this park since we had never been before and there was so much to do and see. We were staying at the Wawona Campground, which made a great home base for most of our activities. Here are the things we checked out.

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The Pioneer Village is very close to Wawona Campground (about a mile down the road) and we made sure to check this out. This is really fun for the kids especially as they feel like they have gone back in time. They are able to see checking out how blacksmiths used to create horseshoes and nails and other metal works.

blacksmith hard at work in the pioneer village

For a few dollars per person you can take a ride on a stagecoach that is a replica build of what the early visitors would have traveled in on trips from San Francisco to Yosemite in the early 1900’s. Back then it was a 4 day trip, but your ride will last around 15-20 minutes and is led by a Ranger who has been doing the job for more than 30 years and is a most wonderful story teller. We enjoyed this way more than we thought we would. The kids were in complete awe!

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Mariposa Grove
We visited the Mariposa Grove which is also a short trip from the campground. We picked up the shuttle in Wawona, near the general store, and it took us up the hill and into this amazing section of the park. This is an amazing sequoia grove which was one of the main reasons Yosemite became the first protected land in America (and is why the sequoia pine cone adorns our rangers hats and belts). We opted not to take the tram to the top. We instead hiked a good section of the lower trail, seeing the major points of interest there: California Tunnel Tree, the Grizzly Giant, the Bachelor and 3 Graces, and everyone’s favorite, the Fallen Monarch. This hike quickly had me falling in love with the giant sequoias. They are an amazing tree species!

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Glacier Point Area
Another of our favorite hikes, which are great for kids is Sentinal Dome, which is a short drive up Glacier Road. This hike is 2.2 miles round trip and gives you the best “bang for your buck” (per the ranger) when it comes to views of Yosemite Valley. We did this hike before we even set foot in the Valley, which was great because we could identify certain landmarks for the kids, and they knew them when we saw them from below.

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Stunning beauty in Yosemite

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Once we were standing in the Valley, we made the most of our day. We started off with a Jr. Ranger walk at the Nature Center at Happy Isles. This was an hour long walk around the Nature Center (which we also checked out, and was very interesting). The kids enjoyed the walk and earned their Jr. Ranger badges and patches!

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The Yosemite Museum gives a history of the park and a nice exhibit on the Miwok people who were the first inhabitants of the Valley. A replica Miwok Village has also been built and you can take a self guided walking tours. The kids found this very interesting. Most interesting for my son was Ben, who was in the Museum. He had made several of his own flutes and would play music for folks as well as work with obsidian and show them special magic tricks with string.

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We spent some time at the Art Center after lunch. It was nice to be able to go in and let the kids be creative for a bit. It was $5 per child and they made fun butterfly mobiles and each did some beading. The activities for Family Craft Time vary but they are always held at the Yosemite Art Center.

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Outside of the park we also checked out the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. This is a great activity for kids as well.

National Park: Mesa Verde (CO)

After leaving the Grand Canyon, we made the relatively short drive (by our standards at this point in the trip) east through Arizona, quickly through New Mexico (with a stop for lemonade and Navajo Fry bread at Four Corners National Monument) and into Colorado for our visit of Mesa Verde National Park. We decided to give it one day, thinking it was a small park and we could probably manage seeing a good deal of it in that time. As soon as we stepped into the visitors center, I decided the place really needed a lot more time than that.

This national park is unlike any of the others I have been to in the west. Rather than having a main focus of nature, you have the focus of an ancient people and what they were able to build and the preservation of those structures which have stood the test of 1000+ years in some cases. It is amazing the societies the ancient Puebloans were building during this time in history.

While we were in the visitor’s center we had a chat with a park ranger, picked up a park newspaper and got in line to make reservations for the following morning. Reservations for tours are $4 per person per tour, but they are guided by park rangers who tell stories of the people and the structures. Our ranger was very good. After chatting with the ranger at the visitor’s center, we decided on one tour – the Balcony House. This tour requires you to climb up a 34′ ladder into the house, up another small ladder, then through a tunnel out to 2 more ladders and a cliff face. The kids had no problem and were thrilled by the prospect. The adults were a little more skeptical, but it proved to be no problem.

Here is what the first ladder looked like:
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Once you were up in the house, the views in the canyon were stunning. And this is where the stories of the ancient Puebloan People began for us. Balcony House was built in 1240ad and was one of the later structures. Timbers had been reused from other structures and they have dated them back to 1070ad (hopefully I have my years right….I might be off just a bit, but close). This was one of the newer houses built as the people left the area around 1300ad.

A look back to the ladder and towards the 2 Kivas and the cliff

We learned about the importance of their kivas, and how they were like our living rooms. This is where families came together to celebrate or make important family decisions. One of the final decisions made in these kivas was the decision to leave the area. As our ranger said, “if you ask any of the relatives of these ancient people, they will give the same simple answer – it was time to go.”

There is also some amazing ancient technology in the up drafts they developed to bring fresh air into the structure. We were in awe of the resiliency, ingenuity, and strength of the people who called this area home for 700 years.

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Working your way through this cliff dwelling you get to use the same “steps” as the early inhabitants, which is quite humbling.

Then up the ancient stairs the Puebloans used

After our tour of the amazing Balcony House, we decided to do a driving tour so we could see a few more things before we needed to head back down the hill to pick the trailers up and head towards Moab, Utah.

One of the first things we stopped to see was Square Tower House. This is a very short hike from the parking area down to the view point and gives a great view of another style of cliff dwelling.

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After that we drove to the view point for Cliff Palace. Next time, we will do this tour for sure. If you look closely at my picture below you will see a bunch of dots around it, and that is one of the tours going through. This is the cliff dwelling everyone sees in the pamphlets and pictures, and there is a very good reason for that – it is spectacular! From this view point you not only see Cliff Palace, but you see 8 other dwellings – some well hidden. If you have binoculars bring them, otherwise you will fight your kids over the nice big view finders they have stationed there (they will hog them, it is just a fact, but they will say you are, which you probably are too).

Cliff Palace

After we finished our driving tour, and all of the various activities for the Jr. Ranger Packets, we headed to the Park Museum to get the newest Mesa Verde Jr. Rangers sworn in.

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For this trip we stayed at a campground outside of the National Park, but next we come for a visit I will stay inside the park the the Morefield campground. We enjoyed our stay at A & A Mesa Verde, but the Morefield Campground puts you inside the park and gives you a different experience. We didn’t have a chance to check it out, but there is a village near the campground which give you plenty of amenities which I am sure we would have enjoyed.

This is a real gem in our National Park Service and one we will get back to for sure. The whole place is very humbling and inspiring and truly incredible. I would recommend it to anyone!