Our family loves a good picnic; or as Fancy Nancy would put it, we dine al fresco! Every once in while, I’ll call Ed and tell him to meet us at the roller slide park after work. I make pizza pasta salad* and buy Cheetos, and the girls and I arrive early so that they can play on the playground before Ed gets there.
Most of the time, our picnicking happens during a road trip. I pack sandwiches, fruit and veggies so that we can stop at a picnic area to eat lunch instead of eating fast food.
Sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate and it’s a bit cooler than we expect. We just bundle up and eat outside anyway.
Sometimes, we can’t find a picnic table. So we pull over in a turnaround on the side of the highway to Fairbanks, Alaska, and eat in the back of our rental van.
Sometimes, we can’t find a picnic table, so we use a rock instead.
And sometimes, there’s nothing like a hot dog in your own backyard!
*I don’t have a recipe; I just make some rotini noodles, throw in some pepperoni, grape tomatoes, mozzarella cheese chunks, onions, green peppers and black olives, and toss it all with a vinaigrette. Voila, pizza pasta salad!
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Today’s Spin Cycle is all about a dream vacation. In a way, I’ve already been on my dream vacation. See that picture up there? The beautiful mountain lake? This was the view from our patio door for two nights in a row. I took that picture when we were on vacation in Alaska last summer.
Some day, I would love to have a writer’s retreat somewhere in a place as beautiful as Alaska. I would spend a week in a small cabin, sitting by the window, typing furiously, without any interruptions from my children or my husband–or the internet. My online access would definitely need to be limited.
I would venture out every morning to have breakfast at the cafe down the road. Maybe I would be able to wear my rain boots and walk, but I would have to be wary of moose. The owners of the cafe would know me by name, and they would have a steaming hot cup of caffe mocha ready for me, with a swirl on top.
After breakfast, I would head back to the cabin to write. And write and write and write. And nap. There must be napping. Then I would take a long stroll after my nap. For dinner, I would head over to the local pub and join my writer’s group. There would be a grizzly old-timer who would amaze us with his delicate poetry. Maybe a young widow working on her memoirs. A famous but reclusive novelist writing the next New York Times bestseller would join us, and another blogger, who would be writing a humorous book.
Since the Alaskan sun doesn’t set until well after 11:00 during June, I would stay up very late and become a night owl. I would read, read, and read, since a good writer always reads good books.
My writer’s retreat wouldn’t have to be in Alaska. I would actually be afraid to take long strolls in Alaska because of the bears. And remember that beautiful mountain lake I took a photo of? I ran down the path at 10:00 at night to take that picture, making as much noise as I could to scare any bears that might be lurking in the arctic willows. It was easy to be noisy because I was also swatting giant mosquitoes for the whole 5 minutes I was outside.
I could be anywhere, really. I’ve always wanted to travel to Italy or Greece. Or Spain. Spain would be lovely. Some place where I could take long strolls along the beach to get my creative juices flowing would be wonderful.
After about a week of solitude (except for my writer group dinners), my family would join me. Then we would sight-see. Ed loves to see everything when we travel, so there’s not much lying around or napping when he’s in charge. On second thought, the writing retreat would need to be the second week of my vacation so that I will be able to rest up from the first part! I’ll finish my book, it will get published and be a big success, and I’ll travel around the country for book signings.
Everyone will ask me when my second book is coming out–and so I’ll have to go on a writer’s retreat again. This time, I’ll travel to a secluded island in the Caribbean. I’m sure Johnny Depp will have a room just for me.
If you need a vacation, click the button above to see Gretchen’s vacation spots. They are lovely!
If you were going on a dream vacation, where would you go?
I looked at the dogs, envying them, wishing I had their thick, furry coats to protect me.
We had arrived in Anchorage late the night before. It had taken all day to get to Anchorage from Chicago, and Lily and Emmy were exhausted. Even so, they were up at their usual time the next morning, raring to go. We spent the morning eating cinnamon rolls with my aunt and going to church. Ed was determined to see some of this town that he had never visited before, so we planned to go exploring after lunch.
Four year old girls have a way of changing plans, however. Before we could even get in the car, Emmy had a meltdown. She was just plain tuckered out and didn’t even know what she wanted. As her parents, Ed and I knew what she needed: a nap. We laid down the law; either she needed to stop throwing a fit, or Daddy would stay with her while Mommy and Lily went exploring.
The meltdown continued.
Now we were stuck; we had to stick to our edict. Ed took Emmy into the house to try to get her calmed down, while Lily and I got into the car and “went exploring.”
Part of me was tempted to stay put. I was in a strange city and had no desire to drive around without Ed at my side. But the other part of me thought that I needed to take Lily somewhere; she shouldn’t be punished for her little sister’s behavior. So I started to drive.
Not far from my aunt’s house, I found a trailhead. There were plenty of cars in the gravel parking lot, which I took as a good sign. Lily and I would take a little walk together. As soon as we got out of the car I told Lily to put up her hood. Swarms of mosquitoes flew around us.
I expected mosquitoes–we were in Alaska, after all. We started walking along the path. Two big dogs bounded toward us, their owner following behind. I was a little nervous; the dogs were as big as my Lily and not on leashes. But they weren’t even interested in us humans; there were too many other fun smells for them to chase. And the mosquitoes didn’t bother them at all through their thick pelts.
We saw more dogs; the mosquitoes kept biting. Power lines followed the path, airplanes flew up above. Did I mention the path was by the airport? Lily and I couldn’t even see any of the Chugach Mountains from our viewpoint. We walked a little ways, holding hands, unwilling to give up this time together. When I figured I had provided enough of the blood suckers with a meal (Lily seems to be immune to mosquito bites), we turned around and headed back to the car. Lily and I, along with approximately 56 mosquitoes, hopped back into the car.
I just had to laugh.
When Lily and I got back to the house, Emmy was fast asleep. I told Ed and my aunt how I had managed to find the worst trail in Anchorage. My aunt confirmed that yes, it was a popular dog park with not much for humans to see.
It was good to get out there, to see a part of Anchorage that most tourists drive right by. Maybe I did go down the wrong trail; but it was all part of the adventure.
How could summer possibly be over? Every year, June, July and August just seem to fly by. I want more time by the pool soaking in the sun! I need more picnics! More cookouts! Why does summer have to be over?
It happens every year, doesn’t it. So here is a recap of how I spent my summer vacation.
I was tempted to title this post “Beating the Heat” but that title just didn’t sound right. We didn’t really beat the heat during last week’s high temps in Chicago, we endured it with the help of air conditioning and iced water. We spent the 100-degree days inside. The evenings hardly cooled down at all, so we went to the pool to cool off.
To avoid heating up the kitchen and working our air conditioner harder than it was already working, I grilled everything I could think of. Chicken, pork chops, hot dogs and brats. And of course, burgers.
Friday night, I wanted to do something different. I decided to try making french bread pizzas on the grill. It worked beautifully! (See the recipe below!)
Do you remember in the late ’80’s, when three gray whales were trapped under the ice in Alaska? They didn’t make it out into the open sea in time to migrate south for the winter. The media caught this story and it went national, capturing the country’s attention. A lot of money and effort went into rescuing the whales from under the ice. Drew Barrymore stars in the movie Big Miracle that tells this true story. We rented it to go along with our pizza. Watching this movie which takes place in Barrow, Alaska, made us feel almost chilly! It was the perfect movie for a hot summer’s night!
Lily and Emmy really enjoyed Big Miracle, especially since we just got back from our Alaska vacation. When we were up in Anchorage in early June, there was still quite a bit of snow up in the mountains. Does this picture make you feel chilly?
Grilled French Bread Pizza
1 pkg. French Rolls
8 oz. can of your favorite pizza sauce
mozzarella cheese, shredded
crushed red pepper
Slice the rolls into half. Make sure the halves lie flat by slicing a little off the bottoms if necessary. Spread a small amount of sauce on each half. Cover with shredded mozzarella cheese. (I do not buy pre-shredded cheese–I think it melts and tastes much better when I shred a block of cheese myself! Pre-shredded cheese has a coating to keep it from sticking in the package which also can change the taste.) Place your favorite toppings on the layer of cheese. Place on preheated gas grill, set to the lowest flame. Grill for about 10 minutes, or until your toppings are hot. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper if desired.