Death Valley

Our climate took an abrupt turn from the warm days/cold nights snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the dry and extremely hot(90’s) Death Valley. DV has only been a National Park since 1994 but a National Monument since 1933. It’s the largest NP in the contiguous states.

It’s super desolate here, but beautiful. The Valley is situated between large mountain ranges and only gets 2″ of rain a year. And it’s hot-did I mention that? (90’s) We pulled into Death Valley in the late afternoon, and after setting everything up, we went swimming in the cool spring fed pool at the motel across the street. Our site doesn’t have electricity so we slept with the windows open(still like 70 degrees at night). The night sky is a designated world night sky, you can see millions of stars at night! We’ve even picked up a couple of constellations in the past couple months so that makes stargazing more exciting.

There’s not a ton of trails here, to be expected when it’s so unbelievably hot out(90’s!). But we stopped at a couple of points of interest including a bunch of random gigantic sand dunes that the first Star Wars was filmed at, a short hike to see a natural bridge(like a rock arch), a centuries old borax mining operation, and the devils golf course which was just a ton of crystallized salt. Like a ton!

Another exciting stop was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in America at -282′ below sea level. Pretty awesome to say we’ve visited this sight!

A beautiful side drive we took was called the Artist’s Palate drive. The drive was along the base of a mountain range, and the rock was so many different colors(think purples, blues and pinks)and shapes, like a giant had used the range for a masterpiece!

We celebrated our dog Gunner’s 10th birthday here too. Not super memorable for him I’m sure, all he really got was extra petting, the birthday song and an extra scoop of dog food. But we’re so happy that he hit another milestone birthday, we know he won’t be in our lives forever but I’m so happy he got to join us for this cross country trip. Death Valley has been an exciting stop full of memorable vistas, celebrations and experiences!(MT)

Flying to Colorado

All along this trip, Jesse continues to interview via email, phone, skype, and also in person. He has been asked to Longmont, Colorado for another in-person interview for the CEO position at the hospital there, and there’s an invite for me and the boys to join him to check out the city’s schools and houses. Logistic challenges for all of us to be able to just up and leave the trailer and dog all fell right into place. Gunner was staying at a kennel with a view of the Livermore, CA wineries, and the camper needed a few updates so we took it into a shop to get fixed. We had been having a small leak on the toilet (clean water -haha) and so it was in good hands at an RV Shop in San Jose. We had an early morning flight out of San Jose so we’d need a hotel room but the silicon valley is seriously the most expensive real estate in the world. A room at a Courtyard by Marriott was about $800 and even with that there was not a lot of availability! We ended up staying at at a crappy Motel 6 and that even cost $150! The boys will have stories to tell from this stay for a long time, we’ll just keep it at that. Here’s a picture of Andy outside the motel chugging a gallon milk before it went bad. He’s a good sport!Andy drinking milk Motel 6

family RMNPColorado is beautiful! Longmont is just north of Denver, and it’s along the front range of the Rocky mountains. There is the most beautiful view of Longs Peak, a tall peak among the mountains from just about everywhere in town.

My dad actually met us in Colorado, he was missing the boys a ton and it would be good for him to be with the boys while I looked at houses and joined Jesse with some of his interviews. He was going to help us find some great restaurants too. We had success with that for sure, we hit up a couple of great local establishments, and some of those were on the Food Network’s Diners, Dives and Drive Ins – always winners! Samples, The Post Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues were hits!

Jesse had a couple of interviews over 2-3 days, and I know he did great! I was able to meet the board of directors and I can tell they really liked him as well. House tours opened my eyes to the high cost of real estate in the “silicon mountains”. We are only 10 minutes from Boulder here with a lot going on, but there’s also a LOT going on!

Another bonus of visiting here and the possibility of living here is we would be close to family! My Aunt Marlie lives in Littleton, about 60 minutes south of here and my Aunt Margie and Uncle Denny (and cousins Renee and Tessa) live just north of Longmont in Fort Collins! We were lucky enough to meet up with them at their awesome place in rural FC, with a beautiful view of the front range as well. It was fun chatting with Margie and Denny – we could talk for days!  We had supper at a super trendy joint downtown Fort Collins called Union Bar & Soda Fountain. My cousin Renee was gone on a cruise ship called “Semester at Sea” for her counseling job with CSU but my cousin Tessa joined us for some tasty food! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her and I’m glad the boys got to spend some time with her too. I hope we get to see a lot more of all of them if Jesse gets the job!

No Tischer trip could be complete without a visit to….A NATIONAL PARK! Longmont is super close to the Rocky Mountain National Park and it was a gorgeous! We went for the day and while not all of the park was open due to the snow – we saw the glorious views and learned so much about the park. One of my favorite stops was the visitor center. It was unique, but Andy was the first to say it looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright building. I agreed and guess what – IT WAS! I’m so happy that I took the boys to the FLW Taliesin West in Scottsdale – I love that they love FLW like me! Another fun memory was that after Woody was presented with his Junior Ranger pin for learning so much about the park, the ranger, who was a cute old grandma, made an announcement to the entire room that “The Rocky Mountain National Park has a new Junior Ranger! Please join me in congratulating him” and the whole room clapped for Woody. It was pretty special and the only park to do that on our trip! (MT)

San Francisco Day 2

While we saw so many top sights yesterday in San Francisco, today we were going back to see a bit more. This time we were taking the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city. I was worried about finding parking for the truck and plus how much it would probably cost! The train was quite easy to take, it picked us up in Dublin (ha!) and dropped us off right at Embarcadero Street, right near the Port of San Francisco. We had our walking shoes on, so we took a nice leisurely stroll by many of the Piers. Most of them have become touristy with restaurants and other things to do. We spent some time at Pier 39 where we saw lots of restaurants, street entertainment, views of the bay and knick-knack shops. We also had yet another bread bowl filled with clam chowder. We’ve had this a couple of times now and it will always remind us of the central coast of California!

The experience we were looking forward to the most was going to Alcatraz – the “Rock”. The boys (all 3-ha!) were so excited for this. What is interesting and unique about Alcatraz is that it is a National Park Monument, falling under the umbrella of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. So yes, you guessed it, Woody was bound and determined to become a Junior Park Ranger at Alcatraz!

What surprised me the most was how not scary or creepy the island was. In my mind, it was going to be like a scary ghost story, but it was all just pretty educational telling the history of the island and how it came to be. Originally the island was home to the Native Americans. During the civil war, the government put a fort on it to protect the Bay Area. The gold in the area was very important to protect during that time. At some time, it changed hands to become a high-level prison, housing the worst of the worst. I don’t think it was a prison for much more than 30 years, and at some point, it just became too expensive to keep open. When deciding what to do with it, it became seized by Native American activists that occupied it for around 2 years, demanding the US government give it back to them. This occupation, while not successful in returning Alcatraz to them, did spark a huge shift in treating Native Americans and their reservations more justly and fairly.

On the ferry out to the island, it was cool to see Alcatraz get closer, and the view of downtown was so neat. The city almost looked Mediterranean with the colors and the hills and the piers and boats.

Woody’s Junior Ranger program really does help not just him but the rest of us learn more about the Parks we visit. There were neat trees, flowers, birds and buildings to check out. The main tour was through the cell blocks. They gave everyone their own headphones to do a listening tour for the different cell blocks. It kept people moving through the building, gave great history and told great stories of the inmates, workers and families of workers that lived on the island. Did you know that kids who lived on the island took a boat into the city every day for school? How cool?!

When we were finished with the tour, they really do corral you out. But Woody was pretty sure he saw a set of stairs we could take from within to see more. He asked an employee about them who directed us to a park ranger, who directed us to a volunteer docent. That docent happened to be taking another family to a private area where they took the Alcatraz prisoner’s mug shots. We were able to take our own mug shots in the exact same place! After that, Woody inquired about the steps he thought he saw, but somehow the docent mistook them for another set of stairs that led to the basement/dungeon/Citedel. (what’s funny, is that Woody never did figure out where the steps his original question was about, but by now it was ok because he knew something even cooler was happening!)

The docent was apparently very excited to show this private area off because once the idea had come up, he then led us on about an hour of a private tour! First off, the boys got to use an original key, and it was HUGE(!), to unlock a gate to get into a different part of the cell block. We then went down stairs, and at the bottom we all needed to put on hard hats. In the past 10 years or so, they had put over 30 million dollars into rehabbing and updating the basement as parts of its foundation was crumbling and becoming unstable. This was the foundation of the old citadel, which was originally 3 stories, but they had gotten rid of the top 2 floors and left the basement. Here we saw where they had at times left prisoners in a dungeon like atmosphere -the docent turned off all the lights for us so we could “see” what it would feel like to be stuck down here! YIKES! We saw other places where they stored equipment and where soldiers may have lived. It was quite exciting to be down there. Woody’s curiosity had come in handy!

We had spent all afternoon at Alcatraz. Yes, Woody did become a junior ranger and got a pretty cool wooden badge for doing so. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to stay overnight there so we hustled onto the last boat of the day!

Our tummies were grumbling for chocolate (why yes that’s a thing!) so we made our way over to the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory area. We shared a gigantic ice cream sundae with a view of Alcatraz, it was a tasty memory.

Last on our to-do list in San Francisco, and it should be on everyone’s, was to ride the cable car. We had a short walk to the beginning of it, and though we waited a bit to get on, it was fascinating to see how they turned them around with man power. Originally, I had wanted to just sit on the open end, but the only spots available for us 4 were to stand on the outside ledge and hold on! The bells ringing and the brakeman working and going up really steep hills and going down steep hills was unbelievable. We had gotten on right at dusk, and the Bay Bridge was lit up twinkling just for us I think! At one point we were told to make sure our feet were totally inside the car, as we were inches from lane dividing cones! Talk about holding on tight and sucking it all in!

I’m pretty sure we had huge smiles on our faces the whole cable car trip. To have this little taste of the olden days was certainly the cherry on top of our time spend in San Francisco. (MT)



San Francisco

Today we packed up into the big F250 and drove into San Francisco! Honestly, I’m getting to a point where I only research the places we’re going briefly and flying by the seat of our pants from there. That’s exactly what happened in San Fran and it worked out great! I knew Andy wanted to see Chinatown, Woody wanted to see the Full House houses, we needed to see the curvy Lombard Street and we wanted to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.

First stop was the $5 toll to go over the Bay Bridge. They still take cash right there! It looks like there is a toll to go over any bridge INTO San Francisco, but no toll to take a bridge out of SF. We found Chinatown after driving around the skyscrapers for a bit. It was super interesting, and we found many restaurants to come back to some day. Next was Lombard street. This is known as the curviest street in America, and while I didn’t actually think we’d drive it – we totally did and it was a rush! Jesse can handle the big truck wonderfully! He also did a great job going up and down the super steep roads. It’s a good thing it doesn’t snow here – Yuk!

Finding the Painted Ladies (the Victorian houses on the intro to Full House) was a trip! You can’t see the houses the best from the road, but the park on the other side of the street has a steep hill that gives you the best view of them and the rest of San Fran. It brought flashbacks of watching as a kid. Woody and his cousins have gotten into the show recently too, it was fun to face

We then drove to the Presidio, which is an old military post turned super cool area. All buildings have been renovated keeping their look but with amazing views of the Golden Gate bridge! The Presidio is a part of the National Park system, there are actually many areas in SF that are NP areas including the Presidio, the Golden Gate park, Fort Point and Alcatraz, all places we hit up! Today there was actually a big picnic on the Presidio Parade starting, they would have it reoccur every Sunday until the fall. The weather was gorgeous, food trucks were all around and there was great music. It truly was a great day to stop here!

We also drove the Fort Point, which was the first fort made on the west coast during the civil war. It is seriously right at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, we walked up the embankment and walked to the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. That was so cool. so special and again gave great views all around, the bridge truly is stunning. It will be a memory we will all have for a lifetime! (MT)

Bay Area Family

When starting our journey, Jesse had every intention of keeping his distance from large cities! But as we continued on, we realized that we have a lot of great relatives in the Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Today we visited my cousin Mike and his wife Val. Our mom’s are sisters, and if i’m not mistaken, Mike is my oldest cousin out of the 20 or so that I have. He and Val have lived at a great house in Alameda for 20 years. I know this because of a address book my mom gave me for our wedding 16 years ago. There’s is about the only address that hasn’t been crossed out and changed!

Mike and Val love to sail, so it’s no coincidence that they have a little channel behind their house. They live in the East Bay of San Francisco in Alameda and they both work very close to home. They took us to their beautiful sailboat, the Red Sky, and it very similar to our camper! They look forward to the day they can sail around Mexico like we’re driving through the states. Unfortunately the weather was not cooperating for us to sail in the bay – believe it or not I was WISHING for wind!

We ended up driving around the old Alameda Naval base. It has been closed for a bit, but they are renovating large buildings for things like breweries, trampoline spots and even a crossfit gym. It was right down the boys’ alley to check all of this stuff out. The Hornet, an old aircraft carrier, has been turned into a museum and we were able to check it all out. It was very interesting being in every part, from the sick bay to the pilot’s ready room to the top of the “island”! There were fantastic views of San Francisco from here as well.

A bit of embarrassment for the day for me is that I forgot to wear green as it was St. Patrick’s Day and I am 100% Irish. (well almost…) I was nervous we wouldn’t eat any corned beef too as Jesse and I have made so much over the past years hosting fun parties and celebrations with family and friends. Well- Mike certainly saved the day! He made the best corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots I have ever had.

It was great day to celebrate with family!(MT)

Channel Islands National Park

Today we said goodbye to Los Angeles and hello to the beautiful central coast of California! Our first stop off “the 101” was Ventura. The visitor’s center for the Channel Islands National Park was in the marina there. Even though we weren’t going to take a ferry out to the islands, we wanted to learn more about them. Woody did his usual Junior Ranger program there, and we all learned so much about how the islands are protected, and what they’ve been used for over the years.

There was a huge beach off the visitor’s center, so the boys (all the boys!) went for a walk to dip their toes in the water. Gunner loved running on the sand, it almost looked like he was flying! He hadn’t gotten much exercise in LA, and here he was stretching his legs out happily! Andy and Woody found some rocks to climb on, with many little crabs all over them and they loved checking it out. Problem was, Gunner loved checking it out too and would get his head stuck down in a hole! The boys were helpful to him but he never learned his lesson!

Our jaunt north took us through Solvang, a super cute rural town with huge Danish roots. It totally reminded us of when we hosted a Danish foreign exchanged student in Wheaton. Karianne was super fun to be with and learn from, I hope we all get to visit her again one day!

Our stop for the next couple days is in Pismo Beach, near San Luis Obispo. We’re following the El Camino Real road, which connects 21 Missions in California. There are cast metal bells lining the highway every 2 miles or so. It’s fun to follow them, I bet we’ll get into a couple of Missions as we passed a couple of them on our way here too.

For supper we met an old coworker of mine (he’s not old, i’m not old, we just worked with each other yeaaaaaaars ago!) Brent and I worked at the Minneapolis Metro North Convention and Visitors Bureau(say that 10 times real fast!) in the early 2000’s with a great group of hospitality workers. Seems like nothing has changed except for addresses! We had a memorable meal sitting right on the beach, watching surfers, the pier and a beautiful sunset while having great conversation with Brent, his husband Dean and his niece Katie.

What’s really nice is that our RV park is within walking distance to the beautiful Pismo Beaches. What’s not so nice is the colony of squaky birds seriously right outside our door. I’m going to need some good earplugs this week- haha!

LA Studio Tours

The whole reason we even thought of visiting Los Angles with our camper is because Jesse’s cousin Mike & wife Kitty live here. Both work with residuals(finance) for different studios here, Mike is with CBS and Kitty is with Sony. We visited Mike on Tuesday for lunch at the CBS studios in Studio City. As the boys were eating lunch, they had a view of an outdoor taping of American Housewife. They could see all the cameras, tons of personnel helping with the taping and got a good view of the little girl from the show.

Walking around the studio, we saw where they taped other CBS shows, where they made different sets, and where writers and producers have their offices. We saw a whole bunch of audience members leaving The Talk talk show with goodie bags from the day. I even got a glimpse of Joey from Friends- Matt LaBlanc. He has a show called Man with a Plan!

Kitty arranged for us to see a taping of Wheel of Fortune, a gameshow taped at Sony Studios. She walked us around the studio grounds for a bit too, we saw the dad(Murry) from the show The Goldbergs which was super neat. We also saw the ghostbusters cars, the race car from Ricky Bobby and the camper from Breaking Bad. They had a neat little museum where we saw the living room set up from Seinfeld, more props and costumes from different shows and movies, and we got to hold actual Grammy’s and an Oscar!

We had VIP seats for the Wheel of Fortune which came with fun goodies bags! We were also able to meet the announcer of the show, Jim Thornton. He had such a great sounding voice!

The theme for the tapings was “Best Friends” and we got to watch 3 shows being taped. We had to clap a TON – haha, our hands were all worn out! We were excited for all the contestants. One person was from Sioux Falls so we totally cheered her on. We even saw a team win 2 Mini Cooper cars! During the last show’s taping, one of the teams had tried to answer the board after their time was up. They immediately made the teams turn around while they double checked to see if the answer was legit. It turned out that it wasn’t, but in fair play they decided to restart that round with a different puzzle. All of that was very interesting, from them editing that part to seeing who would finally win! The shows will air April 23-25.

Between shows, we were invited to come down to the stage and spin the wheel ourselves. How totally exciting and fun! It will be a memory we’ll have forever!

Vanna White and Pat Sajak were truly as awesome in person as they are on the show. He does such an easy banter with the contestants, and their banter with each other at the end of the shows is hilarious. Vanna had spoken with the audience between takes and she was lovely as well. They have both been hosting this gig for more than 30 years!

After the tapings were finished, the announcer came down to Woody and asked him if he would want to do a vlog post with him by the stage. Whoa-yes please! So happy to have his voice on camera, Woody loved chatting with him! The lighting wasn’t great for us, obviously it was fantastic for the show though, but you’ll still hear woody’s excitement in his voice!

It’s been 7 years since we’ve been to California, so the boys didn’t remember much. This time around, they will remember these experiences for their lifetime! It’s been fun to take a break from visiting natural wonders to seeing celebrities and iconic movie sets. But with the traffic we’ve been in and seen, we’ll take our memories and skedaddle out of here gladly!

Palm Springs, Cali

Jesse and I had a snapshot of what downtown Palm Springs looked like as we went on a date late Wednesday night. But after a full day at Joshua Tree National Park, I was ready to check it out during the day. I am so totally interested in the “desert modernism” architecture, and the funky overall vibe of the city. We first went to their visitors center, which was this old gas station with a huge triangle overhang. There we picked up a driving tour of historic houses and buildings. We drove around for an hour or so, seeing some pretty neat homes, but I could tell the boys had enough (they were so not interested in Elvis’s honeymoon home) but I hadn’t gotten my fill yet.

We had a fun lunch at Lulu’s, a funky restaurant with the Palm Springs vibe. The city seemed very dog friendly, as we were able to bring along Gunner to eat with us. He had as much fun dog watching as we had people watching. We had met my mom’s boyfriend for lunch, he spends his winters there to get out of the MN cold. Smart man!

After lunch, the boys went to the Palm Springs Air Museum and I continued on my house tour drive. My favorite stop was checking out the Parker hotel. It has a fun past, but has renovated 10 years ago by Jonathan Adler, a designer I really like. Everything was rad, from the ornamental front wall to the expertly designed inside. In another life I will live here, I just know it:)

Neighborhoods upon neighborhoods had the mod look, it was like I was stuck in the 60’s with the Rat Pack look everywhere! I even found one of the nicest dog parks for Gunner to get a run in at.

As I was driving to pick up the boys at the Air Museum, I saw and heard a really fast airplane speed overhead by the airport. Now I haven’t picked up all the flight speak that the boys have, but even I knew that the plane wasn’t going to land and was just showing off.

The boys had texted me saying that they needed more time. The plane that I had just seen overhead was a F-18 from Canada and was going to land at the museum. This would be a highlight for them all, as they got to see the plane up close and talk with the pilot. Another highlight was that the boys got to get in B-17 bomber. They all just can’t get enough of airplanes, Jesse is a bit homesick for his!

Later in the evening, we went night swimming under the full moon in the hot springs pool back by the RV park. The national parks and museums are a great experience, but at the end of the day, the kids sometimes just want to play in the pool! (MT)

Family in Arizona

Lucky us, we’ve been able to spend more time with family while in Phoenix. The Hailey’s from Los Alamos have been in town for a soccer tournament for Alix – there is no off season for this spectacular athlete! What’s crazy is that their hotel is only a mile away and the soccer fields were only a couple miles down the road, so we were able to watch all her games, including the one she kicked the game winning goal at. It was the greatest kick I have ever seen or probably will see for a long time – nice job Alix! But it was fun hanging with Stephanie, Shawn, Alix and Ella, playing games and shopping with teenage girls was a highlight of mine!soccersoccer2

We have some fun stalkers too – Jesse’s parents Ron and Marilee have made another surprise visit. They were able to see a soccer game too, and we even spent a day in the Superstitious Mountains east of Phoenix. We did a great hike, toured an outdoor museum and made it down the awestruck Apache Trail to Tortilla Flats, an old cowboy town. Woody made a super funny vlog about it – check it out here:

Marilee happens to have a load of cousins that live in Phoenix, and they graciously hosted us one afternoon. It was fun to hear their family stories and recollect stories of Jesse’s family heritage. Not only were they all great hosts, they even let the boys pick as many grapefruit and oranges as they wanted. Another great memory for the boys to have, and for sure, no one in our family is getting scurvy any time soon! (MT)

Phoenix – FLW, DDD and the Capitol

A couple of years ago, my book club read “Loving Frank”, a memoir style book about one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistresses. Even though he sounded like a goofy dude, I started to fall in love with his architecture! I’ve seen a couple of his works of art in Chicago and in other places, and I was highly interested in touring his home and studio in Scottsdale. The boys and I spent a morning at Taliesin West, and we really enjoyed it all, it totally lived up to my expectations. Woody had a classmate that did a report on FLW so he was excited to learn even more, and Andy is always my lover of unique architecture and could appreciate it all. I could totally live in one of his homes, but I’d probably have to raise the ceilings a bit since he was short and wasn’t very kind to us talk folk!

Andy had looked into more Food Network Diners, Dives and Drive Ins and found a great Pakistan Restaurant near the Arizona State University Campus that was amazing. We were even able to meet the owner and chef of Curry Corner, and the boys gave sincere compliments to her! The food was amazing!FLW4

I’m always curious about state capitols, and Arizona’s did not disappoint. While it’s physically nothing all that special, there were about 30 monuments around it that were spectacular art installations. Everything from a memorial to the USS Arizona that sank in Pearl Harbor, to a 911 exhibit, to a statue honoring Navajo Code Talkers.  It was educational art for the boys and I and for Phoenix.(MT)FLW5