48 Hours in Arizona

It is outage season in the world of boiler businesses which means Audley is on the road nearly every day each week.  Now that the kiddos are so much older and require less of my time, he really encourages me to take off at least once a year for a girlfriend’s getaway and a little down time to help maintain my sanity.  Last weekend I was able to take off and enjoy a little Momma vacay  in Arizona with my friend, Yvonne.  She is quite familiar with the area as she owns a condo in Flagstaff, so I knew it would an exciting, jam packed weekend. We were quite limited on time with just over 48 hours to enjoy ourselves so Yvonne wanted to make sure  wanted to make sure I enjoyed a real taste of Arizona.

So, what can you do with such a short amount of time in an amazing area?

Let me share some of our fun with you!

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1. Dine at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon and Musical Review in Flagstaff.  Dinner out at Black Barts was so much fun!  This eclectic restaurant is staffed with a lot of talent who might drop what they are doing without notice and jump on stage to sing for you.  With performances of show tunes from old Broadway to recent Disney favorites you might even find yourself singing along!

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The food was good (my Prime Rib was cooked perfectly), but the atmosphere is what makes Black Barts worth the stop!

A couple of other great restaurant suggestions would include the fabulous Horseman Lodge Steakhouse in Flagstaff (features local fare, including some amazing Elk Chops) and El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano in Sedona.

2. Wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise as you travel through the desert to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Skip the initial first view of the canyon (you’re charged to see it) and travel to Navajo Point for a truly gorgeous sight!

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Check out the shops (especially the Kolb Studio… the home and photography studio of historic Canyon photographers and film makers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb ) and then hike the Angel Light Trail.

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Just remember while it’s a fairly easy hike down, plan to double your time on the hike back up, and be sure to pack light!

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Whew!

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Utilize the free shuttle around the southern rim and visit different viewing points around the canyon. Also chat up the NP rangers for a bit of history and to answer your questions about the park.

3. Take a ride down Route 66 for a few unique shops and sights.

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4. Soak up the many views of Arizona’s ever-changing landscape.  From Prairies to mountain tops the scenery  around Flagstaff is amazing!

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We drove up to the Arizona Snow Bowl skiing area to see these gorgeous views!arizona-weekend-2-oh-fiddledeedee-com

And I do believe Arizona has enjoyed a much prettier autumn than we have in the Carolinas.

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5. Visit the unique Indian cliff dwellings built into rock at Montezuma’s Castle.

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Why build in the rocks?

 Protection from flooding, predators and MOSQUITOS!  Those pesky little insects like to stay low, so living high in the cliffs protected the native Americans from their annoying bites!

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6. Head off to the Sedona desert for a hike at Bell Rock and marvel at the breathtaking formations surrounding you!

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And on your way out, stop for some fun shopping with local artisans in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.  Sylvie & Bruno is a wonderful stop for locally designed jewelry (I picked up a couple of gorgeous turquoise pieces) and if you love photography you must visit the Eclectic Image Gallery.  Owned by the husband and wife team of Elaine and Duane Morgan, you will be enthralled (and a wee bit jealous) by their photographic eye for local beauty.

7. Take an evening horseback ride at the historic Hitchin’ Post Stables in Flagstaff.

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Dale was an awesome trail guide, and Sally was a fun horse to ride!

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8.  Leave a little early (and even drive off of your designated path) as you head to Phoenix to catch your flight out, and marvel at the swirly cactus on the way.

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Superstition Mountain in black and white …

While a long trips out west would be so much more fun, it is so easy to take in this fabulous destination and feel like you really got a taste of Arizona, even in 48 hours.

 FYI… If you plan to visit Arizona and especially its parks, purchase a National Park pass.  It’s good for a year and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, If you fly into Phoenix and decide to take the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff… Don’t.

Just pay to rent a car.  It’ll save you so much trouble and your sanity as well.

Happy Weekend Y’all!

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“What Happens in Vegas”

Each year my hubby slips away for a safety professionals conference in Las Vegas. Tired of him having all the fun, this year I made arrangements for the kiddos and slipped away with him for a much needed get-away.  I was told by several people before we left that I would either love Vegas or absolutely hate it; there was no in-between.

Me?

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I fell in love with Las Vegas.

Now you know I am not a wild and crazy girl, but guess what?!  You don’t have to be to have fun in Vegas, and “what happens in Vegas” doesn’t necessarily have to “stay in Vegas”

And I had a blast the four and a half days we were there!

So what can you do in Las Vegas if you are not a huge gambler or a late night partier?  Here are seven fun things you can do and still get a Vegas experience!

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1. Take in a show.  As cliche as it seems, you can’t go to Vegas without seeing at least one live show.  There is something from everyone from impersonators to live concerts.  The week we were in town Brittany Spears performed twice and we had an option of no less than FIVE Cirque du Soleil shows!  We opted for a musical and watched Jersey Boys  (the Frankie Valli & Four Seasons story), which was playing nightly at the Paris hotel theater.   The music was fabulous, making it an awesome choice and a show we enjoyed very much!

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2. Enjoy dinner at a high end restaurant!  Enjoy yourself and splurge.  We chose to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant at the Paris hotel as part of a package that included dinner and the Jersey Boys performance.

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Our reservations were early so that we had prime seating for the sunset and a view of the strip as it lit up for the evening.

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We could also watch the fountains at the Belliago from our table.  Another good reason for dining early was to keep us from being absolutely stuffed while watching our show later in the evening!

Service at the Eiffel Tower was impeccable.  The sommelier was extremely knowledgeable and took his time going over the wine list with us.  The waitress was very friendly, yet professional and efficient.

Our filet medallions were cooked perfectly and dessert…. let’s just say I was very thankful for gym access!

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My Creme Brûlée was sheer perfection.

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Dinner at the Paris

3. Spend a day at Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center.  Located in the Venetian Hotel this spa club has everything you could imagine to spoil yourself … which is exactly what I did.

Because I have fitness goals I am still striving to reach, I took advantage of the personal trainers on staff and had my booty handed to me.  It was a humbling experience as a licensed trainer to have another trainer whip you and nearly have you crawling out of the gym.  I told them what I was looking for and for two days got it.  I will definitely use the facility and the trainers again!  The fitness club has every kind of equipment you could possibly want or need for a workout, as well as cardio equipment and a climbing wall!  Fitness classes like spin, yoga, and zumba are available as well.

The ladies locker room is peaceful and calm which really encourages you to focus on the workouts to come!

While at the spa-club I spent the money and took advantage of one of the hairstylists, to “fix” me up for our  evening out on the town as well as a cosmetologist for a dramatic makeover that I’ll never be able to recreate!

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I’m not a “selfie” person …

It was so much fun and extremely relaxing.  Something every wife and momma needs from time to time.

While time didn’t allow for me to enjoy all the activities at the spa, with a spa passport you can use the steam rooms, rainforest aquavana, the sauna, and a hydrospa.  For extra you can schedule a variety of massages, manis/pedis, body wraps and even a couples mud bath!

4. Walk through the many themed hotels and take in the architecture and decor.

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I know, you’re thinking “how boring!”, but I promise you it’s not!  Our trip corresponded with Chinese New Year, so a walk through the Belliago was unique, colorful and so enjoyable!

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During the afternoon at the Venetian you may find a carnival atmosphere taking place right in the Canal Shoppes!

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With live music and colorful costumes, it’s worth taking a break from your day to sit and take in a little Italian culture.

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Stop by Buddy’s bakery or Godiva while hitting the Canal Shoppes in the Venetian. Just be sure to do a few extra reps when you hit the gym!

An if you want a bit of Egyptian culture, step into the Luxor.  You feel like you’ve traveled the world with just a little walking!

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5. Step back in time to the day of gangsters in Vegas with a stroll through The Mob Museum.   Located in old Vegas the Mob Museum housed in the old US Post Office and courthouse built in 1933, the museum shares the history of the mob from it’s beginnings in the United States to its rise in Vegas and the end of several prominent mobsters.  There are many interactive exhibits and plenty of history for you to soak in.  “The Godfather” just doesn’t tell all of the story!

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Another great exhibit in Las Vegas is the Titanic display at the Luxor.  Cameras are forbidden in the tour, but the images will be forever etched in your mind.  With actual artifacts from the shipwreck, paired with carefully reconstructed displays of various rooms on the ship and stories of the passengers you will need a box of kleenex.  Very touching indeed.

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6. Take a hike into Red Rock Canyon.  While the Grand Canyon is drivable from Las Vegas (3.5-4 hours), Red Rock Canyon is just an hour out and a day you will find most enjoyable.

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 Start in the visitors center where you will get an idea of the history of the area as well as the wildlife and variety of native plants you will see while you are out and about.

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 Talk with one of the Rangers and pick up a guide showing you the many hikes you can take.  It’s a stunningly beautiful area.  Take a picnic, enjoy a hike, take in the wildlife and soak in God’s amazing creation.

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7. Hit up a gun range for a military experience!  We discovered Battlefield Vegas by accident as I was trying to do something fun for Audley since he had been a good sport by hiking and dressing up for dinner.  Battlefield Vegas is owned and operated by US Veterans which made it even more appealing to us.

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The experience begins when you are picked up at your hotel in a military vehicle and taken to their location.  You can tour around outside and look at old military vehicles which made my veteran hubby quite happy.

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Once you go inside, you have several packages to choose from for your shooting experience.  We choose the Navy Seal package, plus added and extra gun.

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Apparently Audley has missed shooting an AK-47.

We just paid for one package and split it.

Audley had a blast…. and so did I.

The “instructor” assigned to help us with the guns was really great and I think shocked that I knew what I was doing.  You don’t have to regularly shoot to do this shooting experience; you will have plenty of help.  They guys are really awesome and were great for answering any questions you might have.  When you are finished shooting, shopping and touring, the guys will carry you back to your hotel or even a restaurant if you are going to eat.   There are other shooting experiences available in the area, but we really had fun at Battlefield Vegas and will definitely do this again!

For reference, hotels for every budget are available in Las Vegas.  You can stay in the Best Western or in Caesar’s Palace.  We chose a Hilton property (always our preference), using the Elara Grand Vacations for our stay.

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The pulled “shade” over the window was a screen for a TV projection!  We watched the Super Bowl in high definition comfort of our suite.

With a jacuzzi and full-sized living room and kitchen it was like we were in our own apartment instead of a hotel!  I’m not a gambler at all, but for the Vegas experience I did play a couple of slot machines.

With only four days for our trip, as you can imagined we in no way saw all there is to see.  I’m already planning to accompany Audley next year to his conference … I told you I loved it!

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Fit Friday: 30 Ways to Incorporate Self-Care into Your Life

If there is one thing I have learned over the last couple of years in this fit journey, and most definitely since returning to work after 17 years as a stay-at-home-mom: women, especially mommas, put a whole lot on their plates.

The amount of pressure we place on ourselves is truly more than anyone should deal with.  No matter what Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram portrays, life is not perfect.  Not one of us is a perfect wife, employee, mom or grandmother.  We all like to hide behind a facade, because that’s what is acceptable, but that facade eventually will fall, leaving behind a generation (or two) of exhausted ladies who no longer want to care for their homes, marriages, or themselves!

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Self-care is so important in the society we live in today.  We are all guilty of people-pleasing, comparison, and striving for perfection in a world where perfection doesn’t exist.  As a result anxiety, depression, drug-abuse, alcoholism, and walking out on families are growing problems among women.  If we don’t pause to take care of ourselves, who is going to take care of our family when we break?! Continue reading

Our Top Things To Do in the Florida Keys

Our family kicked off the new year in a way we never have before; leaving all of our traditions behind from black-eyed peas to college football and made so many memories together traveling to the Florida Keys!

It’s actually the busy season in the Keys as many people are wanting to leave behind the cold, wet days of winter and find a little sunshine and fun!  That is exactly what we did and I do believe we have discovered a new tradition for our New Year; every year!

After the lovely few days away I thought it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip with a list of Our Top Things to do in the Florida Keys.  These are completely teenager friendly as we are not partiers at all, but out more to enjoy sights and culture when we travel.

Top Things to do While Visiting the Florida Keys

1. You can’t drive to Key West without travel the highway that runs parallel with the Historic Seven-Mile Bridge.  Seven-Mile Bridge, when it was finished in 1912, was the longest bridge of its kind.  It connected the middle Keys to the lower Keys as a railroad line until the 1930s when it was refurbished for auto traffic.  Now it is closed, but portions are open for pedestrians and bicyclists.  If you like history it’s a neat little stop as you travel through.

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Not all of the bridge is accessible at this time, but there is a massive project getting ready to begin to restore the entire length of the bridge.  I find that very exciting!

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I apologize for the blurry pics…. we were driving while I was trying to shoot.

The broken railings?  They were made from the railway trackage when the bridge was converted from a railroad bridge to an auto bridge in the 1930s.

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2.  The Ernest Hemingway Home.  If you ever took a high school or college lit class, you read Ernest Hemingway at some point.  Visiting his main residence in the 1930s was a really awesome way to visualize his life.  From the studio where he wrote his best-selling novels to stories that brought the man to life, the Hemingway Home was a fabulous treat.

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Built in 1851, Ernest Hemingway acquired this well-built island home in 1931 while he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, A French Vogue editor, for $8000.

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Pauline hated this chandelier and had it removed & stored in the attic while living in the house.  I can’t even imagine…

The tour guide we had was absolutly fantastic and truly brought the colorful life of Hemingway to us in an entirely new way!

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James Bond turned in his “License to Kill” at the Hemingway house in the 1988 movie of the same name.

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The room above the garage where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works including “To Have & To Have Not”.

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This fountain and “flower bed” was built by the original builder/owner, Asa Tift, to resemble an old confederate ironclad boat.

3. Key Lime Pie from Blue Heaven restaurant.  If Blue Heaven is packed (or closed getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash), just head across the street to Andy’s Cabana which is owned by the same family.

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And they have THE Key Lime Pie.

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4. Take a sunset cruise from the Port of Key West.  We chose the Jolly II Rover and are so glad that we did!  With a fun crew and beautiful views, it was the perfect evening to a fabulously fun day!

Jolly II Rover

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Madeline helping raise the sails!  Such a neat experience!

You’ll discover on this cruise that you are closer to Cuba than you are the nearest Walmart.  I thought that was just a really cool fact.

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On the Jolly II Rover you may also have the adventure of firing a cannon at other passing ships!

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And the sunset?

Breathtaking, amazing, and unforgettable.

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5. Visit the Southernmost point.  If you want to get technical it is really not the southernmost point, but unless you wan to be arrested for trespassing on a military installation this will have to suffice.

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Lines form early to have your picture made here, so plan to arrive super early, or do like we did and go after sunset; no waiting necessary.

6. Take in the island real estate.  I love the houses and historic buildings found in both Key West and Key Largo.

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Enjoy the sightseeing and don’t catch island fever…. It can be costly!

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7.  “Sail away to Key Largo” with a ride the African Queen.

The African Queen is not a replica; this is the real deal built in 1912 and used in the 1951 movie The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn.

The African Queen

With the history behind the boat, as well as the legend, this evening cruise was a true highlight of our stay.

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Enjoy your own Boggey & Bacall … Or is it Bogart and Hepburn moment?

Take your pick, but a cruise on the African Queen is a step back in time allowing you to have your own romantic moment.

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African Queen Sunset

8. Hit the water in Key Largo at John Pennecamp State Park in a canoe.  Canoeing is a lot of fun and the perfect activity for everyone in the family.  The park also offers camping, snorkeling, swimming, and various other water-sports.

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9. Don’t forget to hit the beach.  Seriously.  The whole purpose of a vacation is to get away from your environment and relax.  Take time for this.

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If not for you, do it for your family.

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 I loved the naturally preserved beaches at John Pennecamp State park, but I also loved the man-made sandy beaches of the resorts.

And as you can see, my teenagers had a blast!

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In no way is this a list of all the things to do in the Florida Keys.  With this being our first trip and only having a few days to kick back, these highlights were what we enjoyed most!  When we return this year after Christmas we will have a whole new list of activities planned.

Just a few tips to getting around Key West.  First, if you are wanting to hit up historic Key West, find you a good parking space (legally) on the street and leave your car for the day.  You might want to brush up on your parallel parking skills before you go.  Walking about town is honestly the most logical way to go.  Key West is extremely pedestrian friendly. Make reservations if you have a specific, but popular hot spot you want to visit.  Lines for dinner can be quite long, especially when mile high Key Lime pie is involved.  Also, book your cruises early.  We purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance and the tickets were texted to me on my phone.  Quite convenient indeed, and we didn’t have to  risk being turned away at the dock.  Key Largo does involve more driving as the area is not so compact.  The drive all the way to Key West can be a long one. The speed limit is 45-55 and there is a lot of traffic.  Drive safely and go with the flow.

It’ll make the trip much more enjoyable!

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