Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Desert

This is obviously a long overdue post, but the pictures are worth the wait. I was in Phoenix at the end of October for a conference and stayed at a resort built into a butte. What's a butte, you ask? It's a rocky formation, like a hill, that juts out of the desert landscape. Very beautiful. This was the view from my room.

I had never set foot in the desert before, and after landing and gaining three hours, I had the rest of the day ahead of me to enjoy some exploring. A friend recommended the Desert Botanical Garden, and so I set out to visit it just before sunset.

This east coast girl couldn't get over the color and variety of the desert. Instead of a deserted (pun intended) and lifeless collection of prickly plants, I encountered a teeming ecosystem full of life, movement, and vibrant hues.

I visited the butterfly exhibit just before it closed at 5pm. Unbelievably it began to sprinkle while I was in there, giving the enclosure an ethereal, other-worldly effect.

The butterfly cage was full of monarchs and as the sun sets, they cling to the screen walls, wings folded, and rest for the evening. Those are hundreds of butterflies hanging down.

As I exited the butterfly exhibit, I got to enjoy this stunning rainbow. The cognitive dissonance of hearing rolling thunder and seeing a brief rain shower with a rainbow in the middle of a desert was certainly not lost on me and served to heighten the experience.

I was amazed at the information about how indigenous peoples learned the plants that could survive with little water and how they thrived as a group by cultivating crops, like gourds. These dried gourds are used variously as rattles with their dried seeds left intact or scooped out as ladles.

My love of the ocean is well-documented, but imagine my surprise when this arid environment evoked the same awe-inspiring peacefulness that I only ever experience from watching and listening to powerful ocean waves crash.

If sunsets over the bay are breathtaking, so too is the setting sun over the desert. The horizon is starkly silhouetted and so foreign to anything I've ever known. It was a spiritual experience.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Franklin Institute

You know the old saying: "A prophet has no honor in his own country?" Well, you can apply that to historical landmarks and other important sites in your own city. I didn't visit the Liberty Bell until I was 16, and I hadn't been to the Franklin Institute since I was about 10. I've had some complimentary tickets for quite awhile and thanks to Trey's dogged reminding, we finally scheduled a family outing last Saturday.

For those unfamiliar, the Franklin Institute is a museum devoted to science oriented exploration, and it truly is geared towards kids with many hands-on, interactive features. We enjoyed exhibits on how machines work, aviation, trains, and electricity, which was only a fraction of all that the museum contains.

It was a beautiful, mild autumn day, and we got there early enough to beat any crowds and score really close, free on-street parking.


The Institute's patron saint, Big Ben.

Figuring out which IMAX movie to watch. We ended up going to a 3-D dinosaur movie, which all the kids loved, including Genevie.

The dome in the entrance hall.

Exploring the hands-on power of electricity with batteries.

Our very own "Air and Space".

Flying the plane.

Enjoying the train.

Ol' Ben himself.

This photo just makes me happy. They're all yelling hot dog, which is what I had just gotten them for lunch from a street vendor as Trey snapped the photo.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Although I love complex flavors and daring new dishes, at heart I'm a meat and potatoes girl. I think it's my inescapable Scottish heritage. I recently tried this slow cooker beef stew recipe from Real Simple and it was amazing with plenty of leftovers for hot lunches at work, which I froze in individual containers for single-serving convenience. I did make a few alterations. In order to make it a little more healthy, I reduced the amount of meat to 2 lbs. It was still plenty meaty, trust me. I also used lean, thin-cut sirloin on sale at Wal-mart because it was close to its expiration date. Affordable and healthy. The meat was so tender and just fell apart in the stew, making it rich and hearty, far better than that awful stew meat you can buy. I also didn't bother browning all the meat. I started to and it was taking forever at which point I said the heck with this and threw the rest of the floured meat into the crock pot. It didn't make a bit of difference. Next time, I will skip that step altogether. The other thing I'll add is that the wine makes all the difference in this dish. Don't skip it. It provides a depth of flavor that takes this from ho-hum to humming. Bon apetit!
Slow Cooker Classic Beef Stew
Serves 8-10Hands-On Time: 35m Total Time: 8hr 00m



  1. Coat the beef in the flour. Heat a few tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meat, a few pieces at a time, adding more oil as necessary. Transfer to a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker.
  2. Add the onions to the skillet and cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and coat the onions; transfer to the cooker.
  3. Pour the wine into the skillet and scrape up any browned bits; add to the cooker. Stir in the potatoes, carrots, broth, salt, thyme, and bay leaf.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat for 7 1/2 hours, or on high for 4 hours. Add the peas and heat through.

Nutritional Information

  • Per Serving
  • Calories 520Calories From Fat 34%
  • Calcium  54mg
  • Carbohydrate  31g
  • Cholesterol  127mg
  • Fat  20g
  • Fiber  4g
  • Iron  6mg
  • Protein  48mg
  • Sat Fat  5g
  • Sodium  1061mg

Monday, November 7, 2011

May the Force Be with You

Our costume theme this year, as advocated by two very enthusiastic boys, was Star Wars.

Addison was Darth Maul.

Davis was Darth Vader, or Darth Mader as Genevie calls him.

Genevie was, you guessed it, Princess Leia although she was rather insistent for awhile that she wanted to be a storm trooper. The double buns won out in the end.

This was the first year that all three kids really got the trick-or-treating concept. Genevie was particularly enthusiastic, racing from house to house to get more loot.

As the evening wore on, the children shed various accessories, and as is obligatory, I inherited them.

We may or may not have had an upset tummy when one little boy, who rarely eats candy, kept sneaking treats without our knowledge. Apparently even evil overloads have sugar thresholds.