Barcelona Bound

Barcelona Bound

It is nearly time for our Spring Break here in Texas and Red Dirt Girl is traveling to the northern coast of Spain to Barcelona, baby!  My trusty travel companion is my daughter who also works for a school district but in Kansas not Texas.  The stars aligned and our breaks coincided this year, so, why not travel together to explore a new destination?  First time in Spain for both of us.

We are staying in an Airbnb in the Ramblas inner section of Barcelona so we plan to walk to all the historical sites since we are staying so central.  We are advised to make advanced reservations to the more popular stops so we have our tickets ready for Sagrada Familia, Picasso Museum, and a day tour out to Montserrat, a monastery.

We will learn to make traditional paella one afternoon hosted by Nanda in her restored 150-year-old flat in the heart of Barcelona.  We will taste tender slices of Jamon Iberico and Serrano — Barcelona loves pork and all its parts.

On our last night, we have tickets to Barcelona Guitar Trio and Flamenco Dance at the historic Palau de la Musica just a 7 minute walk from our loft.  Dinner in local tapas bars begin no earlier than 9 p.m., so C2 and I plan to return to our rental for siestas in anticipation of the night life.

We hear that in Barcelona, bartenders make the best gin and tonics so we plan to stop by Dux Gin and Cocktails Borne for a sample of craft cocktails.  C1 highly recommends this bar for the masterful infused-drinks and cool vibe.

I am reading the history of Barcelona by Robert Hughes  — “a monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain.” I may still be reading the book on the plane because it is a hefty 600 pages.  I also read Grape, Olive, Pig by Matt Goulding who lived in Spain for six years.  I loved the chapters on preparing tapas such as patatas bravas, chipis a la andaluza, almejas a la marinera and setas al ajillo.  Ok, the motive for the entire trip to Barcelona?  Taste the food and bring our knowledge back home to Ashland.


I’ve been taught that there isn’t a place more beautiful than barcelona
The streets are placed with purpose and thought
People mill about with only smile lines gracing their face
The air tastes like citrus, honey, and sea breeze
A paradise I’ve never known
-unknown author



Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Summer Vacation

Early in the young life of Tracy Lou, her family did not take many summer vacations away from Medicine Lodge except for a few trips to visit relatives living in Kansas.  During the summer, Tracy Lou’s dad picked up part-time jobs to supplement his meager teacher salary.  One summer, her dad painted houses, and both her mom and dad taught swimming lessons at the public swimming pool situated on top of a tall embankment inside the town’s city park.

Tracy Lou learned to swim as an infant and by about the time she entered kindergarten, she could swim the width of the pool.  Her parents taught her all of the strokes including the crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and sidestroke.  She mastered how to flip over on the end of each turn for smooth and quicker transitions back and forth across the pool. She could dog paddle for thirty minutes or more without touching the bottom of the pool.

Tracy Lou loved to jump off the diving boards, even the high dive, when she was quite young.  Her dad called her “a little fish”. She learned to do a front flip but she could never master more than a back dive in reverse. Back then, children were allowed to swim at the city pool without adult supervision so kids rode their bikes to the pool and spent the entire afternoon swimming, diving and playing water games with their friends.  The pool manager would make all the kids get out of the water for 30 minutes to ensure everyone took time to eat a snack, frozen zero bars were Tracy Lou’s favorite, rest and go to the bathroom.  These breaks also allowed the children to apply more sunscreen but they rarely did.

Tracy Lou’s mother loved to swim so in the summer evenings, her Mom would drive down to the pool in her station wagon to take a dip and Tracy Lou loved to tag along and swim laps beside her mother.  Tracy Lou learned that the only sport her mom participated in while in high school was swimming.  Her school, Topeka High, had its own in-door pool, which blew Tracy Lou’s imagination.  “That school must have been rich to have an in-door swimming pool”, said Tracy Lou.  The only in-door swimming pool that Tracy Lou had ever swam in was one in Alva, Oklahoma, located at a college the family visited occasionally.  Tracy Lou thought it was odd that her mom did not play other sports as a kid because Tracy Lou loved games of all kinds and dreamed of playing them all, especially basketball.



Summer Road Trip to Quinault, Washington

Tracy Lou’s maternal grandparents owned a lake house on the Quinault Indian Reservation in the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. The family took a few road trips out and back in the summers in the 1960’s. Dad worked as a ranger for the National Park Service for a couple of these summers.

On one trip, the family left Medicine Lodge in June for the week long National Lampoon’s Vacation-like, family road trip from western Kansas to the rain forest of Quinault, Washington in 1969. On this particular trip, Tracy Lou was only eight. The plan was to put all four kids in the back of the old green station wagon and drive nearly 2,000 miles; stopping when her Dad found a good camping spot or a place of interest to her educator father and social conscious mother. “Good places”, as defined by the parents, were state parks, historical sites, and nature preserves.  Never a KOA campground or hotel for this family.  Her parents rented a U-Haul trailer to connect to the back of the family wagon and then crammed both the wagon and the trailer with kids, sleeping bags, cookware, food, tents, coolers, blankets, and all the other necessary supplies for a two-week road trip to and from Washington State.

The family typically got back home just in time for the start of school.  Her Dad borrowed heavily from the local scout troop for the necessary camping supplies.  The boys were so involved in that club that there was a huge and ferocious hand painted wolverine on the cement wall of their basement for the troop meetings.

One day, at the half waypoint of the trip, Dad, Mom and Mike traded turns driving over five hundred miles to brake at a campsite adjoining the Snake River. The entire family escaped the stuffy car to stretch their tired and aching joints.

Before the kids could venture off, they normally helped set up the campsite.  At that time, most tents, consisted of thick canvas with wooden poles and spikes, and were assembled by pounding the stakes into the ground to support the poles and then the canvas. This took the entire family pitching in to get the multiple tents upright because the ground was rocky and hard or muddy and wet.

This time, their parents allowed the four kids to head on down to the river before the tent raising ritual.  Tracy Lou ran to the river’s edge and put both feet in.  The river was wide and she could see small white caps as the water rumbled along across a few boulders and fallen trees peeking up out of the surface of the water.  The water felt like hot ice on the back of her legs and on the top of her feet but it beckoned the four of them in.  They noted the swift current but from where they stood, on the edge of the tributary, the stream massaged their stiff joints while they swam between each other’s legs, splashed, dived under, and threw some river rock to see who could make them skip the farthest.

They could see Mom and Dad heading down to the river edge so the siblings started to cross over to the other side of the river to a play a little game they liked to call, “running away from Mom and Dad”. Mike held Tracy Lou’s arm as they hopped up and down in the water, moving across the river to the other side.  The bottom of the riverbed, covered in pebbles, hurt Tracy Lou’s feet, so she paddled along holding on to Mike. Tom was treading along beside them when all of a sudden; the strong current in the middle of the river sucked him under and pushed him down the river.

Tracy Lou and her brothers screamed for help from the shore.  Dad sprinted down to the bank following Tom as he bobbed along unable to get out of the river.  Tracy Lou could see his wet head but he was drifting faster, swept downstream. Just ahead of Tom’s head, lay a fallen tree.  Tom smacked into the limb of the tree and went under.  Then he came up again and then back under.   Dad splashed into the water, reached under the limb and pulled Tom out of the water by the back of his trunks, all while struggling to keep his own balance in the strong current.  If not for the tree and Dad’s strong swimming skills, it is not clear how this adventure would end.

Everyone slinked quietly back to the shore to put up the tents and reflect on what nearly happened.  Rivers may look calm on the surface but can have fast under currents and that is dangerous enough alone, but with boulders, logs and other debris, Tom was lucky he was not seriously injured or drowned.  From then on, Tracy Lou knew to avoid crossing fast moving rivers even if she was a little fish.

Often on these camping trips, Ed fried doughnuts outside over a propane burner like the way he learned at Boy Scout camp.  He took an old pot, filled it halfway with oil, and set the pot on the stove on high.  Using biscuits in a tube, Ed would take each biscuit; pull a whole in the center of the dough until it looked like a doughnut. Then, he would place it in the hot oil to fry.  He fried several at a time.  Then, he took an old paper sack, filled it with a little sugar and cinnamon and then placed the fried bread into the bag.  He shook it all about and then brought out the hot doughnuts for us all to enjoy.


School’s out for the summer

Growing up in a small town had its advantages to young children, as there was a lot of freedom.  Tracy Lou’s family lived on Main Street and she walked alone the two blocks downtown to the library, to her dad and mom’s work, to the grocery store, to the swimming pool, to the cool waters of the lazy Medicine River, to the vacant lot out back and to her friends’ houses that lived in town.

On her block, there were many families with children but Tracy Lou was the youngest.  The Rhea’s, the Strack’s, the Newsom’s, and the many other families all had at least three children so finding a playmate was rarely an issue. Games included pick-up basketball, touch football, riding bikes, constructing elaborate forts from cast-off materials, and planning kid-directed block events like a carnival, track meet, or theatre production.  The children charged family and community members to attend these events and they even had a banking account for safekeeping the profits.  Tracy Lou’s brother, Ed, was the activity director but all of the kids participated in one way or another.

Life on the block was fun except when it was not.  Since the children had so much freedom to play outdoors and away from their parents’ supervision, accidents did happen from time to time.

One involved Tracy Lou and a gallon of house paint.  It was a hot, summer day and Tracy Lou was about nine years old. She lived just a few houses from the Rhea sisters so they often walked to the library to check out books together or she hung out with them while they did chores or practiced their musical instruments.  Teresa and Jeanne were four and five years older than Tracy Lou.  Teresa was willing to play Barbie’s with Tracy Lou and they often took their dolls outside and built tree houses for them in the bushes. Tracy Lou had the only Ken doll on the block.

Teresa taught Tracy Lou card games, jacks, and jump rope tricks.  Tracy Lou was enamored with Teresa and spent all the time she would give Tracy Lou that summer.  On the day of the accident, Teresa and her older sister, Jeanne, had a fight. Jeanne had a temper and she flounced off and went into the house.  Teresa and Tracy Lou continued to play jacks and completely forgot about the angry older sister.  They were playing jacks on the concrete behind their house situated at the base of a series of exterior stairs that led up to a tiny deck before entering the house. On the edge of the small deck, house paint cans piled up on top of one another.

Teresa and Tracy Lou were engrossed in flipping jacks and tossing the hard, red ball back and forth between them. Tracy Lou heard the screen door open above her. She noticed Teresa looking up at the landing above. Teresa yelled something at Jeanne.  There was a loud noise from the deck and Jeanne yelled back. Tracy Lou suddenly felt something cold and wet running over her head and shoulders.  She reached up to her face and first felt and then smelled wet paint all over her hair, over her eyes and in her ears.  She did not know what happened.  Later she learned that Jeanne had accidently kicked a can of paint over the edge of the porch and it opened in mid-air pouring paint on Tracy Lou, head to toe.

Tracy Lou sprinted the three houses home hysterically crying for her mother.  Tracy Lou kicked in the kitchen door with her foot, and her mother ran to her and hugged her tight.  She carried her to the bathroom and lifted Tracy Lou into the bathtub.  She ran warm water and washed much of the paint down the drain and in time, with soap and a lot of rubbing, all of the paint rinsed out of Tracy Lou’s hair and off her skin.

Alley Trouble

Directly behind the houses on Main Street, a dirt alley provided access to trash bins, parking, and to the backyards.  Cars and trucks bumped down it, blowing up dust. People on foot, instead of walking around each block, cut through the alley.

The children living on the block played in the alley a lot.  They peddled their bikes along the tracks in the orange, Kansas, dirt, skipped along it for quick access to each other’s backyards, and often met in the over-grown vacant lot on the other side of the alley to play baseball or football.

Tall, thin, poplar trees lined the path, providing a natural barrier from the alley into the backyards.  There were also a few hedge apple trees with chartreuse orbs of lumpy fruit bending branches low to the ground.  These thorny trees provided the mushy bombs for games of war between platoons of youngsters. Tracy Lou avoided this game as the hedge apples oozed a white, slimy liquid causing her skin to turn red and burn wherever it touched.

Normally, the kids did not throw the hedge apples at each other but flung them at makeshift targets like the back of an old garage or a trunk of a tree.  One time, one of Tracy Lou’s brothers broke out a glass window with a second-rate throw.  Mike rang the neighbor’s doorbell, and confessed to Mr. Newsom his error.  He asked Mike to walk down to the hardware store, get the clerk to cut him a piece of glass to fit the window, and then return it to the Mr. Newsom for repair. To pay for the glass, my brother did a few chores for him.  Back then, people fixed problems without a lot of fuss.

There was a nursing home for elderly people located at the end of the alley.  The children sometimes met up with the old folks slowly shuffling the alley to one destination or another.  To Tracy Lou, they seemed so tired and sad.  She always tried to greet each one with her best smile but most of the time; they did not even look her way. When she described how the old people acted, her mom told her to leave those poor people alone and she said, “They are living out their last days, the best they can.”  Mom was not so generous, Tracy Lou noted, when she caught one of the old men, stealing ripe tomatoes from her garden.

One Sunday, four neighborhood kids stumbled upon an old man laying quietly in the middle of the alley. He was motionless and as the kids got nearer, they saw that his eyes were open but not blinking.  Quickly, they ran to the nearest house and asked for help for the man. The ambulance came with sirens blaring, which got Tracy Lou’s attention.  She ventured down to the back of the yard, near where the ambulance parked, but her Dad told her firmly to go back inside the house.  Later, Tracy Lou overheard her parents saying he died.  At dinner, Dad led a prayer for the old man’s soul.  Mom was worried if the kids that found the man would sleep at all that night.

Of course, all the kids knew the exact spot of the old man’s demise so they cautioned each other to not step near it, sort of along the same rule in the old silly rhyme they sang together:

Step on a crack,
You’ll break your mother’s back;
Step on a line
You’ll break your father’s spine.

The alley seemed a place ripe for trouble.  One time, a neighbor offered to keep his Shetland pony in the vacant lot for a couple of days so that the pony could eat the grass and no one would need to mow the lot.  While grazing, one of the kids went up behind the pony to try to pet him, and was kicked in the jaw so hard he walked around with his teeth wired together for weeks and could only drink liquid through a straw that fitted perfectly between two of his incisors.

Another time, her brother Tom, played with matches in the alley, and inadvertently caught the entire vacant lot on fire.  The volunteer firefighters came to put it out while Tom cowered under his bed afraid to come out.  Tom thought he had burned down the entire town but only a large patch of grass turned black.  Of course, this story was retold many times in Medicine Lodge homes about the danger of children playing with matches.



Five Things I Love

Five Things I Love

I am traveling to Spain over Spring Break. I am absorbing all travel blogs about Barcelona. While doing so, I stumbled across this travel website called Roads and Kingdoms which is a virtual space to find great tips to take the exploration of your next destination to higher and hopefully less touristy levels.  Did you know that Barcelona hosts over 600 cruise ships a year in her harbor?  The guides are super helpful to organize your itinerary around the crowds and long lines.  My tip is to always arrive first thing in the morning to a popular attraction because big groups usually arrive 1-2 hours after the opening.

I discovered podcasts recently.  Yes, I live under a rock.  Actually, I live in a house on Ashland but somehow I never clicked on a podcast app until this holiday season.  Check out Milk Street or A Beautiful Mess for fun conversation about food, travel, DIY, and life.  I like the programs  when they run less than 20 minutes.  Longer than that and I find my mind drifting off topic.  I like Stitcher to catalog my favorite podcasts and the app works better than others I tried when I first starting listening to podcasts.

veggies andresThis cookbook, Vegetables Unleashed, is so great.  Lots of unique recipes, stories of Jose’s borderless adventures and photography.  It’s an awesome addition to my cookbook collection.  I especially love the sauce and dressing recipes he shares including miso dressing and his tomato sauce (so much garlic and olive oil).  I am training my palate for Barcelona.  Last night we tried the caper mayonnaise on roasted broccoli — divine!

Kate Spade handbags are some of my favorites.  If you sign up with your email, you receive alerts for big sales.  Don’t tell RM I signed up for more alerts because they drive him crazy on our home, shared email. Right now there is a big new year sale with code H12020.  I bought two bags for less than $100.  The bags are durable and fit into my sense of fashion. Kate Spade bags

I also bought this Cross Body  bag to take to Barcelona because it has locks and is pick-pocket-proof.  Say that three times fast. We’ll get to test the stealth of this bag in just a few weeks!

Hope your new year is off to a great start and you’re living your best life.



Deep Thoughts from Red Dirt Girl

Deep Thoughts from Red Dirt Girl

img_0053Try something you are not good at.  Belly dancing?  Water skiing?  Learn a new language? Take a little risk to get your heart pumping.  I recently tried snorkeling and it was overwhelming at first but then I felt so accomplished with I found my very novice groove.

Find self-compassion.  Treat yourself with kindness.  You won’t lose your edge or become weak. Treat yourself as good as you treat your loved ones.

Get organized.  Out of gaining order comes inner calm.  You will feel less stress.

Build resilience by building inner strengths.  Try meditation and gratitude journaling to build your internal resources. Take long walks and observe what you see.

Make a come back from a challenge by rallying your family and friends around you.  Use the power of positive mindset.  You can’t change the situation you are in, just how you approach the challenge.

Learn about playful intelligence – humor is linked to resiliency.  Use playfulness and humor to see the lighter side of life. Seriously, have a long belly laugh that could be on the verge of hysteria at this time of year.

Build friendships — you have to work on them.  So connect with a friend you have missed recently.  Invite them to take a walk or meet for breakfast.  Online friendships are not the same as person to person contact.

Check out podcasts like Live Happy Now to learn how to be the best YOU.  Happy Holidays and thanks for reading along. Let’s get this new decade started.



Top Ten Best Things to Do in Tulum

Top Ten Best Things to Do in Tulum

  1.  Find a cenote, a large sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath, and swim in one.  Arrive early and bring towels, water shoes and snorkeling mask.  We liked Cenote Dos Ojos for crystal blue water and cool rock formations including stalagmites and stalactites.  I am not going to fib to you, the water is bracing.  But, once you are submerged, it is a lifetime experience
  2. Explore a local supermarket.  They stock nearly everything you need at affordable prices.  We found Chedraui in downtown Tulum.  Bring your own bags as they only offer reusable bags for a small fee for carrying out your purchases.  They have vats of mole options as well as a wonderful panaderia along with cheeses, fruits and vegetables.   You can also buy a motor scooter or a washer and dryer.  My trick is to make a shopping list before we leave home of breakfast, lunch and dinner options and pick it all up from the local market before we arrive at our Airbnb.  The supermarkets sell liquor so it really is one stop shopping.
  3. You have to explore the Tulum Ruins but arrive at opening at 8 a.m. to beat the crowds from the cruise ships but look out for aggressive locals, posing as official guides, trying to get you to pay to park and ride to the ruins.  There is parking available for a couple of pesos and you can walk less than a mile to the ruins free of charge.  Look for iguanas, they are everywhere but tricky to see at first.
  4. Try out all the different beach options from public, to national park beaches to private clubs just to experience the blue water and views in unique ways.  They all had their pluses and minuses.  It is nice to spend one afternoon at the private hotel beach club because the seats are nicer, more shade options and off course waiters to bring you food and drink (for a price)!
  5. Yoga…on the beach is fun especially if you do it early before it gets too hot.  We scheduled our time for 9 a.m. on a Saturday.  Our teacher, reserved through Viator, was professional and we wore headphones so we could hear her guided instruction over the sound of the waves and we did not bother other guests with our music.  For me, it was the first time doing yoga outdoors, which was a very different experience.  Balancing on sand is challenging!  The five of us in our group were her only clients,  which was special.
  6. I am not going to recommend Hartwood.  Not bashing them but I think you can save your money, eat at other less trendy restaurants and have as good a meal.  The lamb mole tacos were good as was the ceviche.  I thought we were going to eat in the jungle at Harwood, off the beaten track, but it is located on the main road to all the beach clubs and other restaurants.  I felt a little spoofed.
  7. Shopping is limited but on our last couple of hours before heading back to Cancun for our flight, we found a few nice places on the main highway.  Mexicarte was a favorite but there were several small shops with local crafts on this stretch of the road.  Be sure to save pesos for this final shopping trip, as they don’t always take debit cards.
  8. In our Airbnb, we had a fully equipped kitchen, which I adored.  I love to shop at the local grocery store and then prepare homespun meals after a full day of exploring the area.  It completed the day for me and we all stayed healthy and saved pesos for other options.
  9. Look around at all the tropical plant life.  The succulents were amazing.  They, like the Grinch’s small heart, grew three sizes that day.
  10. Driving in Mexico was exhilarating with a few “oh sh–” moments. There are few rules, more dirt roads than paved, and we did a little off-roading to get to our Airbnb. Reminded me a bit of the bumpy pot-holed dirt roads around my Kansas hometown.

In gentle ways, you can find peace of mind.

In gentle ways, you can find peace of mind.

Discombobulated comes to mind.  The feeling I have now about the world.  To find solace is my mission these days, especially as we are on the cusp of the holiday season.  So what gives me peace of mind lately?

  1. I learned to make sourdough bread from a professional baker.  The process is exacting but a relief for my busy mind as it focuses and settles in on each and every step.  It is also very tactile (sticky, doughy hands, my friends).  It feeds my creative soul and lowers my blood pressure. Follow The Table on FB to learn about upcoming bread classes.
  2. Listening to podcasts is also a source of calmness if you pick the right ones.  I recently listened to Dolly Parton’s America and found peace in knowing there are wonderful people like Dolly doing their part to make the world a nicer place to live.  Listening to her sing 9 to 5 lifts my spirit every time.
  3. Gardening even in the winter months gets me outside of my own head, pulling weeds, tilling a new garden bed, and researching plants for the next growing season.  This year, we put in blackberry canes and they now thickly cover our backyard fence.  In a month or so, we will need to cut the canes back to 18 inches so that hopefully next summer we will get a few berries as the canes grow again.  Gardening is about nurturing both the plants and our spirit over time.
  4. Yoga is an integral part of our lives.  I learned to breathe late in life and oxygen is truly a miracle drug.  Namaste.
  5. Petting my daughter’s dog, Boo.

I am so blessed to have RM by my side, our children all healthy and working in purposeful jobs, and that on Ashland there is peace, joy and happiness.  I wish the same for all the children of the world. But I know it is not true. If able, please consider a donation to a nonprofit trying to make a positive impact in a discombobulated world.



Five Things I Love

Five Things I Love

This finishing salt will elevate your cooking. Maldon Salt Flakes.  Try it on top of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or on your next grilled sourdough bread.  You need a nice salt cellar to showcase this product.  If so, contact RM at Laser & Lathe for some affordable but lasting options for gift giving this holiday season.  Yes, thankfully RM is back in the shop.

salt cellar
Salt Cellar – engraving optional.  Rates start at $40.

This office desk on wheels is so versatile, sturdy but easy to move around in whatever configuration you need.  And only $99.   It is also open at the bottom so it lightens up the feel of my office compared to those stodgy conventional desks.  I ordered it for work and it changed the entire feel of my office.  Add a nice rug and chairs and start a productive conversation.  deask

Label Makers help to keep me organized at home both in the craft room and in the kitchen.  If you batch cook, the labels help so much in noting details especially about food allergies and preference (DF, GF, KETO).  You can repurpose your food containers without crossing through prior notes or throwing it away prematurely.

I love candles and the ones at Trader Joes are so affordable at $3.99.  In October, they offered a vanilla pumpkin scented candle that I hope they carry over into November.  See this link for details….TJ Blog