#crosscountryadventure2015: The Cowarts go to Hollywood

30 Jul

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This week’s article is filled with all of the exciting things we got to see and do during our visit to California. Click here to check it out!

#crosscountryadventure2015: Some things you might not think to bring, but shouldn’t forget

28 Jul
Thanks again to the sewing talents of my friend Gina, we had three change purses for the girls, and they were the perfect size for our outings.

Thanks again to the sewing talents of my friend Gina, we had three change purses for the girls, and they were the perfect size for our outings.

There were some things I was thankful I’d remembered to bring along on this trip, and they might not be at the top of the packing list, so I thought I’d share them with you today.

1) Rolls of coins: Our kids saved all their money from wintertime on, until we left for our trip. I put most of it on Visa gift cards for them, and left some in small bills. Most importantly, I took $10 from each of their savings and got a roll of quarters for each of them and 50 cents in pennies for each of them as well. I knew that they love the pressed penny machines that are often found in tourist locations, and that would make a great little souvenir for them. I did not want to have to be searching for one penny and two quarters times three kids at every stop though, so I was happy to have thought ahead and gotten the change for them. As they made their pressed pennies at each stop, they’d slide the finished penny right into their change purse.

Having their names on their purses made it easy for me to know whose was whose when I had my hands full in the checkout lines at the various gift shops.

Having their names on their purses made it easy for me to know whose was whose when I had my hands full in the checkout lines at the various gift shops.

2) Change purses: The change purses were an unexpected gift from our friend Gina in Florida who also made the quilted map I use each week to show you where my Cranston Herald articles are spotlighting. On the day before we left, the girls and I had our eyes open in every store we went to, looking for the perfect change purse to fit their small bills and their rolls of quarters and pennies. We could not find anything I thought was going to be right. I didn’t want anything too big, but yet most of what I was finding was really too small. We went home empty-handed, and that same day when we opened our mailbox, there was a package from Gina with change purses inside. She had no idea what I was looking for, and I had no idea she was sending these, but they have been a lifesaver the entire time on this trip and they were exactly what it was I was looking for. They are not too bulky, yet big enough to hold their money, and they are even labeled with their names so it was easy to grab them from my backpack and hand them out to the kids.

3) Postage and address labels: I knew our family would want to keep in touch throughout the trip by sending out postcards so I took a great idea from my cousin Valerie and I bought our postcard postage ahead of time. The last thing I wanted to be doing was searching for postage for postcards or for a post office. I also printed out address labels. We’d all work on the post cards to get them written out, but addressing them was easier using labels. This was a great system for us and I’d definitely recommend it.

4) Birthday supplies: We were celebrating a birthday while we were on the road, so I made sure to have our usual decorations, which consisted of streamers and the birthday banner we usually hang up each time a birthday rolls around. I also threw in some candles, just in case we needed them here, but we did not, since we celebrated with family at their houses and they had candles there.

Most of our bills are paid online, but some are not.

Most of our bills are paid online, but some are not.

5) Bills: Although we pay the majority of our bills online, there are a few that have to be mailed. If I had them in advance, I took them with me, but if I did not have them, I made sure to take a picture of the prior month’s bill so that I’d have it with me and have the account number and mailing address with me. I also made sure to have regular postage, blank envelopes, the login information for online billing, and our checkbook with me as well. Most campgrounds have a mailbox or will put your mail in their outgoing mail, so as long as I had my supplies I was all set.

6) Prescriptions: Our eye doctor recommended that we take paper prescriptions for all our glasses with us, just in case of an issue with any of our glasses breaking while we were away. We could replace them on the road, if need be. We also had to fill all of our monthly medication prescriptions early. This was very difficult (and costly) and one of the hardest things to do before we left. Additionally, I also made sure to have a list with me of all the medications we take, just in case we needed it.

I’m sure there are things that your family might need on their list that would be different from what is on our list, but hopefully these tips will help you plan for a future vacation of your own!

 

 

#crosscountryadventure2015: Tips for planning your own trip

27 Jul

So many people have said to us that they would love to take a trip like this one at some point in the future. I thought I’d share some tips with you, including things we’ve done or learned along the way.
trip wall1) Get everyone involved: If you’re bringing kids along and they are school aged, get them involved in the route planning by asking them what they’d love to see. We kept a large map and blank poster board on our wall and asked our kids to tell us what they hoped we could see. We let them know that just because it went on the list didn’t mean we could absolutely do it, but we’d do our best to make it happen. We tried to hit at least one place each person had requested, but many of the requests overlapped, like the Grand Canyon. We all wanted to see that. Our family and friend visits were worked in as well.
2) Be flexible: We had our calendar, we knew the date when we had to be in California, so we had a deadline, but my husband cautioned me against planning where we’d stay at every single stop because we might get delayed along the way or arrive earlier than planned along the way. I took his word for it, the planner that I am, and we only made our reservations for Virginia, for Fourth of July weekend, and for Los Angeles. As it turned out, we did modify our schedule a bit, and picked up an extra day along the way, which we were able to spend in Arizona with our friends, and another extra day which then allowed us to arrive a day earlier in Los Angeles than we’d initially planned. We struggled with finding a spot to stay overnight for three nights in Yellowstone National Park, so many campgrounds were now full, but had we booked it a month ago or more, our dates would not have been correct, so having a reservation would not have helped us. We opted to just stay two nights instead because that’s what we could find. So ultimately, he was right.
20150707_2329213) Be spontaneous, and be aware of your family’s habits: We knew several things we definitely wanted to do, like visiting the Alamo and the Grand Canyon, and we had specific plans for days when we were with our family, but we couldn’t possibly plan out every single minute of every single day ahead of time for the entire five weeks. It was nice to be able to wake up and do nothing some days or to wake up and say, “What should we do today,” making that decision as a family. We tend to be later risers and night owls, so we never planned to be up and out at the crack of dawn, because that wasn’t realistic for us. There’s a lot of us also, and one bathroom, so it takes us some time to get organized and out the door. We are much better at later arrivals for things whenever possible, and with the pressure to rush out the door off, it kept everyone happy, at least for the most part.
4) Divide and conquer: With an undertaking such as a trip like this one, there was no way we could make any one person responsible for the entire thing. We did sit many nights and plan out some of it together, but we also split up the responsibilities. I took on the bulk of the organizing of the camper inside as well as the family’s needs, while he took on the bulk of organizing the route (since he’d done this trip before) and finding the campsites, as well as taking on figuring out the hardware and equipment needs for the truck and camper. Working as a team is much easier than one person doing everything or both of you trying to do every single task together. Our kids were old enough to be involved in the organizing and setting up of the camper as well, so our team was more than just the two of us.
20150629_1242495) Remember that it’s camping: Yes, you have all the comforts of home in an RV, but you also have the potential for ants, a mouse, beetles, and the like. It’s not the Four Seasons, and we didn’t want it to be, but don’t be shocked if you see a bug, or if there’s dirt on the floor or if you shower in your flip flops at the campground’s showers. If you don’t like those types of things, this type of camping across the country trip isn’t for you. Our group consists of an Eagle Scout and four Girl Scouts. We’ve all tent camped and hiked before, and we like meeting and greeting new and different wildlife. We knew we’d be okay on a trip like this.
6) Be patient: Close quarters, long hours driving, tight spaces, many weeks away from home. There will be short tempers and meltdowns and frustrating situations. It’s important to be as patient as possible as often as possible. They say patience is a virtue, and this trip is a great way to practice it. Nothing will go 100% perfectly and you deal with things as they come, just as you would at home.
7) This is a driving trip: You’re going to spend a lot of time in the car, you’re going to spend a lot of money on gas. To think of the trip without knowing those things going into it would be silly. We saved lots of money in other ways, but we were up front with knowing gas would cost money and even a great deal of money in some places, and we’d be using a lot of gas because we would be spending five weeks on the road. We also knew going into the trip that we’d be pulling a camper and driving a large vehicle, so we knew our gas mileage wouldn’t be fantastic, but again, these were all known facts way ahead of time, so no surprises there and we took it all into consideration.
8) Camping is cheap: Although gas is expensive at times, lodging is very inexpensive. Campsites varied in price from as little as $15 a night to as much as $75 a night, depending on where we stayed, with an average price of $25-$30 a night, usually. We ate out on occasion as we do at home, but we ate in much more often, just as we would at home. Had we stayed in hotels, we would not have had such inexpensive lodging and not have had the ability to cook such great meals as we do now. At $3900 to own outright, our camper was our hotel and our ability to cook meals for five people a dog and a frog, for five weeks all wrapped in one, without having to spend money on airline tickets which would not allow us to experience the entire country from East to West and South to North as we have. And when we get home, we have the ability to go anywhere else we want to go with our camper from here on in, because we own it. Who knows what adventures lie ahead for us?

Adventure is all part of the fun!

Adventure is all part of the fun!

#crosscountryadventure2015: Wild West: The OK Corral, Grand Canyon and beyond

22 Jul
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From Texas to Arizona last week!

This week’s Cranston Herald article is online now! Click here to read about our Arizona adventures. Stay tuned for more adventures as we move along on our journey!

#crosscountryadventure2015: What we’re eating and how we’re cooking it

21 Jul

20150711_192859Traveling in an RV is ultra-convenient for eating in because you have everything you need right at your fingertips, as long as you’ve stocked it beforehand with all of the things you use on a day-to-day basis. Over the three months before we took our trip, I kept a specific list of kitchen supplies we’d need to make any meals we cooked in the camper go off without a hitch. We made sure we had our go-to pots and pans, cast iron skillets, a toaster, and our counter-top griddle, which can be used inside or out. With those items, the needed utensils like spatulas, whisks, wooden spoons, and serving utensils, we were in good shape and able to make most of our favorites. We had a full kitchen setup, including a stove-top, oven, and microwave; just in a smaller space. We could do whatever we needed to do.

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20150630_103212Although we have eaten out a number of times over the three weeks, we make an effort to eat in if there is nothing special going on, or if we’re not in any unusual place where we’d want to try out a local eatery or food item. Our goal was to not have to eat out every single meal, every single day and we are doing a good job of keeping to that goal. We can even eat out of the camper at a rest stop on driving days, although we alternate between doing that and grabbing something to go, depending on what we have in stock in the camper. We also try very hard to utilize all our leftovers, whether we have cooked them ourselves or eaten out and taken something home. Our very first night’s meal back at Pohick Campground in Va., was leftovers that we’d taken right out of our fridge at home and taken with us so we’d be prepared that first night with something to eat.
20150720_201702This post contains some photos I’ve taken along the way, and a modified version of my usual “Two weeks of meals” post that I often do for you when we’re home. These meals were either cooked indoors or if we had outdoor cooking facilities, on a campfire.

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Dinners we’ve enjoyed:
Pulled pork sandwiches, with tomato/cucumber salad
Macaroni and Meatballs
Tacos and quesadillas
Hamburgers, hot dogs (see my previous post about our BBQ bacon, cheddar, turkey burgers) and Caesar Salad
Chicken breast with BBQ, bacon, tomato and cheddar with sautéed vegetables
Grilled cheese with soup
Chicken Parmesan and pasta

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20150712_095837Breakfasts we’ve enjoyed:
Eggs and bagels or English muffins (grilled or toasted)
Pancakes (plain, chocolate chip, banana)
French toast
Cereal, instant oatmeal, grits
Yogurt and fruit
Sides of ham, bacon, sausage

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Product Review: Cave tools three piece stainless steel BBQ tool set

20 Jul

20150707_171057Just as we were getting ready to leave for our cross-country adventure, I was given the opportunity to try out a fantastic new set of BBQ tools from Cave Tools. As soon as they arrived, we packed them up to go, knowing they’d be getting some great use while we were away.

The three piece grilling set was by far the nicest set of BBQ tools we’ve had. The set included a barbeque spatula, grilling tongs and a BBQ fork, and it was perfect for one of our campfire meals while we were in Louisiana.

20150707_171330We’d decided to make hamburgers and hot dogs, but our hamburgers were not going to be just any burgers. They were going to be delicious BBQ Turkey Bacon-Cheddar burgers. Our meal would allow us to use all three pieces of our new stainless steel set: the spatula for our burgers, the tongs for our bacon and the fork for our hot dogs.

20150707_171041Don got to work cooking on the campfire, and he was impressed by just how strong and sturdy the tools were. They’re known for being 20% stronger than your average set of tools. The spatula was nice and wide, so none of our meat slid off of it while he was cooking, and the tools all had super long handles so he didn’t get burned while he was cooking either.

“I liked how the tools were so sturdy, but I also liked how the spatula had a serrated edge on it. I especially liked that they were stainless steel,” Don told me later on.

20150707_171314These tools are now going to be essential to all our barbecues from here on in, and I’d definitely recommend them to anyone who loves grilling as much as we do. You can order them easily on Amazon by clicking on this link. The tools are guaranteed 100% and the set even comes with a great recipe book, filled with 25 recipes which will inspire you even more!

Our meal turned out to be a fabulous one, and I’m thankful we had the Cave Tools three piece stainless steel BBQ tool set along for the ride!

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#crosscountryadventure 2015: Into the west and through the Lone Star State

15 Jul

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I’m so excited to post the third article in my travel series which is being run in today’s Cranston Herald. You can read it here.

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