Pages and Presents: Game Changers

Do ya need a slightly cheesy gift to give a tennis-player in your life?

Who doesn’t?

If wrapping up a set of tennis balls is just too boring for you, grab a copy of Game Changers by Lesa Cline-Ransome let this picture book guide the rest of your gifts.

The picture book about Serena and Venus opens by discussing how the young girls had to sweep trash off their local tennis courts before getting a practice in. When my giftee reads this page, she will also spy the sticky note I’d placed there indicating that she can open present #1.

Which is a broom and dust pan set. Because who doesn’t need one of those.

A few pages later, when reading about how four-year-old Venus used to hit five hundred tennis balls at every practice, the lucky recipient of this gift gets to open present #2: some tennis balls (NOT five hundred because who has that much wrapping paper?)

The other two presents are a set of hair ties, to be opened after reading about how Venus and Serena would open bust out of their hairstyles, beads spilling across the court. (The person I gave this gift to definitely does not wear beads in her hair, although buying beads would be a more thematically appropriate gift).

The final present should be tickets to Wimbledon, but instead it is a picture frame in which the recipient of this prize-package can insert a photo of her own killer serve.

The gifts (especially the broom and the picture frame) are admittedly a little off-the-wall. There is a moderate chance that my tennis playing friend will simply be puzzled at the whole situation. On the other hand, perhaps she’ll get a special thrill when opening up a gift that connects with what she just read.

Plus, the book is simply gorgeous. The author’s husband is the illustrator, and he worked in collage for this text. The book itself is a celebration of powerful women, the suspense of sports, and the bond of sisterhood. I loved Jennifer Laughran’s podcast where she interviews the author, which you can listen to right here.

The Monroe Library and Eating Tacos

I can’t make fun of Monroe because I got mad when President Trump called Haiti a shithole country. Although I’m not the president, I figure I’d better not make fun of places while also being mad at presidents who make fun of places. Therefore, Monroe is NOT just one of the pass-through towns that people have to suffer through as they are stuck in traffic after a day skiing or hiking. It is NOT “The New Jersey of Highway 2” as the Seattle Times suggested. (Although I like New Jersey!)

So yay Monroe!! Also, my best friend lives there so I have to like it, even if she doesn’t.

But I’m not just being nice when I say that I love the Monroe Library. It’s the best part of Monroe. It backs up against a wooded area which the architects took full advantage of by covering the library’s backside with windows. The whole place has an open-floor-plan going, which looks really nice, but I’m not sure how practical it is because the non-library voices of children tend to reverberate throughout the whole place. My kids were pretty absorbed with the bins and piles of toys, so they weren’t too noisy.

The high school teacher in me also loves that the YA book sections is as far away from the children’s section as you can get and has a politely worded “no adults allowed” sign. Teenagers have so few spaces that are their own, and I love that the library is giving them one.

When my kids got bored (and therefore) loud, we checked out our pile of books and headed to the taco truck on the end of Main Street. Then I doubled back towards the library so they could run around at the park next to Skykomish River and I could eat my tacos.

Washington’s Mountains: Better than Colorado’s

At Denver’s Coors Field, when the Sunday afternoon singer belts out God Bless America, Rocky fans wait in anticipation for that “…From the Mountains…” line. As it’s sung they all let out a collective roar of approval, so sure that their mountains are the best ones the country has to offer.

Except you can’t even SEE the mountains from most seats at Coors Field. You have to get to the upper deck for this view: Coor's Field

And still, the sight is nothing compared to Mt. Rainier, the Olympics, or the Cascades. Because the best mountains aren’t found west of Denver, they are surrounding Seattle.

Maybe it’s just that leaving a place and then returning makes you appreciate things more, or maybe I’m just feeling snarky today, or maybe Washington just has better mountains.

They are green: When the snow melts off the Front Range, Denverites ski and hike through forests of brown sticks, waiting for those few months in the late spring when color comes back until everything dries out and burns in the summer. Meanwhile, back in the Evergreen State, things are verdant all year long. The only time trees don’t look green is when the sun sets and mountain crevices turn blue and purple.


Better camping: With less wildfire danger, campfires get a safety nod for most of the year in Washington. Campers in Colorado not only lack the legal ability to start a campfire, but finding a live tree to pitch a tree under is even getting difficult. The Mountain Pine Beetle is tunneling under the bark of trees all over Colorado, leaving behind a trail of arboreal death under which no tent is safe.  


Washingtonians are not so pretentious about their mountains: It is possible to talk to an outdoorsy hipster in Seattle without hearing about how their main goal in life is to climb all the fourteeners in the state.

Everyone is not on the same road on Friday afternoon:  If you are in Colorado and want to get out of town, you are probably on I-70, heading west. Sure, you could go up to Rocky Mountain National Park or down to Pike’s Peak, (or to Nebraska!?!), but Breckenridge, A-Basin, and a few of those fourteeners are off I-70. If you want to get out of town in Seattle, pick a road and drive on it. It will lead you to a mountain. Or at least somewhere cooler than Nebraska. There may still be traffic, but road construction on one highway doesn’t destroy all hope a weekend hike.

The roads are clear!

Visitors don’t need a day to acclimate before going on an adventure.  

Mountains look more dramatic: Mt. Rainer isn’t much taller than Pike’s Peak, and Mt. Baker is not nearly as high. But you can see these beauties from everywhere and they look way more dramatic. When standing a zero elevation, a mountain (especially a volcanic one) just looks better than when you are already standing at 5280 feet. Not only can you see stand-alone icons from almost anywhere in Western Washington, but you can see the panoramic shot of a whole ranges from the city as well. In Denver, the shorter mountains block the views of the giants, so you don’t even get that dramatic view of a snow capped mountain range until you’ve sat in I-70 traffic and gotten through the tunnel.

More outdoor options: Sure, Washingtonians like to hike, ski, climb, mountain bike, and trail run. But those aren’t the only options. If altitude isn’t your jam, there is still sea kayaking, water-skiing, crabbing, or sailing. Washington state hosts ice sculpting contests AND sand sculpting contests.  

(Note: Better skiing, gorgeous red rocks, more sunny days, drivers who can navigate snow, and a baseball team that has actually been to the World Series were deliberately not discussed. Shhh…)

Running on Family Vacations

I managed to sneak a few runs in last week while my husband, kids and I were visiting our extended family in Oklahoma. Because FAMILY > RUNNING, I was unwilling to sacrifice any family plans in favor of a run, but I still found a bit of time here and there. This was NOT the case last April when we had our wedding/honeymoon/family vacation in St. Lucia.

There are some definite drawbacks to running while on vacation with your family. Here are some perfect excuses to throw your training plan out the car window and take a nap in a hammock instead. In case you are feeling responsible, skip down toward the end.

Suitcase space is at a premium.

Only room for one set of stuff
Only room for one set of stuff

Nothing forces you to pack light like the knowledge that you’ll be toting children and their car seats through the airport along with your luggage. Southwest might allow two checked bags, but my arms strength doesn’t. When I was packing my one suitcase for St. Lucia, I decided that wedding favors, blue high heels and sequined white dress took precedence over bulky running shoes. So I made the executive decision that I would not be running, which was fine because of my next point:

It’s supposed to be a VACATION

A vacation from work, doing dishes, texting, and yes – running. Since St. Lucia was a very expensive vacation, I made up the rule that if you spend more than $300 a night on a hotel room you should not leave it unless you are doing something really, really fun like eating, drinking, making sandcastles, or saying “I do.” Soaking up every relaxing minute that I could wasn’t being lazy: it was being fiscally responsible.

St. James Morgan Bay

You won’t have a jogging stroller.

I typically try to assuage my I-should-be-parenting-instead-of-running guilt by throwing the kids in the jogging stroller and taking them along for the ride. This isn’t an option on vacation because if you can’t fit shoes in your luggage allotment, you surely can’t fit a jogging stroller. And pushing a double jogger through a busy airport does not seem like a good solution to this problem.


There will be family members around who are dying to babysit your kids.

Take advantage.

Grandpa time!

A shake-up of routine can be a good thing.

I never run in the mornings at home, but while we were visiting family, the best time of day was to get the run in during the morning before we headed out for the day’s activities. It turns out I love running the in morning! It was a quiet and cooler time of day, and I didn’t have to spend the rest of my day wondering when/if I could sneak a run in. Plus that satisfaction of completing a good workout stayed with me throughout the whole day. Maybe I’ll start running in the morning once I get back home too. Plus, running in a new location brings new challenges – whether it’s battling the heat in Oklahoma, the hills in Seattle, or the height in Denver.

New Mexican Food in Denver

The first time I was in a New Mexican restaurant in Baltimore. I warily looked at the menu and ordered the not-so-southwestern brie and apple cheeseburger. Much to the additional horror of my foodie-friend, I added a liberal amount of ketchup to my meal.

“You have got to get it together,” she said to me, shaking her head in a mixture of disgust and pity.

She was right. I was due to be in New Mexico for a press trip soon and this type of behavior would probably not acceptable. I’d better learn to eat chiles (green, red, and both) stat.

So I did. While in New Mexico I fell in love with Southwestern cuisine. I gobbled up green chile cheeseburgers, posole, lamb stew with cilantro, and Navajo tacos with the best of them.

Then I had to leave. I had to spend two months in Seattle and Las Vegas, pining for frito pies and those cheeseburgers. Luckily I’m in Colorado now, and cuisine from the state next door is readily available at several places around Denver.

Julia Blackbird’s New Mexican Restaurant

There is something different about people who love New Mexico: Their speech is peppered with words like “Earth and Spirit, global connections, beautiful soul” and especially the word “spiritual.” The earthy/new-age feel can be felt as soon as you get five feet off any interstate in New Mexico or as soon as you enter Julia’s restaurant in Denver’s West Highlands. Although the exposed ceilings of her restaurant fit in with Denver style, the rest of the place is all New Mexico. Mexican, Southwestern and Native art decorate the walls (which are painted to look adobe). On the menu is a note from Julia that closes by stating “…feasting and exchange of food reflect the depth of common ideals of reciprocity, community, and the relationship to all life…” It wasn’t just the language and decor that was New Mexico, the food was too. 

For dinner I had Taos style tacos: beef, lettuce, pico and queso on blue fried corn tacos. Delicious. Although the taco shells were just a tad on the soft side.  The Ancho Chili BBQ ribs, chicken cordon green and pecan stuffed acorn squash all sound interesting too, so I’ll have to go back. For desert I probably should have had the pastel de chocolate Diablo, but I went with the not-so-southwestern key lime pie instead.

Julia Blackbirds is open weekdays for lunch from 11 – 2. Dinner hours on Tuesday – Thursday are 5-9, Fridays they are open until 10. Dinner is not served Monday. The restaurant is open from 11-10 on Saturdays and noon – 2 on Sundays.


This is one of those “if you eat this million calorie gross thing, your picture goes on the wall” kind of places. Don’t come here if you are on a diet. I got one of their more modest burgers (aka it only had one patty) and could only finish half of it. And I can eat a lot. The vibe here is very “family roadhouse.” All the burgers and meals are named after the owners kid and grandkids. Apparently the family came from Albuquerque, started selling burgers, and the rest is history. Although the place doesn’t look particularly New Mexican (no adobe anywhere), the menu has the requisite sopapillas, posole, and green chile menu items.

I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t really like Jack N Grill. They’ve won tons of local and national awards, so go ahead and give them a whirl, but I wasn’t feeling it. I had a Jaxx burger, complete with onions, guacamole, bacon, cheese and green chiles. For some terrible reason, the bacon was infused with maple syrup, making the whole burger taste faintly of a pancake breakfast. The bun was a little weird too, too soft and sweet for me, although maybe I’m still reacting to the bacon.

My house

I made my first posole the other day, which was a little intimidating because my roommate is one kick-ass soup chef. I’m more of a baker, but armed with hominy corn and a recipe from, I was ready to go.

Even though the recipe was definitely on the “easy” side, I think I used like ten pots and pans to make this. I also splattered everything within a ten foot radius of the stove when I was frying up the lamb. The posole turned out great though. I mostly stuck to the recipe, but I did add half an onion to the recipe, and garnished with radishes. I also made cute little cornbread muffins to go with the posole (see above). Good stuff.

I still haven’t found a good place for Navajo tacos (open faced tacos on fry bread), but now whenever I need posole, green chile cheeseburgers, or a chance to ‘feast while reflecting on the common ideals of humanity,’ I don’t have to go all the way down to New Mexico.

Corner to Corner Ice Skating

After venturing from Seattle, to Key West, to New England, my friend Denise and I decided that we might as well go to San Diego so we could hit all corners of the lower 48 this autumn. Granted, we did not make it up to Maine, but Boston is pretty close, right?

Denise and I had several “themes” on this road trip. We had to eat a lot of desserts, we had to tour old baseball stadiums, we had to run a race every weekend, and we had to ice skate outside. Having grown up in the Kristi Yamaguchi era, we ice skated a lot as kids. We were obsessed over the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle during those Lillehammer Olympics, and we routinely thought that WE were going to be famous ice skaters.

We’re not.

As it turns out, holiday outdoor ice skating around the US is a little harder than you would think. Lots of rinks weren’t open in early November and prices were ridiculous. We missed the rink in Syracuse, (I know! Syracuse! Isn’t it always winter there?), the Frog Pond in the Boston Commons, and the rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park. According to Denise who skated in Chicago last year, the Millennium Park rink was the biggest and most fun due to its location within the city. But we did make it to a couple places.

Rockefeller Center

I seriously think we would have stayed in Manhattan until this rink opened up. This was a must for us. Yes, there was also skating in Central Park, but we’d dreamed of Rockefeller skating since we were, like, five. Luckily for our itinerary, the rink at Rockefeller Center opened in mid-October.    

It didn’t disappoint. We got to the touristy place at five, but waited until the zamboni machine had done its job so we could have clean ice. Our wait turned out to be entertaining as the crowd got to witness one man’s proposal to his girlfriend turned fianceé. Our semi-single selves restrained from gagging, but really? It was cute. Once the couple finished their obligatory public make-out session we were allowed on the ice, and it stayed smooth for about an hour.

The rink was on the small and crowded side, but it was possible to glide in and out of people with relative ease. There were the usual host of characters at the rink: the little girl in the tutu who was attempting double axels in the middle of the rink, the overgrown hockey player who was purposefully dodging in and out of crowds, and the groups of pre-teens were clumped against the railing, giggling instead of skating. We couldn’t make fun of them because that was us some years ago. This was New York, so there were some more eccentric skaters out enjoying the ice as well. I especially liked the Michael Jackson look alike (post surgery) who was clearly skating to his own tunes.

To skate at Rockefeller, be ready to shell out some cash. Skate rentals are $10 and admission to the ice was $21 for adults. Rink hours are generally Monday thru Thursday 9am – 10:30pm, Friday thru Saturday 8:30am – midnight, and Sunday from 8:30am until 10pm. Rockefeller Center is on 5th Ave between 49th and 50th. Give the rink a call at 212-332-7654, as hours change weekly. The rink often closes due to private rentals, so really: call that number and double check.

Skating by the Sea: The rink at Hotel Del Coronado

Denise and I were home for less than a month before we went stir crazy in Seattle and decided to head to San Diego. Thus we found ourselves in the adjacent corner of the US, at an ice rink by the sea. Hotel Del Coronado set up its rink between their red turrets and the Pacific Ocean on November 23rd and the ice will remain there until January 8th. We had hoped that it would be cheaper than Rockefeller, which it kind of was. Evening skating for adults is $25, which includes admission and skate rental. “Matinee” skating is $20. There was no discount if you have your own skates, but it would have been very easy to sneak onto the rink. Each skater is given a wristband, but nobody appeared to be monitoring that situation very well.

The rink was smaller, more crowded, the ice wasn’t as clear, and it was generally not as cool as Rockefeller. Yeah, the sea breeze and lighted palm trees were cool, but you kind of forgot about the ocean being next to you.  

As for the other two corners of the US, I definitely won’t be back in Miami anytime this winter, and Denise and I were there during bikini season, so I’m not sure about ice rinks in Florida. As for Seattle, we like the outdoor rink in Bellevue Park, but for a WAY better list of outdoor rinks in the west, check out this Sunset Magazine article, which features an impressive list of ten cool places to skate in the West.

How to Become Homeless

Well, I’m not homeless quite yet. I have my apartment for two more days. But I’m sleeping on the floor and don’t have an internet connection anymore. This was okay until my computer battery died outside of a Starbucks just as the Mariners were about to pull ahead of the Orioles in the 8th inning. But I digress.


 In addition to having a laptop with a strong battery, here are a few tips:

  1.  If you’re renting, check the daily rate on your apartment. My lease is up June 2nd and I need to stay in town until June 10th. If I stay in my (very cheap) apartment it will be almost $40 a day. Luckily I live in Las Vegas, land of inexpensive hotel rooms. Therefore, it’s more cost effective to move out of my place when my lease is up and live on the strip for a week. A few notes on that…
    • There are several hotels with rates under $20 a night. Most I would not stay in, particularly Gold Spike (where you can barely see your hand if you put it in front of your face, with all the smoke haze) and Circus, Circus. I love children, but once kids enter Circus, Circus they become spawns of Satan. Bear in mind that I teach middle school in what politically correct people call an “urban area.” If I think Circus, Circus patrons are bad, they must be REALLY bad. 
    • Your best bet is Hooters. I know it sounds trashy, but Hooters Hotel and Casino is actually pretty nice. It’s just a bit off the strip, behind Tropicana and MGM. The pool is MTV worthy (although shady in the afternoon) and rooms are big and clean.
    • Las Vegas hotels are only cheap on weekdays. Friday and Saturday nights the prices skyrocket faster then adjustable rate mortgages. Time for homeless tip number 2
  2. Have a lot of really good friends. Preferably ones with extra bedrooms and mad cooking skills. It’s also nice to have friends and family spread evenly throughout the United States (and world, if you’re really lucky) so you always have a place to stay.
  3. Avoid storage units. The people who manage storage units are really, really rich. They don’t need any more of your money. Follow my four pronged approach to avoid storage units.
    • Don’t have very much stuff. Especially furniture. All of my furniture was borrowed, so I simply gave it back. I know furniture is very expensive to buy and replace, but storage units are expensive also, and they have a sneaky way of staying in your monthly bills for much longer than you might have anticipated. There’s nothing worse then paying storage fees that end up being more expensive then the goods actually being stored. If you have a wandering spirit…don’t buy nice furniture. 
    • Plan ahead. Start selling and maneuvering your stuff very early. I drove a car load of stuff to my parents house (parents house = very cheap storage unit) a few months ago and if I had anything to sell, I assume I would have sold that as well.
    • Store things with friends and family. This goes back to homeless tip #2. I have my personal goods doled out at four different friends’ houses and one friends’ classroom. I swear guys – I’ll pick it all up this fall.
    • Give stuff away. Of course Goodwill always takes clothes, but I like donating to local places. They are usually more in need. When I called up Compassion Corner to see if they wanted clothes and the few cans of food I had left, the lady on the phone told me a family of five had just been in and all they had to give her was a load of bread. They VERY GRATEFULLY accept food, clothes and household items. If any of my Las Vegas readers are interested in donating, they are at 1240 W Owens, Las Vegas, NV 890106. 702-463-8772. Hours are 9-3, but they will wait for you if you call ahead and tell them you will be dropping off stuff.
  4. And finally, becoming homeless tip #4: Go to Asia for awhile. Things are cheaper there, especially if you can sing for your supper or teach for your travels.