Wordless Wednesday: Saguaros 

On vacation in Tucson, AZ. 

I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

-Joshua

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Thanksgiving Vacation: Part Four – Sedona

I know that it is almost Christmas, but I thought I had better finish our Thanksgiving series anyway. Our last stop on our vacation was Sedona. I had been wanting to visit this town for a while and was glad we finally did! We didn’t get to visit both the parks we wanted but I know my kids had a great time.

I had read a lot about Cathedral Rock at Red Rock Crossing and wanted a certain picture of the rock formation with Oak Creek in the foreground. Unfortunately, we ended up walking the wrong way and I never got my picture! At first, I thought we might have wasted $14 getting into the park but my kids had such a good time that I thought it was worth the $14!

 

It took us about 3 hours to walk a mile and a half. There were so many things to see and we also were just a little bit lost. The park ranger at the gate gave us a map, but it was not very clear how we were supposed to get to Oak Creek/Red Rock Crossing. We stopped at Buddha Beach and disturbed the peace there quite a bit. There is just something about a pool of water that inspires boys to throw rocks into it. After eating lunch at the swimming hole (making sure to pack out what we pack in!), we headed back down the trail.

We found our way back to our car and took a few pictures of Cathedral Rock in the distance. I also played tour guide a little as a few fellow tourists asked me about what was in the park and the walking trails.

We had some worn out kids by the time we made it back to Flagstaff. We stopped at a natural water source on our way back. I’m not sure if it was an artesian well or if was water from Oak Creek. I do know that it tasted cold and delicious!

Since we were only able to visit Red Rock Crossing/ Crescent Moon Picnic Area on this trip, we are hoping to come back and hike in Red Rock State Park another time. Maybe when our kids are older and can handle a longer hike.

Thanksgiving Vacation Part 3: Petrified Forest National Park (image heavy)

Our second tourist stop at Thanksgiving was the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.  It was about a 1.5 hour drive from Flagstaff, AZ.  The weather decided to cooperate with us and was warmer than our trip to the Grand Canyon with no snow.

On our way we were looking for a place to stop and buy rocks.  Our boys all like to collect rocks, but in particular our second oldest loves rocks.  We wanted to make sure we got some sort of petrified wood for them to bring home with them.  A few miles away from the park we found Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company.  The store was amazing; I think we spent over an hour there and could have easily been there much longer.  There is a large amount of petrified wood and rocks of every kind.  The prices range from a few cents to ten of thousands of dollars, so everybody can find something they can get.  We were even able to find some Navajo-made pottery to bring back as gifts.

We entered the national park from the south and drove on a 27 mile road north through the park.  There are not many large plants growing in the area now.   There are large hills and cliffs that are laid down in beautifully- colored layers.  Of course there are also the petrified trees.  They are laying all over the grounds like fallen logs.  There are places with hills that have petrified trees sticking out of them and hills that are receding that have the petrified wood left on top.  The petrified trees break into chunks that look like lumberjacks have been through sawing all the logs into pieces.  Those pieces have so many colors.  They are hard to describe so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

There are many other things to see in the national park.  There is Newspaper rock with some petroglyphs on it.  They are hard to see so there are binoculars provided, however, we were there at a bad time of day and the shadows prevented us from seeing much.  There is also Puerco Pueblo, a collection of Indian ruins that are about 700-1000 years old.  There are Petroglyphs there that are much easier to see.  For me the feet were the most interesting, I could imagine somebody sitting on a rock with his feet against the big rock as his friend turned his feet into art that would be enjoyed for hundreds of years.

Near the north end of the park is a tiny segment of Route 66.  Route 66 was one of the original major roads going across the country.  There used to be many towns and attractions along the road hoping to tempt travelers into spending their money.  Each attraction tried to be wackier then the others.  All that is left of this part of Route 66 is a rusted out 1932 Studebaker and part of a line of telephone poles.

Just before exiting the park is the Painted Desert Inn.  It hearkens back to the old days of Route 66 also.  It was built long before people started to drive through here, but was in use for quite some time.  Many famous people, like Bing Crosby, stayed at the Inn in the heyday of Route 66.  The views of the Painted Desert are beautiful, and really something you have to see in person.  The size and color of the area are very hard to capture with a camera.

 

There are probably more impressive National Parks, but the Petrified Forest is a good one to see if you are in the area.  The colors in the rocks and the stark empty beauty will appeal to many people.  This is a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to with more time so I could hike some of the back trails.

-Joshua

Thanksgiving Vacation Part 2: Grand Canyon/Sunset Crater

The day after Thanksgiving we decided to go see the Grand Canyon.  Flagstaff, AZ is a little over an hour from the Canyon.  My wife, brother-in-law and all of the kids had never seen the Canyon.  Those of us that had seen it played up the awe inspiring beauty that everybody would get to see.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate.  The day was cold and snowy.  There wasn’t a lot of snow, it was mostly flurries of tiny flakes.  For people from San Diego though, even a tiny bit of snow is a giant storm.

We were unable to see much of the canyon.  In fact, most of the time there was clouds or snow obscuring the far side.  All this means is some day we will have to go back to see it better.  When I was 16 I hiked the canyon with my dad and uncle and I hope to bring my boys with me to hike it in the future.

 

On the way back to Flagstaff we made a quick stop at the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.  It is an extinct volcano that left a large amount of lava rock on the ground.  There is a hiking trail through a lava flow.  Due to the lateness of the day and the cold we basically only drove through and took a quick look.

 

-Joshua

Arizona Thanksgiving Vacation: Part 1

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving this past week! I have not posted anything in the past week because we have been on vacation in Arizona! We got back on Wednesday.

We haven’t been on a week-long vacation like that in about 3 years, so we tried to cram as much as we could into it. My mother-in-law rented a house for all of us – all of us being Josh, our 5 kids, me, Josh’s sister, her husband, their 4 kids, my MIL, and my FIL – to stay in in the Flagstaff area until Sunday. It was a gorgeous house with enough space for everybody. When we were at the house and not out and about, we never saw the kids. They were downstairs playing in the game room.

I was not able to get any pics of the house we stayed in from the outside but here is the link to the rental listing on VRBO.

5 bedroom vacation rental in Flagstaff

Our 3 oldest boys went with my MIL and FIL and 2 of their cousins early last week to the vacation rental. Josh and I followed with our 2  youngest on Wednesday.  My sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and their twins were about 4 hours behind us on Wednesday.

Our 2 youngest were so good on the long trip – about 7 hours. We left Southern California around noon and arrived in Flagstaff around 8 PM Arizona time. I didn’t get many good pictures during the drive there. Also, I didn’t realize how dirty our windows are!

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Sunset during our drive through the Arizona desert

The first thing we noticed when we got there was how COLD it was! It was probably 20 degrees outside! Fortunately, the house had a heater that worked great. I know I am a big wimp when it comes to the cold. I’m too much of a California girl.

For Thanksgiving breakfast/brunch the next morning, we had a Star Wars breakfast. The Yoda pancakes turned out looking more like puppies! There were also Chewbacca hashbrowns but I wasn’t able to get pictures of those. There isn’t much opportunity for pictures when feeding 9 children!

I also got zero pictures of Thanksgiving dinner, but it tasted great. We had our Thanksgiving dinner around 5, which actually made for a really relaxing time for my MIL, my SIL, and me. We weren’t rushing to get the food done by noon.

I was able to make my SIL’s incredible chocolate truffle pie.  Here is a link to the recipe she uses: Rich Chocolate Truffle Pie


Our sightseeing adventures would take up too much of this post so I will write about those separately. We also visited a few restaurants so I will probably post about those as well.

The day after we got home I was planning on staying out of the kitchen and not baking. After all, we had just spent a week on vacation and most of it we had spent eating too much food. But of course, I couldn’t stay out of the kitchen. So I ended up making lemon-cardamom cream cheese muffins.

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The original recipe is from Your Homebased Mom. I changed it quite a bit though so I’m going to go ahead and rewrite it for this post.

To me, cardamom is a strong spice, so I only used 1/4 teaspoon of it in the batter.

Lemon-Cardamom Cream Cheese Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
  • Print

Ingredients:

Batter:

  • 3 Cups flour
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2/3 Cup milk
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 Cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 Cup sugar

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 Cup butter, softened

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Line muffin tins with cupcake liners.

Combine 1 cup of sugar and the zest of the lemon in a large bowl. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers. Mix in the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.

In a medium bowl, stir together the milk, oil, eggs, and the juice of half a lemon. Stir the milk and egg mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened.

Using a mixer, beat together the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until creamy. Gently mix half of the cream cheese mixture into the muffin batter.

Fill the muffin tins 1/2 to 2/3 full with the muffin batter. Spoon the remaining cream cheese mixture onto the muffins and press the mixture into each muffin with the back of a spoon.

For the streusel topping, combine the flour and sugar together. Cut the 1/4 cup butter into the flour mixture. Sprinkle the topping over each muffin.

Bake 24 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

A few notes:

Yes, it’s yet another lemon recipe!

These muffins baked up quite high for me. In fact, I ended up filling my muffin tins very close to the top, which is why they baked up so high. My kids loved the muffin tops though so this worked out well. Next time, I will use two muffin tins and see how that works with the rise.

My cream cheese filling ended up staying on top of the muffin instead of falling into the middle. I’m not sure why but I know my kids did not mind this. I think this might be part of the reason that they liked the tops of these muffins best.

 

I did reduce the sugar in the cream cheese filling and the streusel. I probably could have reduced it even more but I did want my kids to eat them. I might try to use a stevia/sugar blend in the batter next time I make these.

I added a splash of vanilla extract during the wet mixture process. Probably about a 1/2 teaspoon. Since I did not measure it, I didn’t want to add it to the recipe.