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6 Aug

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 1

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip

Between quarantine stress and boy-energy excess, June had me ready to drive off a cliff, Thelma-and-Louise style. Instead, my ever-patient hubby suggested we drive off into the sunset instead  – vacation-style! And that’s how our Unforgettable RV Road Trip began …

 

Yes, I said RV. As in, a 30-foot home on wheels, totally tricked out with every convenience, including a fridge for all my vegan food, to make a road trip seem more like a pleasure cruise. Not that I wouldn’t have been happy with a VW Vanagon at this point – the idea of climbing into a ‘Rona-infected fuselage was giving me the heebie-jeebies. So I did what any logical jetsetter would do. I contacted Quest RV and rented a sweet Mercedes Citation 24 ft Class C single slide for our most excellent multi-state road trip adventure (not pictured… just you wait).

RV Adventure

This wasn’t our first rodeo renting from Quest, and it won’t be our last. But it certainly wasn’t the easiest. In fact, it just might have been the hardest start to a vacation we’ve ever had. Before I lay out the deets of our epic state-by-state adventure, let me tell you about the series of unfortunate events that hit us like falling rocks before we even backed out the driveway.

It all started out fine-seeming. As per usual, I overpacked. I clearly forgot that loading up an RV is kinda like moving into a house. It certainly wasn’t as quick and easy as putting some luggage and a cooler into the trunk of a car. Nevertheless, we finally pulled out of our driveway around 2 p.m., a mere five hours later than our planned 9AM departure. With a 5-hour drive ahead of us, that would put us in Hot Springs, Arkansas just in time for dinner … in a perfect world.

MELTDOWNS AND ROADBLOCKS 

We hadn’t even made it past our zipcode when the trouble began. It started when the AC suddenly crapped out. Jason pulled over to take a look at the generator. It wouldn’t turn back on for him, so he decided to check the oil, and that’s when he noticed that it was low. He filled the oil tank up with the remaining amount from a container sitting next to the unit.

 

After he got back in the RV and turned on the generator, we heard loud noises, and our youngest son saw plumes of white smoke billowing from the back of the vehicle. I seriously thought we were going to blow up, but Jason assured us that, no, it was just the oil burning off the generator’s exhaust. Only it wasn’t. When he called to check in with Quest, the mechanic gave us the bad news. The generator was completely shot and needed to be rebuilt.

 

Feeling defeated, we limped back to our driveway to figure out what the next step would be to get out of town. At this point, Jason wanted to cancel the whole trip, and I felt like I needed a drink. Fortunately, Quest RV just so happened to have ONE extra unrented RV.

 

After convincing Jason that the show must go on, we were just about to pull out of our driveway, this time for the RV trade-out, when another disaster struck. Right before our eyes, a city construction worker driving an 18-wheeler flatbed carrying heavy machinery HIT OUR PROPERTY WALL and kept on driving. I have never jumped out of an RV so fast to chase another giant vehicle down the street on foot. I screamed and yelled and flailed my arms … with no luck. And then they were gone.

After telling our awesome neighbors about what had just happened, they were able to track down the city construction supervisor at – where else – the nearby 7-11. I guess nothing caps off a day of property damage quite like a taquito. The supervisor agreed to come and assess the damage and, sure enough, he kept his word. After we exchanged info, the Smith family was final ready to roll. It was now 4 p.m., and I couldn’t believe we were still in our freaking driveway. I also couldn’t believe that Jason didn’t throw his hands in the air and yell UNCLE! Thankfully he didn’t, so we finally left Fort Worth and started driving to trade out our RV.

It was about 6:30PM by the time we switched out our rides and coasted out of the Quest RV parking lot to officially … finally … start driving to Hot Springs. I checked MAPS and ETA was now 10:30 p.m. if we didn’t pass go or collect $200. OK, more like 11 because at that point, the boys, who had been so patient all day began demanding that we feed them. So, after a quick trip to Micky D’s, we were officially … finally … REALLY on the road. We just didn’t realize what we were driving into …

THUNDER ROAD 

As we drove further and further east, we started to see lightning in the distance. No biggie, right? Wrong. Watching the radar, I could see in real time as the digital storm blotches kept getting bigger and bigger until they swallowed the entire screen. Just before midnight – and only one short hour away from our destination –we drove straight into our own personal version of the movie Twister. Rain was now coming down in sheets and jagged lines of lightening crackled all around us. Jason wisely decided to get the heck off the highway. We pulled into a gas station in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and parked our RV next to a cinder block shed in the back lot of a gas station, the safest option available at the time. There was nothing else to do but hunker down and wait it out.

The straight-line winds blew our massive RV around like it was a see-saw. My heart was racing. It was loud. And then a transformer near us blew. The whole area lit up with a blinding flash of light. You could see all of the power lines bouncing around and whipping up and down over us, and then it was pitch black. Not a glimmer of light all around us except for the eerie illumination of lightning. Finally, the storm passed by us, and we were, yet again, on our way. I felt like I was holding the Bingo Card of Doom and I had just checked the box for “Biblical-Level Storm” – along with Pandemic, Car Trouble, and Home Disaster.

OK, so the good news was, we finally arrived at our destination in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas. The bad news was … literally everything after that. The hotel couldn’t accommodate parking for our RV, so we had to park at the Visitors Bureau five blocks away. No problem, I thought – we’ll just take an Uber! Nope. I guess Uber drivers in Arkansas need their beauty sleep, because there isn’t a car service to be found after midnight. I hope at least someone was awake at that hour, because they would have gotten a good laugh watching our exhausted family of four schlepping all our luggage down the deserted streets in the dead of night. 

 

It’s always wonderful when everyone in the family can agree on something. And we all agreed that this was by far THE WORST TRAVEL DAY we have experienced. Thankfully, this was literally the darkness before the dawn. The next morning, the sun rose, our moods improved and we truly embarked on what was to be an UNFORGETTABLE RV ROAD TRIP that took us to Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and back home to Texas. Stay tuned for Part 2!

30 Mar

Life Lately: Sheltering in Our Place

Famous country music star Pat Green described our life lately so well when he posted this quote on social media, “Self-isolation is like Vegas in my house. We’re losing money by the minute, cocktails are acceptable at any hour, and nobody knows what time it is.”

HI! Happy Monday!!!

The days have blurred together since we flew out of town for our Spring Break ski trip to Deer Valley, Utah on Saturday, March 7th. And oh what a memorable Spring Break that was in the history of family vacations. Who knew a global virus would take over the world right at that moment?!? 

I’m not going to lie, these last two weeks of life have been quite the adjustment in finding our comfort zone with our “new norm.” I know it’s probably been the same with you, too. We are all in the same rough waters (or tsunami), just some of the boats look different than others. 

My heart hurts so much for the people who are suffering and have lost their income and their ability to make ends meet or even be able to buy food for their family. This is definitely one of the most difficult parts of this viral crisis. I hurt seeing our city’s economy in its current condition. So many of our friends have had to completely change their business models and some have taken a total loss temporarily, or in many cases, permanently. 

Most of my days are filled with laughter and humorous friends texting me various memes of a very well-end… (well if you know what I mean you just giggled and if you don’t, send me a DM), but some days have wiped me off the planet. As the mom and only female in the family, I have become everyone’s housekeeper, chef and personal bitch. I have truly never cooked so much food in my entire life, only to feed it to 3 bottomless pits for stomachs. Thank goodness Jason took over being teacher for our new world of homeschooling, otherwise the principal side of me would bring on the corporal punishments (and considering both my boys are taller than me, that would be interesting to figure out).

Dealing with my anxiety and clinically diagnosed OCD has been the hardest part of this entire COVID-19 crisis, and that first week back from Spring Break was by far the lowest for me emotionally. I had a massive panic attack and had to take medicine (which I NEVER DO) to bring my heart rate down and gain control of my spiraling. 

FUN TIMES WE ARE HAVING AT THE SMITH HOME. 

Fast forward 18 days since we’ve been home from spring break, and life lately is feeling so much better (from where it had been). Here are the things I did to help get my head back in the game:

Top 13 activities that helped improve my mental health game

1. BUY PRE-MADE MEALS

My intentions of cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner like Martha Stewart ended after three days of feeding bottomless pits who were always hungry. I set out to buy all the frozen food I could find so this mama wouldn’t be a bitch in the kitch! 

2. LIMIT NEWS AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Between FOX & CNN ruining my spring break, and finally having a meltdown along with the stock market, Dad Dunaway had a “Come to Jesus” with me over the phone and told me to get a grip. Everyone is in the same boat on the spectrum. His advice: Stop watching the news. Stop reading articles on Facebook. And stop drinking.

Also, he recommended reading THIS article on why long-term investors should never sell stocks in a panic. It really helped calm my anxiety.

3. HAPPY HOUR WITH YOUR GIRLFRIENDS

Speaking of drinking. Sorry dad, I know I told you I wasn’t, but I am…with my girlfriends on House Party, Zoom and Facetime. GNO, I mean Girl Day QuarWINEtine starts about when carpool would normally roll. (A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.) 

4. JAMMING OUT TO MUSIC PLAYLISTS

We tell Alexa to play a genre of different types of music, including Christmas Classics Radio, Beastie Boys, Counting Crows and The Police, just to name a few. Having this escape lets us do just that, escape. Besides, music soothes the soul.  

5. ORGANIZE & DECLUTTER

There are benefits to having OCD, and since it’s on fire right now, The Organized Nest might want to hire me when everyone comes out of hiding. My pantry hasn’t look this good since before I had children. My closet is next! The Purge has begun, but now’s the time to get it gone! (Follow me HERE for a future announcement on when and where I will sell my designer duds.)

6. COOKING SPECIAL RECIPES IN THE KITCHEN

Ok I know I am contradicting #1, but when you are cooking for the joy of cooking and not because your family is going to starve to death, there is something therapeutic and joyful that comes from this activity. Stay tuned to my blog, cause I’ve added a new recipe plug-in and I plan on sharing family favorites and legendary recipes from both of my grandmothers, Sally Dunaway and Nancy Winn.

7. GROW BABY – GROW A GARDEN

Yup! I busted out THESE old grow boxes that we purchased over a decade ago and I’m starting a garden. I ordered organic plantings from HERE, which will be delivered the first week of April! Let’s hope I don’t kill my future fresh groceries (before they sprout). 

8. EMPOWER YOUR CHILDREN TO HELP

Many of you who have housekeepers or use a cleaning service had to let them go or put them on paid #Coronacation. More than ever, I completely understand the saying, “It Takes a Village.” Between the grocery errands, cooking, cleaning and laundry, I was turning into everyone’s personal Sherpa! We now have a full chore schedule and everyone does their part to make our world run a bit more smoother. 

9. GET IN SHAPE GIRL, YOU KNOW THE FEELING

We’re all doing a lot more from home than we used to, including eating around the clock. Now more than ever though we don’t have an excuse to get moving. Whether it’s a family walk, a private walk, a walk with the dog, or a ride on your Peloton – we all need to be moving. And it’s helped me not just for hoping to still wear my wardrobe when we’re let out of house arrest, but also for the mind-body connection. 

10. CALGON, TAKE ME AWAY

If you know me, then you know I’m a professional bath taker. I mean, I LOVES me some bath time. It’s my meditation when my body can completely relax in a buoyancy of bubbles. It’s that relaxing time just for me that keeps me sane, especially when I’m doing my bathtub beauty routine. (Make sure you’re taking time alone with all this new togetherness.)

11. FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT EVERY NIGHT

With everyone on a device for school, work, connecting with family and friends, you’d think the last thing I’d suggest is watch TV. But making this something to look forward to is what’s keeping us in check, and that we’re a family that just need to spend time laughing together. We make popcorn, change into a fresh set of PJ’s for the night and enjoy these precious moments. Also, we just ordered some amazing puzzles on Amazon and have busted out the old fashion board games and deck of cards! 

12. STOP AND SMELL THE ROSE

I have to be honest, that first week post Spring Break had me down in the dumps. And whenever I’m down, fresh flowers always lift my spirits. Doctor’s orders! Without hesitation, I picked up the phone and ordered 2 arrangements (one for my mom) from Cityview Florist & Gifts to brighten my day. Their generosity never ceases to amaze me. When they were forced to shut down last week on Monday night at 11:59 PM, they decided to deliver over 70 floral bouquets to clients, friends and family. But great news, as of this weekend, they got a city ordinance in place and can now do “no contact” deliveries.  

13. THE POWER OF PRAYER

Last but definitely not the least. Leaning into the Lord now, more than ever, is the most important thing you can do for your mental health. There is nothing more powerful than the power of prayer. You can hand over all of your fears to Him and TRUST that His plan is perfect. If you are looking for a wonderful church home, I’ve attended Christ Chapel Bible Church since I was in elementary school in the early 80’s. They have multiple wonderful services streaming LIVE all week, plus their Sunday service. 

Remember that we are all in this together. Stay safe and be healthy, and STAY HOME if you can. And a BIG thank you to everyone in the medical field and to all the people in the service industry helping our crippled city keep moving forward.  Godspeed! 🙂

15 Jan

How to Throw a Stellar Lunar New Year Party

lunar new year

Are you getting ready for a New Year’s celebration?

I know what you’re thinking — your girl here has finally lost it. All that vegan food is affecting her brain! Her hair extensions are clearly too tight! Nope! I’m talking about the LUNAR NEW YEAR! It’s a thing, people.

Actually, you have probably heard this referred to as “Chinese New Year”, both are similar to one another and have become interchangeable over the years.  The Lunar New Year is the celebration of the start of a new year in a lunar calendar in most Asian countries.  Because it’s tied to the moon, it falls on a different date each year. In 2020, the Lunar New Year begins on January 25. So post up, people, and get ready for what the Chinese zodiac has deemed the Year of the Rat.

China is known for its epic New Years celebrations. Also called the Spring Festival, it’s the country’s most important holiday, and the parties last for 15 days. Here in Fort Worth, my mother is also known for her epic celebrations, so last year, she decided to throw the most amazing Chinese New Year celebration ever seen in the Fort.

 

With the big lunar date looming, I thought it was the perfect time to share with you how Carol & Jim ushered in last year’s Year of the Pig for their supper club.

lunar new year group

I’ve posted party pics and tips below — I hope they inspire you to host your own Lunar New Year celebration and that you gain new insight into the cultural significance surrounding this magical and meaningful occasion. As they say in China, “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, wishing you great happiness and prosperity. And as I say in Fort Worth, “Pass the Champagne!” It’s gonna be our best year yet!

Jaw-dropping Décor

Chinese New Year is all about red. Red, red, red and more red. As long as it’s red, you’ve got a party. Of course, my mother is known for next-level entertaining (example), so she incorporated every single popular element into her décor scheme, including Chinese lanterns (to drive away bad luck), cut paper decorations (symbolizing luck and happiness) and “fu” characters hung upside-down (to ensure prosperity). “Fu”, which means good fortune, was inspired by a jar, so when it’s upside-down, it’s like good fortune is pouring down on your family. I say, bring it on!

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My mother certainly knows how to do “extra” when it comes to tablescaping. Her motto has alwasy been “more the merrier”! So when it came to designing the perfect tabletop for this event, she scoured the entire metroplex and Amazon for everything she needed.

lunar new year banister
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lunar new year tablescape
lunar new year chandelier
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Exciting Extras

Red Envelopes, called hong boas, are also a Chinese New Year standard. Elders put money into these adorable little packets and give them to kids to pass on hope for a year of good fortune and blessings. My mom totally slip her friends envelopes of cash, but she also incorporated the hong boas into her festive party favors for guests to take home. Are these chocolate dipped fortune cookies not presh?

lunar new year red envelope
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Are these precious cookies from Cookies Plz not adorable? Each guest got to take a pair home when they were leaving the party.

Lion Dance is a traditional dance among China and other Asian countries, that’s performed during New Year celebrations to bring good fortune and to ward off evil spirits. Did my mother’s party have a lion dance? You bet!

lunar new year lion dancers
lunar new year dragons

Fireworks and New Years are the perfect pairing across the globe, so my mother made them a part of her party, too. In China, it’s customary to set them off at midnight on New Year’s Day to scare off monsters and bad luck, and the person who launches the first firework of the New Year will experience good luck. Except this geriatric group couldn’t wait till midnight to do fireworks, so the minute the sun set, the sparks started flying. A special thanks to TNT Fireworks Supercenter for helping us almost blowup the hood!

lunar new year fireworks

Finding the Food

Food is the heart of Chinese New Year celebrations, especially what’s known as the “Reunion Dinner”, a big family dinner typically held on New Year’s Eve. My parents have been dining with their supper club since I was seven years old, so I think that pretty much makes them family.

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Of course, any successful dinner party relies on both company and quality. My mother knew that she needed to bring on the absolute best caterer to make her party unforgettable, and for us, that meant asking the dynamic duo of Mary and Jarry Ho to share their Chinese culture with us.

Our family is straitjacket crazy for this couple, who are known for their catering as well as for owning Shinjuku Station, Cannon Chinese Kitchen and our favorite neighborhood place, Tokyo Café. It was a total clear and obvious choice that she would want none other than to work with the Hos and Tokyo Café’s Chef Kevin Martinez to set up in her catering kitchen and work their magic.

lunar new year team
lunar new year server
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lunar new year kitchen
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Meaningful Munchies

At Chinese New Year dinners, the menu is super important. Mary Ho describes it this way:

“Food is one thing that we take a lot of pride in — there’s a lot of thought put into all the dishes, and each has a symbolic meaning of luck, prosperity, happiness and auspiciousness.”

Here’s the menu that Mary, Jarry, and Chef Kevin created for mother’s party. As you can see, there were no pork dishes. Year of the pig, indeed!

lunar new year menu

Fortune, prosperity and family reunion
Wild Mushroom Dumplings pan seared and truffle oil

The dumpling shape resembles ancient Chinese money and signifies family reunion

lunar new year dumplings

Prosperity
Chicken & Shrimp Spring Rolls
The shape symbolizes gold bars

Abundance of food and wealth
Steamed Cod & Broccoli
The fish is usually cooked whole, leaving the head and tail attached to symbolize a good beginning and ending for the coming year.

lunar new year steamed cod

Loyalty
Duck Consumme & Peking Duck
These dishes symbolize a good marriage between families. Mandarin ducks pick a mate for life and are considered loyal and devoted to their partner.

lunar new year spring rolls

Success and Family Unity 

Chinese desserts are typically not very sweet nor rich and usually comes with an unfamiliar texture because of the ingredients used.  For our dinner party, the chef took a different spin on two of the traditional desserts.

5 Spice Bread Pudding in place of Nian Gao (New Year’s Cake)

Its name is a wish to be successful and higher each year, that each year will be better than the last.

lunar new year bread pudding
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And here’s my favorite: Family togetherness

Lychee Martini in place of Tangyuan (Sweet Rice Balls in a sweet soup)

Because of the fruit’s round shape, it symbolizes family togetherness. Saying: “Tuan Tuan Yuan Yuan” means “Happy Family Reunion!”

lunar new year lychee martini

SoFortWorthIt GIVEAWAY!!!!

So, let’s get ready to raise a glass to 2020 – a new year so bright, so full of promise and prosperity that it’s definitely worth celebrating twice!

Now tell me, who doesn’t love a good Asian food dish?! In honor of the Lunar New Year I am giving away an Omakase dinner for FOUR people at Tokyo Cafe, a SIX course dinner with wine and sake pairings, value of $400. Enter at the Rafflecopter link below.