Alaska Adventures – part 1

In years past I have had ‘guest bloggers’ share an amazing trip they experienced. This was well received, so I’d like to continue that trend and add a post done by my son, Michael – sharing his personal insight and pictures while he explored the magnificent state of Alaska.

My first Alaskan Adventure, by Michael Malecha – July 1-8, 2017

I had hoped my descent into Anchorage, Alaska would yield a progression of stunning mountain views, but with a full cloud cover in effect, there wasn’t much to view from above. It must have been karma, as I was flying out of Canada (I presently live in Regina, Saskatchewan) and into the U.S. on Canada Day, July 1st. Ryan (my cousin) and Tara (Ryan’s finance’ and native Alaskan), my hosts for the week, shared their sympathies upon picking me up and admitted I had missed out on a great vantage point of this amazing state – but there was still hope for the flight out.

Ryan, Tara and Hank – my gracious hosts for my visit to Alaska.

Even so, I was fascinated by what scenery was still available to me. The clouds and mist gave the atmosphere an alluring and mysterious vibe, and that was fitting with the sudden awareness I had just touched down in one of the far corners of the map. However, Ryan and Tara were persistent in their claims that everything I was seeing and feeling would pale in comparison to the experience on a clear day; these claims I did not doubt to be true.

Naturally, as soon as we got back to their house and dropped off my bags, the first order of business was to hike to the top of a “popular” nearby trail, Flat Top Mountain –  which in Anchorage means you see other people while you are hiking. I had requested our itinerary for the week occur almost entirely outside or involve physical activity, and being the adventurous and active couple they are, Ryan and Tara were ready to hit the ground running. Or hiking, or mountain biking, or rock climbing. I was briefly introduced to Hank, their pitbull-bulldog-mix that I had been anxiously waiting far too long to meet, before the whole crew saddled up and made way for the trail.

On our way up to the top of Flat Top Mountain, where we spotted an opening of blue sky.

The view from atop Flat Top Mountain – Anchorage in the backdrop.

Just a few hours into my introduction to Alaska, I had conquered my first mountain, and as fortune would have it, the sun peeked out on the way up! The views I had been waiting for shattered my expectations, and the snow-capped mountains rising right up out of the ocean shore were a spectacular sight. I wasn’t worried about seeing a plethora of wildlife during the week, but we got off to a quick start anyway as we passed by a moose on the way down the mountain! I quickly felt the sense that such encounters would be even more common than I had experienced in other locales dominated by nature.

Snow-capped mountains serve as a backdrop to the ocean, as viewed from our trek up to Flat Top Mountain.

My first Alaskan moose sighting!

My first evening in Alaska was spent in the usual fashion when Ryan, Tara and I get together: hours of laughing, fun and games (drinking, board and otherwise). They say time flies when you are having fun, and although true, I would argue that time REALLY flies when the sun never goes down – a lesson I learned on my first day/night (not sure what to call it when it’s 11pm and you still don’t need the indoor lights on) in Alaska. Even though going into the trip I knew I was in for an inordinate amount of sunlight, that didn’t prepare me for how it felt when night just didn’t quite come.

Looking for an indoor activity as a result of the continued gloomy weather, Ryan and I spent the following afternoon at the Alaska Rock Gym. I can’t nearly keep up with Ryan, who draws oohs and aahs from onlookers on a regular basis. On the universal difficulty ranking system, he is capable of doing V9’s and V10’s or better, while for reference I wasn’t able to complete better than a V2, with a vastly longer reach and body than Ryan has; the increase in difficulty from one level to the next is not slight either. Rock climbing is a great full body workout that tests your physical strength, flexibility and mobility, as well as your mental strength – making it through a climb entails strategic planning beforehand and quick improvisation while on the wall. It is not any wonder it is a sport that Ryan has found a passion for! Planning ahead and critical thinking are regular tasks for Ryan as an engineer. On the way home we took a short drive down to the local mountain water fountain – and had to wait in line for a cool refreshing sip!

Ryan climbing up the rock wall in the Alaska Rock Gym in Anchorage.

Nothing like a cool refreshing sip from an actual mountain spring.

Waking up to another drizzly day, I spent Monday morning reading while Ryan went to the office to get a little work done. Although I had wanted to be outside and doing activities in the wilderness as much as possible, sitting on the deck with a book was wonderfully relaxing. To the same effect, I also spent some time thinking about exactly where I was on the globe and how remarkable it was to be so far removed from the usual aggregation of the human population – Alaska is the 3rd least populated state in the union. “Getting away” really had meaning here, and came with a slightly more satisfying feeling of detachment from the world one usually seeks while on vacation.

I went to visit Ryan at work in the afternoon, and met a few colleagues of his – including the very generous J.P. who allowed me to borrow his Fat Tire bike so I could ride some mountain trails with Ryan. The ride that followed initially looked like a little more than I had bargained for, but a few minutes in and I was feeling comfortable cruising through the trails at a moderate pace and riding off some small drops with confidence – although I left the actual jumps to Ryan! It was an exhilarating ride through the forest and hills nonetheless, and another great workout.

Riding Fat Tire bikes up the paved paths eventually into the heavily forested dirt trails.

Ryan, gingerly making his way by another big moose before hitting the steep trail full of jumps.

Ryan showing Mike how it’s done on the bumps and jumps of a mountain trail. Ryan used to ride professionally, but he eventually decided it was time for a more subdued career after multiple collar-bone breaks from over-the-handlebars crashes.

On our way back up the mountain toward our vehicle, we came across a Moose on the side of our path, casually grazing. He must have been something of a local celeb as Ryan had seen him around the trail before and others walking by commented the same. He clearly wasn’t bothered by riders and hikers strolling right next to him one after another. It was almost hard to be afraid of the huge animal seeing how docile he was around the traffic, but the rational part of my brain strongly reminded me otherwise. We cautiously strolled by and he paid us no more mind than the trees he was standing in.

People making their way past a moose that stands only feet off the trail.

Tuesday, which was the 4th of July, we spent a bit of time with Tara’s family at her aunt and uncle’s house, which took us about 45 minutes out of the city. We still wanted to get some activity in for the day, so we set out on another hike in that area. Driving into a mountain range toward the starting point of our hike, we were already consumed by the clouds before we began, and couldn’t see further than a lob wedge in any direction. The Gold Cord Lake Trail, which would take us past an abandoned mine site and a lake at the top, was our elected route. Not a long hike, but an enchanting one on this day. The fog resting on the surface of the lake made it feel like an empty and endless abyss; eerily still, yet so peaceful at the same time.

The remains of the abandoned mine site seemed straight out of a thriller movie. It was dead silent too, aside from the few remarks we whispered to each other, almost like we were afraid to disturb the silence. We may have disturbed it more than a little when Hank had eaten enough grass to throw it all back up, and we couldn’t contain our laughter. A few patches of snow still remained, so we decided to toss a couple of 4th of July snowballs (how often does one get to do that?) and make our way back down the trail. We were about 10 minutes from getting towed out of the parking lot on our way out, so thankfully we didn’t lollygag up by the lake or hike any further than we did! Might not have been the most relaxing place to spend the night.

Old abandoned mine on the Gold Cord Lake Trail on a very misty eerie morning.

Who’s up for a little snow ball fight on the 4th of July??

Now, the really odd-seeming part about the day was there was very little emphasis on 4th of July fireworks, which finally made sense when bedtime came for everyone who had work tomorrow and it still was as bright as mid-afternoon – not the most optimal backdrop for fireworks! Our day wasn’t any worse for it though, being away from the desk and with family was our only to-do list item.

Hank making sure you aren’t going anywhere. Check back soon for part 2 of Alaska Adventures.

Check back soon for part 2 of Alaska Adventures with an added photo gallery!

 

Winter – a bountiful banquet of food and beverages – part 2: Phoenix Valley and NYC

Living in a popular destination spot like Phoenix, I receive a lot of requests from out-of-town guests as to where to eat when they come to the valley. My family and I have vacationed or lived in the valley for many years and during that time we have compiled a list of several restaurants that have filtered out to be some of our favorites.

Although ambience is a nice asset to any dining experience, it is generally the food that brings us back again and again. Our restaurant list varies from the family owned Los Dos Molinos – a trio of authentic Mexican restaurants known for spicy food and Kick-Ass margaritas; to the fine dining experiences at any one of the Mastro’s Steakhouses in the valley – both of which I have blogged about in the past.

If you’re looking for a romantic evening out, it does not get much better than Lon’s, at the Hermosa Inn, tucked back into a residential area in Paradise Valley, just east of the Biltmore area. A soft glow eminates from lights hung from the low overhanging branches of the many trees that pepper the front outside eating area. Or you can dine closer to the bee hive fireplace on cooler evenings.

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn for a romantic dinner. (copyright Jill Richards)

The food is garden-to-table fine dining American cuisine – the garden being a one acre plot right outside the kitchen, inclusive of fruit trees to kick up both food and cocktails. With to share dishes such as ‘Truffle Mac’ or ‘Blistered Peppers;’ or main dishes such as ‘Dry-Aged Strip with Chimchurri sauce’ or the ‘Pork Chop served with polenta and poached baby apples’ – the whole dining experience is one not to be missed.

If Italian is what you’re craving, I’d recommend checking out Casa Mia. An understated, but newly renovated, small restaurant run by an Italian family, tucked in a mostly empty line of retail spaces just off of Shea on 136th Street. The fact this place is hard to get into without a little forethought, goes to its reputation as being a destination eatery that has earned it’s business through word of mouth. And those are happy mouths sated  by homemade pastas like the melt in your mouth pillows of gnocchi with basil and fresh tomato sauce, or any of their veal or fish dishes. And mama’s homemade bread to sop of all the delectable sauces.

A new Scottsdale favorite to check out is Soi 4 Bangkok eatery. An authentic Thai restaurant with fresh and flavorful dishes like the ‘Neur pad tua’ – stir-fried Angus steak cubes with snap peas and onion rings in mild roasted chili jam, washed down with unique cocktails like cilantro infused vodka with lime juice served in a salty spiced rimmed martini glass. Very friendly service in a sleek contemporary setting.

One of the delectable small plates at Soi 4 Thai restaurant in Scottsdale.

If you head into Fountain Hills, you can again hit the gammet of dining experiences. From your basic Mexican food at Que Bueno: I recommend their patron silver margarita on the rocks with salt that comes in a large thick glass that requires two hands to drink from served with their award-winning salsa and warm chips; to the newly opened Italian restaurant Arrivederci (there are more in the valley) that has a great view of the world-famous fountain; to one of our favorite restaurants in the valley, Alchemy at Copperwynd, offering up one of the finest views in all of Fountain Hills and the valley.

Alchemy restaurant at Copperwynd in Fountain Hills. One of the best views in the valley.

Alchemy has been through several changes over the years, but these days you are assured of a tantalizing menu, fresh and flavorful dishes served by professional waitstaff. For the ‘Crispy Brussel Sprouts’ the chef peels the leaves off of each sprout and lightly crisps them with flavors of Worcestershire gastrique, truffle oil and cojita. Absolutely to die for! The ‘Burrata Panzella’ salad with pumpernickel croutons, figs, butternut squash and roasted tomato vinaigrette bursts with flavor. The ‘Sea Scallops’ – served with a grilled mushroom puree, snap peas, brown butter breadcrumbs and hibiscus syrup are so flavorful they have a hard time keeping up to the evenings demand for them.

If you need a quick pick me up or a late night snack, Senor Taco is our family go to fast food joint. An expansive menu with some creative Mexican dishes to rival a much higher end restaurant. Known for their shrimp burritos, they also go bold with such feasts as the California burrito – filled with carne asada or pollo asado, french fries, sour cream, salsa fresca & cheese.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

My daughter, Allison, hit a few new hot spots in NYC:

Knowing the chef helps

Though I love consuming their artistry in every shape, size, and color, I’ve never managed to befriend any chefs. Luckily, I have two friends with sous-chefs for brothers. In the first two months of 2015, I ate for the first time at both of their restaurants: Txikito, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and Charlie Bird, in the western reaches of SoHo, also called the South Village.

Knowing the (sous) chef doesn’t mean you get a meal for free, but it does mean that every plate you order comes hand-in-hand with an even better one you didn’t; that everyone treats you with an extra dose of kindness; and that you’ll still pay less than the listed price.

Txikito is an upscale Basque tapas restaurant, and the friend whose brother works there is Chilean. Translation: small plates, major flair. It’s been a month, and I can still easily conjure up the languid texture of the “txipiron encebollado” ($16)–a lavish pile of squid ribbons tossed with sweet onions and pine nuts. Plated in the shape of a flattened rose, the octopus carpaccio ($15) was at once rich and delicate, oil-soaked and airy. The kroketas of the day, filled with cheese and salty cod, tasted like warmth itself. But the crowned prince of the night was the Spanish version of French toast, stolen off the brunch menu of Txikito’s sister restaurant La Vara and served up as dessert. Pillowed dough, caramelized syrup, and a whiff of citrus. The evening was blustery, a Monday, but the restaurant was still filled with a happy murmur. Just slow enough though for our chef to bring out one of his dishes himself and pull out the empty chair at our table for a humble hello.

Txikito restaurant in NYC. (picture by gourmet.com)

In contrast, I saw Charlie Bird at prime time. Late on a Thursday night. The restaurant bills itself as a little bit hip hop, influenced by downtown culture and the history of street art and jazz (the name is a fusion of Charlie Parker and his nickname “Bird”). So I was surprised to find the space awash in light, subdued colors: cream tables, bourbon-hued bucket chairs, walls the color of book pages. To our left, lined up above a bank of mustard-colored booth seating, was the bit of pizzazz I’d been expecting: a framed series of hyper-realistic boombox photographs. The only fault critics seem to have found with Charlie Bird’s food is its saltiness. If it’s too salty for them, they can leave the eating to me. Burrata toast ($12), farro salad ($16), gnocchi rosa ($18), crispy smoked eggplant ($10), pappardelle with rabbit ($20), and the rice krispie-laced chocolate budino ($12)–we ate it all and somehow heaved ourselves out of our chairs after. I’ve also read they have an excellent barolo on the menu, but even with the chef hook-up, that was a little too fancy for our wallets.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

 

Fall is for Feasting, Part 3 – November: KS, Regina, SK

For many across the country, fall has long been over and many have been forced to succumb to being plunged into winter earlier than the calendar says – yet again. But luckily the warm comfort foods for the fall bode well for the winter like conditions that have blanketed a good part of the U.S. in the last month. If there hasn’t been snow and ice, there has certainly been cold temps.

Here in Kansas, we have seen several weeks of below normal temps with a smattering of warm days thrown in just to tease us into thinking that winter is still a ways away. But the homes lit up for the holidays alert me to the fact that indeed it tis’ the season to stoke the fireplace, decorate for the winter season, and enjoy all the hearty foods that come along with ‘falling into winter.’

A couple of weeks ago I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, not generally a winter destination or known as a food mecca, but the local eateries have earned the right to have a mention in this blog post. Flip Eatery & Drink has a menu that is as creative as their website. One section is called, “comfort plates.” How can you not like a place like this? The top item in this section of the menu is “Spinach Spaetzle” – a bed of house-made potato spaetzle loaded with hunks of beets and yams and tomatoes, a smattering of spinach and mushrooms, topped off with a dollop of goat cheese. Washed down with a “Bourbon Wallbanger” and I was ready to battle the below zero temps that awaited me out on the streets or Regina.

Spinach Spaetzle at Flip Eatery in Regina, SK, Canada is listed as one of their ‘comfort plates’

Other places to check out in Regina are:

The Keg: for great steaks at a reasonable price. Ask for a table by the fireplace.

Original Joes: check our their ‘Winter Warm-up’ menu and indulge in a ‘Bacon-Tomato Soup’ or a ‘French Onion Boar Burger.’

Hotel Saskatchewan – The Dining Roomone of the best and most expansive Sunday brunch in the city to keep you going all the day long.

Back to the states, and back to Kansas, to continue my search for restaurants worthy enough to venture out of the comfort of my own home to be served a delectable meal or try a fun new drink. Enter 801 Fish – one of several restaurants specializing in seafood in the Kansas City metro area, but I think this white tablecloth eatery has the freshest and most appealing dishes of any I have visited. Start out with a plate of fresh oysters or as I prefer cooked “Oysters Rockefeller,” followed by a “Pan Seared Florida Grouper” served over sweet potato puree and sided with parmesan gnocchi and sautéed rainbow chard and you will realize eating fish doesn’t necessarily mean eating light.

Grouper served on sweet potato puree with sides of parmesan gnocchi and swiss chard at 801 Fish, Leawood, KS

Grouper served on sweet potato puree with sides of parmesan gnocchi and rainbow chard at 801 Fish, Leawood, KS

Another great eatery in Kansas worth checking out is the very quaint Cafe’ Provence – located in Prairie Village, it is a traditional French restaurant that has earned the respect for a need to call ahead reservation to be able to get a table. The ‘Crumble de Foie Gras aux Pommes’ is a pan-seared foie gras that truly does melt in your mouth. Followed by a plate of French cheeses served with fresh French Bread and I could’ve stopped right there. But no – I continued on with a ‘Roasted Duck Breast served with a parsnip puree, chestnut bread pudding, fig and honey gastrique.’ My meal should’ve been complete, but I could not say no to a ‘Salted Caramel Creme’ Brûlée’ to polish off the evening.

Roasted Duck Breast served with potato puree, chestnut break putting topped with a fig gastrique at Cafe' Provence, Prairie Village, KS

Roasted Duck Breast served with potato puree, chestnut break putting topped with a fig gastrique at Cafe’ Provence, Prairie Village, KS

Other great KC restaurants worthy of the effort:

Story: their sleek modern decor is in direct contrast to the traditional ambience of Cafe’ Provence which sits right across the street. The food is creative America with European influences.

801 Chophouse (upscale steakhouse) and Pig & Finch (innovative pub): are sister restaurants to 801 Fish and are in the same Town Centre Leawood neighborhood.

I would be remiss to finish off ‘Fall is for Feasting’ without making mention of the feast of all American feasts – Thanksgiving. As with many families I know, this is our favorite holiday – no pressure of gift giving or any other expectations other than to create a banquet of food to tantalize all the senses. It has become tradition in our family for my daughter and husband to fix the meal. I choose the menu, and then sit back with a mug of mulled cider and watch the two of them have at it!

This year we tried a new way to cook the turkey called ‘spatchcocking.’ This only works with a smaller bird, which was fine as it was just three of us this year. You remove the breast-bone and then splay the bird into a butterfly fashion. The bird cooks quicker, the skin gets crispier and the meat more tender. For sides: green beans with sautéed mushrooms, gruyere cheese and bacon and topped with bread crumbs; butter mashed potatoes; sour dough stuffing with Italian sausage, sautéed onions, filberts; cranberry sauce infused with rosemary; mushroom creamed gravy; and for dessert homemade pumpkin pie with a caramel pecan sauce and a salted butter apple tart.

Spatchcocked Turkey is apparently the new way to cook a turkey to get the crispiest skin and the most tender meat in a lot less cooking time

Spatchcocked Turkey is apparently the new way to cook a turkey to get the crispiest skin and the most tender meat in a lot less cooking time

From my family to yours, I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season!!

Our son was not able to join us for Thanksgiving dinner as he had college basketball commitments.

(Our son was not able to join us for Thanksgiving dinner as he had college basketball commitments.)

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

In the year 2000 my husband’s job took us to a little known place, at least to most Americans, called Regina (Latin for queen), Saskatchewan. At the time we lived only a seven hour drive away from there, but had never heard of Regina. As the years waged on we learned it was not exactly the hotbed of Canada either. I lost count of how many times other Canadians gave us their condolences on having to live in Regina.

When we moved there, a part of our permanent residency application requested we go to the police station to be finger printed. The officer who was finger printing us asked, “Where in the states are you moving to?” When we told him that we were Americans and we were moving to Regina, not Canadians moving to the US, he laughed and said they didn’t get many people making that move.

It wasn’t until our first winter spent in Regina that we became acutely aware of the reputation Regina had earned of being a place people moved away from, not to. Winter came and it didn’t fully leave for another eight months. The local joke in southern Saskatchewan is you can see your dog run away for three days because it’s so flat. This flat terrain allows the winds to howl and blow unencumbered. The only thing to slow it down is the 100’s of trees that were hand planted by the early settlers back in the early 1900’s.

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

The flat frozen tundra that surrounds Regina, SK

Temps can reach 30-40 below zero. In Canada they measure temps using celsius not fahrenheit, but at those temps celsius and fahrenheit are virtually the same. And these kinds of temps don’t stick around for a day or two but can stick around for weeks at a time. Your skin can freeze in seconds at these temps. Car tires can break and their electronic systems can freeze up.

We quickly learned how these hearty residents got through these long hard winters. They took extended winter ‘holidays’ of upwards of 3-4 weeks at a time or several long weekends to warm weather destinations to thaw out. But beyond that they are doers. Reginans don’t hide out until winter passes, they bundle up and venture out. In the ten plus years my kids attended school in Regina they never had a snow day or school called off because of cold temps.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

Bundling up to work outside in the freezing temps at the Regina, SK airport.

I definitely have to say there is something to people in the northern colder climates having thicker blood than those in the southern warmer climates. My husband and I spent the last weekend in Regina to watch our son play basketball at the university. Regina was going into their second week of sub 20F degree temps. I bundled up to walk the two blocks from our hotel to meet up with a couple of girlfriends – one who waltzed in wearing a long sleeve thin shirt and a faux fur vest – and I think I was colder!

As you can imagine, hockey is king in this Canadian city – home of the WHL Regina Pats, a training ground for future NHLer’s. But this growing metropolis – pop. 195,000 in 2000 and nearing 230,000 in 2014 – is game for all games. The CFL Roughriders, the 101st and 2013 Grey Cup Champions, have some of the most ardent football fans in all of Canada. Regina is home to Olympic level curlers and snowboarders. Ice fishing, basketball, snowmobiling, ringette, Globe Theatre, science museum, IMAX theater, 5-pin bowling, Agribition, RCMP, cross-country skiing, MacKenzie Art Gallery and the casino can all keep one busy throughout the long winter months.

The sign says it all! 30,000 Roughrider fans fill the stands of the outdoor Mosaic Stadium to create a ‘sea of green’ also dubbed ‘Rider Nation’.

Wascana Lake, a man-made lake, is the main city attraction. The beautifully domed provincial legislative building sits at the southwest shore of this highly active lake. With wide paved paths skirting the edges of the lake and its far-reaching tributaries, the area is great for walking – year round. The lake draws attention from across the country and even further bringing in competitions for dragon boat racing, wake boarding, canoeing and other events. Weddings are held on the island and fireworks reflect off the lake on July 1st, Canadian Independence Day.

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

Looking across Wascana Lake at the Regina skyline

A statue of Queen Elizabeth riding Burmese, a horse given to her by the RCMP, stands in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature building on the shores of Wascana Lake in Regina

The Queen City (Regina), so nicknamed because of being named after Queen Victoria by her daughter Princess Louise who was Governor General of Canada during the founding of Regina. In the years since, the city has been visited by a lengthy and notable list of royalty: The Queen Mum, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew and Fergie, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret.

But it’s the people who make Regina worth the visit. Growing up in Minnesota, where ‘Minnesota nice’ is the mantra, one experiences a similar vibe in Regina. We originally had plans to stay for 3-5 years, but ended up staying for 10 years, because we had settled into a community of great friends that eventually drew our son back to go to university and draws us back to spend time with people who became lifelong friends, no matter how many miles separate us now. Over the years many locals moved away for better job opportunities or tax reprieve, but moved back for quality of life and cost of living. Long live Regina (the Queen)!

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture