MOUNT ST. HELENS

We recently spent an amazing 25 days exploring the Pacific Northwest, and the single most surprising thing was how much we enjoyed our stop in the Mount St. Helens region.

 

To be completely honest, we pretty much expected a cool photo op and not much more.  Look kids…a really big volcano. Smile!

 

Well. It was in fact an amazing photo op. But it was also so much more.

 

Mount St. Helens ended up being one of our very favorite experiences, and we all wished we had more time to explore the area. In fact, we are already planning a return trip when the boys are old enough to do the 10-mile round trip hike up to the summit.

 

So, what is there to do at Mount St. Helens besides look at a big volcano? Here are our top recommendations for your visit.

 

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ROAM SWEET HOME

A love of design and of the outdoors led Jill Evans to combine these passions and create a rolling home on wheels where adventure and the comforts of home and hearth go hand in hand.

 

 

While growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, Jill Evans learned the fine arts of needlework and quilting from her mother who had a needlepoint shop. She had no idea that her creative child play would turn into a lifelong passion and that her mother would become her role model, mentor and friend. Jill’s dad was also contributing heavily to her other passion, the outdoors. An avid fisherman who loved lake life and took the family shore camping on the lakes around Kentucky, planted in Jill a love for nature that has never left. Those happy childhood camping trips and sewing sessions would become Jill’s outlet for the creative drive that would lead her to open an antiques mall, restore a vintage trailer and create beautiful quilts for family and friends.

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GIRLS RV GETAWAY

Many ladies are intimidated by the thought of taking the RV out on their own.  This is especially true if you have only gone RVing with your husband and the kids.

 

 

If your situation is anything like mine, as the wife and mom, I am responsible to pack everyone up and be sure that we have a meal plan before every trip.  Once we arrive at the campsite, I am the one who gets the RV’s interior situated and starts the evening supper in the crockpot.  Meanwhile, my husband goes outside to connect the RV to shore power, sewer and fresh water.  Yes, everyone has a job and since our maiden RV voyage in 2014, we have perfected this process and I must say it goes off without a hitch…most times.

 

 

But, what is a girl to do when she decides to take the RV out solo or at least sans the husband and kids?  What if I took the RV out with a couple of my girlfriends for the weekend?  Am I able to do this without my trusty life partner?  I have seen my husband hook up the RV many times and I am very comfortable driving it.  So what do I really have to worry about?  I can do this!

 

 

Now before you start thinking about hiking and all the awesome possibilities of the great outdoors, this was not what I had in mind at all for this getaway.  You see, I have never been that outdoorsy type of gal.  Don’t get me wrong!  I love to go hiking and exploring with my boys, but this was a girls’ weekend.  As such, we were looking forward to being pampered, relaxed, and dined.

 

 

Now since this was our first “Girls Trip” we were determined to stick to a few rules.

 

  • No discussions about husbands, kids or work.
  • No phone calls with the above parties. (Except for emergencies, of course)
  • No morning wakeup alarms.
  • No reservations, no time schedules to keep.
  • HAVE FUN.

 

Okay, so the groundwork has been established let’s go!

 

GET PAMPERED

 

The first thing on our list of MUST DO’s was to find a spa where we could enjoy a nice massage.   As women we play so many different roles during the course of the day.  We are a wife, mom, daughter, sister, confidant, therapist, nurse, cook and household CEO and that is before we ever step foot outside of the house.  Therefore, it is vitally important to take some to rejuvenate oneself periodically.  Heading to the spa for a full-body massage and foot reflexology was the best decision that we could have made for ourselves, as it set the tone for the remainder of the getaway.

 

 

RELAX

 

The next item on the MUST DO list was to simply relax.  Many ladies will agree that this is easier said than done.  But remember the ground rules that were set in place prior to leaving on our Girls Getaway?  In order to relax you have to be able to allow your loved ones to handle the day -to -day responsibilities at home.  You have to be able to unplug and just be.

 

Here is where RVing makes its most influential impact.  Being able to sit outside and just enjoy nature is so peaceful.  The girls and I were able to just talk about things that were important to us as women and sometimes just be plain silly.  It was our time.

 

DINE

 

 

Last, but certainly not least on our MUST DO list was to eat some good food.  Being able to go out with the girls to a trendy food spot in the city that did not offer a kids menu, was priceless!

 

Our RV has given us so much more than we ever intially thought it would.  This getaway would have cost us twice as much if we had to reserve hotel rooms,  and we certainly would not have had the peaceful and homelike atmosphere that we enjoyed at the campsite.  Yes, our RV has proved to be very instrumental in improving the quality of our vacations and ultimately the quality of our lives.

 

 

*Confession…As the day approached to begin this trip I was nervous and unsure of myself.   I am so happy that I soldiered through my apprehensions, because it was so worth it.  Not only am I more confident in my abilities to travel solo, I am so happy that I was able to share some much needed girl time with these incredible ladies.

 

 

CHEERS!

RV GETAWAY TO YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

As most folks know by now, I am all about helping people positively connect with nature in any way they can. My travels as founder and chief instigator for Outdoor Afro have helped several thousands get their nature swagger back through outdoor recreation.  We have come to appreciate RV experiences over the years just as much as the back-country treks that allow you to carry all you need on your back.

 

 

We have had the pleasure to RV in California’s Sierra foothills along the American River with a teardrop trailer in tow, used a larger RV to camp the awe-inspiring Big Sur, and have been regulars at KOAs up and down the California coast. This time, we decided to grab a Type C motorhome, and head to iconic Yosemite National Park!

 

An RV is a comfortable lodge on wheels from which to pursue a mind-boggling variety of camp destinations and public lands. You can just roll up, and anchor your family in nature and enjoy the pop-up communities all over America!

 

My family is still chattering and reminiscing about our whirlwind RV adventure that jumped off from our home in Oakland, California.  We wove our way through California’s Central Valley and scenic rolling woodland foothills to ascend the majestic forests of Yosemite National Park near our destination at Yosemite Lakes RV Resort — our weekend basecamp.

 

Thanks to the folks at Go RVing, we were loaned a Type C- motorhome from El Monte RV, suitable for our family of four — me, my partner the indomitable co-captain Rodney, with our teen roadies Arwen and Will. There was plenty of room for cooking, eating, lounging, and sleeping for all of us with room to spare for two additional youths.

 

 

 

 

This RV was the largest we have driven, yet it handled smoothly with great visibility and fewer blind spots than our SUV at home. Anyone who feels comfortable driving a truck or minivan will manage navigation with a Type C well, with no special licensing required.  Inside, we had all the comforts of home with a four burner stove, oven, refrigerator/freezer, and tons of cabinet storage that locked securely keeping our belongings tucked away in case of any bumps in the road. The rear contained a queen sized bed and upfront there is a full-sized cab over sleeping area. Adding to the convenience was an onboard shower and bathroom with a flush toilet  – so thankfully, no middle of the night, chilly treks to the bathroom for us!

Before picking up our RV, we made runs to our local grocery store with lists for our carefully planned meals decided on by the family the night before. We also saved money by bringing a bunch of items we already had from home, like garbage bags, cleaning supplies, spices, pots and pans, bedding, linens; and other pantry items measured in just the right amounts for our favorite weekend recipes (can’t leave home without my grits!).

 

Rue’s Favorite Creamy Grits Recipe (from SpryLiving.com)

 

Grits provide a hearty and hot camp morning base topped with breakfast meats, eggs, shrimp, or sauteed veggies for a complete breakfast!

 

Leaving early afternoon on a Friday allowed us to spend a leisurely four hours on the road from the RV pick-up, and we used a travel app to weave around the usual traffic. By 5pm, we arrived at the resort with plenty of light on our side to tour the site, and selected one of their first-come-first serve spacious and shaded camp spaces.

 

Yosemite Lakes RV Resort sits in a prime location overlooking a beautiful river landscape, just minutes from Yosemite’s entrance with options for all styles of campers. Guests can drive in and select a cozy yurt that overlooks the scenic river, stay in a park model cabin, or pitch a tent along the developed hillside if they don’t have their own RV.

 

The hospitality and check-in at the campground was warm, quick, and informative thanks to our cool camp ranger Jeremy. And at our site, we were able to get our water and electricity hooked up within minutes before we took off to explore the campground’s many other amenities. With a television and Wi-Fi in the main lodge, the teens and man were eager to unwind from our marathon preparations and drive, catch a glimpse of Game 3 of the World Series, and share some of our adventure on social media before settling in for dinner.

 

By nightfall, we were more than ready to throw down on the grill some pre-marinated steaks, along with garlicky potatoes and asparagus, before the evening campfire with ranger Jeremy.

 

 

We finally tucked in for the night after the last toasted marshmallow was consumed, with lots of family jokes and giggles, excitedly looking forward to the splendor of Yosemite Valley the next morning.

 

Our adventure was well underway.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

A TRIP TO THE EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL

What is the first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions Disney World? Most people would say Mickey Mouse, Magic Kingdom and loads of kids with their parents in tow. Oh, and let’s not forget about strollers! Yes, I will admit that I love taking the whole family to Disney World.

And, I fall into all of those categories with my kids and their meltdowns from the overstimulation of a huge theme park. It is certainly one of my favorite places to go for a fabulous family vacation. Now what if I told you that there are a couple of months out of the year when Disney World can be a fabulous destination for adults, with or without kids?

Now I have your attention.

I decided to take the family down to Orlando for yet another Disney vacation, but this time it was all about the adults.  Sure, the kids came along for the ride, but this was not for them. Some might find that to be a bit selfish. However, sometimes mama and papa bear have to have some fun, too.

Personally, I think that it is good for our kids to know that even though we love to bless them with fun experiences, we are people too. Parents deserve to have a little fun.

So instead of the usual trip to Magic Kingdom and the like, we decided to hit Epcot for the International Food and Wine Festival 2017. I have become such a foodie over the past 5 years that I was excited to see what goodies I would find at the Food and Wine Festival. Not only does Epcot do a fantastic job of offering a glorious variety of culinary delights from around the globe, but they offer wine pairings for their dishes, too.

There was one small wrinkle in my plan. My husband is a traditional meat and potatoes kind of guy but my recent decision to partake in a plant-based diet would limit the variety of dishes that I would be able to consume.  I even had to ask myself if I would be able to eat anything other than a salad.

Once again, Disney World did not disappoint!

First thing is first! This mama bear will always find a way to entertain her little cubs, so we registered the boys for a scavenger hunt. Now that the boys were sufficiently entertained and distracted, it was time for us to begin eating our way around this culinary Epcot world.

One place that is only available to eat at during the Food and Wine Festival is their Africa region. There I was able to thoroughly enjoy the spicy Ethiopian red lentil stew with vegan yogurt and quinoa. This dish had me wishing that I had some take home containers in my bag.

Due to my dietary restrictions I have learned, albeit the hard way, that it is always best to do a little menu research prior to heading out to eat. To my delight, Epcot had a couple of vegan/vegetarian options at each food spot around the park.

If you plan to visit the Epcot Food and Wine Festival it is best to go in the middle of the work-week and plan to arrive as close to opening as you can. I failed to adhere to my own advice and went on the weekend. It was packed with tourists as well as local Floridians taking advantage of the weekend to get their grub on.

Nonetheless, this event is a must for adults who wish to visit the most magical theme park destination in the world.  The festival offers so many options to parents taking a break from the traditional Disney experience. If you plan ahead, you can book your spot to participate in cooking demonstrations and seminars led by well-known chefs and television personalities. That said; plan your visit well ahead of time.

As for our family, we will be back! The kids had a great time and they were happy to see that mom and dad had a magical time, too.