Saturday, June 15, 2019

Summer 2019 Roadtrip - South/Southwest USA

I said I would be better about writing this summer, so here I am with the first non-book related post in quite some time. I've always journaled when I traveled, ever since I knew how to write, and 20 years later it is no different.

My first real destination for summer roadtrip #1 was Tucson, Arizona, but I was in no real hurry to get there.  This is the first time I haven't strategically planned out a trip with every detail. I booked my hotel for the first night two nights before I left and the only things I had planned was to make it to Tucson at some point, pick Sophie up at the Albuquerque airport on the 30th, and be in Amarillo for Darcy's wedding on the first. The rest of the trip was purely based upon what I felt like doing at any given moment, and because of that, I think this is one of the best road trips I have taken.

For the first 25 1/2 years of my life I was an over-the-top, Type A personality, down-to-the-minute planner. I finally learned that my plans mean darn near nothing because things can change at the drop of a hat with no warning, and this is by far, the best lesson life has ever taught me. This play-it-by-ear trip was the perfect ending to the first year of my life that I just threw caution to the wind and took whatever life threw at me as it came (all good things thankfully, its been a great year!!) Anyway, without further ado...

Sunday, May 26, 2019
Day 1: Middle Tennessee -> Dallas, Texas

My destination for day one was to ideally get to Dallas, Texas.  It was the only big city close to the halfway point between middle Tennessee and Tucson. Dallas was less than a ten hour drive, so I knew I would have plenty of time to stop and wander whenever I felt like.

My first stops were in Jackson, TN - only a 2 hour drive from home. I stopped to see the Statue of Liberty carved into a tree (Statue of Liber-tree!), Rockabilly Park (next to Rockabilly Hall of Fame which unfortunately was not open at 7:30 AM), an actual treehouse, and a road sign with my name on it. Its impossibly to find things with my name on it, so it was part of my 101 list for this year to find a street sign displaying it!


Next stop two hours later was Memphis, where I wandered the University of Memphis, saw the Bass Pro Shop pyramid, and explored Mud Island Park.


A couple hours from Memphis, I stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I think the only thing I've done in Arkansas before was get an Icee from Burger King as a kid! The coolest thing I saw in Little Rock was the Old Mill Park.  There is an old mill (hence the name) and some cool bridges that look like they're made entirely of wood, but are actually completely cement, detailed to look like wood.

There was a girl there a few years my senior who stopped me to ask where I got my sandals because she liked them.  I throw this tidbit of info in here because if you know me, you know I had on my Adidas slides, and if you know that is what I was wearing, its probably because you've given me flak for wearing them everywhere all the time. THEY GO WITH EVERYTHING - CLEARLY ITS NOT JUST ME!!!


Also in Little Rock was a wall of mosaic storybook murals.

Stopping every two hours seemed to be my trend, so about two hours after stopping in Little Rock, I stopped again at the Arkansas/Texas border in Texarkana, which would be my last stop before hitting the outskirts of Dallas. I only stopped because standing directly on the state line is just something I guess I do (see Bristol TN/VA).

Finally, what I've been waiting for for the last 4 years - In-N-Out Burger! I plugged the destination into my GPS before I left Little Rock so I could find where the closest one was. The burger was just as good as I remember, though my fries seemed like they had been sitting there for awhile. Luckily, the burger was enough to fill me!

I got to downtown Dallas at about 6:30PM, so I had a couple hours to wander before the sun set. My goal was to find the three Selena murals and one taco mural I had saved in my Google Maps app. I definitely went into a few sketchy looking neighborhoods (sorry, mom). I also stumbled across a Prince mural next to one of them in an area that was blocked off for constructions...oops. #MinnesotaPride Then, I got lost getting to my hotel (for like the 22nd time this day) but directions have never been my strong suit. *shrugs*


Monday, May 27, 2019
Day 2: Dallas, Texas -> Tucson, Arizona

Monday was an early morning with less time for stopping and less to do anyway.  I had a 13 hour drive to make through the dry, dusty landscape of TX/NM/AZ, and the few places I wanted to stop were closed for Memorial Day anyway. My first stop was Abilene, a few hours from Dallas.  I got out to stretch my legs at the Dr. Seuss Park.  Dr. Seuss has no connection to Abilene, but the town has storybook characters spread about its downtown, and they just happened to throw in a Dr. Seuss themed park.


A couple hours past Abilene I stopped to see a replica of Stonehenge at the University of Texas - Permian Basin and grab an early lunch.

I've read enough travel blogs to know that there is a lot of debate between which is better - In-N-Out or Whataburger, so I wanted to see for myself. The burger at Whataburger was really good, but not better than In-N-Out! The fries were better, but to be honest, neither burger joint had great fries. A burger at both is enough to fill me, so the fry issue didn't really matter.  I got everything at both places as it is listed on the menu (meaning I didn't do animal style or anything extra) so it would be a fair comparison.

After lunch my goal was just to drive - only stopping once for gas and too many times for a potty break. This was a two Monster day, so I was very over-caffeinated. I wouldn't want to live in it, but I loved the landscape as I drove through southern New Mexico and Arizona.  I packed my passport just in case I accidentally ended up in Mexico.  I know that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, but if anyone can accidentally end up in a foreign country because they took the wrong turn, it would certainly be me.  I also kept contemplating crossing into Mexico because I was so close.  I have zero desire to go there, other than to be able to scratch it off of my map, but I figured traveling alone into Mexico was probably not my best idea.


Eventually I made it to Tucson around 6:30 PM - thank goodness for the two hour time change, I needed the extra hours! I stopped at a Wendy's for a Frosty for dinner (perks of a adulthood), and wouldn't you know it, I stumbled upon a Hawaii license plate! Growing up, my parents had a goal to take my brothers and I to all 48 continental states before I (as the oldest) graduated high school.  We flew to Florida once, but otherwise it was all road tripping! It was tradition to play the license plate game, and since they were few and far between, anytime we saw a Hawaii license plate, my dad would buy us ice cream.  It just happened to be fate that I saw one as I pulled into Wendy's for the Frosty I was going to get regardless!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Day 3: Tucson, Arizona

A day without (too much) driving! It was nice to finally take my time in getting up for the first time since summer break began.  We went to In-N-Out for lunch because it was National Burger Day. Funny, dumb blonde story - (I can own it) - we were leaving In-N-Out going to Becca's car, and I wasn't paying a lot of attention.  We got to a vehicle that was the same color/style as hers, and I opened the passenger door to get in, only to find someone sitting there, with someone else in the driver's seat.  I had opened the wrong car door. Teacher-on-Summer-Break brain at its finest, my friends. After lunch, we went and checked out the Pima Air & Space Museum. It was neat to see all the planes, but it was very limited in the "space" department.

Of course I had to track down Tucson's Selena and Prince murals, during which time we located a few others as well. For dinner, Becca and I went to Maico Restaurant Mexican Food, because in addition to being National Burger Day, it was also TACO TUESDAY!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Day 4: Tucson, Arizona

Started the day off with another lazy morning, then made the drive out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where we spent a few hours wandering the desert observing animals and admiring the cacti (or maybe that one was just me). We found birds building their nest, and got to see an employee feeding fish to an otter- it was World Otter Day!

As we were leaving, we spotted a rattlesnake on the sidewalk in front of us.  Luckily, a museum worker came by shortly after, and we informed her of the snake. Her words were, "there is a protocol for this." After which, she promptly turned around and walked away. Not wanting anyone else to stumble upon it, we decided to wait until the worker got back and warn anyone else who came near.  Sure enough, a group of older folks came up the trail behind as, and when I told them what was going on, the old man walked right on over to it. Becca told him to stop, because hello, rattlers are quick and we had a baby with us, but he kept getting closer to it, because he wanted to take a picture with it and "back in [his] day, [they] would have just picked them up by the tail!" (this is why we can't have nice things...)  Luckily the worker came back at that point, and we left before the old man did something stupid.

Becca has lived in Arizona for the majority of her life, and just the day prior I had asked her if she had ever seen a live rattlesnake in real life in the wild, and not in captivity.  She had told me she hadn't, so I guess I jinxed us. After seeing the rattler, I asked her if she had ever see a million dollars sitting in her kitchen.  She responded no to this as well, but unfortunately a million dollars did not appear in her kitchen.

Becca, Sean, and Bee took me out to an Italian restaurant called Oregano's for dinner. The cheesy garlic bread was to die for (read: covered in an excessive but totally necessary amount of garlic) and my baked ziti was tasty too!

Becca, Bee, and I

Thursday, May 30, 2019
Day 5: Tucson, Arizona -> Albuquerque, New Mexico -> Santa Fe, New Mexico

Another early morning, because I had to be to Albuquerque before 2PM and it was a six hour drive, plus I lost an hour. Totally worth it though, because I got to pick Sophie up from the airport! I met Sophie when we were both student teaching in Costa Rica, and she was flying in from Kansas to road trip with me to Amarillo for our friend Darcy's (another CR friend) wedding! The great thing about Sophie and I traveling together, is that we're so much alike.  We had zero plans for the next two days and just went wherever the road took us, which on this day, was to Sante Fe. Our first stop was Bumble Bee's Baja Grill for tacos, of course. 

Sante Fe was much smaller than either of us expected - roughly 80,000 people, but was 100% what you would expect New Mexico to look like. Homes and business alike were adobe architecture, and you honestly couldn't tell which building was a house and which was a business.  After eating, we booked a hotel, relaxed for a little while, and then took the shuttle down to the historical plaza where we wandered the shops and had a late dinner - Sophie breakfast for dinner, and caramel apple pecan pie for me because I'm a certified grown up and I can do what I want. We froze our tails off waiting for the shuttle back, and when we checked the weather, we understood why - it was 56 degrees! We couldn't believe it was that cold at the end of May! Back at the hotel we ended up turning the heat on because it dropped to 48 degrees that night - BRR! To be fair, the altitude of Santa Fe is roughly 7000 feet, and we were just trying to be happy that neither of us was experiencing altitude sickness.

Friday, May 31, 2019
Day 6: Santa Fe, New Mexico -> Roswell, New Mexico -> Amarillo, Texas

If you're wondering what is in New Mexico, the answer is junk, junk, and more junk.  With nothing on the agenda for the day, we decided to head to Roswell, New Mexico - the location of the most famous (albeit debunked) UFO claim.  It was a three hour trip, during which we saw a lot of empty fields, cows, and falling apart "towns."  Whenever we had service, we were constantly googling New Mexico facts, at which time we learned that we had been to the five largest New Mexican cities during this trip, and that the population of New Mexico is only 2 million, which explained a lot!! I would hate to break down in the middle of New Mexico, because it would take FOREVER for someone to get to you.

Roswell was interesting.  There were green aliens everywhere, though other than a UFO-themed McDonalds, there was no alien-themed restaurant.  They really missed the mark. Roswell is the 6th most populated town in New Mexico, falling just short of 50,000 people. We stopped by the visitors center, then toured the International UFO Museum and Research Center before getting lunch at Big D's Downtown Dive

I got a West Coast Taco (pita + crispy shrimp, asian slaw, chipotle dressing, pico) and garlic fries. We wandered around looking for t-shirts, but finding none that we liked, and with nothing else to do, we decided to head to Amarillo a day early.

The three hour drive through more of New Mexico resulted in even more nothingness and falling-apart-buildings.  It was so obvious when we hit the Texas border, because even though it was still country, it was obviously inhabited. We stopped at Cadillac Ranch on our way into Amarillo, then headed to the much anticipated Torchy's Tacos for dinner.  I came across Torchy's on a Facebook article and had saved it for whenever I was in Texas.  Torchy's is a small chain that started out of a trailer in Austin, and is limited to the TX/OK/AK region at the moment, though I see they're working on expanding into Colorado. We booked out hotel for the next two nights,  then binged on crappy TV - aka 90-day Fiance - because crappy TV is also one of our travel traditions.

Cadillac Ranch

Saturday, June 1, 2019
Day 7: Amarillo, Texas

Our goal for the day was to find t-shirts then chill by the pool until Darcy's wedding.  It is tradition that on all of our trips we get matching t-shirts. Who would have thunk that in the state more obsessed with itself than any other we would have such a struggle finding t-shirts! It took us all morning, and seven different store visits to find some, after which we grabbed some Chinese food to-go and spent the noon hour shoveling teriyaji chicken into our faces from Chop Chop, and bingeing on Forensic Files. Eventually we made our way out to the pool for a couple hours before having to get ready.

It was a sunny, 80+ degree day when we Ubered down to the wedding venue, but boy did that change quickly! Just after the bride and groom arrived, it downpoured and didn't ever seem to stop. By the time we caught a ride back to our hotel at the end of the night with our new friends (when I became the kind of person who just chats up strangers and becomes BFFs in five minutes of meeting them I don't know), roads were flooded and the interstates were at a standstill because of it. Our new friends informed us that it never rained like this in Texas, and that we needed to let them know the next time we were in town because Sophie and I are a blast! 😋

Sunday, June 2, 2019
Day 8: Amarillo, Texas -> Topeka, Kansas

Sunday was not an adventurous day, as we had to make the 8 hour drive to Kansas.  Since it wasn't too long of a drive, we were able to take our time getting up in the morning and packing, which worked out well after Saturday's late night. When we got to Kansas, Sophie took me to her favorite restaurant, where I had my first tamale pie! It was delicious!

Monday, June 3, 2019
Day 9: Topeka, Kansas -> HOME

Sophie had to go back to work today, and I had to get back home before nightfall because I had my name on the list for a free Maren Morris concert in Nash. I stopped at the halfway point, St. Louis, to stretch and refuel, and made it back with enough time to shower and head down to Nashville for what turned out to be an incredible show!

This was such a great trip. I loved getting to do most of the traveling on my own, but also getting to spend time with my faraway friends. I honestly didn't realize that it was abnormal, to travel on my own, until people were consistently telling me I was crazy, brave, etc. I'll be honest, it has zero to do with bravery, (but maybe a little to do with craziness) - for the most part it is purely selfish. If I travel on my own, I get to do what I want, when I want.  No stopping if I don't want to, stopping to do random things that most people would be bored with, etc. I got all the me-time that my introverted self needed, but also got to hang out with my friends that I don't see very often! It was great having Sophie with me for a few days of my travel because she travels like I do - with no plans and up for anything!


ONE - If you're roadtripping, download the app "Roadside Attractions." You can unlock one region in the US for free, but can open up the whole United States map for like $3. You can search specific areas for random roadside attractions, or can check it out with a map. This is how I find the random things to stop and stretch my legs out at!

My Google Maps
TWO - The Google Maps app allows you to saves destinations on it.  Whenever I find something or somewhere that I want to visit, I save it onto my Google Maps - both US and abroad.  This makes spur of the moment decisions super easy, and I almost never have to work to find somewhere to eat when traveling because my map is full of places!

You can find all travel posts from Hey Dreamer Blog here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - May

I know I said I'd be better about making sure this was written in a timely manner, but alas, we are a third of the way through June and I'm just now clicking the publish button. With the end of school, my road trip, and CMA fest all piled into the last three weeks, I just haven't had the time to sit down with my computer and here is to another month of short and sweet book reviews.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means when you purchase something through that link, you're helping support this blog at no additional cost to you!*

(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

43. The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (1.5/5 ★)

Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She's a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police - she's a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home - Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it's too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did? 

I listened to this as an audiobook and it took me FOREVER to get through.  I checked this one out form the library on CD instead of using the app, which means I couldn't speed up the narration, which probably contributed to the fact that it took all month to listen to. But also, it was just a really slow story line.  The story was very dull and shallow.  Honestly, there is more suspense in the description of the story than in the actual story. Don't read it. Just don't. If it is already on your TBR list, take it off.

44. It End with Us by Colleen Hoover (4/5 ★)

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

Okay I was mildly infuriated in the beginning of this, because I was not about to read a book where the female character is willingly abused, but without giving too much away, the story rectified itself. I'm not usually a love story kind of reader, but Colleen Hoover's stories are quick enough that I don't get bored with them before finished. I've recommended her as an author to anyone looking for easy reads who are into the non-erotica kind of romance stories.

45. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (2.5/5 ★)

Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.
Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

I think this one was recommended to me, but I didn't love it.  I kept feeling like I totally missed some major part of the story. I listened to it as an audio book and I LOVE Bahni Turpin as the narrator. 

46. The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn (5/5 ★)

A family moves into an old, abandoned house. Jules's parents love the house, but Jules is frightened and feels a sense of foreboding. When she sees a pale face in an upstairs window, though, she can't stop wondering about the eerie presence on the top floor—in a room with a locked door. Could it be someone who lived in the house a century earlier?

Her fear replaced by fascination, Jules is determined to make contact with the mysterious figure and help unlock the door. Past and present intersect as she and her ghostly friend discover—and change—the fate of the family who lived in the house all those many years ago.

This is a middle grade novel, but I read Took when it came out a few years ago and enjoyed it, so I wanted to read this one as well! I love Hahn's ghost stories - great stories for kids and kids-at-heart!

47. Confess by Colleen Hoover (3/5 ★)

At age twenty-one, Auburn Reed has already lost everything important to her. In her fight to rebuild her shattered life, she has her goals in sight and there is no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry. 

For once, Auburn takes a chance and puts her heart in control, only to discover that Owen is keeping a major secret from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it.

To save their relationship, all Owen needs to do is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin.

Another fun Hoover novel! Honestly, her books are all pretty predictable because they're the same story with different characters and a different crisis, but because they're such quick reads I keep devouring them. 

48. Without Merit by Colleen Hoover (4/5 ★)

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

Poignant and powerful, Without Merit explores the layers of lies that tie a family together and the power of love and truth.

Although mildly predictable, I enjoyed this one. It was a quick read, and entertaining the whole way through. Definitely recommend - would make a perfect pool book!

49. November 9 by Colleen Hoover (4/5 ★)

Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in L.A. together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.
Can Ben’s relationship with Fallon—and simultaneously his novel—be considered a love story if it ends in heartbreak?

This is probably my favorite Hoover read thus far. In typical Colleen Hoover fashion, this book went in many directions, which of course all connected at the end. I would recommend not reading this one first, because I don't think the others are as good!

Reading Challenge: 49/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!