Friday, November 16, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest...And Beating Ernesto


August 4, 2012 – “Leaving the Last Best Place”

We were ready for our trip…Waiting anxiously at the Missoula airport.   Did I hear “weather delays”?  Yes, it was true.  Fog in San Francisco was thwarting our plans.  When we finally arrived to SFO, (two hours late), we had the opportunity to run through the airport like under-trained marathoners only to watch our plane pull away.  We also saw news of the impending Hurricane Ernesto due to guessed it...Belize!

August 5, 2012 – “Let the Games Begin”

In honor of the world athletes currently battling it out in London, we decided to travel international, of course!  Despite the fact that Belize only had three athletes competing in the Olympics, it seemed appropriate.

We FINALLY made it to Belize City International airport where our guide, Mike, was patiently waiting for us.  He had a sweet, quiet demeanor and was so accommodating and welcoming.  Naturally, we nicknamed our kind new friend “Jaguar Mike”.
First stop was AMIGOS for a Belizean meal of barbecued chicken, rice & beans, homemade tortillas, and habanera sauce.  This was our first meal and our first glimpse of the Mayan Mountains.

 Our stop at the Belize Zoo gave us an opportunity to see animals native to Belize:  spider monkeys, tapir (national animal of Belize), macaw, jaguarondi, kinkajou, and grison.  All the animals were rescued and placed in the zoo.

Mike took us onto our home in the jungle – Pook’s Hill.  We were oriented on the Mayan ruins on the grounds, our casita, the lounge, and the dining area where we would have our first dinner with our Pook’s Hill “family”.

August 6, 2012 – “Just Another Manic Monday”

Or the antithesis of “manic”.  We started our day off with sleeping in, a big breakfast, and visiting with our new friends from across the pond, Kirsty and Alex.  Francisco then led us on an adventure through the jungle.  I loved learning about the medicinal plants – it is neat how we are provided with remedies and cures right from the earth!

The afternoon brought with it tubing down the river, swimming, rope swinging, and laughing…a LOT!  Laughter is the best medicine – yet another natural remedy one finds in Belize.

August 7, 2012 – “Go With the Flow…to Guatemala”

This morning started with another delicious breakfast…only at 6:00 am!  We were heading out to do the ATM Cave!  Bumping down the road out of Pook’s Hill was an adventure of its own!  One of the first homes we reached cut that adventure short, however.  A large, shirtless man nonchalantly mixing what looked like biscuit dough with his bare hands on his front porch was shaking his head “no”.  The Belizean government had closed ALL sited in the country in anticipation of Hurricane Ernesto.  It wasn’t even raining, but they were taking extra careful precautions apparently. 

What does one do when the country of Belize closes down?  Go to Guatemala, of course!  Tikal, here we come.

The ruins were absolutely fascinating – what an interesting culture.  And to learn that 63% of Guatemalans are Mayan was so surprising!  We walked through the jungle that has overtaken what once was a city, we climbed the temples, and we observed the wildlife:  spider monkeys, howler monkeys, tarantulas.  All the while, taking in what Samuel Moreno, our guide, had to teach us.

Firsts:  trying hibiscus juice, chewing natural chicle (gum base), seeing the animal in the wild that makes the sound of a hungry T-rex, holding a tarantula, and entering Guatemala!

Pook’s Hill welcomed us back home after our journey with the fresh, hot tortilla chips and salsa that wait for us every evening at 6:00 pm.  Dinner was full of fun and laughter as we sat with Vicki, the owner, and Jake, her son visiting from England.  It is quite amazing how one can grow an affinity for others in such a short time. 

We said bittersweet goodbyes to Kirsty and Alex this night.  Who in the world will help me capture the scorpions in my room from now on??  Oh, wait….

August 8, 2012 – “Conquering the ATM”

Is that Vicki banging on our door shouting “the cave is open!!!”?  Hard to tell when you are deep in slumber. 

Since it didn’t end up raining as expected, Belize decided to open everything back up to travelers.  Good thing because the ATM cave was an incredible experience.

After hiking 2 miles, crossing 3 rivers, and using a restroom that made roadside stops in Thailand look like the Waldorf, we entered the Actun (cave) Tunichil (stone) Muchnal (sepulcher).  And not just by waltzing in but by swimming in with a helmet and headlamp on!  It was awesome!

From there, it was wading, swimming, climbing, balancing, crawling, and squeezing through the cave.  The ultimate reward was worth it all:  ancient Mayan artifacts and skeletons still sitting in the cave chambers where the Mayan men used to gather and perform ceremonies.

It was an incredible two hours in the cave, not only because of the historic and cultural significance, but because of the glitter geological formations, physical challenges, and the mere thrill of being deep inside a cave filled with water.

We returned just in time for a hearty lunch - black beans, chicken, and cheese on homemade tortillas.  The rest of the afternoon, I took full advantage of the lounge hammocks.  We got to see a toucan, spectacle owls, and “Jesus Christ” lizard (that can run across water) as well.  You know, just everyday wildlife….

Another amazing dinner with great conversation left me with the question:  Why would a woman with a design degree and a career as a puppet box designer decide to move her family to the deep jungle of Belize to share this special place with so many others?  But then again, why not??...

August 9, 2012 – “The Island Life”

After our last breakfast at Pook’s Hill, we said our goodbyes and headed to the municipal airport in Belize City.  You can get a free cup of coffee, make a new friend, and spit farther than the length of the building at this airport.  Truly charming.

Victoria House was our home on Ambergris Caye.  A taste of luxury and pampering after our time in the jungle.  And AIR CONDITIONING!  We were in paradise!  I mean, really…

We borrowed bikes from Victoria House to explore town, came back to swim in the infinity pool, walked along the beach, and took in the beauty of our surroundings.  I think Hurricane Ernesto needs a GPS because the weather was picture perfect – palm trees blowing lightly in a warm wind through a surreal blue sky.

August 10, 2012 – “Jaws”

The term “continental breakfast” typically evokes thoughts of sugary cereal, powdered eggs, burnt coffee, and stale English muffins.  Put those assumptions aside and think warm, homemade bread with butter and preserves, zucchini muffins, fresh tropical fruits, and watermelon juice.  All served at your beachside table.  Thank you, Victoria House!

Hol Chan was our first snorkel stop – a 30 foot deep channel teaming with sea turtles, tropical fish, eel, and coral reef. 

Shark Ray Alley was our next stop.  This is when the sound of my own breath through my snorkel became louder and heavier.  It wasn’t as frightening after the initial jump in.  Perhaps this was due to the fact their faces were quite reminiscent of large, friendly catfish.  Needless to say, I was still in the open sea surrounded by sharks…then came the rays.  Could we get any more deadly animals in the mix here??

It eventually became a sense of camaraderie.  They weren’t “out to get me”.  They probably aren’t’ too keen on the taste of human anyway…
After a poolside lunch, we were back in the dilemma of a critical decision:  should we lay by the pool or on the beach?

August 11, 2012 – “And That’s the Way How It Is”

Giovanni was our snorkel guide this morning as we headed out to Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos.  He is a native Belizean, but he looks more like a pirate with his hair slicked back in a ponytail, big hoop earrings, and tattooed arms.  His accent was Caribbean islander with his favorite phrase being “And that’s the way how it is.  Yea maan.”  You learn to like Giovanni quickly.

Then, you like him even better after 2 hours of snorkeling when he brings out thick, coconut macaroon tarts he has baked for all of us.  It was the perfect treat after swimming around brain coral, elk horn coral, flounder, and sea turtles all morning.  This is the life!
And that life continued with a lunch of fresh ceviche and a mango pina colada.  We are getting SPOILED!

We took our daily bike ride into town and then were faced with that critical decision once again:  poolside or beachside?

August 12, 2012 – “So Long, Farewell”

Our last morning on Ambergris Caye and it was bittersweet.  One last bike ride, one last lunch of fresh seafood, one last walk out onto the Victoria House dock, one last conversation with Jeremiah and Marlon – our favorite staff members at the resort.

Riding through San Pedro to the airstrip, I tried to take it all in.  This place was so reminiscent of Thailand to me.  The sticky humidity, smell or exhaust and grilled meats, dust flying into your face, dilapidated buildings, and people making a living however they can.  It created a stronger realization that there are similarities between so many places.  Whether it is the landscape, the people, the sights or smells…we truly live in a small world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Honestly, I was not exactly sure what to expect when I accepted the invitation to join the inaugural voyage of the Safari Endeavor's "un-cruise" celebrating her Christening.  (See more explanation of the "un-cruise" at the following site: .  

The only cruise I had ever been on was the large ship, “amusement park” type.  So, spending the weekend on a small ship, with people I didn’t know, in the middle of a large body of water seemed curious to me. 


The celebration began at Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal with free-flowing champagne and excitement thick in the salty air.  I witnessed InnerSea Discoveries’ CEO, Dan Blanchard, speaking proudly of his ships as if they were his own children.  He spoke just as highly of this staff and colleagues.  His hugs and amiable kisses on the cheek showed that he meant every word of those high praises.  It was like a family celebrating the birth of its newest member.

For me, as a self-proclaimed foodie, it got even better at dinner.  Who knew that a true gourmet meal could be prepared on a ship?!  Previewed by a cocktail hour with a sweet-sounding Latin jazz band playing in the background, the party moved on to the Endeavor’s dining room.  Some of you may not care that I am about to describe the menu of the night, but please humor me.  You’ll probably be hungry by the end…
-          Coho salmon tartare with avocado mousse served with homemade flatbread crackers
-          Tender roasted duck on a bed of butternut squash and Swiss chard
-          Passion fruit tart in a nut & shortbread crust served with a web of burnt sugar & raspberries

Throughout dinner, I had the opportunity to meet Tim Jacox (Vice President) and Eric Gier (CFO), as well as Astrid and Naomi, whom I email frequently from work.  The people at InnerSea are even more amazing in person! Eric had my husband and me in stitches telling his off-the-wall stories until 11:00 p.m. around the dinner table!  I could already tell this was a special group and that it was going to be a special weekend.


Have you ever awakened to a gorgeous view of land and water moving swiftly past your window, lazily prepared yourself for the day, then savored the warmth of a fresh oatmeal scone while waiting for the latte you just ordered?  But wait…it gets even better.  Twenty minutes later, the chef calls you to the dining room for a full breakfast of lemon ricotta pancakes, eggs, bacon…the works!

How could this day get any better?  Well, it did somehow.  Perhaps it was due to a 20 minute massage by Noel in the warm breeze of the sun deck, a kayaking excursion on Puget Sound, inspiring conversations with our travel companions, spotting majestic bald eagles, watching a traditional Native American canoe race while visiting the quaint town of Coupeville during its annual Water Festival, exploring Penn Cove – where the famous shellfish originate, belly-laughing with our newly made friends, and enjoying yet more incredible meals.  All the while experiencing outstanding service by the staff such as sweet Meryl – a true Southern Belle, Matt – the friendly expedition guide who WILL stand up to the Coast Guard for you, efficient Jen, and Chris who quickly feels like your kid brother.  We were pampered and attended to the entire trip!  Little things, like having glass mugs of hot chocolate with Bailey’s and whipped cream waiting for us as we got off of a chilly & wet zodiac ride, were so appreciated.  It was this attention to detail that made the un-cruise experience over the top.


It may seem like it was a jam-packed weekend, but it was actually very relaxing.  Yes, we had a fun-filled weekend, but there is a calming effect when one is on the water with no responsibilities or deadlines.  Despite all the activities available, there was definitely a nature of “un-cruise” flexibility and laid back attitude throughout the trip.  It was almost therapeutic to fell detached from the world for a moment and to be free of the pull of day-to-day life.  A weekend of true leisure was something that I, personally, didn’t only enjoy but NEEDED.


My un-cruise experience surpassed every expectation I had set for it.  I am absolutely honored to have taken part in the inaugural journey of the Safari Endeavor before she ventures on to Alaska this summer.  Reflecting upon my adventures, the memories made, and how close I became to the other travelers in just one weekend is incredible!  Then, I think of how so many others are going to gain those same encounters and cherish them forever.  More than the beautiful ship, I believe it is the beauty of those experiences that is truly something to celebrate.

P.S. - I found this little treat during our time in Coupeville.  Loved it so much I HAD to incorporate it into my blog!  Haha!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tender Tennessee Christmas

Growing up and hearing this Amy Grant song, I never realized how befitting the following lines would be in my future life: "Rockies are callin'. Tender snow fallin'. Somebody said it's four feet deep. But it doesn't matter. Give me the laughter. I'm gonna choose to keep another tender Tennessee Christmas. The only Christmas for me."

So far, a Tennessee Christmas has been the only one for me! We were so fortunate to be able to travel down south this December to spend 10 wonderful days with family and friends. It was so comforting to be belly-laughing, reminiscing, telling stories, and sharing meals with my constants from a place that will always be "home".

As always, I am going to highlight the delightful culinary treats I encountered, but let me preface by stating that the absolute highlight of Tennessee are the PEOPLE in my life!
Like these people...
...and these people.

Jordan and I were welcomed upon our arrival to Nashville on December 25th by sweet southern accents and a semi-tropical climate. (Compared to Montana anyways.) We were also welcomed by Christmas dinner!
Jordan's mom, aka Big She-She, made a spectacular meal! Sweet potato casserole with a pecan & coconut topping, fresh salad with fruit and feta, hot rolls, and DEEP FRIED TURKEY. Listen...this is the way to eat a turkey, people!!

My parents opened up their home for a little shindig the day after Christmas. Queso with homemade tortilla chips & bourbon apricot ham were compliments of a favorite local restaurant, CHEF'S MARKET. I fancied up some baked brie with pastry ribbons and fresh fruit.

Michelle, my belle.
My long-time fellow dancer/house shopping companion/Doyle & Debbie fanatic friend came to visit! Her gift to Julz and I...none other than a bottle of "Kung Fu Girl" wine. I appreciate the way this lady makes me laugh...

BAKING DAY with the Johnston ladies!!
Enjoying an afternoon of chatting over hot mugs of French press coffee, solving the world's problems, and taste-testing the cookie dough along the way.
We baked chocolate chip cookies from a Pinterest recipe which called for pastry flour AND bread flour. Seemed a bit odd for a cookie recipe. But whatever. I'll go with it because these little morsels of goodness with huge shards of bittersweet chocolate were divine!

Duck, Duck, GOOSE!
Julie introduced me to my favorite eatery that I visited on this trip! My little sister is becoming quite the foodie herself!

SILLY GOOSE in up-and-coming East Nashville definitely has a localvore, farm to table vibe. The hostess sets a fresh peony in a mason jar on your table as you are seated. We ordered rosemary lemonade and herbed iced green tea, again in mason jars. Our delectable sandwiches were an array of grilled local vegetables hugged by perfectly toasted artisan breads, and the signature herbed cous cous was so fluffy it was barely existent.

There was this group of 15 girls formed my sophomore year of high school. This was a very creative group of friends who called themselves, "The Fifteen". We got together for birthdays each month and had a progressive dinner every Christmas. This year we did not "progress" since the expedition between 5 different houses seems a bit overkill, but we had some good southern cookin'!
We have been with each other through marriages, babies, great losses, hard times, life changes...everything that comes with 12 years of friendship. This event is not about the food or the Dirty Santa gift exchange (although this does get QUITE entertaining!) It is about a camaraderie that absolutely cannot be replaced! We are 15 extremely different women and we have been throughout the journey, but there is an unexplained, unquestionable bond that we share.

For the birds.
Elizabeth wanted to name her steel cut oat, flax, honey, peanut butter, cranberry breakfast treats something other than "oat balls". And I can see why.
Sumalee looked pensively at one of the yummy treats and decided that they looked like the food she put out for the birds. Hence the new name for them...Bird Bites. Appetizing??...

This local coffee shop is newer, so I had never had the pleasure of going. I read about it on a blog that I follow, Eat.Drink.Smile. Therefore, it was a must-see.
Apparently, Dave Barnes was also a must-see because I saw him here. It made me remember the days of seeing "famous" people around Nashville and what a commonality that used to be.

FOOD TRUCKS are the newest craze around Music City USA.
Therefore, it made my list of "things to do" while in Nashville.
The GRILLED CHEESERIE did not disappoint!
Wow...the all time best grilled cheese sandwiches I ever tasted!
- Brie, turkey, pumpkin seeds, pesto, roasted butternut squash -
- Gouda, ham, fried farm egg, and spicy brown mustard -

I loved this new addition to the official Nashville poster collection. It is in remembrance of the big flood in 2011 and how the city rebounded from that huge tragedy.

Back on track....more FOOD!
jeni's ice cream
Yet another outstanding East Nashville eatery.
I loved their mission statement. First things first..."We believe in glorious butterfat."
Enough said.
I tried salty caramel, fig and goat cheese, and bumbleberry crisp flavors.

Mom, Julie, and I cooked a random, but delicious, meal for the Canaday-4.
It was fun to have just the girls and dad at home for a meal, just like old times.
Homemade whipping cream dumplins, fried ham, fresh salad, and roasted spaghetti squash.


Always a fave of mine. Consistent, creative, fresh food in an atmosphere that takes you across the pond to a little bistro in Paris.
French onion soup & Cauliflower/Onion tarte were my choices "de jour".

frozen yogurt = nashville trend
I was beginning to believe that a lady named CeCe was taking over the city! There is a Sweet CeCe's yogurt shop on every corner of town! No exaggeration!
Naturally, I HAD to try it out to see what the big deal was.
As you can see, the toppings line the back wall of the shop. And that is not all...there is a bar of candies, fruits, sauces, etc. along another wall!!

Jordan and I took a night to go on a DATE! Actually, we dropped my parents off at the Ryman for a Glen Campbell concert, THEN went on a date :)
Big decision: WHERE in the world to eat??!!
We chose J. ALEXANDER'S.
It was always our go-to place when we found ourselves downtown with an appetite and a budget. So, definitely a good nostalgic location.
The roasted acorn squash with almonds and brown sugar, house-made veggie burger, and orzo salad met every expectation of one of my Nashville favorites.

Here's to you, Nashville!
Home of country music and wanna-be stars.
Home of the Titans and the Grand Ole Opry.
Home of gourmet restaurants and greasy spoons.
Home of friendly folks and bad drivers.
Home of Goo Goo Clusters and Loveless Cafe biscuits.
Home of precious family and forever friends.
Home of a lifetime of memories.
Home of my history.