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Category Archives: The Pretty Penny

Remembering a Summer Road Trip

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As the summer ends, I find myself seeking out the heat.  There’s something so familiar and nostalgic about September heat in California.  It’s not humid and sticky like Savannah, or oppressive like Laughlin.  It’s a dry, blazing heat in the afternoon that cools off in the evening.  It’s  beaches and driving with the windows down and midnight bonfires.  It’s Bon Jovi and Tim McGraw and stolen kisses.

Summer is a time for vacations, and I’m reminded of some of the best times with family and friends.  In 2003 (the year I met Marco), my best friend Amy and I took a road trip from LA to Savannah.  We set out in my Ford Taurus with only three known goals: 1. visit Roswell, NM; 2. get to New Orleans in time for our hotel reservation; 3. make it to Savannah to stay with my aunt and uncle.  I recommend a trip like this to anyone who has the time to do it!

We made it to the Grand Canyon on the first day.  Amy is a camper, and I am not, but I agreed to camp to save money.  It turned out to be awesome!  We stayed two nights in a tent near the rim of the Grand Canyon.  We did not have a flashlight, so once our campfire was out, we couldn’t see anything.  Except for the millions of beautiful stars between the pine trees.  Yeah, there’s a reason there aren’t any lampposts.  While we were there, we attended an evening nature talk, and we did a sunrise photo walk with a guide.

We headed out toward Roswell, but the car’s transmission did something strange in Winslow, AZ.  We ended up waiting outside of a car repair shop for a few hours.  Amy was not pleased with me.  She was right…I should have had the car checked before we left.

The best thing about Winslow is the souvenirs everywhere that say “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.”  Here’s the famous corner:

We finally made it to Roswell.  Oh my gosh…go to Roswell.  No, really, GO.  It is another world.  Everyone, and I mean everyone we talked to, told us a story of their personal experience being abducted by aliens.  Many of them moved to Roswell because of their experiences, but many of them were raised in Roswell.  We went through the museum, and Amy was getting pretty convinced that aliens had landed, but I was still skeptical.  I mean, something landed, but why couldn’t it be something from this world?  A crazy science experiment sounds more plausible to me than aliens.

Our next stop was Dallas.  We found a campground just outside of town and as we were getting things moved into the tent, I spotted my first firefly.  I had never seen them before, and they are truly wondrous creatures.  Amy and I decided to follow it, and we soon saw many of them around the campground.  They blinked on and off, leading us through a field toward a stream.  I am not a religious person, but I think I’m spiritual, and there are times when the “spiritual force,” or God, seems to give us glimpses of magic in the world.  If we are able to stop and appreciate these magical moments, our hearts are filled.  I know what you’re thinking…I don’t believe in aliens, but I believe in the force.

Until next time…

may the Force be with you…

The Continental Room

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This is an exciting time of year for high school teachers!  We are winding down the year, finishing up the last tests and projects, and the seniors have graduated.  To celebrate, I met some teachers at The Continental Room in downtown Fullerton.  Fullerton is a great place to hang out.  It’s a little college-friendly (too young for me), but bars like The Continental Room and Bourbon Street cater to patrons in all stages of life (post 21!).   Marco loves this place for its Mad Men feel…every girl is Joan Harris and every guy is Don Draper.

Here’s Marco doing the “Draper:”

The Continental Room is a fun place!  It inspires one to order something like an Old Fashioned or a martini.

It was a much-needed break after a long school year!  Here I am trying not to show my annoyance after school when a 7th period student grabbed my camera:

And here we are as we begin the weekend!  Much better.

The Continental Room has great bartenders who specialize in remembering drinks for their regulars…there were three guys on the other side of the bar who are in there every day.  They also have awesome little details, like a direct taxi phone:

The only thing missing at The Continental is a kitchen.  We went around the corner to Heroes for some huge nachos:

Only two more weeks, and it’s summer vacation!

A Quick Stop at Pyramid Lake

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Anyone who drives on I5 north of Los Angeles has probably noticed Pyramid Lake.  Just as a weary driver begins to be hypnotized by the barren hills of the Grapevine (even though it’s called Angeles National Forest!), a glimpse of blue water appears on the west side, and a pyramid seems to be carved out of the mountain on the far side.  After 17 years of driving along I5, I finally visited this landmark when we were on our way back from Bakersfield last weekend.  Marco and I debated about spending the $11 to park, but we saved so much money on our Bakersfield trip that we felt comfortable with it.  And what a nice excursion!  The lake winds around and looks different from different angles.  We parked near a narrow portion of the lake and walked along it taking photos.

I had my little red Canon, but Marco brought out the big camera to capture the scenery.  Here he is taking a picture of me from up above.  You can see the gazebos behind him for barbecues.

The lake has some nice features.  There is a big, open boat launch area (bigger than other lakes), and it was very busy on this sunny day.

We wandered along the lake until we found the swimming beach.  It is protected from the boats, and it’s not too long of a walk, but it’s better to drive there.  The walk was hot in the bright sun!

This little guy climbed the stairs in front of us, jumping up each step.  He finally found his way onto the railing and out of danger.

The stairs took us up to more barbecue areas, and a great view of the lake.  The swimming beach is tucked in a corner on the left side of the photo.

The swimming beach is a bit small, but roomy enough for a family to take a swim.

As we wandered back along the lake, we noticed fishermen perched on rocks.  It was such an idyllic setting!  Absolutely beautiful.

I love his hat!

There were some beautiful natural elements all along the lake.  I loved the pattern and texture of these roots.

There was a great tree along the bank.  We took a rest in its shade, and I crawled down to water’s edge to dip my feet.

I took this picture of us!  So proud of my smile, instead of the apprehensive look I usually have when I’m holding the camera. 

If you’re in Southern California, this is a fun day trip!  Pack a lunch and bring your swimwear.

Best Western in Bakersfield

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Marco and I are more than willing to stay in old, funky hotels.  So this weekend we are in Bakersfield for a wedding, and we got a great price on a room at the Best Western. But what a surprise! The room is big!


And the bathroom has two dressing areas.


Downstairs is the Junction, which is a funny bar with too much lighting, but the karaoke is great! It’s a combination of classic country, disco, 80s and 90s.

Not a bad place, and it’s next to the Buck Owens Crystal Palace.

Big Bear Lake

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Marco and I attended a wedding in Big Bear last weekend.  I haven’t been to Big Bear since I was a child, and I was so happy to be there as an adult!  The mountains are always beautiful, but if you’re like me, you don’t think of going there in the spring or summer.  I love the snow, and I only think of visiting the mountains for skiing and sledding.  But last weekend, the weather was gorgeous, and the mountains were the perfect setting for a great couple to tie the knot.

The ceremony took place overlooking the lake, and there was a lovely breeze to cool us down from the warm sun.

The wedding was a lot of fun, but the best part was hearing the bride’s three kids speak about their love for their mom and their new stepfather.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place!

We enjoyed some “after-party” time at Chad’s Place in Big Bear, which was walking distance from our hotel.  Chad’s Place is a fun bar with a dance floor, and there was a great band playing that night.  The band is called Slingshot, and they cover a lot of fun classic rock songs.  I highly recommend it, if you’re looking for some small-town fun up in Big Bear!

We stayed at the Robinhood Resort, which is across the street from the lake.

Our section was called the Wishing Well.

It’s a funky, old place that looks like it is a collection of 3 or 4 motels.  We had the upstairs corner room right behind the tree in the photo.  It was a typical motel, with old, used furniture and carpet that feels full of chemicals.  But we’ve definitely stayed in worse places, and it was a short walk to the wedding and to the bar, for a very good price!  I think we paid around $90 for the night on

One of the best things about our room was the room key.  I love an old-fashioned key!

When we checked in, we were delighted by the lobby.  It’s very rustic, with some funny twists.

This little outhouse/go-cart sits in front of the hotel.

Celebrities slept here!

Marco and I found some time to wander around the lake on Sunday before heading home.  It was so nice to be in a beautiful place on such a perfect day.


All in all, a great mini vacation with my husband!

I love the lavender shirt!


The San Miguel Mission

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My family lives in central California.  That means they’re halfway between San Francisco and LA.  When my childhood best friend and I started at UCLA, an announcer at one of the myriad welcoming assemblies asked for cheers from people hailing from Southern California, Northern California, other states, and other countries.  We sat, silently, waiting for the acknowledgement that would not come.  That was our first clue that we were from “nowhere.”

But the central coast of California is one of the most perfect places in the world.  Beautiful, temperate, and not too crowded (yet).  With beaches, farmland, wineries, and cattle ranches, it is a mediterranean lifestyle that inspires art and innovation.

Last weekend, Marco and I ventured to my family’s ranch to attend my niece’s 5th birthday party.  While we were there, we decided to go for a walk around the San Miguel Mission.

Mission San Miguel Arcangel is just off Highway 101 in San Miguel, CA. Very easy to find!

It’s one of the original missions in California, and it has recently been restored.  All the California missions are beautiful, and very photogenic.  Marco has done many shoots here, including family photos for my sister.

A view of the church from across the street. It was recently restored, thanks to huge local fundraising efforts. The state does not maintain it, because it is an active Catholic church.

Inside the mission’s Catholic church. The altar came from Spain in the 1800s, and the frescoes are recently restored.

Less than a mile away is another historic landmark, called Rios Caledonia.  It’s an old adobe hotel and stagecoach stop.

The sign reads “Caledonia Hotel, Stage Stop and Saloon”

I picked up a brochure, and we learned that it was purchased illegally from Governor Pio Pico, who later had to flee the area, by a man named Rios.  It was then purchased by a man named Blanchart, who decided to call it the Caledonia Hotel, because of his love for Scotland (called Caledonia by the Romans).  And thus, a little outpost in California came to use an ancient Roman name.  Incidentally, Pico Boulevard in LA is named after Governor Pio Pico.  Love history!

The front of the two story hotel, from down on the street. It was originally a residence for the Rios family.

So if you’re headed to the central coast, or just driving up Highway 101,

“Be sure to visit the mission, 1/2 block ahead. Visitors welcome.”

I couldn’t say it better myself!

Free Brie

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Sometimes brie appears in unexpected places.

I was shopping at Trader Joe’s, and they were giving away samples of a pasta with brie and asparagus.

How could I resist?

It was pretty good, but I would add some ham or chicken to it, and maybe something a little crunchy, like pine nuts.

While I was there, I decided to try out their Chicken Gorgonzola.  We had it last night, and it was good, but it was a little too salty.  It was great for Marco, though, because it only has 9 grams of carbs, and 320 calories per serving.

I was at work late on Friday, so I decided to eat there.  I had been given a Starbucks card as a gift, and I went across the street to find something yummy.  I was very happy to find a meal with apples, cheese, almonds, flax seed crackers, and dried cranberries.  The best parts was the sizable slice of brie!

The box is about $5, and very filling!

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