Monthly Archives: November 2015

Portland, Oregon–The Family Crock Pot

My dad had the best idea to celebrate Thanksgiving.  He rented a huge house on the Oregon coast.

img_20151126_140536 calypso-beach-house-in-ocean-city

Not only would my sister and her family be joining us, but my very special Uncle Dan and Aunt Wendy were coming as well!  Ryan would later come to call this adventure “the family crock pot.”

Dan and Mike Miller

The Miller Boys

Yay for the Solberg family!

Yay for the Solberg family!

Before this trip, I had never been to the Oregon coast.  It was very nice, although somewhat breezy.  The house Dad rented was near the beach and was well set up for a large group (and their dogs).  There were eight adults, two kids, and four dogs!


The family crock pot!

The family crock pot!

Over the next few days we took turns cooking, watching the kids, walking the dogs, and sharing a cold.  This was the only setback out of the whole deal but was unavoidable, as colds go.  Luckily my sister, Nurse Meg, came prepared and she was very generous with her supplies.

Hard at work. :)

The kitchen crew hard at work. 🙂

An arm full of giggles.

An arm full of giggles.

We did puzzles, made sandcastles, and enjoyed the hot tub.  I also busted out the Christmas music while we cooked.  There were only some objections, but I had a strong ally in my sister and we got our way (surprise, surprise).

The kid's a natural. :)

The kid’s a natural. 🙂

Making a gingerbread house

Making a gingerbread house

The Thanksgiving feast was fantastic, with all of my favorite foods and some new ones provided by Aunt Wendy who is Canadian.  I could even taste, thank goodness!  It was a Thanksgiving that I’ll always remember and will always be thankful for.  Great idea Dad/Grandpa/Trail Boss!


First come, first serve.

Crazy Grandpa!

Crazy Grandpa!

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Portland, Oregon–4T Trail Adventure

After more than a year of traveling around South America and Mexico, it was time to return stateside for the holidays.  Thanksgiving was just around the corner and our first stop was Portland, Oregon.   I was needing a good hug from my mom so much that I cried when I got it.

I missed my mom!

I missed my mom!

My parents have been living in Portland for a little over three years now and it still takes some getting used to whenever we visit them there, instead of the home where I grew up in Wyoming.  That being said, I really like Portland with it’s cool weather, seemingly constant rain, and excellent public transportation.


Their new digs. Ryan thought about buying the one next door. It’s too bad we can’t afford it!

My dad is a very active, outdoorsy kind of guy.  Nothing makes him happier than walking around and checking things out, (aside from some fresh oysters on the half shell).  I’ve been thrilled to find that he’s adjusted to living in the big city very well.


Check out this cool city cat rocking his hat! And Mom in her little blue shoes…sigh. Just perfect.

During this trip, he took us on the 4T Trail adventure.  This includes hiking a trail and riding a train, a trolley, and a tram.  As is often the case concerning our family, we started the adventure with some good food and hot drinks at the Mississippi Marketplace Food Cart Pod.

The Cartlandia Food Cart scene

The Mississippi Marketplace Food Cart Pod scene

A beautiful morning to enjoy some interesting food and hot chai. Yum!

Once we were properly fueled, we jumped on the MAX light rail train (1st T) and headed up to the Washington Park vicinity.  Ryan and I have taken the MAX many times while visiting my parents and we love it.  Aside from walking, this is a great way to get around the city.

We love the MAX!

We love the MAX!

1st T (train), check. So far, so good.

So far, so good.

From here, we embarked on the second part of our adventure by taking the trail (2nd T) from the Oregon Zoo up to Council Crest Park.   It was a nice hike up the hills through the trees and then down through part of Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).

The Trail Boss getting ready to lead the way

The Trail Boss getting ready to lead the way

Nature is good. :)

Nature is good.

The adventure crew

The adventure crew

Here we caught the Portland Aerial Tram (3rd T) and enjoyed a scenic ride down to the waterfront.  It was getting dark and the light was especially pretty.

The Portland Aerial Tram

The Portland Aerial Tram

The view from the top. Nice. :)

The view from the top. Nice.

Smooth and steady

Smooth and steady she goes

The ride was short and smooth and after we landed, we boarded the trolley, also known as the Portland Street Car (4th T) and made our way downtown.  It was practically dark now and we ended our adventure the same way it had begun, with some good food and drinks.  It was a lovely way to spend the day.

Celebrating not getting lost

Celebrating not getting lost

It's been a long time since Ryan got fancy beer, lol.

It’s been a long time since Ryan got fancy beer.

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Sayulita, Mexico–Fun in the Sun



Sayulita is only 25 miles from Puerto Vallarta and has about 4,000 people .  Ryan and I first heard about this quaint little fishing village when we were in Colombia on our jungle trek.  Kay, one of the world travelers we met, was so complementary that Ryan and I jumped on a local bus and went to check it out for ourselves.




Sayulita has a very relaxed, small town kind of vibe and it IS pretty small.  On our quest for lunch, we took three laps around town before selecting a little Mexican cafe off the main plaza.



I ordered some tacos that were spiced very nicely with green peppers.  I also treated myself to my favorite Mexican orangeade called a “naranjada.”  Ryan tried a cazuelita chio which tasted a little earthy for my liking.  His agua de horchata was so good that I ordered one for myself, once I had polished off my naranjada.


Amanda’s tacos


Ryan’s cazuelita chio

I was very happy to have some beach time.  The beaches were better than the ones we’ve seen in Puerto Vallarta because there was much more sand and fewer rocks (although we never saw the ones connected to the PV resorts for comparison).  They were more crowded then the PV beaches we had access to.



We rented an umbrella and got my hot husband a cold beer.  Then I got to spend as much time as I wanted wading in the water!  While there were some rocks to pick through, the water was nice and warm.  Not a bad way to spend a Monday.





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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico–Eat, Drink, and Be Merry


Ryan’s friend Eric came to visit us in Puerto Vallarta and we had nine whole days of fun.  Here’s a recap of some of the things we got to do.


One of the most popular and inexpensive ways to pass the time in Puerto Vallarta, the Malecon is a mile long stroll at the edge of the water.  The only issue we had was the heat as the Malecon is not shaded.  Ryan almost died, or so he thought every time we took the twelve-block trip (which was nearly every afternoon).  But not me.  Buy me a breezy dress and I’m well on my way to having a great time!


A small section of the Malecon

The Malecon Arches

The Malecon Arches


Pelican hanging out on the Malecon

View from the Malecon

Sunset from the Malecon

Walking Tour

This free walking tour took us up to an amazing view of the city.  We walked into churches and past schools and restaurants and shops.  Our guide even took us inside a few of them to investigate their treasures and to try the free tequila!


Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Main Square decorated for the Day of the Dead

The Main Square decorated for the Day of the Dead

Eric, Me, and Ryan standing in front of "The Good Fortune Unicorn" (by Anibal Riebeling)

Eric, Me, and Ryan standing in front of “The Good Fortune Unicorn” (by Anibal Riebeling)

The Blue Shrimp Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta

The Blue Shrimp Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta


The zoo in Puerto Vallarta may be small and out-of-the way.  It may have tons of tiny biting insects.  But you can play with baby lions, and tigers, and monkeys!  We pretty much had the place all to ourselves (aside from the attack mob of geese) and most of the walk was right up the mountainside in the shade and very pleasant.  I’ve made a request to Ryan to return for a birthday trip next year to play with lion cubs, because who doesn’t want to play with lion cubs!  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.


We were encouraged to feed the animals!

Sneaky little suckers

Sneaky little suckers got me good!

Look at that Snapper!

Look at that Snapper!

Botanical Gardens

This was a large and beautiful area although unfortunately, it was also hard to get to.  I enjoyed the gorgeous flowers and kept an eye out for creepies and crawlies while Ryan and Eric took in a swim.  This was apparently where the movie Predator (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) was filmed in 1987.  Beautiful scenery.





Pirate Ship Dinner Show

It might be more accurate to describe this adventure as a Booze Cruise.  Or a completely awesome night out.  There was music.  There were games.  There was sword fighting and fireworks.  There was chicken cordon-bleu (in my case) and fruity drinks containing a dark-purple-colored liquid boasting the name “Pirate Punch.”  But there’s more.  For one night and one night only, I had a personal pirate named Ludias.  It’s the stuff dreams are made of.


Our super cool pirate ship, a replica of the Santa Maria


The Grand Finale!!!


The coolest bathroom ever!

Marietas Islands Excursion

I’ve never been a huge fan of snorkeling.  The truth of the matter is that I’m horribly afraid of sharks.  But the gorgeous dark-green water was warm and I was feeling brave.  While the tides were not cooperating enough to allow us entry into the island’s main attraction–the hidden beach–there were plenty of Yellow and Blue-footed Boobies hanging around.  In addition, we were able to try out the paddle boards and sea kayaks.  However, the highlight of my excursion was definitely on the way home when we were joined by a group of curious dolphins.


We enjoyed calm waters on the way to the islands


The Marietas Islands

Snorkeling in warm waters

Snorkeling in warm waters

Sea kayaking

Sea kayaking

Food and Drink

I must have gained ten pounds during the nine days Eric was with us, and I’ve never drank so much in my life!  With lots of food and siestas, it was definitely my kind of vacation.  Thank you Eric!!!


A scrumptious molcajete from The Margarita Grill


Gorgeous waffles from Fredy’s Tucan


My personal favorite, el Pastor tacos from Pancho’s Takos

Fish/shrimp and chips from Joe Jack's Fish Shack

Fish/shrimp and chips from Joe Jack’s Fish Shack


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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico–The Day of the Dead

I promised my good friend Erin that I’d write an email to her fourth-grade class regarding the Day of the Dead festivities here in Puerto Vallarta.  My email is as follows:

Hello fourth graders and greetings from Mexico!

Here in Puerto Vallarta, la Día de los Muertos celebration (or the Day of the Dead) lasts from October 28th clear until November 2nd.  During this time, many local families gather to remember and pray for their loved ones who have passed.  They build altars in their homes and in special locations around the city in honor of those who have died.




They also visit the cemetery and decorate the graves of their loved ones.  While death can often be a sad and even frightening thing, the Day of the Dead focuses more on the celebration of these people’s lives.  When my husband and I visited the local cemetery in Puerto Vallarta, we found it full of color and teaming with life.  It wasn’t a sad occasion at all.  On the contrary, there was live music and good food.  People were smiling and greeting one another.  Children were running around the old stones and people were gathered around the graves of their families and friends now decorated and vibrant with color.




We followed a lively parade all the way back into town.  It finally stopped near the middle of the city where a stage had been erected.  We were able to watch from our balcony as people from all over Mexico came and showed off their different styles of dance.  Horses pranced in perfect lines and children much like yourselves danced and sang.  The only difference between them and you was that their faces were all painted white to look like skulls.


Day of the Dead marching band


Day of the Dead parade

Skulls have a very important significance in Mexican culture but they all center around one specific figure.  They call her “Catrina.”  La Calavera Catrina (or the Elegant Skull) was first created by artist  Jose Guadalupe Posada sometime between 1910 and 1913.  His artwork depicted a female skeleton wearing the hat of a wealthy aristocrat.

La Calavera Catrina

La Calavera Catrina


Catrina doll contest in the plaza


Life-size Catrina decoration

The figure of “Catrina” was made famous by another artists years later named Diego Rivera who has since become a world-renowned Mexican artist.   To this day, people decorate everything with “Catrinas.”  You can find them displayed in shop windows, printed on fabric and clothing, and blowing in the breeze as decorations.  And people paint their faces.  Here is a picture of me with my husband Ryan and our friend Eric with our faces painted.

Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central

Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central


Catrina decorations


Eric, Me and Ryan blending in

To summarize, my experience of the Day of the Dead while in Mexico is this.  The holiday is not about death at all.  It is about life and celebration and serves as a reminder to us that life should be celebrated.  It was a lot of fun.

Your Friend,

Amanda Vredenburg


Day of the Dead Celebration


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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico–Patricia the Merciful


Stormy skies

Irony is a funny thing.  Ryan and I chose to visit Puerto Vallarta over Cancún because it’s Mexico’s hurricane season and historically, Puerto Vallarta has less risk of being hit.  That’s why, when Puerto Vallarta’s “tropical storm” turned into a full-blown hurricane alert, we were both very surprised.  And yes, we were a little worried.


Local news, in Spanish

The weather on Thursday, October 22nd was nothing special or unusual.  A little gray.  A little gusty.  Ryan and I went out for drinks and sat enjoying the slight breeze on the second-story balcony of the Cheeky Monkey.  Below, people walked along the Malecon like usual.  We each had a margarita and shared a small taco pizza.


A storm’s a-brewing in Puerto Vallarta

It wasn’t until around midnight that Ryan interrupted my movie.  He stood in the doorway of our current bedroom looking a little nervous.  “So,” he said, “You remember how we didn’t go to Cancún because it’s hurricane season?” he began.  I was completely bewildered to hear that local authorities were recommending evacuation, but relieved to find that Ryan was so on top of things that he’d already gotten us bus tickets on the first available bus back to Guadalajara.  And then we both showered and packed our bags.


Our lucky tickets…thank you Ryan!

It was still dark outside when we hailed a taxi on Friday morning (October 23rd).  It appeared the city was still asleep as we left it behind.  On the way to the bus station, the driver spoke about the hurricane, saying that we were wise to leave and that a lot of people were choosing to stay, for one reason or another.  He also seemed convinced that the gay community was to blame for the hurricane bearing down on us (what?!! I don’t think so…).


Our taxi just leaving us at the bus station

The bus station was no more packed or crowded than usual.  Everything was operating on schedule and the bus we got on wasn’t even entirely full.  I slept the next six hours or so very comfortably as light rain pattered against the bus windows.  The trip was only slightly delayed.  (We would hear reports of the six-hour trip taking later buses up to ten hours.)  We reached Guadalajara without incident.


Our knight in shining armor…thank you Vallarta Plus!

That night we stayed at a very nice hotel and sat planted in front of the TV.  For the first time in over a year, we had CNN and watched in mixed awe and horror as information about Hurricane Patricia, “the worst hurricane ever recorded in history” was reported live from the very city we had just fled from.  We recognized the locations captured in the live footage and kept our fingers crossed while I prayed for those who had not been able to evacuate as we had.

aloft bathroom

aloft 2

Ryan woke up every two hours all night long and by 7:30 the next morning (Saturday, October 24th) we were assured that Patricia had not completely devastated Puerto Vallarta as she had been expected to do.  The storm had moved beyond us and had left very little damage in her wake.  It was truly a miracle of sorts.

The city, still standing, the day after evacuation

The city, still standing, the day after evacuation

By 10:00 am that same morning we were back on the bus and returning to Puerto Vallarta to pick up our guest from the airport–only one day after we had evacuated.  Eric’s flight arrived right on time without any delays and Puerto Vallarta was completely functional once again, although it was a little less crowded for the next few days and the waters remained murky for most of the week.


Eric and Ryan, standing on the Malecon the day after evacuation

It was as if nothing had ever happened.  While many locals claim that Puerto Vallarta was never in any real danger because the surrounding mountains protect the city from this sort of thing, I remain skeptical.  Most importantly I remain grateful.  Patricia, the strongest hurricane in history, chose to be merciful.


The murky waters were some of the only evidence of the hurricane that had hit the previous day.

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Ajijic, Mexico–Who Done It?


Murder.  A knife in the back.  Cold, silent, and deadly.

Dinner theater is a happening event on a Saturday night in Ajijic.  Ryan and I attended a murder mystery dinner show called Murder at La Mision and enjoyed two complementary margaritas, a three-course meal, and a lot of laughs.

Detective Vredenburg

Detective Vredenburg

Evidence of dinner

Evidence of dinner


That is the question, isn’t it.  Margarita wasn’t exactly popular.  She never should have returned to Mexico.

The cast was a group of seven local participants deliberating over the murder of their rather unsavory acquaintance, Margarita Bonita.  One-by-one, they each pointed their nervous fingers at someone else sitting at the table.  “I hold in my hand an entry torn from Margarita’s diary showing that she had been recently threatened by Don Juan Diablo and was afraid for her life,” said ex-fiance Warren Peace.  “Yet Desert Flower was standing right behind Margarita before she was stabbed,” Kay Pasa commented.  “Well she was stabbed with the knife belonging to Warren Peace,” Agent Orange countered.

The Suspects

The Suspects

Detective Vredenburg

Detective Vredenburg


La Mision, where Ryan and I found ourselves studying the seven suspects seated before us, was the very place where a woman lost her life.  One of them was the killer we knew, but which one?

Anyone curious as to how the cast members had come by their suspicious contributions of evidence need only ask.  We were assured that the cast members would answer any questions we had and were assured that they were not allowed to lie.  In fact, audience participation was encouraged and we shot question after question.  The correct group to solve the crime by the end of the night was promised a fabulous prize and we all wanted it.  “Let me see that diary entry!” one audience member demanded.  “Is Agent Orange free for dinner tomorrow night?” another inquired boldly.  He may have been on to something, but it was unlikely to win him the prize…

The scene of the crime

The scene of the crime

The stage

The stage


Saturday night, that same evening, only hours before we had arrived to take our meal.  Hopefully the killer would be content with one victim before the night was through…

In fact, the audience was a bit more rowdy than the previous night’s had been.  “You guys ask too many damn questions!” Senorita Bonita informed my table at intermission.  She was playing the bitter sister of the victim and seemed determined to stay in character, letting us know that the previous night’s audience hadn’t been nearly as meddlesome.

Evidence of dessert

Evidence of dessert


Our competitive edge


The possibilities are endless…

Apparently every one of the cast members had it out for the victim–a scheming and ambitious woman recently returned to Mexico–but only one of them got to kill her.  The verdict could have gone any way, and at the end of the show we discovered that it really could have!  A different killer had been identified the previous night with the very same evidence.  Although my table did not guess the correct killer, we sure had a great time trying!

Rusty Pick and Agent Orange

Rusty Pick and Agent Orange

Don Juan Diablo and Desert Flower

Don Juan Diablo and Desert Flower

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