HTC Rhyme: Superior Smartphone Camera

Can a purple phone be enjoyed by a man?   

Even when it sports a light-up charm to alert you to a call when the phone is lost in your purse?  I guess it would take a special kind of man.  As for the rest of us, we lucked out not only in terms of design, but also in the way we use it:  Meet the HTC Rhyme.


Five Free Things To Do In Boise

Boise is the City of Trees.  I’ve lived here for two years now, having moved from Los Angeles, where I grew up.  While I miss the diversity of food, I definitely do not miss the traffic.  Despite its size, there is so much to do in Boise, especially with your children.


The Reluctant Disney Geek

The Reluctant Disney Geek

Last year, I went to Disney World in Florida with about thirty or so other Traveling Moms from the TravelingMom.com blogger network, of which I have been a part for 3 years now.

I had mixed feelings about going to Disney World. 

I’m the youngest of three (although, now in my wee 40s) and have, since I was a kid, incorporated the cynicism from my older siblings.  Disney is a packaged deal.  And most people love it.  Me, I like to create my own fun and not have people tell me how much fun their pre-packaged deal is going to be.  When I got the invitation to go to Disney World last February, I saw that there was a scavenger hunt listed in the activities.  Cue: eye roll.  Seriously, I thought, a bunch of grown women running around Epcot Center on a scavenger hunt?  Very unappealing.  Even more unappealing was the idea of being with a bunch of people who thought that would be a lot of fun.

The Truth:  The long weekend at Disney World totally exceeded my expectations: from the seriously good food at our hotel (Animal Kingdom Lodge) to the… well, the whole Disneyness of it.  I was drinking their Kool-aid!  In fact, I was actually drinking a delicious South African Syrah that was served at the inaugurations of both President Obama and Nelson Mandela, but I digress.

I enjoyed the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom to the tune of “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  I freaked out and became an eight year old when I saw Mary Poppins walking around the park – but did you know that they literally paint faces on these ‘cast members’ so that this women was the (scary) spitting image of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins.  Still, fascinating and totally satisfying. Mary Poppins
And then we got to the scavenger hunt.  By this time, I had been at Disney three days and I was chugging their Kool-Aid: I became a scavenger hunt maniac.

Kymri and elephantTruth be told, everyone on my team was a bit of a maniac (you know who you are).  We toyed with the idea of bagging the scavenger hunt and grabbing a cocktail (we were without our kids!), but then we thought we should at least give it a little bit of a go.  And then we got hooked.

Tmom group shot disneyWe figured out whose strength lay where: someone was a Disney aficionado, another had a good sense of direction, she speaks another language, this one has an external battery pack for when our smart phones ran low, that one’s a bossy lady – well, there were many bossy ladies.
IMG 20110225_151210That’s why we understood each other.  With our tasks delegated, we were smokin’ this scavenger hunt.  Long story short: we won.  By a point.
Kim-Marie & Button guy
Although we were thirsty, tired and knew the prizes were not a trip to Hawaii, we persevered.  We bonded.
Tmom Group Disney #2
A bunch of travel writers (moms!) from around the country, running around Epcot Center yelling, pointing, taking photos and shoving a stuffed animal next to hidden Mickeys.  We had fun.  We made our own fun at Disney.  It doesn’t all have to be pre-packaged.
tmom epcot


Best Thai Food Outside of Thailand?

Best Thai Food Outside of Thailand?
I’ve been to Jitlada Thai now, twice. My LA friends kept telling me that it was even better than Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. Now, Lotus of Siam is pretty damn great. If you’ve been to Thailand, you can still go to Lotus of Siam and be sated. But my friends were telling me thatJitlada blew to the roof off of LOS. Hunh? Must test.
I grabbed as many friends as I could (so that I could taste as much as possible) to come along for the tasting a year ago. But there was a glitch: half of the table were not so into spicy food. Lloyd, my Jitlada guru, was understandably put out. Why go to the best Thai food outside of Thailand if you’re not into spicy? And anyway, U.S. spicy is Thai mild. On our honeymoon, my husband and I would be blowing our noses and wiping our brows during our meals and the proprietor of the restaurant (at more than one location) told us that what we were eating was barely spicy – nothing to the Thai. (Quien es mas macho?)
Still, we ordered the Morning Glory Salad,
the Crying Tiger Beef,

Green Mussel Curry: Fresh New Zealand mussels in a southern curry with pineapples,
and Pang-Pond Kai Kamin: Deep fried chicken (bone in) with turmeric garlic sauce,

In the middle of the meal, we all entered a chili coma, but it was nothing that some plain white (brown?) rice couldn’t beat back. Felt like a honeymoon in there!
The verdict: Jitlada did beat the roof off of Lotus of Siam, but in LOS’s defense, I’ve never been there with more than a party of four. That’s a distinct disadvantage. Still, the freshness, complexity, ingenuity at Jitlada was a dream come true. Only, I no longer live in Los Angeles. Why did I have to discover it AFTER I left? Doh!


Best Ice Cream Ever? Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica

Best Ice Cream Ever?  Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica
“This is the BEST ice cream EVER.”  My friend Nikki was leaving no room for lowering my expectations of Sweet Rose Creamery.  “The salted-caramel ice cream is TO DIE FOR!”  OK.  Fine.  I’ve had salted caramel ice cream.  When is it bad?
So I tasted the salted caramel ice cream and it was terrific.  But not terrific like, you would keel over and never stop extolling the greatness.  It was great.  Fine.
The greatness of Sweet Rose Creamery is all about the flavors that other ice cream makers don’t touch, can’t come close to.  Once I started experimenting with tastes (metal spoon, not disposable – nice touch), that’s when my taste buds wanted to jump and shout superlatives.  Mint ice cream was like eating a bunch of mint leaves, ripped off the plant.  Black sesame ice cream was a total revelation – how do they get that toasted flavor in there?  It’s not that that is my favorite flavor, but to taste something like black sesame in ice cream – it’s so unexpected that it’s thrilling.
aboutphoto_1What Nikki was trying to tell me is that this was a thrilling ice cream parlor – that’s true.   Where else can you taste Early Grey or Summer Corn ice cream?  What they really need to do is have a sample platter: all you get is a quarter size bite of every flavor they have that day.  Because as much as I was enjoying the freshness of the mint ice cream, I got tired of it halfway through.  I was greedy for more explosive and unexpected tastes.  I had mastered the mint.  Bring on the Yellow Nectarine Sorbet! 

PS:  They also have non-dairy desserts, frozen bananas, and popsicles.  Expensive and worth it.  (Especially if you don’t live in Santa Monica)


Family Friendly North Central Idaho -- Lewis & Clark Country

Family Friendly North Central Idaho -- Lewis & Clark Country
Where is the most remote place on earth you have been?  No cell reception, no good food, no Starbucks?  No, not the Aswan High Dam, but the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway All American Road -- what a mouthful!  This is Nez Perce (Lewis and Clark) country.  The drive was along the Clearwater River was some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen in the Lower 48.
Best part: no one is here.  Idaho is empty.  You can come during high season and you won’t feel crowded.  You are off the beaten path, my friend.  This area of the country is difficult to get to so you really have to enjoy road trips.  I’ve been on many myself and no exagerration, aside from my children arguing in the back seat, this was one of the most enjoyable.  I’ve been on the 17 Mile Road in Carmel and truthfully, this drive, on Highway 12, which follows the Clearwater River, is so much more enjoyable because it’s neither too windy nor too steep.  Highway 12, E. of LewistonYou will develop an appreciation of how difficult Lewis and Clark had it because the area has hardly been developed since that time.  Sure, there’s a road and a few people floating down the river, but not much else between the remote and tiny towns.

The NCITA (North Central Idaho Travel Association) has audio tours that you can download to your MP3 player to listen to while you’re on the road.

We drove from White Bird, Idaho and ended up in Clarkston, WA, which is just across the Snake River from Lewiston, ID. With all of our stops, it took about 4 hours -- about 100 miles.  It was a Sunday, so not much was open, although we did go to the Dworshak Fish Hatchery and take a parking lot tour of the correctional facility -- prison -- in Orofino.  That was the part where we gave our kids a lecture for not listening to us, telling (begging) them not to argue.

Please remember that this is Idaho and not Italy: that means that the food is... not so great. We went to a supermarket and bought food for a picnic along the Clearwater River. So lovely and I'm sure the food was better than any diner we passed. (That said, please let me know if I'm wrong -- we did eat in restaurants a bit on this trip.)

In Clarkston, WA (just across the river from Lewiston, ID), we stayed at the Quality Inn and Suites on the Snake River and although it was not nearly as eccentric as our B&B stayin White Bird, it fit our needs:
  • It was super clean
  • There was a pool that my non-swimming five year old could stand in (it was 100 degrees outside - the pool was IMPORTANT!)
  • We had a cool view of the mountains, framing the Marina
  • Service was outstanding
For dinner, we ate at Rooster’s Waterfront Restaurant, walking distance from the hotel.
This is a turbo-charged, family-friendly restaurant that serves enormous portions and has a fantastic outdoor deck to sit on (when it’s not 100 degrees outside), overlooking the Snake River.  Kids’ meals are quite inexpensive and happy hour is a deal and a half.  They have half a dozen local beers on tap (!) and I ate a delicious, wild salmon.

Although there are lots of activities that you can do in Clarkston, (it is another entry point for Hell’s Canyon tours), we moved on the next day into Walla Walla, which is a little less than two hours away.
Walla Walla has a charm that extends beyond its population of thirty thousand.  This is Washington wine country and the town boasts a plethora of good restaurants, tasting rooms and fun shops that cater to tourists.  It doesn’t feel like a touristy town; it feels like Sonoma or Napa.  OK, maybe that is touristy -- but with a super high level of sophistication (especially for Eastern Washington).  I had an A+ iced latte at Olive Marketplace & Cafe.  Walla Walla is a great half-way point between Seattle and Boise.
When I go back without my kids, there will be more to say about Walla Walla...

Author's Note: This was a sponsored trip.  I received food and lodging.


Zip Lining in Missouri -- Safe for the Whole Family

Zip Lining in Missouri -- Safe for the Whole Family
Why was I nervous about Zip Lining? I’m someone who has jumped off a cliff -- hang gliding (OK, it was tandem) -- above the Atlantic Ocean in Rio de Janeiro in my younger, pre-kid days, to the beach down below. I even did it twice!
Went to the Meramec Caverns outside of St. Louis. Although it was only the first week of June, it was 96 and humid.
Perfect weather for Caveman Zip Lining!
You see, the heat and humidity make you kind of lethargic. Hard to tense up when you’re schvitzing like a schmendrick (translation: sweating profusely like… an idiot who is zip lining in 96 degree humidity). Also helped that our two super cute guides distracted us during the in between moments by quizzing us on our favorite movie lines and songs. Yeah, I knew what they were up to. But they were so pleased with themselves that we were wracking our brains for lines like: “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.”
First off, they gave us (The Mommy Insider and me) an instructional and safety course. This is not brain surgery. It’s pretty basic and we became competent (in theory) inside of 10 minutes. There are only two basic things to learn: how to slow yourself down and how to straighten yourself out if you start twisting. Oh yeah, and how to bring yourself back to the tower if, for some reason, you stop in the middle. You would have to really not pay attention to the first two lessons to get to this point. Truthfully, at Meramec Caverns, they go to great lengths to make sure that we felt comfortable with their safety precautions. Mommy Insider loves (LOVES) to worry and I heard nary a word of doubt from her on the safety issue.  (I say this with love.)
At Meramec Caverns, there are four zip line runs – twice across the river of lengths varying from 250 to twelve hundred feet! Sometimes you’re in the clear above the river, other times, you’re wondering how you’re going to clear that huge tree branch. Very George of the Jungle. The speed of the zip can be up to 50 MPH! This is where the blessing of the heat and humidity come in to calm you down.
It can take up to two hours to get trained and do the course. It’s terrific to be outside and I felt very accomplished after I was done. I don’t know that I need to zipline again, but I’m glad I did it – especially at Meramec Caverns. My kids (5 and 7 years old) are too young to Zip Line. Still, Zip Lining can be a family friendly activity. Check out their website to see if your kids are big enough and you are small enough – there are weight restrictions.
Please note: This trip was sponsored by the St. Louis CVC.