Smokie Mountain Day Trip

Smokie Mountain Day Trip

Towering trees framed with glistening streams and waterfalls are just some things you can look forward to when going to Smoky Mountain National Park. Nestled between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokie Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, with over 9 million people vising annually.  With only one day to explore, I rented a truck after landing in Chattanooga, Tennessee and drove to the park. Worried about the notorious traffic as families are vacationing for Spring Break, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was an easy 2.45 hour drive. Instead of going through the main tourist town of Gatlinburg, I went through the less know entrance through the charming quaint town of Townsend to see the Cades Cove, an early European settlement dating back to the 1800’s.

Make sure to see John Oliver Place, one of the first settlers to call Cades Cove home in 1820’s. As I sat on the porch steps, it’s hard to believe the wealth of history present at this beautiful rural land.

If you are looking to get some hiking in, stop for a hike to Abrams Falls, about midway through the Cades Cove driving path. You are rewarded with a 20 foot waterfall after a relatively easy 5 mile round-trip hike. The entire hike should take 3 hours or less to complete, stretching your legs and enjoying nature.  If you are looking to see Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park, it is completely doable if you start you day early. Since I arrived at the park at 3:30pm, I opted out and enjoyed some short hikes instead.

Ideally, I recommend spending at least 3 to 4 days do you can enjoy nature and camp at this beautiful park. After going to Yosemite during the summer time, I recommend coming here during off season, even if it is cooler. You would be able to enjoy nature without having to sit in rush hour like traffic with hoards of people every where you look.

Kauai on a Budget

Kauai on a Budget

Warm weather,  incredible views and amazing hiking trails are some of the reasons to pack up and go to Kauai. Also known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is a tropical paradise. Rich tropical vegetation, stunning cliffs and waterfalls makes Kauai the ultimate island getaway.  Tired of wearing winter coats, my boyfriend and I decided to take a last minute trip to Kauai to ring in the New Year.  But can you go to wild Kauai on a budget?  I was curious to find out. 

 

In the past, New Year Eve was celebrated with friends over dinner, followed by drinks at fancy bar with a hefty cover charge and $16 drinks.  Some years, our group would have bottle service, which can run from $200 to $300 a person.  Hotel parties were fun but expensive.   Event tickets, dinner, drinks, and a hotel room adds up quickly. After careful scrutiny, we discovered we were spending $800 – $1,000 for a night of celebration for two.  Our challenge:  Travel to Kauai for 5 nights for less than the cost of New Year’s Eve night out.

With United airline miles in hand, we booked our flights for $5.60 each, less than a Starbucks Coffee.  We would leave in less than 24 hours   With only 5 days before the New Year, finding a place to stay was harder than convincing TSA to give me back my slightly oversized $35 conditioner.   My favorite booking site, Airbnb, only had only 2 options:   A semi private closet/bedroom for $65 or a condo for $600.  Yikes.   Almost every hotel on the island was well over $500.   Most of the popular campsites were also sold out.  After browsing online through County Site and State Park, we were able to find a few campsites still open.  As luck would have it, we also came across a cute inn at an even more attractive price of $103 per night on Craigslist. Booking the first 2 nights of our trip at the Kalaheo Inn, we decided to camping the rest of the 3 nights. Renting a Nissan Frontier Truck with 4 wheel drive for less than $200, we packed our tent and decided to wing it. With camping sites ranging from $5 to $20 a night for two people, it was a bargain.

 

 

After a long day of traveling,  we finally arrived in paradise at night.  Unfortunately it was raining.   In fact, the weather reports stated cloudy conditions with rain for the next few days, which would making camping very unpleasant. Luckily, the weather in Kuaui varies dramatically depending on the side of the island you are on.   Last time I was in Kauai,  I was chasing dry patches of sky, driving from Princeville in the northern part of the island, to the south, which tends to be drier.  With a 2-3 hour round trip commute each day, I spend more time in the car than I would like.
This time, our hotel was in Kalaheo, the southern part of the Kauai which tends to be drier.   Like any good budget traveler, our first stop was Walmart, which usually has the best prices on souvenirs as well as camping gear  After picking up a couple of light fleece sleeping bags, duct tape, and bottled water, we headed to Safeway Grocery Store to pick up some food for the hike. By the time we arrived at the Kalaheo Inn, it was almost midnight. The one bedroom suite, which included a kitchen area with a plugin portable stove, was more than what we needed As we looked around the Hawaiian inspired decor, we noticed one thing was missing:  Air conditioning.  Luckily, the weather in Hawaii is generally in the low 80’s to mid 60’s and there is a gentle breeze to cool the room.

Day 1 – Waimea Canyon & Polihale Beach & State Park

We woke up the next morning at 7am to the sound of crowing from the roosters which run wild on the island.  The roosters and chicken are almost like the mascot of the island, running wild, a showy array of vivid colors, begging for food like hungry dogs.  While some people consider them a nuisance, I adore them. In fact, it makes Kauai even more special for me . After loading up the car, we drove towards Waimea Canyon on the west side of Kauai. Commonly known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is a 10 mile long canyon formed by erosion from the Waimea River Fueling our stomach with heaping piles of scrambled eggs, “little smokies” usually referred to as Vienna sausages, and fried Spam at Gina’s Anykine Grinds Cafe in Waimea Town, we continued towards the western point of the island.
Our plan was to hike into Waimea Canyon after stopping by the Waimea Canyon Lookout. It’s a popular spot with an observe deck to marvel at the beautiful red, green and brown hues along with the famous waterfall.  By the time we arrived to the Waimea Canyon Lookout, we were greeted by a flocks of roosters & hens. Excited tourists spilling out of the tour buses with their cameras and flip flops joined us at the Lookout After taking a few photos at the Lookout with tourist from all over the world, we went towards the cliff to a lookout point unprotected by guard rails, giving a complete unobstructed view of the canyon.  We decided to pioneer the journey and we were not disappointed with the view.   Other adventurous tourists followed our lead.  My advice: Keep your eyes in front of you and don’t look down!
After leaving Waimea Canyon Lookout, we continued driving until we reached Kōkeʻe State Park.  Wanting to conserve our energy and make better time, we decided to challenge our 4X4 Nissan Truck and drive down the Hale Manu Valley to hike the Canyon Trail and Cliff Trail.  Driving through 2 miles of wet red mud, we were able to reach the start of the Canyon Trail in no time.  After parking the truck, we trekked through the valley, making our way through slippery trail until we finally reached the Cliff Trail, a beautiful viewpoint of Waimea Canyon.  Seeing signs for a waterfall, we hiked a little further and arrived at a small but lovely waterfall. We stopped for a few minutes to take in the view.  Tip:  Wear good shoes with treads.  Having good hiking boots would have made our journey down much steadier, although the hike up was much easier.

Kalalau Lookout & Pu’u O Kila Lookout

We continued driving until we reached Kalalau Lookout, a popular photo spot with railing and an easy walked down a paved path. Many tour buses stop at this location because of the easy access and nice views.  For a better view of the Kalalau Valley, go to  Pu’u O Kila Lookout, a mile up the road from the Kalalau Lookout with higher elevations to the Pihea Trail Perched on a land bridge straddling 4,000 feet above the Kalalau Valley floor and the Alakai Swamp, Pihea Trail is know to be “The Wettest Spot on Earth”. Hiking a short distance down the ridge of the Pihea Trail, and you will be rewarded with an even more amazing view of the Kalalau Valley.   Needless to say, the mud was a little slick, but the view was worth it.  If you have time, make sure to hike the Awaawapuhi Trail, for the pictures from the trail is amazing!  Check out this blog Unreal Hawaii for more pictures on the trail.  I am definitely going next time!

View from Pihea Trail

Polihale Beach

After getting as much mud off of our shoes as we could, we headed towards Polihale Beach to catch the sunset.  Polihale Beach and State Park is the 17 miles, the longest stretch of beach in the state of Hawaii Since we had a 4-wheel drive, we decided to take on the  7 miles of rough unpaved roads away from civilization to the western end of the beach where the Napali Coast starts.
Keep in mind rental car companies frown on driving vehicles off road, so you may want to give the car a quick wash before returning.   As we drove through the spectacular stretch of wilderness, it seemed the road was never going to end.  After a slow and bumpy drive, we parked our truck and walked towards the unblemished white sand beach.
Polihale Beach has restroom and showering facilities, but no shade cover, so if you plan to spend time here during the day, bring an umbrella and don’t forget the sunscreen.  It is an amazing place to camp, but you need a permit.  I had tent envy as I imagined what it would be like to wake up to the sound of the ocean crashing into the sand.
Packing up our bags, we headed to the showers to wash the sand off our feet when we met a few locals with their dogs.  “The dogs didn’t bark because you have good energy,” said the guy as his girlfriend nodded her head in agreement.  Happy with the good energy we were putting out, we headed back to civilization, happy to know our karma was on point.

Francis Coppola Winery in Sonoma

Francis Coppola Winery in Sonoma

One of my favorite things to do when travelling to San Francisco is to tour the vineyards in the California Wine Country.  After much contemplation, we decided on Sonoma and spend an afternoon at Francis Coppola Winery.  Founded by Francis Ford Coppola, the Academy Award-winning director, this breathtakingly 100 acres is nestled between mountains and a sea of grapevines.  Our group arrived before sunset on a chilly November afternoon.  If you visit during the warmer season, make sure to relax by their 2 massive pools, where there are bocce ball courts and even a pool cafe.   Being winos, our focus was exploring the wonderful wines, after taking a bunch of pictures, of course!  If you have time, make sure to dine at their full restaurant, which has an amazing selection of meals perfectly pared with wines.

The beautiful autumn colors were the perfect backdrop.  The fresh brisk air was a nice change of pace from the busy San Francisco city life.  After our drive in from San Francisco, which was about 2.5 hours due to traffic, we wanted to stretch our legs, which also meant taking a ton of pictures.

Inside the main building, we walked through the Movie Gallery, displaying a extensive collection of Francis Coppola’s authentic movie memorabilia. If you are a “Godfather” fan, make sure to see Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather.  For car fanatics, the original Tucker 48 from Tucker: The Man and His Dream sits impressively in the showroom on your way to the wine tasting room.

 

Some of my favorite wines included the 2014 Director’s Cut Merlot, $23, which has a nice supple mouth feel with rich fruit flavors.  Some key highlights from Fracis Coppola include:

  • Exceedingly juicy in character with distinct spice notes, a plush texture, and supple tannins.
  • Featuring a beautiful tapestry of rich fruit flavors framed by beautiful smoky wood nuances and well-integrated tannins.

I’d love to hear what your favorite vineyards are in the United States.  I loved Sonoma Valley and really enjoyed tasting many wines from the Lodi Region.  If you like big fruit forward red wines, try a few from Lodi.  Being from Texas, make sure to explore the Texas Hill Country for some exceptional wines.  One of my personal favorite Texas Vineyards is Woodrose Winery in Stonewall, Texas, just outside of Austin.  Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of trying New Mexico wine, which has a very interesting flavor palete.

 

I hope you enjoyed traveling with me to Sonoma Wine County.  Until next time, happy travels.

Eat Healthier When Traveling

Eat Healthier When Traveling

Is it possible to eat healthy while you are traveling?  There is always a new restaurant to try, tasty appetizers to share, fun conversations followed by a drink or two (or three!).   It’s almost impossible to resist taking an extra bite of that tasty meal, event though your stomach is about to explode.  And when the waiter brings out the dessert tray, you think, #yolo. Well, after a few months of trial and error, the answer is yes, you can eat healthy while you travel, but it will require you to make a few changes and rethink what a typical “meal” should look like.

I will confess, there was a time when I first started traveling where I was eating breakfast tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner (I know, absolutely tragic). It turns out that finding “the green” stuff has become even more challenging. There’s not a lot of really great selections at airports, and even less selections at gas stations. After about 2 months of traveling, I noticed that I gained a little bit of weight around my stomach.  Part of the reason was because my exercise level also dropped down significantly during this time.  Before when I worked from home, I was working out 4 to 5 days a week.  In my typical travel day now, I am lucky to even walk a mile or two because of my new lifestyle.  What’s even more scary is that I’m probably sitting 95% of the time in my day.  According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, “Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.”  Yikes.

Since 80% of physical health starts with the types of foods consumed, I started tweeking my eating habits.  I had to how figure out how to find healthy meals without having to cook or meal plan.  Since I’m eating about 90% of my meals each week while travelling, looking for healthy options was an active challenge.  I knew I was missing many nutrients which I use to get when I cooked, such as Omega-3’s, which I use to get from consuming seafoods like salmon and mackerel.  While I am not a huge fan of relying on supplemental vitamins, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to, especially when your only options are fried chicken or gas station pizza.  Clearly, the best form of nutrition is through the whole food itself, but if you don’t have time or do not have the selection of food readily available, I recommend using supplements.

I started adding an omega 3 supplement, algae (which you can also get from seaweed), collagen (which has a plethora of benefits including cardiovascular health AND healthier nails and hair) and royal jelly (boosting immune system and a helps with ton of other chronic ailments). If you look at my travel bag, you would laugh. I look like a pill lady.  I carry this zip lock bag of pills.  I am waiting from the day TSA pulls me aside to ask me about my “drug problem”.

Looking at my old eating habits, I used to eat only 15 to 20% of my total calories as carbohydrates.  My new diet while travelling consisted of breakfast tacos and sandwiches, closer to 40% carbohydrates.  And most of the carbs were refined carbs and bread.  Obviously the tacos had to go.  Instead of a breakfast taco or sandwich in the morning, I now have a salad for breakfast.  Now, it may seem weird eating a salad first thing in the morning, especially when it is 5:30-6 o’clock in the morning and everyone else is having a breakfast taco at the airport.  However, when you look at the components of a Cobb salad you’ll notice it has is the same types of foods you would normally get from breakfast:  Hard boiled eggs, bacon, avocado (healthy fats essential to our overall well-being), and healthy green vegetables. This is a wonderful low-carbohydrate breakfast option.  On days where I need a little extra substance, I will have a banana or apple as well.  The morning cup of coffee, which is absolutely critical to my well-being, is part of my morning meal.

For lunch, I started off by swapping the wrap or sandwich for foods with more fiber and healthy fats.  On days where I can find  salmon or some kind of seafood with a lot of omega 3’s, I’ll skip the omega 3 supplements.  If I’m really craving carbs, I’ll have a very small serving of potatoes, sweet potatoes, or black beans usually two or three tablespoons.  If they have avocados, it is definitely on my plate.  The rest of the plate consists of steamed vegetables or a salad.

I stopped snacking because I really didn’t need the extra calories, since my activity levels have decreased substantially.  If I’m really craving something sweet, I’ll dig in to my bag and grab an  an organic apple, or an orange, which travels quite well.   As much as I like bananas, I quickly realized they do not travel well (hello banana scented iPad case!)

Dinner is probably one of the easiest meals for me. Almost every place will have a seafood or chicken option.  The easiest thing to do is to substitute out any carbohydrates with a double serving of steamed vegetables.  Get dressing on the side with salads and have the sauce from any entree on the side as well.  This gives you the flexibility to add as much or as little as you want.  I often find restaurants tend to drown the salad in dressing.  A hardy salad with steak or salmon on top is a favorite of mine.  Avoid temptation by having the bread bowl removed from the table.  A squeeze of lime or lemon gives an extra flavor boost as well as add in some antioxidants and vitamin C.  I try to eat dinner earlier, around 5:30-6:30 if possible, because if you eat too late, it’s harder for you to digest.

Instead of carbs, I now add in more healthy fats, such as coconut oil, avocado, and even bacon.  The healthy fats keep me energized.  Since I’ve been on this new regiment, I have lost inches off my waist line with no exercise and very limited activity.  People have noticed that I am visibly slimmer and it has given me a lot of energy.

Funny thing is now, the other day, I had a cake ball in my moment of weakness and immediately I could feel the sugar crash.  I also felt sick to my stomach after about 10 minutes because my body is not used to all of this heavy, refined, processed foods anymore.  Bad foods definitely affects how you feel.  Despite having only 2-4 hours of sleep on a week day,  I still have lots of energy and am in good shape.  Obviously, sleep is important and it is something I’m going to start incorporating more it into my day to day routine, but I wanted to share this just to give you an idea of what a healthy day while traveling can look like. If you have any questions or if you are looking to know how you can get some ideas for healthy meals on the road that you can easily purchased, feel free to drop me a line and a comment.

Thanks, and make it a healthy day.

Easy Avocado Toast And Egg Breakfast

Easy Avocado Toast And Egg Breakfast

 Breakfast is one of my favorite meals because it is easy to make, and most important meal of the day. Starting the day off right gives me the energy to going as well as gives me the will power to ward off junk food. I love making avocado toast. It is such an easy dish to make and has such a beautiful presentation. Plus, everybody I have ever made it for loves it.
Ingredients: 1 servings
12-15 minutes
1/2 avocado
1 egg
1/3 cup of mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup greens like spring mix or micro greens
1-2 slices of sourdough bread
2 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat up the pan with 1 tbsp butter and fry the egg while you toast the bread. Slice the avocado. Put the toasted bread on the plate and covered with avocado slices. Put the egg on top of the avocado or if you are using two pieces of bread, put the egg on the other piece of bread. Add the other tablespoon of butter in the pan with the mushrooms and sauté from 4-6 minutes until cooked. Garnish to plate with greens and mushrooms and add salt and pepper to taste.
What are some additional ingredients you like to add into your avocado toast? I love trying new things!

#breakfast #foodies

Thanks #nourishedbykale for sharing this wonderful meal!  #food #healthyfoodporn #foodblogger #brunch #healthylivingjunkie via Instagram http://ift.tt/2ASNr07

Why Checking Email Hurts Creativity

Why Checking Email Hurts Creativity

Why checking email hurts creativity… a true story.   Yesterday, a tragedy happened.  My smart phone’s microphone went out.  I couldn’t talk to anyone, and had to revert to using my not so smart phone.  I was worried because my work email was not set up on it.  What if someone needs to get a hold of me?  What if it is urgent?   Will my work life fall apart if I didn’t check my email on the hour?

Yes, I am an email addict.

 

email
 

In fact, I am guilty of checking my phone for emails first thing in the morning.

Even before I put on my contacts, when I am still groggy and disoriented, I will squint and reach for my cell phone to check email and make sure the world did not fall apart while I slept.

Apparently I am not alone.

According to IDC Research, 80% of smartphone users check their mobile devices within 15 minutes of waking up each morning.

49% of the entire U.S. population uses a smartphone. By 2017, the percent of smartphone users is expected to reach 68%.  Four out of five smartphone users check their phones within the first 15 minutes of waking up. 80% of those say it’s the first thing they do in the morning.”

I guess I can take comfort in knowing I am makes me extra ambitious, since I check emails the moment I wake up.  Yea… I’m that girl.  The problem with checking email first thing in the morning is it clutters your  brain with things that may appear urgent, but are not truly important.  Checking emails hurts creativity because it puts you in a state of stress.  Taking time in the morning to reflect, clear your thoughts and set your intentions for the day, not only makes your more creative, but it allows you to be more productive as well.  In order for creativity to thrive, you have to have mental space.

Here is another way to look at it.  Imagine if you had closet and you filled it with all kinds of junk.  Boxes, clothes, hangers, shoes … you name it.  Now imagine trying to find something.  Just like you need space to get to all of your things easily in your closet, your brain works the same way.  Creativity needs space to breath, to develop, to grow and come to life.  If you clutter your brain with urgent but no important information or the ever growing “to do” list, you leave no space to create.

 

Smartphone-obsession
 

Since I have not been able to check my emails first thing in the morning on my phone (or Facebook, for that matter), I’ve felt more at peace.  The process of waking up feels more tranquil.  Upon waking up, I take a few moments to appreciate the new day, put my contacts on and get ready, grab a cup of coffee, and think about what I would like to accomplish today.  I feel lighter, less stressed, and ready to face my day instead of being anxious by things I need to add to my to-do list.  Yes, I still check email, but now, I only check it 3-4 times a day, not every 15 minutes.

I feel like I have room to breath again and the creative juices are flowing.  I have started writing again, and am inspired to tackle new projects as well.  Having downtime in our over stimulated world allows us to focus on channeling our creativity and expressing yourself in other ways, other posting an update on Facebook.  And much to my surprise, my world/ work/ life did not fall apart.

Although I am about to order a new smart phone, my goal is to develop a healthy relationship with it.  This time around, I will not be controlled by my email.  I’ve decided the mornings are to be an “email free zone”.  For the first several hours of the day, I will refocus on the important but perhaps “not so urgent” things.  Creativity comes from having the mental capacity to allow for ideas to flow in and I am excited about this new journey.   After all, we survived for thousands of years without emails and did just fine.  A few hours “sin” email will be okay. Oh, and Facebook … you are next.

For those of you who feel the same way, try taking a “break” from email for the first few hours of the day & see how you feel.  You can thank me later.  =)