Friday, March 27, 2020

Hot Logic Mini-Mac Personal Portable Oven

When Therese was diagnosed with Celiac, stopping at restaurants while traveling suddenly came to a halt. We needed a strategy in place so that she felt good about her food options, while at the same time, I could stop for a meal...after all, I didn't want to miss out on regional food opportunities!

So we looked around to see how we might heat up a frozen gluten-free meal while driving. We read some crazy things, like people baking potatoes or preparing meals using their car engines while on road trips (Google it, it's fascinating...Car-B-Que). But that wasn't for us. We ended up finding and buying the Hot Logic 16801060003 Mini-Mac Personal Portable Oven, which has worked nicely.

Here are our take aways:
  1. We purchased the one version with the AC power cable in the event that we ever wanted to use it when staying overnight in a microwave-less hotel or Airbnb and plug it into our car power inverter.
  2. If a meal is frozen solid, plan on 2.5 to 3 hrs. 
  3. If a meal is partially frozen, plan on around 2 hours. 
  4. Frozen burritos, especially small ones that are partially defrosted should be checked after 1.5 hrs.
  5. Do NOT puncture or break the seal of the meal container. We had one experience where the cellophane had come away from the edge of the container...this did not turn out well...
Keep in mind that this is a small unit and is appropriate for heating up one or two meals at a time.

Knox Electric Cooler (and Warmer)

I cannot say enough about this Knox Cooler  (model KN-CCW27QB). It is amazing and does the job.

We needed a cooler for a road trip, and since we were flying in and getting a rental car, our first thought was to get a cheap styrofoam cooler and toss it at the end of the trip. But that was inconsistent with our reuse/recycle beliefs.

After a lot of research, I settled on this cooler. Here's why:

  1. It included two power cables: one for the car and one for indoors.
  2. We would be able to take it home with us on the airplane as carry on luggage. It measures 13 x 17.2 x 18.4 inches and the airlines carryon limits are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches.
  3. The reviews were good. There were some negative, but that most likely had to do with people not reading the directions.
  4. We could have it delivered to our hotel and the price was right.

A couple of notes...

  • We used this cooler during a 10-day road trip and not once did we did not eat out (pandemic + Celiac = self food prep).
  • Food was kept nicely cold. Some of the items we stored included 1/2 gallon of milk, 1/2 gallon of orange juice, a giant tub of yogurt (which we used all 10 days), almond milk, frozen dinners/burritos, bagged salad, boiled eggs, and so forth. For two people, it was the perfect size!
  • Before loading it up with food, we would pre-chill it for 20 minutes or so. For example, when staying in a hotel for the night, we would put the food into the refrigerator overnight; the next morning, we turned on the cooler prior to loading up our food. 
  • The fan is very quiet. But, I am a person who doesn't like to hear any noise at night, so I opted to use the hotel refrigerator. We did leave the food in the cooler plugged in one night and it worked great.
  • Since the cooler shuts off when the car is off, we had brought a quart sized freezer bag, filled it half way up and froze it each night so that we had a little piece of ice for the cooler. I don't know that this was necessary, but I liked not worrying about the food when we stopped to do something for a few hours. We also had one frozen meal in the cooler just about every day (more on this in our "oven" post)
  • Our experiences are based on a road trip in mid March, and the high temperatures were in the mid-70s. If it had been summer time, I would have moved the cooler to the trunk when we made stops, just to keep it out of a hot car.
  • The lid is heavy, so when it is empty, it is helpful to position it so that the lid is against a wall so that it doesn't accidentally get tipped over. 
  • We did not use the warming feature on this cooler.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Going Home

There was no breakfast at the hotel. Not even coffee. Unlike any other place we had stayed in the last 10 nights, this place was packed and I'm assuming there were a lot of hungry people.

Remember that cooler we were toting around back in Dallas on the way to retrieve our rental car? That thing rocks! We actually had a nice amount of food with us the whole way and everything was nicely chilled. And we have this little food warmer for our car, so we were able to have hot meals on the just had to plan ahead because it takes 2-3 hours to "cook" a frozen meal.

As for our trip home...the Governor had closed everything down the previous day, so things were pretty quiet. Even the wind wasn't blowing in the Columbia Gorge.

Notice the flat water of the Columbia River.
We had left our hotel and were determined that we would not stop or be around any people until we got we found this facility in The Dalles.

Great riverside location.
The drive through Portland was uneventful aside from a heavy rainstorm and a LOT of semi-trucks. The closer we got to Eugene, the fewer cars were on the road.

Our intended vacation was a civil rights tour of the south but we ended up on an unintended road trip across America. Why did we go? At the time, things were worse in Oregon than they were in the south. How bad could it be? 

The night before we left.

We watched the New York Time's Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count and routed ourselves home as safely as possible. If we had to drive through an infected region, we kept on driving — gas and food were obtained 100 miles out, just to be on the safe side.

The day after we returned.

We got to see how different people in many different places reacted to a pandemic. A couple of reflections on this...In Arkansas, we saw a total disregard for others, at least in Hot Springs. As we drove north, we were mainly in small, uncrowded towns. People were polite and it was easy to navigate if you needed groceries. 

When we got to Ogden, and again our only stop was at the botanical garden, people were everywhere and paid absolutely no attention. Maybe that's what you get when too many people living together in a large urban area. Who knows. I just know that it wasn't comfortable.

Would we do it again? Probably not. 

Did we enjoy our trip? Absolutely. 

Did was see awesome things? For sure.

Were we glad to get home? YES! 

Ordered to stay home by the problem!

Read other posts about our unintended drive across America.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Botanics @ the Pen

Next stop: Idaho Botanical Garden located adjacent to the old penitentiary. Now these people know how to do a pandemic the right way! We had called ahead to verify that they were open and could use our Mt. Pisgah Arboretum membership card for reciprocal entry. When we arrived, the kiosk was gated off to ensure safety of the ticket taker. She just had us show our card from afar and off we went.

Oh, and first stop was the bathroom...they had a stand of paper towels out front so that you could use one to open the door. So thoughtful!

The arboretum was AMAZING. It was very large with a variety of art pieces. We took the self-guided tour of the Garden’s features and sculptures and listened to information at each stop using their online site,

Sculpture made of found items.
Tree made of scrap lumber.
We were on the last leg of our trip and had planned to drive home via Burns, Oregon. As we were getting ready to leave Boise, a friend texted us that a storm was due to hit the Cascades. Ugh. We were in a rental car, had no chains, and did not want to take any chances when it came to snow and ice. Our trip was rerouted and we headed off to Pendleton, Oregon for our last night on the road.

A walk along the Umatilla River
The Governor had just closed all parks.

Read other posts about our unintended drive across America.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Don't Step In It...

This is what we saw in state after state...

Interesting that they included "REAL" in the wording...I suppose were were driving through red states, so maybe there are more people who believe that Covid-19 is hoax. Who knows. you can see, we had some great skies and very empty highways.

Being on a cross-country arboretum tour, we were headed for a quick stop to see the Ogden Botanical Gardens. So far, all of the other gardens we had stopped at were relatively quiet and had lots of space for maneuvering around the Covid-19 disbelievers. Well...this was a tiny arboretum and it was nice, but it was right near the river path, so we thought we would take a walk. OH MY GOODNESS. Given that the path was not wide enough for the proper 6' of space between people, we kept moving onto the grass. I've never seen that much dog poop in my life. I don't think that anyone picked up after their dog! Note to more visits to Ogden. Sigh.

And we were off, headed to Twin Falls, Idaho for the night. It had been both an great adventure and a very stressful trip: sanitizing rooms, finding restrooms along our route, avoiding people in nature. That was all about to change...

We have stayed in many different places, but I do believe that Artdoorsy UnCommons in Twin Falls is our all-time favorite Airbnb. Every single detail has been attended to...when we arrived, the outdoor fire pit was lit and soft flute music was playing in the background. What a lovely welcome...all of our stresses just melted away. 

The other thing that we really enjoyed about our stay was the design and layout of the space. We felt like we could just stay there looking at everything for a couple of days. And the

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

80 on the 80

It was a new day and time to move on...we gathered our belongings and made our to the highway. Blue skies and COLD summed it up.

We were on route to Rawlins, Wyoming with a single planned stop in Cheyenne to see the arboretum. I think that most of the plants were indoors, so we didn't get to see that portion, but the arboretum was next to a huge park, so we were able to take an extensive walk with a number of other people.

There was no problem keeping our 6' distance. The only disappointment was that all of the bathrooms were locked up.
Boots were all over town.
Rabbit Sculptures

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Dr. Deb

We had enjoyed the tiny house and all of its amenities, but it was time to move on. I noticed a really dry patch on my face, which was odd and Therese had gone to bed not feeling well. She woke up with a good case of congestion. As the morning progressed, she felt worse and worse. I kept asking, do you have a fever? Do you have sore throat? No. Just congestion.

We headed north. Temps were nice, hitting 75 degrees in north central Kansas, and we were loving the fresh air streaming through the windows.

We passed Minneapolis, Kansas which according to the sign was the home of George W. Carver...he had gone to high school there.

We drove some more. And then, we weren't in Kansas anymore.

And the temperatures were fact, they dropped about 40 degrees in an hour!

North Platte was to be our home for the next two nights. Therese really needed to rest and there was a BLIZZARD that shut down I-80. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express, which was one exit away from the gate that was closed across the interstate. Oh, and there would be no hot breakfast.

The next day, we woke up to about 15 degrees. It was cold, but after lunch I headed out for a trip to the park and some Geocaching. Or at least photo caching because I was not touching a container much less signing a log. Can you see the caches in these photos? Look carefully.

Remember the Halt spray from Amazon that was waiting for us in Dallas? That stuff, or just the threat of it, is pretty great. Seeing a pitbull type of dog charging me, I pulled out the spray and pointed at the dog. Turns out, someone was "running" their dog while driving their car through the park and when they saw what I was going to do, they got their dog under control. Great stuff.

I arrived back at the hotel and talked to Therese about that dry patch on my face. It was now hot and inflamed and was the size of a silver dollar. It did not look good and it was Friday at 4pm in a small town in Nebraska where there had been no reported cases of Covid-19. This was my chance to see a doctor! 

Fortunately for me, Dr. Deb was in. Before she or the receptionist could get within 6' of me, I was clear about where I had travelled just to ensure that they were aware of any potential exposure. Dr. Deb was not too concerned and finally asked if I'd like her to wear a mask. Well, yes. I would feel terrible if I was the one who brought this virus to North Platte. She obliged somewhat grudgingly it seemed, took a look and said infection due to insect bite and prescribed antibiotics. Phew. Across the street to the Depot Drug Store I went for my prescription -- the door was locked and they came outside to serve you, where I waited with an old farmer for service.

Let the healing begin!

Read other posts about our unintended drive across America.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

In Search of...

Well, I had a great night of sleep in that stone cabin...according to Therese, there was a violent wind and rain storm during the night, complete with thunder and lightening! Good thing that cabin was made of stone.

After a leisurely morning, we made our way toward our destination for the night, Hesston, Kansas. It was a beautiful drive, and we were trying our best to stay hydrated...which meant that we needed several bathroom breaks along the way. By now, we had been gone from home for four days and Covid-19 had gotten a lot worse. The breakout maps were showing that our route was basically untouched, but we were NOT going to take any unnecessary chances, meaning no gas station bathrooms. We found this blue bad boy in Shawnee, Oklahoma and although the Sonic was open, we were having no part of it!

Why use an indoor bathroom in a building full of people
when you can use a random portapot?
Another place we found was this awesome park in Pona City, Oklahoma. Great bathrooms (with soap!) and fine walking trails. It was a gorgeous day with temps in the 70s.

Loved the water options!
Getting hot out here!
Kansas, with its wide-open views, is also home to cotton fields and lovely warm temperatures.

We pulled into "The Shed," our Airbnb around 4pm. It was an adorable tiny house that had everything in it that one could possibly want...including ice cold beverages.

After getting settled, we heated up some soup and had a nice dinner before walking over to the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains.

The arboretum was small, but lovely, and there were a few locals out walking in the early evening.

Funny thing about our Airbnb...turns out our hostess was originally from Oregon and her family knows the family of one of my colleagues. Funny how small the world can be!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

It's All OK

Well, we had made it to Hot Springs NP and before we left, we made sure that we got a few miles in on the trail. The morning was warm and we saw maybe a couple of other hikers. But we mostly had the park to ourselves.

Knowing that we were re-routing our trip, we decided to make the best of is what we decided:
  1. Look for arboretums. A good chance to stretch and people can easily be avoided.
  2. Avoid going into any public buildings. We had all the food we needed and gas could be obtained without human contact.
  3. Sanitize everything. When we arrived for the night, I'd go in and spray down all of the surfaces, open the doors/windows, and let my CDC-specified bleach solution do its job.
  4. Eat in. Make sure that everywhere we stayed had a microwave or more so that we could make our meals.
  5. Pee safely. Figure out how to use public restrooms without other people around. 
  6. Choose a safe route. Take the route home that is least affected by Covid-19 and no stopping in communities with outbreaks.
  7. Find interesting places to stay (if possible). 
  8. Have fun on the adventure.
We found a state park in Oklahoma that had cabins complete with bedding and towels. Score! That would be home for the night. But first a trip to the arboretum, Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs. This place was magical and is the result of the collision between a college of architecture and an arboretum. The paths and bridges were absolutely amazing. We especially liked the fairy garden and the super cool treehouse!

Leaving the arboretum, we took back roads and two-lane highways to Oklahoma's Greenleaf State Park. Our cabin was rustic on the outside and made of stone.

On the inside, it was warm and cozy, complete with television, kitchen, bathroom and THE most AMAZING bath towels ever!

I was a little curious about the lard container on the stove...we also encountered a GIANT wasp in the cupboard! Dinner was sweet potato, carrot and tofu curry and a salad...yummy!

There were quite a few RVs and most of the other cabins were in use. The small lake seemed to be the draw, as many people were fishing or had boats. But, being a fishing lake meant that it was a pretty quiet group. We walked the park, enjoyed seeing the little floating bar/tackle shop and made our way back to our cabin for a good night of sleep.

Read other posts about our unintended drive across America.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Hoping for Diamonds

I think if I had to sum up the trip so far with regards to Covid-19, I would say stressful. We were stressed to be near people, we were stressed to touch anything, and we washed our hands constantly.

But here we were, in Hope, Arkansas at the NPS Boyhood Home of Bill Clinton. We were the only people there; a volunteer took us into the house and we were clear that we did not want him near us. It worked. We watched a video in which Clinton spoke about his childhood, how his grandparents treated people, how if you wanted to be a good storyteller, you had to be a good listener, about how caring for people was the right thing to do.

Clinton's Grandma made him count his numbers every morning. They are clipped on the curtain.

We purchased the obligatory coffee mug and headed off to find some diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.

Inside the visitor center, we asked how much it was and told the lady we would set the money on the counter. We don't want to be in her space.

Apparently, everyone else thought that it was a good day to hunt for diamonds as well - after all, it had just rained making surface searches easy. We bought some gloves and a small trowel and headed out into the mud!

And there was a LOT of mud. Plenty of space to avoid people...especially when you walked WAY out to where it was so muddy that your feet got sucked down into the mud a good 6." Fortunately, they had an excellent cleanup area and high pressure hoses!
What else do people do when they need to stay 6 ft away from each other?
Why they did for diamonds of course!
So far, even though the germ aspect of the trip had us freaked out, we were still able to navigate people without a lot of concern. That was about to change.

We were headed to Hot Springs National Park and were staying at a really old hotel called the Park Hotel. It was old (some would say historic). It was off the main street, there wasn't anyone around and in fact, I'm not sure if there were even any other guests...we didn't see any. Our room was plain and heated with an old time ceramic heater. The window looked out onto the one way loop road that wound through the park; being up on the 3rd floor, we had a nice park view. 

It was still early, so we headed off for a walk to the Hot Spring National Park Visitor Center. Once we got off the path and onto the sidewalk, we were astounded at how many people would get right up close if you were not careful. We were constantly asking people to give us space. Finally, I just decided to tell folks I'd just come from SFO and that I wanted to give them space so that I didn't expose them to anything. That went over a little better.

Once in the visitor center, the park ranger told us that all tours were cancelled for the following morning due to the new 10-person group limits. She handed us a self guided tour map and we walked through a portion of the Fordyce Bath House -- we skipped the upper and lower levels -- too many people on the stairs. At that point, we took a long walk down a side street to figure out our course of action. This was the first place where we had really encountered people who had no idea of what they were in for given their behavior. We called the rental car place and decided that afternoon that we would be re-routing our trip and instead of touring the south and then flying home, we would be taking a road trip across America.

Read other posts about our unintended drive across America.

Day 1: Coffee & Robots!
Day 4: It's All OK
Day 6/7: Dr. Deb
Day 8: 80 on the 80
Day 11: Going Home