A post that’s a little like speed dating, but with more frogs

You guys, I just noticed the 10th anniversary* of this blog has quietly come and gone and I did nothing to make note of it. What started as a simple task to keep family from freaking out while we traveled, burgeoned into an up-to-thrice weekly effort to build an audience platform that might make me more attractive to publishers, and then waxed and waned according to how funny (or pissed off, embarrassed, caustic, or inspired) I was feeling week by week has really atrophied as of late. And I feel terrible about that.

Someone asked me recently “are you even writing anymore?” as if it’s something like a tree falling in the forest: not really there unless someone is able to respond to it in some way.

In short, writing? Yes! Pushing pithy material out on this poor blog? Not so much.

Buckle in, I’mma going to catch you all up:

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Travel Gadget Wish List

Midlife Sentence | Travel Necessities

Ten things I wish someone would invent to make traveling easier

One of my chic-iest friends posted an Instagram photo of a little, clear plastic clutch she’s going to start using for travel in place of the standard Ziploc the rest of us plebs employ to schlep our lotions and shampoos and other liquid stuffs onto airplanes.

At first, I thought “isn’t that just the coolest thing!” I mean, we’re all just one kitschy plastic tote away from either looking our put-together best or coming across like a crazed hoarder unloading a packed lunch all over the TSA belt. Amiright?

So, I whipped out my credit card and went to the website straightaway, and found out those cute, little totes the size of sandwich bags are a whopping $88 bucks apiece. Which is when I decided I’d stick with my non kitschy ways for a little while until I win the Lotto or something.

… But it made me think about other travel conveniences I’d come up with if I have the extra cash, a really sharp inventor brain, and some free time. Unfortunately, I’m a little short on … well all those things, but I’m going to share my ideas in case there’s an inventor type among you with the corresponding money and spare time.

Because, you know I’m a …. (let’s all say it together, now …) giver.

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How to enjoy Calgary when any other normal person might just stay inside

Midlife Sentence - Calgary

When I Googled “One Day in Calgary,” I found a website or two with helpful tips for the person whose aim is to cram a whole lot of stuff into a teensy time frame.

It’s become our modus operandi to do what we can to experience an entire city in one day. We’re busy people. Sometimes a day is all we’ve got.

We had exactly that to ourselves this week before our conference started, and were prepared to make the most of it. My early research was promising. With a great transit system, a citywide cycling path, and a cute downtown area, Calgary looks like the perfect place for one of our everything-in-one-day visits.

…. And then we got up that morning to this:

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A 3-Day family vacation launched from Base Camp Baker

The Geiser Grand Hotel
The Geiser Grand Hotel

Every spring break, it seems a number of my children’s friends look forward to exotic vacations. Although the thought of making exciting plans for the break is always alluring, the realities of work schedules and finances precludes this possibility for our family almost every year.

Fortunately, in our region there are a number of opportunities for short, inexpensive and accessible family trips – some of which are surprising discoveries even for long time residents.

This spring, we spent three days in and around Baker City, Oregon, at the suggestion of Andrew Bryan, Baker County’s marketing director. Bryan is the visionary behind Base Camp Baker – an effort to brand the area as Eastern Oregon’s travel and recreation hub.

The famed stained glass ceiling at the Geiser Grand Hotel overlooking the Geiser Grill
The famed stained glass ceiling at the Geiser Grand Hotel overlooking the Geiser Grill

Two hours west of Boise off I-84, Baker City is steeped in northwest history and easy to access. As both of our children are prone to motion sickness on Idaho’s mountainous roads, we are always especially grateful given the chance to travel on such a relatively straight but scenic route.

Our stay began with dinner and check in at the historic Geiser Grand Hotel. The hotel is one of the most prominent buildings downtown and a symbol of the opulence of the gold rush era of the old west.

The Geiser Grand is also part of a story of the rebirth of a community. Following a heyday that lasted from the late 1800s to the early 20th century, the hotel had fallen into a stunning state of disrepair. With boarded up windows and chipping paint, it was a prominent eyesore. When the current owners arrived to study the structure for renovation, the hotel was within weeks of being demolished to make way for a parking lot.

Historic Baker City is a group of community volunteers that rallied in 1982 with a central mission to refurbish downtown. Barbara Sidway, co-owner and operator of the hotel, says the decision to undertake the years-long restoration project was based on her confidence in the visioning and planning work already completed by the group.

Coffee at Mad Matilda's
Coffee at Mad Matilda’s

“I saw that they had a great plan in place,” Sidway says, “and I could see where the hotel would play a role in that plan.”

The hotel has been refurbished with tremendous attention to detail – a famed stained glass ceiling was redesigned from the memory of a 90 year-old resident. New carpets were loomed in the same European mill as the originals. Light fixtures, door knobs, hinges and woodwork, where not original, were sourced at antique markets or recreated meticulously from archived photographs.

Although we didn’t experience any events that would support the hotel’s reputation for being haunted, we could have tempted fate by participating in a monthly ghost hunting tour (from 9 pm to 2 am). The hotel is also home base for a new family friendly candle-lit walking tour. At 60 to 75 minutes, Haunted Historic Baker City Tours include special pricing for children and are free for kids under 6.

At one time the hotel was considered the finest between Salt Lake City and Seattle – claiming the third elevator west of the Mississippi River. Today, with its antique furnishings and chandeliers, much of the sense of that opulence has been restored.

Architectural elements in a Baker City retail store.
Architectural elements in a Baker City retail store.

The Geiser Grand opens to Main Street, bustling with specialty boutiques, cafes and art galleries. Of particular delight to our family was the independently owned Betty’s Books, a saddle maker’s shop, and clothing stores that make use of former bank vaults for dressing rooms.

Baker City’s past is etched into its downtown storefronts. Ann Mehaffy, program director for Historic Baker City, says that the facades of than 60 downtown buildings dating back to the gold rush era have been restored to their original state after having been covered with sheet metal and plaster in earlier years.

On the sunny Saturday afternoon of our visit, foot traffic was plentiful and business was brisk, including those looking for a bite to eat. When it comes to dining with my family, I prefer food that is not passed through a window – preferably served in a locally owned restaurant. Fortunately, Baker City’s downtown includes a number of such establishments from café style to fine dining, a brew pub, or coffee shops that moonlight as art galleries like Mad Matilda’s.

Enjoying the spring skiing at nearby Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort
Enjoying the spring skiing at nearby Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort

For a town of fewer than 10,000, there are a surprising number of art exhibits in Baker City, including those in a refurbished Carnegie Library building, which now houses a community art center. On the first Friday each month, downtown galleries and other businesses stay open late with entertainment and refreshments for those who want to peruse the exhibits.

The proliferation of interesting architecture is not the town’s only claim to history. North of downtown, the Baker Heritage Museum (across the Geiser-Pollman Park from a fabulous county library) touts the “World Famous” Cavin-Warfel rock exhibit which held the attentions of our budding geologists for the better part of an hour.

The surrounding countryside provides other opportunities to explore the roots of western expansion, from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, five miles east of Baker City, to a ghost town loop, train rides, and plentiful hiking and biking trails.

What can you fit in one covered wagon? An interactive exhibit at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
What can you fit in one covered wagon? An interactive exhibit at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

The two hours we’d budgeted to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center was unfortunately not enough to accommodate a full exploration of the paved trails outside that lead to original wagon wheel ruts. The center itself, with its displays of life on the Oregon Trail, special programs, performances and videos, was educational and entertaining for both parents and kids.

The Cavin-Warfel Collection of rocks, fossils and minerals, housed at the museum, is one of the finest in the western United States, at the Baker Heritage Museum
The Cavin-Warfel Collection of rocks, fossils and minerals, housed at the museum, is one of the finest in the western United States, at the Baker Heritage Museum

Outdoor adventures and recreation opportunities are within easy reach of Baker City via the Elkhorn Scenic Byway (also with relatively few nausea inspiring curves), and the longer Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. On our way to visit the Anthony Lakes Ski Resort for some late spring skiing, we passed a number of trailhead markers and camp spots we intend to visit again this summer.

Of particular interest to my family is the lure of area ghost towns including McEwan and Sumpter, and a ride on the Sumpter Valley Railway. I’d appreciate a summer evening art gallery stroll through downtown Baker City, or a bicycle tour on one of the several bike friendly loops in the area. It will take a number of trips to fully explore and appreciate all Baker County has to offer.


www.basecampbaker.com – a great source for information on recreation and resources in the area

www.historicbakercity.com – includes a self-guided walking tour and information on historic downtown Baker City.

www.bakerheritagemuseum.com – with gold rush era exhibits and an extensive rock and minerals collection that our family particularly enjoyed.

http://www.blm.gov/or/oregontrail/ – For a schedule of exhibits and activities at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

http://www.geisergrand.com/ – a gold Rush era hotel, restored to near original state. Hosts hotel tours and ghost hunting tours, with a restaurant, meeting facilities and beautiful nineteenth century bar.

A version of this article was originally published in the June, 2010, issue of Treasure Valley Family Magazine, and sponsored by the Baker County Chamber of Commerce and Base Camp Baker. All opinions are my own.