Staycationing: 5 star tips

We’ve walked you through how we made the decision to go on a ‘staycation’ rather than a vacation and how we formulated our itinerary. Now, let me offer some pointers for making your back-yard vacation just as exciting and fun as a ‘real’ vacation.

About 3 days before our staycation we made a list of what it means to be on vacation – to us.


  • special coffee
  • sleeping in
  • seeing new things
  • visiting historical things (museums, monuments)
  • going on tours


  • snacks
  • touristy sight seeing – complete with snap happy cameras
  • relaxing place to crash
  • discovering new places
  • a new and exciting playlist
  • slow delicious breakfasts in my pj’s
  • absolutely no watching the clock – or wearing a watch!
  • buying souvenirs

From here we had a pretty good idea of what vacation means to both of us and we incorporated these elements into our time off. Jake made a great mixed CD that stayed in the car, we booked 2 guided tours, picked up unique K-cups (a splurge lately) and stocked the kitchen with luxe snacks we would never buy ourselves and a hotel would totally charge $5 a pop for: Milano cookies, san pelligrino, pistachios, pretzel snacks, glass bottled water…silly I know but totally fun!

Next we set out ‘rules’ for making these days special and ours

  1. No cell phones unless A: Mapping a route or B: it’s an emergency
  2. No alarms
  3. No X-Box (netflix) – a late night movie with popcorn was an exception
  4. No internet
  5. No visiting places we’ve been or go to regularly (the grocery store, Target, Starbucks, or restaurants) if we wanted/needed those things we had to find one we don’t usually use – say across town.

Then we set out to make our home feel like a 5 star hotel:

  • clean, clean, clean! – everything, toilets, the back-splash, the fridge, empty the trash.  If you wouldn’t see it at the Brown Palace, we didn’t want to see it this weekend. TIP: do this a bit at a time in the week before your ‘vacation’ to prevent last minute stress – lesson we learned the hard way.
  • Fresh Flowers – We picked up a few from the store and dispersed them throughout the apartment. In the bedroom, dining room, bathroom, kitchen, wherever we thought we’d see them in a hotel.
  • A ‘mini-bar’ with mini snacks and fancy sodas in a basket. This was unique because the basket sat as a welcome full of our faves – as i mentioned before stuff we wouldn’t usually buy. (I sneaked them in the grocery cart a bit at a time, up to three weeks in advance, to take the sting out of the price tag)
  • Fresh sheets. “the good ones” oh, you know you have a set of sheets that feel sooo much better than all the others…use those.
  • Mini toiletries.  So I didn’t think of this in time but next staycation I’m totally doing it.
  • Candles & soft lighting. Skip those overhead lights, opt for lamps and candle light! – “fancy pantsy”
  • Play up the qualities you love about your home. For us it’s the view (it is quite fantastic) so we left the shades open and made sure to soak the panoramic scene up.
  • Pillow mints. – nothing says vacation like candy on your pillow – specifically chocolate candy!
  • BOARD your pets! Taking the dog out every few hours & worrying about being home in a timely manner wasn’t ‘vacationey’, so we boarded Izzy overnight Thursday then picked her up on Friday and boarded her overnight again Saturday (by doing one night at a time we cut the boarding cost down to $60 instead of $180!) Worth. every. cent.

I took a few extra steps and made a sign for our ‘hotel’, a do not disturb door hanger  and informational leaflets (you know those annoying little “Enjoy your stay at the Hampton Inn, use our soap” doo-dads) that were full of sarcasm and my off-beat sense of humor but made Jake laugh.  I also ordered a “Visit Colorado” guidebook free on the state’s tourism website – holy moly, guacamolie!  This book had an entire 2 years worth of awesome things to do – I had no idea there is a such thing as the “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival” sign me in!!!!

We had planned on detailing the cars, washing the inside and outside but I was lazy and just threw everything in the back. I also froze a few extra meals to avoid cooking but we never came to such desperate measures. Aside from loading the dishwasher we did absolutely no housework/laundry/anything during our time at home.

I’d say that these little things made a big difference. Treating home like it’s someplace new and retreat like was fun. Trying to get Jake int he vacation mindset (via goofing off) I opened the door on Wednesday night exclaiming “WHOAH!! It has a full kitchen…and LAUNDRY… OHHHH THE VIEWWWWW is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!….HOW did they KNOW I love orange dark chocolate MILANO COOKIES?!?!?!”  wittily retorted “it’s complete with an overgrown RAT!!! We should talk to management.” as Izzy welcomed him home. This vacation was off to a really fun start.

From this experience we learned staycations are about as fun as you make them.  You really do get out what you put in, we put a lot in and we received an abundance in return.

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Staycationing: Creating an itinerary

When we decided to do a 4 day staycation we picked an area of focus – Colorado Springs & Pike’s Peak. Our goal: to see some awesome stuff and do things we wouldn’t do on the average weekend. We Googled the heavens out of the area, asked everyone for suggestions (co-workers, friends, family, clients, the UPS man). This was a great start. After we populated a massive list of attractions we began narrowing it down.

We wanted to be busy but still relaxed so we kept our itinerary down to 3 attractions per day and included only one event/attraction that had an admission fee per day- if that. Once we decided on 12-15 attractions we started hunting for ‘local deals’ and ‘off season’ pricing. We saved a ton of money by doing this! Colorado treats it’s residence well and the off season pricing is as low or lower than 50% off. We were methodical about each day’s plan as well. The day’s attractions were all within a 5-10 mile radius of one another. Maximizing our commute time just like we would’ve done on a ‘real’ vacation.

Now, before you say ‘WHOAH! That’s a lot of planning!’ I wasn’t a task master, and to be honest we only did 1 or 2 attractions every day. There was just so much to see at each place that we didn’t want to rush. Maintaining flexibility was key for us–okay me. I had to remember we were on vacation, not just checking things off a to-do list.

Here’s a peek at our itinerary for day 1:

Thursday, February 13

Day 1

Time / Fee




8:30a Home Cinnamon Rolls

Travel Time

9:00a Depart home 10:00a Arrive Colorado Springs

Air Force Base

10:00a 2306 Sijan Drive, CO 80840(719) 333-2636 Free! (30 Min drive to Next event)

Olympic Training Facility

11:30a 1750 E Boulder StCo Spgs, CO 80909 FREE / Open 9a – 4p


Somewhere in the Springs

Pulpit Rock

2:00 1910 Rimwood Dr.N of Austin Bluffs Pkwy, E of N. Nevada Ave, W of N. Academy Blvd Two trailheads – see map attached


Colorado Springs Antique markets, Bead Shops, ENTERTAINMART! etc.


Somewhere in the Springs

Travel Time

7:30 p Depart Colorado Springs 8:30p Arrive Home

We didn’t hike pulpit rock, instead we stopped at an antique market then headed home, we were just pooped. See…I was flexible. Later when sightseeing at Garden of the Gods took an entire day where I’d planned only half a day…it was no biggie….neither of us had ever been there! If we had driven across three states or flown in to see it I would’ve cared less about how long we took because it was vacation.  This is the mindset to keep on a staycation.

Our tips for creating an itinerary:

  1. Ask around! Google the area, see what’s around.
  2. Hunt around for coupons (we found a buy one get a free item coupon!) and ask for local/off season discounts.
  3. Plan your days with just a hair more than you think you can do. If you get to it cool, if not it’s in your back yard…go back later! – this prevents the ‘what should we do next’ conundrum.
  4. Be realistic, it wouldn’t be fun to drive 100 miles between event #1 and stop #2.
  5. Leave room for the unexpected – strict adherence to your itinerary won’t allow you accidentally find that awesome bakery with the strangely delicious vegan/gluten free cupcakes–why would you want to deprive yourself of that interesting and unique experience?!
  6. AGREE on locations and attractions – this should be just like a vacation: Mutually enjoyable.
  7. Be open-minded – just because something is a few miles from home doesn’t mean it’s not cool.
  8. DO NOT GO TO THE SAME RESTAURANTS/LOCATIONS YOU NORMALLY VISIT!!!!!! your favorite Thursday night mexican restaurant should not appear on your itinerary!

Next we’ll fill you in on how we made home feel like a 5 star hotel.

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Staycationing: “Should I stay or should I go?”

In mid-February we took a vacation, at home. “Staycations” are basically a vacation taken in your back yard or near home. In the recession these “Staycations” became rather popular, however we are just too broke to go on a ‘real’ vacation. Additionally 2014 is shaping up to be a wildly fun year for travel to family: Jake’s sister is getting married this spring and my brother & his wife are having their first kid this summer, then toss in a couple of ‘reunions’ and WOW! It’s going  to be a whirlwind of flights and travel! Which meant getting out of Colorado just didn’t seem feasible.

The decision started during the holiday season, which was insane for us this year. It’s my first time working in a retail environment where my employment agreement actually states I am not allowed any time off between Black Friday and New Years Day and Jake’s bank was short staffed so he wasn’t really allowed time off during this time either. Man, that was killer! I could tell we needed some time to recover, mentally we were drained and as a couple we weren’t really spending quality time together – work, dinner, netfilx, bed isn’t really an ideal marriage groove. We agreed that in February when we could burn some of that carryover PTO we would take a couple days off – for just the two of us.

Here’s what our decision making process looked like:

Staycation decisionJust because we decided to stay in Colorado for our vacation doesn’t mean we stayed home watching TV, eating delivery and going to bed before 9. We got up, left home and saw some seriously spectacular sights just miles from our driveway.

Next step…the nitty gritty of making a staycation just as exciting as a trip far, far away!

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Mt. Falcon – East

Mt. Falcon, East 3.9.14Last weekend we took on the East side of Mt. Falcon.  WORD this was a killer beast of a hike. I remembered tips from last week and we had a hearty breakfast, I grabbed the camera, we packed a couple of cliff bars, I had better socks (boots will have to wait for birthday time) and I tight-rolled my jeans like an 80′s pop-star.  EXCEPT I forgot to apply sunscreen and left my extra water bottle  in the car with my camera AND Sunglasses. Miserable!

IMAG0586Never-the-less the hike was a massive success for us! We used our the camera on our phones and I gulped water from Jake’s pack, he appreciated me lightening his load I’m sure.  We were both a bit pink from the sun but…meh we’re not dead.

IMAG0583As for the trail: We took Caste Trail and took the switchback Walker’s Dream Trail. Starting at 6,400′ we gained 1,213′ (taking us up t0 7,613′). Most of that was gained in the first 2 miles which made for a killer incline. It felt like death. On the way up all I could think is “Breathe…breathe… breathe” and “On the way back this will be AWESOME!” the latter is what I think got me to the top. We saw some insane people RUN.NING! that dreadful first 2 miles…UP! I can only imagine the strength of their hearts! I had to remember to slow my pace and to be okay stopping whenever I wanted. Although, after a while I learned to set a little goal “I’ll take a breather at that big dead tree” and once I arrived to take 5 good deep breaths – otherwise I’d have sat and stayed a little too long. This method worked really well for me. My heart rate stayed up but I wasn’t feeling the pressure to keep up with those crazy runners.

IMAG0584I’m learning hiking can be a very task oriented past-time if you let it. That’s not what we’re looking for. This take in the view, enjoy being in the sun and smelling pine (or skunk) mentality is what we’re aiming for – that and getting off the sofa! For Jake this comes a little more naturally, he has the laid back take it in approach down pat. Not so much for me, if someone is behind me or in front of me I feel like I need to keep up. “The journey is the destination” – Cliche but true.

IMAG0587We saw a family of deer, cool birds, some butterflies you know – outdoorsy stuff. From half way up we were awarded with awesome views of Denver and could see all the way to DIA and we even spotted Buckley Air Force Base – those massive golf balls are pretty easy to identify. We snacked at the remains of a President’s Summer White House which afforded sweeping panoramic views of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

IMAG0589I was the first in the gang to actually fall…slip and meet the ground really. No biggie. There should be a badge or ribbon for that achievement. First down? Maybe I’ll start making buttons! HA

Lessons learned this go round:

  1. Don’t leave the stuff you made a point to remember in the car!
  2. Even if you don’t think you need it, use SUNSCREEN
  3. Carabiners are handy for easy/quick access to stuff (rifling through my pack for stuff that fell to the bottom was a pain)
  4. If you put your wallet in your pack, don’t forget to take it out when you’re done – otherwise you’re driving illegally the next day.

Next Hike: Mt. Falcon West. This side of the park is ‘a walk in the clouds’ by comparison from what I hear –we’ll see what kind of clouds they’re talkin’ bout!

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New Hobby

Denver Bead Renissance 2aI’ve recently been trying my hand at a new hobby: Beading. or in my case more aptly called: Jewelry making (I haven’t dabbled in intricate tiny bead designs/work yet). It’s like a whole new world, an entire subculture of folks who make their own wearable art. I’m still a novice and getting the hang of things. However to be honest it’s really neat. Being able to look at something on a rack in nearly any store and know I have the ability to make it, in the colors or materials I choose! It’s pretty empowering.

Denver Bead Renissance Seads 2aIt can be a little overwhelming for me too though. As with any hobby, there are varying quality points and price points that accompany it. Also what determines the value of each item varies as well – for instance I love emeralds. I can think up a design for say a necklace and when I head into a store for real emeralds I’m faced with what feels like 90 different options. Do I want natural emeralds, natural but dyed gems, or synthetic man-made stones? Then I can take into consideration where in the world do I want them to have originated? Okay after that myriad of decisions now what size, what shape fit best into my design? wow! The options are endless!  This is where it gets overwhelming for me. Sooo many options.

Denver Bead Renissance beadsShortly after picking up the hobby, I attended a bead show. Vendors from all over, selling all types of tools and supplies. This show was medium in size but still overwhelmingly awesome.  Even better? at these bead shows one gets to purchase at wholesale…waaaaay better on the pocketbook!

Denver Bead Renissance chains 1I’m always taken aback by how cool my new hobby is and how friendly and helpful most bead store owners are. Walk in, ask for a pointer or tip and they’ll let you use their tools to test and learn, right then and there at no cost –sometimes. Even better? I’ve wrangled Jake into this endeavor as well; he has a terrific eye for style and design. His finished items receive compliments all the time!

When was the last time you picked up a new hobby?

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Robot & Frank

Typical weeknight at our place involves arriving home, taking Izzy out, deciding on dinner, doing a couple chores and eventually zoning out in front of Netflix. Netflix has become the bane of my movie enjoyment. Either we sit down and watch a couple of episodes of our favorite shows or we spend 45 minutes (yes, I’ve timed it) trying to pick a movie. For some reason nothing in our hand-selected queue looks good…ever.  Last week we finally landed on Robot & Frank.

Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. What follows is an often hilarious and heartwarming story about finding friends and family in the most unexpected places.

(synopsis from here)

I really enjoyed this movie. It was fun, playful, tender and different. This will sound weird but I have a soft-spot for old guys, their grumpy stubbornness juxtaposed with their sweet vulnerability just makes my little heart melt. This movie tugged at a few of those heartstrings.

Have you seen Robot & Frank, what was your take?

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Fabric Stenciling

IMG_0006A while ago on a craft chat-site I learned that freezer paper, the stuff in the ziplock isle, works really well for iron-on stenciling. I stenciled on so many tee-shirts and canvas bags I can’t even remember how many. It was always fun to show up to class or church with a design no one else had or would ever have. The tedious part was cutting the design – and remembering to print in mirror so the words weren’t backwards). Armed with a basic X-ACTO blade and an old piece of wood I would sit and cut for HOURS. This was so tiresome (and painful) that I haven’t picked up fabric stenciling in years.

This last Christmas I saw yet another pinterest pin and thought ‘I know someone who Neeeeeeeeeeeeds that bag!’. Lucky me I still had about half a roll of freezer paper, some paint, a sponge brush and this time I didn’t have to slave over a board with an X-ACTO pen, I have a SILHOUETTE!! What used to require hours upon hours took about 5 minutes start to finish, I really love that beautiful piece of equipment.

If all this talk of stenciling and sponge brushes and cutting up paper hasn’t led you to click away here’s the how-to for making your own cool stuff (shirts, bags, shoes, pants, flags?).

Freezer Paper
Foam Brush
Paint of choice
sure fabric paint would be a wonderful choice but come on, this is a Jessica craft, I’ll use any paint I can get my hands on. This time it was scrapbooking ink/paint, I’ve used acrylic paints (at 60 cents a pop, who wouldn’t?!)
Article to paint
Old magazine or newspaper

Making your stencil – You can cut your freezer paper to a size your printer will accept, and run it through – being mindful to print on the paper side NOT the shiny/slickery side.  If this is your method of stencil making you’ll need to print the image in mirror – specifically if you’re using words!  yup learned both those tips the hard way.  Now cut, carefully of course, practicing blade safety.

Okay. Stencil made? The hard part is over! Plug in the iron and set it to as high as your fabric or medium will allow. Now take your stencil, and slickery side down, decide where you want your image. Once it’s in place, iron over the freezer paper. I don’t know exactly the science behind whatever it is they use on that shiny side but…it works, trust me.

IMG_0003Another tip from my (huge) list of ‘Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way‘ – put a magazine, cardboard, or newspaper between or under the item you’re stenciling (Image going on the front of a shirt? You don’t want the paint to bleed through on the BACK of your shirt.)

IMG_0005Okay, now your stencil is down and it’s time for the fun parts. PAINT! I’d like to say I’ve always been diligent in dabbing the paint on but, let’s be honest. By this point I’m just so excited to be creating that it’s REALLY hard to slowly dab/blot paint. BUT I will say that every time I did take those 2 extra minutes the project turned out much better. So blot or dab but I don’t advise brushing or rubbing the paint in. Most often it causes bleeding under the stencil edges which isn’t cool.

IMG_0001 (2)Paint done? LET IT DRY! this is the ‘torture zone’ for me. I’m too impatient and want so badly to see how it turns out that i peel the stencil up too soon. DON’T DO IT! WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! – did I emphasize that enough? The cool thing about freezer paper stencils: they peel right up. Once everything is totally dry, peel the stencil up, it’s okay to tear and rip them up because sadly they’re a one-time use kinda deal.

IMG_0003 (2)On this project I did a second stencil for the word “GLITTER”. I just repeated the above but I had to wait until the first set was dry before moving on. On a side note: I’ve had tremendous luck with Martha Stewart’s line of glitter paints. The sparkle factor is high, it dries solid and after about 3 months of abuse the glitter hasn’t come off.

IMG_0005 (2)

And I made one for myself…I really couldn’t help it, it was such an awesome bag…especially with RAINBOW glitters!

Rainbow Glitter


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Castlewood Canyon

Jake & Jess @ Castlewood CanyonLast weekend we hiked Castlewood Canyon.  This state park is great, beautiful views, a cool broken down dam, a waterfall and a historical homestead. Jake’s taken me out to this park for a good hike twice before. The first time was a good quick little hike, the second was more challenging: I encountered a rattlesnake and on the hike back to the car I thought I was having a heart attack–no really–I was about to yell for a medic.


THIS trip was much different. We asked a friend to come along and planned it out to leave Sunday at 10a. Sunday 9 am rolled around and I was already on the ‘let’s just relax and craft’ train of thought when she texted “dude, I’m already dressed!”  okay okay, let’s dooo this! It was great having someone outside our relationship holding us accountable.

IMAG0579We did the FULL loop, 6.67 miles, up some steep hills, down some very muddy trails and this time we were able to see the waterfall. Beautiful.  4 full hours of moderate to intense cardio for Jake & I. Our friend, on the other hand, was trekkin’ like we were in a mall or walking through a parking lot!

Natalie & Jess @ Castlewood CanyonI didn’t have any heart attack scares but at the farthest point out I would’ve cried like a little girl if it were just Jake & I. It felt exhausting and a little much for me; however when I heard the phrases ‘It’s all down hill from here.’ and “We’re headed back now.” I was so relieved and ready for some Hot Tub time back home that I found the motivation to pick myself up off the picnic bench and move on.

I’d like to say Jake & I finished strong but I don’t think bent in half, dragging our feet, whining about a possible aneurysm (me) and feeling pain in the knees (Jake) could be called a strong finish. Instead I’ll say we finished with pride. Proud that we did get off the sofa, proud we took steps in the right direction and proud we were making strides in meeting our 2014 guidelines for better living.

We ate lupper at Red Robin (they have a great cobb salad!) and afterwards all three of us were stoked to hit the hot tub. We had our suits on, we were ready to walk out and to my chagrin the tub was closed due to a burst pipe earlier in the week. This was the second time I was near tears. Nothing sounded better than a hot bubbly soak after such a long and painful hike; maybe next time.

Lessons learned from this treck:

  1. The right shoes are imperative.
  2. The right socks are just as important as the right shoes.
  3. Layering is awesome – at the top of the canyon the wind was whipping so strong and it was a little colder than chilly, however as we started moving those jackets & hats were goners.
  4. Don’t ever start a hike without eating breakfast and Sunchips aren’t a sufficient snack for a 4 hour hike on an empty stomach.
  5. ALWAYS take a camera. always, ALLLLways, ALWAYS. I didn’t insist on taking one this time and really really regret it.
  6. Short girls should wear short pants; mine were caked in mud. CAKED. When I uncuffed the hem at home it looked like someone had made a mud-pie or three IN MY JEANS!

Next hike: Mount Falcon – apparently suffering at 11,531′ isn’t high enough and we need MORE altitude.

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Winning Respect


“[Live] so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders”

Today’s daily mediation was focused on 1 Thessalonians 4:12. When I read this I began wondering what causes me to respect others? Why do I interact with some people and esteem them above others, and what in or about others keeps me from honoring them or holding them in great regard? The devotional I read (Today’s Word with Joel & Victoria Osteen) aptly answered my question:

“Notice this verse doesn’t say, “Go out of your way to do something major so that everyone will respect you.” … No, it says that your daily life should win the respect of others. That simply means to always take the high road and live a life of excellence. It means doing the right thing even when no one is looking. It means finding common ground in order to be a peacemaker.”

Interesting. As a highly competitive person it’s not always easy for me to take the high road…I looove being right and telling people about it.  Yet when I think about it, I don’t really respect people who do the same–at all. In fact, I pretty much detest people who insist on being right all the time and don’t fess up when they’re wrong. Holy smokes, I’d much rather live a life that gains respect from others through the simplicity of how I live and the choices I make daily.

Additionally someone just taking the high road doesn’t really win my respect. It’s a way of life; the conglomerate of being kind to others and trying to find and make peace. Notably this isn’t a passage about building yourself up it’s about becoming a better person as a whole, and one that earns admiration from others through honorable living. Which became really clear as I read verses 10-12.

When I expanded the scripture to read verses 10, 11 & 12 and at first thought it was a little…demeaning?…until I began typing this. Minding your own business, doing your own job isn’t to belittle people, it’s saying don’t meddle, or be all up in someone else’s business; pay attention to your own responsibilities. Not that your co-worker comes in late or isn’t as good at some tasks as you. It’s shifting the focus to yourself (or myself). ME: my job, my responsibilities, my choices and how each of these is an opportunity for me to ‘life a life of excellence’ which is what really truly wins the respect of others, right?

Hrmmm. Just the things I’m mulling over today…

In other news: Izzy’s really cute


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Finished EmpanadasI’m not a real ‘lets take forever to make dinner’ kinda gal. HA! The first time I cooked for Jake I whipped up Bertoli, a bagged salad and passed it off as complete ‘from scratch’.  Now he knows too much to be fooled by my shenanigans. So you can imagine we have a pretty basic meal rotation, this recipe (if you can even call it that) shows up frequently.

Salsa chicken – about a cup or so
(Salsa Chicken is just that: chicken & salsa that’s been tossed in the crock-pot for at least 4 hours then we shred it)
Biscuits, pizza dough, croissant, pie crust; any dough works well
Shredded Cheese
Empanadas Step 1

Flatten the dough (we used biscuits here).

Empanadas Step 3Throw some salsa chicken on top & sprinkle with cheese

Empanadas Step 4Top with dough and bake at 350 for…meh…until the dough looks done…maybe 10-15 mins?

DELICIOUS!!! super yum with cheese dip and chips. It’s filling and pretty cost effective – I have a tendency to stock up on the rolls, pizza crusts, pie dough, when they’re on sale. They say you cant freeze them but I do…I’m a rebel like that. To be really honest it’s even tastier and cheaper with homemade dough but someone tossed my bread-maker (yes, it was burning all our breads and only kneaded when it felt like it…but STILL!) and without it I’m lost in the dough making process.

Do you have a recipe that’s in your rotation more frequently than others?