Category Archives: A To Z Challenge

Z is for Zoo! If we were having coffee – at the zoo!

zToday rounds up our month of travel with the Eclectic Express, and where better to end the journey than a sunny-day trip to the Zoo?

I’m particularly fond of the Oregon Zoo — perhaps because it’s the zoo that I’ve spent the most time at since I grew up not far from it.  I’ll admit, I was completely surprised when I reached college and realized that not everyone had a Zoo to visit just a short drive from home!

Since it’s also a Saturday we’ll encourage everyone to explore the park, but also take some time to sit down with someone, enjoy some coffee, and share a bit about their week.


If I were having coffee with you I’d suggest we sip our coffee as we wander through some of the area’s of the zoo.  Let’s take a meander through the Africa Exhibit first.  I’d be excited to tell you not so much about my week (which was fairly average) but rather about the plans I have to continue the Eclectic Express past this month.

It’s really all Hannah‘s fault, she’s the one who brought my attention to a particular reading challenge that sparked the idea.  Eclectic Express is going to continue to explore Travel Tales, but we’ll explore new places through reading books that take place in them. Books for the continents and books for each of the US states is where I’ll start (and hopefully I’ll get others to help out with this journey as well – because I love being able to bring other voices to the blog!  It will be a grand reading adventure!

Oh!  I’d also tell you how fun it was to guest post over at Part TIme Monster this week with yet another Into-The-Woods based post… I swear, I have a non-ITW-based post coming up in the next few months… 🙂

As we wander through a bit more of the Zoo I’d love to hear what you’ve thought of our A to Z journey.  And if you have a favorite book that you think I must read for a certain location?  Suggestions are always welcome!

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Y is for Yosemite

yNearing the end of our journeys – Robin is going to lead us into Yosemite National Park!  Robin Rivera trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator. She writes young adult thrillers and her blog is Or you can find her on Twitter at @RobinRWrites.


Yosemite Valley is a premiere outdoor destination in a state overloaded with fabulous landscapes. It boasts pounding waterfalls, towering granite walls and beautiful historical buildings. It’s a million sights all worthy of a photograph or a painting, making it the muse of world-class artists for over a century.

Spring is the most popular season to visit the park. That’s when the waterfalls are at their peak and Dogwood trees are blooming. Summer is best for enjoying the high alpine meadows where the wildflowers may still linger. Both seasons are not easy to get reservations for. You’ll need to plan about 6 months in advance for your visit. Taking advantage of off-peek months is a great alternative. My family goes almost every year and I can say from experience the park is fantastic year-round.
Although the park is best known for its waterfalls, I love Yosemite for the rock walls. I can sit for hours and watch the light travel over the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan. I like to stay safe on the valley floor and marvel as climbers brave the long, scary climb straight up!

I’ve been going to Yosemite since I was about five and my own kids started going at just six months old. Some of my favorite memories are of them toddling along in the dirt, fists clutching pine needles and rocks with big gummy grins plastered on their faces. Later they started jumping over the boulders and slashing in the freezing cold water of the Merced River. The park truly has something for every age and fitness level. My grandmother made her first trip to Yosemite well into her 70s and she loved it.
I consider Yosemite National Park one of the must see sights of the world. Many people agree, and the park is always included on lists of the most popular outdoor destinations in the USA. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a week outdoors. Take a copy of John Muir’s book on Yosemite with you. No author has captured the beauty of Yosemite better than Muir.

V is for Vumba


We’re nearing the end of our Eclectic Journey — today’s destination (and story to go with it) is presented to us by Eloise.   Eloise has written over ten books over the past four years and lives in sunny Berkshire in southern England.  Her four children, four cats and one dog keep her entertained and inspire many of her children’s stories.  Eloise enjoys writing romance and suspense novels, capturing readers and transporting them to worlds filled with adventure, danger, love and romance.  You can follow her on her blog, facebook and twitter.

Ever sit at your computer and think back to a time when you were young enough to enjoy that heart-thumping joy of the unknown?  I am.  Right now. I’m travelling back to a place that I have earmarked as my final destination before I join whatever afterlife exists.  This place has magic in it.  How do I know?  Well, I was there in ’97 and I have to say, nothing has beaten it since.  Let me start at the beginning…

It was the Christmas holidays of ’97.  Parties were still in full swing and weekends were booked solid with friends and family. I had to get away.

Broken hearts have a way of solidifying your need to escape the norm, to find a place where you can just be, without thinking of the past.  Lost kisses and warm embraces; the scent of love, are all the things that tie us to dead relationships long after their expiration date. That was me – trying to find an escape from my ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend (one of my  so-called ‘good’ friends).  Bumping into them everywhere I went during the Christmas period had taken its toll. I rallied up a few of my crazy, close friends to find a solution.

“Let’s go to the Vumba!” was the over-enthusiastic suggestion from Murtle. “Come on.  What do you have to lose?  We can ask Charles to drive us there.  He won’t mind spending time with you, that’s for sure!”

I grimaced.  Charles was a good friend, but going away with him might encourage his enamour.  On the other hand, this town was way too small for my ex and me.  And Vumba sounded mysterious and exciting. So what was there to lose?

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We left in the early hours of the morning, before the sun kissed the horizon. By the time the crickets had warmed up their hind legs to start their daily musical serenade, we had passed Marondera. Travelling along the dusty road, I watched the balancing granite rocks fly by,  interspersed between tiny villages  with young running in the dirt chasing tyres or pushing wire cars.  Tinny music drifted through our open windows and faded away as the open road swallowed us into breathtaking views of the Msasa trees.

Far ahead, as the road climbed higher into the hills, I could see fantastic displays of colour and small pathways cut like ant trails into the valleys below.

“This is so beautiful,” I gasped, trying to take in every detail as we sped past.

“Wait.  The best is yet to come,” laughed Charles, cranking up the radio which blared out REM’s Losing My Religion.

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Suddenly, the view opened up again, exposing the inner clefts of the road etched into the sides of the hill. Trees sprouted dangerously out of the rocky sides, overhanging and stunning as we drove under. This was known as the Burma Valley, according to Charles.

It took a steady stomach to look down as the road twisted and turned through the granite hills, cutting and weaving, making it rather interesting when oncoming traffic bruised purposefully close to our side of the road, avoiding the death drop of the valley below on their side.

“Cloud Castle Inn, here were come!” laughed Murtle. I grinned, sprawling on the back seat, enjoying the space all to myself. As I lay there watching the blue sky flicker into view between the leaves,  I drank in the serenity, thinking how lucky I was to escape to such a beautiful place.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor of the car as it bumped over a dirt road.  Quickly pulling myself back up onto the back seat, my first sight of Cloud Castle Inn took my breath away.  The house was set up among the clouds, high in the Vumba Hills, watching over the National Park filled with weird and wonderful species of plants and trees.  As I looked around, I caught sight of the eucalyptus trees.  Their slim, grey bodies bent and twisted in synchronized harmony as their silvery-green leaves swished and whispered in the brisk wind.

It didn’t take us long to dump our back-packs and sleeping bags in our hired room for the weekend.  The owner of the large back-packers lodge pointed us in the right direction and we set off to explore the park.  Dirt tracks led us deeper into the undergrowth and the sound of birds singing and insects buzzing accompanied our hot trek through the forest.  The humidity was off the scales and my hair was ready to give Diana Ross a run for her money!  Persevering, we stumbled on following a faint path that led deeper into the undergrowth.

“Listen!” whispered Charles.  “Can you hear that?”

Murtle and I stopped to listen.  The heat sent off waves and the incessant buzzing drowned out the birdsong.  I stepped closer to an overhanging twisted branch covered lichen.  It looked so soft and tempting to touch.  As my hand reached out to feel the texture, my ears caught the sound of falling water.  I turned to Murtle who grabbed my outstretched hand and pulled me down the path with Charles in tow.  The path turned rocky and damp, covering in mossy outcrops and before long we were standing next to a stunning waterfall cut through dark red rock. Giggles erupted from me like the bubbles of water at the base of the waterfall and I carefully stepped onto the flat rock receiving the onslaught of cool, fresh water from above.  It was an exquisite experience.

With no-one around to see us, the three of us danced like pixies under the waterfall and sang (very badly I might add) to the sun hidden behind the towering trees and the delicious water raining down on our heads.  We were children again, wild and free. My words can’t capture the happiness of that moment: the pure joy and freedom of just being.  Even now, I crave that feeling again.

Soaked and exhausted from our tomfoolery, we made our way back up the lonely path to the rest of the forest, hoping to find the right way back to the house.  By the time an hour had passed, we were relatively dry and very tired.  Our feet hurt, but we were still in high spirits and completely lost!  As a last ditch attempt, we turned back the way we had come and after another fifteen minutes of walking, stumbled upon a caravan park.  The holiday-makers soon set us on the right path home and we returned to home for the weekend, Cloud Castle, their indulgent hot showers and a shared kitchen overloaded with the smell of a dozen different dinners being prepared by fellow back-packers.

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The next day we awoke early thanks to the annoying singing of the birds.  Aching and sluggish from the previous day’s exertions, we decided to have breakfast at the top of the hill overlooking the famous Leopard Rock Hotel. Our fellow travellers had been kind enough to share hot spots to visit the night before, over our rather unsuccessful attempt at making dinner.  Let’s just say, I am not very good at making Smash (instant mashed potato)!

We were so high up, the clouds drifted below us, blocking the view of the tiny golf carts below and the pink regal buildings with bright windows watching the golf course further down the valley.  In unison, we sighed.  The measly breakfast we had brought with us was consumed as we imagined the lucky patrons of such a posh hotel.  We promised ourselves that one day, we would return to stay. Clouds were rolling in fast and we had to get back down before we were lost in the clouds forever.

The rest of the day was spent driving around the area, discovering old colonial houses set within the granite hills with gardens holding very British flora and fauna.  Some had been converted into tea gardens whilst others were used as up-market B&Bs.  As the last day drew to a close, I knew that this was the place I would love my ashes to rest.

The evening was spent in front of a roaring fire.  The rain was pelting down outside, as it had throughout the rest of the day, keeping the surrounding forests luscious green and thick with foliage and humidity.  I curled up on the wicker chair with plumpy cushions and stroked the friendly border collie who lay next to me, the resident dog at this friendly lodge.  The fire crackled and spit as I watched the flames dancing and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.  Time stood still.  I watched my friends play cards over a small wooden table next to my chair and half-listened to their banter.  I was content.  Vumba had made a home in my heart which I knew would last forever.

Now, nearly twenty years later, I have the opportunity to return there, without the heartbreak and immaturity of youth.  When I think of it, my heart starts to beat fast and butterflies batter their wings in my tummy.  It is my chance to show my new life a part of my old: to show my children where I want my weary bones to rest.  I can’t contain my excitement and maybe, just maybe, I will take you with me too!


U is for Unusual Collections Museum


Today Diana again takes over as our tour guide!  Diana is a nerd, a bookworm, a feminist, and a social media junkie. She is a freelance writer and researcher and the administrator of the blog Part-Time Monster. You can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster or find her on Facebook at She lives in New Orleans with her son, her husband, and one very energetic terrier.

I love a museum. Of any sort. Art, natural history, science, war, maritime…It doesn’t matter much to me. I love walking through a collection, looking at curiosities and learning about their histories. But the museums I love the most are, much like the people I love the most, the odd ones. The ones that make me ask questions. The ones that invite speculation. There are quite a few of those sorts of museums in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, as you might imagine. But perhaps my favorite little roadside museum (shh, don’t tell the others!) is the Abita Mystery House.

 You’ll find the Mystery House in Abita Springs, which is a short trip–about an hour of driving time–from New Orleans, though you’ll have to travel over the Causeway, a 20+ mile-long bridge that crosses Lake Pontchartrain. (Worth nothing: There seems to be some controversy about it, but I’m told this is the world’s longest continuous stretch of bridge-over-water. Also worth noting: the southbound part of the causeway is a toll-bridge, and you’ll need cash for the return!) Even from a bridge-phobic like me, the drive and the $3 admission fee to the museum are well worth the trouble.
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The Abita Mystery House–also known as the Unusual Collections Museum–is run by John Preble, a local artist who was inspired by the Tinkertown Museum in New Mexico. The little museum has thousands of objects inside, collections of collections–found objects, home-made inventions, and folk art. The Mystery House is actually not just one building but several, including an exhibition hall full of interactive dioramas and quarter-operated machines (so bring some change!); an old trailer fashioned into a UFO crash site; a vintage gas station; and the House of Shards, named for the colorful tile pieces that make up its mosaic-style walls.
There’s just so much to look at!
But perhaps my favorite parts of the UCM are the gaffs and taxidermy—especially Darrell the Dogigator.

T is for Tent Trailer Travels

tAs we make the long journey back from the sun, let’s take some time to listen to stories of other modes of travel.  Rebecca (my mom!) told stories last year of Being Yoder.  Today she shares some Tent Trailer Travels!

With five children and two adults. Hitting the road was a tricky challenge.  A tent trailer seemed the perfect solution – easily stored, but ready to go quickly, with essentials already inside necessitating only fresh food and clothes to get underway.


One  early trip to Canada, we went  down a one lane Provincial Park road that  ended abruptly.  The only way out was to detach…. move the van up to where we could do a multi point turn and return to the trailer in reverse.  Then we had to manually turn the tent trailer, thankful for the many bodies to help.  Reconnect and we were back on our way, minus the several hour detour.

A similar situation on our cross country trip was resolved by the entire parade being driven directly across a lawn and back to the road.

Ahh the cross country trip!  The plan was to save money but we made up for it in time.  We allowed two weeks to travel from Beaverton, OR to Connecticut where family lived.


It meant getting a later stop because it took time to take everything down and we had to stop early to get set up and claim a site!   However, when our van broke an axle causing an unplanned lengthy stay in Custer State Park, having home on wheels with us came in very handy.

On this trip, our original plans of a set location changed and we ended up driving the east coast, going  from relative to relative and setting up in their yards.   The tent trailer was a blessing as it allowed us to visit but be less of a burden.


It also provided entertainment as our chore  was a novelty to whoever’s home we were at. We could usually enlist help in setting up.   Sometimes the kids all WANTED to sleep in the fancy tent, or could hang out inside it.


Every summer we’d go to Waldo Lake in the Oregon Cascades.  Our tent trailer proved a wonderful home for me, with books and craft supplies while the kids set up their own little tent village.  In the event of rain (or snow) we could cram inside and play games or eat, or get warm, but mostly it was just an adjunct to the great outdoors.


I did love the stove, which worked inside or attached to the outside which made feeding five kids much easier.  Camp fire was nice, but the propane burners were more reliable.  Having a fridge and occasionally a heater, made our two week stay easily doable.

It was a great way to travel and we used it to see much of the country.  And off season, it was a great place to hide holiday gifts from prying eyes!



S is for “A Walk on the Sun”


Today the Eclectic Express takes a super special adventure – brought to us by Adel Bean.  Last year she used “S” to tell us a story about a special slug. Now 7 years old, she’s going to tell us about a journey to the Sun!

What Would Happen If you Walked on the Sun?

Once upon a time, a little boy wondered what it would be like if he walked on the sun.  So he tried drawing a sun and walked on it.  But it did not feel like the sun at all!  So, he decided that when he was a teenager he would make a NEW kind of spaceship and a new kind of suit just fit for the sun.
So, when he was two years old he started planning his space suit…well at least a plastic model. And his rocket which was also a plastic model.  The space ship was 1.4m long and it looked like a real rocket ship with huge back thrusters and a rotating antenna to lead him to the sun.
When he was four years older he decided that when he was one year older he would launch his rocket ship.  Six years ahead of schedule.  He made the real space ship and suit, it was bright white because it would reflect the sun’s warmth.  All of the inside was filled with white blankets for sleeping and huge solar panels to collect all the energy so the antenna could call earth and tell them about all the new things he was discovering.
So, one year later he launched his spaceship.  The earth was shaking like a 10.9 earthquake but the ground didn’t crack. Just as the huge rocket ship launched into the sky a rainbow formed (when light refracted through the lemon juice steam that came from the rockets). It went faster than a plane and a car combined and he got to the sun in half a day.
He climbed out of the rocket ship with his suit on and played on the sun until he was 18. Discovering how to make all the nuclear gasses in the sun, and he learned how the sun was first created (by a bunch of clumping dust and a huge ball of nuclear gas crushing into it.  Poof it became the sun)
Then he decided he should go back home and thought the earth was much prettier than the sun and was comforted in his own bed.  Everyone came to his house for a big celebration because he had become famous.
Parent Note:  The moral of the story is…if you walk on the sun you will get famous not turned into ash…

R is for Rice Museum of Rocks & Minerals

rOnward we go!

Today we’re going to stop by the Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals.

This is a neat place that has a bunch of cool rocks!  The architecture is fun, and there’s plenty of things to explore – it would be easy to spend an entire day here going through it all!

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20151107_12044220151107_12051520151107_121751There’s one room dedicated to what I think is the coolest thing in the entire museum. The florescent display!

When the lights are up the rocks look like this..
But under the “black light” they end up like this!
The entire display!


And there is a pile of rocks that you can dig through to find your own special rocks!