Getting the Hang of Hanging out in a Tree

Getting the Hang of Hanging out in a Tree


Last year I had the misfortune to break my foot and I spent a long, depressing and lonely 3 months sitting in my Lazy Boy with my leg elevated in a cast trying to heal. When my young Orthopedic Surgeon first told me I was going to have to keep my leg elevated in order to heal, I remember looking at him in disbelief and asking him, in all sincerity, I must add, “well, what CAN I do?” and his earnest answer delivered with just the slightest hint of a smirk, “well, you can do anything you want as long as your leg is elevated.” Ya, right, junior. The fact is, you can’t do much of anything in that position other than read, watch TV and research grand bucket list adventures on the Internet. Guess which one held my attention the best for the next 12 long weeks?

Yes, you guessed correctly. I researched and researched away. My fingers clicking furiously over the keys of my trusty but old laptop computer, and boy did I find some cool but obscure stuff out there!

I stumbled upon a website called Vertical Voyages and discovered that right here in my great state an outfitter existed that taught you how to climb vertically up into the branches of a mature and stately live old tree. The technique sounded a lot like rock climbing and upon further research I learned the owner was in fact, originally a science teacher and rock-climbing guide who had branched out, pardon the pun, into climbing trees. He now had a successful business teaching people how to do this using a rope technique he had designed and modified. In one of his adventure classes, he could get you up 50-70 feet in a mature tree suspended from one of the tree branches.

I was hooked and totally intrigued. I needed to try this! This had to go on my bucket list!


After months of waiting and healing and physical therapy and exercise I was ready to take this adventure on.


The process of climbing was awkward at first, but not really physically demanding. You were outfitted with a seat harness or saddle and secured in carefully in a harness. Then you had to master the art of tree climbing with ropes, a system where you sat in the saddle, lifted one leg up maybe chest high and put it in a looped rope and then stood up on that foot. Then you pushed a special knot up as far as your hands would reach and sat back down in the saddle and repeated the process, basically inching your way up the tree in this fashion. It was awkward at first and you felt like you expended a lot of energy and got nowhere, but after a few minutes the process seemed to smooth out and you realized you actually were making progress.


My first thoughts were that this was going to take forever to get way up in the tree but part of the experience of having new adventures is practicing the art of patience. After several more minutes of attempting to climb, I paused for a rest and surveyed my progress. I was about 12-15 feet up and had, in fact, actually made pretty good progress, although my view didn’t feel all that impressive yet, it dawned on me I was getting the hang of hanging out in the tree!

Back to work, I dug deep and worked to improve my technique, remembering to breathe along the way and hold my core strong, this helped tremendously and 20 minutes or so later I was a solid 50 feet up in the canopy of this really cool old White Oak tree.


Others around me were in various stages of progress, some were as far up as their rope would allow them to go. Others had been able to reach over to one of the huge branches and were perched there like a Robin taking in the sights, others still were already on their way down ready to conquer another tree. Me? Well I discovered that for me being up in the canopy of a beautiful old tree had magical qualities to it. I just wanted to hang there and well, kind of speak to the tree. I know, that sounds a bit corny and more than a little bit quirky, but honestly, that’s how I felt. It was like the tree was alive and talking quietly to me. My senses were ultra alert. I could smell the earthiness of the tree. The leaves sashaying in the slight breeze almost sounded like they were playing a soft instrument, mapping out a calming tune that I just couldn’t quite match with my own breath.

I just sat there in my saddle and harness and hung out, it’s that simple. I felt very at home and at peace. I wondered if this is what it felt like to be a bird or a monkey. Suddenly I envied Tarzan and yearned for a tree house where I could sleep and watch the stars twinkling between the leaves singing me to sleep.

When it was finally time to descend and return back to earth I looked up at the spot where I had been and I realized I liked the view from up above far more than the view from below. Now, everywhere I go I notice huge old mature trees and I see a quiet beauty in them that I never took the time to notice before. This adventure taught me more about myself than many more adrenaline filled things I have done before, but it will forever hold a special place in my heart.

If you ever get the chance to join a Vertical Voyages Tree Canopy Climb you simply must do it. I am blessed that I had a broken foot that forced me to slow life down, and in the process I found a treasure of an adventure that changed me a little bit the day I finally hung out in a tree.

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Budweiser Might Be the King of Beers but Duke was King of the Clydesdales


My favorite part of the whole New Year celebration thing is not ringing in the actual midnight hour, I am usually fast asleep long before that time arrives. No, my favorite way to celebrate the New Year is by anxiously awaiting the newest Budweiser Beer Clydesdale Super Bowl commercial. Seriously, I love these commercials and I can’t wait to see what they come up with every year.
This fall we finally got the chance to go visit one of the few places you can actually see these magnificent animals up close and personal, Warm Springs Ranch in Missouri. The ranch is hard to get a tour at; in fact I tried for a fall weekend and was told in August that the weekend tours were already booked until the end of the year! Not one to be told no, I am glad to say I persevered and was able to score reservations for two for a beautiful non weekend day in September when my daughter had a day off from school. It was a perfect day for a ranch visit.


It looks just like you imagine it would, 14 miles of white fence surrounding the pristine rolling hills and pasture of Warm Springs Ranch. The red barn sits high on the hill with ten separate pastures full of happy, contented and extremely well cared for Clydesdales. We stopped to say hi to several on the long winding road in,\ and were greeted with enthusiasm by these gentle giants, all of them anxious for some loving attention. I felt like a paparazzi as I ran from photo op to photo op while the celebrity horses pranced and patiently waited for me to get all the pictures my heart desired.

The barn had to be the cleanest barn I have ever seen, each section well marked showing all phases of horse care including where they are bred, exercised, trained and cared for by loving staff.

This grand experience was shared with my daughter and certainly makes the top ten things I’d recommend to anyone looking for a Missouri highlight.


For me the high point of the tour was when we were introduced to Duke, a massive Clydesdale of 13 years who had retired from being a team hitch member and was promoted to official greeter. Duke was a towering example of the best of the Budweiser Clydesdales. Every inch of this 18-hand horse was groomed, every hair on this animal was clean and brushed. All I could think of when I first layed eyes on him whas how much my mother would have loved this place!


Like the celebrity he was, Duke knew he looked good too! His eyes sparkled as he pranced around and I swear every time someone pointed a camera at him he held his head up high and turned his head to his good side! He was a good sport too, because he was patient and kind and let everyone from the oldest and frailest guest in a wheelchair down to the 10 month old little girl pet him and love on him. He even posed for a selfie with my daughter and I swear I saw him look longingly at the cold glasses of Budweiser the guests had in their hands, I am sure he was wondering where his beer was too!


I am even more in love with these gorgeous animals now that I had a little chance to spend time with them. Three more months until the New Year and the next round of Budweiser Clydesdale commercials and I can hardly wait.

So glad this was on my bucket list and we made time for an afternoon of warm September sunshine and a little Budweiser!

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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99 Bottles of Beer (or Wine) on the Wall


What’s almost better than drinking beer? Ask my husband and he’ll tell you it’s making beer! When I watch him brew beer he’s like a kid in a candy store, he gets all his pots and pans, funnels and equipment out and soon the kitchen looks like one gigantic science experiment but it’s cute to watch him work away on something he enjoys so much!

This year I asked him to expand on his skill set and try making wine! Much to my pleasure he is getting almost as big of kick out of trying different wines as he does with his beer. In just a couple months he has done one batch of beer and 4 batches of wine! I am starting to think we might have a new retirement plan going on here!


Plagued with a profound lack of space in our new no basement home, he got creative and improvised making my nice big pantry style closet in my laundry room the perfect storage spot for the carboys and buckets of wine. It is our new wine cellar of sorts!

Wine needs to stay at a constant temperature of 72 degrees while it is fermenting and I knew I was in trouble when one day I walked in to the laundry room with a basket full of clothes and was greeted with a toasty warm room complete with a heater! The room was exactly 72 degrees and I could see the wine “percolating” or whatever it is that it does in my pantry! While I may not have as much room in my laundry room anymore I do know we will have fun when friends come over to visit and we can share the fruits of our labor!


I got to help with the bottling phase and was pretty impressed when I realized not only does this stuff taste great but each batch gave us 27-30 freshly minted bottles of wine to share with friends and family or savor in our own backyard by the fire pit this summer! When Dan partnered his wine and beer making efforts with his BBQ smoking skills I knew we were going to have a busy summer of guests! All I know is I am looking forward to sampling some of these wines in the near future and relishing his pork brisket wrapped in bacon!!


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Styx and Stones

Styx and Stones
I think one of the absolutely coolest things to do is attend a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. It simply has to be on everyone’s bucket list as an experience that can’t be matched at any other concert venue in the world!

A couple summers ago we kicked off summer with a bang by attending the 70-80-s rock band tri-fecta at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Ted Nugent reminded us what free speech and guitar playing are for by opening the concert with classics like “Cat Scratch Fever.”

A bit later, REO Speedwagon took us back to our glory days with “Heard it From a Friend” and their classic song written about hiking in the Rocky Mountains with “Ridin the Storm Out”. As the stars started to fill the Colorado night sky we heard them serenade us to “Take it On the Run” and the rock ballad “Keep On Loving You”

Styx then brought the starry night home with “Come Sail Away” “Renegade” “Too Much Time On My Hands” and “Babe”!

High School in the 70’s- 80’s in the Midwest was a special time of innocence and bands like REO Spreedwagon, Styx, Rush, ADCD and legends like Bob Segar and Jackson Browne made a lasting imprint on my soul. It was a time of discovery, of lasting friendships and it helped shape me into the person I am today.

As I sat that night in early May surrounded by the towering Red Rocks that naturally made one of Gods’ most beautiful Amphitheatres, and watched rock legends take me back in time, I was flooded with memories of a simpler time.

Music can make such a difference in our lives and while Tommy Shaw and others serenaded me I suddenly found myself appreciating my youth and the dear friends I shared my life with during those early years.

Modern singers like Eric Church say it best in his current hit “Springsteen” in the lyrics:

When I think about you
I think about 17
I think about my old Jeep
I think about the stars in the sky

Funny how a melody sounds like a memory
Like a sound track to a July Saturday night “Springsteen”

Everyone should make sure they get to see a rock legend performing under the stars at Red Rocks in the Rocky Mountains.

So my friend what’s next on your list?

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Do You Look Like a Hooker Too?

One day as I was wandering the quant little town in the Midwest full of mysterious antique shops, bed and breakfast inns and other little shops I strolled into one called the White Horse Antique shop. As I pulled open the old wooden door I was met with the crisp clean smells of handmade candles mingled with a strange spicy older smell, one of sage, old oak and wool. Interesting combination. The cheerful silver haired proprietor smiled an award-winning grin and greeted me with a welcoming “are you a hooker?”


“Say what?” I thought, a bit taken aback.

“Well, no.” was my reply.

“Oh you look like you’d be one of my hookers!” she quipped in a friendly way.

Not sure if I should laugh, deny it adamantly, or maybe run for the door, I hesitated for just a second.

“I teach primitive rug hooking and have a group of several hundred women who shop here for their rug hooking supplies. You looked like you might be a hooker!” She explained, as if that made perfect sense.

By now I was more than a little amused and intrigued and took my time wandering the tiny old rooms of the vintage Victorian cottage turned into antique shop and rug hooking supply business. As I entered the back room I had to side step around Samuel, the resident mutt who was sunning himself in the afternoon sunlight taking a nap in front of the register counter. He wagged his tail at me, but other than that didn’t bother to move until he made eye contact with me and could sense I too was a dog lover. Then he jumped to his feet making his 12 years appear more like 1 or 2 with his enthusiasm. I petted him for several minutes as I took in the assortment of silver jewelry, colorful scarf’s, primitive rungs, unique primitive antiques and shelves of beautifully colored wool.

Taken in by the charm of the place instantly, and the warm smile of the owner and teacher, I too, signed up for the next class. I had no idea I wanted to be a hooker until I strolled into her store and was instantly beguiled by the wondrous items covering the walls.

A couple months later I returned for my afternoon class and was delighted when after meeting at the shop to select my rug kit I was escorted back to her private residence half a block away for my actual lesson. Samuel the mutt strolled along with us to the house. The house was as charming as the shop, also full of antiques and beautifully done rugs. We set up class in a small but sun kissed sunroom converted to a dining room and over the next 3 hours I was patiently taught how to work the burlap with my hooking tool and pull the wool through the small openings creating a loop and slowly filling in the blanks of my first rug. At break time we were even treated to an intoxicatingly delicious homemade cherry pie a la mode.


It was a delightful afternoon and I have discovered while I might not be a natural hooker I do enjoy spending my evenings working on my new craft!


Look in the mirror; do you look like a hooker too?



So I ask my friend, what’s next on your list?

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Learn to Love Yourself- Wear a Funky Hat


Fit is the new skinny. After 50 years I think I finally have it figured out-honestly. Self-confidence comes from within. It is not about how long and shiny your hair is, mine was always thin anyway, it is not about how long your legs are, I inherited short stout Cue family legs, and it is not about what the scale says. In fact, the scale can be deadly deceiving if you don’t know better. It isn’t about what size you wear, it’s about how you look in what you wear and it is about having a strong and healthy body but mostly it is about learning to love yourself.

I have decided that at this point in my life the only person I have to impress and please is myself. I don’t have to do anything to establish who I am other than to be myself. I just want to be healthy and have a body that will allow me to do all the fun stuff in life. I want to keep up with my kids, actually I want them to try and keep up with me!


Society does a real number on us, especially as women. As young girls we just want to be grown up, we want long pretty hair and curves. As teenagers we want to be cool and popular, hoping others will see us as attractive. As soon as we become young women we want to be whatever we are not. We want to be in a relationship, or we want to be single, we want to have curly hair or long straight hair, we want a date to the dance and we all want to look like a model. Once we become mom’s it gets even worse, we now want to have a flat stomach and thinner thighs, we want the grey to go away and to be seen as sexy again and it is hard to do that with baby food carrots globing up your hair and a two year old wiping his runny nose on your pants. As we age a bit we find ourselves looking back longingly at pictures of us in our youth and find ourselves asking our friends “why didn’t I know I looked that good at 25?” or” I’d kill for that waist again.” Finally, it hits us. This is complete nonsense.


For me this happened a few years ago when I found myself in a dark cramped dressing room trying on the newest style of skinny jeans and berating myself that when I looked in the long mirror under harsh lights I wasn’t thrilled with my reflection. I looked like a stuffed sausage complete with a muffin top spilling out from my tight waistband. Why don’t I look like I am supposed to? It was then that I realized what a fool I was being.


No one looks good in skinny jeans; hell not even skinny 14-year-old pre-adolescent girls look good in them so why in the hell did I think I was supposed to? Because that’s what the magazines and TV shows told me what to think. In an act of defiance I peeled off the jeans and threw them down in disgust. This is not what I wanted and it sure as hell wasn’t healthy. Anything that makes me feel bad about myself is defiantly not healthy.


I needed a new attitude and I needed it now. Heading back to the racks I searched until I found a modern cut pair of jeans, but ones that actually had a little fabric to them. I pulled them on and evaluated the look in the mirror. I decided then and there to focus on what looked good on me and to hell with the fashion hit of the day. This was a revelation for me. With a little research I realized I look good in A line dresses and skirts. I look nice in darker jeans. I like the look of a jacket with pants or jeans; it dresses things up a bit. I usually look better in shades of the same color; it makes me look taller somehow. I sure as hell don’t look good in base ball hats or in baggy sweats. I can however pull off a funky hat! Skintight dresses don’t do much for me either and I look downright sick in the color purple. It is important to figure these things out. Once you do I recommend sticking with it and to hell with what all these silly teenagers are wearing. Do what is right for you; a woman who knows she looks good is far more attractive than one who is trying too hard.


So now what? Now I wear what I know looks good on me. I wear my hair in a style that compliments my face and personality. I stick to a few basic principles with my wardrobe and update it seasonally with funky accessories. I try to avoid looking older or younger than I really am. I wear things that work with my life. I do things. It’s who I am. I dream, I learn, I try new things. Some might call me nuts but I am out there hiking, biking, walking, skiing, dog sledding and rock climbing, face it. I am out there having fun. I am wearing funky hats.



So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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No Pain No Gain I want to Climb The FANG!


No Pain, No Gain, I Want To Climb the FANG!!

I know you have heard this saying before; I think we all have at one time or another. The words do ring true, in more ways than one.

A few years ago I took a leap of faith and tried rock climbing as an impulse as a part of my bucketlist. It started innocently enough when I got a Groupon in my email and it caught my eye. My thought process went something like this; “Oh cool, look at that neat picture of the guy rock climbing in Garden of the Gods Park” “Wait look at that, they say anyone can do it?” “I wonder if that means I can do it?” “It looks really intense but I’d love to be able to say I had gone rock climbing.” “Hmmmm… OK, I am in” I literally called the guide company and described myself to them and made them confirm that yes I could do this.

While I was rock climbing my guide started telling me about ice climbing and as the unexpected adrenaline junkie that I am, my interest was piqued. This time the thought process went like this; “I really like this rock climbing thing, ice climbing sounds really extreme but pretty impressive” “Do you really think I could do that?”
“well, if he thinks I could do it than maybe I can” “ Hmmmmmm… OK, I am in” I asked him three times that day if I could really do this. He said yes.

Next thing I new I was ice climbing and loved it even more than rock climbing although in ways it is tougher, it really feels good when you have conquered a frozen waterfall with only your own strength and mental problem solving skills. While we were taming this waterfall I was thinking; “ Darn this was really cool. I can’t believe I did this. It was hard but in a good way. I was really challenged by this waterfall of ice.” “I am so glad I decided to give this a try!” He was right, I could do this!


So, next thing I know I am facebook stalking my favorite guide and finding myself fascinated by his wickedly impressive array of ice climbing pictures when one ice wall caught my attention. I couldn’t pull my eyes away. The bottom line was that I was looking at the most impressive climbing picture I’ve ever seen. “OMG that is so cool. God I wish I could climb that one.” “Wow it looks hard, I am sure that one is way beyond my abilities.” “It would feel so good to know I climbed something that impressive.” “There is no way in hell I could get to the top of that monster. Look how tall it is, it must be several hundred feet high” “I wonder………” “Maybe……..”

Fast forward to a facebook conversation with my buddy the ice climbing guide. “Hey Dan, you know that really cool picture you have of the tall skinny cascade ice. That is amazing. Ummm. How hard was it to climb. Oh ya…. Ummm. Do you think I could maybe climb that someday?” “REALLY?” “Are you sure, you do remember me right?” I thought maybe I should send him a picture of me just to be sure. I didn’t.


That was it. The little seed was planted and suddenly it grew and grew. I certainly didn’t expect this one little seed to turn into something so impressive. In fact, when I planted this seed I kind of just haphazardly tossed it out there. I didn’t take care of it properly. I barely even covered it with a grain of dirt. I was sure this one wouldn’t take. I nurtured several other little seeds that I was much more certain would grow but they never really took off. Instead, this one little casually tossed, sadly neglected little seed started to take root. No matter what the odds were against it, this little seed kept getting stronger. That’s kind of what happened here. I mean, a year ago I would have bet every last penny I had that not only could I NOT handle the physical challenge of rock climbing, let alone ice climbing which I had never even heard of, I would have bet that it certainly wouldn’t be anything I actually liked. Will wonders never cease?

I tried it. I liked it. I went back for more. I recruited friends to try it with me. I think I even impressed my husband who knows me better than I know myself.

Now don’t make the mistake of assuming it was easy. This was far from easy. It was scary, it was intimidating, it was overwhelming, it was an adrenaline rush, it was physical, it was cold, it required real mental brainpower, it took perseverance, it didn’t always go the way it was supposed to, I got stuck, I thought about quitting, I questioned my sanity, I stuck with it and tried again and again when I couldn’t make the pick stick, I tried not to look down or really even look up because it was easy to freak out. I just kept trying and then all of a sudden I looked up and I had done it. I was at the top of the ice. I looked down at how far I had come and realized I had done this all by myself. I was hooked.

Jackie and her Guide Dan

It is hard to describe in words what it felt like to do something I really didn’t think I could do. Especially when that something required concurring with crampons on my boots and an ice pick in my hand. Who would have guessed!

Jackie Picking on the Ice

I guess it made me feel strong. Strong mentally and physically, I liked the rush I got when I finally reached my goal and stood on top. I liked the fact that I had done something really impressive all by myself.

Thinking about this as I soaked my tired sore bruised up body it dawned on me, it’s the stuff in life you have to work the hardest at that you really appreciate and feel good about. If it’s easy, anyone can do it.

Going out on a limb, I called my buddy up and spoke the words I had previously only dared to speak. “I want to climb that one, will you take me?” Guess what he said? Yes. Good Lord now I am going to really have to do it! While I haven’t had a chance to actually climb The Fang yet, it is high on my list of important things to do in life. I am hopeful when I get the chance my buddy and ice climbing guide Dan will be there to help me make this dream come true! I will keep you posted, I promise! One day I hope to conquer “The Fang” let’s see if I actually make good on this one, but for now the little seed is growing…


So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

PHOTO Credits Matthew McKinley (thanks for the share!)

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The Lost Art of Pie Making

Lost Art of Pie Making

Lost Art of Pie Making

Grandma, Mom, my sister and me

Grandma, Mom, my sister and me

My grandma had the most amazing ability to take water, flour and lard and with a few strokes of her wrist, her farm strong fingers could whip up a ball of soon to be flaky piecrust. How she could create something so heartwarming and soul soothing with just these three ingredients always amazed me. As a young girl I took this for granted, as we so often do. I guess I just figured she’d always be there, in her apron, working in her farm kitchen and somehow I never saw the urgency of spending more time with her there or of learning her art. Instead, I would breath deep the soothing aromas emanating from the kitchen while I scampered by trying to escape with my cousins to the fields, barn, trees, creek and adventures that lay beyond the kitchen to make mischief and fight imaginary battles defending the castle on the hill or the fort in the trees.

Don’t get me wrong, I would not trade my memories of running free on the farm, creating imaginary forts under the shade of the trees, swinging on the lone rope in the long abandoned barn or laying in the alfalfa field smelling the sweet smells of summer and watching the birds fly overhead for anything, but I do wish that I had taken advantage of those treasured kitchen moments with my grandma and mastered the time proven art of pie making.

Now that my grandma and her beloved farm are only dusty memories in my mind I am forced to use my sensory skills to conjure up the sights of grandma working back and forth on bare kitchen floor, the ancient boards worn smooth but uneven with the magic dance of cooking, the smells of the fresh baked pie cooling on the counter in the summer breeze, or the sounds of grandma washing dishes, opening and closing the oven door or adding wood to the cracking fire in the wood stove. I remember so well the sound of her striking a match across the steel in such a quiet yet confident way as if to tell the stove I am the queen of this kitchen and I will show you what we must do.

Instead of living with my secret memories or with regret of lost grandma kitchen time I traded years ago for time spent running free and wild on the 200 acres of sand hills ranch, I have decided to proactively solve this with a creative solution. I added learn to make a pie to my life long bucket list. I turned a regret into a goal and have decided to give it a new twist so that I may create new memories with my youngest daughter. We are going to learn together!

After our recent move to a new state, I am taking advantage of the fact that my social teenager hasn’t had a chance to pack her schedule with friend activities yet and I signed us up for a class at the local community center titled “Making decorative pie crusts” What the instructor didn’t know, or falsely assumed, was that I already new how to make the pie crust I just needed to know how to make them decorative. It was a little like putting the cart before the horse so to speak by attending, presumptuous at a minimum. Nevertheless, we proudly walked into class and with false confidence claimed our spot at the cooking counter marked with a single rolling pin.

First attempt at Rolling my pie crust

First attempt at Rolling my pie crust

Thankfully the instructor, in an effort to save class time, provided each of us with a fist size ball of professionally done pie crust and then proceeded to jump into the art of creating fancy looking pies with perfectly done fluting and intricately woven lattice or braded edging!

We floured, rolled and cut our piecrusts and I was delighted to see my daughter proving she was a natural! While my piecrusts were uneven or rolled too thin hers seemed rather artfully perfect in their innocence!

Grandma wasn’t there to teach us but I am pretty sure she was watching down on us that day. I might get an A for effort, or for being a dreamer, but I think my youngest made it clear the art of pie making skipped a generation, I am just glad the family name will be said with pride at future family gatherings and Thanksgivings!

Making Memories

Making Memories

My youngest and I have been practicing all fall and while we don’t have it mastered yet our taste buds are enjoying the challenge! Inevitably, we are still confounded with crusts that are either too dry or too moist to achieve that look of perfection, and when we did get close to the right texture we were frustrated to realize our crust was too small for the pie tin, but like Grandma taught us, we just keep a smile on our face and worked with what we had. As I reflect back over the years and the many lessons learned on the farm, I am comforted by the realization that the best lesson Grandma ever taught me was to recognize and be thankful for the blessings in my life and to appreciate what I had. So many of the younger generation seem to never be satisfied with what they have, always wanting instead what everyone else seems to have. Like a dear friend of my mothers recently put it “Your family never seemed to have a lot of presents under the tree but they had so much love that no one seemed to notice.” Hopefully, in my own little family I have somehow managed to share that lesson also! Our pie crusts might not be perfect and we might not have all the newest and greatest material things in life but hopefully we have so much love that no one seems to notice. At least that is my prayer for my children.

So my friend, what’s next on your list?

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Take the Plunge

If you are going to do it, then take the plunge and really do it-don’t hold anything back. “Go big or go home” as the saying goes.

This applies to almost every aspect of life, and it is much harder than it sounds, but it is worth repeating every now and then. Don’t do something halfway and then wonder why it didn’t work out. It doesn’t matter what the “It” is.

In the past 6 weeks life has left us with our heads spinning, but we have done some radical stuff around our house. We agreed to sell our house, sorted, purged, sold stuff, gave away stuff and then we boxed and moved/stored 25 years worth of family treasures. We dealt with the Colorado fires (which hit very close to home) and then I resigned my job so I could work full-time with my husband at our business. That’s an awful lot for just a few weeks, and we were appropriately exhausted!

I wrapped up my job, and then we headed on a week long vacation in Crested Butte with dear friends to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries. I have never needed a vacation as badly in my life!

I am now several days into my rejuvenating week long vacation, and I feel like a new woman! I am rested, relaxed, decompressed and properly chilled out! Even better, I have had the time to live out several bucketlist adventures!

The first adventure on the list for the week was to go white water rafting on the Taylor River in Colorado. We chose Three Rivers Outfitters to put our trust in and were very well taken care of and entertained!

When you white water raft in Colorado on a Class III, very technical river, you get assigned to a river guide, fitted with a dry suit (that was not very dry) equipped with a snug life vest, and then properly prepped with the “Safety Speech” where they terrify you with explicit details how to position yourself if you fall out of the boat, and how to rescue another rafter if they have the misfortune to fall out! Then you board the inflatable raft and go for it!

Our guide was a very friendly young man named Nick, who was a recent college grad, EMT, river guide and certified avalanche rescuer. I liked the fact hat we was so multi-talented and ready for any disaster-besides that he was fun!

Nick coached us how to paddle our oars together, taught us our commands: left 3, all 1, all back 3, right 2 and all 1, until the four of us fell into a rhythmic synchronized dance that would have impressed any Olympic team!

I guess 35 years of friendship and 25 years of marriage teaches you to work together well as a team! Anyway, Nick was impressed, and we proved to be an apt team of middle-aged rafters!

One of the biggest tricks to staying in the boat, I soon learned, was to wedge your toes under the seat in front of you as much as possible, so that if the raft took an unexpected jolt you could counterbalance yourself. I was terrified to get tossed from the boat and end up floating like an inflated blueberry Umpa Loompa (note the dry suit) so I wedged my toes in until I damn near hit my kneecaps! The first set of rapids tested my skill and I quickly learned to adjust to the unexpected and powerful flow of the river.

At this point, we rocked and rolled our way down the river with Nick at the helm, and the four of us providing the muscle power. It felt good to work together, and I learned we were good at anticipating each others’ moves, and we quickly learned to appreciate the combined power of our joined efforts.

White water rafting is all about learning to read the river anticipate its obstacles and go with the flow!

I quickly learned you couldn’t fight the power of the river. Instead, you have to learn to work with it. One person can’t row and guide the boat- it takes a team working together.

The huge rocks in the river were fascinating and intimidating also. We learned to read the river, from its smiley faces to its frowns. Smiles are good; frowns are bad; I liked the simplicity of that message.

Nick would direct us where to put our power in carefully coordinated and clear directions so that the raft worked with the river, not against it.

The rocks would divide the river forcing the rushing, frigid, snow runoff water to go around it, thus creating hazards, obstacles and dangerous pockets.

I was struck by the symbolism of this lesson. A river is much more powerful it its energy is not diverted, but instead channeled in one clear direction. It makes navigating much easier and your results are more powerful. The odds are much better you won’t crash and burn or end up going where you don’t want to go.

As I rafted down this gorgeous river I realized the potential strength in our recent decision to join professional efforts to work together to grow our business as a team. Alone we were vulnerable, divided and forced to navigate the dangerous waters of business separately, but together we would be undeterred, our efforts doubled by the combined power and singular goal. It was a leap of faith, but I knew there on the river we’d make the right decision for us.

As we paused mid-river for a break, Nick encouraged us to take “the plunge”; we decided to go for it as a team. Each of us stood on a rock in the middle of the river, guided by Nick, we leaned back into the unknown and took the plunge into the icy, powerful waters. It took out breath away as we hit the 58 degree water, but as we rose to the surface we were rewarded by the knowledge we had overcome our fears and we’d worked together to achieve our dreams.

Don’t be afraid to take your own plunge!

So my friend I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Leader of the Pack

I thought I knew what a good leader was until I went on a dog sledding bucket list adventure with my son and niece this past weekend. It never ceases to amaze me what I learn about others and myself when I step out of my comfort zone and try something new. It is almost always enjoyable and I usually learn a thing or two.

I thought a good leader was strong physically, mentally sharp and willing to make decisions for others. Boy was I underestimating the job!

What I learned is that a really good leader doesn’t have to be the strongest physically of the group, he/she doesn’t have to always be the smartest in the group either. While physical and mental characteristics all play a role, often, there is something else going on behind the scenes that makes all the difference in the world.

I guess dog sledding is no different. What I learned is that dog sledding could not happen with just one or two of the dogs. The only way these animals were going to pull a sled with two grown adults in it up a steep hill on snow and ice was if they worked together as a team. Each dog played a special and intricate roll in the success of the journey. Life is a lot like this too. We do not operate as a vacuum in this world; we rely on friends and family, spouses and coworkers to get the job done of life. Each of us has an important roll on the many different teams we are a part of in life.

Before I went on this little adventure I naively thought the lead dog must be the only one in charge and that he/she would be the physically strongest and mentally the sharpest. Instead, I learned that the lead dogs are special, but more because they have some innate gift that allows them to be willing to go into the unchartered waters ahead of the pack. Realize that pack dogs like to stay in a pack. They like to follow each other. It takes a special dog that is willing to be the “first in line” so to speak -to lead.

The way it was explained to us is that dogs by nature like to follow each other and the lead dog must be willing to go first. This is counter intuitive for Husky dogs because when they are in front they feel like they are running away from the pack, not necessarily leading it. Hmmmm. Light bulb moment for me. It is funny how this happens! The times in my life that I have taken on a leadership role were very scary. I never knew if I was making the right decision, or if I was heading the group in the correct direction. I remember questioning if I was doing the right thing or if anyone would actually follow me. Leadership can be a very scary.

Humans feel this way too. I think. When you are following what everyone else in the word is doing. it is easy to have confidence. You think to yourself I must be going in the right direction because this is what everyone says I should be doing or this is what everyone else is trying to do him or herself. You try to catch the person in front of you. You try not to fall behind. You don’t veer off the beaten path very far. Often, if we find ourselves following the person in front of us and pushing ourselves to stay ahead of the person behind us, we end up losing sight of where we are going and why we are going there in the first place. If you are in the middle of the pack you can’t see the scenery ahead of you. All you see is the tail end of whoever is in front of you. You feel pressure to keep up the pace and stay in line.

Compare this to being the dog at the end of the line. This guy doesn’t have to think for himself at all. He merely goes where they have gone before him. This mindlessness allows us to focus more on our physical strengths. If I don’t have to use my mind to make all my own decisions, I can rely more on my muscles to just get the job done. The dogs that pull these sleds are much the same. Our guide personally introduced us to each of the eight dogs on our team. He shared with us their names, their personalities, and why they held the place on the team they held. The two dogs that were the last pair were referred to as the “meatheads” in fact, one of them was unable to see out of both eyes so he “sensed where he should go” and often banged into the female to his left because of his poor eyesight. This guy mainly went on feel and just followed the energy in front of him.

I thought the “alpha” dog would be a lead dog but I realized this is not necessarily true. Alpha dogs are so busy trying to keep everyone else in line that they often don’t watch the trail ahead and make good decisions. Looking back and trying to correct all the dogs behind him/her prevent the alpha dog from truly acting as a leader. While these dogs are strong physically and mentally, they spend too much energy trying to control those around them. Another light bulb moment…. hmmm. The real gifted leaders were the ones who were able to just make a decision and head in that direction. They were confident they were on the right path, at the right pace, heading in the right direction. They understood that the rest would fall into place behind them, and that they did not need to control everything that went on behind them. They also inherently understood that for this risk they would be rewarded with the most beautiful scenery and that they would get to experience all the joys that lay ahead on the trail. I think they also knew they would not always make the correct decision. As the brake man on one run I had to jump off the sled because the dogs cut the turn too sharp and the sled almost collided with the tree.

The true leaders of the pack were the dogs with heart and courage. They were willing to feel like they were running away from the pack, a somewhat scary feeling at times I am sure, and they were willing to focus only on what lies ahead on the trail. They did not waste any time or energy trying to control others behind them and they were not willing to just blindly follow the decisions of others. They were willing to put it all out there and make the decisions for the group. They set the pace and decided how fast to take the twists and turns on the trail, they were the ones willing to encounter the obstacles first, and face the unknown challenges that lie ahead. They were willing to take a stand and make a decision, and then they didn’t look back. The real beauty of this is that while it must have felt counter-intuitive and more than a bit scary they sure did enjoy the best view and they got to see the sunset in the trees on the trail and feel the fresh powder snow beneath their feet. I think this was a well-deserved benefit.

My job on the adventure was to take turns serving as the break man on the sled and correct the dogs when the leader was making a poor decision, like taking a corner too fast. It was up to me as the brakeman to help push the sled and the team up the most difficult hills and to encourage the dogs when the hill seemed too high to conquer. When I took my turn riding on the sled I had to relinquish all control to the dogs in front of me and the brakeman behind me. I did not get to make any of the decisions. I found riding in the sled the most difficult of all. It is hard to give up all control on the journey.

Personally I decided that I don’t like blindly following along in this world letting others make all the decisions for me but it is scary to be willing to be the lead dog and run away from the pack. Sometimes it is nice to just be inbetween.

I also realized that good leaders are the ones who are willing to step back and let someone else lead every now and then recognizing that we all have off days and would just rather follow along that take all the risks.

Dog sledding was really cool and I learned far more than I thought I would. I think that is the sign of a grand adventure.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?’

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