Road Trip USA – Day Eleven “Monument Valley & Grand Canyon (and some sketchy dinosaur tracks)”

Our Day Eleven trip was ambitious! We had a six hour drive south to Monument Valley, Arizona and planned to arrive at the Grand Canyon early evening to watch the sunset over the rim.

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I think I have mentioned this in every post, but remembering that the drive IS part of the vacation/adventure is important when traveling with kids –  that especially echoed true today.  Our kids continued to impress us and traveled like rockstars.  Not too long after we left Moab, we saw a questionable sign for “Dinosaur Footprints.”

20160830_162326Dinosaur Footprints, ya’ll!  65-200 million years ago dinosaur footprints.  We knew that Utah was full of dinosaur fossil findings and footprints, but this advertisement was intriguing.  Homemade spray painted signs made out of wood and siding promoted this stop on Navajo Nation land. These tracks are right outside Tuba City, Arizona and I am so glad we did a quick turn at the spray painted red arrow on the dirt road to stop and see.   As you arrive, you will see about 10-15 shack lean-tos selling Navajo items with members of the community awaiting your arrival to serve as your tour guide.  Our guide was an elderly Native American woman.  It appeared that the guides await a vehicle and take turns  inviting you to take a walking tour of the grounds.  Armed with nothing but a plastic water bottle to squirt on the footprints to highlight the dinosaur impressions, we were on our way!  While we found some of the information shared by our guide questionable, there was no doubt the tracks were there! I was awestruck by the irony of the unbelievable gold mind of fossils and footprints and tangible poverty of the tribe.

My mind was blown. There were so many tracks. Thousands. Just right there. You were walking all over them. As soon as water was poured on them, they almost ‘came alive.’  Our guide claimed that at one time in history (millions of years ago!) this was a watering hole.  This explained the number and varied species of dinosaur footprints we were seeing.  It was so surreal that we started to feel like we were being taken for fools! We continued to the ‘tour’ and took a million pictures.  The tour is free of charge, but at the end a donation is requested. We gave our guide $40 and she encouraged us to consider more as she was struggling and recovering from being an alcoholic. When we declined, she was nothing but grateful.  The kind woman thanked us many, many times. I walked away amazed that this tribe has to be sitting on most likely one of the largest set of dinosaur tracks in our country and are flat out broke.  There was a double-edge beauty to the entire experience.

As soon as we got in the car we googled the heck out of the stop and we found several paleontologists whom confirmed the authenticity of many of the tracks. Dinosaur Footprints Tuba, Arizona Mind blown.

The stop at the dinosaur tracks took about 45 minutes total and then we were on our way to Monument Valley in Navajo County, Arizona. I was grateful we had a full tank of gas before we left as there was nothing…nothing…but wide open spaces for hours.  When we started to get hungry for lunch we finally came through a town that had a community picnic shelter at a run down playground. As we stopped and pulled out our picnic tubs we were  instantly greeted by “Brownie.” Brownie was a sweet dog that appeared to be fed off the kindness of strangers and the community. He was dirty, missing fur and appeared to have a broken leg. He followed us to our picnic table and just laid next to us during our meal.

At one point, Kira stopped eating and was crying. When we asked her what was wrong, she just said she felt bad eating when he was so hungry. She took her entire plate over to him and just left it for him to eat. After he finished her lunch, we took some of our paper bowls and left him some bowls of water to drink as well. He finished them off before we even left. Sweet little Brownie.

As we were leaving the shelter a Native American man rode over to us on his bike and told us some of his story. He made several mentions of being free of the evil – which for him was alcohol.  Although I doubt he was free of his vice, he was kind and hungry. We offered him bottles of water and food and he accepted. However, he requested that we not directly hand any of it to him. He provided an explanation we did not understand but were able to figure out that we were to place the items on the ground between us.  Once we did so, he said a few things and then picked up everything. It was an odd experience and at the same time, a sacred encounter.

We continued our drive into the historic and stunning Monument Valley! The contrast of flat open desert and buttes and rock formations required a constant reorientation that we were still in the United States! It is so unlike any other place we have visited before. If  you have never visited the West, you will walk away with a completely new appreciation of the significance and wonders contained in the United States.  Our piece of North America as it relates to the story of our planet, not just the metamorphosis of civilization, but the evolution of the planet is truly exceptional.

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Finally, we continued our journey south to the Grand Canyon. We arrived with just enough time to explore the park and find a location on the rim to have a picnic dinner and toast the sun-set. We reserved one evening for this visit so we did not set up any excursions into the canyon, but the abyss will forever hold a special place in our family’s heart as a moment of taking in something larger than you can imagine, together.  Watching the shadow of darkness slowly rise up the canyon until it became pitch black – amazing.

Despite a huge day of travel and experiences, everyone was in great spirits and we checked into our hotel at the Grand Canyon. It was a quaint hotel with a southwest vibe we all enjoyed.  Kamiko’s American Girl doll, McKenna, even found this to be one of her favorite lodges. Tonight, we go to bed slightly melancholy that tomorrow we will make the long drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico (where we lived for a number of years and all three girls were born!) because it means we are days away from this epic adventure ending.  We have plans to pick up our new rental, eat at the BEST breakfast restaurant EVER and drive further south to Carlsbad, New Mexico to explore the caves with the girls! Sweet dreams.

 

 

Road Trip USA – Day Ten “Canyonlands National Park”

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Today, I continue blogging our road trip west last fall  (yes, it has been awhile!).  As I am taking in the panoramic ocean view of Topsail Beach, North Carolina,  I reflect on a very different panoramic view we experienced on Day Ten of our Road Trip USA – The Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The Canyonlands (a 337,598 acre National Park treasure) provided a different type of panoramic view – a view from a desert mesa.

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Our family arose early to begin a day of adventure!

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We started with a  four-wheel jeep exploration of the mesa and finished by paddling through the canyon on a family safe white water rafting trip.

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There are several companies in Moab to navigate the Canyonlands.  We highly recommend the company we used, NAVTEC Expeditions. This company coordinated both our excursions. The driver arrived at our hotel to pick us up in a 4X4 and after safety instructions we were on our way. Our family had no idea what to expect and were clueless to the white-knuckle, terrifying and exhilarating couple of hours that lie ahead!

Before we began our mesa climb, we stopped and stared at monumental petroglyphs and cave writings from long ago.   Although there is debate, most agree humans inhabited this area between 7,000-10,000 years ago.

pet·ro·glyph   /petrəˌɡlif/  noun a rock carving, especially a prehistoric one.

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Our driver was a cool cat.  He reminded me a bit of Indiana Jones. Cool, cocky, confident.  Characteristics one desires when they are trusting the lives of the four most important people in your life on steep, narrow, rocky high cliffs edges.

I do not lie.  The roads, a word I use loosely, switch backed or crisscrossed the steep climb and had enough room for ONE vehicle to pass.  There were times where the road was no more than five feet across and one wrong turn we would have fallen to most certain death. When you stick your head out the window there are times your vehicle was flush with the wall of the canyon.

 

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Look closely at the switch back roads in this image.

 

Several times we came across other vehicles coming in the opposite direction and there was NO room to pass. Indiana would relish (and win) each game of chicken. I would have never ever, ever attempted to drive this narrow dirt road etched in the side of a cliff without a guide. I saw people (families) doing it and I tell you, no way, no how would this girl ever try this solo.

Once we arrived at the top of the Island in the Sky, the views were spectacular.  The rock formations, fossils (at one point in the evolution of our globe this entire area has been under water – several times) and vast spaces are something one rarely experiences in a lifetime.  Our guide recommended using Google Earth to truly understand the enormity of the Canyonlands.

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You may not see this when you first look, but it is a ‘sky bridge.’  Do you see the plank between the two boulders?  Look how high it is! Until recently, people would walk across it. Makes my palms sweat just thinking about it. 

Here are some more images from the Top of the Island in the Sky.

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After our jeep experience we returned to headquarters and switched guides.  Aubry, a sweet and college-aged river guide drove us to our drop in point where we enjoyed a riverside picnic and many laughs with the local squirrels.  They were a trip.  Aubry shopped and prepped our delicious lunch- with our vegetarian restrictions honored.

The white water raft experience was family-friendly.  While we flirted with Class 2 rapids, we mostly enjoyed Class 1 rapids.  It was a beautiful, quiet experience.  You felt so small down inside the canyon.  We enjoyed good conversation, listened to history of the formation and changes of the canyons through millions of years.  We relaxed.  The tempo and safety of this experience was a nice balance to the high-adrenaline experience of the mesa earlier in the day.

After we finished our adventures, we were returned to our hotel.  We showered and enjoyed a nice stroll through downtown Moab and ate one of our few meals out.  A delicious Mexican dinner.  We shared a lot of laughter and reflected on many of new memories made that day!

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We walked back to our hotel, did some laundry and packed up in preparation for our track further south to Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon in the morning.  Four more days to go…sigh.

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“Mountains Beyond Mountains”

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Worldview. Our worldview is the way we see the world based on our own circumstances and exposure to life.  It is like a puzzle — collective experiences of our gender, race, socioeconomic status, faith, cultural, childhood, school experience, health, talents, family — there are many pieces — placed to fit together to form an image and philosophy of how we view the world.

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Mountains beyond Mountains on almost every page illuminates how worldview impacts who & how people receive (and do not receive) healthcare across the globe.

Before I heard the word  ‘worldview’ the concept had been swirling inside my heart and brain.  Having children whom attended public school, participate in swimming at a private school and now homeschool, I have been intrigued at observing how different the children in each petri dish of education experience life.  In essence, how they begin the creation of their worldview – not good or bad – just as it is.

Children see the world (for now) based on their environment, families and peers…and, one can hope  as they grow into adults they  continue to push and expand their understanding of the world.

I remember one evening  waiting for my daughter to come out from swim practice at the private school they use — I noticed students coming out of a theatre type building – it appeared they were coming out of an orchestra concert —  girls in full length dresses, boys in shirt/bow tie.  I watched child after child get into nicer cars than mine and could not help but think how their set of circumstances…the random ‘luck’ they were born into put them in a place where this is ‘normal’ — conversely, you can drive about 10 miles South and there are schools where music is no longer even an elective in their school due to budget constraints.

These children already have such a different beginning -such different beginning worldviews – I find it fascinating.  Perhaps a key to creating a more compassionate and peaceful planet is by growing your own worldview to not judge or change others, but to understand and partner instead…

Friday evening I hosted my middle school daughter’s Boomerang Book Club.  The book we selected was “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder – there are two versions of the book available (student & adult).  While our family chose to read the adult version, most of the girls read the student version.  This is a book that does not leave you – it has left a lasting impression on us all.  The book focuses on telling the story of Doctor Paul Farmer, a Duke/Harvard trained physician, who has a calling to serve the poor of Haiti.  Paul Farmer views and understands the complex and cultural dynamics of integrating healthcare into their community with a lens not many can see through.  The author truly brings a voice and tangible understanding of starvation, poverty and the socioeconomic and political ingredients that contribute to the situation in Haiti (and other countries like Haiti).  For the critical care nurse in me, I loved the medical jargon and exploration of administering medicine in a way I have never personally experienced – through public health.

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For this book club we hosted a “Hunger Banquet” modified from material we found online.  This is an easy and powerful experience to recreate.   While the organization that created this experience is a faith-based group, for our club, we modified the material to create a secular event.  Our idea was to take the concept of poverty and have the girls have an experiential book club instead of just a discussion this time.  We were not sure how it would go, if the girls would ‘get it,’ but, oh my, it did not take long at all for them to embrace the experience and play out their roles.

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CONCEPT

The girls were divided and served dinner at three different tables based on distribution of wealth in the world – wealthy; middle class and the poor.

ARRIVAL

When the girls arrived (they had no idea what was going to happen) we had them wait outside and each ‘class’ was escorted to their ‘table.’  We sat the wealthy first, the middle class second and lastly, the poor. My husband dressed up in a shirt and tie and played the role of the ‘server’ for our meal.  This was an important element to the success of the experience.  He did an excellent job really making sure the rich felt cared for and the poor were virtually ignored and slighted.

The girls always eat dinner at book club, so they came hungry!

Mary (our book club organizer and blogs at notbefore7.com) and I divided the girls thoughtfully into 3 world classes (we had to explain and important to note that we asked them to forget their “American citizenship” for now, and view themselves as “world citizens”) – the wealthy; the middle class and poor.  We decided we wanted the teens in the book club to have the experience of the poor, and for that reason most were placed in that class.

This experience is designed for large groups –  the ‘world’ wealth is broken down to 10% wealthy; 20% middle class and 70% poor.  That is, for every 100 people that would attend this banquet 1 out of 1o would sit at the wealthy table; 2 out of 10 would sit at the middle class table and 7 out of ten would sit with the poor.

For our experience, we really wanted the teens to feel the slight of poverty and chose to have some of their younger sisters and mothers sit at the wealthy table; 2 sit at the middle class table and the rest on the floor.  Here are some of the pictures and observations made that evening…it was fascinating how quickly everyone fell into their roles and how the evening played out.

TABLES & FOOD

 

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The Wealthy Table. 10% of World Population.

 

The wealthy table was set with cloth napkins, china dishes, flowers, lemonade in fancy wine glasses, candles and enjoyed a 3 course meal.  They started off with a tossed green salad and were offered choices of dressings.  The server spoke loud enough for the middle and poor tables to overhear it all.  After taking our orders, he went back to the kitchen and served our salads….every time he served the wealthy, he made a point to walk through the poor and middle class so they could see what was being served as well.  Ouch.

At this point, the middle class and poor had been served nothing.

And, the poor was getting restless.  Immediately, they began throwing the trash from the floor around and at each other and being loud – really loud.

The middle class just sat at their table and waited quietly and observing the situation.  We observed the middle class stayed pretty neutral through the experience – pretty quiet.

 

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The Middle Class Table. 20% World Population.

 

The middle class table had chairs; plastic wear and clean water. Clean water for many is a lacking necessity.

 

 

 

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The Poor Table.  70%  World Population. They were given no utensils and we made something the packet called “Dirty Water” which was water tinted with tea and coffee with some pretzels thrown in the bottom to look like dirt/contaminate. (they drank it!)

 

The Poor “Table”.  We threw empty grocery bags, cans & paper on ground.  As girls were being seated, they immediately noticed & acknowledged the ‘unfairness’ to the seating – based on nothing/random…just like children born into different situations – no choice of their own.

 

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“Dirty Water”

 

 

After the wealthy finished their salads the main courses were delivered.

MAIN COURSE

The wealthy enjoyed a black bean burger with cheese melt of choice; rice; steamed vegetables, avocado slices & marinated kale – all organic. This was paired with a delicious bottle of pink lemonade.

 

 

The middle class were given rice and beans.

In our discussion later, we asked the middle class why they didn’t share their food with the poor  —  one of the girls shared that they saw the wealthy were giving them food so they let them — they had more and should…and she added, “mom, our food wasn’t even really good, but I was hungry.”

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The poor were served last and were given one English muffin to share.  They had no utensils and were left on their own to decide how to divide their meal.  One girl immediately grabbed it and was going to shove it in her mouth…but was encouraged by her friends to ‘share.’  They made a huge mess with their muffin.  They ate it quickly and truly left a mess of crumbs and even began licking them off the floor at one point.  They seemed restless and used their energy to be loud and messy – interesting…

 

DESSERT

To end the experience, the wealthy were served a bowl of ice cream for dessert.  The middle class and poor received no dessert.  This was a brutal blow to all.

We had printed up a poverty true/false quiz from the packet and during the meal each table worked together to answer the quiz.  We would use this quiz to guide our discussion later.

Mary & I knew we were going to offer the rest of them food after the experience (we had some pizza’s cooking in the oven during the experience) AND dessert, but they did not know it….when the wealthy finished their desert we kind of said, “Ok girls, lets get on the couch and talk about the experience.”  They were stunned.  “You mean, we really aren’t getting any food??  We aren’t getting dessert??”  It was awesome.  We felt we would keep this going as long as possible.

The discussion was great.  Thoughtful insights & observations were made. Here were a few…

Mary intentionally didn’t eat all of her meal and asked our server to give them the ‘leftovers’ on her plate.  When he did, they almost savagely started pickup up and eating her leftover food with their hands without a moment’s hesitation — we all agreed had we been sitting at the table together eating our meal they NEVER would have thought to eat with their hands and eat food someone else had already eaten!

 

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Using their hands to eat Mary’s leftovers.

 

One of the poor people was very quiet and tried to encourage the other two to be more quiet and united in their approach to getting food and was ignored.  The wealthy table recognized her ‘good behavior’ by ordering and paying for an ice cream to be sent outside for her.

The middle class really felt they did not have much, but more than the poor and felt they should not have had to share – they felt it was the wealthy table’s job.

Some at the wealthy table felt bad at their status and others did not.  One girl said, “if I didn’t know who the poor was, like if we had been at a restaurant or something, I would have shared.”

At one point, 2 of the poor became beggars and came over to our table (before being ushered out) and one of the girls offered them her avocado (because she doesn’t like avocado) and they grabbed it right off her plate and got it all over their hands and shoved it in their mouths.

After a debriefing of the experience we invited the girls into the kitchen to grab some pizza and we sat down to review the true/false poverty quiz &  tie our experience into the Mountain beyond Mountains book.  It provided an excellent framework for the book and overall, we felt, a meaningful experience they will not forget.

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Road Trip USA – Day Nine “Arches National Park & Moab”

 

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The Arch – Arches National Park. Kayah in her pointe shoes – just on the front and backside of this arch are steep drops.  Stunning.

 

This morning I hit the family ‘reset’ button in the parking lot of our hotel. If I am going to be honest, Quinn and I had our first (and only) fight of this road trip last night.  I am not exactly sure what happened, perhaps it was the convergence of a perfect storm of emotions, but driving in to Salt Lake City (in the dark) served as a catalyst for this girl to have a mini-mom-meltdown of epic proportion.

After a good talk with my hubby, dinner and a night of sleep everyone woke up refreshed.  I never try to ignore or not discuss these less than happy moments with our girls as it is a part of life!  We talked, I apologized and we hugged in the parking lot and all agreed to ‘move on.’  Here is the picture we took  outside our packed up vehicle as we committed to new energy – new day – and we were ready for adventure! This picture has become my 2nd favorite photo from our trip.

 

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Family Reboot.

 

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Salt Lake City is HUGE, clean and beautiful!  We woke up early to drive downtown  to listen to the Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir at the historic Temple Square. The Temple Square is a 10 acre campus in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This sacred square is said to attract between 3 to 5 million visitors a year!  The Temple Square is the most  popular tourist attraction in Utah  – more popular than the Grand Canyon or even Yellowstone National Park!!

Although we planned well and arrived in time, we did not take in to account the large buildings and matrix of entrances to find the Tabernacle.  We should have planned a little more cushion in to our itinerary to allow for getting a little lost on the Campus.   However, we did arrive for the tail end of the service and was able to hear the Choir perform the Benediction which brought me tears…The Benediction has always been one of my favorite parts of a church service  and the acoustics in this space were divine.  The swirl of sound mixed with the beauty of the majestic space brought our family of five to a standstill and allowed for a feeling of the something sacred.

Every single person, young and old, that we met in Salt Lake City were kind, helpful and informative.  The Mormon Square is a large area in Salt Lake City flanked with tall, cathedral style buildings.  To walk through the square is reminiscent of being in a botanical garden – colorful, varied, beautifully placed gardens, baskets and statues at every glance.  There are colossal water features that not only amaze, but seem to draw you in to sit and reflect on the finer points of life.  One of my favorite features was a winding rock lined ‘river’ that meandered through the campus.

The Mormon Temple Square contains several libraries and museums.  The Family History Library (closed while we were there because it was Sunday) is the WORLD’s largest genealogical library and is open to the general public for FREE.  Our visit to the Square was brief and I have added Salt Lake City to my list of cities to return.

On our way to our vehicle, we stopped at a Starbucks to indulge in some drinks before our drive to Moab, Utah where we planned to hike Arches National Park.  We all could not help but notice the cleanliness of the city and the numerous signs around town that instructed to not share money with panhandlers or homeless but to consider donating change or money to a number of organizations that help the poor.

 

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Salt Lake City Convention Center

 

I know I have said this before and it bears repeating again…when you road trip (especially with kids) it is important to embrace and remind everyone that the drive IS the vacation – especially out west where the topography is so unique and the spaces are so wide!  The travel between Salt Lake City and Moab was almost 4 hours.  We stopped along the way for a roadside picnic and I am happy to report our meal strategy continues to serve us well and allows for us to enjoy meals at a leisurely pace. You will see something in these pictures called “virga” – in the desert it is so dry, the rain ‘evaporates’ before it ever touches the ground!

Arches National Park!  There are not enough adjectives in my limited vocabulary to describe Arches National Park.  The best way for me may be through photographs – see below.

This hike to the Arches is NOT for everyone.  Signs evoking the fear of death – heat exhaustion, dehydration. There are signs – large warning signs – that hikers drink at least 1 gallon of water a day while hiking, even in the winter.  They warn that people have and will die not taking the necessary safety precautions.  There are no walkways, benches…it is steep, rocky, with slick rock formations – it took us about an hour of traversing to reach The Arch.  We arrived late afternoon and I can’t imagine what it would be like to hike this in mid day or mid summer.  It was not an easy hike, but so worth it.  The steep canyons and plethora of balancing acts of  red stones and boulders are truly dumbfounding.

The best image I can use to describe this area is from Star Wars- Return of the Jedi..not only does Arches National Park have the feeling that the sand people are going to pop out at any moment or a pod racer is going to whiz by  (I do believe Moab may have been used for one of the Star Wars movies!) but if you remember the scene when Hans, Leia and Chewie are in these space vehicles and jabba commands some of them  into this large bowl shaped Venus flytrap looking compactor thing (my husband reminded me it is called the Sarlacc – google it – it is a perfect image of the hike to the to take our picture at the iconic Arch)…the famous Arch is on the opposite side of the hike where you have to carefully maneuver a slick cereal bowl rock formation to get to the other side.  Hundreds of people line the rim with cameras to catch what I can only imagine is a breathtaking sunset.  We did not stay for the sunset because I could not imagine hiking out with our family in the dark.

Like many things in life, the things that scare or push us the most end up being our biggest moments of growth and create the best memories.  The walk out to the Arch for the view and photos, while frightening as a mother, were one of the highlights of our trip.  I kept imagining one of my girls slipping off the steep back edge of the arch or into the Sarlacc’s tentacles and mouth at the front of the arch hungry and waiting…which never happened.  At one point, I just had to look away…

 

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We did it!

 

After spending some time at the Arch, we hiked back out of the park and headed into the quaint town of Moab.  Moab is a small desert town – I believe the population of this town is 5000.  The economy of Moab is supported by tourists, outdoor activities (rock climbing, mountain biking) and mining – Potash (salt), uranium, oil, gas and manganese.  As you drive through Moab you can witness first hand the ‘clean up’ and relocation of an old uranium mine.  This project (expensive and funded by the government  called the UMTRA Project began in 2009) has moved about 50% of the uranium tailings (radioactive waste from uranium mining) and due to budget cutbacks is not expected to be completed until 2032.  Viewing the trains and railroads specifically designed to haul and transport this enormous radioactive material out of Moab to another location can make one take a pause and reflect on how this could serve as an example of how we sometimes do not think through the long term consequences of our short term decisions…what a mess that was left to be handled by people that had nothing to do with the decision to start that project.

We checked into our hotel we would be staying at for two nights and unfortunately, it was our least favorite – It was so-so — it felt run down and the beds did not offer that ‘ahhh’ when you went to sleep, it was more like ‘uh’. Moab is an expensive little town to stay.  This hotel, which was not very ‘nice’ was $150.00 a night!  After we checked in we all ate, took showers, watched Friends and did some laundry.  We called it a night early as tomorrow we had an exciting day of adventure planned – a 4X4 tour of the Canyonlands and a white water rafting trip in the afternoon!

 

2017

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.” -Robert Frost

Yesterday morning I went outside and took down our Christmas lights – this is significant because I usually enjoy holiday decorations until well after the New Year.  Not this year.  I am ready for 2016 to conclude.  I do not say this in a negative tone or with an exasperated sigh – I say it with gratitude & excitement.

2016 was a year of personal and national discomfort, disconnect, raw awakening and clarification.  As our big beautiful planet has begun its return toward the sun and the light, as my Jewish friends are in the beginning of the lighting of their Hanukah candles, let us all prepare to strike an internal match and light our souls, take action to our whispers and care for ourselves, our families, our friends, our country —our planet.

I am reading “The Sweet Spot – How to find your groove at home and work” by  Christine Carter.  In this book she uses a metaphor of gears for making changes – visualize a clock with all the large and small gears clicking away to move the hands of the clock around the face 24/day, 365 (and a fourth) a year.  I love this metaphor and will apply it to what I am trying to express.  In the book, she indicates that when making changes, sometimes its best to focus on the small gears of change first, the things you can address more quickly and see change immediately (for example, starting a walking program 15 minutes a day) instead of going straight to a big gear (doing an ironman).

Although many of us feel we are unable to move the large gears nationally or globally we do and can focus on the small gears that will inevitably change the big gears.  Let us enter 2017 intentional, awake and engaged.  Let our small gears be kindness to everyone –to remember that every single person we meet is doing the best he/she can, and is dealing with their own internal struggles – every single one of us – oil our gears of softness, compassion, non-judgement and our most gracious listening ear

“Promise yourself to live your life as a revolution and not just a process of evolution.”

– Anthony J. D’angelo

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing next to a dear friend Bill in the lobby of a theatre waiting for our daughters as they did staging for some dance pieces they will be in this Spring –   We were standing there in the middle of the chaos of hundreds of tween and teen dancers and activity and rather than the customary “Hi, how are you?” exchange, Bill said to me something like  “So what have you been doing that nourishes you?” OOOhhhhh….I loved it…”what have I been doing that nourished me?” Good question.

He went on to share with me a concept he uses called the 5 thing principle (I believe it is from a leadership speaker and author named John Maxwell).  What I took away from this conversation was this concept, identifying at least, but no more than,  5 ‘things’ you can do EVERY day that feed you…nourish you and make it happen – every day –  It may require you to say no to other things, change your schedule, disappoint others, not complete the never-ending ‘to do’ list, etc. — but nothing is more important.

“Some things you have to do every day.  Eating seven apples on Saturday night instead of one a day just isn’t going to get the job done.” -Jim Rohn

I spent time asking myself what are 5 things I want to do everyday?  It was not hard to compile my list and it wasn’t surprising that out of that list, I was only doing one (and not everyday)!  Bill shared that it may take months or years to have five solid ‘things’ but what is important is to get started and be conscious of what fills you up.

Here are my five things I commit to doing every day in 2017.

  1.  walk every day outside.
  2. meditate.
  3. go to bed at reasonable hour.
  4. write daily.
  5. read each evening.

I know for sure that if we can identify the daily routines or activities that speak to our own hearts and honor the private part in each of us, we will have more energy and space to extend graciousness to all.

As 2016 comes to an end, I thank all of you whom have read my beginning attempts at blogging this year (and your encouragement) and sharing your lives with me.  I lovingly invite each of us to identify and take action to participate in daily activities that nourish our hearts and I know we will rock 2017 out!

Much love and peace! Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip USA – Day Eight “Holding Hands”

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Today our family hit the half way mark of our road!  We enjoyed a gorgeous drive back to The Grand Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.  We timed the leaving of the hotel to enjoy the sunrise in the wide open spaces – and nature did not disappoint…when we arrived back in Jackson, we picked up our second rental vehicle of this trip. Most rental car companies charge a much larger fee when you want to pick up and drop off a vehicle in different locations.  For example, our trip began in Jackson, Wyoming and will end in Albuquerque, NM.  Due to the map/route of our trip it saved us a significant amount of money to rent three different vehicles over the two week journey.

There was a happy little pixie dust sprinkled on this rental and due to the magic of the awesome counter staff we were upgraded to a brand new Suburban (never drove one before, LOVED it!) with a sunroof!  While we did not plan this, it turned out to bring some awesome excitement to our drive (changed it up a little) and luckily for us, on the most beautiful drive of our entire trip.

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We stopped at the base of the Tetons and enjoyed a picnic lunch and took advantage of some photo opportunities.  We did not plan time to hike or explore the Tetons on this trip, but will for sure be on our list next time!

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The drive through Idaho from Jackson to Salt Lake City is absolutely beautiful!  The landscape changes many times and there is so much to see.  Other than potato farms, I never realized the amount of farming that occurs in Idaho!  Like life, the drive is the trip, not just the destination!

At one moment, the girls were all just relaxed enjoying the views, our sunroof was open, the sun was warming us, Quinn and I were holding hands and Bruce Springstein came on the radio —  it was one of those perfect moments in life you take a mental selfie and hope you never forget.

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We arrived in Salt Lake City in the early evening and checked into our hotel.  The hotel was a newer facility and it felt great to unwind and relax before going to sleep.  A long night of rest was in order for this family in preparation for another day of exploration in Salt Lake City, Moab Arches National Park tomorrow. Peace.

 

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Our Hotel Lobby in Salt Lake City, Utah

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip USA – Day Seven “American History”

“I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.” – Calamity Jane

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DEADWOOD

Deadwood, South Dakota.  After a good night’s rest, we awoke and enjoyed breakfast and a slow start to the day.  With some fine tuning our food system continues to serve us well on this adventure.

Due to the fact we would be visiting Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument after Deadwood, we checked out prior to exploring this historic town.   Whenever we stay at a hotel, my girls love to leave the housekeeping department notes and money.  Today’s note really made me giggle…

Historic Deadwood, founded in 1876, is a well preserved Wild West town located in the Black Hills, South Dakota. The town is the final resting place of many famous gunman and woman – Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.   You park your car outside of Deadwood and enjoy strolling through the streets and visiting the various establishments – while there are many saloons and brothels, much to my tweens delight, there was a Starbucks, too!

The week we arrived was the town of Deadwood’s Classic Car week. It was a very cool experience to check out all the vintage automobiles – we were so impressed with the design, colors and styles of the cars.   Just a little tip about visiting Deadwood, we learned that the week prior to our visit was Deadwood’s annual “biker week.”  The business owners shared that while it is a fun event, with thousands of bikers in attendance, it is not the time to pop in for a visit.

We learned much about Wild Bill & Calamity Jane and really enjoyed the reenactment of a gun battle with Wild Bill – there are several reenactments in Deadwood each day.  The actors were awesome and very engaging with the audience.

We finished our trip to Deadwood with a DELICOUS late lunch at a place where you eat off of blackjack tables.  My garderburger and beer might have the best ever!

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MOUNT RUSHMORE & CRAZY HORSE

“Some day the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood.  You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die.”

– John Hollow Horn Oglala Lakota

American History.  What used to come to my mind were the lessons on the pilgrims, Christopher Columbus, and glossed over encounters with “Indians.”  My American history concluded with The Revolutionary and Civil War — this trip has forever changed me.  I have always loved history and am moved by the story of our country, but felt this trip was like going to Ancestry.com and starting to really learn about my family and I came home with a much deeper appreciation of my story and my place in the family –

I think this is why I was so moved by our visit to Crazy Horse – moved to tears and deep, deep somberness.  Somber is the only word I can come up with.  I always knew there were “Indians” when the pilgrims arrived, but I truly did not ever take in that the “Indians” were NATIVE Americans…Native.  I, ignorantly used the word “Indians” and “Native Americans” interchangeably.  This trip has sent me on a rabbit trail of studying American History and it is staggering.

 

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The book I selected at the gift shop – really enjoying.

 

The experience in Yellowstone National Park was a huge “ah ha” moment for me in the history of our planet, not the United States of American, but our planet.  The millions, MILLIONS of year old fossils, rock formations, evidence of Ice Ages, lands under seas, active volcanoes, dinosaur tracks made me marvel at the geography, topography and history our country contains.  I came home with a feeling of how insignificant and what a tiny role I play in the continuum of time and evolution.

Our trip to Deadwood really provided me with a tangible experience to the Wild West, the Gold Rush and how the West was colonized or settled.

Then, our trip to Mount Rushmore, and more specifically Crazy Horse enlightened me to a much deeper, somber understanding of American History.  Just the names — “America” and “The United States of America” have, for me, become words I will use with great care in the future.

Our family arrived at Mount Rushmore late morning.  Just like the many pictures I have seen of the carving, it was impressive.  There was an informative museum with artifacts and movies outlining and explaining how the vision of Mount Rushmore came to a reality.  Our visit at Mount Rushmore was about two hours and I felt that was enough for our family.  While I find the monument a beautiful testimony to the great leaders of our United States history and I enjoyed the game we played of each of us stating if we could add one more head to the monument, who would it be…I also walked away slightly uncomfortable with irony of this huge monument of United States leaders in the middle of Native American territory and lands.

Mount Rushmore, included in our Park Pass, was created between 1927-1941.  This impressive sculpture was led by a father-son team Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln Borglum.  Once the team began working on the rock they discovered many adaptations and modifications needed to occur.  In the visitor’s center there is a model that shows the original design or the sculpture and you can compare it with the final outcome.

I am not sure if you can visit behind the faces of the monument, but in a chamber imbedded in the rock is a vault that holds sixteen porcelain panels – which include the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and biographies of the four Presidents and Borglum and also the information about the history of the United States of America.

One tip for visiting Mount Rushmore is to keep an eye on the weather, especially if you plan to visit early in the morning.  We had friends (the people we climbed Devil’s Tower with) who had to return because on the morning they visited it was so foggy they could not see the monument.

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Native Americans were here first. We did not ‘discover’ American. For tens of thousands of years -America belonged to many Native American tribes. And, I will go further to say the Native American tribes realized the land, the earth, did not ‘belong’ to them either…they were but guests and respectfully lived in balance with the land, animals and rivers.

Europeans arrived and systematically and many times, disrespectfully conquered their land and made it our own.  And, even to this day, the small areas of territory and land we have agreed to ‘let them have’ we mess with, we interfere, we feel we can try to run oil pipe lines through…

I am not saying that I can not appreciate and understand the evolution of our country, but what I can say is I came home with such a deep respect and appreciation for the Native American Nations and their culture and will do whatever I can to support them.  I feel with all my heart it will be important for me to read, watch and learn more about Native American history and share this with my children.  Like other, less proud moments of American History, the Native American story needs to be honored.  I will teach my kids the exciting and amazing moments of American history, but I will also dive into the darker, more painful aspects of who we are too.  Just like a family, all of the history mixes and shapes us into who we ultimately become.

Crazy Horse is the Native American’s response to the almost ironic presence of Mount Rushmore in the middle of Native American territories.  While Mount Rushmore was funded and is run by the American government, it was and remains very important to the visionaries and builders of Crazy Horse that this entire project (which includes a Native American medical school too) be privately funded.  This is one of the reasons Crazy Horse has and will take so long to complete.  The other reason being that the stone they are carving has proved to be very ‘fragile’ in places and the explosions have to be done in small, carefully timed detonations.

 

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This photo shows what the finished project will look like against the backdrop of the monument under construction.

 

There is a movie at the visitor’s center you can watch that discusses not only how Crazy Horse was championed, but tells the story of a sculptor living with a unyielding purpose,  Korczak Ziolkowski almost singlehandedly (for a period of time) began the process of creating the work in progress.  Ziolkowski, who worked with Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore, was selected by Native Americans, along with his family to embark this ambitious project.  At the beginning of the movie, you watch old film and pictures of him and his family walking up flights and flights of rickety steps to slowly begin the carvings of Crazy Horse.  The slow slow slow progress made my walking up these stairs everyday, chiseling away at the rock and the dedication to never give up.  This monument has been under construction since 1948 and who knows when it will be completed.  But, I can say this monument is a must see and I would suggest a few hours (at least) to take in all that can be learned – there is a Indian Museum of North America and a Cultural Center.

I had a moment during our visit where I was overcome with emotion and tears.  I just sat near a large window that overlooked the monument and just wept at the heaviness of the Native American history and my respect in their continued resistance and attempts to protect and continue their story.

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Although I wanted and could have stayed at the Crazy Horse Monument much longer, I do not like driving at night, so we decided to take off for our 6 hour drive back to the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.  This drive ended up being mostly in the dark (which I do not like) and we were greeted by ENORMOUS thunderstorms – while I will admit it was gorgeous – to see the way the lightening would fill the sky and you could see the lightening bolts touching the ground, it was WAY to close for my comfort in this flat, wide open space where we were the tallest object.  There were times when the lightening would illuminate these looming cloud fronts that you knew were just bringing torrential rain.

Due to the stress (okay, honestly, MY stress) of driving in this weather and darkness, and loss of GPS, we decided to stop in a little town called Lusk to find out what was the deal with weather.  We went into a gas station and I asked the lady (who was so awesome!) if she had any insight to how the storms were moving and she showed us the T.V. and we quickly realized we would not be going any further that night.  The storms had been creating thunderstorm warnings all over the area and only one town over they had softball size hail that filled yards almost 6 inches!!!

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We found the cutest hotel to stay in Lusk, complete with an outdoor chuck wagon style breakfast for us to sleep.  It was an adorable hotel.  The laundry facilities were right next to our room, so we took advantage of our early stop and did all our laundry for the second half of out trip!

Everyone was pretty exhausted by the end of the night, so we clicked off the lights and went to sleep.  Day 8 would include visiting the Teton’s and a long drive through Idaho & Utah to Salt Lake City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip USA-Day Six “What is the next best move?”

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Thursday, August 25th 2016

“Don’t look ahead.  Don’t look at how high you need to climb.  Don’t look down – Just look for your next best move…what is the next best step…” Gabe, our climbing guide.

Rock climbing Devil’s Tower was the climax of our family’s trip.  We have all agreed on this collectively.  Rock climbing, like other outdoor challenges and sports is a metaphor for life!  Climbing the tower was an ambitious family goal.  The lessons and connections that each of us experienced in the 6  hour experience will be with us forever – they were life changers.

Our day began with us waking and packing up our car and checking out of our cabin.  We knew we would be finishing our climb after check-out so that needed to be handled first.  After completed, we walked over to Frank’s house for breakfast.  Kamiko, our youngest, loves to write inspirational quotes and right before our trip, published her first book, “The Book of Life – Stuff You Can Follow to Have a Happy Life.” (available on Amazon.com – lol) https://www.amazon.com/Book-Life-Stuff-Follow-Happy/dp/1535436247/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476645218&sr=8-1&keywords=kamiko+takei We knew we wanted to do something special for Frank, so Kamiko signed her 1st copy of her printed book for him!

When we walked in his front door we were greeted by the most beautiful display of shoes…shoes of all backgrounds, walks of life and stories sitting outside his main door.  All the lives that fill those shoes already inside around a huge family style table enjoying an enormous home-cooked family style breakfast.  Filling those shoes were an older couple on their anniversary, a young man attempting to ride his bicycle across country, three rock climbing guides, Frank, the amazing cook Jennifer, and an awesome family of three stopping for some adventure on their way to return their daughter to college.

 

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All the walks of Life.

 

When you walk in to Frank’s house you immediately feel at home.  He has tons of books, paintings, climbing artifacts and wonderful words of inspiration on his walls.  The dining room is an enormous glass room that faces Devil’s Tower.  He plays piano and there is a beautiful grand piano in his living room.

Lucky for us, when we walked in Frank was right at the door as we entered.  He greeted our family and after a few minutes of introductions and hugs, Kamiko presented Frank her 1st signed copy of her book.  Frank was floored.  He genuinely was moved by the gesture and immediately got down on Kamiko’s level to express his gratitude to her.  He explained to her that he was having a bit of a tough time right now and this book was exactly what he needed to receive and he thanked her for this gift.

Kamiko does not realize the power her words have had on people.  She is a deep, wise, sensitive soul and I have witnessed healing with her words.  To see Frank’s face soften and his eyes tear up was magical.

Frank gave me a very long hug and expressed how much he appreciated our stay and the gift of Kamiko’s words. Frank.  I truly have no words for what an inspiration he is to me.

After our greeting, Frank walked us to his community dining area.  He has a huge table and everyone sits together and enjoys their meal and connects over food.  The room is enclosed in all glass and overlooks Devil’s Tower.  Food is served family style.  Breakfast was delicious. Frank sat at the head of the table, engaging and encouraging connection.

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We sat next to “biker dude”, the couple on their anniversary trip and two of our rock climbing guides for the day.  It became very clear from our conversations with the guides (who return annually for rock climbing season to work for Frank) that they are not “employees” but family at the Lodge.  Frank and his young guides have an unspoken respect, trust and affection for one another.  You can tell Frank trusts these young men and gives them autonomy to run the show.  I can not say enough about the quality of men of our guides.  They are young, insightful, engaging, smart young men.  They are able to connect with all ages and push each person just passed their own ‘comfort zone.’  Interestingly for my girls, one of the guides, Gabe, was homeschooled and they thought that was pretty cool.

I had several “Gabeism’s” on this trip.  Stories or expression Gabe would share and I would be struck by the stunning insight.  For example, it was obvious Gabe had done a lot in his young 20-something years of life.  He shared that his parents let him ride across country with friends when he was in high school!  He is a very accomplished outdoors kind of guy (already!).  So, I said (in my mother mode)….”Wow! You must have amazing parents to allow you to have such freedom to do something like that in high school!”  He said, “yea, they were cool….but I knew it…I knew I had a good gig…my parents gave me a really long leash and I never wanted to mess that up…so I tried not to mess up….I wanted to keep my freedom.”  Brilliant, right?!  Because he was trusted by his parents and he appreciated what that meant, Gabe has had experiences in his 20’s that many will not have their entire lifetime.  Gabe, and the other guides, are so alive…so engaged…living their lives.  They laughed and remarked many times about their lack of money or funds, but my husband and I said to them many times, “you all are the richest people we have ever met.”  Secretly, I think they know it too.  🙂

 

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Gabe.

 

Every single one of us overcame fear, frustration, exhaustion and anxiety to climb the tower.  I did not climb as high as Quinn or the girls, but I climbed my own Everest and was so proud of myself.  After the first climb, in my mind, I was done.  I was content that I did it, but truly did not think I had anything left in my muscles.  But, like life, I did…I could keep going… and, I did.  I did a more challenging pass and reached that summit too.

 

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Climbing my Everest.

 

My girls were amazing.  Each one had struggles during their climbs.  I will never forget witnessing my little nine year old accepting the challenge of the most difficult route.  It took her almost an hour to complete it.  When she was about 3/4 of the way up, she yelled, “I want to come down!”  Gabe, in his wisdom, shouted back “Ok, Miko…but before you come down, maybe just hang there for a minute…I got you…just relax for a little and then you can come down..”  And, of course, after a little while she yelled down, “Ok, I am going to keep going…”  THAT.  That…she said, “I’m going to keep going.”   Relying on another who is wiser, holding your rope to say “I got you – rest – you got this.”  And, she did…she struggled (all on her own), lost her grip, struggled to find where to put her hands, her feet, banged her knees till the bled, knocked her knuckles, grunted, sighed in frustration….but She. Did. Not. Give. UpShe did it.  Here are some of my favorite images of Kamiko.

When she came down, there was that exhausting look of absolute pride.  Accomplishment.  I whispered in her ear, “Miko, I hope you never forget this.  This is the metaphor for life…you can do anything you set your mind to, little girl.  You are smart and you are strong.”

Kayah had a similar experience as she did the most difficult climb as well.  She yelled down to Gabe that she had had enough and Gabe used a different approach.  Kayah was ‘stuck.’  You could tell she was struggling and could not find a way to get passed the most difficult part in the climb.  There were areas of the climb you would wedge your fingers in rocks and sometimes really had to take a leap of faith to the next rock or ledge.  Gabe said, “Kayah…I want you to only look for your next best move…just the next step…don’t look up….look straight ahead and only look for your next best move.”   BRILLIANT.  She listened to him, she searched and my gosh, she found her next step…and then her next one, and her next one and before you knew it, she completed the run!  She came down, bleeding, banged up and bruised.  She high fived Gabe and then came over to me and while giving me a hug, lost her emotions and belly cried for a few minutes.

 

As with Kamiko, I told her how proud of her I was and how I hoped she never forgot this climb and when life felt overwhelming to remember not to look so far ahead, but think and look for that next best step, the next best move.  I told her to know she has the strength and intelligence to do this on her own.

Kira and Quinn are adrenaline outdoor soul mates and naturally, immediately took to rock climbing.  Kira is hoping to continue rock climbing when we return home!

When we finished our climbs we hiked back down and enjoyed a feeling of accomplishment.  Many people would stop us and ask, “did you all climb that today?”
And, all of us still garbed in our climbing gear kind of felt a little like rockstars, a little bad-ass, as we all said, “yes!”

 

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Quinn!

We went back to the lodge, unpacked our gear, played on the slack line with our guides and said good-bye to Frank and the cabin.  Such an awesome day.

Rock Climbing Life Lessons:

  1.  When life starts to feel too much, too big, or overwhelming and you may want to quit or feel paralyzed  – don’t look ahead…don’t look up…don’t look down — just look straight ahead and ask yourself….what is my next best move?  And, then do it.  One move at a time.
  2. You are not alone.  There are people who have been there who will hold your rope while you rest and gather your strength and courage to go on.
  3. You can do it.  You are strong.  You are smart.
  4. Everyone (especially young people) need to have big challenges.  We need to succeed at difficult challenges.  We need to know we can trust ourselves.
  5. In rock climbing, sometimes the climbs that look easy can be deceiving and sometimes, the more difficult level climbs can be easier than expected.  Approach life in the same manner…only you can determine what is ‘hard’ and what is ‘easy.’
  6. And, once again, my most favorite lesson of all…ask yourself…always…”what is my next best move…”

 

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What is the next best move?

No matter your age, size, physical capability or experience, I would highly recommend attempting this experience at Devil’s Tower. The hike to the base of the climb may be all the challenge you need, but go for it! The guides have taken people with zero experience (like us) all the way to the very experienced climbers.  They do some lessons and review in their indoor climbing gym prior to climbing the tower and will always have your back.

As our day came to a close, we got in our minivan and said farewell to Frank and his crew and headed out to our next destination, Deadwood.  Deadwood is a historic Western town, home of Calamity Jane & Wild Bill Hickok in South Dakota.  Due to the fact we drove in later than expected, we did a quick tour of Deadwood, checked in to our hotel, ate dinner and decided to really explore Deadwood after a good nights rest – more on this tomorrow.

 

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Frank & Our Family.