Tag Archive for: #inspirationalwriting

Roots

The kayaks are strapped back on to the top of our Jeep. Bikes are in place on the rack attached to the hitch. Knick-knacks are tucked in cupboards. The shoe bin filled with footwear to fit the occasion, whether hiking, kayaking or golfing, is stashed in the closet. The Captain’s chair and co-pilot seat are turned around to the front-facing position. Furniture is secured, cupboards and sliding pocket doors all closed tight.

Everything is ready to roll, on to our next destination.

Everything that is, except my heart.

When we first settled into our rented lot at the Motorcoach Country Club RV Resort in Indio, I noticed the owner had three empty flower pots just waiting to be filled. I visited a local nursery and bought enough annuals to bring life to them. My plan was to buy a pot to transfer them to once we were ready to get back on the road, which I did.

As I gently tugged the flowers out of the planters, I was amazed at how much they grew in the six weeks we’ve been here. I couldn’t get over how deep the roots had dug into the California soil I scrapped together when I first planted them. With just the right amount of water, sun and tender-loving care, the geranium, petunias and snapdragons  flourished. My transplants found a new home.

I feel exactly the same.

Staying here at this little slice of heaven in the California desert for this long has allowed us to grow our own roots. And with the fresh air, sun and the gentle breezes of new friendships, we’ve flourished too. We’ve been blessed to share stories, journeys, and heartbreaks with these new friends. These new friends have hosted us for dinner, golf, and wine tastings. These new friends have taken walks with us, gotten us into the pool for water aerobics, presented us with thoughtful gifts.

Desert Adventures with Chuck and Dyan

Our time here in the desert began with getting together with friends we made last year in Hilton Head. Chuck and Dyan love adventures as much as we do, and loved experiencing the Salton Sea area together. We had a blast exploring Temecula Valley, the wine country just 90 minutes over the San Jacinto Mountains. We especially enjoyed Doffo Wines and the display of over 200 motorcycles and scooters collected by the owner, Marcello. We spent our last evening in town, Valentine’s Day, enjoying dinner with the two of them, bringing our time together full circle.  Life is always fun with a little bit of Chuck and Dyan sprinkled in!

Photo credit: Doffo Wines

Kind neighbors Chris and Alan

Our first clue as to how special the residents at Motorcoach Country Club RV resort was while hosting our Toledo friends Joe and Amy Zavac for a visit. Our neighbors, Chris and Alan, brought over an outdoor lamp to add more light to our patio. How thoughtful is that? This Colorado-based couple also hosted us for a fun, quaint Super Bowl gathering, and even offered to help out with Luna while we were off on a day-long adventure.

Pasta and Game Night with John and Christine

Speaking of thoughtful, when meeting Christine and John McCusker at a dinner at the Motorcoach club house, Christine observed I wasn’t eating bread. When I shared that I was gluten intolerant, several days later, Christine gifted me with two loaves of gluten free bread made at a local bakery. I returned the favor with giving this former private school owner with a copy of my biography of Virginia Hamilton. This lovely couple hosted us for a delicious homemade pasta dinner, Temecula wine and Rumikub. We all walked away as winners, in more ways than one.

Golf with the Ladies

The resort has a fun 18 hole Par 3 course. I had the opportunity to play with the ladies several times, including the first with Nancy Kossman, who hails from Missouri. Nancy and I connected from the start, and enjoyed going out to lunch and walking together.

When I played with the other group of ladies, Betty announced, “I’m not a very good golfer, but I’m a lot of fun.” Fun was definitely had with Kim, Jo, Betty and her sidekick, Betty Boop. It’s always a good thing when you laugh so hard on the course that you find yourself looking for the nearest bathroom.

PGA West friends Renee and Fred

Brad joined a golf program which allows us to play on private courses with members willing to host us. Fred and Renee Dockweiler were incredibly kind to not only host us, but to be willing to reschedule when we came down with a stomach bug. We connected during our first round at the PGA West Weiskopf course. It was a thrill for me to play with all single-digit handicap golfers. I’ve got 9 strokes to join the ranks, but Fred and Renee were both incredibly encouraging. We met up for dinner at Okura Sushi one night, and Renee hosted us several days later (as Fred was out of town) at the PGA West Stadium course, home of the AT&T PGA tournament. We hope to have Renee and Fred visit us in Toledo, as Fred has plans to travel our way on business.

And the list goes on…

I’m not so good with carting my phone with me everywhere, much less taking pictures when I do. I will hold on to the special memories of a Motorcoach CC resident, Swanee, who became my new “publicity rep” after sharing our story and my work with her. Swanee attended a satellite campus of Antioch College, where Virginia Hamilton attended, so I gifted her with my biography of this amazing writer.

We had the pleasure of golfing with several other couples and gentlemen during our stay…including Rob and Margaret and Troy and Sue at Mountain View Country Club. Thank you all for making our time all the more special. Ugh…I could go on and on, from the many people we met on our daily walks with Luna, to folks we visited with on our many adventures.

So yes, we’re packed up and ready to go on to the next chapter, but my heart is a little sad as we leave this desert oasis.

Often friends met on the road remain as such.

But, I have a feeling that with the right amount of time and attention, just like my new flowers, the roots of friendship established here in the California desert will grow deeper.

 

 

Desert Respite

Ahhh….

After being rolling stones since hitting the road in October, it has been amazing to sink our toes in the sand, dig in, and stay put for a month. We are so fortunate to be staying at the Motorcoach Country Club in Indio, CA.

The setting is phenomenal, with the Indio Hills looming in the background, plentiful golf courses, and glorious native and annual flowers everywhere. The RV resort offers on-site 18 hole par-3 course, tennis and pickleball courts and more activities than we have time for.

Our hearts have been warmed by making new friends, and having a visit with our dear friends and neighbors, Joe and Amy. A bonus is being right across the street from the friends and fellow adventurers we made last year in Hilton Head…Dyan and Chuck.

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to during our first few weeks in this desert mecca…

Joshua Tree National Park

Brad and I gassed up the car, packed a lunch and plenty of water to drive up to Joshua Tree National Park.

We should have grabbed an extra jacket too! We knew there would not be any gas, food or water available in the park, but we didn’t realize that we were entering the high desert, with its cold winds. Fortunately the visitor center does sell sweatshirts with an emblem of the unique Yucca trees on the front.

We spent the day driving from the western entrance of the park and all the way around to the Cottonwood southern exit. We took in a number of shorter hikes, including Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Arch Rock and Split Rock. It was fun to see families with children of all ages…reminded us of when we would hike with our kids when they were little.

We were grateful we took the long route all the way around, as the Cholla Cactus Garden was quite the sight.

The desert isn’t in bloom yet, but here’s a hint of what you might see if you visit later in the spring.

An Adventure in the Desert

We struck out with our friends Chuck and Dyan to visit an area that our friend Eric Davenport from Bend, Oregon told us about…the Salton Sea. What we weren’t aware of was the jaw-dropping Salvation Mountain and the head-scratching settlement of Slab City nearby.

Salton Sea 

One of the lowest spots on earth at -277 feet below sea level (think about that for a minute…a sea below sea level!) is the Salton Sea.  Created when floodwaters from the Colorado River overcame an irrigation canal in 1905, the lake is a terminal lake, meaning there is no natural outlet for the water. As a result of the runoff feeding into the lake, the concentration of salinity in the lake is even greater than the ocean.

We enjoyed our picnic near the lake, but it wasn’t a place one would linger. You don’t dare swim in the lake, and the stench of dying fish was prevalent. Not exactly the seaside resort that Eric and his wife Lyn expected many years ago.

Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight was truly a rebel without a cause, until he found redemption in the desert. Originally from Vermont, Leonard experienced his religious awakening after a visit with his sister in California. She attempted to share her discovery of spiritualism with Leonard, but her beliefs didn’t resonate until he began to trek back to Vermont.

After discovering his love for Jesus, he was inspired by a hot air balloon. Leonard had a vision of building his own balloon to spread his newfound Christianity. He spent the next 14 years traveling the country and trying to built that darn hot air balloon.

Literally deflated and defeated, he found himself in the desert just east of the Salton Sea. Leonard decided he would stay for a week creating something that would make a “small statement.” This was in 1984. And this is what Leonard created, known as Salvation Mountain.

Leonard died in 2014, but his messages of love live on through a non-profit that maintains his spiritual mountain.

Slab City

Leonard Knight might have been sharing his salvation with the world, but I’m not sure what the residents of the squatter community of Slab City are attempting to.

I think my mouth hung open the whole time we drove through Slab City.

History: The United States Marine Corps had a training camp, known as Camp Dunlap here in the Sonoran Desert.

The Marines abandoned the base in 1956, destroying all the buildings, but leaving the slab foundations behind. You can guess where this is going…

A sign at the entrance noted “Speed limit: two grams a day.”

Man, there are stories to come out of this place. I’m just not sure I’m the one to write them. I’ll let these pictures help guide your imagination. To see more, see here.

There was a sign for the Library, but we never found it. I’m afraid if we did, we’d never check out.

The place is just bizarre.

   

A Taste of Home

Our good friends and neighbors Joe and Amy Zavac took time during their travels to LA and San Diego to come visit us in the desert. We hosted them for dinner at the motorhome on Friday evening, and they marveled at the beautiful sites and rigs in the RV resort.

Brad outdid himself with his smoked and grilled steaks, I made my brother’s yummy “smashed potatoes” recipe and a salad with local dates and goat cheese. Our neighbor gave us an outdoor light to enjoy the dinner on the patio. It was so fun catching up on all that we’ve missed in Toledo since October.

Living Desert

On Saturday morning, we went to Shields Date Garden, celebrating 100 years of both farming dates and serving them up in yummy breakfast and lunch dishes. The gardens and pretty patio are just around the corner from us, so I imagine we’ll even ride our bikes there in the future.

Following breakfast, we drove a short distance to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. As members of the Toledo Zoo, we received a 50% discount on our entry fee…one of the many benefits of Zoo membership!

The Living Desert features animals and plants native to deserts around the world, from California to Australia and Africa. It was fun to walk among the animals in many of the exhibits. Not including the cheetah.

We enjoyed wonderful dinner out at the Lavender Bistro in Old Town La Quinta. Although it was cool and sprinkling, the tree foliage and the outside heaters kept us warm and dry.

Our visit was entirely too quick, filled with great stories, much laughter, and wonderful memories.

We are so grateful for our respite in the desert!

 

“Cause All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun…”

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Christmas in Marina and Monterey

It was hard to be away from family and friends once again over Christmas, but Brad and I kept ourselves busy taking advantage of all that the area had to offer.

We stayed at the Marina Dunes RV Resort. It was a lovely campground just 500 yards from the ocean. I loved the hues of the native plants along the path on the dunes leading to the ocean. Luna basked in the sunsets!

We golfed at Pacific Grove Golf Links, known as the Poor Man’s Pebble Beach. We were paired with a father and son and just had a blast. We saw surfers along the coast running beside the course. This is me pretending to be one.

Monarchs winter along the California coast too. We took in one of their migratory spots at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary. I could almost hear the thousands of pairs of wings fluttering in the breeze.

We biked along the coast. It was hard to keep an eye on all the car traffic right along the bike path. The ocean was a bit distracting!

We kayaked at Elkhorn Slough, an awesome estuary featuring these little critters.

I teared up at the sight of the mama otter cradling the cub on her chest. It made me miss my kids all the more so.

I couldn’t wait for our reunion in LA.

Pacific Palisades

We rented a home in the beautiful enclave of Pacific Palisades for the start of our time together. The home was built in 1949 and featured an awesome outdoor firepit and views of the ocean right across the street. A nightly ritual involved walking down to the park just up the way, coffee cups filled with favorite beverages, and toasting the sunset.

Hiking and Beaching

We used to call all of our adventures “Brad’s Boot Camp.” I think the apples haven’t fallen too far from the tree, as we made the most of the area. Our first full day, we hiked at Solstice Canyon. We took both the Solstice Hike and then continued on to the Rising Sun Trail for an awesome two-hour experience.

The hike features the ruins of the Roberts Ranch House, designed by Paul Williams, who was a famous African American architect. Here is a fascinating article about this trailblazer whose hand is prominent in over 2500 buildings and homes, most in LA.

After lunch at Malibu Seafood (“the reason we don’t serve breakfast is because we’re out catching lunch”) and then, after numerous attempts, finally found coastal access to walk along the Malibu Beach.

 

Venice and Santa Monica

We sang Sheryl Crow’s iconic song All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun while visiting the Santa Monica area. We took in the famed canals of Venice Beach. We walked the Santa Monica Pier. And we made a quick stop at Zibby’s Bookshop. I am inspired by the dedication and passion owner Zibby Owens has for books and sharing authentic stories. I’ve been in touch with Zibby about our story…perhaps her publishing house may be interesting in sharing our journey some day.

Pasadena and New Year’s Eve

We shifted to Pasadena for what will become obvious later in the post. We took full advantage of the area and the beautiful home we stayed in as we brought in the New Year together.

On New Year’s Eve we took a nice 5 mile hike on the Eaton Falls and Henninger Flats trail. Great start to the day!

Later in the day we headed to Griffith Park and the Observatory. We packed a charcuterie board and some bubbly and watched the last sunset of 2023 on a little path down below the iconic Observatory.

I discovered a bit about the park on our drive. At over 3,000 acres, Griffith Park is the largest municipal park with wilderness in the United States. The land was donated in 1896 by Griffith J. Griffith and his wife, Tina. Sounds great, right? Well, as we all know, there’s always a story behind the story.

Let’s just say that Griffith J. Griffith’s life is rather checkered, including accusations of tax evasion and imprisonment for attempting to murder his wife. For the rest of the story, see here

We returned to our beautiful rental home in Altadena and worked together to create a scrumptious NYE dinner featuring grilled steaks (from the grass-fed beef we bought at Rafter W. Ranch in Simla, CO), brussel sprouts and smashed roasted potatoes. Yummy!

Rose Bowl Experience!

Brad booked our tickets to the Rose Bowl parade and game through the Al Brooks Ticketing Agency almost a year ago. The package included awesome seats to the parade and special seating to the game. We had no guarantee that the kids or their partners would be able to join us.

It was a gamble that paid off in spades.

Sadly, our daughter Kyle’s husband, Will, was not able to join us, as his brother is on the coaching staff of Wisconsin. Wisconsin was in Tampa for their bowl game on the same day as the Rose Bowl. We missed Will during the entire trip. But, Kyle, and our son Ian and his partner Adam were with us for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Everything that could have gone right for the day, did. From easy-peasy access to the designated parking area for the parade (although we got up at 5 in order to be at the parade route by 6!), to the incredible weather, everything was perfect.

I got chills (and, okay, a few tears) at the start of the parade as the B-2 Stealth Bomber flew over the parade.

Television coverage doesn’t do the parade justice, as we witnessed all the incredible flowers that decorate the floats.

Then, the piece de la resistance! Game Time! Although our beloved Buckeyes from The Ohio State University didn’t make it into the Bowl as we hoped, Big Ten was represented incredibly well by the University of Michigan. As you likely know, the game went into a thrilling overtime and Michigan claimed the victory.

We scooted out in a flash, catching the drone show as we walked to the parking lot. We went back to our rental home and watched Washington beat Texas together in the cozy family room.

Our time ended all too soon. It’s always so hard to say goodbye to our kids, with Ian and Adam in Denver, and Kyle and Will in Atlanta. But before the final goodbyes, we were already planning our next adventures.

“Cause All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun…”

It’s coming on Christmas…a message of hope

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer 

Singing songs of joy and peace

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on...

So begins “River” written by Joni Mitchell.

It’s a “Christmas song for people who are lonely at Christmas time,” Joni said in an interview in 2021.

I fell in love with Robert Downey Jr’s rendition of this classic on the Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas album, which came out in 1999.

Our daughter Claire LOVED the album’s feature artist, Vonda Shepard. She loved to sing along with many of the artist’s songs, preferring LOUD renditions, and solo. Fun memory of our little reader gone too soon.

“River” takes me back to that first Christmas in 2000 without Claire. So, so hard.

There were many times that all I wanted was to find a river I could skate away on.

Joni Mitchell’s version came on the radio yesterday morning, as I was watching a river of rain flow through our campground outside of Santa Cruz, California.

But it don’t snow here

It stays pretty green

While listening, really listening to the lyrics, the melody had its own meaning in my life. To me, the song didn’t represent loneliness. It reflected my journey through grief.

At some point in those early, hard years, I realized I no longer needed a river to skate away on.

I figured out that no matter how long that river was, I wasn’t going to be able to skate away to escape my pain.

What I really needed was a paddle to navigate the waters of grief, to face all of the emotions I was experiencing.

I wish I had a river so long

I would teach my feet to fly

Through the love and support of Brad, our kids, Kyle and Ian, family, friends, and a whole community, I paddled like hell, to the other side. They all taught my feet to fly, and my broken heart to soar.

As more time passed, I learned to toss the paddle aside and just let go. To let the current and tides take me wherever I was meant to be.

Far from being adrift, I feel as though I’ve let the shore come to me. I feel anchored.

I hope that if you are reading this, and dealing with grief in any form, that my message might offer a bit of hope.

It’s okay if you feel like you need a river to skate away on. I feel you.

It’s okay if you are feeling sad, angry, lonely or really pissed off especially during this time of year. I’ve been there.

I pray that life presents you with the guidance to steer you in the right direction.

And once you get there, that you can just let go.

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer 

Singing songs of joy and peace

 

Photo credits: In order; BarbaraALane, Hans, and Starflames, Pixabay

 

 

 

Angel’s Share, a Master Cooper, and other tales from Napa

We’ve been blessed to visit Napa several times in the past, but this week-long visit gave us the opportunity to explore more than ever before. Wine tasting was at the heart of our activities, but we also snuck in a round of golf, a kayak run on the Napa River, and a bike ride from Napa to Yountville.

We made some new friends and had visits with one of my dear writing friends along the way.

Most of all, we learned so much about wine-making and wine-makers during our visit.

Angel’s Share

Our first tasting was at Rombauer Wines, just north of Napa in St. Helena. We chose the vineyard because of its beautiful family history, its reputation for producing yummy Chardonnays, and the awesome hilltop setting. Carrie was our server and did a fabulous job teaching us about the wines they produce.

As our curiosity intrigued Carrie, she was kind enough to give us a tour of their wine caves. While there, I noted a barrel presumably seeping red wine onto the outside of the French Oak barrel. Carrie offered that as the oak barrels are porous, that through the oxidation process, the tannins from the stems, seeds and the grapes seep out of the barrels.

Way back in the day, when cellar masters discovered the product disappearing from barrels, they determined that angels were enjoying their share from heaven. The term, “la part des anges”  or “angels share” refers to the missing portion from the barrels. Wine makers will regularly check their barrels, from a few days to a few weeks, and fill the barrel from the top bung hole to replace the Angel’s Share.

Even the golf courses have wine-related names!

We had a lovely round at Eagle’s Vine Golf.  There was a foursome of younger guys in front of us, who were kind enough to let us through on the first par 3. I came within 5 inches of a hole-in-one, as they cheered the ball toward the cup. I nearly beat Brad straight up on the front side, but he found his stride on the back. Really fun round.

Off the beaten path…or waterfront

We finally got back out on our kayaks on this segment of our travels. We were directed to Fagan Marsh on the Napa River. A great site for bird watching, we took in hawks, yellow-rumped Warblers, ducks, and egrets. We maneuvered through the marsh until the natural channel got us caught up in the reeds. We got kind of messy in the process.

Photo credit: cricketsblog

Cheers to old friends and new trails

I met author Nancy Hudgins a number of years ago at a Highlights writing workshop. We’ve kept in touch ever since, visiting each other twice in our hometowns. Here we are celebrating the sale of her first book, a biography of famed children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom. I’m so proud of Nancy! Brad, Luna and I enjoyed lots of time with Nancy and her little pup, Buddy. (Who is cuddled on her lap in the photo.)

Brad and I made it back to Frank Family wines again on this trip. Yummy reds and beautiful setting for the afternoon wine tasting. We took a nap after.

Tempting as it was, we didn’t stop at any of the wineries along the route of our 12 mile bike ride on the Vine Trail, from Kennedy Park to Yountville.

Fun fact: George C. Yount planted the first grapevines in Napa Valley. Way back in 1839.

A Master Cooper and Sharing Angels

Ahh…the beauty of Facebook. A college friend of Brad’s encouraged us to check out Caldwell Vineyard.

We’re so grateful for the recommendation.

What started as a private tasting in the wine caves turned into a personal sharing of our own angel stories with Ramiro, the Master Cooper.

Ramiro makes all 350 barrels for the vineyard. Most vineyards buy their barrels from a cooperage. We were mesmerized by Ramiro’s tales of growing up in the region, his passion for, and dreams of playing soccer professionally, then fate (and his nose…very important for toasting the barrels just right!) intervened and he became one of only several dozen master coopers in the world. Here’s a great article on Ramiro.

Caldwell’s website header reads, “For us, it’s personal.”

Our experience with Ramiro became quite personal and spiritual as we shared our mutual losses. It was an incredible “Angel Share” experience.

And the wine was pretty incredible too.

Cheers, Napa.

We can’t wait to get back.

At Caldwell Vineyards Wine Caves Tasting, Caldwell barrel handmade by Ramiro, master cooper, view from the Caldwell hilltop. Breathtaking experience and views.

Elemental

The elements come into play on our travels, whether motoring from one locale to another, or while we are camped out for any period of time.

Such has been the case in traversing from Idaho to Oregon, and then from our stop in Bend to our destination along the coast, Coos Bay.

Our timing on both legs couldn’t have been better. We missed storms moving into Idaho after we left, and we jumped ahead of storms moving through the mountains outside of Bend as we made our way to the ocean.

Idaho Ready: What you need to know about the chain up law ...How to put tire chains on a semi-truckO

Photo credit: Idaho Transportation Department and Schneider Truck website

In the mountains, one is always at risk of snow and ice. The signs along the way, noting “Chains Required When Flashing” are a bit disconcerting. Chains help vehicles grab the ice and snow for traction. Kind of like crampons for huge trucks. Fortunately we never had the warning flashing lights, for we didn’t invest in chains.

We would have had to turn back.

On our travels from Bend to Coos Bay, Route 58 between Route 97 and State Highway 5 was an absolutely beautiful trek, with Odell Lake and the Willamette River running alongside. Willamette Pass was a little nerve-wracking, with a decent amount of snow on the ground. But the roads were clear and dry.

Here is a glimpse at how the elements came into play on our adventures in Oregon…

Fire

Any opportunity to jump into our kayaks and paddle is a blessing, and such was the case in Bend. The kind folks at the outfitter, Tumalo Creek, directed us to a nice launching dock on the Deschutes River. They instructed us to paddle our way a couple of miles up river, then enjoy the current on the way back.

So what does a fun paddle on the Deschutes have to do with fire? In 1990, the Awbrey Hall Fire burned along the western flank of the city, jumping three major highways and destroying 22 homes and 3500 acres. Had we been able to continue paddling up river, we would have been near the Deschutes River Woods division that suffered the most damage.

We had a lovely evening catching up with a high school friend of Brad’s, Eric Davenport and his wife, Lynn. We visited them over ten years ago while traveling through Bend with our kids. The years dropped away as we hiked their property with Eric. In the distance, the view was hazy, from prescribed fires set to manage the forests. The photo below is from a Facebook page keeping residents advised of both controlled burns and wildfires.

After the hike we enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by Eric, then warmed by their Russian fireplace in the center of their beautiful open family room/kitchen. The fireplace is highly efficient and beautiful. I sat on the hearth for a bit…it was quite toasty. The fun evening ended entirely too soon, but we were leaving early the next morning for Coos Bay.

Air

We’ve been blessed to be hunkering down at the Sun Outdoors Campground in Coos Bay. Our site is just 50 yards from the beach and ocean. It has rained the entire time we’ve been here, and the winds have been a gusting! The motorhome is shaking as I’m writing this, the winds howling up to 45 miles an hour.

We haven’t let the stationery front stop our fun…enjoying hikes on the beach in the mornings with Luna, and exploring the towns and coast over the last few days. We even took in a fun “Wine Walk” sponsored by the local Rotary Club in Coos Bay.

But, oh that wind. And Rain! This photo doesn’t nearly capture how angry the elements seem to be…the air howling, the waves crashing, the sand and rain drops pelting our skin. But hey, it could be snowing, right?

Water 

I never tire of being by water. The ocean, especially in storms, takes water to a whole different level. We marveled at a brave paddle boarder navigating the waves in a cove near our campground. The waves crashing against rocks at Cape Arago State Park at the tail-end of Route 540 were mesmerizing.

But, water can be deadly. We learned about King Tides, which occur along the Oregon coast when the Earth, sun, and moon are all aligned. The huge tidal waves occur about once a month…we just missed them when we arrived. A woman we met on the beach intrigued us with stories of people being swept out to sea from king tides. Note to self…don’t turn your back on the water during king tides. Yikes.

Earth

From water to earth…we were fascinated by the huge Bull Kelp that washed up on the beach near the campground. We could see the “holdfasts” that attach to submerged rocks out in the ocean. They reminded me of characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean! The stranded jelly fish always make me a bit sad…and we saw our fair share on the beach as a result of the rollicking tides. Luna was wise to avoid them on our beach hikes.

The last picture, of the Stellar, or Northern Sea Lions hanging out on the rock and in the waters along the coast of Cape Arango State Park, has a story. Or rather, what you don’t see in the picture offers story.

The tide was coming in as we watched the sea lions, captivated by their defiance of the force of water. The sea creatures were barking and crying away…trying to avoid losing their position on the rock to the hundreds waiting in the water. I thought it was a territorial thing, until I looked to where they kept casting their gaze.

There, on a rock below them, still, motionless was another Stellar sea lion. This creature did not move for the fifteen minutes we stood and watched. But the other sea lions did, seemingly agitated, moving back and forth on that rock, looking to the sea, then back to their newly departed friend.

Through my experiences and research in the past, I knew in my heart what was going on.

I looked up at Brad with tears in my eyes and said, “I think they are grieving.”

Brad squeezed my hand and gave me a big hug.

A touching end to adventures that provided us with many goosebump moments among the elements.

 

Homeful

Home*ful: adjective: having a place to live, not homeless. 2. enjoying time together in a home.

This word is not quite an official entry in any dictionary, but it suits our experiences in Salt Lake City as well as our visit with family in Caldwell, Idaho.

I’ll start with the beginnings of our adventures in the Mormon holy land. Brad and I went out to dinner at an awesome restaurant in downtown, just ten minutes from our campground. Zest Kitchen and Bar was an excellent choice, all-organic and gluten free. Yum. The tables were quite close to one another, and Brad and I began a conversation with four ladies sitting next to us. We asked the group what they might recommend to do in the area.

Their response? Go to Park City.

As a former employee of the Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, it made me sad that a resident of any given city suggests that there was so little to do in their hometown, that they would recommend driving an hour away for entertainment.

It made me reflect on what home really means. And how one should have pride in their hometown.

And it made us bound and determined to discover the best of this city, despite the recommendation to go elsewhere. Here is what we discovered about the area, our home for six days.

The Great Salt Lake

We had an amazing time kayaking on the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere. The air temperature was maybe 50 degrees. I’m not sure what the water temperature was, and glad we didn’t find out. We had the lake to ourselves, as we paddled from the marina at the Great Salt Lake State Park out into the open waters. We noticed that kayaking on the water felt more buoyant due to the lake’s composition.

We saw brine shrimp in the lake, which are harvested from October 1st through January 31st. This harvest industry provides anywhere from ten to fifty million dollars to the area. To learn more about the harvests, look here.

The Tabernacle Choir

I still get chills thinking about our experience in seeing the Tabernacle Choir live, on a chilly, damp Sunday morning. I’d done my research before our visit, and learned that although you can take in organ recital rehearsals and performances throughout the week, the choir concerts are on Sunday mornings. Doors open at 8:30, doors close at 9:15, thirty-minute performance happens at 9:30. Parking is free in downtown on Sundays. Perfect.

When we arrived,  several hospitable young Mormon girls greeted and directed us to the balcony for the best acoustics. A staff photographer approached us during the rehearsal session and informed us that we had chosen the absolutely best seats.

The Tabernacle reminds me of something right out of the Wizard of Oz, expecting the wizard to appear from behind the huge pipe organ at any minute. The chorus of 360 voices was indescribable. All of the songs, and the brief message, were about gratitude. Check out the performance of Music & The Spoken Word.

Family Search

So, while in the Tabernacle, a kind Mormon woman reached out to me and we spoke of our desire to learn more about the city. She didn’t recommend we go to Park City. She suggested we visit the Family Search Library and conduct genealogy research. A young man named Kyle helped me navigate the site, and was incredibly empathetic as I included information on loved ones I’ve lost. Tears came in both our eyes as I included our daughter Claire, my siblings Karen and Kevin, my parents, my beloved Aunt Carol and my special Uncle Leon.

I felt a great sense of home as I discovered relatives I never knew about. I’d highly recommend creating your own account online and learning more about your ancestry.

Ensign Peak 

Two days after arriving in the area, Brigham Young and other leaders hiked up to this peak and envisioned the layout of the city. The drive up steep hills to the peak was a treat, the Capitol Building looming at the top. We timed our visit nearly perfectly, taking in the sunset and afterglow.

We met a young woman, Krista, along with her adorable little husky, Balto at the top. A graduate of The Ohio State University, we learned she moved to California after graduation, working remotely. After sharing common travel experiences, she proclaimed that she felt she should have been born into our family, with our wanderlust.

We’ve since connected on Instagram, and I have a feeling this won’t be the last we see of this young traveler.

Park City

Ok, so we figured we had to check Park City out. Unfortunately, the trail we intended to hike on was closed for the season. The holiday skiers had little snow. And the shops were overpriced, with local stores getting pushed out by chains. But, it was quaint, and the Wasatch Mountains were beautiful.

Still not a highlight I would recommend if I lived in Salt Lake City. Just sayin’.

Jordan River Trail

Okay, so this is where we experienced the polar opposite of Homeful.

The Jordan River Trail apparently offers over 60 miles of paved trails in Salt Lake City and beyond. We only witnessed a mile or so, as we attempted to make our way to a dog park to let Luna off-leashWhere we intended to walk was blocked off, due to a number of homeless people. It broke my heart to see the squalor, the trash, the “homes” made out of tarps, grocery carts, anything to provide shelter. More so, it hurt to see young men, unable to even look me in the face, strung out, just waiting for their next fix. Or the woman, who when we politely excused ourselves to pass her on the sidewalk, called out to us as we passed, “Sorry, you get a little slower after 60.”

If she only knew.

Out of respect, I didn’t take any pictures of those we saw in the parks, the streets. But the memories haunt me.

I can’t even imagine not having a home.

Caldwell, Idaho

So, after feeling a little lost among the homeless, we felt totally embraced by Brad’s stepbrother Michael, and his fiancée, Melissa, at their home in Caldwell, Idaho.

We were blessed to be included in their Friendsgiving celebration. We loved meeting their variety of friends, and enjoyed lively conversations. Michael roasted/smoked the turkey on the outside grill, and we all contributed side dishes to the feast. Their dogs Lucy and McKeever added to the fun throughout the weekend.

We took in a few of the Snake River Valley wineries in the area, including Hat Ranch, Huston, and Koenig.

Friday evening we walked around downtown Caldwell, taking in their wonderful holiday light display along Indian Creek, followed by a wonderful dinner at Grit restaurant.

Our travels in Salt Lake City and Idaho left us feeling grateful…for new adventures, family, new friends and most of all, HOME.

 

Golden Opportunities

Life is too short, and any chance to spend time with our kids is special. We intentionally landed in the Denver area this past week to be with our son, Ian and his partner, Adam to explore and celebrate Ian’s 30th birthday. It was oh so much fun, and went by all too quickly.

Golden and Clear Creek

Brad and I landed in Golden, staying at the Clear Creek RV park, a quaint campground along the banks of Clear Creek right in our back yard. The small park is run by the City of Golden, and sits at the dead-end of 10th Street, an easy half-mile walk to the adorable town of Golden, and the infamous Coors Brewing Company.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to take the brewery tour or even take in the Holidaily Brewing Company (all gluten-free for those of us intolerant!) during our visit. Next time.

The photo below is of the walking/biking path that surrounds and winds through Golden. The path offers 24 miles of quiet beauty, from prairie grasslands to mountain views. Much of the path winds along Clear Creek. We spotted the Bighorn sheep off of Welch Ditch trail, a short hike that is primarily a climbers access point.

Ian and Adam joined us for dinner at the Sherpa House in Golden. Word of warning: medium Masala is hot!

Denver

Our adventures in Denver included two places Ian had yet to visit, and a deli that is a regular-go-to.

Margaret Brown Home

When I discovered that Margaret Brown, otherwise known as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and her husband, J.J. bought and lived in this magnificent home in downtown Denver, I just had to go. Although Margaret is famous for having survived the Titanic sinking, her life story is filled with many chapters of adventure and experiences as a suffragist, philanthropist, and actress. It was a thrill to explore their family home, together, as a family.

The self-guided tour was interesting, but the museum’s website is a researcher’s dream. I loved this quote I found, which I think sums up Margaret’s life and my personal philosophy perfectly:

“I am a daughter of adventure. This means I never experience a dull moment and must be prepared for any eventuality. I never know when I may go up in an airplane and come down with a crash, or go motoring and climb a pole, or go off for a walk in the twilight and return all mussed up in an ambulance. That’s my arc, as the astrologers would say. It’s a good one too, for a person who had rather make a snap-out than a fade-out of life.”

-Margaret Brown, aka The Unsinkable Molly Brown, as told to the Denver Post, August 9, 1923

Ian, Brad and Adam in front of the Margaret Brown home, one of several Blackamoor sculptures in the home, with a note about the museum’s attempt to discern how to respectfully display and provide historical context to the pieces. Check out this informative article on this art here.

Levin Deli

When I had the opportunity to join Ian and Adam for lunch while in Denver back in April, they treated me to the Levin Deli, Wine Bar and Bakery. The restaurant features delicious deli sandwiches, including gluten-free options for me. It was so fun to go back again and share this yummy spot with Brad too!

History Colorado Center

We had a great time exploring the beautiful History Colorado Center, which sadly, put the Ohio History Center to shame. Beautiful and informative displays and exhibitions, including a heart-wrenching account of the Sand Creek Massacre.

In 2000, letters were discovered in Denver, written by Captain Silas Soule, which reflected his refusal to participate in the massacre. The images brought forth in his writing brought tears, right on the heels of the Hamas terrorist acts in Israel.

On a lighter note, the exhibit, Winter Warriors, shared the stories of the 10th Mountain Division of World War II. The displays include touching mementos and photographs gifted to the museum from family members of the elite skiing veterans.

I was reminded of Ski Soldier: A World War II Biography, written by our Claire’s Day friend, Louise Borden. The story shares the account of Pete Siebert, who joined the 10th Mountain Division when he was just 18. Pete came back to the States severely wounded and questioning whether he would ever ski again. With the help of his fellow ski soldiers, Pete went on to not only hit the slopes again, but founded the ski resort in Vail.

Guanella Pass and Georgetown

Go back to the quote from Margaret Brown earlier in this post, and you’ll get a sense of what I was feeling as I drove the 22-mile Guanella Pass southwest of Denver. I was a little anxious about driving the pass, especially with the light snow that fell overnight. It didn’t help that several vehicles turned around right at the beginning, daunted by the steep roadway. But, I carried on as captain of this adventure, and our Jeep Grand Cherokee handled the tight curves and high embankments like a charm. I drove up and back (and up and back again) on the switchbacks, over the 11,669 pass to amazing views of Mount Blue Sky and Mount Bierstadt.  The photo below is only half way up.

I was intrigued by the Historical Marker noting the former presence of the McLellan Opera House. I love the inscription on the marker…”During the years 1869-1892, the great and the near-great of the theatrical world performed here. Georgetown was a two-night stand on both the silver and gold circuits which played the Colorado mining camps.”
Can you imagine taking in a show at the Opera House back in the day?
We wrapped our time together by enjoying an early birthday-dinner at 240 Union in Lakewood, halfway in-between Golden and Denver.  At the end of the dinner, staff surprised Ian with a slice of a birthday treat. It was icing on the cake, (sorry!) to a wonderful and memorable visit.

Alright, Alright, Alright

My youngest brother, Gordie, recommended we listen to Matthew McConaughey’s memoir, Greenlights on our travels. I was a bit hesitant, as I thought the actor was rather self-absorbed. I mean, what could I learn from a man who made a name for himself running on beaches and showing off his six-pack abs?

Plenty.

The timing was perfect to listen to the story, narrated by none other than Matthew himself. (We came to know each other on a first-name basis through the journey.)

Brad and I had quite a few road hours on our travels from Nashville and onto Branson. Throw in a little unplanned side trip to Red Bay, Alabama for a quick repair, and the roughly 6 1/2 hour audiobook helped pass the miles.

Our trip to Red Bay required an overnight stay where we were not intending to be. Matthew would summarize this situation by saying, “Greenlights.” In other words, green lights mean go. But sometimes in life, the green lights might change on us, causing us to redirect. And as life plays out, we end up with a Greenlight we weren’t expecting. Such was the case with our Harvest Hosts overnight stop at a little farm and orchard along the way. I’ve never camped in such a quiet, peaceful spot. Until the neighboring rooster woke us up early the next morning.

“The problems we face today eventually turn into blessings in the rearview mirror of life,” Matthew offered.

Greenlight.

Our view at Blessed Bounty orchard, an unexpected overnight.

I was surprised to learn that Matthew spent several years traversing in a van and Airstream trailer that he customized. He named the trailer Canoe, in honor of his visit to the Squamish Nation reservation in Vancouver. The tribe gave him a handmade oar, a symbol of the tribe.

Matthew said, “The oar guides the canoe, guides you through life—so I named the Airstream the Canoe. I mean, the highways are like riverways, they’re just concrete.” 

Our oar was guiding us to a place that was on both of our radars for some time; Branson, Missouri.

Branson

We stayed the week at Table Rock State Park, just fifteen minutes from the city of Branson. The lake is absolutely gorgeous, with a huge marina and a several-mile hiking trail around the perimeter. Over the weekend, a huge Bass Fishing Tournament, sponsored by Toyota happened on the lake. We’d wake up in the morning with the sounds of the National Anthem being sung to send the fishermen off for the day, and hear the announcements of the daily divisional winners in the evening. Top prize? $200,000!

The marina at Table Rock State Park, the Showboat Branson Belle and sunset at the park.

We wanted to take in a show, and at the recommendation of a friend, went to see Reza, an illusionist. Reza’s huge acts were amazing, but his smaller tricks were simply mind-boggling. I would have gotten a picture of him, but he kept disappearing.

Where did Reza go?

A huge bonus was catching up with a dear high school friend. Hannah Spotts and her husband Mike, who joined us for dinner at the campground. It was such a fun and lovely evening. Hannah recommended we visit one of her favorite places in the area…

Dogwood Canyon

Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s founded this extraordinary 10,000 acre conservation area with hiking and biking trails, trout fishing, and horseback riding. Tickets to the tram are extra, but the bonus is at the top. We enjoyed our close encounters with the herd of bison, including a rare White American Bison.

Brad and I also had a blast playing the Mountain Top 9-hole golf course, and taking in lunch at Arnie’s Barn afterwards. My drink of choice? An Arnold Palmer, of course.

Salina

Salina, Kansas was definitely a Greenlight. We stayed/played at the Salina Municipal Golf Course, which is one of the nicest muni golf courses we’ve ever played. Luna had a blast joining us during the round, and was quite chill afterwards while we had dinner on the patio at Ya Yas.  We took a nice stroll through the surprising downtown. Fun!

Rafter W Ranch

Our last stop before hitting Denver was yet another Harvest Hosts site…Rafter W. Ranch. We camped out in their field, away from their grass-fed cattle, and enjoyed hiking the property. We picked up some steaks before we left the next morning, on to our next adventures.

We finished listening to the audiobook, and could relate to this quote from Greenlights.

“We cannot fully appreciate the light without the shadows. We have to be thrown off balance to find our footing. It’s better to jump than fall. And here I am.”

Thank you, Matthew for your insights, your stories, your inspiration. We aspire to Just Keep Livin‘.

And we’re doing Alright, Alright, Alright.

 

Sweet Coast

Some call the stretch of coastal Florida from the towns of Carrabelle to Seaside the Forgotten Coast. It’s also known as the Gulf Coast.

I’d call it the Sweet Coast. With it’s sugary beaches and laid-back vibe, it was just what my soul needed.

My friend Margie gave us a lovely book as a Bon Voyage gift. The Most Scenic Drives in America should live on everybody’s coffee table. The images alone will make you want to pack a bag and head off on an adventure. Route 98, the drive along this coast of Florida is one of the featured routes. Tall pines flanked the roadway, with glimpses of the Gulf occasionally peering through.

I booked two nights at a campground directly off Route 98…the Ho-Hum RV Park. Yep, you read that correctly. This campground prides itself on its simplicity. When you rent a spot at the park, you get your water, sewer and electric hookups, a beach, a pier and a few nice porch swing chairs to view the Gulf. Each morning I took my coffee and watched the dolphins play in the water. How much better does it get?

This is what I woke up to each morning at the Ho-Hum RV Park. Far from Ho-Hum!

Well, seeing dolphins from a distance isn’t nearly as fun as seeing them up close. So, yes, it did get better as Brad and I jumped in the kayaks and frolicked with the playful creatures just off the coast of where we were camped.

We slowed our roll as we spent the few days reading, relaxing and exploring the area a bit. We drove to the little town of Carrabelle. The large marina featured charter boats in search of local fish…tarpon, grouper and red snapper (my favorite!).  We were hungry when we arrived in Apalachicola. The law mandates that no building can be taller than three stories, which made for a comfy feel to the town.

I love vibrant, active old downtowns, and Apalachicola definitely has it going on. Lots of retail, including several shops in converted old cotton warehouses. The seafood restaurants looked enticing, but as we had Luna with us, we opted for Tamara’s On the Go food truck. With a bright yellow exterior and adorable courtyard tucked around the truck, it was perfect to chill with Luna. The chef created a delicious gluten free gyro salad for me. Yum.

We drove the rest of the route, passing by St. Andrews State Park (we hiked here later in the week) and into our next destination, Panama City Beach. Our campground, Sun Outdoors Panama City Beach, was right next door to Zoo World. One morning I was greeted by their resident giraffe as she poked her head over the tall fence, as if to say hello. I woke at daybreak one day to the sounds of lions roaring their morning greeting.

Route 98 isn’t as pretty in Panama City Beach. The stretch is filled with kitschy family activities…putt-putt, go-karts and more discount beach stores than you can count. We did enjoy taking Luna to the small section of beach where dogs are allowed. Pier Park Dog Beach extends from the pier to a short distance away. Strong winds brought riptides, so we kept Luna close to the edge. We walked around the fun outdoor Pier Park Shopping Complex after to let our pup dry off. 🙂  We loved watching a young woman zig and zag while rollerblading on the streets, bopping away to the music piping outside of the stores.

Our daughter Kyle encouraged us to drive from Route 98 to Highway 30A and discover the towns along the way. Her husband Will’s family spent many summer vacations in Rosemary Beach when he was a boy. Will whisked Kyle to  the town for a weekend getaway, and she fell in love with this charming town. Serendipitously, Brad’s second cousin Jane, and her husband Gary, were renting a home in the neighboring town of Seaside during our time in the area. We went from kitschy to kismet!

Out of all the areas that we’ve ventured to over the years, I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a unique place. Each of the towns, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach and Seaside were well-planned and restrictive on their building codes. Think of Hilton Head on steroids.

Our first stop was Seaside to visit Jane and Gary. Each of the homes have names on their white picket fences. Pebbled pathways wind through the community, from the adorable square filled with shops ranging from a book store to a market with delectable edibles.

Hanging out on the outside second-level porch of Jane and Gary’s rental. Heaven.

The community church hosted a wedding the Saturday evening we were there. As the church sits amongst the quaint homes, there is a strict sound ordinance. No music after 9 PM. Perfect timing for us…we had just come back to the rental house after a dinner at the fun and delicious Café Thirty-A. The four of us decided to take Luna and their pup, Bear, out for an evening walk. When the wedding band struck up “An American Girl” as their last hurrah, I couldn’t resist. I hung out on the outskirts of the crowd, dancing away. Life is too short…dance when you can!

We had such a great time with Jane and Gary. They’ve been coming to the area for years from their home in New Orleans, so we were in excellent hands for travel guides. We took many walks, ventured to the farmer’s market Saturday morning, and hung out at the beach one afternoon. They even joined us for a cookout at the coach!

Brad and I ventured on a bike ride through Rosemary Beach. The town had a European feel to it, with it’s cobblestone streets and town square

Biking in Rosemary Beach and the town square.

Before our time in this area was just a memory, we drove to Econfina Creek, a spring fed, quiet waterway. We got a great workout paddling up stream, then turning around and floating on the return. We packed a lunch, and unlike the borrowed photo below, we didn’t see a soul. So, once again, YOLO, so what does one do in a secluded creek to cool down? I felt like a kid again as I dove into the water, naked as a jaybird, and jumped out just as fast. That water was dang cold.

Photo credit: Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Our travels are winding down…but adventures still await in Dora and Red Bay, Alabama. Stay tuned, and thanks for coming along on our journey.