Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Copper Lake Loop

Site MeterCopper Lake Loop
Aspen, CO
Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness Area

4 days, 3 nights, 27 miles total

Day 1:
Nicole's mom was cool enough to drop us off at the East Maroon Portal. So the day wasn't a total waste for her, and to warm up our muscles a little, we all hiked the two miles from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake together first, before Nicole and I headed out on our little foray into the wilderness. It was a Sunday, and the number of people was overwhelming. It's an easy hike, and Nicole and I were feeling mighty smug about the fact that we weren't even breathing hard, even though it was a steady uphill climb. Of course, that was without packs - we had no idea what was actually coming. We had a quick lunch amid dozens of other people, stopped to splash for a bit in Maroon Lake, and then headed down to the East Maroon Portal, where we would start our hike.

Look at that confident smile.
 Hahaha I had no idea what I was in for.

It was after 2:00 when we got started. We finished gearing up and posed for a few pictures before leaving her mom and daughter behind and trudging along a trail that very quickly started leaning uphill. We opted to stop and take breaks about every mile, claiming it was so we could "enjoy the scenery." At 10,000 feet elevation, oxygen is a little hard to come by, and big packs add to the struggle. My pack weighed about 32 pounds with food, water, and a bear canister. Bear canisters are required in the Maroon Bells Wildnerness - too many hiker-bear encounters. The stupid thing weighs three pounds, takes up half the space in my pack, and I was a little irritated by it.

Until three miles in. We had stopped to "enjoy the scenery" (read: rest because we were already tired) and we were looking across a meadow to the creek below. And then we saw it.

Call me naive, but just because we were hiking in bear country 
didn't mean I actually expected to SEE a bear - 
especially not two hours into our trip.

"Holy crap, that's a freakin' bear." So we did what any sane hiker would do - we jumped up and down, waved our arms, and yelled, "Hey bear! Go away, bear!" He took a couple of steps toward us, stood on his hind legs to see us better, decided we weren't worth his time, and trudged off across the creek and down the valley in the opposite direction. He was a BIG BEAR. My heart was racing a little. It was exciting to see him, and also a little unnerving, knowing that we'd be setting up camp in just a couple of hours. From then on, we took to looking behind us every so often, making sure he didn't decide to follow us after all.

Taking a break with my trusty bear canister. 
We were pretty good friends by the end of the trip.

From then on, we took the "bear rules" seriously. We cooked away from camp. We stowed the bear canister far away from the tents with all of our food, toiletries, and other smelly, bear-enticing items locked safely inside. We ended up camping in the remains of an old cabin the first night, surrounded on three sides by falling down log walls, about five miles from the trail head. We built a small fire (why does fire make you feel safe at night in the woods?) and put up our tents. We hung out for awhile before crawling into bed. It wasn't a good night's sleep. Every time the wind rustled the trees, I was sure it was a bear coming through the woods to eat me.

Really, what did I have to be nervous about? 
I mean, I had this super solid, sturdy tent to protect me from bears. 

Day 2:

We woke up early. I'm really glad Nicole's an early riser too. We packed up our tents and gear, retrieved our bear canister, and headed down the trail about half a mile, where we knew there would be a creek. We filled our water there, and decided the best place for coffee and breakfast was sitting on rocks in the middle of the creek. This was not a bad decision. It was cold, but beautiful. Finding exceptional places to have coffee became the theme of this hike. We boiled water and mixed up Starbucks instant mochas (seriously the best instant coffee I've ever had.) I had a ProBar for breakfast - after the Ouray hike, I've graduated a step up from Cliff Bars.

First, we had coffee on the rocks in the middle. 
Then, we had to walk through it. It was early, 
it was cold out, and that water was even colder. 

Day two consisted of summitting East Maroon Pass, then heading down the other side to camp at Copper Lake. We were pretty happy to know it was only five miles. But those five miles kicked our asses - we were walking up, and up, and then up some more. There was no reprieve, nothing flat, just steep or steeper. The trail is rocky and you have to concentrate to make sure you don't twist an ankle. It's not fast hiking.

At one point, the rain started. And then the rain turned to sleet. We put on our rain gear, huddled under a tree, and waited out the worst of it. But it would continue to rain off and on for the rest of the day. When we got to treeline, about half a mile from the pass, some even darker clouds rolled in. The thing about passes is that you don't want to be on top of a pass, with no tree protection, during a thunder storm. People die from making that mistake. So we chilled out at a lovely spot under some trees and overlooking a huge meadow and valley. And we waited for the rain to stop. We waited a long time. It was getting later than we liked, and the rain wasn't going anywhere. We decided to go for it. There wasn't any thunder, it was just a constant drizzle, so we decided it was probably pretty safe.

So on we trudged up the "ramp like trail" to the top of East Maroon Pass. "Ramp-like" makes it sound so gentle. Reality was that we took 100 steps, then stopped to breathe for a minute before continuing. Yes, I counted. Everyone needs a coping mechanism, counting steps is mine. It wasn't long though, and we made it to the top. I have this thing for passes. I don't necessarily always love getting to the top (more on that in a minute) but to stand up there and look out from both directions and see forever is incredible. The views never disappoint. And the adrenaline and feeling of accomplishment are worth every set of 100 steps, every single time.

From there, we headed down (finally! Down!) a fairly steep path to Copper Lake. It didn't look terrible impressive at first glance, but as we got closer, we discovered it really was a lovely little mountain lake, and one that not a whole lot of people get to camp by.

Copper Lake, from East Maroon Pass. 

At Copper Lake, you are required to camp in designated campsites, so we walked until we got to the first one we saw, and promptly dropped our packs, worn out from the day's climb. The sun was finally starting to come out, so we set up our tents, climbed in, and took a nap. It was lovely, and it was warm, and it was just what I needed. Then, since it was still really early, we wandered the campground a bit and then walked down to the lake. It was nice to see that we were the only ones camped there - an entire lake, all to ourselves for the night.

We ate reconstituted dried noodles cooked on a tiny stove, drank a little bit of whiskey, and were in bed before the sun was down. I slept good that night. I mean, good as in woke up every hour, but managed to fall back asleep. That's about the best I do when camping, most of the time.

Day 3:

We woke up, packed up, and walked back to Copper Lake for our morning coffee and a hot breakfast. It was beautiful - the rocky mountain reflected on the lake, a baby ermine sneaking around to see what goodies we had to offer, and a rock slide coming down the mountain across the lake, right over the trail we'd walked in on the day before. Awesome Coffee Spot #2 - success!

On the way to Triangle Pass. Wanna feel small?
 Stand at the bottom of an avalanche path and 
look up at the destruction. It's pretty intense.

This was going to be the hardest day. I was dreading it, if I'm being honest. Every time I looked up Triangle Pass online, I couldn't find much information. Yes, it's a definite trail. But it didn't seem like a whole lot of people actually use it. The trip reports I did find about it used words like "sketchy" and "clinging for my life". And yet somehow, I didn't take that too seriously. I should definitely rethink that the next time I'm planning a hike. From what we could tell, only a couple of people had taken that trail so far this year.

There now. Doesn't that look like a nice, friendly little trail?

But seriously, the view was incredible. A huge glacial valley.

The trail to Triangle Pass is a mile long, carved into the side of a mountain. In some sections it's very narrow, crosses scree (loose rock,) and the fall down could be pretty devastating if you slipped. The trick is just not to slip. My trail guide said, "Some sections are not safe to cross if snow is present." Of course, it wasn't specific about which sections.

I hated the snow. Snow should not be allowed to exist
 in late July, especially in places where if you slip, 
you're going all the way down.

Then there were the "sketchy" parts of the trail. It was a little washed out, it wasn't exactly level, and it felt like with each step, the rocks under my feet could give out and send me sliding down the mountain. I hit a mental barrier at one point - similar to the one I hit when climbing Mount Sneffels. I really was very content with the idea of turning around, hiking out to Crested Butte, and calling my husband for a ride. I honestly saw nothing wrong with that solution. But Nicole, being fearless as she is, refused to allow me to do that. She struck up a conversation that involved faith, quantum physics, and a debate about Joel Osteen and whether or not he's a fraud. Apparently all it took to get me through the rough spots was griping about Joel Osteen. Anyway, we made it, no worse for the wear other than my elevated heart rate. We stopped to rest after the worst part, then seeing the rain headed in, we hoofed it up to the top of the pass. I'm not ashamed to say that I absolutely laid down, right there on the top of Triangle Pass, and laughed a little hysterically.

If you click on the picture and look really close, 
you can see a thin line going all the way around the right side, 
partway up. That was the trail.
 Even just looking at the picture makes me feel a little sick.

There was a guy up there that looked surprised to see us - he'd come up from the easy side - and he was nice enough to take our picture.

Even Nicole is actually smiling. Clearly, this was a high point in the trip.
Mostly because we were both still alive.

 We enjoyed the view from both sides, breathed for a bit, but then headed down since the storm was coming in quickly.

It was only two miles to our next camp, but it felt like a really long two miles. It was beautiful though - alpine meadows with more wildflowers than you can imagine. Several creeks - which were actually snowmelt - twisted through the terrain and met up with Conundrum Creek, the main creek in the valley and the one for which it is named.

Wildflowers ferdayz

Again, as soon as we got to the camping area, we dropped our packs at the first spot we found and set up camp. This time though, we had something better than naps to look forward to - a 100 degree pool fed from a hot spring at 11,000 feet elevation. It's the highest known hot springs in North America, and we were going to soak in it.

We'd read up on it. We knew it would be busy. We also knew that it was considered a "clothing optional" hot spring. But seriously - we thought - how many people would actually be bathing in the nude, in the middle of the day, in public? Clearly, we are naive.

No sooner did we arrive at the spring and set our things down when out climbs a twenty something punk rocker, stark ass naked. And such was our introduction to a "clothing optional" hot spring. Wearing our bathing suits, we climbed into the hot water and settled in to soak and appreciate the novelty of where we were.

At one point, we struck up a conversation with a couple of naked hippies. Somehow, it turned into Nicole and I educating a pool full of people on the safety and economic value of fracking for natural gas. Honestly, I can't remember how the conversation even started, but it was kind of awesome. Our oil'n'gas husbands would have been so proud. (Well, except for maybe the naked hippie part. But whatever.)

Eventually we headed back to camp, where we continued the conversation over dinner. Mine was instant mashed potatoes. Did you know you can get instant mashed potatoes, with cheese and bacon? And for only a dollar! Heck yeah! Obviously, it doesn't take much to excite me when it comes to food in the woods after a long day. We spread our our towels and swim suits to dry, put on lots of warm clothes, and headed to bed early again that night. I would've slept great, except that my tent was set up under a pine tree, and every time the wind blew, pine cones would fall onto my rain fly, jarring me out of sleep and wondering what was going on. Note to self: don't set up tents under pine trees.

Day 4:

It's hike-out day! After three solid days of pretty tough hiking, we were both ready to be done. Only 8 and a half miles stood between us and civilization.

In keeping with our Awesome Coffee Spots, we headed back to the hot springs with our packs. We heated water next to the steaming creek, made our coffee, and sat on the edge of a smaller pool that we had to ourselves. Wearing fleece pants and down jackets, we rolled up our pant legs and soaked our feet once more. We were serenaded by a naked hippie playing a ukulele (because some people think packing a ukulele makes sense?) and watched a couple of other people pass a joint back and forth as they enjoyed the big pool at 6:30 in the morning. (Honestly, I was surprised naked hippies get up that early. Good for them. Or something.)

Note the naked hippies in the background.
 Definitely a cool, if not somewhat awkward, coffee spot.

And then we headed out. It was definitely the easiest day of hiking, except for the eight and a half miles part. But it was downhill, mostly easy trail, and we traveled pretty quickly. (For us. Which actually isn't that quickly at all.) We crossed a sketchy bridge of sorts, made it over our last creek crossing (there were three or four total, usually knee deep and so cold they gave you brain freeze.) We walked past beaver ponds, through forests, meadows, and over a rock slide. And finally we made it to the end. 23 miles. 27 if you count the "warm up" hike the first day.

It's funny what constitutes a "bridge" in the backcountry. 
A few logs strewn haphazardly across a pond? Sure, let's call that a bridge!

Because we had been forced to park an extra mile and a half from the trail head parking (there had to have been at least 50 cars there when we arrived to drop off the Jeep on Sunday) we managed to look pathetic enough that a nice older couple offered us a ride up on their tailgate. We gladly accepted. We also decided that we are now officially thru-hikers - we've added hitchhiking to our list of accomplishments!

In all, it was a gorgeous four days. The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful. Even if we didn't need a break every mile (or half mile, sometimes) it was worth stopping just to watch. We saw bear, deer, mountain goats, marmots, pika, ermine, and heard what was either an elk or moose calling, I couldn't tell which. We saw dozens of varieties of wildflowers. We met interesting people but we also enjoyed plenty of absolute solitude. We pushed past physical challenges to achieve amazing success, and we did it all on our own.

This backpacking thing... it's addicting. There's so much world out there that you can't see by car, or even by day hiking. You've got to really work for it, but it's so worth it when you do.

So, so worth it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Backpacking Canyonlands

We just couldn't wait til spring. The backpacking bug has bitten us, and it bit hard. We just couldn't bear the thought of putting our packs away for the season yet.

Yes, it's November. Late November. Yes, it was cold. But a certain desperation to be walking... walking, walking, walking convinced us that going out to the desert of Utah and staying there for three days was a good idea. And it was.

So we haphazardly planned a quick trip to Canyonlands National Park, the Needles District. We reserved campsites and watched the weather for the days leading up, ready to cancel should snow be in the forecast. There was no snow. Just cold. This trip was a great lesson in what 20 degrees actually feels like. 

We hiked out at about 3:30 on Sunday, with camp being just two miles away from the parking area. We quickly learned to follow cairns (which would become the general theme of this entire hike) and arrived at the Elephant Canyon campsite just as the sun was setting. We set up quickly. It was the first time we'd actually carried in our own tents and was our first time sleeping in tents alone. There's a certain satisfaction in doing all that, being responsible only for yourself. It felt good. We heated water for dinner on a small stove nestled in the sand - because, you know, it's the desert. There's sand everywhere. In the tent. In your shoes. In your hair. In your sleeping bag. In your stove valve. (Yeah, that wasn't ideal. Thankfully, Nicole still has eyebrows, but her hair's a bit shorter now.)

Dinner was delicious, as dehydrated backpacking meals tend to be when you're cold and hungry. As we ate, the sun disappeared completely, and by the light of the nearly full moon we could see firsthand what 20 degrees looks like in a desert canyon. It looks sparkly, actually - sparkly little ice crystals quickly building up on your tent and other gear. We added layers. I added a lot of them. Thermal pants, leggings, fleece-lined leggings, and fleece pants, a thermal top, a long-sleeved shirt, a wool sweater, a fleece, and a coat. Plus wool socks, gloves, and a balaclava. We sat there in our canyon, trying to hang out the way folks do at night when they're camping. We lasted about fifteen minutes before we gave up and went to bed, where there was a chance it would be warmer. I couldn't feel my toes. It was 6:45 pm. 

Winter nights are long. 

Honestly though, once my sleeping bag (and fleece blanket and microfiber bag liner) were warmed up, I wasn't uncomfortably cold. I tried reading though - you know, since it wasn't even 7:00 yet - and discovered there was no way I was going to be able to keep my hands outside the sleeping bag long enough to hold a book and turn pages. So I cinched up the hood of my mummy bag, wrapped my arms around me, and watched the moon come up through the thin layer of rip-stop fabric protecting me from the frozen, wild desert outside. 

It was a long night, the kind where you wake up every couple of hours but are afraid to move for fear of letting the cold in. As long as I stayed mostly still, I was actually pretty warm. I could feel my toes again by about 10:00, so that was nice. The moon was so bright that every time I woke up, I was sure it was dawn. But no, it was only 11:00. And then 1:00. Finally, dawn broke. We made coffee from our icy water in the shade of the canyon because whether the sun was up or not, it wasn't going to be reaching us until almost noon. No sense in waiting for it. We broke down camp, packed up our gear, and headed out.

The thing with ice, though, is that it melts and creates water. And water makes for wet gear. And wet gear in below freezing temperatures is less than ideal. So we changed plans for the first time. Instead of hiking for the day to visit Druid Arch, which was one of the must-see destinations for this adventure, we opted to carry our gear to the next camp site and get it set up early so it would have time to dry before another cold night. It was only a few miles away. We'd get over there real quick, then just carry day packs to Druid.

"Real quick" became a hilarious notion about two miles in. Maps are funny things. They show a trail somewhere, so you just take it blindly, until you start realizing that "trail" is a term that is sometimes used rather loosely. Our "real quick" hike on a "trail" turned out to be an hour-long scramble to cover half a mile of ground. What wouldn't be a terribly difficult task became pretty rough with 35 pounds on our backs. Your center of balance is completely off, you are no longer agile and nimble but weighted down and rather clumsy. For the first time in our adventures, we were forced to remove our packs, heave them up one at a time, and scramble up rock faces. It was hard, but quite possibly my favorite part of the whole trip. 

We made it to the next camp around noon. We set up quickly, had a bite to eat, and considered our plan. Going back across that rough trail - which at times felt nearly insurmountable - didn't sound like something either of us wanted to do. In fact, Druid Arch was seeming a little less important altogether. So we changed plans again. Instead of heading back to Druid, we packed our day packs and went off on a little 6 mile jaunt around Chesler Park. Chesler Park was easily my favorite area that we explored. It's open in the middle and surrounded by those incomprehensible rock formations for which the Needles District is famous. 

Our path quickly led us to The Joint, which might have been the neatest part of trail we encountered. Sometimes only about 15" wide and a mile in length, it was a fascinating hike, and fabulously easy with no packs on. The Joint is a deep slot canyon (actually technically not a slot, but it feels like one so I'm going to call it one) that is mostly sandy on the bottom, involves only a bit of scrambling, and provides a great place to find out whether or not you are claustrophobic. I'd always wondered. It turns out I'm not, so that's good.

After the Joint, we continued our trek around Chesler Park, rewarded with great views and legs that felt a little bit like Jello. We hiked 9 miles that day total, including the morning's difficult climb up and back down the canyon walls. We were back at camp in time to watch the sun go down as we fixed dinner. Then we layered up again. It was about ten degrees warmer the second night. It's amazing how much difference ten degrees can make. I managed to read for a couple of hours before I went to sleep and spent a comfortably warm 30-ish degree night sleeping (for the most part) soundly. 

We woke around 6:30. We skipped coffee that morning, opting to get an early start. We were going 3 miles back over the Trail From Hell to Druid Arch, then back, before packing up our gear and hiking 4.5 miles out that afternoon. With day packs filled with necessities and water that was happily not frozen on this morning, we set off. It turns out the Trail From Hell wasn't really difficult at all, once you aren't carrying all your necessities strapped to your back. We leaped like gazelles over chasms, scrambled quickly and nimbly up and down canyons, and arrived at the start of the Druid Arch trail with time to spare. Funny what a difference a pack makes.

The Druid Trail is essentially just a two mile walk down a riverbed settled into a canyon. At one point we got off the trail a little bit and ended up finding a pond - a virtual oasis in the desert. It was a great spot for breakfast, so we sat for a short bit before backtracking. The last quarter mile or so of the Druid Trail was a little harrowing. There's something about scrambling up a dry, slickrock waterfall wearing old boots with very little tread that makes your heart drop into your stomach and stay there for awhile. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't actually as bad as it felt when I was doing it. It's definitely time for new boots, though. Once up that, it's more scrambling, climbing a ladder, more scrambling, and then we were rewarded with a lovely view of the arch.... in the shade. Leaving at 7:00 am in the winter meant we arrived too early to see the sun lighting up the arch like we'd hoped. But whatever. It was cool, and we got there. We sat for a few minutes, but we had a lot of hiking left that day, so we headed back down. Sliding down the waterfall wasn't as terrifying as I was expecting it to be, and we made good time on the way out. We leaped and climbed and scrambled our way back over the Trail From Hell (that I was actually really enjoying by the third time) and got our gear packed up.

The four and a half miles out felt long, probably because we'd already covered six miles of ground that morning. It was a beautiful hike though, difficult enough to be interesting but not frustrating. We took the northern cross-trail out to the parking area. In the whole time we were out there, we saw only the occasional couple of people hiking together. Late fall in a national park affords a lot more peace and solitude than the busier times. But by the time we got to the last few miles, we started passing a number of folks out on day hikes. I was surprised how busy the trail was for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. 

We made it out at 3:30 - exactly 48 hours after we'd set out. 21.5 miles total in just about 20 hours of daylight, and average of a little more than 10 miles a day. Not exceptional, but for us, it's something to be proud of. 

Harvey Girls and Homeschool

Site MeterWe had the most amazing, silliest dinner tonight.

Littlest One made a menu (where we were "surving" sweet and "souer" turkey with corn on the cob,) and dressed up like a Harvey Girl. She practiced serving (serve from the left, take from the right) and set the table just beautifully, complete with candles and a bouquet.

As we sat, my daughters and I, The Oldest said, "Let's pretend we're from the Industrial Age!" And so we chatted about the happenings of the day:

"Did you hear about the Massacre up at Little Big Horn? Wasn't that just the most awful thing you've heard in years?"

"I read in the paper the other day about a real, live aeroplane actually flying in the air! It said the Wright Brothers built it. And here I thought only birds could fly."

"And have you seen those new-fangled horseless carriages that Ford is building? Why, who would've ever thought we'd be going around in big hunks of steel with motors inside?"

In order to get the real effect, you have to read all that in a high-pitched voice with silly accents that make absolutely no sense.

The Oldest chimed in, "My family immigrated to New York City from New Zealand. We used to eat kiwi there. It was delicious!"

"The fruit, or the bird?"

"Both!" she said. "They taste great, but they're kind of fuzzy."

"The fruit, or the bird?"

"Both!" she said.

The giggling commenced, and didn't stop much after that.

We continued to talk about the things they're learning in school right now, all as though we were really just hearing about them and were fascinated by such things.

I can't think of a better way to review school lessons. And it ended with my Harvey Girl insisting on washing the dishes.

A Painful Lesson From An Honest Child

Site MeterWhen I set out to parent Two Little Ladies, I had this (possibly ridiculous) ideal: I would always take the time to teach them to do things, even if it meant that the task took three (or ten) times longer than it would if I did it myself.

This has been an effective strategy on many fronts. My eight year old can bake bread with very little help. My thirteen year old can care for horses, cows, goats, and poultry with no instruction. Both girls, together, could run this household and farm for a few days if they needed to (and if I'm sick, they do.) They can cook meals, they can clean, and they could even grocery shop if they had a ride to the store.

But I'm not always successful in that endeavor to always have patience in teaching them. The reality of my failure in my attempts was brought about today in a little conversation I had with my girls.

After I'd finished milking the goats, I handed the full pail to The Oldest and told her to take the milk in and strain it while I finished watering and other chores outside. When I got inside, I found Littlest One just finishing pouring the milk through the filter and rinsing the pail and milking cup. I turned to The Oldest.

"Why is your sister straining the milk for you?" (I admit, I was incensed. Littlest One had already taken care of half the barn chores. She'd done her duties for the morning.)

"It's not my fault! She came in, told me I was doing it wrong, and then told me to just go feed the dogs because it was easier if she did it herself!"


To be fair, Littlest One does the majority of the milking chores with me. The Oldest takes care of all the poultry. But there was some truth in that statement: how often do I give the kids other, simpler chores, so that I can take care of things myself when they are "doing it wrong"? Children are impeccably good at emulating their parents, and this was a perfect example of that.

There's so much value in having the patience to muddle through the mundane tasks, to explain over and over and over again how they are done, so that some day, the girls can do them without help. I like to think I'm good about that. But Littlest One's statement today made me realize I better get better at it - the only reason she'd say such a thing is because she's probably heard it herself. I'm sure there are times that shoo them away and take over so that things get done right.

In my attempt to grow character and teach my children life skills this summer, I'm going to take this lesson to heart!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summer Vacation 2016

Site MeterSomething big happened today.

For the first time since I started homeschooling (8 years ago!) I declared this week that we are going to take Summer Vacation.

In the past, I've avoided it. I hate the thought of them forgetting the last 6 months' work for the sake of 3 months off school. Instead, we've taken one or two week long vacations throughout the year, when we just felt like we needed it. It's always worked well and we've always been happy with that arrangement.

But things change. Kids get older and busier, life situations take new turns, and needs change. And right now, we NEED a break. A really, really long one. One that involves sleepovers on the trampoline, staying up late, sleeping in, and not keeping any kind of schedule. And for those of you who know me and how much I really, honestly adore schedules, you'll realize that's a pretty serious thing to say.

Once upon a time, I started this blog and named it "The Little Things" because I wanted to focus on all the wonderful, mundane things that made our lives special in my eyes. I keep losing those things. Life is a game of Tetris, trying to fit in school, farm work, house work, extra curricular activities, and whatever else needs to be done into the finite number of hours each day offers. And I'm tired. They're tired. We aren't enjoying these days like we should be.

Having "big kids" is a whole different ball game than the Two Little Girls I used to write about each day. Those Two Little Girls are now Two Little Ladies, and they have lives of their own that I'm struggling to keep up with while I'm still trying to live mine, and somehow keep them all intertwined the way I feel like they need to be.

I've spent time over the past year prioritizing and re-prioritizing, and something clicked for me this spring. Math, English, History, Science... those things are officially off the top ten list. Cora is reading now, above grade level and has (mostly) mastered her math facts. In homeschooling, that is a HUGE hump to get over. It's time for a break. We've earned it.

I have goals for this summer, though. It's not all going to be days of freedom, traipsing around the property in the sunshine. (Thought plenty of that is certainly on the to-do list.) We will focus on real life. The girls will be cooking, cleaning, practicing animal husbandry and gardening. We will spend time each day reading our Bibles and doing what we call "Character Study" - which I am convinced is even more important that finding common denominators in fractions. We will put everything we have into their 4-H projects, from art and knitting and sewing to raising poultry, training dogs, and riding horses. They will spend this summer learning how to learn, learning to follow through with difficult tasks, learning to put others before themselves, and learning how to be responsible for themselves and their actions. Those things are things schools forget about sometimes, but they are what makes life good and worthwhile.

It's also going to be a summer spent forming habits. I have a list of habits I want them to form, and a list I want to form myself. I want them to read every day, no matter what it is. I want them to help someone else each day, so that some day it becomes natural to them. I want them to start looking for what needs to be done and do it without being asked. I want the house to stay clean and the food to be cooked from scratch and the dishes to be washed. Above all else, I am raising Two Little Ladies to become excellent wives and mothers. They need skills that aren't going to be found in any curriculum, and they need attitudes that allow them to accomplish tasks with joy.

As for me, I want to teach myself to approach every task in my life with love, joy, and gratitude. I want to model those things for my girls. I want to take time each day for myself and my own hobbies, something I have been ignoring since we moved here. I want to show myself and my children the value in helping and giving to others. And I want blogging and taking daily photos to become habit again. I want to document these sweet, precious moments in their lives - in our lives. They may not be toddlers anymore, saying adorable things and just starting to experience the world. But each day of their lives should be treasured because honestly, they are flying by much faster than I am comfortable with.

So here we go - welcome to Summer Vacation 2016!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

One Word 2016: Balance

Site MeterI usually start off the year knowing what my word will be. But this year, nothing was coming to mind. Last year's One Word - peace - was so successful. I mean, there were definitely some failing moments, but for the most part, I experienced the most peaceful year I ever have. My anxiety was at an all time low thanks to extreme consciousness. I allowed myself a day each week to re-group, to relax and just enjoy all that life is.

But what about this year? Having (mostly) successfully found peace, what do I focus on now?

It finally came to me this morning, when I went back to my morning yoga routine now that the holidays are over and I can settle back into my "normal." I was standing there, one leg up and my arms extended above my head, when my One Word popped into my head.


Balance is what keeps the peace once you find it. It's how you take care of yourself while still taking care of everyone else. It's found in every aspect of life: nutrition, exercise, work, play, emotions, education.

By nature, I am a woman of extremes. I'm an all-or-nothin' kind of gal. Therein lies my inherent difficulty with keeping the peace I worked so hard last year to achieve. Not every aspect of my life has to be extreme. I'm the kind of person that either does something so completely and entirely that I am overly successful, or I don't do it at all. If I'm going to grow a garden, I'm going to kill myself making sure it is the biggest, best garden I've ever grown and I'm going to produce 1458 pounds of produce, dammit. If I'm going to knit a sweater, I'm not going to settle for simple, easy-to-knit garment, it's going to be the most complicated lace pattern and structural design I can find. If I'm going to feed my family healthy food, every bite of it is going to be home grown, home made, and practically gourmet in its presentation, or I'll deem myself a failure as a housewife.


Perfection has a way of eating a person away, slowly but surely, until their self confidence and self worth have dwindled down to nothing.

Balance is key. It is possible to do something and be successful without being the very best. Not every single thing I do has to be a competition with myself.

So this year, I'm going to balance my life. I'm going to give up perfectionistic extremes. I'm going to balance the time I spend caring for others with the time I spend caring for myself. I'm going to balance work with relaxation.

I'm going to keep the peace.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Crazy Diet: Week One Diary

Site MeterIf you read what I've eaten this week, you'll notice a few things: 

* This isn't exactly a Candida diet, but similar.
* This isn't exactly Paleo, but similar. Both of these facts are because I know my body well enough to know what works, what doesn't, and what I need to do. I may limit certain foods here and there just to see how I react, too.
* I've cheated once or twice. Partly because I started on a whim before I'd been to the store, and partly because I lack an exceptional amount of self control, which is pretty necessary to be 100% successful.

In addition to the food listed here, I've been drinking a couple of mugs of hot tea (green tea, dandelion, ginger and once in awhile vanilla chai.) I add fresh lemon or lime to everything but the chai.

Day 1: Monday

I didn't go grocery shopping before I started this, so I'm working with what I have on hand for a couple days.

Breakfast: goat sausage (homemade, only goat meat and spices) sauteed with peppers, leeks and onions. Surprisingly good and very filling.

Lunch: Tuna salad (a bowl of canned tuna, olives, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers with an apple cider vinegar-based dressing.) This would be better with some kind of cracker, or at least wrapped in lettuce, but this is what I had.

Dinner: Crock pot roast beef with quinoa on the side. Needed more veggies but all I had was carrots and potatoes, and I need to limit starchy foods for awhile. Would've been good with a pile of sauteed spinach.

I also took a pretty hefty dose of probiotics and anti-fungals, including teas and chopped raw garlic.

Day 2: Tuesday

Breakfast: quinoa with dressing.

Lunch: I skipped lunch. By this time, I could feel the die-off reaction and I laid in bed for six hours. I fully regret taking so many anti-fungal herbs all at once now. I'd never experienced die-off before and didn't think it could really be that bad. I was wrong.

Dinner: Blueberry smoothie (raw yogurt, blueberries, chia seeds and walnuts.) This was easy on my stomach that was pretty sure I was trying to kill it.

Day 3: Wednesday

Breakfast: quinoa, warm with cinnamon, stevia, and goat milk. Seriously not good. Made me miss sugar, and I usually don't mind not having sugar.

Lunch: Chipotle (we were out running errands. And finally buying groceries!) I had a chicken bowl with brown rice, chicken, lettuce, medium salsa. I only ate half.

Dinner: My leftover Chipotle bowl.

Day 4: Thursday

Breakfast: coconut flour waffles with raw butter, homemade unsweetened wild-apple sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon. Really, really good. My kids even loved the waffles, though they had theirs with maple syrup.

Lunch: My favorite version of a gluten-free "sandwich" - brown rice tortilla spread with roasted red pepper hummus, sliced turkey, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, and a fresh tomato from my garden. I love that meal and could eat it almost daily.

Dinner: Gluten free pasta (tinkyada brand) topped with a sauce I made from garden veggies: tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and basil roasted in the oven at 425 for half an hour, then blended up with a stick blender. A big salad on the side with apple cider vinaigrette.

Way too many grains today, but I didn't feel bad. In fact, my stomach is finally starting to feel normal after my excessive herb dose on Monday. Started taking a much more reasonable amount of anti-fungals again. Also taking a very high quality probiotic.

Day 5: Friday

Breakfast: blueberry smoothie with raw yogurt, blueberries, spinach, coconut oil, and chia seeds. Very tasty, but I was starving by 10:30. Had a handful of walnuts and unsweetened coconut chips for a snack.

Lunch: used the leftover gluten free pasta to make a pasta salad - tomatoes, olives, onions, proscuitto and sunflower seeds with the rest of my apple cider dressing.

Dinner: chicken tacos. I threw a (home grown) chicken in the crock pot early. I shredded it and added spices (cumin, chili powder, fresh garlic, sea salt, oregano, onion powder) and mixed it with a bit of olive oil. Also made a pico with garden tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapenos, lime juice and raw garlic. Instead of tortillas I made my "taco" on leaves of romaine lettuce. I loved it and didn't feel deprived at all. I also tried avocado again today. I really want to like it, but I still don't.

(Side note: you'll also notice eggs are missing from my breakfasts. It's not that I'm allergic, I just really, really hate eggs. I have since I was a child. I can't even muster up the courage to try them again yet. Maybe soon. Ugh. I know they'd be good for me.)

I also tried a Pinterest recipe for gluten, sugar, and dairy free snickerdoodles. It was a good reminder of how much cookies suck on this diet. They look like cookies. They have the texture of cookies. And yet, they taste nothing like cookies. The stevia leaves a bitter taste and doesn't really provide much sweet. Cinnamon that isn't mixed with sugar isn't very good. The texture was great though - coconut flour is interesting to work with. I might run with the base and rework it a little next time. I imagine some nuts chopped up and honey (in a few weeks) would be pretty good.

Day 6: Saturday

Breakfast: leftover chicken from last night's tacos with sauteed spinach, topped with pico. Yum!

Lunch: tuna, olives, tomato and hummus wrapped in lettuce leaves. Definitely not enough. Ate two fake snickerdoodles for a snack an hour later.

Dinner: We ran the Glow Run 5k tonight. Dinner was served after - really, really good Mexican food. I opted for a beef and bean burrito with no tortilla. It was served with rice and topped with lettuce and tomato. I'm sure there was cheating in there, but I'd just run my first 5k. I didn't care. I also followed that up with a shot of vodka on ice when I got home. (I read that, of all alcohol, vodka and gin are the "safest". I have no idea if that's true. But it was nice to have a sip of something, and I love vodka straight.)

As far as I could tell, I suffered no ill effects from my little bits of cheating today, except that I slept poorly and had a crazy-weird dream involving a Messianic woman trying to steal my husband and me getting a job at his work and having to fire the lady that works at the library. Yeah, don't ask.

Day 7: Sunday

Breakfast: blueberry smoothie with coconut chips in it. Also potatoes. Because we ate at my parents' house. It's really, really hard to say no to my mama's cooking. I packed my own smoothie, and had some hash browns while everyone else had biscuits and gravy. The feeling of deprivation was mild, surprisingly. Especially since biscuits and gravy is my favorite food.

Lunch: Chipotle. When we go to The Big City, we eat out. And apparently Chipotle will be the only place we eat anymore. It's all good though. I love me some chicken bowl. About mid-way through the afternoon, after much grocery shopping (and therefore thinking about food,) I gave in and had a blueberry Lara bar.

Dinner: I'm excited about this one. Moose steaks, mashed garlic sweet potatoes, and roasted broccoli. I mean, um, moose steaks! It was a gift from a guy that Andrew helped last week. It was so, so good to eat wild game again. I missed it. And I finally found a form of broccoli I can eat without gagging. It was, I would dare to say, almost even actually good. This dinner was a win all around.

Today was a high-sugar day, which I feel just slightly bad about. But none of it was because of sweeteners. There was a banana in my smoothie, dates in the Lara bar, and sweet potatoes for dinner. The funny thing is, I can feel myself sort of craving sugar, something I normally don't do. Not sure if there's a correlation there or not.

So, week 1 final thoughts: I'm not going to be able to do this perfectly. I know me, I know my life, and I know reality. I cheated a few times, though I haven't had any added sugar or sweeteners and I haven't had any gluten. One drink, three servings of sweet fruit... other than that, I was pretty successful. I noticed today that I wasn't experiencing my typical afternoon crash that usually happens around 2:00. No headaches, stomach pain, etc. I have tons of energy, and I feel really good. I'm also enjoying trying new recipes and new ways of cooking foods I don't normally like. I'm feeling pretty good going into week two!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

It's Time.

Site MeterIt's time again for the Crazy Diet. This was the term coined by The Oldest the last time I went on this diet. I lasted a full three months - my goal.

So what is the Crazy Diet? Basically, no sugar (or sweetener of any kind including honey, etc.), no gluten, no dairy, no caffeine, no alcohol, and limited fruit and grains.

How can I tell it's time again? I just don't feel amazing. I'm always tired, I'm moody and irritable, my skin keeps breaking out and my hair's really brittle. My stomach has a tendency to cramp to the point where my back hurts something awful every time I eat a piece of bread or a pancake. I just don't have the energy and motivation I normally do.

I'm altering the diet a bit based on what I know I need, having spent several years listening to what my body is telling me. I know I'm gluten intolerant. Every time I eat it I feel kind of sick. But I also really, really love bread so I'm usually willing to suffer. Sugar affects me too - makes me super exhausted and I don't sleep well. Because starches like white potatoes and beans convert to sugar in the body, I'm cutting those for awhile too. And fruit, because while it's healthy, it's also sugar. I'm limiting dairy to only raw goat's milk and raw goat's milk yogurt, and only in moderation. I know from experience that I can tolerate raw milk just fine.

So what am I going to eat? Pretty much just meat and vegetables. I'll have a serving of grains (whole grains, gluten free) each day if it fits into a meal, or a serving of low sugar fruit (berries and citrus.) I'm going to stay pretty strict for 3 weeks or so, do a bit of a "system restore" on my body. After that I'll head mostly paleo, with meat and veggies being primary, but adding in a bit of natural sweetener. I know I need to give up gluten and sugar for the long term.

It's not an easy diet. But I feel so, so much better when I stick to it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sneffels Part Two: The Climb

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Before this, I'd never climbed a fourteener. I'd never really cared to. But there was something about that mountain that had drawn me to it, that made me desperate to stand on top of it. 

I was mildly confident we could do it. After all, hundreds if not thousands of people successfully climb to the top every year. If they could do it, why couldn't I? I did a fair bit of research, I had a route guide printed out complete with pictures, and I'd read blogs and trip reports. It was intimidating, but I was sure we could handle it. We're in pretty decent shape, right? But no. Those pictures, those trip reports... nothing could have prepared me for what we were about to do. I seem to have a habit of underestimating nature. I should stop that.

We walked up the trail a ways and dropped our packs. We stuffed some necessities into a day pack, put on our helmets and gloves, and started up. It got hard, fast. It doesn't look that steep until you're standing at the foot of that first slope. It's long and it goes straight up. There's what looks like a sort of trail, but as soon as you get to it you realize there's no way on God's green earth you're going to use it. It's slicker than even the Blue Lakes Pass trail. You take a step, and your foot slides out from under you as the gravel slips all around. We moved over to the left. The rocks were big, some even boulder-sized. That seemed much better. I was on all fours, using my arms as much as my legs to propel myself upward. (My gloves were the best thing I'd brought with me. I'd taken trekking poles, but didn't use them long.)

 Every third step or so, whatever rock your foot was on would drop out from under you and leave you desperately trying to find another spot to put your foot while that rock made its way down the mountain. At some point, the boulders turned into talus - rocks about the size of my hand, loose and ready to slide at any moment. There was a moment when I couldn't find anything solid to hold onto. My heart was back up in my throat - it spent a lot of time there on this trip - and I just laid on the rocks until I could get my courage back up. And then we kept going. It took an unreasonably long time to make it to the top of the slope. But then we sat there on the saddle and looked around, and it was absolutely incredible. There was only one other group of climbers at that point - they'd made it to the top just before us and had continued on. We watched them for awhile, soaked in the view, and breathed some of that thin mountain air before continuing.

What you can't see from the bottom of the scree slope is just what the Lavender Couloir actually looks like. You make it up to the col, and you think you've done great. And then you turn, and you look up. It's shorter than the first slope, but it's twice as steep and twice as rough. Back on all fours, we made our way up, hand over foot. I'm a hiker. My leg muscles are pretty stout. My arms? Not so much. And they were getting one hell of a workout.

We made pretty good time, considering. And then I remembered The Notch. I'd read about it. Everyone made it sound so scary. But I'd also seen pictures, and it didn't look so terrible. And then I got there.

"Exposure" is the word they kept using when they described it. What is exposure? Apparently it's a 100 foot sheer drop off only inches away from where you're expected to climb. It was at this moment that I developed a fear of heights. I sat against the wall and declared to my husband that I didn't really care to get to the top, after all. There was no. way. in. hell. that I was going to climb up through that God-forsaken notch and risk my life to get to the top of some silly mountain. So I sat there. And I cussed a lot. I had hit a psychological barrier and there simply would not be any going further. I wanted to cry. I almost threw up.

And then I sucked it up, and I started up. Andrew was behind me, helping me find footing. Being a short person at that notch is not ideal. But the hand holds were solid, and using some of the upper arm strength that I only managed to muster because I really didn't want to die, I pulled myself up and through it. And he followed, with no trouble. Apparently, this is a Class 3 climbing maneuver. I know now that I'm very comfortable being a Class 2 climber. Physically, I was perfectly capable. Mentally? Not so much. But I did it.

They say, "Once you get through the notch, it's easy." They lie. I think maybe it really was pretty easy, but I was still freaked out about the exposure and I was flat out terrified as we climbed the last 150 feet. It's a long way down if you screw up.

And then, there we were. On top of the tallest mountain I'd ever stood on, a solid 2,000 feet higher than I'd ever stood before. I was dizzy and elated and scared to death and so freaking happy I couldn't contain it - all at the same time. We visited with a couple other folks who had made it before us. I thought about eating something and decided that would be positively stupid. We signed the summit log and took some pictures. We stared all around us. It felt like we were on top of the world.

The views we'd enjoyed as we'd hiked through the basin were nothing compared to the way it looked from the top. It was breathtaking. It was dizzying. You could see for miles.

And then, only because there really wasn't any other option, we headed down. Down is not easy. Down is, in fact, harder than up in a lot of ways. Going through the notch was equally as scary as it was the first time - this time I was on my belly and couldn't see what I was doing. Going down the couloir was a whole new experience, one that used new muscle groups. I quickly decided the easiest way down was sitting on my butt. Most of the way, I "crab-walked" down, my arms and legs holding my butt a couple inches off the ground. (There's not far to fall if you do it this way!) On the slick parts, I'd just sit down and go for it, sliding till my feet hit a rock and stopped me. I felt a little silly, sliding like a child. Then later, I learned there's a technical term for this method: it's called a "seated descent." That made me feel better. Truthfully though, you get to the point where all you want is to get down off the mountain in one piece, and if that means sliding all the way, you do it.

My muscles were sore. I didn't use any of the hiking muscles that have gotten pretty strong this year. I used my arms and abs and muscles I didn't know I had. Putting on my pack at the bottom was a whole new experience - a painful one, because my shoulders were stiff and sore from the climb. We hiked out that afternoon.

I learned some things on this mountain, this mountain that I knew had to be my first fourteener. I learned that getting to the summit really isn't the whole point of the climb. It's the climb itself. It's pushing yourself, breaking through psychological barriers, digging out courage you didn't know you had. It's physical exertion that makes you feel incredibly strong. It's appreciating the mountain for all that it is, not just the summit. Climbing a mountain gives you this intense respect for nature - for its power and timelessness and its minute detail that is so easily overlooked, even from the base of the mountain. Reaching the summit was just the mid-way point of an awesome adventure, one I won't forget and that I'm so glad I had. Through all of it - the physical exhaustion, the fear, the breathlessness and the beauty - I never once regretted doing it.

You have to do incredible things to see incredible places. The harder it is to get there, the more worth it the trip becomes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Sneffels Trip: Part One

So let's start this post off by stating a very important fact: I'm not a mountain climber. I've never been a mountain climber, and I've never wanted to be a mountain climber. I'm a hiker. I love walking.

That said, I've spent a fair bit of time this summer walking around in the Sneffels Wilderness in the San Juan mountains, staring at that big, beautiful, brutal mountain and wondering what it would be like to stand on top of it.

So I decided to find out. 

My husband and I planned a three day trip to the Ouray area that would include camping at the Upper Blue Lake and climbing Mount Sneffels. It's fair to say this trip was somewhat spontaneous - we had a vague idea of what we planned to do and how we planned to do it, but much of it was "we'll see when we get there."

We drove to Ouray and then further on into Yankee Boy basin.

This was our second time driving this road to get to what is arguably the prettiest spot in all of Colorado. I didn't enjoy the drive much the first time, and I didn't care for it much this time, either. Single-lane shelf road, sometimes with an overhang. But getting to the most beautiful places on earth is never easy.

We drove as far as was reasonable without a Jeep, to a sign that said "Four wheel drive, high clearance, short wheel base vehicles only." This put us about a mile from the trail head. We donned our packs (mine weighed 34 lbs, his weighed 50) and started off. Instead of heading toward toward the Mt. Sneffels trailhead, we took the Blue Lakes Pass trail uphill, above treeline, and right into the center of the basin. 

It's one of those places that takes your breath away. (Or that could have been the fact that we were walking up hill above 12,000 feet.) Either way, it's gorgeous. Mount Emma to our left with Gilpin Peak behind it, and to our right, towering above us were Teakettle and Coffeepot peaks. There was a creek with cascading waterfalls along the trail falling into an incredibly deep canyon, and we passed Wright's Lake, a small glacial lake. And just past that, up a bit more of the hill, and we could see Sneffels in all its glory, towering menacingly above. No picture that has ever been taken could do this basin justice. You stand there, surrounded by these huge, jagged, foreboding peaks, and you feel so small and insignificant. Above treeline, the flora is minimal - short grasses, a few flowers that have survived into fall. And rocks. So, so many rocks - piles of them here and there, undoubtedly from rockslides in years past - these mountains are crumbling a little bit every day.

The Blue Lakes Pass summit was only about two and a half miles from the truck. Our plan was to cross the summit and continue down the other side to the Upper Blue Lake and set up camp for the night. We summited. It was a view I'd been waiting to see for months.

 Incredible and perfect and beautiful.

And then we started down.

It wasn't long before we realized it was stupid. The trail wasn't much more than a foot wide, traveling steeply downhill and not ever actually flat. And looking down was about 900 feet of elevation loss in very short time. A steep, nasty, dangerous rocky mountain. One slip and, with packs, we could find ourselves at the bottom, and likely severely injured. Why we kept going, I'll never know. But we did keep going, about halfway down the trail. It was a well packed trail with little bits of gravel scattered all over it - perfect for slipping on. I slipped several times, my heart jumping into my throat each time I steadied myself. At some point I asked why we were doing this. Plans can change, right? So we - very carefully - turned around and started heading back up. I was terrified. I actually made him hold my hand for the steepest parts. One foot in front of the other, tiny steps at a time, and we summitted the pass again. One more look down at those gorgeous, turquoise-blue lakes, and we started looking for any flat spot to pitch a tent.

We found it not far away, right at the foot of Sneffels.

We laid there in the grass, relishing the feeling of solid ground beneath us, and rested while we watched the last of the day's hikers come back down the scree slope of Sneffels. One guy fell hard - completely laid out, on his back. He slid down on his butt after that. Smart move, dude. We watched for awhile as a couple of older gals came down, slower than slow. I will never judge them for their pace. They didn't get hurt, therefore they won. Then we headed down to a mountain spring for water, about 1/4 mile down the trail. 

So while we weren't camped where we'd intended, we ended up sleeping in what is hands down the prettiest place I've ever slept in my life, in absolute solitude. We dined on freeze-dried beef stroganoff and white wine in our enamel camp cups. It was a fantastic dinner. Then we set up the tent and were asleep by 8:30, exhausted. 

Morning came quickly, and we broke down camp. It was frigid - cold enough that ice had formed inside our Nalgene bottles. We heated water for tea, ate cold bagels with cream cheese, and enjoyed our breakfast while watching the sun light up the mountains surrounding us. It was COLD. I couldn't feel my fingers, and the feeling in my toes was going fast. And in less than two hours, we'd be climbing the massive mountain we were looking at.