Oh Canada: The Lakehouse

Though we love our annual trip to Lake Okanagan, a week-long stay is a bit too long for me (disclaimer: I start to get the most antsy when it is 100+ degrees, which isn’t super fun when the house is sweltering). However this year we only had four nights and five days that I discovered was way too short. So, here’s for hoping we find our happy medium.

It’s taken me quite a few years to acclimate to the water. It’s amazing my brother Pat and I are even related given how obsessed he is with boating because we never grew up around it. He just bought a fancy fifth wheeler that is parked at Keho Lake for optimal kiteboarding opportunities and travels the world seeking the next big adventure.

This year was a milestone for our family: we were all able to wakesurf on our own and we loved it! Bode tried last year but needed help getting out of the water from Jane. They purchased a new kid-sized surfboard and that made all the difference. So dang fun! 

The kid even learned to walk on water.

Jamie and I hate to admit it but Hadley surpassed us out there. By the end of the week, she was able to drop the rope and was figuring out how to ride the wake. I wish she had more chances to go because she could be really good.

Jamie did pretty darn awesome as well. We were at the same level all week and on the very last run, something clicked and surfed better than he ever has. Note: This happens to us every ski season as well…your skiing is at its very best on the last day and then we have to wait for the following year.

Of course, there is always this. Tubing: It’s not for grownups. 

The only traditions we weren’t able to fit in were Screamers (part slushy, part ice cream) and backyard movie night on Todd’s beach because massive flooding completely took out his yard. And we added some new ones: Ashton and I did an “Olympic swim training” and by the last day, several of the kids had joined in.

Of course, there was the annual dive-off. Yes, Pat won AGAIN.

My niece Emily brought her beau to the lake: Jer the Irishman. He almost died during the dive-off but no judgment here; I won’t get my face wet.

Of course, we had to go to tourist trap Davison Orchards for their out-of-this world fresh apple slushies, peach pies and fuuuuuudge.

And lots of quality cousin time.

Jax’s charming glasses

After such a memorable week at play, maybe just maybe Pat will make water people out of us all. Here’s to next summer at the lake!

A Return to Colorado: Jet Boat Colorado Edition

I wouldn’t say I “feel the need for speed” but as we raced across the Colorado River with Jet Boat Colorado, I sure did like it. A lot. 

I had never heard of jet boating until a friend went to New Zealand last year and posted a video of her 45 mph adventure through narrow canyons as their boat barely skirted the banks of the river. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to try it out myself until I learned Jet Boat Colorado offers Coloradoans the same adrenaline-charged adventure as our Kiwi counterparts on a slice of the Colorado River outside of De Beque, a historic community nestled near the Roan Plateau and Grand Junction.

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A Return to Colorado: The Broadmoor Edition

The perfect end to the perfect week in Colorado was three days of perfection at The Broadmor. And there’s no better way to kick off Said Perfection by dining in the 5-star Penrose Room after a grubby week of getting dirty in the backcountry. Fortunately, we clean up nicely.

I loooove Bode’s cultured conversation starters when he’s trying to act proper. Last time as he surveyed the menu, he observed “I hear the salad is quite good here” and this time, it was, “Sooooooo, taxes these days.”

Early the next morning, I went for my traditional solo hike up North Cheyenne Canon and raced back to get ready to The Broadmoor’s fabulous brunch.  Bananas foster. Shrimp diablo. Plum Calvados Crepes. We take our brunching very seriously and Hadley went into panic mode after round 3. “I don’t know what to get now….I feel so empty inside…oh wait, I’m rather full.” These are true First World Problems, people.

One of the highlights of visiting in the summer is renting a cabana by the pool and almost without fail, rain always interferes with our plans. Fortunately, we were able to soak it all in for 1.5 hours before calling it quits and taking a nap in our rooms. 

We are all obsessed with The Broadmoor but no one more than this guy. Every other restaurant or hotel pales in comparison as he sputters out “This would never happen at The Broadmoor,” which means 99.9 perent of his life is a disappointment. I found him napping like this in his luxurious robe that afternoon. At least 0.1 percent of his life is bliss.

That evening, we dined at our favorite restaurant, The Summit, followed by bowling at Play at The Broadmoor. I was worried how Hadley would do with her broken arm but she bowled her first strike ever, thereby proving that maybe having a handicap can actually be helpful. 

The next day, we had one of Colorado’s most epic experiences via the Pikes Peak Cog Reailway! I’ve climbed several 14,000-foot peaks but nothing can quite prepare you for arriving at the summit of 14,114-foot Pikes Peak via the world’s highest Cog Train and being greeted by an onslaught of out-of-shape tourists. If you can’t beat ‘em, you’d better believe we joined ‘em by eating fresh doughnuts and relishing the views from the summit.

Later that evening, 10 days of beautiful Colorado scenery overload was capped off by  Seven Falls and delicious dinner at The Broadmoor’s 1858 restaurant. As I looked across the table at these exhausted, happy people, my heart was so full. We may not always be at our best at home but when adventuring, we shine as our best selves. And it makes all those painful road trips when they were younger to see the avid travelers they have become.

Leaving The Broadmoor always feels like I’m leaving a part of me behind. As we pulled into our neighborhood after the long drive home Jamie observed, “Arvada no longer feels like home and Midway has yet to feel like home. The only place I feel at home is at The Broadmoor.”

We couldn’t agree with you more.

A Return to Colorado: The Keystone Edition

We were in the car for much of our trip to Colorado. In addition to the 9-hour drive from Utah, Keystone Science School was about 1.5 hours away from Denver and Crested Butte was another 3 hours away (where Jamie and I spent Tuesday through Friday). Early Friday morning, we made the 4-hour drive from Denver to pick-up Hadley at the airport (stopping at Country Road Cafe in Kittredge en route to brunch with my dear friend Tina). Then it was another 1.5 hours back to Keystone. We picked up Bode on Saturday and drove to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, another 2.5 hours. And then there was the final 9.5-hour drive back to Utah at the end of it all.

That’s 30+ hours of driving. Fortunately, I had downloaded Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, the survival story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed somewhere deep in the Andes. The intersection of much of our trip was off Highway 285 in the heart of 14er country so it was fascinating to have this backdrop as we listened to this harrowing story.

As we crafted our Colorado itinerary, we knew we had to plan our activities around picking up and dropping off Bode at Keystone Science School so that involved spending two nights in Keystone. I’ve always enjoyed this area. With easy access to Denver–just 75 miles away– and surrounded by the 2.3-million acre White River National Fore, Dillon Reservoir, a fabulous network of trails, popular mountain towns Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon, there is always something to do.

Bode’s KSS drop-off was at 10 a.m. Monday morning. Or so I thought. We pulled up and started unloading his gear but it was weirdly quiet and devoid of the frenzy you’d expect. As we came to find out, Hadley’s small group was supposed to report at 10 a.m. and Bode was at noon. Imagine how thrilled he and Jamie were to learn yes, we’d woken up early but HURRAY, we had two additional hours to explore this beautiful place!

We hiked to Sapphire Point (though I’m not sure I’d call it a hike; it was more of a 1.5-mile stroll) to the most beautiful overlook of Dillon Reservoir, hemmed in by the Gore and Tenmile mountain ranges  (along with several tipi structures for kids to explore along the way).

We also climbed to the top of Loveland Pass overlooking the Continental Divide.

“One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king…everything the light touches.”

OK, more like Jamie was relaying the time we froze our butts off on the chairlift as the winds whipped the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Area.

Once we finally got around to dropping off Bode at Keystone Science School, he went on to have a fabulous week! (Read the details here.)

7-mile Challenge Hike (in red hoodie)

Jamie and I had a fabulous time as well! We lunched in Breckenridge….

And then returned to Keystone to check into our SummitCove condo overlooking Keystone Lake with excellent access to the Summit County Paved Recreation Path System, a paved network of 70+ miles of trails that connect Keystone, Dillon, Frisco, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Vail. After dinner, we biked from Keystone to the reservoir and tried to spy on Bode (we could see the camp from the trail) but to no avail. We went for a leisurely stroll along the pathway at dusk just soaking in the beauty of the area.

The next day, it was off to Crested Butte but we returned four days later after picking up Hadley at the airport. While Jamie rested, she and I enjoyed Keystone’s Friday Afternoon Club atop Dercum Mountain. Friday foot passenger lift tickets up the River Run Gondola are free, and there are complimentary outdoor games like cornhole, slacklines and horseshoes, food and drink specials and live music. And the views? They speak for themselves.

Cornhole with a broken arm for the win

For our final night in Keystone, we stayed at The Springs near the base of River Run Condo. Not only was the location spot-on but there was an awesome pool and hot tub area, a home theater room, playroom, workout room and more.

Here we are practicing stellar parenting. It’s important to ease yourself back into everything after having the week off. 

In honor of Canada Day, I woke up early the next morning to go for a walk. Alberta is “Wild Rose Country” and the trail was bursting with them.

I get it, ‘Merica. You’re pretty darn awesome, too.

A Return to Colorado: The Jet Boat Edition

It has been almost a year since we moved from Colorado. In some ways, it has become much easier but in others I’m still mourning it like a death in the family. When other people move on (and feeling like you should, too), you’re still stuck in the past.  My Facebook memories are an almost daily reminder of my kids’ magical childhood and I miss those days when our summers were fueled entirely by adventure and imagination.

When Bode and I Hadley were invited to attend Keystone Science School (KSS), I knew we had a plan a Colorado vacation around it. We would spend a few days in Denver with friends, drop the kids off at camp, Jamie and I would enjoy alone-time in Keystone and Crested Butte and we’d all reunite at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

All was going to plan until Hadley broke her humerus  and we were in a predicament. She obviously couldn’t go to KSS because they were whitewater rafting, camping and horseback riding all week but if she came with Jamie and me, she’d be stuck in our condo because we had an equally active itinerary. Thankfully, Jamie’s sweet mom offered to take her despite the fact it was a very busy week as she helped her 90-year-old dad move into a care center. Thank goodness for Grandma!

Jet Boat Colorado

Bode, Jamie and I kicked off our Colorado adventure with Jet Boat Colorado. Actually, our adventure started well before we hit the water. Its location is in De Beque, a historic community nestled near the Roan Plateau. I calculated it was about the half-way mark of our drive from Midway to Denver but I should have Google mapped it because it was actually about 40 minutes past Grand Junction (the true half-way mark). I made this realization at about 1 hour before our 12 p.m. departure time and we were about 1.5 hours away.

Enter: Jamie “Mario Andretti” Johnson who put the pedal to the metal–driving at speeds up to 90 mph–and we miraculously arrived just a few minutes late.  Oh, and did I mention our gas was below empty and running on fumes? Another miracle: there was a gas station in De Beque, Colo.

I had never heard of jet boating until a friend went to New Zealand last year and posted a video of her 45 mph adventure through narrow canyons as their boat barely skirted the banks of the river. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to try it out myself until I learned Jet Boat Colorado offers Coloradoans the same adrenaline-charged adventure as our Kiwi counterparts on a slice of the Colorado River.

I don’t yet have any pictures of our experience because cameras were strongly discouraged (you’ll see why in this video). Lots and lots of water…and laughter.

I’ve driven through this part of Colorado many times and had written it off as a barren wasteland but was fascinated to learn De Beque’s rich old west history with ferry sites, homestead stories and fascinating geology. At one point, as he pointed out two eagles’ nests with Mama Eagle and her very large “baby” standing sentry, it was confirmed to me this was an experience like no other and quite the “Welcome Home” party for Colorado.

But it only got better….

 

My return to rollerblading glory

I’ve lived in Midway almost eight months and had yet to go rollerblading in my favorite place: Provo Canyon. When I was at BYU, I fell in love with the Provo River Parkway and would park at the base of the canyon and rollerblade up about 10 miles past Bridal Veil Falls to Vivian Park and then race back down the canyon. There is a slight incline the entire way making it a great workout but the ride down was sheer bliss.

Since moving to Colorado almost 15 years ago, I would occasionally come back and rollerblade it so I’ve been chomping at the bit since our move but between unpacking, two feet of snow and trail closures and flooding all spring, the timing wasn’t right.

I decided to make the timing work for me so I woke up one morning last week to go. I grabbed my helmet (something I never wore before), wrist guards and thought I was set. Turns out I should have brought full body armor as well. I made some mistakes on my triumphant return and they included:

1) I forgot I’m not 20 anymore. This covers all subsequent observations.

2) What goes down must come up. When I was in Provo, I started at the base of the canyon and went up. This is how I prefer to do everything–there’s nothing more miserable to me than starting a hike going downhill, only to save the climb for the end. The problem is Midway is at the top of the canyon and I really didn’t want to drive all the way down, rollerblade up and then back down and then have to drive back up. Make sense? It sure did to me. At the time.

2) My rollerblades are about 20 years old and are dire need of being replaced. The wheels are so worn it made climbing the hills really tough. Being out of shape didn’t help either.

3) The cruise down vacillated between being empowering “I LOOOOVE THIS!” and moderately terrifying in places. If you’re never rollerbladed before, there’s really no great way to stop on steep terrain. I used to know every curve and bend so would just go with the flow but I was rusty so had to inch down a few sections like a baby learning to walk.

4) I somehow made it down the canyon without falling and then came the moment of truth: going back up. That’s usually my favorite part and I love the burn of the climb! Rollerblading that 20 miles has never been an issue but between being rusty, out-of-shape and having old roller-blades, it was a tough go. I even debated calling Jamie at one point but powered through it (albeit on a low battery).

A few things I learned before going next time:

I need to buy new rollerblades. Period. I should have replaced mine years ago but I never really went in Denver but now that I live next door to an amazing place, I want back in.

I need to start at the bottom of the canyon and work my way up. I bit off waaaaaay more than I could chew so next time I’ll start mid-way up the canyon and slowly make my rides longer.

My before shot as I exuberantly started out:

My after shot:

 

x

 

Yep, that about tells the story.

That time we were featured in the Wall Street Journal

A few weeks ago my friend Eileen Ogintz, founder of Taking The Kids and a syndicated columnist, emailed to ask if I could put the word out to my friends that a reporter from the Wall Street Journal was looking to interview families who let their kids help plan the vacation. I put the word out on Facebook but nobody responded so I acquiesced to be interviewed by Sue Shellenbarger. I really didn’t think much would come of it–maybe she’d include a quote in her article–until she emailed me again in a panic saying her editor wanted her to interview my kids as well. So on Friday after school, Bode and Hadley casually talked to the a reporter from the biggest newspaper in the United States. No biggie.

If you are questioning the reliability of journalism in this day and age, rest assured the Wall Street Journal is the most fact-checked newspaper I’ve ever seen. For our small quotes in the article, Sue emailed me several times.

Anyway, here’s the link to Dare to Let the Children Plan Your Vacation and I’ll include screenshots and our quotes below.

And yes, Bode totally talks like a 40-year-old man.

 

 

The Johnson family of Denver is planning a car trip to western Colorado this summer. Amber Johnson says her daughter Hadley, 12, persuaded the family to go jet-boating, racing over the Colorado River at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour in boats driven by professionals.

It’s a plan Ms. Johnson and her husband Jamie would never have chosen for the family. But Hadley sees children’s museums as cheesy. “I’m kind of growing up and everything,” Hadley says. “I’m a little more crazy and adventurous than museums.”

Bode, 10, says he was nervous at first about jet-boating. But Ms. Johnson reassured him that the boats have seat belts and life jackets. Now he’s on board with the plan. “I think I might actually learn something, including having a positive attitude and being willing to do new things,” he says.

Giving the children a voice keeps them excited and interested, Ms. Johnson says. It also means suffering through their mistakes. Bode and Hadley picked a hotel online for a road trip last summer because it had a big pool, says Ms. Johnson, editor of Mile High Mamas, an online community. She suggested they might want to do more research, but “they jumped on it because it looked really fun,” Ms. Johnson says.

When they arrived, the pool was closed for renovation. Ms. Johnson sees such “soft failures,” or missteps with minor consequences, as learning experiences. “We would call ahead and do more research” next time, Hadley says.

 


Maximum Interlodge at Alta Ski Area

My family was first invited to Alta Ski Area when we lived in Colorado. Though we tried to visit during Spring Break last year, we couldn’t coordinate our schedule so just opted to visit after our move. It would take several months of back-and-forth to determine a time because the kids had six weeks of ski lessons at Sundance through our recreation program. 

We finally decided staying overnight on the weekend just wasn’t possible until late in the season so opted to drive to Alta on a Sunday night, sleep at Goldminer’s Daughter and hit the slopes on Monday (the kids had a day off). There was snow in the forecast but we weren’t too worried. Were we not, after all, skiing?

Our hour-long drive was seamless. We unloaded, checked in and ate a delicious gourmet dinner at Top of the Lodge Restaurant as the wind and snow howled the only visibility the distant light of the snowcats grooming the 36 inches of snow from the latest storm…and more was expected the next day. The kids were nervous; they’ve never skied conditions like this.

Tales were flying from real-life storm chasers of epic powder and the previous day’s “interlodge” where people were required by law to stay indoors as avalanche crews blasted the hanging faces of Little Cottonwood Canyon. I wasn’t sure if we’d get snowed in but one thing was for sure: those kiddos would never forget their first time attempting Alta’s legendary powder.

We spent an uncomfortable night in our room, groggily waking up to even more snow. We made our way to breakfast, still uncertain how the day would unfold. As we were indulging in delicious pancakes with cinnamon cream cheese, it was then that we learned Alta had declared “interlodge” and Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed–no one could come or go.

The day was still not lost. There was a chance the resort would reopen and we would have all that glorious powder to ourselves.

Until we learned it got even worse: UDOT declared “Maximum Interlodge,” so not only were we quarantined indoors but we could not go near any doors or windows due to extreme avalanche danger.

Guests in other lodges were led the basement and huddled together for several hours to wait it out. Fortunately, Goldminer’s Daughter’s recreation room didn’t have any windows so we had fun ping pong and pool tournament sand mother-daughter weight room showdowns. There’s nothing like forced bonding but we had a blast!

We had bought some lunch and were trying to select a movie “The Shining,” maybe? :-) , having resigned ourselves to staying in our cramped quarters another night when, miracle of miracles, the canyon briefly opened for downhill traffic.

We quickly packed up and joined the legions of skiers trying to catch shuttles to make it back to the airport. Jamie left us to grab the car and after 30 minutes of waiting, I finally went to find him…and our car…stuck under a few feet of snow!

Jamie and an Alta staffer pushed us out while I drove and that was only the beginning of our adventures. The conditions and whiteout were among the scariest I’ve ever experienced (and that’s really saying something when you’re raised in Canada). Jamie did a great job driving and was tempted to turn back a few times but without a safe place, we were forced to resume our perilous drive. It was one craaaaazy experience.

UDOT posted this video of an avalanche near our lodge that same day.

Just a taste of the extensive avalanche results we saw from control work this am 1/23/17 LCC

A post shared by udot avalanche (@udotavy) on


We were later told that Alta regularly experiences “interlodge” but “maximum” is much more rare. What are the odds that during our family’s first visit together, that is exactly what happened?

Don’t answer that.

Family Fun at Great Wolf Lodge Colorado Springs

I watched as Hadley brazenly stepped into the Wolf Tail launch pad at Great Wolf Lodge. This was a slide unlike any I’d ever witnessed. She followed the staffer’s instructions to cross her arms and legs and wait for the countdown. Then just like a magician’s trap door, the bottom DROPPED out and she free-fell 20 feet before being catapulted around a 360-degree high-speed loop.

Bode was almost purple with worry and we made a pact. “Don’t worry, Bode. I’ll only go if you go.” Surely, there was safety in numbers when my cautious son was involved?

Despite the certain death that awaited us on the Wolf Tail, my family was having a fabulous time at the grand opening of Great Wolf Lodge Colorado Springs’ expansive indoor water park, fun-filled attractions and family-focused entertainment.

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The Broadmoor’s Bliss: Part 1,205

We first went to AAA Five-Diamond The Broadmoor when the kids were ages 3 and 1. Almost a decade later, we still can’t get enough and it’s truly our favorite Colorado vacation.

When The Broadmoor Magazine’s editor gave me my latest assignment, I was thrilled. “Growing Up Broadmoor” is to be a reflective piece about all the many wonderful memories we’ve had over the years. It’s turning out to be more difficult to write than I thought because there are so many grand gestures and beautifully small nuances that are a part of our DNA. We love and appreciate that special place like no other.

Usually when I’m on assignment, we’re busy with activities related to the story. The Ranch at Emerald Valley. The White Lights Ceremony for the holidays. Outdoor adventures with Broadmoor Outfitters. This time, we were simply coming back “home” after moving away…and that will be my lead-in for the story.

We arrived on New Year’s Day, just as their 12 Days of Christmas was wrapping. We delved in head-first: Casting protective enchantments a.k.a learning to cast a fly rod, which was no less magical than at Hogwarts.

Hadley got a fancy camera for Christmas so she and Jamie attended the photography seminar held from The Broadmoor’s acclaimed photographer, Mic Garofolo. We adore this man! He has been the most delightful paparazzo as he’s followed us around the resort taking pictures of our family for years. He’s so generous that he offered them a private session the next day and she is SUPER excited to delve into learning more about photography.

It’s been four years since we’ve been to The Broadmoor around the holidays so we loved checking out their Gingerbread Village, which was actually a life-sized candy train in honor of the the 125th anniversary of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway Steam Engine, the world’s highest cog train.

We were thrilled to finally stay in the renovated West Tower and it was just as beautiful as we imagined despite the crummy lighting in this picture. And Bode’s awkward pose.

As we settled in, I heard Hadley scream “this is the best mirror EVER!”

As if she already didn’t spend HOURS getting ready, this built-in TV just made it 10 times worse.

We’d hoped to take the shuttle to see the Winter Lights at Seven Falls but it closed early due to the holiday so we drowned our sorrows at our favorite restaurant, The Summit. Hadley tried escargot for the first time, and we all indulged in Beef Tenderloin au Poivre, Slow-roasted Monkfish, Cinnamon Crème Brûlée and Apple Mille-Feuille as we discussed Jamie’s no-sugar challenge.

That began upon our sad, sad return to reality.

The next day was uncharacteristically low-key. I arose early to do my traditional solo hike up North Cheyenne Canyon. I chased the sunrise and the entire canyon was glowing when I arrived at the base but was gone by the time I’d hiked far enough for a view. 

Life lesson for 2017: Don’t blink or you’ll miss it but what remains is pretty darn spectacular.

Meanwhile back at The Broadmoor….

When you have a tomboy mom who is clueless about being a real girl, I highly recommend their spa’s introductory makeup tutorial. 

And also their 50-minute massage (Jamie) and glorious facial (me).

Following lunch at the Golden Bee English Pub, we split up. While Hadley and Jamie were at Mic’s photography session, Bode and I headed over to Broadmoor Outfitters where we went on a scavenger hunt. I’ll admit I wasn’t too enthused but as it turns out, scavenger hunts have gone high-tech and are much more fun than those of my youth. We downloaded the app, Scavenger Ox, and set about to discover The Broadmoor in a hilarious new way.

The resort is know for its upscale clientele so Bode and I aren’t proud of some of the things we did that included asking a stranger for a piggy-back ride and singing “Let It Go” whilst outfitted with my own Elsa braid graphic but it was all worth it for the win. Err…right?

That evening, we bowled to our heart’s content at PLAY. We’re out of focus in this picture and my eyes are closed but that’s just a detraction from the fact I bowled my worst game ever: 49 in the eighth frame.

And the fact that on our fun final round, Bode actually bowled BETTER with his eyes closed and with his left hand.

Somehow because it was at The Broadmoor, it all just made sense.