The Johnson Family’s Shortest (and worst) Camping Trip Ever

I have tried to instill a love of nature in my kids–just last week we went hiking four times, my daughter recently returned from YMCA of the Rockies’ traditional overnight Camp Chief Ouray and at the end of July they’re both enrolled in Avid4Adventure’s Survival Skills Camp. We are an outdoor-loving family!

But my favorite childhood memories are of camping and that is one area in which we’ve fallen short with my own family.  There is nothing like the sense of community at campgrounds, playing with new BFFs, eating tin foil dinners and s’mores, exploring and exploring some more, and telling stories around the campfire.

Here’s a recap of our camping trips since having kids.

Trip 1: Hadley had just turned 1 and was a horrible sleeper so she wailed all night long two nights in a row. Our campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park was on a slope. Hadley had just learned to walk so was falling over every few feet and when she wasn’t face-planting, she was trying to crawl into the fire pit. Our three-day weekend was cut a day short.

Trip 2: We took a few years off from camping to get pregnant and have our son Bode. When he was 2, we joined our good friends at Eleven Mile State Park. Never been? Keep it that way. I’d read about it in FamilyFun magazine and it was a huge, barren disappointment. In addition to camping, capsizing and crying, my baby had the most disgusting, explosive case of diarrhea and I spent hours at the camp laundromat cleaning out his car seat and clothes. (Ugly details here).

Trip 3: Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. This is my favorite place on earth and I was ecstatic to introduce my kids to this wonderland that borders Glacier National Park. Sure there were minor hiccups (such as near-hurricane-strength winds) but it was our best camping trip to date.

Trip 4: Bear Lake State Park. Last year, Mile High Mamas partnered with Coleman for the Great American Campout. It had all the fixins for an amazing weekend with horseback riding, games, gourmet camp meals and kayaking. But do you remember that record-breaking 105-degree day last June? ‘Nuff said.

Trip 5: Camp Dick last weekend. This was going to be our year. The kids are 7 and 9 and the perfect ages for camping. Check-in wasn’t until 2 p.m. so we had a few hours to kill when we arrived at this campground set in a glacial valley just off the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.

The kids caught butterflies and threw rocks in the adjacent Middle Saint Vrain Creek and we hiked a portion of the Buchanan Pass Trail.

We have been united with our fellow Coloradoans in praying for rain to defray the horrible wildfires…we just didn’t want the drought to end right then. All was going shockingly well until we felt our first raindrop. We’d waded through near hurricanes and diarrhea; a bit of rain wasn’t going to deter us.

Then it started down-pouring so we raced back to the car and ate lunch. Earlier, we’d spotted the remains of the previous night’s hail storm but miracles–the weather broke a half-hour later and we still had plenty of time to explore before we could set-up our tent.

Adventurous Hadley (who no longer falls every few feet and cries all night), discovered a faint trail on the other side of the creek so we bush-whacked our way to my children’s version of wonderland: a massive boulder field. We spent the next hour free-climbing these rock monsters and Hadley and my husband braved a steep slope to a cossetted cave. I hung back with my more-cautious Bode who called out encouragements such as “you know you can crack your head open and slide all the way down.”

Kid needs a lesson or two on pep talks.

Then all hell (or rather, hail) broke loose and it could not have come at a worse time. We were forging back through the forest when Bode slipped and hurt himself. Not even 5 seconds later, hail started pounding us and blinded, we lost the trail that was already barely there, forcing us to wade over a swamp land and practically toss now-hysterical Bode across the creek.

When we arrived at the road, we still had over a mile to where we’d parked our car at the trailhead but our soon-to-be acquired campsite was right around the corner. “I’ll run and get the car and you go to camp,” I bravely volunteered. Come hail or high-water, I would lead my family to safety!

I raced through the campground, hail pelting and drenching every inch of my body. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the car but I raced back to our campsite and saw my poor little family hunkered down under a tree trying to shield themselves from the frozen sheets of ice.

“We’ve taken a vote,” my husband announced.
“What is it?” I already knew the answer.
“We’re ready to go home.”

I looked at our campsite, the mud puddles thick from the previous night’s storm were now filled with snow. We could have toughed it out if we were staying in a camper but there was nowhere to setup our tent.  And most importantly, the sky ‘s furry was just getting started.

We called it a day at 1:30 p.m., just 4.5 hours from the time we left our house.

Better luck next year.

Dancing Queen: Why It’s Good to Be Young and Sweet at Camp Chief Ouray

Overnight camp. These words have been dripping off my daughter’s lips for months now and last week, all her dreams finally came true: She spent six blessed days and five nights at YMCA of the Rockies’ Camp Chief Ouray at Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colo.

I knew she’d love it. I mean, what’s not to love about a gorgeous 5,100-acre mountain setting of streams, meadows and trails and a daily itinerary that included horseback riding, archery, canoeing, hiking, riflery, cabin activities, devotionals and skits at Colorado’s longest-running camp. But I was not prepared for how life-changing it would be.

My son Bode and I were granted special access to come visit on her final night. In fact, by some twist of fate, our room at Indian Peaks Lodge was directly overlooking her cabin.

Chippewa cabin is on the right, Dining Hall on the left

Mom-stalker much?

The Tour

That afternoon, Stephan Rivard, COO’s Travel Coordinator, gave us an animated tour of the grounds that included the Hey O Yankee Fire Ring. The Barn and riding arena. Dining Hall. Carpet ball in the Pavilion. Health Center (free Popsicles, hurray!) Low and high ropes courses. The new Gaga Ball area. Zipline. Kiwani Owapi Fire Ring.

When we entered the boy’s cabin that adjoined Hadley’s, it looked like a bomb had exploded. Clothes and books littered the floor and the sleeping bags on the bunks were the only things that had some semblance of order. I braced myself for Hadley’s cabin but was pleasantly surprised everything was in place–even cleaner than she keeps her room at home.

When I jokingly drew the comparison, Bode came to the defense of his gender. “Boys are just being boys, Mommy!”

Following our mid-day tour, Bode and I had not seen Hadley so returned to our lodge (Camp Chief Ouray is off-limits to the public). As we were leaving for dinner at Schlessman Commons, we spotted her from a distance returning to her cabin. I shouted out across the field. Her bunkmates excitedly pointed us out and she was shocked, then opportunistic. Her first words to us after nearly a week apart?


It was, after all, the final night and she had not adequately rationed her clothing.

The Dance

That evening we were granted permission to return for the final festivities and I dutifully delivered some clothes to her cabin. Camp tradition is to hold a final dance, followed by the Closing Campfire Ceremony with games, skits, songs and traditions including the awarding of the Spirit Stick to commemorate the most spirited cabin.

I was the most excited about the dance. Because isn’t it every kid’s dream to have her mother at her very first one?

I still had not seen Hadley face-to-face and I scanned the crowded Pavilion trying to find her. Bode and I perched on a nearby rock and soon she busted through the crowd dancing like a wild woman. I first took in her appearance: purple shirt, shorts and her riding boots.

But then I looked deeper: She was radiant, jubilant and oozing with confidence. She was free. Free from the restrains of deadlines and worldly expectations. Free to figure out who she is and she was bursting with a love of life brighter than the sun at her new-found independence.

She was thrilled to see us after nearly a week apart and returned frequently throughout the evening to dance. Even Bode busted out some moves while alternating between playing in the adjacent fields and scaling the climbing rock with new buddies.

The Heartbreak

The dance was a microcosm of the pains and joys of growing up. The youngest campers were 7 and the girls lined the benches dancing while the boys rough-housed in the meadow. Hadley’s 9-year-old group of girls non-committedly flitted around dancing with everyone and throwing caution to the wind as DJ Lolly Pop blasted their favorite tunes. The early teens were starting to pair off or stood awkwardly together while trying not to seem like they were awkward.

Oh, those were the days.

Crazy costumed counselors

We chuckled at the heartbreak when a 7-year-old girl confronted her age 10-ish “boyfriend” who had broken up with her. She even pulled his counselor into the drama, demanding he ask her to dance (all the while standing defiantly with her arms crossed and foot tapping a hundred miles a minute).

Even my own 6-year-old Bode had some action of his own. He was hanging out with me on the rock when a tween hottie asked him to dance. Stunned into silence, he turned bright red before literally crawling away on the rock. But she didn’t give up. Fifteen minutes later, she was back and oh-so sweetly repeated her offer. He looked at me to save him.

“Go dance with her.”

He shook his crimson head, steam coming out of his ears. Why did a girl want to dance with him?

“That’s fine if you don’t want to dance but you need to at least say something and politely decline.” It was one of those teachable moments in which I wanted to bust out laughing.

“I don’t want to dance right now,” he mumbled. At least I think that’s what he said before I apologetically thanked the sweet girl and bookmarked the moment for future blackmail.

While 99 percent of the campers were having a blast, they were a few outliers who did not join in. I watched them carefully throughout the evening to gauge their temperature. One boy was in tears and his counselors took turns staying with him before he eventually joined some of his friends to play carpet ball in the Pavilion.

A teen-aged girl sat on a rock and initially appeared disinterested but after a while, I noticed her foot was injured. I watched as her counselors and friends frequently came to check on her before one ultimately stayed by her side, though I’m sure she would have liked to have been in on the action.   Most of these kids had not known each other six days prior and here they were perfectly exemplifying inclusivity. Camaraderie. True friendship.

The Rousing End

The conclusion of the dance is when they really brought the house down when the Village People’s “Y-M-C-A” blasted out over the speakers. Everyone tore into the pavilion to act out each letter but instead of singing “It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.,” they screamed “Camp Chief Ouray.”

Me thinks this is the letter “C.”

Gotta give them props that it still rhymed.

I thought that was the rousing ending; little did I know I was one step away from being trampled. When the final song “Send me on my way” by Rusted Root blasted out, everyone rushed in my direction. I ducked for cover, bracing my newly-recovered lover-boy son as the entire camp literally flew past us and poured outside. A counselor later explained it is camp tradition to race to the meadow and dance like a hippie when that final song came on.

I don’t know about “hippies” but I  do know after catching a glimpse of a camp heaped in over 100 years of tradition in the most iconic of mountain settings, there sure were a lot of very overjoyed, deliriously happy kids who were, indeed, being “sent on their way.”


In case you missed them:

A Week of Independence: The Johnson Kids Do Utah and Camp

Dancing Queen: Why It’s Good to Be Young and Sweet at Camp Chief Ouray

Protesting the End of Camp Chief Ouray

Hadley’s Camp Chief Ouray Highlights: Kitchen-raiding Mammoth-capturing Fun


Southwest Florida – World’s Best Beaches, More Canals Than Venice & Seashells Galore

“Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure this is the way,” my kayaking guide Jon Black of Crazy Lure Bait & Tackle Shop called back to me.

I sluiced through Southwest Florida’s cobalt-blue waters with my paddle and glanced around at the thick mangroves, their limbs gnarled and wild like the arms of a monster in a nightmare. The forest was strangely silent.  The previous day’s downpour had sent the birds into retreat mode and we felt alone.

I wasn’t worried; being lost is nothing new in my world. However, having a capable guide to help me find my way out was. We were winding through Cape Coral, Florida’s 400-mile network of canals (more than even Venice) and I was in my element as bottleneck dolphins and manatees skirted around us.

Prior to my trip, I wasn’t a fan of Florida. I had only visited its busiest cities and had equated the state with heat, humidity, retirees, overcrowded beaches and partying, never dreaming of the natural grandeur of Southwest Florida.

When it Rains, It Pours

Everything happens for a reason and the previous day’s downpour is among them. I was staying at the new Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, a luxurious new 236-room retreat perched overlooking the massive Caloosahatatchee River, waterways and the Gulf of Mexico

Map of Southwestern Florida's islandsThe rain put a literal damper on my plans to grab one of the hotel’s complimentary bikes and tour the Tom Allen Memorial Butterfly House at nearby Rotary Park. Plan B was to take the free 45-minute water taxi to Fort Myers Beach—an unspoiled sugar-hued beach oozing with tourist shops, tiki bars and fun—but that was canceled.

A hotel worker suggested we check-out the Miromar or Tanger Outlets (a good rainy-day activity) but I had a better one: “Let’s go to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.” The day prior, a friend had posted some pictures on Facebook and I was captiva-ted.

The Real Beaches of Lee County

An hour later, I met my guide Jon Black and we drove through the deluge, over the three-mile Sanibel Causeway and landed smack dab in the middle of paradise (or as Frommer’s travel guide quantified it: The No. 1 travel destination in the world).

Sanibel and Captiva Islands are a dream for wildlife and shell-lovers with 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, 25 miles of bike paths, 50 types of fish, 230 types of birds, 400 types of shells, no stop lights, a ban on fast-food chains and a law that dictates “no buildings taller than the tallest palm tree.”

Sanibel Lighthouse, Credit: TripAdvisor

Sanibel Lighthouse, Credit: TripAdvisor

During the height of tourist season (winter and summer), traffic on these small islands can be beastly but early-May’s shoulder season plus a rainy day equaled My Own Private Florida.

Jon started our tour at Lighthouse Park on the eastern tip of Sanibel where a functioning 1884 light tower stands sentry over Bahamas-blue waters and a fishing pier. A boardwalk nature trail winds through native wetlands and past mounds of shells from the Calusa Indians’ discarded fish bones, pieces of domestic tools and pottery, weapons and jewelry.

A Seashell Wonderland

We drove past multi-million dollar homes, eagle nests, quaint shops and porch cafes but we didn’t linger long. “There will be a break in the clouds,” Jon predicted. “If we hit it just right, we’ll be at the beach when the rain stops. The best time to go shelling is after a storm.”

World's Best Beaches, More Canals Than Venice, Seashells Galore in Southwest Florida

Seashells galore

Just as we pulled up to our destination–a short bridge that links Sanibel Island to Captiva Island over Blind Pass—the rain ceased. I suspected Jon was really Zeus, the Greek God who ruled over the sky, weather, thunder and law or maybe Moses because those clouds parted like the Red Sea.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands are consistently ranked the top shelling beaches in the nation due in part to the large plateau that extends out into the Gulf of Mexico for miles and acts like a shelf for seas shells to gather.

The moment my feet hit the sand I was a kid in a candy store, gathering up large piles of shells that formed a thick ribbon along the shore. I collected shell after shell, puzzled over the vast variety and vowed to visit the nearby Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. This large natural history museum features exhibits of shells from around the world (one-third native to the area) and has a hands-on learning lab for kids.

A couple of the shells I grabbed were moderately big but Zeus wasn’t finished with his acumen. “Go in the water where the surf breaks. The big conch shells get stuck there.”

I waded knee-deep into the water, launching myself in the air whenever a wave rolled in. I hesitantly bent down (locals even have a name for this shelling stance: the “Sanibel Stoop”), and as I saw a white cap barreling toward me, I blindly reached out. I squealed with disbelief and glee—I had hit the shell jackpot and uncovered hundreds of them in a dizzying array of diversity.

The beauty of Sanibel and Captiva Islands

I could have stayed on that beach forever. The breeze from the Gulf was sultry and heavy-laden with salt. A great blue heron stalked me, no doubt unimpressed by my haul that was lacking in fish. Nature’s miracles were on display and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

The next day when I was flying home, I sat next to a Fort Myers cardiologist whose family has lived in the area for 120 years. Southwest Florida is world-renowned for its fishing and he divulged he was recently on his boat with a friend when he had the epiphany, “I can’t believe I actually live in this amazing place.”

Neither can I.


Other Family Activities

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife RefugeJ.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a 7,608-acre primordial wetland on Sanibel Island that is brimming with 35 species of mammals, 102 species of fish, exotic birds and alligators. A network of trails ranging from ¼- to 4 miles-long are ideal for trekking or biking. Wildlife Drive provides a drivable safari through one of the largest mangrove wildernesses in the country. Kids will love the education center and scanning the interpretive signs’ QR codes to learn more. The driving trail is closed on Fridays but will be undergoing some construction projects Summer 2013 so check the website for updates.

Edison and Ford Winter EstatesEdison and Ford Winter Estates—Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, two of the most prolific geniuses of their time, both spent their winters in Fort Meyers on a 13-acre estate bordering the river. This historic site offers more than just a look at their winter homes, museum, lush grounds and laboratory but an appreciation for how they forever changed the landscape of the automobile industry, movies and film, lighting and electricity and sound and communications. Kids will enjoy the Young Inventors educational programs, where many a burgeoning scientific genius is borne.

Matlacha and Pine IslandMatlacha and Pine Island— Pine Island is the largest island (18 miles long, two miles wide) off Florida’s Southwestern Gulf Coast. It is ensconced by mangroves and aquatic preserves. Not-to-be missed are Matlacha’s funky fishing and artist colonies that prove colored paint goes a long way. Stop by eccentric Southwest Florida icon Leoma Lovegrove’s gallery, which will make you swear you’ve been dropped into a Dr. Seuss book of unbridled color and imagination. Tour the botanical gardens. Then cool down on ice cream served in a coconut. Paint your very own coconut postcard while overlooking the canal that leads to Matlacha Pass (some people even visit the gallery by boat). Keep on living your vacation when your coconut arrives in your mailbox a week later.

Bubble Room restaurantBubble Room–When I asked the staff at the Westin Cape Coral where to eat on Captiva Island, the enthusiastic response was “The Bubble Room!” This happiness-inducing eatery is whimsical, quirky fun and a beloved local tradition. With a creed, “It’s always Christmas at the Bubble Room” the hodgepodge of décor includes Santas, old-style Hollywood glamour, trains, and toys. Wacky “Bubble Scout” wait staff are dressed in girl and boy scout uniforms. The food is great, too. Portions sizes are large. Order their infamous red velvet cake and try not to be bitter when you learn about it later.

Thanks for the Westin Cape Coral at Marina Village for hosting me! Be sure to check-out my hotel review about the view that blew my mind.

The Beginning of the End of the Rest of Our Lives

Our engagement photo

What is more apropos for Valentine’s Day and the day before our 10-year anniversary than to reflect upon our journey to togetherness?

I’ve written about our Love Story here and also briefly about our wedding day. Tomorrow I’ll share oodles of pictures from our wedding album for posterity.

Though I’ve written much about our courtship, I’ll likely never reveal it all online because it was an intensely personal, sacred experience for both of us.

It all started when I messaged Jamie on July 22, 2002 after seeing his profile on Though I was in the process of ending a five year on-again, off-again relationship, I felt very strongly impressed to write this guy in Colorado (I was in Utah) who had posted a picture of himself a mile away on an Alaskan glacier. Note: His screen name was “ArvadaFun” and mine was “BlackDiamond”and I wrote about the Colorado mountain towns I referenced in this article.

I’m not sure about “Arvada Fun” but I will say that I recently experienced “SilvertonFun,” “OurayFun,” and DurangoFun.”

So, how does it feel to be living in Pleasure Sponge Central? (I’m JEALOUS!!)


And yes, I did reference a “pleasure sponge” on the very first email. #Hussy.

Thus began a whirlwind long-distance courtship. Five months later, I dropped everything to move to Denver and a month and a half later, we were married. Before our wedding, Jamie compiled the volumes of emails we had exchanged into two beautifully-bound keepsake books that are an absolute treasure. He inscribed them for me with the following message:

On July 22, the great events of my life took place. I got a message. A message from the woman who was to be my eternal companion. That message started a two-month email and phone correspondence that brought about a marvelous work and a wonder and a great love.

From the very beginning of our correspondence the Spirit was very strong. In some ways the words on these pages do not completely convey the depth of the messages sent back and forth. I look back at some of the things I said very early on in our correspondence and I can’t believe I was so bold. At the same time, saying the things I did felt very natural. Time had no meaning over the first two months of our relationship and everything seemed compressed. It is difficult to explain, but things that happened over a two-week period felt like two months in the most wonderful of ways.

The two months of emails, IMs and phone calls ended in the most amazing revelation of my life: The clear promoting that I needed to get engaged to Amber before we had ever met each other. After much pondering, fasting, prayer and a blessing from my father, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I proposed marriage to Amber via email.

A week later I knocked on the door of my fiancée and for the first time saw her lovely face. We now eagerly look forward to our sealing in the Denver Temple on Feburary 15, 2003.


December 2002

Behind-the-scenes at 9News’ Back-to-School Segment Part II

If you’re just tuning in, be sure to read Behind-the-scenes at 9News’ Back-to-School Segment Part I.

Despite my best efforts to pull together two back-to-school segments for 9News (and believe me, both segments were a ton of work) one very important thing started unraveling the day prior: Haddie wasn’t feeling well.

I assumed it was because we’d stayed up late at our neighbor’s outdoor movie theater and gotten up early for church but she ping-ponged from OK to worse as she claimed stomach pains. I debated replacing her with her friend but then she’d recover enough for us to see the silver lining and hope she’d be OK.

She wasn’t.

Around 1 a.m. she came into our bedroom claiming nightmares about the sound of necklaces (can you say hallucinating?) so I let her stay. Problem was she thrashed and turned all night and I had to be at 9News by 6 a.m. for my first segment.

Translation: I barely slept.

The plan was for Jamie to bring the kids later for our fashion segment that aired at 8:40 a.m. My first segment on back-to-school products went just swell (find them here that includes the coolest alarm clock) but when I called Jamie to see how she was, he simply said, “Not great,” but that they would be there.

Once they arrived, we hung out in the green room and Haddie seemed pretty OK and my hope was renewed we’d survive the segment.

The Green Room (that is not green)

About 20 minutes before our segment, TaRhonda came to get us and the kids got a little tour of the newsroom. Much to Bode’s delight, he met his celebrity crush, Meteorologist Becky Ditchfield.

Blurry Becky. Apparently I was excited for him

At the end of the segment when Becky was talking to TaRhonda on-air, Becky called Bode “pretty dang awesome.”

Warning: Don’t tease him about it. He starts to blush and roars, “STOP IT!”

Once in the studio, we did a couple of dry runs and all the kids did great.

And then came SHOW TIME! Be sure to check-out the video here (kids’ segment starts at about 4 minutes and for clothing/product info, go here).

Jamie was a stellar stage father, guiding and helping the kids behind the scenes and they were all amazing. Hadley, in particular because she sucked it up and still performed when she felt sick.

Ignore the flash; no time to remove it

Steph was adorable, Bennett was cool but that Bode? For a kid who has a canned smile, the little dude stole the show.

Becky raving how awesome Bode is.

When the segment was over, we were all relieved, grateful and elated with how well it went. As we were walking back to our green room to retrieve our belongings, Hadley confessed:

“I threw up.”

“WHAT? When? Where?”


I turned to Jamie and he confirmed it. Turns out she was still having stomach problems and the moment they got out of the car upon arriving at the 9News studios, she vomited all over the next parking stall. She recovered enough to perform for the segment and has been down-and-out with a feverish stomach flu ever since.

“Yeah, and Daddy told me not to say anything to you about throwing up until after we went on TV!”

Wise, wise man that Jamie.

And that, my friends, is how you leave your (literal) mark on your television debut.

My mother’s horror and our best Canadian day ever

I’m a sucker for traditions and on our trip to Calgary, we instituted a new one.

Much to my mother’s horror.

Remember when I let the kids jump into Fish Creek fully-clothed and we had the best night ever?

They begged my dad and me to take them back during the day so they could wear their swim suits. We went to our favorite spot: the ice caves. Remember last winter when we literally walked on water?

It’s a much different scene in the summer.

 We were delighted to stumble upon some kids who were attempting to catch minnows and they graciously loaned us their nets. 

Who knew miniature carp could be so fascinating?

Grandpa also held a tutorial on skipping rocks.

I only got pegged once.

But what unfolded next is still causing my mother sleepless nights. When we were at this area last summer, we saw some teens who were covered in mud. I didn’t think much of it–they had climbed straight up a precipitous cliff to get there and risking life and limb didn’t appeal to me. This summer, some teens emerged who’d done the same thing but it wasn’t until I saw a family of four take a much tamer path up the mountain that I decided to investigate.

“C’mon, Hadley,” I barked. We were Johnson girls on a mission.

We climbed for a few minutes until we stumbled upon a trail that was covered in mud. Thinking this was the final destination, Hadley and I called the boys up to come check it out. We then, of course, got dirty.

Really dirty.

Bode and my Dad joined us and Bode tepidly stepped into the mud. His shoe sank. He panicked and soon his other shoe got stuck, he freaked a bit and I thought he was having nothin’ to do with that mud.

Until Grandpa saved the day.

While Hadley and I had assumed this was the final destination, my dad forged forward through the mud and continued upward on the dry trail. And that, my friends, is when we stumbled upon a mucky, oozing wonderland: the mud pits. There were literally pools and slides of mud.

“Well get in!” I squealed.

My kids hesitated. Could it be? The woman who is always saying “stay out of the mud” was actually encouraging it?

They never looked back.

Muddy kids w/ view of Fish Creek below
Cooling off later at Annie’s Bakery & Cafe

 And we’re counting down the days until we can do it again next summer.

On Being Humbled

At the exact same time the Denver City Council approved a homeless-camping ban Monday night, I was faced with the sobering reminder that two-thirds of those who are homeless are kids.

Last night was just like any night–we were busy juggling homework, sick Bode, planting flowers, addressing Haddie’s baptism invitations, laundry and the general chaos we’ve come to (mostly) love when I received a phone call.

“My friend needs your help,” pleaded my friend Diane. “Her 18-month-old son is very sick and they need a ride to the hospital.”

Though I didn’t know the woman, I instinctively said “yes,” but with a condition: “I can drive her but she’ll need another ride back.” It was getting late, I was tired and feeling a bit sick myself.  My friend agreed and gave me the contact information for this woman who was living in a ramshackle hotel. A single mom, she had recently been evicted for being unable to pay her rent.

As I drove to get her, I thought of my massive to-do list and said a silent prayer to not be resentful of this woman so desperately in need. It didn’t take long for me to have a change of heart. When I pulled up to the motel, I instantly recognized something on her son. Earlier this year, Diane had told me she had a friend (this woman) in dire need of some clothes for her baby so I gutted out Bode’s closet.

This dear, feverish boy who was on the verge of yet another seizure was wearing my sweet Bode’s old PJs.

Instantly, a wave of compassion washed over me as this mom told me about her plight. How her son has had these seizures for over a year, but with a recent illness they would spike to the point he wasn’t functional even when lucid. They had spent the previous night at the Children’s Hospital, gone back to the motel, only to be faced with what was likely appendicitis.

When we arrived at the hospital, she admonished me to just drop her off at the curb but I parked and led her inside. After she was checked in, she turned to thank me. I handed her my phone number. “Call me and I’ll come back to pick you up tonight. It doesn’t matter what time.”

All my concerns were trite in comparison; my good night’s sleep seemed like a small molehill compared to the mountain she was climbing. I didn’t know what circumstances drove this woman to her destitute circumstances where she had to rely upon a stranger for a ride in a potentially life-or-death situation. I didn’t even know if she was legal.

But it didn’t matter. As one mom to another, I profoundly felt her fears and sorrows. What a humbling experience for me to look beyond my own comfortable Glass House to see there are so many around us whose lives are broken.

And that I need to do a better job of doing something about it.

From Injury-faker to Superstar: How Bode Got His Groove Back at Park City Mountain Resort

My 5-year-old son Bode has had quite the skiing history during his young life.

Named after skiing legend Bode Miller, we hoped he would show an affinity for the sport. What we got: a roller-coaster ride with several crashes along the way.

When we first put Bode on skis at age 3, he was fearless. Refusing to do the wedge, he carved in and out of his fellow skiers in a crouched tuck position. At age 4, he lost some of his confidence and this year at age 5, a bad experience at the beginning of the season resulted in an aversion to the sport as he faked an injury to get out of ski school.

It wasn’t pretty.

But with our recent four-day vacation to Park City Mountain Resort, I knew his experience on the slopes would make-or-break him.

The Christmas Mystery of the Missing Dinosaur Egg

My family has had quite a year of multiple hospital visits (heart surgery, anyone?) and ongoing misfortunes that would render even Murphy (as in the “Law”) speechless.

I resolved to kick 2011 to the curb by doing my holiday shopping and preparations early so I could feel like I had at least something under control.

Oh, how wrong I was.

To support our elementary school, I decided to have my kids purchase gifts for each other at the two-day traveling holiday toy store. The idea was to send them to school with money and let them pick out a gift for each other.

Sound easy? Apparently The Easy Button does not exist for Murphy’s Law.

My son Bode goes to morning kindergarten. The toy shop was in the afternoon. No problem, I just brought him back to school and had him pick out his sister Hadley’s gift. He ignored my suggestions of jewelery and went straight for a dinosaur egg that hatches in water

Gotta give the boy credit: he’s looking for a win-win gift.

However the other problem was that Hadley had the money for both presents and she had not yet done her shopping. The nice volunteer assured us they would set Bode’s gift to the side, ring it up with her purchases and then discreetly put Bode’s gift to his sister in his teacher Mrs. C’s** box for him to later bring home.

I forgot about it until last week when I was putting the finishing touches on all our presents and realized Bode had never received the gift.

I called the school secretary Mrs. M.** and explained the case of the missing dinosaur egg. She promised she would call Mrs. C. and also gave me the name of the volunteer who ran the toy store.

Not even 15 minutes later, Secretary M. called back.

“We found out what happened,” she said in her best sleuth voice. Turns out instead of delivering the dinosaur egg to Mrs. C.’s box, the volunteer had put it in the same bag as Hadley’s gift to her brother.

As Hadley was riding on the bus home from school, she found it. Knowing it wasn’t hers, she gave it to the eager boy sitting next to her.

Now this is where the story gets really suspicious. The boy to whom she gave the dinosaur egg just happened to be Mrs. C.’s son.

Coincidence or conspiracy?

Mrs. C. came home that day to find the dinosaur hatched in a glass of water. Her son divulged Hadley gave it to him and she thought nothing of it. Until she received the phone call from me.

I was relaying the escapade to my husband Jamie later that day and he queried, “How many of JeffCo’s tax dollars were wasted from all the time it took to chase that dinosaur egg down?”

I’m part of the blame for the $20 million deficit.

In the end, Secretary M. was extremely remorseful. “I’m really sorry. There’s not much we can do about it at this point. The Egg has been opened.”

That’s school code for “The Mission Has Been Compromised.”

But let it be known that I’m onto them.

**Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Or guilty.

How to spend the perfect Colorado day

As a family travel writer I am often asked by visitors, “If you were new to Denver and had just one day to see the nearby back- country, what would you do?”

Today, we did IT:

Namely, hiked to St. Mary’s Glacier and indulged in one of BeauJos Pizza’s famous mountain pies in nearby Idaho Springs, Colo.

St. Mary’s Glacier is one of the top tourist destinations in the area and for good reason: it’s located 45 minutes from Denver just 9 miles off I-70. I’ve done this hike every year since I moved to Denver.

Well, with the exception of when we arrived at the trailhead a couple of years ago and Jamie ran over Hadley’s foot with the car.

Gracious parents that we are, we let her forgo our annual adventure.

This is the second year in a row our kids have hiked to St. Mary’s Glacier by themselves. I wouldn’t call this a particularly easy hike (it’s really steep and rocky without adequate signage) but it is relatively short (just 3/4 mile to the base of the glacier).

There is also a big change this year. The lack of parking has been problematic and we were usually forced to perch on the shoulder of the road overlooking a steep cliff. Remember when Jamie ran over Haddie’s foot? That occurred whilst precariously parking. This year, they have a designated overflow lot that’ll cost you $5.

Well worth it to avoid trips to the hospital.

The steep, rocky hike:

Overlooking St. Mary’s Glacier and lake.

The 1.5-mile round-trip hike to the base of the glacier is only the start of the adventures. Every year, Hadley begs to go higher and higher. By next year, she’ll be capable enough to summit the darn thing along with the kamikaze skiers and snowboarders. This year, we held Adventure Girl back as much as we could.

It’s only a matter of time ’til she’s hauling her skis up there.

And dragging her poor mother down with her.

(Topping off a perfect day with BeauJo’s BBQ Chicken Mountain Pie in Idaho Springs)

Getting There: Take I-70 West from Denver, past Idaho Springs’ three exits. Take the next exit marked “Fall River Road.” Just past the bottom of the ramp, take a right (north) on Fall River Road. Follow this road up approximately 9 miles to one of two parking areas for the clearly marked trailhead to St. Mary’s Glacier.