Thanksgiving at The Broadmoor

Thanksgiving in Colorado: who could turn down an offer to spend a long weekend in one of our favorite places?

First stop: Denver. We crammed a lifetime’s worth of memories into 12 hours that included a drive-by of our old hood, Marcella’s crispy potato pizza, the magical Christkindl Market, Tattered Cover, downtown holiday lights and a stay at the modern-chic Crawford Hotel above Union Station.

From there, it was onto the biggest, baddest Thanksgiving feast we have ever seen at The Broadmoor.  The buffet was, in Bode’s words, “exquisite” with a sophisticated twist on all our traditional favorites…plus some new culinary experiences.

Me: “You need to try caviar.”
Bode: “That’s cow heart, right?”
Jamie: “It is eggs. You like eggs, right?”

Hadley later went on to say it tasted like “the bottom of the ocean.”

Bode overindulged in everything else to the point where he looked like he was in pain.

Me: “When it stops being enjoyable, you need to cut it off.”
Bode: “I can’t force it down anymore. I need gravity to so its job.”

Our Denver Thanksgiving tradition was to hike Turkey Trot before dinner but we switched things up to hike in between feasts, which proved challenging when you’re in a food coma. Fortunately, a snowball fight and the threat “you don’t want the old lady who just had knee surgery to beat you, right?” proved highly motivated.

On Friday, I joined in the fun of The Broadmoor’s Turkey Trot 5K. I was first place of the losers (walkers).

The Family: Slept in and ordered room service.

Final score: It’s a draw.

We also did our first photoshoot in years with one of our favorite people: Photographer Mic. The pictures turned out fabulous!

However, there was a lot of wardrobe-related bickering, causing peacemaker Bode to start singing, “If you’re happy and you know it…” He stopped looking at us and proclaimed, “Forget it. There is no happiness here.”

Fortunately, the rest of the weekend WAS sheer happiness with swimming, gingerbread-house making and posing, and Jenga, laser tag, checkers and pool playing.

One night, we took the shuttle to Seven Falls Winter Lights. We ate at Restaurant 1858 at the base and since it was bitterly cold, we opted not to climb the massive staircase  and instead took the archaic elevator which offered a bird’s eye view of the falls. It was cold (did I already mention it?) and the elevator was old (mentioned that, too). As we patiently waited for the elevator, a crowd of people spilled out and the doors promptly started to close. An elderly woman lunged forward, sacrificing herself as someone yelled, “NOT GRANDMA!” But I’m here to tell you those doors reopened and Grandma saved the day, just like every day.

When we first attended The Broadmoor’s White Lights Ceremony six years ago, Christmas magic was at its peak…and Hadley bolted off to follow the merry band of elves when Santa made his appearance.

Fast-forward to present day and the teens were, welp, teens. A blistering wind and cold picked up right before the ceremony. Bode braved it outside but Hadley bolted indoors. After the tree lighting, they reluctantly followed the droves of kids to what we thought was storytime but when we found out they were only visiting Santa, they wanted nothing to do with it.

But then it was almost like the Christmas elves got together and hatched a plan to remind them what the holiday spirit was all about. Mrs. Claus, unprompted, walked over to where those teens were sitting and gave them their own private storytime full of delight, humor and wonder, making believers out of all of us.

Christmas Wishes from the Pumpkin Man!

Years ago I was the Director of Interactive Operations for the Denver Post and worked right downtown on the 16th Street Mall. I had worked there for a number of years. One day when heading out for lunch a gentleman stopped me on the street asking if I had some change for the bus. Now I was familiar with that “line” and was experienced with the homeless that sometimes pan handled on the mall. Sometimes I gave and many times I did not. I opened up my wallet and saw I only had $5 which I intended to use for my lunch and I said, “I only have a $5 bill,” which is more than he needed for his bus ride. He misinterpreted that I guess to mean that I could only give him $5 and he said, “That is okay” enthusiastically, seeing as $5 to be more than he needed. I didn’t want to disappoint the man, so I gave him the $5.

I’m not sure what happened next, but maybe it dawned on the man my original intent after I handed him the money and he said, “Where are you going?” I said, I was going to get some lunch. He said, “Let me buy you some lunch at the McDonalds.” I found his offering both surprising and intriguing so I agreed. We then proceeded to the McDonalds where he bought me a hamburger using the $5 I gave him and we sat down together and started to talk. He had just gotten out of jail and was downtown trying to get a social security card so he could get a job and actually needed money for the bus so he could get to his next destination.

Now I share this story, not because I did something good. In reality, I did not. It was more circumstance than a kind heart. If anyone was good, it was that man and not me. He taught me. In difficult circumstances HE was kind to me. I wish I had done more for him now. Because the lessons I learned from him where invaluable. As a beggar, he was dignified. And this Holiday season I have to think of the great scripture that says:

“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?”

Merry Christmas!


(Christmas 2013)

Merry Christmas #1

Going home for Christmas has its advantages. I simplified and didn’t do my baking extravaganza or mail our cards. I’ve felt pangs of guilt whenever anyone has brought by a card or a treat…but then we eat away and get over it really quickly. There’s always next year. Now that I’m working out of the home while juggling a lot of freelance writing and Mile High Mamas, I don’t have time for clutter. And sometimes saying ‘no’ feels pretty good…while being grateful for all of the ‘yes’ friends in our life!

After a pretty rough few years, I’m actually looking forward to 2019. Nothing has really changed and we are still battling many of our same challenges but I feel like we’re getting a better handle on everything. But with two (almost) teenagers, I’m reminded that life is never predictable.

We have some solid Christmas traditions. Watch A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life.  Bake treats (I made a gazillion gingerbread cookies for various functions). Read and sing from our Christmas book every night. Do service. Visit Santa. See the lights on Temple Square. And on Christmas Eve, we have a compendium of traditions. The left-wright game. Holiday gift exchange. Play the bells. Christmas Jammies. Eat a gazillion treats.

One thing that hasn’t been constant for the holidays is where we are spending them. Even when we’re at home, we seem to always travel to some family member’s house for Christmas Eve or Day. And that’s OK; I’d rather be surrounded by family. Hawaii would be nice, too. :-)

Check-in luggage is $50 on Delta so we’re only taking one large suitcase and we decided to open most of our gifts here. Tomorrow, we’ll open our Grandma gifts at Jamie’s parents and do a little celebration before flying to Calgary. Three Christmases in one week? That’s a win!

For our family Christmas yesterday, I slept in until 7:30 a.m. to find Elf Jamie bursting at the seams that he’s been up for hours wrapping gifts and when he saw me, he started blasting Christmas music but I shut him down that we do not wake teenagers early.

By 9 a.m., they were tearing through their presents that included computer/coding games for Bode, a sundry of art supplies for Hadley from Fat Kitty (and on her card, he wrote, “Draw me like one of your French girls, Hadley.” Perv Kitty). Jamie stepped it up and probably bought more presents than I did this year.  A used trampoline and a Roomba were the bigger items.

Then, I tagged along for a fun night with our youth! We went to the temple, had a private fireside with Elder LeGrand Curtis, toured Temple Square’s lights and not-to-be forgotten were the disgusting drink concoctions these teens dared each other to drink (meat juice, anyone?) at Chuck-a-Rama.

(Jensen, Bode, Will, Wally, Stockton, Hunter)

(Cassidy, Emma, Hadley, Edyn)

(Intense coin showdown)

It was Bode’s first time at the restaurant and he was very concerned about the cost of a group our size.

Bode: “Who is paying for all of this?”
Me: “The Ward. You know, Jesus.”
Bode: “We’re making Him pay on His birthday?”

 

 

 

Gingerbread Cookies with Eggnog and White Chocolate Filling

My childhood friend and neighbor, Stacey, dropped me a note this morning. While watching Christmas movies on Netflix, she was inspired to go through her files to look for some Christmas recipes.  In 1991, her now-deceased mom wrote out all of her recipes as a Christmas gift. On each note card, her mom wrote who gave her the recipe and my domestic goddess mom’s name was written on many of  the files.

“It’s just kind of beautiful,” Stacey wrote. “I feel like I am spending the day with both of our moms today (and yes, I am ugly crying as I type this!)”

Given my mom’s poor health, I, too was touched that her legacy continues to live on.  Our Christmases were a flurry of activity in the kitchen with her famous Christmas pudding (and that amazing white sauce), shortbread cookies, amazing pies and thoughtful gifts. Our house was decked out in holidays colors and lights and the snow. How I loved the snow! We’d bundle up and go skating at the community center or go sledding in the gully, followed by cozying up to our fireplace with hot chocolate. There is something so powerful about the traditions and recipes we pass down through the generations.

I have a new recipe to add to that list. With three of my very favorite flavors–gingerbread, eggnog and white chocolate–melded together in one recipe, this cookie is my own Christmas miracle.

I adapted this recipe from the blog Two Cups Flour and if you like your gingerbread with stronger, more rustic flavors, this is the way to go. Next time around, I’m going to make my own gingerbread recipe that is a tad bit sweeter but either way, it’s full of sugar and spice and everything nice.

Here’s to our mothers, traditions and a holiday that reminds us of that love.

Gingerbread Cookies with Eggnog and White Chocolate Filling

  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp Ground Ginger
  • 2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg or allspice
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 10 Tbsp Unsalted Butter softened
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar (their recipe called for dark; I prefer light)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses
  • 3 Tbsp  Pure Maple Syrup

Topping

  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar for rolling gingerbread balls

Eggnog White Chocolate

  • 2 Cups White Chocolate Chips or Chopped Baking Bar
  • 1/4 Cup Eggnog
  • Dash of nutmeg (optional)

Instructions

Cookie Dough

  1. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients (flour with baking soda, spices, and salt). Set aside.
  2. In a mixer, beat together the softened butter with brown sugar until creamy.
  3. Add egg, molasses, and maple syrup to the butter mixture. Mix together on medium until combined.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture, ensuring it is thoroughly mixed before adding the next portion.
  5. Form the dough into a large ball, wrap and plastic and chill in the fridge for 30-45 minutes.
  6. Preheat Oven to 350 F and grease the cookie sheet.
  7. Measure 1 Tbsp of cookie dough and roll into small balls with your hands. Place each cookie dough ball into a bowl with the granulated sugar, roll around for a light coating. Place dough balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
  8. Bake cookies for 6-7 minutes until almost cooked (don’t bake cookies until they are hard; they will firm up as they cool down).
  9. Once they are cooled, take your teaspoon and gently press down your ‘thumbprint’ in the middle. Note: Don’t go lower than halfway through cookie.
  10. Let cookies cool completely before filling with eggnog white chocolate.

Eggnog White Chocolate Filling

Warm the eggnog and combine with white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring every 30 minutes until melted and smooth (a double-boiler is great, too).  Transfer eggnog and white chocolate to a piping bag or a Ziploc bag with a cut corner. Pipe into thumbprint of cooled cookies and leave for 30 minutes to set. Sprinkle with cinnamon and store in an air-tight container.

Happy Halloween 2018

It’s true I was in mourning last Halloween as I realized my kids have mostly aged out of the revelries (with the exception of Bode who still went trick-or-treating).  This year, he had a school social (though it wasn’t so social because he avoided the dance at all costs) and later connected with his neighborhood buddies for some hard-core treat canvassing.

He maaaaay have one year left but we shall see.

As for me, I’m still in knee recovery mode and felt the plague coming on the night before..and was super sick by Halloween. So I got to stay home yet again with the Fat Cat. Hurray!

It was still a good night. Our neighbors go all-out–some make fresh doughnuts. Others have hot dogs, a firepit and doughnuts. And I know one crazy house with giant pumpkins.

with Stockton, Will, Miles, Georgia and Chloe

See this guy here? I bought enough candy for 150+ but I didn’t account for the fact he would hand out handfuls of candy….and we ran out in an hour.

On the plus side, Bode is apparently a better planner than I. Before he went trick-or-treating, he called out to me from behind my computer: “Mom, how do you spell D-I-A-B-E-T-E-S?”

Gotta know just how much candy you can eat.

Christmas 2017: It’s a Wrap!

Christmas 2017 is a wrap! Jamie’s family has some lovely traditions and they are kind enough to let me integrate a few of my own.

Saturday

With Christmas on a Monday, our schedule was thrown a bit of a wrench because many of our activities fell on Saturday. It didn’t make much sense to drive back and forth from Salt Lake City (about an hour away) so when we saw snow was in the forecast, we stayed Saturday and Sunday night at Linda’s.  Jamie’s brother Chris drove out from Denver so the whole clan was here, which made for a tight squeeze at Grandma Linda’s Inn but was still fun.

The brunch at Grand America was our first stop. Linda is kind enough to treat the whole family and I love this tradition in one of Utah’s fanciest hotels. The selection isn’t nearly as extensive as The Broadmoor (which has ruined us for life) but the food is still delicious. They took way too many reservations so there was a long wait for the food–a line that wrapped all the way around the dining room–which is really pathetic at a buffet.  But trust my good husband to issue a complaint and get four of the meals comped because we’re those people.

Side note: Pay particular attention to Bode’s expressions. He’s a real joy with pictures right now. :-)

We took family pictures in the courtyard in the snow, Chris chucked a snowball at Jamie (can’t wait to see that photo) and we dispersed back to the hotel to check-out the life-sized gingerbread house and candy windows. From there, it was off to see “The Last Jedi,” which got two thumbs up from us all! The rest of the day/night was pizza gorging and hanging out at Grandma’s.

Sunday

The whole family attended church at Grandma’s ward and it was one of my most memorable Christmas Sundays ever! They combined with the Spanish-speaking congregation and having the service entirely bilingual was so touching. We were surrounded by Spanish-speaking families and I got choked up to hear them sing…and then we joined them to attempt “Silent Night” in Spanish. There were several times during the service when the speakers and singers were moved to tears and it was just so memorable to be reminded that we are all part of this big, beautiful world bonded together by our Savior, regardless of what language we speak.


Jamie’s sister, Tammy, threw a wonderful Christmas Eve party complete with my family’s pipe bells, the gift exchange game where Linda was the grand prize winner of my white elephant gift: a beautifully framed picture of The Pumpkin Man. Tammy is an amazing cook and we had smoked pork tacos and figgy pudding for dessert, and watched A Christmas Carol and the story of the Nativity.

The bells!

On the drive back to Grandma’s, we stopped at Temple Square to the see the lights. Zero crowds + the Salt Lake Temple appearing like an apparition in the flurry of snow and lights = a peacefulness that breathed the very spirit of that holy day.

Monday

Christmas!!! My loving(?!) husband excitedly woke everyone up at 7:15 a.m., which I suppose isn’t nearly as bad as my brother Pat’s family who always wake up around 4 a.m. (proof of “Crazy Canucks” is in the puddin’). I made breakfast bake with Hollandaise sauce and our famous Ebelskivers for a yummy Christmas breakfast…and the wait wasn’t nearly as long as the Grand America.

Growing up, our family’s tradition was a bit of a free-for-all with paper and presents flying everywhere. Jamie’s family is much more civilized and they elect a Santa who hands out presents and everyone takes turns opening them for all to see. It’s a bit tedious for kids (like me) who just want to get on with it but it makes the moment last longer.

A few gift highlights:

Jamie: We seem to always forgo presents to each other and pool our financial resources into other presents for the kids and family. His big gift for his birthday a couple of weeks ago was a new suit, which he proudly modeled as his “birthday suit.” His mom bought propane tanks for his new greenhouse and that will be part of my dad’s gift as well (we’re sure fun people). Jamie also bought a few Echo Dots to smart-wire our house.   He claims “Alexa” is the only woman in the house who actually listens to him and does what he says. 

Bode: Aunt Lisa and Grandma bought him a Kindle Fire and my dad sent some money to buy our own gifts so we loaded a lot of books and games onto his Kindle Fire.  Jamie also bought him a drone, only to find out (too late) it doesn’t have a video camera. We figure we’ll do an upgrade once he figures how to fly it without crashing! He loves games of all kinds so scored several classic board games like Mastermind and Rummikub.

Hadley: We’re trying to finish decorating her room so she got some lights and clips to hang pictures and we’re still searching for the perfect portrait for above her bed.  She got a tripod for her camera, Grandma Johnson bought her a lot of clothes, while Grandpa Borowski got her VANS and volleyball shoes. She was excited to get Alexa in her room because she can finally listen to music (we don’t allow phones/computers in the bedrooms); however, we have more sinister plans like wake-up calls and turning on the lights to get that teen out of bed. She had her phone taken away the week leading up to Christmas so she said her favorite gift was getting it back on Christmas. Note to self: Don’t waste money on presents next year; just regift items they already have.

Me: Now that we live next to The Best Pathway in the World (the Provo River Parkway), I bought some new roller-blades from my dad. My blades are 20+ years old and my sole outing last summer on my decrepit blades was rather disastrous. Jamie surprised me with some gorgeous new KEEN hiking shoes and I got some cookbooks and kitchen items as well.

Jamie’s parents received a financial settlement from a lawsuit so generously gave each of their children some money, as well as put some in each grandchild’s college tuition account. My first thought upon receiving their gift was to make a smart investment but Jamie’s plan made more sense: to pay down some debt. We’re still climbing out of all financial messes of our move…and the car troubles from last summer.  We’re almost out of debt and vowed to be completely debt-free before taking more on with getting another car, landscaping the backyard and finishing the basement. We had a good chuckle when we realized my Pilot is as old as our marriage–a 2003! It’s no wonder it’s falling apart.

Our 2017 had a lot of highs and lows as our first full year in Utah but I’m hopeful that this slow rebuilding process will start to have some dividends in 2018. Here’s to a great one!

Lost and Found

I came to know Jon Schmidt from the popular musical group, The Piano Guys, many years ago when he was in the Bishopric of my single’s ward. He was a struggling musician with a large family and was a kind, humble man (and I’m so happy he has remained that way even in fame).

Last year, there was a story in the media that deeply touched me when his daughter, Annie, went missing during a hike in Oregon. There was an extensive search and her body was eventually found. The mainstream media reported the basics of the search and rescue but I felt like there was more to the story so I continued digging into it even after the case wrapped and I found an article in the Standard-Examiner about her miraculous recovery.

I’ll include that story below but I was reminded of it when I saw a beautiful video The Piano Guys recently posted. The holidays are about joy but for so many who have lost loved ones or who are dealing with loneliness, it’s a sorrowful time. This music speaks to having peace.

Finding Annie Schmidt: One woman’s calling to find Piano Guys lost daughter

By Mark Saal

Millions of people followed the heartbreaking story of Annie Schmidt, the 21-year-old who disappeared last month in the rugged mountains of the Columbia River Gorge. But for one Oregon woman, finding Annie Schmidt became something of a calling.

Schmidt, daughter of a member of the Utah-based musical group The Piano Guys, was last seen Oct. 16, when she went hiking in the gorge. Her vehicle was found near the trailheads to several backcountry hikes.

Lydia McGranahan, 40, lives in the small town of Keizer, Ore., just north of Salem. Like so many others, McGranahan saw the news of a missing hiker.

“It happens to be about an hour and a half from where I live,” McGranahan said by telephone Thursday. “I’m an avid hiker and know the area quite well.”

She decided to help look for Annie.

On Oct. 23, McGranahan joined the massive volunteer effort to search for Schmidt. But when the group finished for the day around noon, McGranahan wasn’t ready to leave.

This pair of undated photos was released by the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau during the search for the young woman.This pair of undated photos was released by the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau during the search for the young woman.

“I didn’t want to go home, it wasn’t dark yet,” she said. “So I thought, ‘I’m going to stand where Annie’s car was, and try to think like her.’ ”

There are any number of trails — covering quite a bit of ground — in the area, so McGranahan just began hiking, all the while trying to imagine where Annie might have gone.

“I started walking down one trail, and then onto another trail,” she said.

McGranahan ended at Munra Point, which OregonHikers.org describes as “an exposed basalt knob at the junction of three spiny ridges … (offering) a spectacular and exposed 360-degree view up and down the Columbia River Gorge.” The website describes it as a “non-maintained trail,” with steep scrambles, and is “safest in dry weather.” It had rained the morning Schmidt had gone hiking.

When McGranahan got to Munra Point, she says, “It seemed like the place Annie would want to go; I felt like we should search there.”

That night, McGranahan had an intense dream. She felt herself falling, and as she fell, she saw Schmidt’s face — as if she were somehow inside her.

“I felt strongly, when I woke up from that, that Annie had fallen,” McGranahan says. “And that she was at Munra Point.”

McGranahan would spend seven days, daylight to dark, helping search for Schmidt.

On Oct. 26, McGranahan’s 40th birthday, she again joined the search. She’d originally planned on going to McKenzie River and hiking 40 miles on her 40th birthday.

“That’s what I set out to do, but then the night before, I found out the family was spending one more day searching for Annie,” she said. “And I thought, ‘I can’t do my own thing, not as long as she is missing.’ ”

That day, at the staging area, McGranahan told the search team about her dream and shared a few other clues that led her to believe Schmidt was near Munra Point. But the group had already searched that area, and had made plans for searching elsewhere. McGranahan decided to be a team player and go along with the group.

But midway through that search, one of the men in the group confided to McGranahan: “She’s not here,” he said.

So he, McGranahan and one other man decided to leave the group and search at Munra Point. They scoured potential areas where Schmidt could have fallen, even rappelling off a cliff edge that turned out to be not far from where Schmidt was found.

“After that, I felt such a strong pull,” McGranahan admits. “I’d come home, I couldn’t sleep. People were posting ‘It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,’ and I’m, like, ‘No it’s not.’ It’s not. I had this serious drive and intuition to find her.”

At one point, McGranahan’s 12-year-old daughter emerged from Sunday services at the nondenominational Christian church they attend with a premonition. “She came out to the car and said, ‘Mom, we were singing a song, and I felt like God was talking to me. He told me you’re going to find Annie.’ … I’d prepared myself that I would be the one to find her.”

On the day before McGranahan found Annie, the Schmidt family brought in eight search and rescue dog teams, led by Eden resident Joe Jennings, president of Great Basin K9 Search & Rescue. The plan was to search several high-probability areas, but when McGranahan was assigned to help in an area away from Munra Point, she asked to be reassigned.

“They’d asked me to go to a different place and I was, like, ‘No, I want to go to Munra.’ ” McGranahan recalls.

So she was teamed with Jennings and his golden retriever, Gunny, to search the area below the point.

“There was one large area I felt strongly about, knowing Annie liked to take shortcuts,” she said. “Joe was assigned that part, so I led him up there.”

The going was slow — steep, thick vegetation, a lot of bushwhacking — difficult terrain to walk on once you get off-trail. Then, it happened.

“Joe’s dog popped up his head,” McGranahan said. “I saw it immediately in Gunny — the attitude, nose up, whole body changed, faced uphill. I knew we were onto something.”

Gunny, a 9-year-old golden retriever, barks to alert searchers he's picked up a scent in this Nov. 10 photo. He and his owner, Joe Jennings, of Eden, were instrumental in finding the remains of Annie Schmidt, the Oregon hiker who went missing in mid-October.Gunny, a 9-year-old golden retriever, barks to alert searchers he’s picked up a scent in this Nov. 10 photo. He and his owner, Joe Jennings, of Eden, were instrumental in finding the remains of Annie Schmidt, the Oregon hiker who went missing in mid-October.

They worked their way up under the cliff, then Gunny seemed to lose the scent.

“The wind was swirling; Joe said Gunny was trying to figure it out,” McGranahan said.

Eventually, unable to pinpoint the scent, the team needed to head back down to the trailhead.

“Joe’s dog sat at the cliff edge, head up, barking,” McGranahan recalls. “Gunny was frustrated. He did not want to go — he knew Annie was close.”

McGranahan led a second team up that afternoon, but again, they were unsuccessful.

The next morning, McGranahan headed back to the same area with a fresh search team — Wyoming-based Liz Hall and her dog, Reu.

Reu led Hall and McGranahan to a spot not far from where Gunny had taken them. It was there they found Schmidt’s remains and belongings.

Annie Schmidt was found.

Officials determined the death to be accidental; they believe she slipped and fell from the cliffs above and died on impact.

McGranahan feels fortunate she was able to help with Schmidt’s recovery — and marvels they were able to find her so quickly with the dogs.

“Fall was happening,” McGranahan said. “When Annie went missing, the leaves were still on the trees. By the time we found her, all the leaves were off the trees. The trails, the evidence on the ground, even some of Annie’s stuff — they were covered with leaves.”

This highlights the need for trained search dogs like Gunny and Reu, according to Jennings.

“A lot of the human searchers didn’t — or couldn’t — get off the trails, he said. “In that terrain, you could walk a few feet from her and never know she was there.”

Jennings said when they abandoned the search the day before Schmidt was found, they’d assumed she’d landed on one of the many ledges and overhangs on the cliffs above.

“If we’d just gone around the corner, we would have run into her,” he said.

McGranahan has had a difficult time dealing with the memories of finding Annie Schmidt’s remains — although she knows that, with time, things will get better. And she’s been invited to Monday’s funeral, and to stay with the family of one of the two other searchers she worked with on her birthday.

McGranahan has been so affected by the experience that she wants to pursue search and rescue, eventually getting a dog to train.

“I’ve been astounded at how so many people have come together in this search, in so many different ways, and how everybody’s part was valuable,” she said. “I’d come back from a day of searching — exhausted, discouraged that we hadn’t found her — and see on Facebook that hundreds and hundreds of people were encouraging you, praying for you.

“To me, when people are still praying, I cannot stop searching.”

Christmastime in the City errr…Town

It’s such a busy time of year for so many but strangely, this has been my least stressful Christmas in a while.  I finished my shopping and wrapping a few weeks ago, which has allowed me freedom from the holiday frenzy. I’ve helped my friend Kelly with her move and was also able to pick-up a last-minute freelance writing assignment.  The kids and I met Jamie’s family for Christkindlmarkt in Salt Lake City and this traditional German Christmas Market made me miss my time in Switzerland.

We enjoyed Midway’s Christmas tree lighting and candlelight walk and the Midway Town Party a couple of weeks later where the kids emerged with huge bags of candy, even though they were on the naughty list after jumping over the barrier before the program was over so they could be among the first in line with Santa.

(Bode with the Seversons; Hadley is too cool to visit Santa)

I did a huge baking session last weekend after skiing (8+ hours of all our favorites: caramel toffee squares, almond rocha, white chocolate snowball cookies, cream cheese cutout cookies and sugar-and-spice cookies). We made up about 30 treat plates and had so much fun delivering them on Sunday. Some memorable moments: Bode subtly pinching me whenever I tried to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to the recipients. Andrea turning on her blinding porch light and my over-the-top response, “The light, it burns!” A certain someone who warned, “Watch the extension cord” as we talked up to the house, only to have another certain someone trip on it at that exact moment. It was a fun night with a lot of laughter and I’m grateful for this family of mine.

I’ve wanted to sponsor a family’s Christmas for ages but money always seems to be especially tight around the holidays so we went to our local “Angel Tree” to purchase some gifts to local kids in need. It was pretty sobering to see their wish lists; for too many, it was basic things like socks and underwear. We ended up buying some cars and trucks for a 5-year-old boy and then some art supplies for a 13-year-old teen with autism. It wasn’t much but it felt good to at least do something.

Everyone is gathering in Calgary for Christmas except me and I’ve been really homesick. We’re now only a 13-hour drive home but only have one functioning car that can’t make the winter drive. Airline tickets are too expensive so we’re staying in Utah. My mom’s health continues to deteriorate…I haven’t really talked to her in a year and it has reached the point where my dad can no longer care for her at home so changes will need to be made.  When you have suffered for 30 years with an unrelenting disease, grief comes in waves. The other night, I was missing her so badly and did something I haven’t really done since we moved here: I played the piano. It was late and as my fingers flew over the keys, I felt reconnected to a former life where music brought comfort and I deeply regretted I have let that go…and vowed to do better.

Things are slowly starting to click for everyone. We still miss our deep Colorado connections and I am trying to be OK that maybe we’ll never have a friend group like that again. I didn’t do a Christmas card or newsletter this year so here’s where we’re ending 2017:

Bode, 6th grade. Enjoying middle school, playing the flute and piano and made the Honor Roll. Has a handful of good friends, takes a free coding class at the library with them every week and will soon start X-country skiing at Soldier Hollow. Still gloriously drama-free.

Hadley, 8th grade. Enjoys torturing her parents by refusing to turn in her assignments until right before end-of-term when she is miraculously able to pull out acceptable grades. Made the club volleyball team, has a growing interest in photography and is enjoying weekly Young Women activities at church.

Jamie. Grew his second and third biggest pumpkins ever and is figuring out a way to get the federal government to help fund his obsession (I wish I was kidding). Health (rheumatism) isn’t great but he continues to work [too] hard and grow his business.

Amber. Mile High Mamas is still doing well and I hope to make some changes and/or sell it next year. I have had some freelance work in Utah (including a big campaign for Park City this winter) and a few job interviews at BYU. Not nearly enough outdoor playtime and hiking. Must. Do. Better.

I feel hopeful for 2018, something I haven’t felt for a couple of years with all the uncertainty of our move. I’m not sure what lessons I’ve learned in 2017. It’s been a year of rebuilding and trying to have patience with my life in limbo. But my hope for 2018 is to have courage and clarity as to why we’re here and where we should be going.

XO

 

Light the World this December!

My best Christmas ever was when I was 21 and serving an 18-month LDS Mission in Switzerland. We were given the challenge by our president to cancel all of our appointments and spend the entire week leading up to Christmas doing nothing but service. Our miraculous week culminated by serving Christmas Eve dinner at a homeless shelter where we were so enveloped in the love and gratitude by those around us who had nothing.

We all have so much to give and I love the #lighttheworld initiative that kicked off today. Essentially, it’s 25 days of celebrating the birth of Jesus by serving others. Each day has a short video and then a few suggestions for easy ways to serve.  You don’t have to be Mormon to do this…imagine what a wonderful December this would be if everyone took just a few minutes to lift someone’s burden and make the world a kinder place. 

The Light, I See the Light!

Here’s another post from January of last year I never published. Our first family newsletter still makes me laugh!

My goal for January was to purge and organize our home and I’m happy to say I have finished this major undertaking except for the garage. THAT is a project unto itself. Though I try to clean it semi-annually, Jamie ALWAYS wreaks havoc after pumpkin season and there are fertilizer spills, tarps and who-knows-what-else.

I had big plans to clean the garage on Saturday but was struck with the plague.

Me: “I have bad news. I’m too sick so we can’t clean the garage today.”

Hadley: “That’s the bad news? What’s the good news?”

“You get to do your regular chores today.”

Compared to cleaning the garage, that is welcome  news.

I’m still under the weather, which is a particular bummer because we’re having OneHeckOfASnowStorm and it’s depressing to be stuck indoors. I did very little adventuring in January but February will be filled with some of my favorites including Glenwood Springs, a family reunion at YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center and The Broadmoor for my birthday. Lackluster January 2016 is well beyond me!

When you’ve lived somewhere for 12 years, it’s amazing how much you collect and it’s been fun to stroll down memory lane. One of my favorite things I uncovered was our very first family holiday newsletter that we sent December 2004. I started blogging shortly thereafter and it’s obvious I needed a creative outlet because I. Was. On. One. Do you know those families that sugarcoat tough years? I did the opposite because make no mistake: our transition to parenthood was rough with our sleepless 6-month-old Hurricane Hadley.  I’ll publish it here for your reading enjoyment.

Johnson Family News

For unto us a child is born, Unto us a daughter is given. And the parents shall be at her fingertips. And her name shall be called Wonderful, Crier, The Mighty Hadley, The Insomniac Babe, The Princess of Pandemonium. -James 24:7

We are pleased to announce that we have [barely] survived the first six months of parenthood! Between starting a business, building a home and birthing a child, there is never a dull moment.

Hadley’s Happenings

Hadley loves hiking with the Colorado Mountain Mamas and is very displeased when she is stuck indoors. She is known as the social butterfly of the babies and tackles them upon contact. “Why” is not in her vocabulary “admittedly, her only vocab consists of “Wah, I don’t want to sleep,” and “Wah, I want food NOW.”)

When not hungry and overtired, she is a complete joy and loves to laugh, have food fights, roll over, yank Mommy’s hair out, dance for Daddy, bounce off walls (literally in her Johnny Jumper), take baths, attack her friends and pull all-nighters.

There is little question who she resembles most with her spirited personality and looks; Jamie is just glad she has his brown eyes to verify that she is indeed his offspring.

Amber’s Anarchy

Amber’s transition from Adventure Travel Writer to Adventurous Unraveling Mother was reminiscent of her Murphy’s Law life. Though relieved Hadley was not born a black baby with buck teeth (as her prophetic dreams foretold), Amber became very familiar with the hospital before and after the birth. She had emergency on her finger a week before delivery but was displeased when it did not preclude her from diaper duty. Then, there was the infamous Bleach Incident a few weeks later when Amber made a trip to the ER after dumping a gallon of bleach in her eyes. The ER has since issued her a punch card; one more visit and she wins a free ambulance ride.

When not frequenting the hospital, Amber enjoys hiking several times per week with Hadley in a local hiking club. Amber has met several outdoorsy moms and her social group is now based in Boulder–the Granola Capitol of Colorado. She is proud to say that she is the only non-Vegan in the group and has yet to be force-fed tofu.

Jamie’s Jabber

Jamie continues to manage the operations and meltdowns at the Denver Newspaper Agency. He also launched a wedding website business and has successfully partnered with more than 15 national newspapers. As the helm of Customer Care, he enjoys correspondence with neurotic and emotions brides across the country. He claims it makes his own estrogen-overdosed household seem less neurotic and emotional.

This past summer, Jamie slaved in soil that made the frozen tundra of the Motherland look like the Garden of Eden. He installed a sprinkler system, sod and even single-handled carried one-ton rocks across the yard…just for fun. Publicity Amber claims he accomplished these great feats on a mere five hours of sleep. Five hours over the course of five months, that is. He is also the Ward Mission Leader at church and relishes in his early-morning meets on the lone day he would have been able to sleep in.

When asked what inspires him, Jamie replied, “Fear of Hadley. Must do what Hadley says. Must not anger the Hadley. Must keep Hadley from crying!! Must get Hadley to sleep!!! KEEP THE HADLEY HAPPY! MUST KEEP THE HADLEY HAPPY!!!!”

Couple’s Corner

We feel so blessed this holiday season to celebrate the birth of the Savior with our beautiful baby in our new home. We wish you all the best in 2005 and of course: “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night(‘s sleep!)