Chilling: Johnson-style

We’ve had a one-week break between travels and I set the goal to give everyone some much-needed downtime and we had just that for several hours every day.

However, downtime gets old really quickly chez nous. Here are a few things we did to curb off the summer doldrums:

Two weeks of outdoors swim lessons with several of my besties from our ward. It was like a pool party every day.

And as a total bonus, both kids passed their classes. Hadley is now in the top class on her way to swim team and Bode passed his first class (Trouts) ever and is now a Duck.

If you’ve followed his swimming missteps, you’ll know this deserves a celebration.

We also took our neighbors to the Children’s Museum of Denver. We were regulars when the kids were younger but haven’t been back for a couple of years because they’re in school and I thought they’d outgrown it.

Sean & Bode inside a bubble at the Bubble Exhibit
Hadley with real power tools: watch out

Five hours later, I realized I could not have been more wrong.

We spent Family Home Evening flying a kitean airplane.

It was obviously intense.

We threw Bode a “Pretend Birthday” because we’ll be in Canada for his birthday.

More on that later but those (wet) projectile weapons sure were real.

And last but definitely not least, we spent the afternoon boating and playing at Chatfield State Park with the youth from church. Remember how June had record-breaking heat? The one day we planned our beach visit, it was blustery, windy and rainy.

However, we still had a blast and created even more memories than if it had been sweltering.

Mostly because my memories would have been bad ones.

Hadley tubing with two of her babysitters
Bode warming up with Bryan
Stomp Rockets: something I need to add to our toy collection
Hadley & Morgan snuggling up under our canopy as it poured

One of the great things in the Mormon church is we have a non-paid clergy and are asked to serve in a number of different capacities. I’ve pretty much had the opportunity to do it all–from working with the younger kids to the adults to teaching gospel doctrine to throwing parties to serving in presidencies. But hands down, my favorite favorite favorite calling ever is teaching the youth.

3 of the 4 girls I teach at church. Awesome young ladies!
Our group of youth

P.S. Did you know “sick” is out and the new, hip word is “That is so ‘beast?’”)

Because there’s nothing like a 40-year-old pretending to be cool.

But I’m telling you, this overheated summer has been anything but.

A Romantic Interruption

Jamie. Yes, the man grows giant pumpkins. Yes, he seems to work 24/7. But he has always done remarkably well in the romance department, for which I am grateful.

One year, he surprised me with a getaway to a gorgeous cabin in Breckenridge. Another time, it was the St. Julien in Boulder. Another favorite was the scavenger hunt that led us to the Lumber Baron Inn.

For his most recent surprise, he told me I needed a nap because we’d be staying out late.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I have to be in bed by 11 p.m.”
“That’s why you need to take a nap.”
I continued, “Cuz if I stay up past then, this Cinderella will turn into a pumpkin.”

For any other guy, this analogy would work. Not for a giant pumpkin grower. He deviously grinned and queried, “How big?”

That afternoon, I took a nap.

We dropped the kiddos off at Aunt Lisa’s for a sleepover and he told me we were going to dinner in downtown Denver. We parked the car in a lot across from the Brown Palace, the luxurious, historic hotel where we spent our wedding night.

I casually asked, “Are we going to the Brown Palace?”
“No, but we have a few minutes before our dinner reservation so why don’t we pop over?”

I was excited to go on a stroll down memory lane so we toured around the opulent lobby, bursting with energy during Afternoon Tea.

“Why don’t we go up to the top floor and look down?” he suggested. I gamely followed him in the elevator. When we arrived at the eighth floor, he pulled out a piece of paper for me to read–a wonderful love note reminiscing the start of our lives together. He then led me over to a door, opened it with a key card and there, in the corner suite, there awaited our luggage and a menagerie of candles.

Jamie had snuck over earlier in the day (he told me he had a work meeting) to check-in and set everything up. He had even brought our Magic Bullet to make Pina Colada smoothies!
Dude should totally go on one of those shows about how to romance a woman.

That night, we headed over to Larimer Square and dined at Tag, an ultra-hip and chic restaurant and then strolled around 16th Street Mall, Denver’s popular pedestrian area. He spared no expense in showing us a good time.

Really, the only things he overlooked were my personal items.  Of course, I didn’t want to complain because he’d gone to all the trouble to set everything up. But on his surprise getaways, it would be swell if he could bring a few of my overnight items (especially since he came armed with a carry-on with some of his own). Though he did make a gesture.

“It would be nice if I had some make-up,” I commented the next morning.

“I did bring you make-up,” he said proudly as he pointed to the lone eye liner pencil he’d put in his hygiene bag.

I inwardly laughed he thought that’s all I needed.  Next time, I’ll just hope for a toothbrush and call it good.

Because his romantic gestures definitely are.

Bueller? Bueller?

Last Thursday, Hadley and I played hookey from school and work.

I’ve long wanted to pull her out of school for a girl’s afternoon and hope to make it a tradition for each of my kids every year. When I was extended an invitation to preview the Denver Zoo’s new Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit, the stars were aligned.

And we didst skip.

Toyota Elephant Passage

The Denver Zoo’s newest elephant habitat has been nearly a decade in the making and will finally open to the public on June 1, 2012. With 10 acres of varied terrain and 2 miles of interconnected trails, Toyota Elephant Passage not only showcases Southeast Asia’s wildlife (including elephants, one-horned rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, the fishing cat, clouded leopard and the Asian small-claws otters) but there are a lot of interactive elements to it.

Like this Tuk-Tuk.

I am screaming partially due to the crazy driver but also out of discomfort because those back seats are made for short people.

Or this Brachiation Station where kiddos can swing like monkeys.

I stayed far, far away from this one.

If you’re local and want more details of the new exhibit and our adventures, be sure to go to Mile High Mamas.


The Hike

I’ve long had a favorite secret hike that my kids did with me as babies in the backpack. And no, I’m not revealing its whereabouts; the hike is unknown to most everyone and I hope to keep it that way.

The trail is beautiful but steep near the summit but I figured Hadley was ready after showing me her hiking prowess on Turkey Trot last winter. We started out at a moderate pitch and we had a lovely time.

But when that trail turned steep the last 20 minutes to the summit? Whining. I had not taken into account my girl is out of shape for hiking (that will quickly be rectified this summer). Here’s a great shot of her mid-whine (click the picture for the full effect).

After I snapped it, she snapped back, “I’m deleting that picture!”

Guess what: she forgot.

I didn’t let her give up and the views of 14,2600-foot Mount Evans were so worth it. I mean, just look how high her little legs took her!

I’ll never forget our hike down because it was yet another reminder my girl is growing up. All the pain of our ascent was forgotten as we had “The Talk.” Not the birds and the bees just yet but the one that talks about the joys of puberty.

My, how disappointed she is going to be when it happens.


The Lunch

And nothing beats the puberty talk than eating at our favorite restaurant–Country Road Cafe– outside of Evergreen, CO.

If you’re ever in Colorado, you have to go. Just just take a look at their menu. They truly have the most amazing breakfasts and sandwiches/paninis.

As we drove home exhausted and happy, Hadley exclaimed, “THAT WAS AWESOME!”

I can’t wait to repeat that awesomeness every year with her.

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.

Denver’s Best Places to Skate Outdoors This Winter

Denver’s Best Places to Skate Outdoors This Winter

On Saturday, my family had one of our favorite winter adventures in Colorado: We skated Evergreen Lake.

Located just 20 minutes from Denver off I-70, this lake is surrounded by blue spruce, pines, evergreens and is about as close to an authentic Canadian skating experience as you can get in the Denver-area.

Side note: I was raised gliding along frozen lakes and rivers and learned very quickly that pretty much anywhere is skatable and that frozen nose hairs are a fashion statement.

A large portion of the 40-acre Evergreen Lake is Zambonied (a true Canadian verb) into a skating area with several smaller enclaves for hockey. The Evergreen Lakehouse is a stellar place to warm up to some hot chocolate or an affordable selection of food from the snack bar.

Six-year-old Haddie took skating lessons last year but it was 4-year-old Bode’s first time on skates. Several parents had constructed makeshift structures to help their beginners but I did it the old-fashioned way: I strained my back as I leaned over teaching him how to glide. And I let him fall. A lot.

By the end, he was starting to get it and I was ecstatic I am installing one of my childhood passions into my American-Canadian half-breeds.

And enjoying a dose of the best Colorado has to offer along the way.

Tip: Be sure to call Evergreen Lake’s hotline (720) 880-1391 the morning of your visit for ice conditions. If you are planning a weekend visit, the earlier you go the better. The lake gets busier as the day goes on. Plus, if it’s warm the ice will get soft and slushy.

Prices: Tot (3 years and under): free; Youth (4 – 18) : $4.75; Adult (19 – 59): $5.00. Skate rental is $6.

Eats: Run (don’t walk) to Country Road Cafe. Located in Kittredge (just 2 miles from Evergreen), this unassuming log cabin is home to the best breakfast in Colorado (and often has a long wait on the weekends to prove it). With over 100 items on their menu, you can’t go wrong with their nine different kinds of Eggs Benedict or their famous smashed mashes. My husband has never deviated from their gargantuan breakfast burrito and my kids adore the fluffy over-sized stuffed pancakes. This time, I was tempted by their daily specials: an omelet with steak, mushroom, blue cheese, truffle Hollandaise and crispy onions. But the French toast stuffed with lemon-poppy cheesecake topped with almonds was pretty tempting, too.


Other Denver-area Outdoor Rinks

Belmar Ice Rink. Cost: $6 adult, $4 child, $3 skate rental. Open daily through Feb. 27; hours vary. The Plaza at Belmar, Lakewood.

The Ice Rink at One Boulder Plaza. Cost: $6 adult, $4 children and seniors, 3 and under free, $3 skate rental. Open daily through mid-Feb. One Boulder Plaza, 1801 13th St., Downtown Boulder.

Longmont Ice Pavilion. Cost: $6.50 adult, $6 youth and seniors, $5.50 ages 2-5, $3 skate rental. Open daily through March 13. Roosevelt Park, 725 8th Ave., Longmont.

Southwest Rink at Skyline Park. Skating is FREE at this new downtown rink (thanks to a sponsorship by Southwest Airlines) with a $2 skate rental. Open daily through Jan. 31. Skyline Park, Arapahoe St. and 16th St., Denver.

The Streets at SouthGlenn Ice Rink. Cost: $7 per hour per person, $3 skate rental. Open through Feb. 1. The Streets at SouthGlenn, 6851 S. Gaylord St., Centennial.

WinterSkate in Historic Downtown Louisville. Cost: $5 adult, $4 ages 4-12, $3 seniors, 3 and under FREE, $3 skate rental. Open daily through Feb. 14. The Steinbaugh Pavilion, 824 Front St., Louisville.

WinterSkate in The Village at FlatIron Crossing. Cost: $5 adult, $4 ages 4-12, $3 seniors, 3 and under FREE, $3 skate rental. Open daily through Feb. 27. The Village at FlatIron Crossing, 1 W. FlatIron Crossing Dr., Broomfield.

Food, friends and summertime fun in Denver

One of my favorite activities in the summertime is to enroll the kids in a two-week-long session of outdoor swim lessons. This year, eight of our good friends joined us so everyday at the pool was like a party.

Hadley excelled and by the end, she could do the front crawl and go off the waterslide into the deep end by herself.

When Bode started his swim lessons, he refused to get his face wet.

And two weeks later he still would not get his face wet.

Any guesses re: who flunked and who moved onto the next level?


One afternoon, we celebrated my friends Eva and Lisa’s birthday by having a party at Westminster Center Park.

This newly-minted park is part-spray fountains and part London-themed playground and is one of the coolest in the Denver area.

This is Bode standing in their makeshift river.

And no, he still did not get his face wet.


One of Jamie’s clients makes ornate olive wood handicrafts out of Bethlehem. As a token of thanks, Mike invited us to come for dinner at his house that she shares with his brother George and sister-in-law Rhonda, their two kids and his parents.

The Middle Easterners redefine “All in the Family.”

I’ll admit it: I was a bit reluctant. It was a thoughtful gesture but going to a client’s home ain’t exactly common practice. But there was no tactful way to get out of it so we consented.

And am I ever glad we did.

First, they were absolutely lovely and I enjoyed reliving the time I spent in Israel, Jordan and Egypt on a Study Abroad.

Second, The Food.

And yes, it deserves capital letters.

Hands down, it was the best Middle Eastern food my mouth has ever had the privilege of partaking. Rhonda must have spent hours–maybe even days–preparing dishes that included grilled lamb and chicken on skewers, tabbouleh, grape leaf rolls, cabbage rolls, hummus, Turkish salad, pasta salad and homemade pita bread that made me weep from its sheer perfection.

The family was tight-knit and so generous. When Jamie mentioned he’d love to go to Israel, George raved, “Just let us know when. We have six homes in Bethlehem and we will set you up with everything you need.”

And he meant it, too.

I interjected: “Just so long as you have Rhonda’s cooking waiting for us.”

George wasn’t the only one who meant it.


I served a mission in Switzerland and France in ’92-’93. One of my dearest mission companions–Soeur (Sister) Fagerstrom–later roomed with me at BYU. I have not seen this little spitfire since my wedding so when she and her endodentist-husband announced they were passing through en route to Colorado Springs for a family reunion, I jumped for joy.

My vertical these days is about 0.5 inches, in case you were wondering.

I have never met her beautiful children so we spent a couple of hours showing them our favorite Denver haunts, which included taking them to dinner at legendary My Brother’s Bar.

Or rather, they took us out and ended up generously picking up the tab.

Note to out-of-town friends: We are happy to “take you to dinner” anytime you want.

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