What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

14241461_1528337867192379_4559129092582322024_o

In honor of the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service, my husband and I decided to rent an RV and take our three dogs on a road trip to Yellowstone, stopping at several sites along the way. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment. However, despite all the craziness inherent in first-time RV travel, I had many personal epiphanies, as I ventured into the “wilderness” (we stayed at campgrounds, omg!) and I thought I would share some of my insights with you.

Here are just a few:

Go Naked. Well, not literally.  As the saying goes, “the ability to accessorize is what separates us from animals.”  To me, going naked means wearing no make-up, jewelry, or cute shoes. Okay, I admit, I couldn’t go cold turkey. I did use mascara and lip gloss. But that was HUGE for me. Even stranger still, I wore no jewelry. My ears went completely unadorned for 9 days. I had no watch. My watch is as ubiquitous to me as Wonder Woman’s gold cuffs are to her. I FEEL naked without it. I applaud all of you lovely ladies au natural, who face each day fresh-faced and free of bangles and baubles. I wish I were one of you. Who knows, maybe there’s hope for me yet. I’m a firm believer in the theory that it’s NEVER too late to change.

14242495_1529949567031209_4969906897525042729_o

Tune Out Social Media. It’s a blessing in disguise, for die-hards such as me if I can’t get service at my destination. Facebook is a hard habit to break. I not only work in social media, but I’m a devoted Instagrammer personally. It killed me not to be able to post photos of all the beautiful, interesting things I saw. But guess what? I not only survived, I truly lived in the moment.

14257513_1529970270362472_4214378069929568382_o

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Stay Active or Atrophy. As I climbed the wooden steps to the top of Mammoth Springs, I literally fell over when I stopped to tie my shoe. I got dizzy looking at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I was winded and my heart pounded as I climbed the slightest incline. I absolutely swear, an older lady with an oxygen tank kept pace with me on the path to Devil’s Tower. No lie. This was a huge eye-opener for me that sitting at a desk all day, gardening on the weekends, and walking my dogs every night were not going to cut it as I age. Now that I’m home, I need to develop a serious exercise regimen that pushes me harder.

14305212_1529917060367793_2668411769527494990_o

Sacred Smoke Sculpture at Devil’s Tower

Take Notes. I have kept a journal almost every day since the first grade, when I learned to write. But on vacations, much to my horror, I get home and find blank pages where all the interesting people, places and adventures should be. It’s the little, odd, unexpected things that spontaneously happen to you on vacation, that really make the trip. So take a notebook. A simple wide-lined, spiral-bound will do. I kept mine handy so any time I had a spare moment I would jot down a couple of key phrases, just enough to jog my memory once the trip was over. It also came in handy to take notes from our vet back home when one of my dogs had an emergency, and to keep track of how much we spent on gas. I’m not an artist by any means, but I doodled a sketch of the creek beside one of our campgrounds, and as primitive as it is, the drawing is at least representative of what I wanted to capture.  So now I can go back and reconstruct my trip with the small details that mattered and fill in those blank pages. Those are the memories that take you back to a specific time, and risk being crowded out by day-to-day minutiae.

14352350_1529913713701461_5621332004568560944_o

The kayak trip…I’m the little yellow dot on the far shore

Spend Time Alone. Explore. Be still. Reflect. Be grateful. Notice the little things. Despite this being an anniversary trip, with apologies to my husband, some of my best memories of this trip were when I ventured off alone. I’d sneak in an hour or so each day to walk through the woods alone to a creek. Or I’d use walking one of the dogs as an excuse to venture down to the beach to watch the sunset over the water. My favorite alone time was renting a kayak early one morning on Jackson Lake, before the wind kicked up. I had the whole lake to myself. The water was perfectly still, and there, spread out in front of me, was not only the majesty of the Grand Tetons themselves, but a mirror reflection of them on the water. It was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I felt reverence. I know that this moment of calm was something I will carry with me and pull out when the stress of everyday life begins to wear me down.

14305395_1529660980393401_3824590971817420514_o

Contemplating life at Jackson Lake, The Grand Tetons

Finally, as author Susan Jeffers famously said, “Feel the fear, but do it anyway.” I don’t climb around on mountain boulders, ranging in age from 250 to 600 million years, every day. Or ever, in fact. Nor do I get the chance to venture off into the woods (bear spray in hand) exploring, searching for the source of the rushing water sounds, when I’m comfortable in my suburban home. But vacation is the time when you can be whomever you want to be. Do the things your home self, your 9-to-5 self, your mom self would NEVER do. Be bold and wander.

14333795_1528271730532326_5367176723865229142_n

Smart Perks blogger, Melanie Bisson, gets up close and personal with the wildlife.

 

Beware of Poisonous Plants

Mesa Verde National Park - Poison ivy

My husband and I live on 10 acres, most of which are woods and pasture. We used to have sheep and horses to eat up the long grass and keep the weeds at bay.  Now that we don’t have any animals, these annoyingly prolific plants have taken over our front pasture, turning it into a regular weed-fest complete with a colony of stinging nettles. (If you’ve ever brushed up against these prickly pests you know what a pain they are, literally!) I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s poison ivy or oak lurking in our woods as well.

The fact is you’ll find menacing vegetation almost anywhere – in ditches, forests, fields and pastures, in your yard and garden, or even in potted outdoor plants.

Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, whether it’s hiking, gardening, playing sports, camping, or working in the yard. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your surroundings and beware of plants that are poisonous.

Common Plants that Can Be Harmful to the Touch

Poison ivy and oak

“Leaves of Three, Let Them Be!”

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac: These pestilent plants contain an oily sap called urushiol, which is found on the stems, leaves and roots of the plant. The tenacious resin sticks to practically any surface (clothing, shoes, garden tools, camping gear, athletic equipment, even pet hair) and can easily transfer to your skin, causing an itchy, red rash which could surface within hours or even up to four days after exposure. Visit poison-ivy.org for all the facts.

WildParsnip

Wild Parsnip spreads like wildfire and causes severe burns and blisters.

Wild Parsnip – often found along roadsides, in ditches, pastures and open fields, this wicked weed reacts to sunlight, resulting in serious burns and blisters. Read this recent report from CBS News It’s alarming!!

More Phototoxic Plants (ones that become toxic when exposed to sunlight): celery, carrots, dill, parsley, limes, and figs.

Chrysanthemums (aka, mums)

Euphorbia (Spurge)

Flower bulbs (e.g., hyacinth, narcissus, daffodils, lilies, tulips)

Burning & Stinging Nettles

Prickly plants like roses, thistle, cacti, wild blackberries and raspberries

Campsis radicans (trumpet vine, or trumpet creeper, or cow itch vine, or hummingbird vine)
Trumpet Creeper – it may look beautiful, but don’t be rash! Touching it may cause an allergic reaction, plus it’s slightly toxic if eaten.

Geraniums and Marigolds

Giant Hogweed (heracleum sphondylium)
Giant Hogweed – these umbrella-shaped flowers with big leaves can cause painful skin and eye irritations.

Tasty, but Deadly  
Some people like to add petals or leaves to tea, salads and different culinary dishes or use them as garnish for desserts. And, oftentimes our pets will nibble on plants. But, there are several kinds of flowers and greenery that should never be on the menu as they can make you (or your furry friend) seriously ill.

Click here for an extensive list of poisonous plants and plant parts.

Not sure what plants are safe for your pets? You’ll find a list of toxic and non-toxic plants at aspca.org.

Preventative Measures

  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., long sleeves, pants, shoes/boots with socks) when hiking in areas where these types of plants grow.
  • Wear gloves when gardening, weeding, trimming shrubs, and doing yard work.
  • Wash any garden tools, sports gear or other objects with soap and water after using them.
  • If you think your pet’s been rolling around in poison ivy or other suspicious plants, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water (be sure to wear rubber gloves).
  • Don’t burn poisonous plants as the noxious substance can go airborne and get in your eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs.
  • Stay away from plants with three leaves (e.g., poison ivy and oak), but don’t rely solely on the “leaves of three, let them be” notion. Some, like Poison Sumac, can have up to 13 leaves.

Remedies/Treatments

  • Rinse your skin with cold water right away – avoid soap, however, as it can spread the resin. Don’t forget to scrub under fingernails too.
  • Take a cool, oatmeal bath – I recommend Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment – to help dry up any blisters and weeping rashes.
  • Apply a topical cream or lotion with calamine and zinc oxide to affected areas.
  • Take an oral antihistamine – like Benadryl – to help relieve some of the itching and skin irritation.
  • If you experience a severe reaction – e.g., swelling, difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing, nausea, or signs of an infection – see a doctor or head to the emergency room immediately!

Since I’ve barely “scratched” the surface on this subject, I recommend doing some research on your own.  Check out these sites to learn more about poisonous plants, what they look like, where to find them and the side effects.

Aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu

Canaryzoo.com

Everydayhealth.com

Be careful out there!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. has suddenly developed a case of Botanophobia (fear of plants). 

 

Fall’s Here! How Do You Like Them Apples?

10688018_341838519312856_6638610442060674960_o

Photo courtesy of Billie Jo Bylund, http://www.buffaloplaidstudio.com

“There’s something about autumn that wakes up our senses and reminds us to live.”  -unknown

10514430_341839139312794_8033752545796779217_o

Photo courtesy of Billie Jo Bylund, http://www.buffaloplaidstudio.com

I know some of you may be mourning the end of summer, but I’m one of those people who actually looks forward to fall. It’s probably my favorite time of the year. In this part of the country, the air is crisp and cool (we call it sweater weather) and the leaves turn to brilliant hues of red, yellow and orange. We even take short road trips just to view the spectacular fall colors. I also like the sound of fallen leaves crunching under my shoes when I go hiking in the woods. And, as crazy as it sounds, I even like to rake them when they pile up in my yard! It’s one way to get outside and burn some calories at the same time! Another great thing about this season… football! I’m a huge fan of the sport and every year I keep hoping our team will finally come through for us. Go Vikings!

Cart full of apples after picking in orchard

Cart full of apples after picking in orchard

But, I must say one of my favorite fall pastimes is picking apples. Over the last 20 or so years, we’ve set aside one Saturday every September to visit the local orchard. It’s evolved into a family tradition of sorts. I’m not sure what I like best about the whole experience – the wagon rides, watching the kids yank fresh apples off the trees, or seeing how many Honeycrisps, Haralsons and Firesides we can cram into 3 or 4 bags. Of course, we have to stop at the gift shop on the way out to sample apple cider and purchase some homemade preserves, apple butter and caramel dip. Suffice it to say we make quite a haul on these apple picking excursions!

The fact is we always end up with way too many apples to fit in our fridge. And, because one can only consume so much fruit in a day, I try to find recipes for anything with apples in them… apple pie, apple crisp, apple fritters, apple strudel, apple cake, apple bars, apple sauce… I’m beginning to sound like that shrimp obsessed character in Forrest Gump!
I’ve included some of my favorite apple recipes here. Give them a shot and I guarantee you and your family will love every bite!

Easy Apple Pie (Makes one 9-inch pie)
Ingredients:
2 Prepared 9-inch pastry shells (one for the top, one for the bottom)
6-7 crisp, tart apples – cored, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. flour
Directions: Preheat oven to 450ºF. In a large bowl, combine sugar, spices and flour with apple slices. Arrange apple slices in center of pastry-lined pie pan; dot with butter. Cover with other pastry shell, press edges together to seal and flute. Cut even slits on top crust to let steam escape. Place pie on the lowest rack in oven and bake at 450ºF for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350ºF and bake for 35-40 minutes longer or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Top each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or serve with a slice of cheddar cheese, if desired.

Dutch Apple Crisp
Ingredients:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup melted butter
4 apples, cored, peeled and sliced
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp. corn starch
Directions: Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, mix first 5 ingredients together with a pastry cutter or fork until crumbly. Set aside 1 cup for topping and spread the rest in the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan. Arrange apple slices over crumb mixture. In a small saucepan, bring water, sugar and corn starch to a boil and pour over apples. Top with remaining crumb mixture. Bake at 350 ºF for 55 minutes. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped topping or vanilla ice cream.

Check out this awesome recipe for Apple Pie Moonshine, courtesy of my friend Billie Jo. As the name suggests, it tastes just like apple pie! But, I must warn you this stuff really packs a punch! I’m guessing that’s why they call it “moonshine”?

Apple Pie Moonshine
Ingredients:
1-gallon apple cider
1-gallon apple juice
1-1/2 cups white sugar
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
8 cinnamon sticks
1-liter 190-proof grain alcohol.
Directions: Combine juice, cider, sugar and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Let the mixture cool and add the high proof liquor. Makes 9 quarts.

Click here for more fabulous apple recipes.

Here’s to a fun and flavorful fall!
Catherine B.

As much as blogger Cathy B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys a nice fall apple-picking excursion, she prefers a trip to the winery even more!