What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

Wine a Little, You’ll Feel Better!

“Wine is bottled poetry.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

I’m an honest-to-goodness wine-o. No, I don’t drink a bottle out of a paper bag. Let’s just say wine is a passion of mine. I enjoy sharing a bottle of Merlot or Malbec with my husband on the weekend or unwinding with a glass of rosé or Pinot Grigio after a long day. At book club we always have a little vino with pizza as we discuss our latest reads (actually, we could skip the books and just call it “I think I’ll have another glass of wine club”). And, once a month I join my friend Kathy for wine and wings at our favorite bar & grill.

Wine RackEven my kitchen décor revolves around wine. I have two cork holders – one shaped like a guitar that I bought at a winery in Sonoma (the owner is the manager of the Doobie Brothers) – and another in the shape of a wine barrel that’s crammed full of corks. I also have lighted wine bottles, wine signs, as well as a clock, dish towels and rugs with some kind of wine motif. But, nothing compares to the big wine rack/display I got for a steal at an antique shop. It even came with a grapevine and grape lights! Isn’t it awesome?!

You may think I’m a little obsessed with this whole wine culture thing, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. With more and more wineries popping up all over the country, I’d say there are quite a few wine enthusiasts out there.

Of course, we all know California is the wine capital of the U.S. and if you’re planning a trip to Northern California I highly recommend a visit to Anderson Valley. My husband and I toured some vineyards there last year and they were incredible! The wines were some of the best we’ve ever tasted. A local told me this area is a lot like Napa Valley in the early days, before it became “snooty and expensive” (his words, not mine). We also checked out a few wineries in Sonoma Valley. and spent a few hours in downtown Sonoma – what a charming place! (We may have to hit Napa Valley on another trip to see if it lives up to its reputation.)Wine

More proof that I’m not alone in this… just look at all the websites devoted exclusively to wine! Besides hundreds of online merchants selling every variety of red and white imaginable, there’s a whole slew of sites peddling things like coasters, plaques, towels, and t-shirts with catchy phrases like “Save Water, Drink Wine,” “Wine Flies When You’re Having Fun,” and “You had me at Merlot.” Of course, I have four or five such tees myself!

“Wine Flies When You’re Having Fun”

My girlfriends share my infatuation with wine and we always make a point to stop at two or three (or four or five) wineries on our annual getaways. We love the whole experience ― sampling assorted wines in intimate tasting rooms, chatting with fellow tasters and listening to the owners expound on the various grapes used to create their own unique blends. So far, we’ve been to wineries in Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin and our home state of Minnesota. (The University of Minnesota developed heartier grapes that can withstand colder climates so vintners in this region are able to grow their own.)

WineryOne of the most memorable places we’ve been to is PromiseLand Winery in northern Iowa. We thought the outside was impressive until we walked through the door. The event room resembles a quaint Italian village, complete with old fashioned lamp posts and charming boutiques and the tasting area has two fireplaces and lounge chairs to create a cozy atmosphere. There are also outdoor patios surrounded by beautiful gardens. I should probably mention that we were quite impressed with their wine too!

Some wineries charge a small fee for the tastings, while others waive the fee if you purchase their wine. Hint: if you plan on visiting more than one winery in a day, you’ll want to pace yourself and pick a designated driver beforehand.

The best way to discover wines from around the world is to join a wine club. It allows you to try different types of wine you won’t find at your local liquor store and your selections are delivered right to your door! My recommendation ― Club W.

For more on this scintillating subject, visit www.winemag.com. This site is considered the world’s number one source for wine information, education, merchandise, events and travel.

After all this talk about wine, I think I’ll uncork a Cabernet and enjoy a glass right now!

Cheers!

Besides wine, Catherine B. enjoys traveling, mysteries, hunky superheroes, and gossiping (as long as it’s not about her).

Check out these websites for cool wine-related gifts, apparel and paraphernalia:
giftedgrape.com
thetipsygrape.com
www.zazzle.com