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.

 

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

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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

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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!