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.

 

Enchanting Miniature Gardens

use2Springtime is the season of cute! My mind is full of bright colors and baby animals. I want to smell green grass and fresh dirt. I want sunshine, even on the days when the temperatures are still struggling to hit the mid-50s.

Spring can’t come soon enough for me and I need to do something green and creative. That’s why I love mini gardens so much. Even in the dead of a Minnesota winter, I am lucky enough to  have two amazing garden centers nearby with large greenhouses, featuring elaborate fairy gardens or gnome villages, like the one pictured above in Tonkadale Greenhouse.

Since I can’t start planting my garden until the danger of a hard frost has passed (in mid-May), a good alternative to full-scale immersion in outdoor gardening is to create a potted or miniature garden indoors.

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You don’t have to live in a cold climate to enjoy miniature gardening. Container and terrarium gardening can be done anywhere and is simple enough for anyone. They require very little space. In fact you can create a tiny garden in a mug or teacup.

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Here are some quick tips that I’ve learned after several springtimes making mini gardens.

  1. Pick your container & your plants at the same time. Tiny, small-leafed plants, mosses and succulents are perfect for tiny gardens. I love to use Irish moss for ground cover. Most greenhouses now feature a section devoted to small plants for fairy gardens. These plants won’t get too big and crowd each other out. Check the tags on the plant for size guidelines. Or ask your nursery expert for some good suggestions for companion plants, given the size of your container. I like to mix it up with a couple of different small varieties of moss, ivy and ferns. Or, I’ll do all  succulents. Succulents are among the most forgiving of plants, and if you’re a plant newbie, they are harder to kill (I kid). use 8
  2. Plan for drainage. Remember, plants don’t like wet feet!  If your pot or container (you can use anything from a wood crate with a liner, a big bowl, a tin bucket, an old coffee can; I’ve seen some really cute mini gardens in repurposed containers) does not have a hole in it, providing adequate drainage is crucial. What I like to do, depending on the size of my container, is layer small stones or pebbles at the bottom of my container, with space for water to seep through. A thin layer of activated charcoal wicks moisture and absorbs any stagnant water odor. Dried moss can be used at the pebble layer to absorb excess moisture as well. 945239_657248600967981_589083094_n
  3. Use good soil. Choose a fluffy potting soil that is not too dense or too wet. I typically use Miracle-Gro, but any fluffy potting soil that allows air, moisture and nutrition will do. Depending on the size of my container, I use odd numbers of plants, based on the old decorating rule. For a medium-sized container, I will use three. I space them evenly, giving them room to grow, and tease the roots a little before nestling each little plant into it’s soil. Once the plants are in, I use extra fine sand, finely shredded bark, shells, or decorative moss as ground cover over the soil.
  4. Imagine and play. Then comes the fun part! Play time. I always start with a vision. I have little Zen gardens, cute gnome gardens, animal gardens, spring themed gardens, gnome getaways. Let your personality be your guide. I have a friend who loves the ocean and made a darling container garden using fine white sand, shells, and beach glass. use9
  5. Sunlight and water. Save the tags that come with your plants. Most miniature plants make good partners, requiring the same amount of light and water. I have always enjoyed my mini gardens indoors and then brought them outside, to the deck or patio, once the weather warms up.
  6. Enjoy! Caution: Creating these miniature vignettes with plants, and tiny little things that make you smile, is addictive. You start to see every small object as something that could serve a purpose in your miniature garden, from an acorn to agate or marble.

The miniature garden is the perfect March treat to tide you over until your warm weather plants can go in. But if you simply can’t wait, violas, or johnny-jump-ups, are a good cold-hardy plant that you could probably enjoy outside out today. Happy planting!

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Blogger Melanie B., a Smart Perks employee, is a Zone 4 gardener who believes in fairies and gnomes.