Minnesota Winterland: Footsteps Toward the Silent Sounds

It was a brilliant sunset that cast its glow over the frozen water and recently fallen snow… the anticipation grew as we stepped onto the lake and it began to awaken the sounds of this space.

The beauty of a frozen Minnesota lake at sunset.

We stood quietly for a time to watch the sky change colors and to listen to the quiet sounds of the frozen lake as it settles in for deep winter; distant birds chirping as night was drawing near.

The warmth in the colors of the sky made the cold winds of winter just nibble at our faces as the bitter cold has yet to find our little spot.

We made our way over to our first skating rink on this frozen lake and laughed and slid around on the open ice. We didn’t have our skates with us because it was the setting sun that drew us out on the walk to our little square.

My daughter slid and spun around on the ice and it made the figure skater of my soul smile in quiet understanding that she displays the signs of the future mastery of ice and I could see my dreams of skating as a child on a frozen lake under an artful setting sky dawning as her own memories.

There’s such joy in the simplicity of skating on a frozen lake. The sound of the ice under your blade. The gentle rocking from natures rink that I never found on the smooth, indoor, professional ice of my training days in North Virginia. Now I can share these moments on a frozen Minnesota lake with my children and share a piece of the child that’s within my heart.

We laughed and played while making our plans to skate on warm winter days.

This lake is the view from our new home. It is our place to start again; minus one we loved and lost, plus all that we’ve gained.

Our hearts are full with the excitement of all that we will share in this new home on this lake that changes each day. The dreams of the loons that will land in spring and will wail their calls of love and their love will answer “I am here.”

We are here.

We will skate in the winter, kayak in the spring, watch for the birds, catch the falling leaves, we’ll swim and laugh and grow a day older as the sun rises and sets on our tomorrows that are too soon to be over.

This is the place for my children to grow and become who’ll they’ll be; seasons will show. I’m happy to stand here at the start of this journey and with all the changes to witness ahead… the silent sounds on this lake will forever withstand.

Our footsteps in the snow.

Travel Minnesota:

Minnesota has many outdoor winter activities and wintertime events including the St. Paul Winter Carnival which has drawn crowds since 1886 with elaborate ice sculptures, parades and more.

Take a trip further north to view the Northern Lights and stay in the quiet, quaint, solitude at Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters.

They offer a wide selection of rustic to modern cabins on Gunflint Lake that will satisfy any traveler. Enjoy their hearth-room restaurant lodge for amazing meals (we loved the breakfasts), pick up a complementary bag of bird seed to scatter around your cabin each morning, stop in for complementary hot cocoa or coffee at the lodge throughout the day, set out on hiking adventures, snowshoeing, snowmobiling or even dog sledding, which was the highlight of our last visit.

Snowmobiling on the Gunflint Trail Systems and a stop to fill up the tank in Grand Marais.

Gunflint Lodge offers many outdoor activities and educational programs from wintertime survival to the Northern Lights, or just take a trip to relax in your cabin and play family board games while sitting by the fire and watching the wildlife around the lake.

Minnesota has a lot for visitors to do, see, experience and taste and it boasts high rankings as one of the healthiest states in the nation for several years running.

For a fresh take on Venezuelan street food, Hola Arepa, has parked their original food truck startup near the trendy Uptown Minneapolis area on Nicollet Avenue.

The blue truck parked outside.

Minneapolis/St. Paul, known as the Twin Cities, has consistently ranked high and leads as one of the nations healthiest cities; having won America’s number one healthiest city award by Livability.com.

There are many parks throughout the city to take a walk and burn off some of the extra calories from enjoying some dessert offerings.

One. Two. Three… gone.

Don’t let the Minnesota winters keep you away. Visit Minnesota to experience a wintertime wonderland from the Northern Lights and ice sculptures to dog sledding, or snowshoeing and if you’re really brave jump on into a frozen lake to raise money for the Special Olympics Minnesota by joining the fun at the Polar Plunge… or just go to enjoy watching. Minnesota winters will warm your heart.

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The Saddest House on the Street

A simple gingerbread house by my daughter. Click image to read my post: A New Generation of Gingerbread Houses.

To be honest we’ve been traveling a lot and that mixed with our plans not to be home for Christmas had me feeling pretty good about not decorating the house for Christmas this year…

That was until the other night when we were driving home and my daughter was looking and commenting on all the holiday decorations on homes and in yards. She apparently took a brief survey of our own neighborhood and declared, “We have the saddest house on the street.” Her small little voice adding “Everyone else has decorated for Christmas except for us.”

Now this house means Christmas spirit. We had to stop to take some photos. The Grinch was there somewhere and a Christmas wiener dog sighting.

Dang it! How many days until Christmas?

I was close… super close to making it to our flight out of town and to a destination that would be decked to the halls of St. Nick and now, now, with only weeks to go before the big guy crams himself down chimneys around the world I was caught as the Grinch… and we had the saddest house on the street.

Bah humbug.

Really, I always decorate and pride myself on the perfect Christmas scene; not too much and not to little and yet this year I just wanted to be lazy and save myself the post-Christmas take down in the below 0, it’s something too-cold-degree, northern midwestern winter weather.

But… alas, I cannot look into the eyes of my own little Cindy Lou Who as they look at me to say “Why, no Christmas Mom?”

Currently, all the Christmas items are in storage crates packed up and moved out to a storage facility by the men I call “the cleaners” which are moving company packers who can make a home look as though no one had ever lived there… all in records time.

So, now… my Christmas decorations are joyfully decorating the inside of the crates which contain all the falalalalaing and jingle-belling and for which I have no access to until I have the crates delivered sometime next year.

I took a deep breath knowing I was going to need to purchase items I already owned to add the the ever growing collection of Christmas decorations. I grabbed a pen to make a short list; a very short list.

Just some of the Christmas decoration collection currently decorating the storage crates.

Of course shopping with the Queen of Christmas meant everything we passed by came with “oohs” and “aahs” and “we totally need this” as she held up a Christmas Dachshund in delight. When did wiener dogs join the ranks of Christmas dogs? I’m still thinking Scottish Terriers in plaid jackets rule the Christmas dog group.

Nope. I didn’t need a holiday wiener dog. And, after much debating, begging and crying on my part she let me out of the store with a few well-chosen items to make the front of our home festive.

Kid, you’ll move mountains.” -Dr. Seuss

While the kids were in school I decorated outside with lights, garland, a little Christmas light topiary thing placed next to the door, a wreath and a few other little items so that I didn’t stink, stank or stunk myself into the hall of Grinchhood with the saddest house on the street.

When my daughter came home I had redeemed myself as the house is now with some holiday spirit. She squealed in delight and told me how beautiful everything looked.

An afternoon holiday snack and toast to the season of joy.

My son said the moral of this story is that you should always decorate your home for the holidays or else you too might have a little Cindy Lou Who wondering why she must live in the saddest house in the street.

The real lesson may be more of what Dr. Seuss shared:

Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So, love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get the chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”

The holiday season is here and I will remind myself that it was totally worth it when I’m taking down the decorations on a warm January day; it might even get up to two degrees. Who knows? He didn’t say it would be easy.

House Beautiful has 50 inspiring outdoor ideas to make your home more festive this holiday season.

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Off We Go…Ho Ho Ho

Oh, what fun it is to ride on a two-horse open sleigh!

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The Mule Lobby and How the Camels Won the West before the Golden Spike

“The Last Spike” by Thomas Hill (1881)

Before that golden spike was driven establishing the Transcontinental Railroad in Promontory, Utah in 1869 there were some serious issues of traversing many parts of the dry and barren American Old West and Southwest that paved a path to camels in the Army and a mule lobby in Washington DC.

There were probably several stubborn old mules in Washington at the time and I’m not sure if it was the early beginning of the Democratic donkey.

Actually, Andrew Jackson’s opponents called him a “jackass” during the 1828 presidential campaigning and where the donkey originated… an odd little fact.

Click on the image for details.

Ten years before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad a small boomtown in the Utah Territory was established as Virginia City as it was home to the first substantial silver deposit in the United States. The silver deposit; the Comstock Lode and Virginia City were both internationally known and the mining district was recognized as the Queen of the Comstock with a population that grew to 25,000 residents in the height of its mining history. Virginia City was booming.

Virginia City, Nevada is an excellent place to spend anywhere from a few hours to a day or two and is an easy day trip from Lake Tahoe or Reno. Check out some highlights from our trip to Virginia City, NV.

Virginia City was named as one of the “top 12 most distinctive destinations in America,” by The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The growing population of the American Old West and Southwest along with military needs in the Southwestern territories, known in the times as the Great Desert, were in growing need of supplies without a method of transportation. The War Department was encouraged to purchase camels revered as the “beasts of burdens” to help shape a supply chain if Congress would appropriate monies for the acquisition of the animals. The idea suggested in some accounts came from a naval officer after an expedition made through Death Valley. The naval officer, “Ned” Beale came to national fame as being the person responsible for starting the gold rush after bringing back gold samples from California to the east coast in 1848… ten years prior to the discovery of the Comstock Lode.

The United States government funded the plan to use camels to move supplies through the dangerous and vast territories as an experiment and thus began the US Camel Corps. Apparently, a single camel could pack 600 pounds of supplies and Beale was known to say he’d rather have a single camel than a dozen mules.

Thirty-three camels of various origins were purchased by the US government and transported by the Navy on the USS Supply which was commissioned to acquire and bring the animals from the Mediterranean back to the United States.

Oh, give me a loan for the camels to roam… imagine if the mule lobby wasn’t so successful as the wild frontier might still have camels today. Instead of visiting the Wild Burros of Custer State Park you would instead journey along Wildlife Loop Road hoping to see camels and bison!

Begging Burros of Custer State Park is a good read if you’re considering a visit to South Dakota.

The US Camel Corps experiment was brought to an end in part due to the start of the Civil War but also due to the successful mule lobbying. Yet, the camels still had adventures ahead and people to terrorize.

One of the camels in its military retirement, meaning it was set free, did roam the southwest and earned the name, “Red Ghost”. Marshal Trimble, author of Arizoniana describes the folk tales that came from the feral red-haired camel whom traumatized citizens of Arizona from stories ranging from “Red Ghost” standing over 30 feet tall, trampling people to death, having the eyes of the devil, eating grizzly bears and the “Red Ghost” could vanish into thin air when cornered.

Click image for more details.

Interestingly, camels can eat cactus; thorns and all and have been known to chew on bones so this red-haired beast probably started a few of the ghost tales honestly.

“Red Ghost” met his end in an Arizona tomato patch where a rancher shot him down. An article was published about “Red Ghost” and his reign of terror in the New York Sun; word traveled far for the times.

Click on the image for the link.

With the end to “Red Ghost” you may be curious why the red-haired camel was roaming Arizona and where all the other camels went following the start of the Civil War.

I was also curious why at the end of the boardwalk in Virginia City, Nevada a photo board was painted with a camel and banner for Virginia City camel races?

Why camel races? And, this blog is the answer to my question.

Virginia City, Nevada holds camel and ostrich racing each year. How the ostrich racing became involved is another story to research.

Click on the image for link.

Where did camels from the Camel Corps end up and what is the connection to Virginia City?

When the Confederate forces seized Camp Verde they set some of the camels free. Some of these camels were later caught and used by Union forces, some caught by Confederate Forces and used by the Confederate Post Office, another camel was the mascot of a Mississippi infantry before being shot down in the battle of Vicksburg, a favorite white-haired camel named Said can be found in Washington DC at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Hall of Bones after having been killed along the supply route in 1861.

Other camels which were housed in California were ordered to be auctioned off by the War Department and were purchased by an frontier entrepreneur, Samuel McLaughlin who shipped the camels to Virginia City, Nevada for use hauling mining supplies.

We now know why there were camels in Virginia City, Nevada but why camel races?

McLaughlin held camel races in Sacramento, California to large crowds in efforts to fund the animals transport to Nevada. Camel races became a profitable spectator sport and why Virginia City holds annual camel races to raise tourism dollars for the town.

For more information on the camel races check out a link to Virginia City Tourism Commissions website.

The rest of the Army’s camels were sold to zoos and circuses and even naval officer Beale who purchased several of the camels to keep for his own personal expeditions with his family.

As the needs grew for supplies along the building of the Transcontinental Railroad many of the camels were collected and purchased to once again work hauling supplies; this time they worked and solved the need for a supply chain along the building route of the Transcontinental Railroad and this is how the camels in a ten-year journey won the West before the Golden Spike.

Camels along the supply route for the Transcontinental Railroad
Article on the Transcontinental Railroad
An interesting article on the Mule Lobby

“Mule Power” by, Norman Rockwell

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The Call of Hygee this Holiday Season and Beyond

My daughter in the morning cozy with her favorite blanket wearing a beautiful cotton nightgown adorned with angels. She is in her space of hygee.

Often the simple things in life bring us the most comfort. As children we have these tokens of comforts everywhere from a cherished stuffed animal, a blanket, or a trinket to bedtime stories and yet as adults we sometimes find ourselves far from the simple comforts that bring us a sense of hygee.

Stories before bed in the holiday spirit. Reading: Yes, Virginia: There is a Santa Claus.

What is hygee?

Hygge, is a Danish and Norwegian word that is used within the culture to denote “a form of everyday togetherness” both in our physical environment but also within our mental environment. A sense of wellbeing, safety and comfort.

There’s a sense of well-being captured in this moment as my daughter reaches to catch the wind.

Every culture defines their life moments or the state of their homes within the influence and desire for the sense of hygge.

In Japan, where personal space is limited, home trends are more minimalistic to reduce the “things” in their space and create a sense of space and comfort.

In China the art of placement within the principals of Feng Shui can help to find and identify the positive and negative energies within a space.

The Danish hygee comes from the need within their lives to bring positive mental perspective to the cold, short days of winter; mentally preparing against winter blues.

Hygee in America would most simply relate to the holiday spirit. The feelings of comfort and safety, peaceful joys and quaintness in our homes and our hearts. We probably feel hygee the most during the holidays.

The dim lighting adding to the calm of the spirit.

Gingerbread cookies to decorate and the smells fill the home.

It’s a worthwhile pursuit for our everyday lives.

The simple pleasures, well-placed comfort items and sense of calm and peace all fall within the descriptions of what it is to have or feel hygee.

As a parent I try to make our home a place of comfort for my children and myself and living in a northern midwestern town makes the winters long, dark and very cold. Seasonal affective disorders (SAD) are part of the challenges faced in this region.

Sometimes in life we have our own “seasonal affective disorders ” from the hardships we face, or the struggles along the paths, and we can easily fall into a routine of having the “blues” over the routine of honoring hygee.

As children when we started to feel a tug at our emotions we often reached for that favorite comfort token: that baby blanket or our favorite stuffed animal and it restored our sense of hygee.

My daughters Teddy Blanket and powdered sugar on her nose.

Falling asleep in a pile of friends for an afternoon nap.

His “Big Red Dog” is still on his bed every night. Photo taken at a beautiful Forbes Five-Star resort outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

As adults we have to recognize when our life has moved away from the sense of well-being and to notice when we are struggling to keep our everyday togetherness in good order.

How can we make purposeful choices in our environments and our mind to attain the feelings of hygee or to get us back into the Holiday Spirit?

Sweetie Pies in Door County has the charm and an air of hygee.

Flowers in the bedroom bring a contrast to the white outside.

That answer is different for everyone. The hygee interior philosophy would be to use deep, rich colors, soft textures, extra pillows and blankets, candles, flowers, dim-lighting and well-placed comfort items; positive mementoes. To take an evening and have a cup of tea while sitting next to a fire or filling the house with the smells of foods that offer comfort… soul food.

Entertaining family and friends.

Decorating the Christmas tree.

Making jam from the berries we picked as a family.

What stands out for you? What food smells or tastes takes you to a place of comfort? Do you light a candle with a glass of wine or cup of tea? Do you put on a familiar movie? Does your space and environment offer a space of hygee to restore your balance.

Surrounded in beauty and with a candle she made at the Sedona Summit kids activities program through Diamond Resorts.

Capturing the Holiday Spirit.

The joys at the holiday table and the wonderful smells that fill the house.

An afternoon tea for little friends.

It’s the holiday season and a time to re-evaluate your mental space and your home and to purge out the clutter that keeps you from feeling that sense of cozy comfort and welcome in what the Danish describe as hygee.

Norman Rockwell was able to capture these idealized moments within many of his works. It is a reminder that we can find these moments and share it in our hearts, minds and our homes.

Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Family Bonding on the Slopes


Running on Empty


Beach Days for the Soul


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Family Bonding on the Slopes

As a family we travel quite often and enjoy our time together. We mix up the activities and interest so that everyone has a good time and that my children also learn how to find joy through the joy of another.

I’m always looking for ways to broaden our gifts of compassion, time and the understanding for others in the face of acceptance that our own desires for some moments are often placed second; a much harder lesson to teach children in this instant society. The raging Freudian ID yelling “me, me, me” gets quieted as we take turns, find joy in another’s interest and learn new things that might not have been on our personal must-do list while also reinforcing the lessons of patience.

I found this article on Psychoanalytic Theory by Ocampo and Valleeser on emaze.com that has educational slides on the id, ego and superego.

Yet, when we head out to ski it’s the one thing we all love equally. It’s on each of our lists. It’s even a collective pull to get things moving toward getting out the door and to the slopes. While we all have varying skill levels we ski together as a family and bond over the time in the lines, on the lifts and when we take a break to warm up with hot cocoa, a snack, lunch or dinner. Everything tastes better after you have a few hours on the slopes.

She’s ready and excited to head out for our ski day in her favorite, pink, warm and cozy Koolaburra boots by UGG.

Happy to be getting on his ski boots. It feels so good to pull your feet from you ski boots at the end of the day and slide them into a soft pair of boots.

That’s love and snack time with hot cocoa and popcorn.

We spend our time warming up with laughter, retelling our stories of what we saw on the slopes, our challenges of the day, wipeouts, our wins and improvements and what runs we’re hitting next.

Our brain bucket collection.

We make jokes about my daughter who flies down the slopes at the speed of heat; that girl can go! We talk about body mechanics and the snow conditions. We throw in the ski lingo and laugh about “chocolate chip cookies” or “death cookies” which are the worst, or “bombers” skiing out of control who weren’t wearing a “brain bucket” or hoping for a “bluebird day” or “Champagne Powder” that term is a trademark of Steamboat in Colorado and where we will be skiing later this year with what hopefully will be some “ego snow”. We all need a day of “ego snow”.

In the days of so many new words the kids come home using it’s nice to have this language we can share and share with a larger population of skiers ranging from five on up!

Beautiful views and fresh air just knocks the death cookies from your mind especially on a bluebird day.

At the end of the ski day we are charged with the excitement that comes from working as team and we are ready to wind down for our own family-themed version of Après Ski.

When in Steamboat Springs we’ll head downtown to Old Town Hot Springs and soak in the restorative waters or head out for dinner at La Fiesta Grill and Cantina; my number two Mexican restaurant anywhere and only number two because I haven’t been to number my number one yet.

Old Town Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs or visit Strawberry Park for a natural setting (evenings are adults only)

When we ski locally we head home and watch a movie with some popcorn to wind down, or play a family board game.

At Lutsen Mountain on Lake Superior we would play giant checkers in our pajamas at the Lutsen Lodge hotel lobby next to the giant old fireplace and take breaks to make S’mores and read from the book, “Just So Stories” because it’s our tradition, “O, Best Beloved.” Thank you Kipling for so many great nights.

Lutsen Lodge offers complementary makings for S’mores and keeps the fires burning. We stay at Eagle Ridge Resort on Lutsen when we want the comforts of our own kitchen to prepare meals and the ease of ski-in/ski-out accommodations.

Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, California has an amazing little donut hut; Heavenly Donuts in the Village and a fun shop Rocket Fizz for candy and pop… soda for the east coasters, or we head over to our favorite restaurant to warm up with hot pot at Lake Tahoe Hot Pot and then close our evening with a swim in the outdoor heated pool at Lake Tahoe Vacation Resort which is a perfect stay option for skiing Heavenly or Squaw.

Heavenly donuts at Heavenly Donuts at the Village.

Hot Pot at Lake Tahoe Hot Pot was excellent.

The young coconut was outstanding and they even gave her a drink umbrella which is only the greatest addition ever to any drink.

Arizona Snowbowl offers some great skiing… in fact the city of Flagstaff boasts record numbers in annual snowfall ranking it at number eight nationally. It has remained one of our favorite skiing destinations because of their excellent slopes, fantastic ski school and many affordable ticket and stay options. Tickets as low as $29 and FREE Season Passes for kids 10 and under make Arizona Snowbowl a budget friendly option.

We always stay a bit south in Sedona, Arizona and take the 40 minute drive out to Snowbowl each day but make sure you check out their Ski and Stay Free packages for great deals staying on the mountain.

When we return to Sedona in the evening our favorite spot to stop is Javelina Cantina with great chips, food, kids meal options, atmosphere and views, plus anything Javelina is number one in my book.

Heading out from Sedona to Snowbowl.

Wherever we are it seems the evenings following a day on the slopes are filled with laughter and a sense of calm, peace and joy. Our ski days are magical. They are family… wrapped with a perfect red bow and a side of hot cocoa with whipped cream. I don’t know how the future ski days will be as the kids become teenagers but I’m thinking ski days for us means family bonding and will always be the days we grow closer together and make lasting family memories on and off the slopes.

“Ski Skills” by Norman Rockwell

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There’s Silver In Them Thar Hills

If there are past lives I was definitely one of those people making a mad dash West in the Gold Rush and probably yelling “GOLD!” I would have been a gold prospector.

An Old Prospector and His Little Friend – Alfredo Rodriguez

When we’ve visited gold mines on past trips I’ve had to contain the part of my personality that wants to pull out a little pick from my pocket and start digging away at the gold veins. When we’ve gone panning for gold I’ve become crazed in the pursuit of gold. You can see me swish every last piece of sand for gold flecks and start checking the kids pans as well; people standing next to me at the sluice might have me looking over their shoulders, too. I own it; gold fever!

If there’s a mine or a place to pan for gold… I’m there. It began and ended with gold until…

While we were visiting Lake Tahoe we ventured out to take a tour of Virginia City, Nevada. I looked ahead at travel sites to see what the area offered for visitors with kids and found the Comstock Mine.

Comstock Mine. Comstock Lode. SILVER!

The gold rush in my head turned to silver and I was fascinated by the history of this city and the silver deposits in the hills. Unfortunately, the mine was closed for the season and I didn’t get to tour and fantasize about being a silver miner.

It wouldn’t have been a good life back in the day as apparently it was hotter than the dickens in the mine due to hot springs.

Sadly, miners from the Comstock Mine were called Hot Water Plugs and they didn’t have a long life span. I suppose it would have been much better to have been Henry Comstock but I learned that he never made a fortune from the silver deposits as he sold early. He was eccentric which always is of interest and they called him “Old Pancake.” The reason for that wasn’t so interesting. More interesting was that Henry Comstock wouldn’t leave his house without several belts around his waist.

I wonder if Henry Comstock participated in the camel races? Virginia City also has ostrich racing and that’s on my must-do list!

Back to the silver. We weren’t able to tour the mine but we did go in search of an old Morgan silver dollar minted in Carson City. Why? Because it’s silver, because the silver was mined there in Virginia City and the coin would have a story to tell if it could talk. We wandered into an old smoky bar and asked some of the locals where we could find one of these treasures. Turns out pretty much every other store had a small collection at various prices to sell. No secrets to be found there. Maybe some ghosts.

The stairs down to the bar below the street level.

We headed back down the wavy boardwalk which was a feat of engineering or built by someone after a very long night at the bar: Up and down, side to moderate side the wooden boardwalk stretched down the storefronts of the old town. Picturesque: A photo out of the Wild West. We even came upon a man and his donkey. He took tips. I gave him $5 dollars and asked if we could take a photo with his donkey. He let us.

The old man, the boy and the donkey with a little girl to tell them what to do!

We moved on down the street to many interesting storefronts and then came upon the Silver Queen; walking in to find the only wedding chapel in Virginia City and very large painting of a woman dressed in a gown made of 3,261 Morgan silver dollars minted in Carson City. Bingo! Where was my little pocket pick? The SILVER rush hit me. There’s silver in these hills!

This artwork was amazing. There were Double eagles, which are twenty-dollar gold pieces, and dimes adorning her attire. Now that was a dress.

The Silver Queen was a saloon, wedding chapel, hotel and ghost-sighting-space all in one. My mission was still to find an old Carson City Morgan silver dollar of my own. I knew nothing about them but I knew I needed to find one. It would be our family token of our trip to Virginia City.

I quickly researched and found warnings that there are many fake Morgan silver dollars floating around Ebay and other internet sales sites so I quickly watched a video on how to spot a fake. Internet expertise at its finest! We strolled down to a vintage jewelry store and found what we were looking for along with a very knowledgeable store owner. He showed us the coins he had available and he happened to have an 1879 Morgan silver dollar minted in Carson City that was in very good condition.

1879. The Gilded Age. The end of the “Long Depression” also known as the first Great Depression. Mark Twain was a reporter in need of money working at a Virginia City newspaper just years earlier. It was the year Thomas Edison demonstrated the first incandescent light bulb, Deadwood South Dakota burned to the ground and Vanderbilt named Madison Square Garden.

Where had this coin traveled over the last 139 years? What could it tell if it could talk? A piece of history. A connection to a time long passed.

This coin made its way back to the region and found itself on a shelf in Virginia City where it’s silver was mined from the Comstock Lode and where I was holding it admiring everything about it. I looked for signs of its authenticity. The shop owner offered his guarantee and a discount because they were going into their low season without many visitors.

Summer is the busy time in Virginia City he shared and told us how busy the boardwalk gets and that many visitors want their own Carson City Morgan silver dollar. That dress at the Silver Queen sold me!

I happily purchased my first old coin that will offer a memory of our trip to Virginia City for our lifetimes. I’m just thinking now I should have purchased two because I’m sure both of my children will want the coin for memories sake.

My daughter enjoying the boardwalk.

She’s holding a donkey finger puppet of course.

I don’t know where that coin traveled or whose pocket it may have jingled in before it became a collectors piece but the coin has a story now and an owner to tell it.

Funny what you’ll find on an adventure with no particular plans, that turned into a quest then turned into a piece of living history. The mule, the boardwalk, the dress the saloons, the chapel and the Morgan silver dollar.

The wavy boardwalk.

Virginia City, Nevada should be on everyone’s list of places to visit any time of the year. It was fascinating. We even finished up at St. Mary’s in the Mountains which was rebuilt after a fire swept the town a few years before my silver dollar was minted. We lit a candle.

If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe take a drive to Virginia City, Nevada and take a walk down the boardwalk and see what you find.

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Running On Empty

There are those days that nothing seems to go right and you’re chasing down a hopeless battle. We all have them. Those days can start to suck the life-force from your soul… like in the movie ‘Cocoon’ when all the retirees jumped into the pool and sucked the life-force from the aliens in the cocoons. Life-draining moments live within us all.

Photo from the movie ‘Cocoon ‘.

Did you know the movie reference?

Great movie.

Thursday was Thanksgiving and it was a busy day traveling out to Lake Tahoe for a celebration of thanks, a celebration of life for my sons’ eleventh birthday and a celebration of life’s memory for my husband who passed away after a three-year cancer battle one year ago. What a combination of celebrations.

My husband a few years before his cancer diagnosis.

We had reservations at the Lone Eagle Grill at Incline Village in Lake Tahoe for our Thanksgiving dinner. The weather turned from clear skies to snow as it fell and flocked the massive pine trees that lined the road and made our first views of Lake Tahoe a moving and breathtaking experience. We were in awe of the views; mesmerized and quieted at the stunning beauty that enveloped us. What a magnificent time and place.

We enjoyed our dinner, the conversations with strangers soon to be friends, the views, the food, the ambiance and the character of the decadent surroundings. It was amazing.

View from Lone Eagle Grill Incline Village

Thanksgiving Dinner: Make Your Own Cookie Bar

We were thankful. Thanksgiving is for gratitude and we honored our annual tradition to each offer what we were most grateful for in the year. My son spoke last and he said, “I’m am thankful for everything because that’s what it is to be truly grateful. Even the challenges.”

Words of an eleven-year-old so excited to be a tween yet viewing the world in a once-around, old-soul fashion.

It’s true.

We sat at the door of the new and the memories of the past next to this great, big, crystal blue lake.

To find gratitude for the good and the difficult: It’s so easy to be thankful when everything is going our way and it takes a moment in the heart of heartbreak, despair and sorrow to find the beauty and the lesson the struggles share within the journey.

I was running on empty. I was struggling against the life-draining experiences. I was hiding in my cocoon hoping time would distance myself from the pain of the loss while keeping a smile for my children.

My son was right… you have to be thankful… for everything.

We got to say goodbye.

I was there celebrating Thanksgiving, celebrating a birthday and celebrating life but I wasn’t celebrating the lessons we’ve learned as a family from our losses until that moment my son said, “you have to be thankful for everything.”

Within the loss; gains. Within the loss; lessons. Within the loss; growth. Without the loss my son may have never learned how to be truly thankful and to teach his mother exactly what it means to be thankful.

Up hundreds of steps we took a rest on a bench and looked to see my husbands name carved in the wood of the handrail.

We all have those days that get us down and challenge us to the depths of our existence. It can go a long way down.

Now in those depths I think of sitting by the shore of Lake Tahoe. Sitting by a lake that I think is the third deepest lake in the world… but, that lake is crystal clear and there’s beauty at the bottom.

When you’re running on empty take a moment and remind yourself there are things to be grateful for within the hardships. The gratitude doesn’t offer a cure but the change in perspective just might. And, at the very least… it might take you from running on empty to feeding your soul.

I’m thankful. I wrote this post with a cat purring on my lap, my dog snoring in her bed and my kids tucked in bed. They are healthy. They are happy. We have hope in this journey.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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Can you Say Procrastination…

I sure can! I’m the queen of procrastination and if I said it three times my wish to be one of those non-procrastination-type people still wouldn’t come true! Why?Because who would be there to mind the Procrastination Kingdom without me there on the throne? Anyone…. anyone?

I’m pretty sure the Queen of England has people to pack for her. My Kingdom isn’t so fortunate.

However, packing is where I seem to earn high honors for the topic at hand as even with all my pre-packing self-talk and pre-planning packing daydreams ie., delusions, I still wait to the very, very last moment possible to pack for any trip. Any trip. Maybe if it was just me I was packing for it wouldn’t be such a hustle and tear jerker of a story, but since I pack for myself and the two kids it becomes an all out war against time and my sanity!

Gone are the days of gracefully packing needed items as those days are turned into the day of mass laundry, running around the house half-naked, errands, crying, rocking in the corner and the self-talk “I can do this” all because I’m a procrastinator!

Kardashian’s still seem to be pretty while they cry. Me… not so much! I was going to insert a video clip here of myself crying but my son offered the advice “Do you want people to read your blog?” Okay, it was more a warning than advice.

Yes, I am a procrastinator and for good reason! If it wasn’t for procrastination I’d never get anything done. You like coffee in the morning? Why? Does it get you up and going… start your day off right? Starbucks offers that pep in your cup and for me procrastination is my elixir to accomplishments of my tasks.

Yet, from my dance of mayhem comes nicely packed bags with the items we need. Maybe, I should start wearing the queen of multitasking crown. Hello, to my new Kingdom!

“Mom, I HAVE to have my pink-kitty ski helmet” even though I’m packing all carry-on items is the caption for that photo! I think my crown for my kingdom is going to be that pink-kitty ski helmet.

The reality is that as moms we are all wearing the multi-tasking crown and we can always get the luggage packed even when it’s a mad-dash; procrastination or not. It’s part of our charm. That being said… I’m not the mom who does it while looking to the nine. I’m going to need to take points away and give myself a messy-bun, no makeup and frazzled demeanor big number ONE! But, I’m good with that!

Procrastinator’s Travel-Packing Tips:

1. Take a moment to look at the weather ahead for your trip. That one is easy.

2. Write up a quick list of what each person needs and if you need anything extra for special events.

3. Don’t check off items as you go but instead check it off with a stack of items per person packed. Then pack it.

4. Get a big suitcase and just pack everything you can! Wait… airlines now say we have to keep those bags under a certain weight. Bummer!

5. Okay, since we can’t take everything plan your wardrobe around a central theme of color and repeat items that won’t get dirty if you wear them for two days. Often times we have washer and dryers at the destinations and one quick load during the trip helps ease up on items needing to be packed.

6. Keep a change of clothes, night clothes toothbrush and medicine in a carry-on bag for quick turn around the next day or in case you’re child pukes, pees or has an accident, for cases of whomever loses your luggage or in case you have your own spill or are holding an infant.

7. When air-traveling with babies and young children: Utilize a large orange travel sack that you’ll check for free with the airline but also throw in those other baby items you won’t need until the other side. If your young kids are walking that stroller works wonders to load on your carry-on items and give your toddler or young child the time to exercise before being asked to sit still on a flight. Gate check your stroller and it will be at the door on your way off. Pack a small backpack of kids toys, books, crayons, electronics, stickers and a few snacks for the flight. Give them something to do and don’t expect they’ll fall asleep.

8. Keep everything folded nicely as it packs smaller. When you can use a backpack and keep it simple.

9. Repeat to yourself as needed: “I can do it! It will fit! I can sleep on the plane!” Omit the third mantra if you have kids. You’re not sleeping!

10. Smile. When you’ve waited to pack right before you need to leave you’re working more efficiently with your time!

Until the other side… pack happy!

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Beach Days for the Soul

I heard it said somewhere years ago that sand between your toes does something positive for the brain and our own feelings of contentment. It’s one of nature’s cures for the blues.

Now some will say it’s the time in the sun and the shot of Vitamin D… that too might be true or the calming sounds of the waves or the salty air; all good things for my soul but the sand between my toes is like a direct connection to my early childhood spent on the beaches in Hawaii.

The feel of the sand still takes me back and brings a smile to my face. Whenever we get to the beach I announce to my kids, “Shoes off! We need a dose of positivity for our minds!” Off go those shoes as we walk to claim our spot on the beach. It’s something I hope my kids always remember me saying and recall if they’re ever feeling a bit blue, overwhelmed or anxious; a trip to the beach may be in order. I can actually see my daughter getting into the sandbox and standing there as an adult with a glass of wine or sweet tea and telling herself, her future children, future husband or friends, “mom told me when I’m stressed the sand between my toes is the cure!”

Digging up the shells from the surf and finding the ones to keep.

I will smile for that! It will bring a smile to someone’s face and then her own for sure.

Clearwater Beach and the powder-fine sand.

We always have a sandbox on hand but whenever we can we take a break and a beach vacation with nothing on the schedule except to stretch out next to the ocean and dig our toes into the sand. Florida Gulf coast beaches are my favorite: Sand Key, Clearwater Beach, Sanibel Island and Destin win top billing on my list: The white sand beaches and emerald waters are just so perfect.

Sand Key State Park is a quiet alternative to more crowded beaches.

A sandcastle is a must. My son built this castle with the help of a little girl his age from Italy. They had not a word in common and worked together with smiles.

We end up with a lot of sand in our suits and a lot of joy in our hearts. There’s always time for sand between our toes and a place in our hearts and minds where the sand moves the mountains in our thoughts and leaves us with a fresh outlook.

Travel Tips for the Florida Beaches Mentioned…

Destin, Florida and their emerald waters are beautiful year around but they do have seasons on this northern part of the panhandle so winters are too cold for swimming. Early spring is still a bit chilly but you will find lessor crowds as with winter travel. Summer and fall are warm and beautiful. If you’re looking to walk on endless quiet beaches visit Destin in their low season and enjoy the privacy and retreat it affords.

Clearwater Beach, is know for their white sand powder beaches. The sand is truly magnificent and the parking and crowds can be quite astonishing as well. Plan ahead for parking and take your patience along… the looping for a parking spot will be worth it. The best location is all the way down at the northern end where you’ll find Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill and perfect pay parking area for the beach with beach bathrooms, changing rooms and showers. It’s a small lot so timing is everything in finding an opening. For lunch or dinner Frency’s has the very popular “she-crab” soup and early winter the restaurant brings in Stone Crab claws from down off of Miami. If you’ve never had Grouper than you need to give it a try.

Sunset Festival Clearwater Beach, About midway upon entering the Clearwater beach area is the pier that hosts Sunset festivals each evening just like down in Key West. Vendors, entertainment and a beautiful view of the sunset are offered. It’s a great budget friendly evening for romance or a family evening.

Sand Key Park, If you drive a little south of Clearwater Beach you’ll go across another bridge and on your right you’ll see a sign for Sand Key State Park. The sand isn’t quite as powder-white as its sister Clearwater Beach but here you’ll find a slower pace. Early in the mornings you can experience several chartreuse green small parrots eating at the sea oats. Parking is ample and easy pay and they have beach huts with bathrooms, changing area and outdoor showers. Beach umbrellas and chairs are available for a fee just as you’ll find on Clearwater Beach.

Sanibel and Captiva Island, are known for their shelling and nature preserves. Located off the coast of Ft. Myers, Florida. The island can get very congested both in getting on and off the island but also at the public beaches but again this area is worth your patience. Sanibel offers some of the best shelling in Florida and beautiful waters. There are a variety of fun on the island things to do including a fairly unknown little zoo that’s free over at the RV Park off of Periwinkle Way. Many ice cream shops and other island treasures shopping and our personal favorite is Jerry’s grocery store to pick up some tasty snacks or prepared meals. Bicycle and surrey rentals are as easy as taking a ride down the paved paths. Each Easter a wonderful egg-hunt is sponsored on the island along with a Easter bunny meet-n-greet, crafts and inflatables.

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To those days we can become a mermaid and may they fill our hearts with peace.

A link to a great article offering a great perspective on the mental health benefits of spending time at the ocean:


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Mickey Invites you for Christmas

Who wouldn’t want to be invited to Mickey’s place for Christmas?

The adventures await…

It’s Mickey Mouse and he just had a birthday! Yes, sign me up and you can sign yourself up to ring in the holiday season alongside everything Mickey, everything Disney and everything pumped up on the holiday spirit with tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World Florida.

Pick up your guide to all the festivities as you enter the Magic Kingdom.

There is hardly a better way to ring in the holiday season than spending your evening enjoying everything the Magic Kingdom has to offer along with blowing snow on Main Street, rides, parades, princesses, balloons, amazing Disney character inspired treats and even FREE treats, snacks and drinks at specially marked signs that happen to look like a giant candy canes.

She must get a balloon. Always a balloon.

The bouquet of balloons are so magical. To fly up and touch the castle with a handful of Disney characters.

Cast members hand you holiday cookies, soft pretzels, eggnog, hot cocoa, apple cider, snow cones and various other drinks and treats; it’s so much fun to have your kids get to the front of the line and get a handful of treats along the route you’ve planned to enjoy, ride and see everything in the Magic Kingdom.

Holiday-themed pretzels and blue snow cones.

She won’t share.

Each year Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is on our must-do list as well as taking a ride through It’s A Small World Ride, flying with Dumbo, hanging on at Barnstormer, soaring on Aladdin’s Magic Carpet, always the carousel, every parade and definitely some Christmas shopping. We keep it mild!

Dumbo is a must.

It’s A Small World to relax and enjoy the sights.

Carousel moments.

Your tickets show the party begins at 7pm but you can get in to enjoy the festivities as early at 4pm to enjoy the extra time on the rides but keep in mind the party, the blowing snow and all the complementary extras don’t start until 7pm when, as a bonus, the crowds will lesson as well.

After 7pm everyone who was at the Magic Kingdom during the day will have to have on a party wristband to stay in the park and if you already have park tickets for this day you will need to purchase the event tickets extra, so plan ahead if you’ll be visiting the parks for several days so that you spend the morning and afternoon at Animal Kingdom which closes earlier than some of the other parks and then head over to the Magic Kingdom with your Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party event tickets and enjoy the party until 1am.

Everything Disney is bigger and better and more Christmas during the event and it is sure to become a tradition and part of your Disney vacations or a holiday treat to welcome the holiday season.

Each year it’s our family tradition to fly-in for a fun-filled, action-packed Disney weekend and enjoy the excitement and nice weather and everything the parks have to offer!

The holiday parades are amazing and every year we look forward to the nutcrackers march.

You’re invited to the most magical Christmas event of the season! Get your tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and dance with Goofy, see Santa, meet Disney characters and be amazed by truly awesome parades with GIANT dancing nutcrackers all while the castle glows in its holiday glory. You and your family will have an evening filled with all the joys and magic of Disney and sweet dreams to you as you anticipate next year!

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Family Travel

Walt Disney World


Holiday Travel

Weekend Getaways

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My husband was buried on our wedding anniversary one-year ago. This week marked what would have been 19 years of marriage.

His heart was big and his love still touches our lives every day.

“If we remembered every day that we could lose someone at any moment, we would love them more fiercely and freely, and without fear – not because there is nothing to lose, but because everything can always be lost.”

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Histamine Disorders and MCAD (Mast Cell Activation Disorder) Dietary Options Aren’t So Dismal

Many are familiar with food intolerances and food allergies but less familiar to the general public are histamine disorders and MCAD disorders in relation to the dietary restrictions.

Having MCAD or histamine intolerances requires finding a balance between nutrition coupled with the food restrictions and having a tasty meal that can be enjoyed without triggering unwanted reactions.

Having been diagnosed with MCAD by Dr. Lawrence Afrin, a leading physician in the study of mast cells and their relationship to the whole-body systems, I was quickly thrown into a world where I had to reconsider what I was eating to avoid negative health consequences.

It was lonely in the beginning trying to figure out what was safe or risky to eat and passing on great food at family gatherings, restaurants or at my own dinner table as I wasn’t going to restrict my families diet.

When first diagnosed with MCAD you are encouraged to restrict your food options to a very short list and then slowly add to the list to see what, if anything, would produce a reaction. Some reactions for MCAD patients are immediate and others take a few days before the body responds with a negative reaction, so the initial process of identifying “safe” foods is long and daunting.

Through the years I’ve researched and learned about what foods trigger or potentially trigger reactions, which foods help to fight inflammation, which foods naturally lower blood-histamine; super foods for those with MCAD and histamine intolerances.

I began to create safe meals, delicious recipes and full meals that were healthful for those with these disorders and learned how to select items at restaurants for those times our family traveled.

My recipes are far from the early days of a water and chicken based diet.

Eating should provide nourishment to you body and soul but for those with histamine disorders, MCAD or bowel disorders food can pose a huge challenge against needs versus wants and losses.

As I journey forward in my lifestyles blog I will begin to share my recipes that I created through necessity and recipes that helped to stabilize my MCAD reactions. Although, it wasn’t always an easy process and I still encounter issues with reactivity there is hope in the kitchen with many tasty options available.

Check back to my blog as I move forward with more articles and recipes for MCAD patients and histamine intolerances.

First Tip: Chocolate is not on the menu. I will not have wonderful chocolate options but I do have a good base of dessert ideas.

Second Tip: Asorbic Acid powder, not to be confused with Citric Acid, is a great alternative to vinegars and citrus fruits which can exacerbate histamine and mast cells and ascorbic acid naturally lowers blood histamine. That is correct. Ascorbic Acid actually lowers your blood histamine unlike an H1 or H2 blocker that block histamine processes.

Third Tip: Mental health disorders are increasingly being identified to have some relationships to mast cells and often those with MCAD suffer with their reactions being inclusive of a variety of mental health challenges including anxiety and depression. Interestingly many MCAD patients early in the search for answers to their sometimes debilitating symptomologies are diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorders. Many accounts of MCAD patients describe these events or reactions having followed a high histamine meal or alcohol/wine consumption in retrospect.

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