10 Life Hacks in Time for the Holidays!

Most of us look forward to the holidays, but not the stress that comes with them. I have learned several life hacks the hard way through trial and many errors. My family has four birthday celebrations between November and December so I had to learn how to stay chill and enjoy myself while hosting and organizing these events. Believe me.  I love it when everyone is together and want to be my best self. So how the heck do I do that?

Take care of yourself first.

Stress causes the build-up of cortisol which in turn makes fat. Sugar intake rises for most of us this time of year too. No one wants to gain weight over the holidays. Keep moving. Exercise gets those endorphins surging. It feels good.

Take a break from the hubbub. Walk your dog. Walk your neighbor’s dog. Do you have company? Ask them to join you for a walk. You may start a new holiday tradition!

10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress

Take the time to sit down and eat well. Drink lots of water. Turn off the TV and Internet an hour before bed to sleep better. I covered up the LED lights in my bedroom and it made a huge difference.

Recognize your limitations.

I could never figure out why I got so stressed out when others offered to help or to keep me company in the kitchen while I cooked. It would take twice as long and I missed out on a lot of the festivities. I finally realized I’m ADD and can’t concentrate. I’m so much happier in my own little world. I make a lot fewer mistakes too!

Have the opposite problem? Delegate. Ask for help. Give everyone a job. They’ll all feel like they contributed and you’ll have a lot more time to hang out together.

My son and daughter both cooked for Friendsgiving this year. Their secret is out. I will engage their expertise this year.

Lower your expectations.

No matter how you envision holidays, they are never what you expect. We are surrounded by images of perfect families, especially on Facebook. REALITY CHECK: There is no such thing. We’re human, remember?

Instead of using the time envisioning the perfect holidays, be productive…

Stop the constant updates on social media. Be in the moment instead.

Are you a Facebook or Instagram fanatic? Stop. I still can’t figure out why everyone is so obsessed with wanting to look at everyone’s personal photos. Think about it.

Would you go to a friend’s house to spend an evening perusing their photo albums?

Not me. It becomes addicting when posting to see how many people like them. I’m a blogger. I get that. But I a little goes a long way to connect with friends and family.

Have phone-free zones.

Have you ever looked around a restaurant and seen dozens of people with their noses in their phones? It’s terrible. Our population has grown exponentially, but we are more isolated than ever. Communicate the old-fashioned way. Face to face.

 

Purchase gifts online.

This is a no-brainer, but I still spent hours shopping for my husband a week ago. Why??? Looking back, I could have easily bought everything in a half hour and had it shipped to my door. Lesson learned.

Ask for links when getting loved one’s Christmas lists. My daughter is the bomb at this. She gets exactly what she wants.

Create some Hygge moments.

Hygge is a Scandinavian lifestyle. My previous post listed some Hygge moments to slow down and relax. Time is fleeting. Soon it will be January. Find ways to add comfort and joy to your holiday season. That last sentence seems so familiar…

Be thankful.

This may seem trite until you actually sit down and write a gratitude list. After my brother died in March, writing in a gratitude journal helped me through some rough patches by focusing on the most positive moments of each day. Before going to sleep, make a list of three good things that happened. It works!

Meditate.

Do you have five minutes? I bet you do. Go to Insight Timer or another one of hundreds of meditation apps. Listen to one and tune out the noise. Feel better. It will also help with focus. That’s something in short supply for me during the holidays. I’m like an ADD Tazmanian Devil. Yep. Slowing down for me is a challenge.

Stay organized – Make a bullet point journal.

This really blew up this year. When I first saw blog titles with that name, I shrugged. I already was a list maker. My super simple bullet point journaling is very different!

bullet point journaling tools

It really helps me to keep habits like meditating or entering in my gratitude journal. Filling in the bubbles is a rush. I’m all about endorphin rushes.

I’m sure there’s a ton more to add, but the holidays are almost upon us and my list is long. I hope you have a fabulous holiday season this year!

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Which one can you relate to most?

Click for more adventure on the Wild Ride!

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Super Easy Bullet Point Journaling for the Holidays

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Dear Holiday Diary, Mistakes were made.

Super Easy Bullet Point Journaling for the Holidays

The first time I read a blog title including bullet point journaling, I rolled my eyes. I mean, most of us are list makers, right? After seeing other posts around, I finally clicked on one. Whoa! It blew my mind.

The key to bullet point list making is it also becomes a journal.

How?

By recording a weekly list. Don’t roll your eyes yet. I’ll show you mine in a minute.

When I clicked on some posts through Pinterest, I could see how making these journal pages could become super labor intensive. I thought, No way. I’m always working against the clock. Adding something that could take an hour or more to make would soon become a chore. I don’t need to add another chore to my list.

So, I came up with a no-brainer solution.

bullet point journaling tools

Tools:

A notebook.

You decide the size. I like the standard 8.5 x 11 since my lists are long even though the day is short. You’ll see why in another minute or second if you skim.

Markers, colored pencils, highlighter, or pen.

You can make it as cool or as boring as you want. It’s your journal. I can’t look at something that monochromatic or all in one color pen or pencil. Even if I don’t spend a lot of time making it, the journal still has to be eye appealing or I won’t use it.

But I don’t want to take a lot of time, right? I’m not going to color code things or use fancy-like tape. Instead, when I complete a task, I fill in the space or “bullet point” with color. I prefer a highlighter but have used colored pencils.

Ruler.

My first few journal pages were pretty raggedy. I decided to break down and use a ruler to make straight lines. Here’s a cheat! Use another lined sheet of notebook paper as a guide underneath.

Here’s my bullet point journal!

List your work on the left side with the days of the week on top.

Bullet point journal super easy

I refer to the journal when I complete a task to see what else needs to be done. At the end of the day, I peruse my list. Several times, I’ve hustled to fill in as many boxes as I can. Don’t judge. I’m an overachiever…

Obviously, I don’t always get everything done, but that’s where the journal comes in handy. Journaling shows progress over a period of time. Sometimes life gets in the way, like yesterday when I had a painter, a plumber, landscapers and a cleaning service here all at once.

If I’m putting off a task, I ask myself why. It’s usually for a stupid subconscious reason. Once I’ve faced it, I can move on. Sheesh!

Leave a few lines open to add the tasks you want to complete once during the week like calling for appointments, cleaning out a closet, shoveling out your kitchen, organizing a junk drawer. List those things you put off from week to week.

If it’s a major chore, break it down into small parts. That way you’ll feel satisfaction after making a little progress.

I’ve added my appointments because why not? It’s my journal!

I’m all about positivity and working hard. No one is around all day to give me those atta boys when I finish. Bullet point journaling gives me those self-congratulations and pats on the back. Way to go, me!

At the end of another long day, I fill in the spaces. I feel good about myself right before going to sleep. When I wake up, I take a look at my list and start filling in squares again. I accomplish a lot more when I use a bullet point journal. It guides me and keeps me on track.

Give it a try. Maybe you’ll accomplish more too!

Do you bullet point journal? Would you consider making one? Are you a list maker or a journal writer?

Click for more adventures on the Wild Ride!

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How to Have a Hygge Life!

More bullet point ideas.

How to Have a Hygge Life!

When I learned about Hygge and what it meant, I wanted to add more to my life here in Colorado.

Hygge is a Scandinavian word, pronounced hue-gah, used to describe an extraordinary moment during an otherwise ordinary day by being aware of the feeling of coziness and charm in order to slow our fast-paced life.

The word blew up in 2016 and was soon added to American dictionaries. Life has become more stressful for a lot of people. Hygge focuses on what makes you comfortable and happy. As the northern hemisphere slides into winter, I am all about Hygge moments.

Hygge can be experienced through a solitary or group activity. I’ve seen many examples, from wearing pajamas while sipping hot chocolate and reading a book, to small gatherings with friends.

Hygge’s definition depends on your unique lifestyle. Colorado is known for its active people.  When I’m not tapping away on my computer, I’m looking for outdoor adventures. I tend to shoot through life in hyperdrive. It’s important to slow down and enjoy its simplicity.

It’s snowing here in the mountains and I’m having a Hygge moment right now!

How to add Hygge to your lifestyle

My Colorado Hygge moments:

Some of my Hygge moments could be enjoyed by anyone in the world, others not so much.

Spend time with friends.

October Haunted book club at my house included eating appetizers in my living room. See the ghost, (Wendi) on the couch? Cooking dinner ran late so we had extra time to catch up! Our group has been together for more than fifteen years.

Haunted book club

Stop to enjoy the view.

No matter where you live, you can find and appreciate beauty. Instead of rushing down the sidewalk, check out a building’s architecture, the nature that surrounds you, or the clouds that scud across the sky. Embrace life when you can.

On the way back down from the mountains last weekend, my husband, Danny, and I drove to Echo Lake located below a 14,000-foot peak, called Mount Evans. As the sun set behind the mountains, the thin ice proved reflective and breath-taking in its texture.

Echo Lake, Colorado

Do what makes you happy like decorate for the holidays.

I have boxes filled with Halloween and Christmas decor and unpack them whether we entertain or not. Being surrounded by my favorite decorations makes me feel warm and happy.

Take time to make a meal.

Instead of inhaling food, it’s important to sit down and enjoy meals. I can smell the bacon sizzling in the pan. Okay, I’m really salivating now…

Mountain breakfast

Take a break.

To warm up and rest my muscles when I ski, I pour a hot chocolate and relax in the lodge. I prefer to sit near a window while enjoying the sweet concoction.

A Hygge Day in Colorado

Watch Memories on my iPhone.

I discovered a great new way to embrace special moments. I may be the last person to find “Memories” at the bottom of Moments in my iPhone’s photos. It’s a slideshow that includes snippets of video. Now I realize how important it is to delete pictures of my feet since it sometimes includes them. Ha!

Take a bubble bath in or outdoors.

I had a tough workout last Wednesday and took a hot tub to silence the screams of my minuscule muscles. The hum of the motor and the rush of water always soothes me.  I love watching birds flit from tree to tree and always watch for wildlife. A mountain lion and lynx have been spotted recently. Whoa!

Sometimes a friend joins me. So, I know hot tubs are no place for dogs, but she jumped in and finally lost her curiosity. Ha!

A friend in the hot tub

Light a candle or stoke up a fire.

In Colorado, most fireplaces are gas since we have a problem when heat inversions which trap pollution in the atmosphere. I love to flip the switch on my gas fireplace and mellow out in pajamas while watching the flicker of the flames. Or if the fire danger is low, have a bonfire with friends or family. Tell a ghost story or two. Surely you will experience a Hygge moment when you cuddle in a blanket and a shiver ripples up your spine.

bonfire

Meditate.

Insight Timer is a terrific app for tuning out the world to center and release stress. You can choose from guided and unguided meditations. It is good for the body and the soul. Find a warm, comfy space and peace-out for ten minutes. Enjoy your Hygge moment!

Create.

When our brains unlock creative flow while writing, painting, drawing, or when engaging in any other arts or craft activity, a sense of peace is released. Embrace this amazing feeling. Be aware of what you accomplished!

NOTE TO SELF: Start on this year’s Christmas card. Tick, tock…

illustrated christmas cards

Bake!

Ever since my kids went to college, I’ve baked a lot less. Making cookies and cakes for two can be hazardous to one’s waistline. Now that the weather is colder and the holidays approach, I yearn to bake bread and rolls. There’s nothing like the accomplishment of creating while the heavenly scent rises from the oven. Yum!

 

Cooling on the racks.

Spend time with family.

Since my son lives in California and my mom lives in Wisconsin, the moments we share are precious. Being an empty-nester, I truly cherish the time when everyone is home. I try slow down and live in the present moment, like this one.

Courtney, Grandma, and Kelly

Last night, I took a long hot shower. While wearing my favorite fleece pajamas, I made a cup of Sleepytime tea. I flipped the switch on the gas fireplace and slipped under the covers to read a book. Roxy cuddled next to me and kept me warm. After my Hygge moment, I slept really well!

I can’t wait to celebrate our family birthdays and holidays in November and December.

Lots of Hygge moments ahead! Onto that Christmas card…

 

Had you heard of Hygge? What are your favorite ways to bring a sense of comfort and coziness to your life?

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Haunted Ghost Tours – Why You Should Go!

Haunted ghost tours have sprung up all over the country.

You may have seen haunted ghost tours in your town or when on vacation. My first tour was in Richmond, Virginia. A woman with a long black cape advertised outside the Edgar Allen Poe house. Two hours later, she led our group through the most historical parts of downtown Richmond. She told stories about the community while pointing out the most historic of buildings. Among the many tales, I remember hearing about the Opera House fire and how a horse and carriage, carrying the Governer’s wife, slid down the icy pavement from the Governer’s Mansion and crashed. After that, I was hooked!

7 top reasons why I love ghost tours:

To become acquainted with a new place.

Many tourists take buses to get their bearings when traveling. I love haunted tours since we stop at each location to hear a story. Boston’s Ghosts and Gravestones combined both walking and busing since there was a lot of ground to cover. It’s a big city!

Haunted ghost tours and why you should go

We went to several historic locations including graveyards where we discovered Paul Revere’s grave; the small one with the flags.

Boston graveyard

To learn about the town’s history.

In New Orleans, we learned a lot about the sinking city, how it burned to the ground and was rebuilt. I enjoyed hearing about its unique culture including a hint of voodoo. Woven throughout were tales of surviving ghosts who still lurk at night.

angel shadow projected on church

See the string of lights on the balcony? They only showed up on film. I have three more pictures like this one!

New Orleans unexplainable lights

To learn about heinous crimes and the infamous evil-doers responsible.

Towns come to life when ghost tour guides spin yarns about perpetrators or the more colorful characters of a town. Suddenly, we’re no longer walking past a historic home from the 1800’s, but are glimpsing a part of the past that shaped history.

Bar Harbor Ghost Tour

To tour historic buildings.

In New Orleans, we toured a restaurant and bar notorious for ghostly visits.

New Orleans spooky speakeasy

In Breckenridge, we toured an old hotel and a home. There is a lot of activity in Breck since graves were dug next to the poor soul who died. Nearly every time they excavate for a new building’s foundation, they find human remains. Creepy or what?

the brown hotel

My first haunted indoor tour took place at the Stanley Hotel. You have to read about my experience to believe it. Or maybe you won’t…

To make discoveries.

While in Bar Harbor, our guide took us to a dark street. A man had written several notes and tossed them into the wind on the street, then went home and hung himself.

One man from the tour peered into a hollow in a tree and discovered this! Could the mason jar contain a note? No one was brave enough to find out…

mysterious jar in a tree stump

To exercise.

Whether you fly or drive to a location, it feels good to get outside and stretch your legs. Most tours take around two hours so you cover a lot of ground.

To get your heart pumping.

There’s nothing better than a good ghost story to tingle your spine. I especially love when I’m familiar with the history, but haven’t heard the paranormal and unexplainable details.

Back in 2008, they moved a little girl’s body from a backyard grave in Breckenridge to the Valley Brook Cemetery. That night, a wind shear tore down trees in a swath all the way to the cemetery and blew down the Victorian iron fence. Right before her grave, the wind changed direction and continued to knock down other gravestones and trees. I remembered reading about the damage in our local newspaper!

What to bring:

Whether it’s autumn, winter, spring or summer, tours are generally at night. Bring a jacket, a water bottle, and wear comfortable walking shoes. Pack a camera to take photos along the way. Most important, bring an open mind.

This photo gave me a heart attack when I got home from a ghost tour in Bar Harbor, Maine. Then I realized it was taken while the group was still in the theater. Ha!

Spooky Theater Bar Harbor

Have you been on a haunted ghost tour? Would you consider going?

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Inspired by Stephen King Country – Maine

Stephen King and Maine inspired me when visiting two weeks ago, but probably not the way that you think. It’s the perfect state for King to live in and produce books. A certain kind of books. Horror. Sometimes vacations aren’t at all what we expect.

Our first stop on the tour of Maine.

After flying into Bangor for our 30th wedding anniversary, Danny and I rented a car and drove right to his house. Okay. That sounds super creepy and stalkerish, but it’s a town landmark. Go ahead. Google, Bangor Landmarks. It’s on the list along with Paul Bunyan’s statue, (Dang, missed that one), and the Bangor Historical Society, with Chipotle Mexican Grill at the top of the list. Bangor has a population of 32,000.

As I drove up West Broadway, there were several cars parked along the wide avenue. Some voyeurs took pictures through the glass of their vehicles. Not us. We walked up to King’s gate. The wrought iron contained a spider and web, a dragon, and a capital K, just in case you weren’t sure if you had the right address. Exposed to the street, the home seemed to invite onlookers, as opposed to the house next door which hid behind a thicket of bushes and trees. The weather was perfect. Drizzling with a touch of fog.

Stephen King's House

Then we ate lunch in downtown Bangor. An advertisement for a play at the Penobscot Theater hung in the window. My favorite of all of Stephen King’s work, MISERY would open on Thursday night! We bought tickets for a mere twenty-seven dollars. I wondered if The Man himself would be in the audience.

In the meantime, we explored Bar Harbor, Bucksport, Camden, and Rockland and found a few bookstores. Each had a section set aside for Stephen King’s books. Some were like shrines.

A storefront in Bangor advertising Stephen King Tours.

IT displayed in Bangor store window

“He’s prolific,” said a young waiter. “He writes every day and sticks to a routine.”

Curious, I looked it up. According to an article written for Open Culture, King ritualizes writing time like some prepare for bedtime.

He’s quoted as saying in Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King:

“I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

Maine is a summer vacation destination.

We arrived in October! Somehow, we didn’t get the memo.

Some shops and restaurants had already shuttered. We stayed at the gorgeous West Street Hotel in Bar Harbor and discovered nearly the entire island including the hotel would close in another week or two.

Until then, cruise ships deposited eight to ten thousand people on shore EVERY DAY! Older people filled the sidewalks, gift shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown. Sometimes I led Danny into the street to pass them.

Because of the older median age of the tourists, warning signs lined the trail in Acadia National Park.

What steep grade and sharp curve?

Quaint meaning super dinky.

After leaving Acadia, I looked up towns to visit. A blog post with Prettiest Towns in Maine came up at the top of the feed. I perused the list. Portland was too far away and so was Kennebunkport. Blue Hill was sort of on our way back to Bangor. We arrived and drove past a gas station, a co-op, a gift shop, cafe, and beautiful harbor surrounded by nicely tended homes and yards. We drove back and asked a customer coming out of the store with a bag of groceries. “Where’s the downtown?” I asked.

“This is it,” he said.

Most of the towns were like that. We rarely saw fishermen on the lakes or active boats in the harbor. I had always dreamed of going to Maine to embody Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote and ride my bike. We only saw one biker since the hills were killer.

Every town seemed to hold its collective breath.

I thought fall color would be at its peak.

Because of warm and dry weather, most leaves were still green and many had already dropped. That happened in the Colorado mountains last fall. We arrived on their first rainy day.

We found colorful landscapes in Acadia.

Fall in Acadia

We encountered more cemeteries than people.

We could drive for miles and never see another vehicle or police car. The entire population of the state is around 1.3 million.

One of many cemeteries in Maine

Between the ghostly quiet towns and the huge expanse of undeveloped forested areas, goosebumps rose on my arms more than once.

I described the isolation to my son who said, “Maybe it will inspire you to write a book. It sounds like a great place for serial killers.” Right after his comment, I noticed Patterson’s new book, HAUNTED, about this particular variety of killer set in Maine. He must have traveled there in October.

 

Winters are tough. The state depends on summer tourism. We ran into an enthusiastic local in Acadia National Park who raved about wintering among the shuttered towns. “We sled and cross country ski. It’s beautiful in the winter.” The Mainers were very friendly, positive people reminiscent of the Midwesterners I grew up with. We really enjoyed meeting them.

MISERY in Bangor.

On Thursday night, the Penobscot Theater filled and the lights dimmed. After the first few lines, the words, “I’m your biggest fan,” were uttered by the character, Annie Wilkes played by AJ Moonie while grateful and drugged out Paul Sheldon, played by James Konicek, groaned in pain. Moonie nailed Kathy Bates’ portrayal of the deranged nurse and I could almost see James Caan in Konicek’s pained expressions as the crippled victim.

Here’s what surprised me.

In the super intense parts of the play where Annie became brutally violent, the crowd tittered, giggled, and a couple guffawed. Every time someone made a bodily sound it woke me from MISERY’s spell.

When I mentioned it to my son, he remarked that sometimes people react inappropriately when fearful. The scenes were super realistic. I cringed several times, so that could be true.

I’ve been to children’s productions where the audience showed more respect to a cast by not talking. Maybe Mainers don’t get to the theaters very often where we are all instructed to sit quietly. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.

It didn’t throw off the actors. They never missed a beat. Maybe they’ve witnessed this many times before. The small ensemble cast of three would make Stephen King proud.

We scanned the audience but King didn’t make it to that night’s performance. I’m sure he will take a stroll to the theater sometime between now and November 5th. I bet he’ll love it. We did!

Inspired by vacationing.

The irony of the setting hit me afterward. King chose Colorado for MISERY, even though I found Maine a better location in many ways. I could imagine super fan, Annie Wilkes, lurking in a clapboard house under the canopy of gnarled oaks just waiting for her chance. Both places endure winters with lots of snow.

Stephen King and I almost physically ran into each other many years ago in a fitness club. We both said, “Oops, sorry,” and kept walking. At the time, he consulted on the mini-series, THE SHINING which took place at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. THE STAND took place in Boulder. He must have been inspired by his trips to Colorado. His latest release, SLEEPING BEAUTIES, co-written with his son, Owen, takes place in a poor Appalachian town. Perfect.

Danny and I almost left Maine a day early. Instead, we drove to Camden, one of the highlights of our trip. I took this photo as we headed out of town.

The harbor in Camden, Maine

Life being ironic, as usual, we got stuck at the airport due to thunderstorms in Chicago and a stubborn baggage door. We had to stay an extra day!

Instead of flying through Chicago that Sunday, we traveled through New York. I remembered my son’s words when starting the four-hour trip home from JFK. “Maybe Maine will inspire you…”

I pulled out my cell phone and began to write.

Maine highway

~~~

Have you ever gone on vacation with completely different expectations? What’s your favorite King novel? Have you seen IT in the theater?

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Haunted in Bruges! Photo Essay

While traveling in Europe for the month of June, I looked forward a night in Bruges, Belgium. Little did I know the gorgeous and ancient Hotel Patritius was haunted. We picked the wrong room.

The road to Bruges

You may have heard of In Bruges, a famous movie about a repentant hitman, Ray, (Colin Farrell) who finds himself in Bruges where he and his partner, Ken, (Brendan Gleeson) wait for instructions. As the movie continues, we find out Ken loves Bruges and chose the spot for a reason, but Ray hates everything about the place. The black comedy includes vignettes of this gorgeous and historic place, so it stayed on my radar.

The Bruges Village before dusk

After checking into a family suite on the second floor above the winding staircase, we went out for a stroll. For some strange reason, while walking on patterned cobbles amongst the decorative brick buildings and breath-taking sights, I couldn’t shake loose the jangly feeling of anxiety.

The stairway from the top in Bruges

I have found that places have a certain energy. In Bruges, it was overwhelming. After a few hours of walking the streets to get our bearings, a bucket of savory mussels, and a pasta dinner, I settled in and relaxed.

That night I slipped between the cool sheets. I floated along with the random images of the day while making plans for tomorrow.

Haunted in Bruges

All of a sudden, a beautiful woman appeared in my thoughts. She wore a gold satin gown and a necklace which reflected the light which shone from a window behind me. Her pale face matched the almost white-blonde hair piled upon her head. She stood in a formally appointed room next to a small table. We locked eyes as she slipped out of sight below me. None of this was terribly strange, but…

SHE WAS UPSIDE DOWN!

I bolted upright in bed while trying to shake this bizarre image. I’d never had a thought where an image was upside down. EVER. My heart pounded as if waking from a nightmare. She hadn’t moved or floated in space. Gravity placed her and the table in the room. How weird was that???

My heart slowed over time. Soon images of all kinds of people dressed in seventeenth-century attire appeared randomly in my mind and I drifted off to sleep.

A view of our haunted room

The next morning, I recounted the dream and figured out why she was upside-down. It wasn’t her, IT WAS ME! Held between two people, my head hung backward. As I was removed from the room, I saw the woman slip from view.

Part of a haunted family room in Bruges

We packed up and checked out downstairs. I asked the Innkeeper about the history of the place. He told us it had been there for centuries.

“By the way, you stayed in our most haunted room. Many guests have seen a beautiful blonde woman walk between the bedrooms.”

“What?” I recounted my story, which wasn’t something I perceived in reality, nor in a dream. Rather, it was an alarming thought that freaked me out.

“It sounds like her,” he said and took our enormous key fob with the dangling skeleton key.

Later, I thought about how agitated I had been when first arriving in Bruges. What if I’m sensitive to the many souls caught between this world and the next? Who knows? I’ve never dreamed of anyone upside-down before or since. And what was up with all those costumed people in my thoughts before I fell asleep? I hadn’t seen anyone dressed in period attire during our entire trip.

Pretty postcard Bruges

Would I go back? Absolutely. Not only was it gorgeous, but the history was something I would love to delve into. Maybe I could discover something about the woman in the gold dress and the person who was physically removed from her chambers…

Check out the painting on the left.

Another hotel in Bruges

Have you ever vibed out while on vacation? Have you been to Bruges?

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Backpacking Challenge in the Rockies

When the opportunity for a backpacking adventure in the Rocky Mountains arose, my thoughts raced back in time to when I hiked with a group of friends from Snowmass right outside of Aspen. My girlfriend had pointed to the peaks way out in the distance and said, “That’s where we’re going.”

I had laughed.

We had started in a dense forest and emerged above treeline. Several miles and thousands of feet in elevation later, we scrambled over boulders as big as Volkswagens straddling deep dark crevices between. Near our destination, we all took baby steps while sucking in the thin air. We were over two miles above sea level.

That night, we camped in an otherworldly atmosphere next to aptly named Moon Lake. Some of the campers woke early to climb a 14er, (a peak 14,000 feet above sea-level.) I was happy to get a few extra hours rest (I doubt that I slept), to build reserve energy and strength for the trip down. It had to be so much easier with gravity pulling and oxygen increasing with every step, right?

When we hit the boulder field again, I found it super challenging to scooch over those enormous rocks while wearing an exterior frame pack. The metal “feet” caught the rock and threw me off balance. A few times I steadied myself to catch my breath while gazing down at those gaping crevices. I breathed a lot easier once we entered the forest. When we reached the car, I dropped my enormous backpack and vowed to never go again. It was too hard.

On our way to a backpacking adventure

Decades later, I jumped at the opportunity to backpack to Sawtooth Mountain. What had changed? I’ve been weight training since March and figured I could carry twenty-five pounds a couple of miles. My husband, Danny, and daughter, Courtney, and I wouldn’t be in a race and we could rest on our way up. I looked forward to the challenge!

Danny had planned the trip. It would be a four-mile hike up to Coney Flats. Right.

“I can see Sawtooth from my house,” I said in a Palin-like voice as we packed up the truck. We would camp below its crest. It would be cool to see it all up close and personal after all the years of admiring it from afar.

When we arrived at Camp Dick to park the truck, Danny informed us that we would take a different route. We would hike six miles. Whoa! It was too late to back out now. What were two extra miles anyway? I could do it.

I picked up my pack, surprised by its weight. Large and unwieldy, I needed help putting it on. The climb would be steady but the final destination name, Coney Flats, relaxed me, somewhat. I figured the hike would flatten out.

A rocky climb

At first, we strode up the trail along with many young families. Watching little kids trucking on their short little legs inspired me to keep up a quick pace. After a couple of miles, my pack dug into my shoulders. It didn’t fit my body properly. I discovered that reaching behind and clasping my hands behind me lifted the bottom of the heavy pack above my shoulders.

Courtney and I resting after the first two miles.

Sawtooth adventure Susie and Courtney

Courtney used GPS and tracked our progress. We hiked two miles in forty-five minutes. At mile three, our pace slowed. I couldn’t wait to take off my pack and set up camp. Three more miles.

After another mile, we realized the bad news. It would take us another four miles to reach the summit. Eight miles to Coney Flats. EIGHT MILES! I’ve never been a quitter. I sighed and we continued to hike up the mountain path.

Backpacking Challenge in the Rockies

We crossed a river and hit a gravel mining road. It was hard to keep from slipping while navigating the treacherous, gravel, uphill climb. From there we thought the lake would be around the corner. Nope. We found the wilderness trailhead and then continued through a bog.

Sawtooth Danny and Courtney

When we made it to the sixth mile, Courtney gave us the bad news. We still had a long way to go. GAH! We zigzagged through the muck while swatting at various nasty pests. Finally, we hit solid ground and re-entered the forest.

A few day hikers traipsed down the trail toward us.

“How far is it to Coney Flats?” I asked. I was out of gas after hiking for four hours straight. I prayed he’d say it was around the corner. It had to be.

“About another hour,” said a young hiker.

NOOO!!! My pack felt like it held bricks instead of a sleeping bag, tent, and clothes.

The group passed and a young woman brought up the rear. She must have overheard her friend. “It’s only twenty minutes to the lake, but the river crossings are tough.”

“Thank God!” I could do this.

We marched on until the trail met the river. We had to cross it by walking over the trunk of a tree. I used a walking stick for balance. The second crossing wasn’t as bad.

tree crossing

The third was insane.

The rushing river was much wider. First, we had to step up onto a small fallen tree and balance on its trunk to cross the narrow part of the stream. I didn’t have the strength to push up on my weak left leg with the extra weight in my pack. I found a walking stick and finally stepped up. As I crossed the stream, I lost my balance. I plunged the stick into the water. It kept me upright. I made it. But the second was a forty foot crossing. Slow but sure we all made it across.

By now daylight was fading. We continued to climb uphill. When would we arrive at Coney of Flatness? We had been walking for five hours. My pack felt like it weighed fifty pounds.

After another half hour, my legs hit a wall of exhaustion. I remembered my personal trainer, Sam, who recently competed in a Half Iron Man. He said that when you become a mouth breather, your body has used all of its energy. I fought that impulse and made myself breathe through my nose.

Sawtooth

Soon the forest broke open to a beautiful meadow. I stopped to take pictures and rest. It couldn’t be far now.

As we hiked up a knoll, Courtney hooted and hollered.

“Thank the Lord,” I said.

We had made it to Coney Flats after six hours and eight miles of hiking. It wasn’t flat at all. There was a campsite at the top. As Danny and I climbed up the hill Courtney strode down the other side. “The lake is right below us!”

I glanced up at the sun. We had about fifteen minutes to set up camp before it set behind Sawtooth. A cold breeze picked up and we hustled. Just after we staked our tents, I found a much nicer and protected site out of the prevailing wind. The tents flew behind Danny and Courtney like kites as they picked their way down the narrow trail. We set up camp a second time.

Coney Flats at Sawtooth

By the time we made dinner, it was dark.

All night long, I heard little animals foraging around our campsite. I slept for about two hours. The next morning, we enjoyed the early morning sunshine. We ate breakfast, then hiked down to the lake to filter water for the trek back home.

Coney Flats Lake

We were the only people around. It felt good to breathe fresh air and stretch sore muscles. We broke camp and packed up. My backpack seemed a ton heavier the second day.

Enjoying the elixir of the gods with an elfish grin.

Susie at Sawtooth

Just like my last backpacking trip, the hike took half the time on the way down. We entered the parking lot just as rain fell in huge drops.

Danny, Courtney, and I hit the road and talked about the trip.

“I would definitely backpack again, but only if we cut down on the miles. Sixteen in less than twenty-four hours was way too much.” We all agreed on that.

I reflected on what had changed for me. I had grown up camping and had missed the quiet solitude, being outdoors, and exploring a new area. When I backpacked years ago, I didn’t need to challenge myself. I was young with nothing to prove. If I didn’t feel like doing something, I didn’t do it.

After going through a heart ablation, breast cancer, and a partial knee replacement, I wanted to prove to myself that I had completely recovered and in some ways, was in better shape than the last time I backpacked. Challenging myself built confidence. Perseverance prevailed. Next year, I’ll plan the trip.

Click for more adventures on the Wild Ride.

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The Moose is Loose!

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