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What are your 'symbols'?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
As you all know, I’m a huge Gretchen Rubin fan. I say her books have changed my life – and while that sounds super dramatic and like I’m ready to be on an episode of Dr. Phil, I really mean it. She’s taught me to think about happiness and habits in a completely different way. I was reviewing old Happier podcasts and blog posts on Gretchen Rubin’s website, because all of her Happiness and Habits books have such great information and tips, but I find unless I review them once in a while I forget about some really great ones.

This was a cool thought that I remember reading about in The Happiness Project, and then was intrigued by it again in a Happier podcast last fall.  Gretchen talks about Buddhism’s 8 AuspiciousSymbols: Parasol, Golden Fish, Treasure Vase, Lotus, Conch Shell, Endless Knot, Victory Banner, and the Wheel of Dharma. 
Gretchen challenges readers and listeners to figure out their 8 Auspicious symbols, and it’s kind of a fun exercise-  like figuring out your 'logo'. A bit more difficult that I thought it would be. I listed mine below…what are yours? 

My mother bought this giant sunflower for me in Lawrence when I was in college.

Sunflower – Kansas connection; positivity; idea of facing the sun;

Turtle- A favorite animal; always stop to pick them up off roads; wisdom, diligence, patience;

These lucky turtles have always sat at my desk.

Notebook – Journalism degree; writer; always taking notes

Pineapple- I love visiting tropical locations; pineapples traditionally symbolize happiness and welcome; Summer symbol; (I love Pina Coladas, too!)

Pineapples show up in a lot of spots in my house - especially in summer!

Pumpkin- October birthday; favorite season/holiday; love of fall harvest;

Ruby Red Slippers – Kansas connection; one of my favorite movies; the idea of ‘No Place Like Home’ (I’m a big homebody!)

Champagne bottle- My family always says ‘every day is the Fourth of July with Sasha’ meaning I like to celebrate and do things up big. And, it's true, I love Champagne, but more symbolically l love to celebrate – especially the little things in life!

Found this huge, vintage bottle of Moet in the West Bottoms of KC with my friend, Sara. 
I knew I had to have it! Unfortunately, it was empty. 

Wheat – My Kansas roots; grew up in a farm family; Kansas Jayhawk that loves to ‘wave the wheat’

Hike to Comanche Lake

Friday, July 8, 2016
Saturday in Rosita was Heather and Andrew's anniversary, and since the Wildcat only seats two, we sent the two of them off on an adventure to Hermit Lake with champagne and a picnic in tow. Without the UTV, Mike and I decided to hoof it on a moderate-difficult trail to Comanche Lake. Our hike together was absolutely beautiful and so much fun, but often on the difficult side of moderate-difficult for much of the hike. The physical challenge made it fun though, and helped us earn our steaks later that night. Or, so we like to think.

The hike to Comanche Lake was 5 miles up and back, and really had us huffing and puffing. It started off in a heavily forested section, and then became much more steep and rockier as we neared timberline. At timberline we hit a section of the trail that was super rocky and narrow with a pretty harrowing view to the valley below. What was it with facing my fear of heights on this trip?

On the hike we came across a stunning meadow with a view of the valleys below and the mountains above us. It was really one of those views that took our breath away. I had also never seen so many columbine growing wild. It instantly reminded me of my grandmother Virginia, who grew up in Colorado, and loves columbines.

Just when we wondered how much further we'd have to hike, we came up over a ridge and there was Comanche Lake. This alpine lake was formed by glaciers, and still has beautiful, clear, blue-green water. Besides a man and his dog fishing for trout, we were the only ones there. We had a makeshift picnic of cheese, crackers and Coors Light (appropriate in Colorado, right?), explored, and played in the snow. Yes, snow!

Hiking with Mike was better than any date - I realized how fun it is to be together outside. We talked, we gasped for air, marveled at the view, and pointed out critters and wildflowers throughout our hike. It was truly quality time together. Mike and I both have very different hobbies that typically don't cross paths. Besides cooking, traveling, and boating (wait, does eating and drinking wine count?), our hobbies usually are our 'me time.'  We both agreed hiking could definitely become something we both enjoy together. Too bad we're just a short 8 1/2 hour drive from the mountains!

Oh, deer

Thursday, July 7, 2016
The mule deer in Rosita are so tame. Like, let-me-come-up-and-eat-your-potato-chips tame. When we were out at the cabin, we enjoyed meeting lots of furry friends, and I loved getting some great shots like this. 

Our friends enjoyed munching on Wheat Squares cereal, jalapeno kettle chips, and homemade cinnamon raisin bread. Seriously, these guys will have whatever you're having.  

We could expect our muley friends to come through about once in the morning and once in the afternoon. They were great company for our time spent on the patio! 

Bishop's Castle

Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Three words to describe Bishop's Castle? Weird, terrifying, and fascinating.

Mike, Heather and Andrew ready to check out Bishop's Castle!

While out in Westcliffe, Mike and I were excited to really check out some of things to do and see around there. Our trip the year before was so quick we felt that we didn't have a lot of time to explore what all Westcliffe had to offer.

Jim Bishop has been working on the castle since 1969.
Heather under one of the stone archways.

When we asked the locals what we needed to do while we were in the Westcliffe area, Bishop's Castle was always on their list. Not knowing what to expect, we headed off to see the castle on Friday with the Manleys.

Think these stairs look a little sketchy? Yeah, they're worse in real life.
I had a minor freakout halfway up.

So, a quick history of Bishop's Castle...since 1969 Jim Bishop has been constructing this elaborate castle on the side of a mountain. He's an eccentric, anti-government guy - so parents be warned - there are lots of anti-government, blunt rants posted all over the castle's grounds, which makes it just that much more of a strange experience. Wikipedia has a pretty good description of the place - it's really hard to explain in a few sentences, and really, you have to see it to believe it.

Yes, that's a dragon. Yes, it breathes fire. 
Stained glass in the main room of the castle. 

The castle has been constructed of natural stone and metal, and features a fire-breathing dragon at the top of one of the towers. He keeps working on the castle non-stop so that it's always in construction mode and he doesn't have to pay property taxes.

Heather checks out all the natural stone it took to construct the castle.

Beautiful view from way up - if you can relax and enjoy it at that point!

As my engineer husband pointed out, nothing about the castle is safe or structurally sound. (Exactly what you want to hear halfway up a rickety staircase.) Signs all over the castle warn you that Jim Bishop is not liable for anything that happens there. If you're scared of heights, this is not the place for you. Not only are the heights dizzying, they're more fear-inducing when you realize what's holding you up, shouldn't be holding you up. Conclusion? You've got to see the place, but I wouldn't go climbing too far up, especially with little kids. It's a truly enter-at-your-own-risk kind of place.

Mike and Andrew looking at the poor construction of the balcony - up about 100 feet. Perfect!
I nervously stepped out for one photo to prove I was there.
Definitely faced a lot of fears that day up on the castle. But you know what? It was fascinating.

We made it!

Homemade Ice Cream - A Fourth of July tradition

Friday, July 1, 2016
When I was little I hated the Fourth of July. I dreaded it. Couldn’t wait until July 5 rolled around.  The Fourth of July included a lot of things that weren’t really my style when I was little – loud noises, danger, social settings with wild children, and hot dogs.  I was an only child who enjoyed safe settings and alone time. Firecrackers being set off by loud, mischievous children were not my thing. I plugged my ears, refused to go to the neighborhood block parties, and had nightmares about our house being caught on fire by a rogue bottle rocket. I was a real party animal on the Fourth of July.

My parents accepted this oddity about me and usually let me stay inside to watch the Boston Pops concert on TV. My dad was usually still busy with wheat harvest during the Fourth of July, so it never was a big holiday in our family anyway.

Perhaps Independence Day’s only saving grace for me was when my mother would go to the basement shelf and pull down the homemade ice cream maker. Nothing beats the taste of homemade ice cream – nothing!

Today you can purchase an ice cream maker that whips up homemade ice cream in an hour or so, but back in the day (read: early nineties) ours required patience - mouth-watering patience. We’d load it up with the half & half, heavy whipping cream, sugar and milk and then pile ice on top of it while it churned. As the ice would melt we would sprinkle salt over it to keep it as cold as possible (less time to wait to dig in!). All morning and afternoon, the whine of the ice cream maker sitting in the sink would resonate throughout the house as we went through the process of adding more ice and more salt each hour. I’d check in periodically to see if the creamy mixture had turned into soft, ripples of ice cream yet. It never seemed to be ready quite quick enough. 

But when it was ready, it was so worth waiting for.  Homemade vanilla ice cream is just such a treat. It melts in your mouth and is so cool and creamy. If I have to have any fond Fourth of July memories, I’d say homemade ice cream tops firecrackers any day. God Bless America. 


Delicious, creamy homemade ice there anything better?

I now have a super efficient Cuisinart ice cream maker that can whip up a batch of homemade ice cream in about 20 minutes. This is my favorite vanilla ice cream recipe to use with it - it's simple and so good. Let me know if you have homemade ice cream for the Fourth, too!
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 1/8 cups granulated sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 ½ Tablespoons pure vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine milk and sugar until sugar dissolves. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and turn on machine. Let the mixture thicken until it has a soft, creamy texture. (About 20 – 30 minutes depending on your ice cream maker)

Ice cream can be stored in airtight plastic containers in freezer. Remove from freezer about 10 – 15 minutes before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Cuisinart

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