June 13, 2017

Retreat

The word Retreat is meaningful because 1) I recently went on a retreat with my BFF to southwest Utah and had THE best time, and b) later this summer my new address will be on Retreat lane. A fitting name for my current season of life :)

Ten years ago my BFF and I went on a girls' getaway to Savannah, Georgia in celebration of our 40th birthdays. We stayed in a lovely B&B just off one of Savannah's infamous squares. So we knew we wanted to do a trip for our 50th, but weren't sure where. We considered Seattle/Vancouver, Boston and a couple of other places. Then I recalled that a work colleague had told me about a girls' getaway in Utah ... she told me at least 13 years ago, but for some reason it stuck with me all these years. I sent a link to the resort to my BFF and by some quirk of fate, she was interested in visiting Utah because her hubby has been on getaways there for hiking/skiing and thinks it would be a great place to retire. It was serendipitous!

We booked a year in advance so were pretty psyched when the time finally came. We flew into Las Vegas the day before as it was the cheapest and most direct route. We did the typical Vegas thing ... walked the strip, lost money at the casino, ate and saw the Bellagio water fountain show. The next day we rented a car to head east into Utah and decided to head out early to visit Zion National Park since we couldn't check into the resort until at least 3pm.

It was flat heading out of Vegas, then all of a sudden steep cliffs and "mountains" of every color appeared. Breathtaking - we'd never seen anything like it. We admired a few quaint towns leading up to the south entrance of Zion and then we hit major traffic - it was a gorgeous Sunday so of course it was very busy. Though we were skeptical, we felt that the universe had to be in our favor and decided to chance finding a parking spot inside vs. parking outside the park and hiking in before we even hit a trail. We'd done a little research online and picked The Watchman trail. Luckily that particular trail was just inside the south entrance and we found a parking space almost right away. Serendipity again! The trail is billed as a moderate two-mile hike with a mild 456 foot ascent that travels along the foothills beneath massive Bridge Mountain and ends at a bench near the base of the Watchman spire. Most of this trail is in full sun and through a hot desert environment, dotted with prickly pear cactus and a few other less common cacti. The end of the trail stops at a view point of the Watchman,  a red spire rising to an elevation of 6545 feet. It was spectacular! Both of us bought new hiking shoes for the trip and this was our first day wearing them ... neither had taken the time to break them in ... the universe smiled on us again as the shoes were super helpful and comfy (no blisters)!

  


We did a little shopping ... for rocks of course ... then headed to the resort. The location is about a mile from the south entrance to Snow Canyon State Park, bounded by beautiful sandstone rock and ancient lava flows. The resort offers accommodations equivalent to a typical hotel room as well as suites with kitchens and larger spaces for families/groups. We assume there are likely luxury accommodations as well but didn't see anything that stood out as special or unique. The property is well laid out with a mixture of rooms, gathering spaces, fitness studio, restaurant (with indoor and outdoor tables), spa, indoor pool, outdoor pool, store, and plenty of relaxation spaces with hammocks overlooking desert gardens and water features (babbling brook, koi pond, waterfall) almost everywhere you turn. Red Mountain is the least pretentious "resort" ...  very casual cool. There's definitely a wellness element, but not militant - go with the flow is the vibe.

  

Hiking ... I'm a hiker. Read that again. Who knew?! With The Watchman under my belt I was less anxious about the resort hikes, yet not sure what to expect. They have daily guided hikes for three levels of intensity - Explorer, Challenge and Endurance. I don't know what the Challenge folks do, but we heard the Endurance hikes were basically rock climbing. The Explorer level was plenty challenging with a pace to enjoy the surroundings and fellow hikers. There were also evening hikes available, but because we signed up for daily 8am hikes we felt once per day guided hikes were sufficient.

Day 1 hike was Paradise Rim from the Chuckwalla Trailhead in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This was our favorite hike by far at the resort. The landscape was beautiful and we felt like we got a good workout. My phone recorded 19,870 steps, 9 miles!


Day 2 hike was 3 Mile Canyon. This was our least favorite as it was basically walking and lackluster scenery. We'd been spoiled by this point. My phone recorded 17,114 steps.

 

Day 3 hike was Hidden Pinon. This was the most physically challenging (uneven rock and tight spaces, including slot canyons) with major view payoffs. The elevation was 3,448 feet! My phone recorded 19,196 steps, 7 miles.

 

Other activities ... there is a hike, class, workshop, something offered almost every hour of the day from 6am to 10pm. They ran  the spectrum from intense (rock climbing/rappelling) to zen (Meet your Totem Animal and Lunch with Shaman Spirit Guide). Some activities were an additional fee, such as guided hikes to Zion, kayaking and horseback riding. We opted for fee medium active workshops like stretching, yoga, MELT and chakra balancing. These complimented the go-with-the-flow vibe, no pressure, come as you are.

The food ... breakfast buffet at Red Mountain was sensational - fresh fruit, yogurt, breakfast breads, steel cut oatmeal, pancakes/French toast, potatoes, eggs, bacon/sausage, toast/bagels, fresh fruit spreads, and my personal favorite, muesli. It's an addiction - it's distant second, but I eat this muesli at least two to three times a week at home. The lunch buffet rotates weekly for each day of the week. The basic formula is chili/soup/stew (my favorite was the New Mexico Green Chile Pork Posole), salad (spinach cranberry with toasted almonds and herbed apple cider vinaigrette please), meat (I'll take ALL the grilled carne asada beef skirt steak), tofu/meat alternative (the tandoori spiced tofu was good), vegetable and a bite-sized dessert. Dinner is where Red Mountain shines ... I can see why locals choose to eat there. The menu rotates as well with a range of offerings - beef, chicken, pork, seafood and vegetarian. There was always a soup/salad bar. My first night I had molasses-seared cervena venison with roasted shallot, blackberry & sage demi, pepita cinnamon-dusted yam and blue cheese. Love at first bite! I can't remember if my BFF had the farro dish or a plain tofu steak. One night my BFF ordered her tofu steak with the pork preparation - prickly pear barbecue glaze, agave carmelized pineapple and red chili pecan slaw. Doesn't that sound amazing?! She was very impressed. They didn't skimp on dessert either. We had tiramisu, cappuccino crème brulee, key lime pot de creme, cheesecake, blueberry lemon crisp and molten chocolate volcano cake. YUM!!!

So ... long story short, if you're looking for a retreat that is equal parts adventure, renewal and relaxation, you need to visit Red Mountain Resort and Utah's beautiful parks. I honestly can't wait to go back!


June 2, 2017

Monthly Book Review: May 2017

Only two books this month, but in my defense one was 17 hours. I also got hooked on the Starz series Outlander which is based on a book series so I'll count that too :)

The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier - Odd. If you ain't got nothing nice to say ...

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah - I was really looking forward to this as it's by the same author as one of my favorite books, The Nightingale. It's a cliched modern version of Beaches - follows BFFs Tully and Kate through three decades. Way too long.

Next up:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
I Let You Go by Rhys Bowen
In Farleigh Field by Clare Mackintosh
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

May 22, 2017

Summer Reading Guide

Stumbled upon this today and thought I'd share :)

May 5, 2017

Monthly Book Review: Apr 2017


Saving Sophie by Ronald H. Balson - Fantastic story and character development. Lots of good plot twists. The explanation of Palestinian-Israeli conflict is very timely.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams - I've found another fave author. This weaves together the stories of two not so different women, Pepper and Annabelle, set in two different times, mid -1960's and early WWII. Strong, sassy women ... chick lit at its best!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams - I couldn't help myself so moved immediately to another Beatriz book. Secrets, obligations and fate are the underpinnings of this late 1930's tale. My favorite character is Aunt Julie.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams - Beatriz is officially an addiction. I want to be Vivian Schuyler (Pepper's sister)! This also weaves together the stories of two women, Vivian and her great Aunt Violet (Julie's sister) in two different times, mid -1960's and WWI. Characters from A Hundred Summers make brief appearances.

Next up:
The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

April 6, 2017

Monthly Book Review: Mar 2017

I only read three of the four intended books this month - we're selling our house so life is a bit hectic.

House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure - I was really looking forward to this as I loved The Paris Architect by the same author. Set in 1886 New York City this is a tale of an unlikely partnership between an architect and a gang. Great historical references. Evaluating social expectations and the meaning of loyalty are common themes.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - This got a lot of buzz last year as being on par with Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. How could someone be murdered if they never existed? A whodunnit reminiscent of Agatha Christie in the best way. I felt like I was on the cruise ship and knew every character's persona and vulnerability. Great read!

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda - This mystery is told in reverse and I kept waiting for a big reveal, but the last third fell flat for me. Never reached its potential.

Next up:
Saving Sophie by Ronald H. Balson
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

March 20, 2017

Contemplative

One of my favorite graduate courses was Professional Ethics. The instructor and class really pushed my boundaries and challenged me to be more contemplative vs. feeling like I always have to know the answer (aka be right). It also exposed me to different types of ethical frameworks - often rooted in religion. I can still hear the instructor saying,
Learn to live in the questions

Another favorite course was Organizational Change. This extended contemplation to seeking different approaches to universal problems ... basically moving from living in the questions to answering them with a consensus building approach.
Perceiving in new ways leads to new possibilities

These concepts have really stuck with me (guess I got my money's worth!). I was in search of a way to practice these concepts further in my own daily life. I'm fed up with the extreme polarization - religious, cultural, political - that seems to be everywhere and feel a pull toward personal spiritual fulfillment that isn't preachy. One the resources I have found is a "daily meditation" rooted in theology but not married to any one religion (not just one Christian religion, but open to all religions). Let's be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, open to the opposition by learning and talking about what's good and move it in a new direction.

Here is once excerpt that I'm keep reading over and over - letting my thoughts and actions be a reflection of my mindful habits.

Contemplation is an entirely new way of knowing the world that has the power to move us beyond mere ideology and dualistic thinking. Mature religion will always lead us to some form of prayer, meditation, or contemplation to balance out our daily calculating mind. Believe me, it is major surgery, and you must practice it for years to begin to rewire your egocentric responses.

Imagine a river or stream. You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past. While the stream flows past your inner eye, I ask you to name each one of the “vessels” or thoughts floating by. For example, one of the boats could be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.” Or along comes the ship “objections to my spouse” or “I don’t do that well.” Every judgment that you pass is one of these boats. Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.

For some people this is a very difficult exercise because we’re used to jumping aboard our boats immediately; in doing so, we give them “gas”! As soon as we own a boat and identify with it, it picks up its own energy. We have to practice un-possessing, letting go, detaching from our thoughts and feelings, or they own us. With every idea or image that comes into our head, we have the opportunity to say, “No, I’m not that; I don’t need that; that’s not me.” This frees you to intentionally choose your divine identity instead.

From this mature and wide awareness, I can later do what needs to be done, but my contentment is not dependent upon my actions or their outcome. There is less and less room for compulsivity, fanaticism, trumped-up excitement, or even hopelessness. If I am personally identified with my private viewing platform, every event has the power to snag, grab, and control me. This could be called unawareness, the unawakened state, or blindness. Through contemplation, I stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them without letting them “possess” me.