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.

March 6, 2017

Monthly Book Review: Feb 2017

Not sure why this was a slow month - lets chalk it up to there only being 28 days. 

Everybody Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - another from the WWII genre, it started out strong and sadly went flat halfway through

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - can't an old, tired man just die in peace? Not when new neighbors move in, a cat shows up and his frenemy needs help. Slow to start but picks up and then couldn't get enough. My mom recommended this. I was surprised to see it was a film (foreign) nominated for an academy award while watching last week's Oscars. I may watch it. Note: Ove is pronounced U-va.

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes - follow up to You; has the flavor of the first book, but a different tack. There's something about Joe Goldberg you can't help but like though he's a maniacal, egotistical psychopath. Note: like it's predecessor, explicit so not for the faint of heart. P.S. I'm obsessed with the narrator's voice - he should record everything!!!

Next up:
House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

March 5, 2017

Bingeing


I'm pretty sure I could gold medal in binge-watching. I easily qualified by watching ALL Gilmore Girls episodes - original and new on Netflix. Can't believe I never watched when it was in its prime. Then I hit quarterfinals with the second season of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon and the new Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix (Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant have great chemistry). I've since watched season 1 of Bloodline on Netflix and am halfway through the new The Collection on Amazon. Looking forward to the next season of Grace and Frankie (less than 3 weeks!) and House of Cards on Netflix.

Also on my to-watch list:
Sneaky Pete
Grantchester
Good Girls Revolt

March 1, 2017

The Quiet Zone

It's been pretty quiet around here. Bittersweet. Both Chunky and I are introverts with loud thinking so it's not unpleasant, just a big change.

Sassy moved out to a rental house across town with her boyfriend and another good friend a week and a half ago. It's a right of passage, sign of maturity and frankly the right time. Our home is on the market so all of us moving is inevitable. I bought Sassy her own Keurig and gave her a bunch of kitchen stuff (pans, bowls, gadgets) I don't use. She took her cat, Mittens, and I had her take my cat (or at least she pretends to be mine when someone she favors isn't about), Sookie, too so Mittens isn't lonely and Chunky's cat, Kenny, doesn't beat up on her more than he already did (good thing he's the cutest little mouser).

Hubby has also moved out - he's been in a hospital and rehab facility for almost six months and we've made the decision to move forward with our lives separately. I am very much at peace with this - it's been a long time coming mostly due to temperament/values vs care needs. The logistics are murky and cause the most angst, but the separation has been very enlightening and healing for me.  

So for now I'm down to one kid, one cat and one dog in a big house.

February 17, 2017

Better late than never

You can ask the universe for all the signs you want, but ultimately, we see what we want to see when we're ready to see it.

February 9, 2017

Links and loves

Along with the rest of the free world I am obsessed with Ed Sheeran. In my mind (and in the shower) I dance as well as everyone in this video to his latest single :)

I recently attended a presentation featuring former MA governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. Here's the video as well another featuring Richard Dreyfuss' on the importance of civics (he spoke at last year's City Club which I attended, but no video of that one).

I am loving PBS' new series Spy in the Wild - a unique perspective on animal behavior.

Speaking of "behavior", if you haven't watched Good Behavior on TNT, get on it!

I've seen over half of this year's Academy Award best picture nominees - I think that might be a personal record. I rank Arrival as my favorite of those I've seen with Hidden Figures and Lion as close second/third. La La Land was good, but I'm not gaga over it like the rest of the free world. Manchester by the Sea was meh for me.

January 27, 2017

Monthly Book Review: Jan 2017

I got down to business this month.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom - follows an Irish immigrant girl as she straddles the worlds of slaves and "big house whites". This was very thought provoking and a good fictional perspective of an era I'm not as familiar with - slavery; a very sad mark in American history with repercussions that can still be seen/felt.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly - I love me a WWII era book and this did not disappoint. The lives of three women intersect - east coast socialite, Polish prisoner on a mission to grow up too fast and German concentration camp doctor.

You by Caroline Kepnes - Whoa! Narrated in the first person about an intense infatuation. Takes "stalker" to a whole new level. Witty, disturbing and clever. I'll be reading the follow up. Note: explicit so not for the faint of heart.

The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons - a German girl is sent to England to pave the way for the rest of her Jewish family. I enjoyed the first half much more than the second - it never ceases to puzzle me how the Nazi regime was allowed to vilify an entire race of people no matter how educated, loyal or affiliated with their religion they were. Sad - this is why we must pay attention to international atrocities and mind our biases at home.

Next up:
Everybody Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

January 26, 2017

Morning Glory

I have a new breakfast addiction - avocado toast. I know the rest of the free world has already discovered this but we've established I am not an early adopter (nor likely a fast follower).

Here's how I love mine:
    Toasted sprouted grain bread (I will never go back to traditional sandwich bread - I love the texture and health benefits over whole wheat which are amino acids and bioavailability of vitamins/minerals)
    Spread with avocado half - split in half, twist apart, slice half without pit a few times lengthwise, scoop out with spoon and spread on warm toast (save the other half face down with pit in water and/or lemon/lime juice)

    Salt and pepper (I add balsamic vinegar sometimes)

    Onion slices

    Tomato slices

    Enjoy!!!

January 16, 2017

MLK 2017


“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.