My mom adventures in Fort Collins

Day Trippers: Let’s talk RMNP

A view of Lily Lake from a few weeks ago

I am ever so lucky to live very close to Rocky Mountain National Park. As a family, we try to get up to RMNP a few times a summer. The park is huge, but two of the main entrances are located in Estes Park, Colorado, only about an hour from Fort Collins. It’s truly a sight to behold, and we always seem to enjoy the adventure–even when it means hip-carrying a crying, obstinate child who refuses to sit in her Lexus-esque luxury-pack (AKA the REI backpack carrier) down the trail.

Our favorite plan for the day is to hike a short trail with the kids and eat lunch in the park. 

Don’t we look like we’re soaking up the sunshine and fresh air?

We’ve done a few hikes, and there are always plentiful options. We’ve done some more moderate ones and simply turned around whenever we needed to, but there are several hikes that have a small elevation gain and are relatively short in distance (i.e. perfect for small kids). Some are even paved. Two of my favorites are Bear Lake and Lily Lake. Bear Lake is nearly synonymous with the park. Even people who’ve only spent two hours in the park have probably been to Bear Lake. It’s very popular and incredibly scenic. The only drawback of Bear Lake is that parking can be kind of a drag, and it’s essentially a highway full of pedestrian traffic. (You can vary this hike by adding on Nymph Lake and other routes.) Lily Lake is outside of the park, very accessible and still very popular. You can find it six miles south of the town of Estes Park on Highway 7. There are off-shoot trails that will lead you up to overlook the lake, or the basic lake circumference route is fun, too.

Our girls do pretty well (methinks), and we do this simply: we carry their water for them, they wear pants and sneakers (and lots of sunscreen). We deal with whining by warning them about the bears who are always hungry for crabby, stubborn children.

If you’re going to eat lunch, why not picnic some place in the park in order to fully enjoy the majestic scenery? You can bring your basket full of prepared goodies or plan to cook your grub once you get there. We’ve done both. Hot dogs on the grill is clearly a more “authentic” meal for my beloved picnickers, but honestly both options are fantastic. Our favorite spot to picnic is at the Endovalley Picnic area. There are many different picnic options in the park (read more about that here), but Endovalley is a safe bet in the summertime. The scenery is fantastic (the sites are nestled in the woods along a stream), the tables are plentiful (32!), there are fire pits (so useful when the fire bans are not in effect… sigh), and there are restrooms and trash options (though the potties are not flush-toilets, they are usually well-tended).

A picnic with a firepit is great… unless there’s a fire ban, and then, of course, there’s always propane

In any case, a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely worth the trip whether you can visit every year or only once in your lifetime. For a girl who grew up in Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Michigan, I have found the Rockies can be nearly as soothing to my soul as a big, beloved body of water. Ahh, it makes my shoulders relax just thinking about it. Oh, and P.S. if you think I sound like I love this, you should see my husband’s face when we’re in the park–constant grins.

Kitchen Success: World’s easiest pot roast

I don’t think I’ve ever been shy about what excites me in the kitchen: easy and tasty. This dish is easy peasy, tasty, won’t heat up your kitchen, smells delicious and as an added bonus it is the kind of comfort food that makes you feel satisfied and might even conjure up memories of lovely home cooked meals.

Beef roast ingredients await their exciting purpose…

What you need:

a slow cooker, a beef roast (I used a 3 lb bone-in beef chuck roast, but usually I use bonelss–either will work), a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, a packet of Lipton onion soup mix, four carrots (or so) chopped, 4-6 red potatoes or yukon gold potatoes in quarters

Beef roast in the crock pot, cozy and snug (pre-brown gravy goo)

The “cooking” (this is the best part!):

Layer your beef roast, carrots and potatoes in your slow cooker. In a separate bowl, mix together the condensed cream of mushroom soup with your packet of onion soup. Dump the brown goo looking soup-on-soup mixture on top of the beef and veggies. Try to stir it up a bit, but it doesn’t have to be completely commingled.

Beef roast BEFORE PHOTO (Do you see why I call it brown goo?)

Now cook on low in your slow cooker for 8-10 hours. Most slow cooker purists will tell you to keep that top on, but I say, “Feel free to stir once or twice to get everything good and covered with the delicious gravy.”

Beef roast AFTER PHOTO (And by now, your kitchen smells like heaven)

I served this to my family and everyone ate it. And even tried the veggies! I served this along with sauteed yellow squash and raw kohlrabi from the farmer’s market. Ta-da!

My half-eaten plate (You can tell me if this is a weird photo, because I’m really not sure if this is gross or not)

Kids are not little adults

Like most parents, I struggle with a lot of different issues. Some of them even involve my kids.

Lately, I keep hearing about the virtues of children behaving as adults. When a young child demonstrates the general mannerisms of a polite individual, we congratulate the child and maybe even the parents. When a child speaks willingly to an adult, we may think to ourselves, “Wow, little [insert name here] certainly is confident!”

I know that Fancy Nancy has taught us some big words and all, but we’re just kids. We’re not little adults.

Don’t get me wrong. These are indeed virtues. I love it when children speak politely. I love it even more when those children are my very own children. I do spend a great deal of time (it feels like a great deal of time, anyway) trying to coax my children into using kind words to ask for things or the correct tone of voice to express their dissatisfaction with a situation. In lieu of wine before 5 pm, I find that the use of polite language can grant me just a bit more patience. When requests are demanding, harsh or perfecting a nine-octave-range of pitch, mommy wants to slam her head into the counter-top rather than accommodate any petition for a glass of water.

And I love talking to kiddos who can hold their own. I thoroughly enjoy hearing about life from a five-year-old’s point of view. Prior to one such conversations I had little knowledge of a My Little Pony named Rarity, and I certainly had no idea of the inter-personal drama that exists among the ponies. Who knew you could learn of such tales all while waiting in line at the grocery store?

I will relent to an extent: Much can be gained from encouraging certain mature behaviors in a young child.


Kids are not little adults. Kids are in no way, no how, ever to be expected to be adults even when they are capable of demonstrating certain adult-like behaviors.

For all the kids out there who are not capable of behaving like an adult, I want to send up a little homage in their honor.

  • If your first word is not “please” and your last words are not “thank you,” it really just means you are a work in progress. Keep trying to use those “magic words”!
  • If you holler and yell and say things in a decibel well beyond the regulation “inside voice”, it really just means that you’re alive and animated and feeling things in a big way.
  • If you cry and scream at inappropriate times (like in a restaurant, in church or on the 11th hole of the US Open), it really just means that you’re human and you have emotions. (And, trust me, adults all the world over have wanted to do the exact same thing but they don’t do it due to fear of repercussion.)
  • If you turn away from a strange adult who is asking you if you like unicorns simply because there is one on your t-shirt, then GOOD! For crying out loud, stranger anxiety exists for a reason and children who shy away from  adults who maybe-might-be-safe-but-we-still-don’t-know-them are doing themselves and the world a favor.
  • If you can’t hold still for even a moment and prefer to bounce, bound, skip, run, prance, dance or boogie-on-down, it just means that you are a lively person and your exuberance cannot be contained.
  • If you dislike any food that is green or once grew in the earth, you are probably living proof of evolution. Some of that green stuff that grows in the earth really can kill you. That being said, please please please throw your parents a bone and branch out every once in a while at the dinner table.

I’m sure that there are many more lines to devote to this “Kids who are not little adults” homage.  Please feel free to give me some of your own.

The Great Summer Roadtrip

About a week after all the scary fires around here began*, our family headed out on our biggest road tripping adventure to date. We covered Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

The Road Trip went like this:

  • Saturday, June 16th–head out at 4 am from home, get as far as Iowa City (about 12 hours of drive time)
  • Sunday, June 17th (Father’s Day–HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, DADS!)–continue our travels to land in my hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin (about 6 hours of drive time)
  • Tuesday, June 19th–Take Cory to the airport (an hour each way) and send him on a round-trip ticket out of Milwaukee back to Colorado where he has to work (boo!)
  • Spend a week and a half with my girls and their grammy and papa in the near-“I’m melting”-style humidity of Wisconsin, all the while enjoying “The Lake” (Lake Michigan) and fun activities that we don’t usually get to take advantage of back home including a quick overnight to Chicago (3 hours each way) and a long weekend at my aunt and uncle’s cottage in Northern Wisconsin (2 hours each way)
  • Saturday, June 30th–Cory returns to Wisconsin and we head for Madison to visit friends, and stay overnight in Baraboo, Wisconsin (about 3 hours total drive time)
  • Sunday, July 1st–Drive to Minneapolis (about 4 hours) to spend a night with my brother, a.k.a. Uncle Jake
  • Monday, July 2nd–Drive a short bit (4 hours) to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where we had the worst Chinese food ever (Why on God’s green earth my husband had his heart set on Chinese food in Sioux Fall, South Dakota, I’m not sure…)
  • Tuesday, July 3rd–Drive the remaining way to the other Grandma and Papa’s house in Wyoming (about 7 hours)
  • July 4th through July 8th–Hang with my husband’s side of the family, enjoy the time with cousins up until the point when they start treating one another like sisters instead of cousins
  • Return home on July 8th (about 6 hours)–Yay for sleeping in our own beds!

I think this brings my conservative estimate of time spent in the car to 54 hours in three weeks time. And our DVD Player broke about half-way through. Surprisingly, the whole trip went very well–with or without the DVD player. In fact, I think only now I’m realizing how lucky we are that things went so well. With a cumulative 54 hours of car-time logged in recent time, here are a few things that I’ve learned for assisting this process.

  1. Have snacks readily available. Bucket loads of snacks. Variety of snacks. Favorites for us are fruit snacks, animal crackers, goldfish crackers, bananas, and granola bars.
  2. Have books, crayons, coloring books, toys, and other activities at hand. I kept a box between the two girls’ car seats that they could reach into. We also had great lucks with those silly little lap-tops (we just have cheap-os from the junk store, but I have heard great things about the Leap Frog stuff).
  3. The DVD player helps, but it’s more helpful if it works the entire time. So, apparently, invest in a good one. And always bring lots and lots of movies, more than you would think humanly possible to watch.
  4. Have water bottles very accessible–preferably where they can reach them themselves.
  5. Keep track of blankets (in my kids’ cases) or other loveys.
  6. My personal philosophy is that you don’t stop if you can avoid it: “Make hay while the sun is shining” is the phrase that comes to mind. So, we stop for a decent meal maybe once and  make the most of it: everyone goes to the bathroom, everyone eats, everyone stretches their legs and I force the issue if necessary. While on the road, we look for healthy-options if we can not so much because it’s “healthy” but because my husband and I both tend to feel like yuck after a fast-food meal. I’d rather not have to listen to complaints of “Oooh, I shouldn’t have ate so much” from him or myself.
  7. Get some rest. I let the kids rest whenever, unless I know it’s going to goof them up. For me, I don’t like to push the envelope when we’re driving–we don’t do a drive-all-night deal because I don’t function well during or the next day. To me, it’s worth the money to spend the night in a hotel and (if possible) get a swim and a good night’s rest.

This is not exactly a list of tips and tricks, as much as it is common sense. The truth is the list absolutely needs another thing: Good luck. As any parent can attest to, kids are unpredictable. Whining, crying, sniffling, (heaven-forbid) puking, fighting, sweating, car-mishaps, and all sorts of other things could accompany any road trip. I can say that we were very fortunate to have healthy, generally happy travelers. As with anything, you know your kid. I doubt we would have undertaken such an ambitious trip had we not gone to Arizona in March and spent 14 hours one-way in the car. And believe me, I was absolutely astounded that the trip didn’t completely fall apart along with the DVD player. What I’ve noticed with our kids (you may or may not pick up on similar trends with your own) is that they do better in the morning, worse as the day wears on. Napping in the car works for our kids, but I think the times we’ve asked them to start their bedtimes strapped into a five-point-harness we’ve sorely regretted it.

To me, this trip was worth it. Just look.

Any fun traveling trips from you?  I’m always eager to hear what works for other people. Happy travels, everyone.

*By the way, High Park Fire is contained, as are a few others including the nationally televised Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs. There are still more wildfires burning in Wyoming that we could smell when visiting my in-laws. And, sadly, around here we’ve received a fair amount of rain now, so many fire vicitms are now dealing with flooding and mudslides.