Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Practicing Christmas

Growing up, my brothers and I would practice Christmas morning.  I’m not sure what motivated us to do this – I can’t imagine any child forgetting how to do it – but just to be sure, we would practice.  

The rules were:
1.    First one up wakes everybody up.
2.    Get Mom and Dad up.
3.    Rip ‘em apart.

We’d run through the drill several times in the days leading up to Christmas morning.  And sure enough, when the big day came, we were perfect.

It’s true – we do get better at the things we practice.  So I sometimes wonder why we don’t practice Christmas all year.  At Christmas, we take treats to our neighbors and send cards to faraway friends.  At Christmas, we give to the hungry and to the homeless.  At Christmas, we make sure that all children have warm clothing to wear and toys to play with.  At Christmas we make it a point to spend time with our families.  And at Christmas we tend to focus more on our blessings and less on our troubles. 

On this Christmas Eve, may we be mindful of the true spirit of the season.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Health Care Reform: Is It Working?

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend the Utah Health Policy Project’s Conference, titled, “Is It Working? – Taking the Pulse on Health Reform in Utah.”  It was a great conference with way too many key messages to cover in a short blog post, so I’ll cover the ones that spoke to me.

The morning keynote speaker, Mr. Rick McKeown, began with the message is that we solve common problems when the common pain is sufficient.  He addressed the many forces that are driving health care reform in our nation.  His list of eight pressures follows:

1.  Economics – recovery from the recession, job stagnation
2.  Demographics – aging boomers, obesity and chronic illness
3.  Consumers – we’re demanding transparency in our health care costs
4.  The Affordable Care Act
                A.  Access to health care
                B.  Regulating the insurance industry
                C.  Defining benefits
                D.  Medicare and Medicaid improvements
                E.  Uncertainty and unintended consequences
                F.  Politics
5.  Judicial – the debate between state and federal exchanges causing more uncertainty
6.  Employers – transitioning from a defined benefit to a defined contribution
7.  States – looking for autonomy and the ability to craft solutions that fit their populations
8.  Reconfiguration of risk – outcomes vs. services

Is this enough common pain?  Are we there yet?

Disclaimer:  I consider myself fairly liberal and am glad of the health care reforms brought about by the Affordable Care Act.  I live in a fairly – OK, I live in a very conservative state where most of the leadership is less than impressed with the Affordable Care Act.  That said, liberals and conservatives came together at this conference, leaving their egos at the door, to discuss real solutions for real people.  A panel of those real people spoke to us, giving us hope that the solutions in place are working for some. 

Lynn Quincy, Associate Director of Health Reform Policy for Consumers Union, gave us tips for getting the value from our health insurance, confirming the idea that we need to become intelligent consumers of health care services.  She noted that this has been difficult because of the current model of health care delivery.  I've experienced this myself – when nobody could tell me the price of an x-ray.

The liberal in me was exposed to a new perspective when the “Healthy Utah” plan to address the coverage gap was presented.  People who fall below 133% of the federal poverty level currently fall into the coverage gap in the states that opted not to expand Medicaid.  Because they should have been covered by the Medicaid expansion, they are not eligible for subsidies to assist with buying private insurance on the marketplace (healthcare.gov).  Utah’s solution, as I understand it, is to use federal dollars that would have been given to the state for the Medicaid expansion to provide subsidies for Utahns that fall into the coverage gap.  The upside of this plan – one I had not considered – is that it removes the stigma of being on Medicaid as well as opening up better choices for health care.  A privately-issued insurance card opens more doors to services than a Medicaid card.  The plan was well received by the conference attendees.  Now – on to the Legislature for approval.

Is the health care reform law working?  Not perfectly, but it’s a start.  And I am hopeful that in the State of Utah, well known for its innovative approaches to quality health care, it will continue to improve.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon

I ran my third half-marathon overall and my second in 2014 – the Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll Half – on November 16.  What an experience!  The racers – right around 40,000 (that’s right, forty thousand) combined, run down the Las Vegas strip at night.  This race is one of two events where the city of Las Vegas closes its famous strip.  The other is New Year’s Eve.

My friend Sue and I flew out of snowy SLC at 0700 on Saturday morning.  Race weekend started with packet pick-up at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  The logistics of organizing a race this big are mind-boggling, but they had obviously done it before.  From packet pick-up, to shirt pick-up, to the vendor area where the latest Rock ‘N Roll gear was being sold, to other vendors selling everything any runner could possibly need or want, the runners moved smoothly.  The volunteers were friendly and helpful, and there had to be over 100 in the convention center alone.

Sue and I took on the Remix Challenge – run the 1st Annual Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll 5K on Saturday night the 15th in addition to the half-marathon on the 16th.  After all, what else is there to do in Las Vegas on a Saturday night?  It turned out to be a fun warm-up, followed by a great concert by Chromeo and of course, a free beer.

It was a good thing the race shirt from the 5K had long sleeves.  A cold front came through the next morning and I was unprepared.  Come on – it’s supposed to be warm in Las Vegas!  While we saw the occasional runners in tank tops and shorts – and even a man wearing a white tie and black Speedo – most of us were dressed for a warmer race.

I have never been in a race with this many people.  Obviously 28,439 people (marathon and half-marathon racers) can’t start at the same time, so they organized us into corrals based on our projected finish times.  I was in Corral 13.  The corrals started about 80 seconds apart.  The vivacious woman announcing the start of each corral worked hard to get the racers and spectators excited about each corral’s countdown to start.  I wonder if she was still as energetic when she finally counted down the start for Corral 47.

The course was amazing.  We ran down the strip, through some back streets, past a number of wedding chapels, and up Fremont Street before we came back down the strip.  Fremont Street had the brightest lights and reminded me of the Las Vegas of the 60s – when my parents used to drive us down the strip at night.  And all along the course there were people cheering us on.

At the finish, we received our medals, a much needed bottle of water, and a Mylar blanket.  That
turned out to be a life-saver.  It seemed I cooled down at the same time the wind came up, and the blanket kept me out of the wind.  Brrrhh!  Much too cold for beer at this finish line.  We picked up our Remix Challenge medal and headed indoors for Mexican food and margaritas.

I have to admit I was disappointed in my finish time.  I finished in 2:05:22, exactly 2 minutes and 23 seconds slower than I finished the Salt Lake Half and only 17 seconds faster than I finished the Mesa Falls Half.  I was hoping to set a new personal record, and was counting on the lower altitude to work in my favor.  But what I wasn't counting on was slowing down so frequently to plot my next move around slower runners.  While it didn't seem like I was slowing down very much, I guess 10-15 seconds per mile of slowdown adds up.

Always one to find the positive, I have to consider the following:  There were more people in my division (Women 55 – 59) than ran the entire Mesa Falls Half-Marathon.  More people crossed the finish line ahead of me (5043) than ran the entire Salt Lake Half Marathon.  And even though I didn't beat my own time, I did much better in the standings in this race than I have previously.  I finished in the top 5% of my division, the top 13% of all women, and the top 20% overall.  Maybe that’s because more slow runners were in this race.  Or maybe that’s because everybody’s time was impacted by the sheer number of racers.    

In the spirit of continuous improvement – it’s time to do some serious speed work.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Annuities 101

Several of our friends are considering using their 401K / IRA savings to purchase one or more annuities in retirement.  OK – I know.  News flash – lots of people buy annuities.  Just not us.  Somewhere along the line we’ve managed to become convinced that annuities are a bad investment and that we should run away – run far away – from anyone who tries to convince us otherwise.

But our friends are smart people.  Maybe it’s time to take another look.  Here’s what I learned while researching annuities. 

1.  An annuity is an insurance product.  You purchase the annuity for a specific amount, either through regular premiums or through a lump sum, and then it pays you a specific annual income for the rest of your life.  Like most insurance products, the insurance company helps you manage risk.  An annuity helps you manage the risk of outliving your money.

2.  The basic annuity pays only for your lifetime.  Once you die, the payments stop.  Annuity contracts can be written to provide ongoing income for a beneficiary or for a guaranteed number of years that the annuity will pay out – but this will cost more. 

3.  The insurance companies use your projected life span, based on actuarial tables, to calculate your annual payout.  The annuity holders who die early cover those who live longer.

4.  One of the main advantages of annuities is that there is no limit to the amount you can invest in them.  Many investors will fund annuities once they have maxed out their IRA / 401K contributions.   Earnings on the funds are tax deferred.  Since investment is made with after-tax dollars, the money you contributed is not taxed at withdrawal (if you are over 59 ½); earnings are taxed at your regular tax rate.

5.  One of the main disadvantages of annuities is that once you’ve invested in one, your money is locked in.  Many annuities offer a way out – with a hefty surrender charge.

The architect in me loves the model at the top of the post – it is from the Utah Division of Securities, and you can get the step by step information on their web site.  The accountant in my husband is convinced that we can do just as good a job as an insurance company in managing our assets – and managing our risks.  I’m convinced as well.  While annuities may be the right solution for some, they are still not for us. 

Disclaimer:  A few days of research does not make me an expert.  I used the following web sites in researching this post:
The Utah Division of Securities

Saturday, November 8, 2014

AARP at the Aquarium

OK, I admit it.  The only reason I signed up for the AARP Real Possibilities University event was because it was held at the Living Planet Aquarium.  Apparently I wasn't the only one.  When the director of Utah’s AARP chapter asked “how many of you came here tonight just for the classes,” only about ¼ of the audience raised their hands.  The rest of us chuckled a bit, and then settled in for the presentations.

The first speaker, a Director at the Utah Division of Securities, spoke about fraud prevention.  “Why are seniors so often the target for fraudsters,” he asked.  “We’re the ones with the money.”  He told us he could make us experts in recognizing scams with one sentence:  Risk and reward go together and can never be separated.  If someone tries to convince you otherwise, run away.  Run far away. 

The second speaker was a professor and researcher at the University of Utah Brain Institute.  First he gave us the bad news:  brain function does decrease with age.  He gave us several tips on keeping our brains healthy as we age.  There were about fifteen of them.  I’ll see how many I remember when I post on this later.  My favorite – people who dance are less likely to develop dementia than people who don’t dance. 

The event offered four breakout sessions.  We attended the one on estate planning and the one on Social Security.  The other two were on healthy eating and staying active.  Two of the speakers addressed annuities, which is a topic I have been researching and was glad to find some well-written information on.  I'll post more about annuities as well.

All in all, the AARP Real Possibilities University was well worth the 2 ½ hours we spent - not including the time spent touring the aquarium - free courtesy of AARP. The aquarium was awesome.  It is beautifully laid out and the exhibits are fabulous.  My only recommendation would be to go in the daytime.  Some of the exhibits were too dark to see well. The best part - the window to the shark tank at the front of the main conference room. There’s nothing like seeing sharks swim back and forth in a tank behind the keynote speaker to keep your eyes up front.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Power of a Handwritten Note

I recently read an article that advocated continuing to teach cursive writing in elementary schools.  The article, found at http://time.com/2820780/five-reasons-kids-should-still-learn-cursive-writing/, lists five strong reasons.  Of the five reasons listed in the article, I found the second one most compelling: “It’s good for our minds.”  I’ll quote it directly: “Research suggests that printing letters and writing in cursive activate different parts of the brain. Learning cursive is good for children’s fine motor skills, and writing in longhand generally helps students retain more information and generate more ideas. Studies have also shown that kids who learn cursive rather than simply manuscript writing score better on reading and spelling tests, perhaps because the linked-up cursive forces writers to think of words as wholes instead of parts.”

To this well written list I would like to add a sixth reason we should continue to teach cursive writing in schools:  There is power in a handwritten note.

There is power in business.  I have often asked people to share their knowledge or research in technology forums or other informal educational venues.  And I have always sent a handwritten card after they have presented, thanking them for their presentation.  While I didn't get to visit the office of every person I had ever asked to do a presentation, those people that I did visit in person had posted my thank you note on their bulletin boards.  Have you ever printed an email thank you message and posted it on your board?  These people were often strangers to me at first.  I truly believe the thank you notes helped to solidify relationships as colleagues.

There is power in volunteer organizations.  Think about it.  Volunteers work without pay; our compensation is the way helping others makes us feel.  But it’s always nice to receive a note of thanks for our efforts.  Those handwritten note may be the catalyst to keep your volunteers in your organization and showing up for your projects.   And as for your sponsors/contributors/benefactors – yes, send them the form letter with their tax deduction information, but also send them a note thanking them for their contributions and letting them know how much their gifts mean to your organization. 

There is power in relationships.  A handwritten note can express love, gratitude, even apologies in a way that an email just can’t match.  Every child should be taught to send a thank you note for gifts received in the mail.  This gesture not only assures the sender the gift was received, but also assures the sender that the gift was truly appreciated and that the giver is highly regarded.   

So yes, let’s keep teaching cursive writing in schools.  It’s a skill that will pay off for our children – now and in the future.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Epilogue

We were the most unlikely of caregivers.  Mom is actually my husband’s stepmother.  He never lived with her.  He was never disciplined by her, nor was he ever consoled by her.  She did not read to him or help him with his homework.  She had six children of her own; the step-children were weekend and vacation visitors.  They never really bonded.

Surprisingly, they are quite a bit alike.  Both have strong personalities.  Both are very frugal.  Both have strong political opinions, and since they resided on opposite sides of the aisle, their discussions could be lively and vociferous. 

So when, after Dad died, she asked him to help her with her finances, he was more than a bit surprised.  He was brutally honest with her about how much money she had and what her limits were.  She respected that.  He was even more surprised at the level of control she allowed him. 

We visited every two weeks at a minimum.  I would clean her kitchen and prepare lunch while they went over her bills and income.  She told us that she looked forward to our visits. 

As she became less and less able to care for herself, we found that the finances were no longer top of mind for her when we came to visit.  She looked to him for comfort, for strength.   And then, on a Sunday morning, she called him and asked him to come.  She was alone.  She was scared.  She didn't know what to do.  And that was when he called his sisters, and the youngest started making arrangements for assisted living.

She lived only six weeks in assisted living.  We continued to visit every other week.  Our visits were personal and precious.   We talked.  We laughed.  We remembered the good times.  We remembered Dad.  I watched him hold her hand, and the love I saw in their eyes brings tears to my eyes to this day.

They have bonded.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Meal Planning 101

Lately I've been seeing – and hearing – advertisements for services that, for a price, will help you plan healthy and tasty meals for your family, all the while preserving your grocery budget.  Frankly, I don’t see what all the hype is about.  I've been doing this for over 30 years.  Wow – if I had had the foresight to put my system online and market it 30 years ago, I might be the one raking in the bucks.  Oh, wait – there was no “online” 30 years ago.  I guess I was ahead of my time.

My system is very simple.  Once a week, I take an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of lined paper, write the days of the week at the top, and plan my lunch and dinner menus.  The remainder of the paper becomes the grocery list.

Input to the meal planning includes:

1.  The ad for my local grocery store.  I try to plan my menus around what’s in season and what’s on sale.

2.  What’s in the freezer.  We buy all our meats in bulk at Costco.  I repackage them into meal-sized containers and label them with the date.  The rule is “nothing in the freezer beyond 90-days.”  If something is coming close to violating the 90-day rule I put it on the menu.

3.  My notes from the previous week – written down on the back of the meal plan.  I’ll explain this in the next paragraph.

4.  The recipes.  I always check to make sure that all the ingredients I need for the week’s meals are either a) in the fridge/freezer, b) in the pantry, or c) on the grocery list.

I go to the grocery store once a week – for the most part.  Yes, sometimes I forget something or run out of something, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.  After the groceries are put away, the top of the list goes in the kitchen as my plan for the week; the list is recycled.  

As I go through the week, if I run out of something I keep around the house, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  If I think of an idea for a meal, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  If I find a new recipe I want to try, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  If I find a new restaurant I want to try, I write it down on the back of the meal plan.  You get the idea.

Does it take organization?  Absolutely.  Does it take time?  Yes, but not nearly as much as you might think.  In fact, if you add up the time you spend going to the store or to the local take-out every day, you might find that the time you spend up front in planning saves you twice the time in execution.  Happy planning!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Emotional Intelligence – What if it’s me?

I remember the meeting vividly.  I was trying to work out a schedule with a project manager, and it seemed like nothing I said worked for him. In fact, the more possible solutions I proposed, the more agitated he became.  What was I doing wrong?

Afterward I chalked up his negativity to his “having a bad day” or something like that.  But I have to wonder – what if it was me causing his negative emotions?

We've all met people who've rubbed us the wrong way.  The person with the high pitched voice.  The person with the off-the-scale energy levels.  The person with the Pollyanna-like positivity.   Or if you’re referring to me – the person with all three of these potential flaws.  The question is, “Can I learn to identify when I am the cause of someone’s negative emotion?”  And the follow on question, “Can I learn to do something about it?”

Through all these years that I've been supposed to be amassing wisdom, I've learned that I am much better at dealing with my own emotions when someone annoys me than I am at dealing with the emotions of the person I happen to be annoying.  Because basically I have to figure out how to step back, figure out what I’m saying / doing / projecting that is annoying the other person, and then correct it.

The easiest thing to do, of course, would be to ask the other person what it is about me that s/he finds annoying.  Unfortunately, that puts the other person in the position of having to tell me – which they may find uncomfortable.  I did try this once – a long time ago when I was in college.  Her reply?  “You should know.”  Not very helpful.

So I keep plugging along.  I try to make a conscious effort to slow down when I speak and to sit still in meetings.  I practice at home by not bouncing every time I think of something I should be doing.  Or fixing.  Or writing down.  (This is hard.) And I use my emotional intelligence skills to calmly accept any feedback I’m given and sincerely thank the giver.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Emergency Preparedness

September is National Preparedness Month.  Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Preparedness Month aims to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies, including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks.

The last time I seriously looked at our level of preparedness for an emergency was back in 1999.  I was working in the IT department of a major bank, managing a team tasked with testing the PC-based applications for 4-digit date compliance.  And while I knew that the bank I worked for was definitely still going to be fully functional at the stroke of midnight January 1, 2000, that nagging “what if” drove me to put together some of the basic items recommended by preparedness experts.

FEMA recommends the following in your emergency kit:

1.  Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
2.  Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
3.  Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
4.  Flashlight and extra batteries
5.  First aid kit
6.  Whistle to signal for help
7.  Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
8.  Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
9.  Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
10.  Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
11.  Local maps

A .pdf file of the FEMA brochure on what to include in an emergency kit can be found at http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1390846764394-dc08e309debe561d866b05ac84daf1ee/checklist_2014.pdf

Fast forward fourteen years.  All the water I had stashed has long since been used. The 72 hour emergency kits we put together in 2007 haven’t been opened at since then. What was inside? A 12-oz bag of raisins.  Three each of the following:  granola bars, cereal bars, instant oatmeal, hot chocolate mix, hot cider mix, and M&Ms.  The only package with a date was the raisins – and it said “Best before” 9/2009.  Keeping it.  Sadly, I found no Twinkies.  Rumor has it that they keep forever. 

I opened one of the cereal bars.  It looked OK.  It smelled OK.  I took a bite.  It tasted OK.  Keeping them, and assuming that the preservatives contained in the rest of the items were working just as well. I laugh because we have worked very hard the last couple of years to get preservatives out of our diet.  Still, I think even Dr. Oz would agree that, in an emergency, food with preservatives is better than no food at all.

Fortunately, we live in the food storage capital of the world.  Also fortunately, we own a generator and lots of camping equipment.  And most fortunate of all, our neighborhood has put together a preparedness plan that includes knowing who has what so we can pool our resources in case of an emergency.

I bought a case of bottled water and put it downstairs with the emergency kits.  Hey, it’s a start.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Turn the Radio On

We did not have television service in our campground this summer – primarily because we didn't have electricity.  However, last summer, when we did have electricity, we made the conscious decision not to hook up the satellite dish (which still sits on the top of our trailer).  We didn't think we’d spend enough time watching it to make it worth the cost.

We did, however, have Sirius satellite radio installed in our trailer when we first bought it.  And the radio has been our source of outside news and entertainment all three summers we've spent in camp.

We found our favorite music stations from the variety of stations available.  Classic Vinyl and Classic Rewind reminded us of our high school and college days and kept us singing along.  Deep Tracks, which played obscure cuts from albums throughout the decades, challenged our music knowledge, as they always played a series of songs with a theme.  And occasionally we would have that ‘aha’ moment when we actually recognized a ‘deep track.’  We have (or at least – had) that album!!!

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to both the World Cup and to baseball games on the radio.  I am totally impressed by the radio announcers’ ability to paint a picture with their words so that I could see clearly what was happening.  I realize that as a writer, I attempt to do that, but these radio announcers are doing it on the fly.  And in baseball, which has a lot of dead time, they manage to come up with trivia and statistics that would give Ken Jennings a run for his money.  Did you know they keep track of how many players have hit home runs on their birthdays?

I thought I would enjoy NPR more than I did.  I guess I missed the local flavor our KCPW is so well-known for.  The same went for any news station – while it was good to hear the national news I missed knowing what was happening in Utah.  Although one of our friends, when asked what was happening in the news, summed it up pretty well mid-summer:  “Same stuff – gay marriage, John Swallow, Susan Powell.”  Ouch.

Maybe not having 100% access to the news 100% of the time is not such a bad thing after all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Emotional Intelligence in Camp Hosting

I was surprised to learn from our area managers that they hire about 1/3 more hosts each year than they actually need.  Why?  Apparently some would-be hosts quit before they are scheduled to report, and others quit after a couple of weeks when they find out it’s just not for them.  The part of the job that usually results in early departures is not cleaning toilets or shoveling ashes out of fire pits.  It’s dealing with the public.

In our experience, camp hosting is 75% customer service, and only 25% cleaning the campground.  The people who visit our campgrounds are our customers.  As such, we want to treat them with courtesy as we share our little corner of the mountains.  I've found that when approaching a customer, whether it’s to collect a fee or to enforce a rule, I keep the following two assumptions in mind.  I assume:
1.  They want to do what I’m asking, whether it is to pay the fee or to comply with a rule.
2.  They are honest.

For example:  we had several people over the summer come into camp late at night with no cash and no checks, asking the next morning if we take cards.  We don’t.  So they've basically already used our campground and have no means to pay.  It would be really easy to get angry with these people and chew them out for theft of services, but that just makes them angry and much less likely to make arrangements to get the fees paid.  I found that if I told them they could go into town, get the cash and bring it back, over half did.  I had a few others tell me they would mail their payment to the office.  I have no way of knowing whether or not they did, but the fact that I did not yell at them or embarrass them in front of their families likely increased the chances that they did.

In our experience, 95% of the people who come to a campground respect the forest and respect other people.  Yes, there will always be the 5% that will be less than respectful.  The emotional intelligence skills will always help in dealing with difficult customers.

1.  Self-Awareness:  (The ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and to understand your own tendencies in different situations.)  I don’t like being yelled at or talked down to.  That said, I am aware that as a camp host, I am only the messenger in most cases, and it is the message – not me – that they are reacting to. 

2.  Self-Management:  (The ability to act – or not to act – on your own emotions.)  Since I couldn’t change the message, I learned not to take a customer’s reaction as a personal attack. 

3. Social Awareness:  (The ability to accurately pick up on emotions of other people and to understand what is really going on with them.)  Every time a visitor pushed back on a fee collection it was because they perceived that they had already paid – either through the Mirror Lake Highway Rec fee, a National Parks Pass, or even their income taxes.  Being able to empathize with them usually lightened the mood and eased into the solution.  And when it didn’t, I was able to fall back on my self-awareness and realize that the amount of money involved just wasn’t worth a conflict.

4.  Relationship Management:  (The ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully.)  Most people will calm down once given the chance to express their anger or disappointment.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Farewell to Shady Dell and Cobblerest

Fall in Samak
It is fall in the Uintas.  Labor Day weekend has come and gone, and effective September 2 at 1:00 PM, we were fired.  We cleaned the campgrounds early that morning, returned our supplies to our area managers, and hooked up the trailer for the trip home. 

As we drove west down the Mirror Lake Highway, trailer in tow, we passed some of the landmarks that have become so familiar this summer.   

The Beaver Creek Nudist Ranch, on Nudist Road in Samak, really doesn't exist.  The sign has been there for years, but no naturists actually inhabit the area.
Beaver Creek Nudist Ranch?!?


The Notch, a pub in Samak, has a beautiful patio, great food and good beer.  We celebrated our second-to-last day there with good friends.

Samak is Kamas spelled backward. 

The donuts at the Chevron station in Kamas really are fabulous. 

The Mirror Lake CafĂ© has great food – most of it named after campgrounds and attractions on the highway.

The Sinclair station sells espresso and vanilla crisp Powerbars.  I hadn’t found them anywhere in Salt Lake, in fact, my last vanilla crisp Powerbar was from Dave’s Jubilee in Ashton.  I bought them out.  Hopefully they’ll restock by next year.

At The Notch
The best part of hosting at Shady Dell and Cobblerest was the close proximity to home.  It was really easy to go home for our “weekend,” get laundry done, get groceries, and even keep the house up a bit.  Because it was so close, we had several friends and relatives come up to visit.  And we had the opportunity to really get to know Rick and Judy, who live in Kamas and visited several times.

The worst part of hosting at Shady Dell was the Fairy Forest.  Don’t get me wrong – the Fairy Forest is delightful.  But since it isn't really sanctioned by the Forest Service, we got no support from them regarding parking instructions.  I was exceedingly grateful to all the bloggers who directed people to park outside the campground and walk in.  I was exceedingly grateful to all the visitors who willingly paid the day use fee and had picnics and played fairy games in our campground.  I was exceedingly perturbed by those visitors who drove past at least four signs stating that the campground was a fee area, that a day use fee was required, and that the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass didn't cover our fees, only to park in our best pull-through campsite, and not pay.  OK, rant over.

We’ll be back on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway next summer.  We expect to get our assignment in January of 2015.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Patia's Race

Saturday, August 16, on a rare weekend away from camp, I participated in the Patia Lynn Christensen Memorial 5K and 10K Trail Run.  Patia passed away more than 5 years ago, at the age of 9, after a sudden accident.  Her mother, my Red Rock Relay teammate Dawn Christensen, organizes this race annually to honor her memory.  The proceeds from the run benefit The Compassionate Friends of Utah County (TCF). 

So once again I left my house at 5:15 AM to meet my Red Rock teammates Sue and Helen and make the trek to Eureka, Utah for a 7:00 AM start.  We barely made it – Sue and I were still attaching our timing chips to our shoes when the start was announced.  

We ran the 10K trail run – which turned out to be a very difficult run.  There were steep stretches – both uphill and downhill.  Being ever fearful of falling on my head, I slowed way down on the steep downhills.  I was feeling rather intimidated when so many other runners passed me, but once the worst was over I was able to pick up speed and make up time on the uphills.  When I crossed the finish line the clock read one hour, seven minutes and some change.  

No, I didn’t break any land speed records.  But I feel great about making this small contribution to such a worthy cause.  The mission of The Compassionate Friends is to assist families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age. The Compassionate Friends were there for Dawn and her family.  Now the Christensen family is actively involved in making sure other families are aware of this organization in case they ever face such tragedy.

I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to lose a child.  But Patia Lynn Christensen lives on.  She lives on through the organs her family saw fit to donate, saving the lives of other children.  She lives on through her memorial race and the funds it raises to help the Compassionate Friends.  And she lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved her.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

(Another) Bicycle Race Runs Through It

The Tour of Utah is one of only five UCI-sanctioned, multi-stage, North American pro cycling events in 2014. Sponsored by the Larry H. Miller Dealerships, the race showcases some of the world’s most prestigious teams and cyclists for seven days in August.  This event attracts worldwide attention as the top international cycling event that follows the Tour de France. Nearly a decade since its opening circuit, the Tour of Utah, today, stands shoulder to shoulder with the most prestigious professional bicycle stage race events as our answer to the greatest cycling challenges the world has to offer. (www.tourofutah.com)

Actually, the Tour of Utah didn’t run through our campground, but it did run right past it.  Stage 5 of the 2014 Tour of Utah, on August 8, 2014, started at Evanston, Wyoming, and ran down the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway to finish at Kamas, Utah.  This put the racers on a 101.4 mile course with 5,706 feet of elevation gain.  The good news for the racers – once they get over Bald Mountain Pass, it’s literally downhill from there.
The racers left Evanston at 11:20 AM.  A course Marshall arrived at the entrance to Shady Dell at about 1:15 PM, so we knew it was getting close.  Justin, the Marshall, is from Las Vegas.  A cyclist himself, he thought it would be fun to volunteer for the race.  He got the thankless job of telling the drivers along the race course that they would have to pull over and wait for the racers to pass.  He said most people were nice, but a few, well let’s just say he was glad when they finally rolled up their windows and pulled off the road.  Hmmm – we’ve had a few like that in our camp hosting adventures.  We could relate.
So where, we asked him, was “off the road” on this stretch of the course?  “We’ll need to have them pull into your campground and wait,” was his reply.  We weren’t expecting that, but since we didn’t have another option to offer, we went with it. 
About half an hour after Justin arrived, we started seeing signs that the racers were close.  Support cars came down the mountain.  We heard the airplane flying overhead.  Then finally, several police motorcycles came down the road, and right behind them, the leaders of the pack.  The six racers in the lead were a good five minutes ahead of the rest of the pack.  Another set of support vehicles, another set of police motorcycles, and the bulk of the racers came flying down.  Two ambulances brought up the rear.  We saw a couple of the lagging cyclists, and regular traffic starting coming down the road. 
Then it was off to the top of the campground to tell the trapped cars that their forced stay in our campground was over.  All in all, no harm was done, except that a couple of horse trailers let their horses out while they were parked.  And since horses do what horses do, we had to shovel it off the roads.  All in a day’s work.
This was actually the first time in the history of the Tour of Utah extended beyond state borders.  Bald Mountain Pass is the highest point the Tour of Utah has ever reached – which makes sense since it’s the highest paved road in the state.
Eric Young of the United States won stage 5 of the Tour of Utah. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Facebook and the High School Reunion

My 40th high school reunion is August 15 and 16, 2014.  Wow – 40 years out of high school.  While I’d like to say, “It seems like only yesterday,” in reality, it seems like 40 years ago.  And until this year, I had kept in close contact with exactly one person I went to school with. 

Thankfully, the advent of social media has made finding each other and getting the word out much easier.  Even ten years ago, when we were reached by email rather than phone calls, we didn’t have the social presence we do today.  Today the class of ’74 has an email distribution list, a blog, and a closed Facebook group.  It’s been great looking through the group and reconnecting with my past.
I found Cheri, our classmate with whom I share both first and maiden names.  She was the glamorous, popular one.  I was the shy, nerdy one.  For the record, we both grew up to be smart and beautiful.
I found Karen, who I’ve known since first grade.  She was the first black person I ever met.  I know – I was pretty sheltered.   I didn’t meet my first Jewish person until I was 16.  Karen and I were good friends throughout our school years.
I found Crystal, Dayle, and Michele – my singing buddies and fellow junior high entrepreneurs.  We did everything from painting house numbers on curbs to washing windows at the drive in movie to holding a car wash (we pre-sold tickets) to earn our way to Summer Music Clinic at Utah State University.  We had a great time, and I firmly resolved to attend USU.
I found Jeff.  A small group of us spent a lot of time at his house, listening to classical music and the controversial Jesus Christ Superstar.  This was my first exposure to classical music, and I am ever so grateful to have discovered it early enough to ensure a lifelong appreciation.
Paula found me.  We hadn’t known each other well in school, but as adults we have much in common – not the least, we share a passion for improving the lives of women and girls.  Marianne also found me, but not before I had connected with her best friend in high school in our first camp hosting assignment in 2012.
So many memories…some too personal for cyberspace. If I haven’t mentioned you by name, please don’t feel slighted.  I didn’t want this post to be 30 pages long.  Know that you, as well as those I’ve mentioned, are among the people who supported me, challenged me, nurtured me, and yes, forgave me.  You are all a part of what I have become.   

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Eating Bugs

I’ve always considered myself fairly adventurous when it comes to trying new foods.  I checked off escargot and frogs legs in 7th grade French class.  I tried haggis when we visited Scotland, and ate sea cucumber in Taipei.  So why I am so squeamish about eating a protein bar made with cricket flour?

The Chapul Cricket Bar is the brainchild of Pat Crowley, a hydrologist and white-water guide from Arizona.  Pat’s concern about the lack of sustainability of our current water supplies vs. our current water consumption in the United States drove him to investigate insect protein as a solution to the overconsumption of freshwater in our industrialized agriculture sector, which consumes as much as 92% of all freshwater we (humans) use around the world.
Chapul’s mission, excerpted directly from their web site, www.chapul.com, follows:

Chapul has a simple goal – to build a more sustainable future by introducing incredibly efficient insect protein in a delicious, organic product...our tasty Chapul bars.

As children of the arid Southwestern U.S., we believe passionately in sustainable use of our precious water resources. Since agriculture absorbs 92% of all freshwater consumed globally, we think change starts with what we eat, and it starts with all of us.

At Chapul, our mission is three-fold:
1) Create a delicious energy bar
2) Introduce a revolutionary, efficient protein
3) Invest 10% of all profits in water conservation in the regions which inspire our bars
So when my friend Eric told me he had invested in the company, I went to Wasatch Running and bought a bar. 
It all sounds so good on paper - tapping a sustainable source of protein for human food.  Per Chapul’s web site, crickets need very little water to live and eat mostly agricultural by-products, like corn husks and broccoli stalks. And crickets have protein content similar to that of livestock, with less fat. Even the packaging is enticing:
FEED THE REVOLUTION
Cricket flour is an environmentally friendly, safe, and delicious source of protein that we advocate in the name of sustainability.  10% of profits from this bar fund water sustainability projects in Mexico.
What’s not to like?  And hey, I live in Utah.  100,000 seagulls can’t be wrong!
It was time to stop writing about it and just take a bite.  I chose the Aztec Bar: Dark Chocolate, Coffee and Cayenne.  It actually tastes quite rich.  I could taste the main ingredient, organic dates.  I could taste the chocolate and coffee, with the cayenne offering a nice finish.  I couldn’t taste even the slightest hint of bug.
Check crickets off the list.  Kudos to Chapul for their willingness to take on the “ick factor” in order to bring a sustainable source of protein to the American palate.  Saving the environment – one bar at a time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Running on the Mirror Lake Highway

The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the opportunity to run.  The section where we host starts at 8000 feet and goes up from there, so it’s an excellent place to train.  It is also a 50 mph, two-lane highway with not much shoulder, so safety is a priority.  Here are some tips for staying safe while running along this spectacular highway.

1.  Wear Bright Colors.  While some of my favorite running shirts are grey, this is not the time to be the same color as the highway.  Bring out the reds, yellows and greens!
2.  Run Facing Traffic.  This is running safety 101.  Why?  Because it works.  I’ve noticed that when an oncoming vehicle sees me, if it’s able it will veer wide around me.  I always wave and mouth the words “thank you.”  Sometimes I get a wave, a honk, even a fist pump. 
3.  Listen Up.  I love listening to music when I run.  But I always leave the ear bud out of my right ear so I can hear what’s happening on the highway. 
4.  Yield to Wildlife.  I know – you don’t get this type of advice in most running posts.  Here on the Mirror Lake Highway, though, there are often deer and moose crossing the road.  I stay out of their way.
5.  Yield to Bicycles.  The Mirror Lake Highway is a popular road for cyclists.  Since they ride with traffic, and since there’s no real bike lane, I always jump off the road and wait for them to pass.  That way they are never put in the position of hitting me to avoid a passing car – or being hit by a passing car to avoid hitting me.  I usually get a thank you as they pass.
6.  Let Someone know what direction you’re going and how long you expect to be gone.  Just in case…
This is my second adventure in training at high altitude, and this time it comes with a pretty steep climb.  There is a 300’ elevation gain in the first 2.25 miles from Shady Dell to Cobblerest – and it gets steeper from there.  The tips below will sound familiar as they are based on sound running advice no matter where you run.  They just make even more sense when you’re running at altitude:
1.  Hydrate.  Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your run. Then drink some more. Dehydration occurs more quickly at higher altitudes.
2.  Fuel.  Runners burn anywhere from 400 to 800 calories per hour.  I like to run in the morning, and I don’t like running on a full stomach, so I usually eat half a protein bar before I go out, and then munch on sport beans throughout the run. 
3.  Wear Sunscreen and Lip Balm.  The sun’s ultraviolet rays are more potent at higher altitudes.
4.  Wear Insect Repellent.  Nothing is more annoying than having to break your stride to swat a mosquito away – unless it’s being bitten by that same mosquito.
5.  Warm up.  The objective is to get oxygen to your muscles, and since there’s less oxygen at high altitude, I find I do a lot better if I stretch and then walk half a mile before I start running. 
6.  Build Distance Gradually.  I started with two miles and added half a mile each run until I hit a baseline run of 4 miles.  I’m now adding ½ mile each week to my long runs. 
I like to start out uphill – that way finishing downhill is a reward.  I do start downhill once in a while – just to prove to myself that I can. 
My final tip – and the one I like best – Enjoy the Run!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wildlife of Shady Dell

The large picture window at the back of our trailer faces into open forest, which has made it perfect for observing the wildlife that we share our campground with.  Mama Moose and her calf have grazed on the willow leaves near our firewood twice now.  I’ve named Mama “Cicely” in honor of my favorite TV show of the 90’s – Northern Exposure.  I haven’t named the calf – mostly because I don’t know the gender.  Either Joel or Maggie…  I took the photo through the window as I didn’t want to scare them off.

We get a lot of deer traipsing through the campground.  They don’t seem to be afraid of us.  We sat in front of our trailer and watched two of them about 50 feet from us – contentedly pulling down leaves.  The deer wander throughout the campground.  Shady Dell stays open through the deer hunt.  I suspect these guys are smart enough to go far far away come October.
And then there’s the squirrel.  We watched her tear off a little piece of a newspaper we had near our wood pile, run off with it, and then come back and get another one.  I suspect she is building a nest.  Who says there’s no need for newsprint in this digital age?

This little bird made us laugh for several days.  He appeared to be protecting his nest – way up in the aspen tree – from the bird in that strange white box.  He flew at his reflection several times a day, and was always surprised when he hit the glass.  I guess he finally figured it out; he’s gone now.
A three-foot snake lives near the creek.  I wish he’d do a better job keeping the mice under control.  So far we’ve trapped 26 mice in our trailer.  Oh, well – I guess a single snake can only eat so many mice.

We haven’t seen the domestic life of the Uintah Mountains’ open range yet, but I’ve found the flat and round evidence of bovine digestion throughout the campground.  I suspect it won’t be long until I’m chasing them out of camp with my broom! 

 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Shady Dell's Fairy Forest

One of the tasks we expect as camp hosts is painting picnic tables.  The color we expect is, of course, Forest Service Brown.  So what’s with all the multi-colored picnic tables here in Shady Dell?  The answer lies across the creek and deep into the woods behind the campground where you will find the Fairy Forest. 

The Fairy Forest actually started in the late 60’s as a Vietnam veteran’s memorial to his fallen comrade.  As the years passed, many families or groups visited and added to the forest, eventually morphing it into a miniature world of painted rocks dotted with plaques, trinkets, and even fairy dolls. 
I am amazed by the creativity of the people who have contributed over the years.  This year’s new theme appears to be Frozen.  There are a couple of congregations of Despicable Me’s minions.  And I found my personal favorite, Star Wars.
The trail sits between sites 6 and 8, and is pretty well marked once you get across the creek bed.  This proved a little tricky during late May and early June, when spring runoff turned the creek into a raging river.  It’s much safer midsummer through fall.  You go straight back from the path until you come to the fallen tree marked with an arrow pointing to the fairy forest.
There is no charge to visit the Fairy Forest; but there is a charge for parking.  You have two options:
1.  Purchase a Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass for $6, park outside the campground – there’s a pullout at milepost 17 – and walk in.  The path from the pullout leads directly to the path to the Fairy Forest.  This is your best option if the Fairy Forest is just one stop along your Mirror Lake Highway adventure and you plan to stop at a picnic area, fish at one of the lakes, or hike at one of the trailheads.
2.  Park inside the campground and pay the $8 day use fee.  Parking inside the campground gives you a picnic table and fire pit, so if you’re planning on spending the day and having a picnic, this might be your best option.  Of course, I work at Shady Dell, so I might be a bit biased.  Remember – the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass is not required in the campground, so you don’t need to pay double fees.
On my way across the creek bed on July 4, I met Michelle P., who runs the web site enjoyutah.org.  She knew Natalie O., on whose web site utahsadventurefamily.com  I first found posted information on the Fairy Forest.  The miniature world behind our campground proved once again what a small world we live in.









 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass 101

The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, upon which our campground is located, is designated as a High Impact Recreation Area and has been established as a Recreation Fee Area.  This fee can be confusing when you’re coming to our campground – or any other improved campground on the Mirror Lake Highway.

Driving east from Kamas, Utah (or West from Evanston, Wyoming) you’ll see a number of stations where you can pay this fee.  The fee is $6.00 for a 3-day pass, $12.00 for a 7-day pass, and $45.00 for an annual pass.  All Federal Passports (Senior Pass, Access Pass and Annual Pass) are accepted in lieu of the recreation fee.
The fees are used to operate and maintain the following facilities along the Mirror Lake Highway:

Standard Amenity Sites
Beaver Creek Picnic Site                                                Mirror Lake Picnic Site
Shingle Creek Picnic Site                                               Pass Lake Fishing Site
Upper Provo River Bridge Picnic Site                          Pass Lake/Lofty Lake Trailhead
Crystal Lake Trailhead                                                   Butterfly Lake Fishing Site
Trial Lake Fishing Site                                                    Highline Trailhead
Bald Mountain Picnic Site & Trailhead                       Ruth Lake Trailhead/Rock Climbing Area
Fehr Lake Trailhead                                                       Christmas Meadows Trailhead
Moosehorn Fishing Site                                                East Fork of the Bear Trailhead
Mirror Lake Fishing Site                                                North Slope Trailhead


Expanded Amenity Sites
Yellow Pine Camp                                            Murdoch Basin/Broadhead Meadows Camp
Pine Valley Camp                                             Lost Creek Water Station
Horsemen Camp                                              Whitney Reservoir Camp
Soapstone Comfort Station Camp                Lily Lake Comfort Station
Duchesne Tunnel Camp                                 North Slope Camp
Spring Canyon Camp


Special Recreation Permit Sites
Beaver Creek Groomed X-Country Ski Trail
Soapstone Basin Groomed Snowmobile Trail
North Slope Groomed Snowmobile Trail


Notice any omissions?  Shady Dell Campground and Cobblerest Campground didn’t make the list – nor did any of the improved campgrounds operated by American Land and Leisure.  But because our campground is on the Mirror Lake Highway, we get a number of people thinking that they have already paid the fee for day use – and even to camp.  And since they’ve already paid “at the bottom of the hill,” we get to be the bad guys and tell them our fees are separate.
So here’s the scoop.  There are several ‘camps’ that are covered by the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass that are great for self-contained campers.  These camps have no picnic tables,  improved fire pits, or restrooms.  There are several picnic areas that are covered by the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass.  They all have picnic tables, fire pits, and restrooms. 

If you’re coming to a campground such as ours, pay the recreation fee only if you plan to use any of the fishing sites or trailheads along the Mirror Lake Highway.  If you’re just coming to camp, you don’t need to pay the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Fee.
This could be made a whole lot less confusing.  In my perfect world, the Mirror Lake Highway Recreation Pass and the Campground Day Use Fee would be the same price and would be interchangeable.   In my perfect world, you could pay either place and your payment would really be valid for day use anywhere along the highway.  But there are a lot of really smart people in the Forest Service, so the reason this is not so is clearly outside my pay grade.