Not long ago, I heard country star, Jake Owen, sing his hit song, What We Ain’t Got during a concert in Phoenix. It’s not a holiday ballad, but the core message of the song certainly applies during this season of list-making and gift-giving.
We struggle to find the right gadget or gear for those on our list. And often spend a fortune mailing last minute gifts to faraway friends and relatives.But what is it that they (and we) really want?
We ain't happy where we are,
There's greener grass in the neighbors yard.
A bigger house and a faster car.
Ask the elderly, the cancer patient or the returning vet what's on his or her wish list and most likely it won’t be more stuff. Perhaps their list includes good health, a roll back of the clock, and extra time with loved ones.
Our favorite doors are always locked.
On a higher hill with a taller top.
It’s hard to say why it’s such a struggle for most of us to askew the stuff and ask for what we might really want. If I knew….well, that’s a discussion for a different time!
But this year, right now, my holiday wish for all is for more sparkling laughter and meaningful experiences.
More fresh air, art, music and poetry. More time listening to snow fall (I know), children giggling, waves lapping on the beach and wind in the trees. More time sharing stories and quiet moments with those we love.
And more time appreciating what we’ve got.
Ranch life continues once the snow flies!
Located approximately 130 miles west of Denver, Colorado, Latigo Ranch is situated in one of the most beautiful places on earth and offers a panoramic view of the Continental Divide.
Guests can drink in the views, inhale the crisp mountain air, and gaze in awe at some of Colorado’s most spectacular scenery from the front porch of the ranch’s historic log lodge. Guests will experience warm hospitality and winter activities, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing that keep Latigo Ranch guests coming back year after year.
The outdoor activities are as invigorating as the inside comforts are cozy. Winter rates and packages start just before Christmas and run through late March.
Lately, I have been thinking about and discussing with friends, family, and colleagues, the delicate balance we seek when managing the many aspects of travel. By that, I mean stirring the sometimes bubbling pot of risk, reward, fear, preparation, knowledge and exploration.
Perhaps our formula is different when the situation involves our children.
Several years ago, I was in Hawaii with my sons, Alex and Ted, when word came of Japan's devastating tsunami. We watched the tragedy unfold on television as we prepared to evacuate our hotel rooms. We would sleep in the public spaces along with other uneasy guests as we awaited the incoming swells.
We've hiked, rafted, skied, and kayaked in places where wild animals roam and sheer cliffs threaten.
I've traveled extensively through countries considered a world away from the perceived safety net provided by chain hotels and English-speaking island resorts.
All too often a deadly virus, a terrorist attack or a mosquite-borne threat gives rise to a new conversation about travel and well-being.
What's more, I am often asked if I worry about my safety as a woman traveling solo in a city or after an adventure in the backcountry.
What really makes us feel safe?
How is it that one person's fear-inducing experience is another's source of exhiliration?
I don't have answers but believe that, in the end, it's about the personal attitudes we develop very early, layered with opportunity, choice and experience. It is among the reasons I feel so strongly about encouraging children and families to explore the world early and often.
And, the question always reminds me of a thought-provoking experience I shared with my sons Alex and Ted during and soon after, a trip to the Peruvian Amazon.
(Forewarned: this tale involves snakes!)
~ ~ ~
Eyes empty, sadness smudged her forehead. Then our guide told us the story and I understood.
We had come to her home on the secluded banks of the Peruvian Amazon to search for the elusive poison dart frog in the adjacent jungle. The woman before me, her husband and four children cooked, dined and slept beneath a thatched roof, covering a raised platform. There were no walls.
No doubt they received a small fee from our guide’s lodge to allow us to slide our canoes on to their riverside beach and to welcome us for a short visit in their home.
But it was not our presence that veiled her eyes. It was this: a few weeks prior, the couple’s oldest son was sent 100 yards down to the river to collect water for their cooking.
He did not return.
Soon they went searching for him and discovered he had been struck by the deadly fer-de-lance snake. This creature, deeply feared by the river people, is sometimes called the “three-step snake” – so deadly you can walk only three steps after its bite.
The family had no way to get their son to modern medical treatment. The local shaman was called, but the boy did not survive.
~ ~ ~
With this story thickening the already hot and humid air, we wandered into the jungle and located many small colorful frogs.
We were told their poison is still applied to the tips of darts used for hunting within the region. We returned on the path, crossing near the family’s home, climbed into our canoes and paddled back to our lodge.
During our stay at the jungle lodge, my sons and their friends were asked to join the local villagers in their soccer matches. The games took place at sunset. I, somewhat sheepishly, felt compelled to warn my sons not to venture into the jungle for the ball. We were told this was prime time for the deadly snakes to hunt.
With the grieving mother’s pained expression still haunting me, I studied the natural floor during our jungle hikes, determined to spot the mottled skin of the exotic, mysterious snake. It didn't happen. Within a few days, after fishing for piranha, visiting a native village and zip-lining through the canopy, we returned home to the States.
~ ~ ~
Within weeks after our return to our Scottsdale, AZ home, we were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Teddy was watching a movie in the study. I was finishing some work at my desk. As my husband walked toward the hall powder room, he stopped to chat with me for just a moment. Fortunately, as he spoke, he put his hand on the door, moving it in slowly. In doing so, a loud noise erupted. Was it a water pipe? Some sort of electrical malfunction?
It was the rapid tail movement of an angry Diamondback rattlesnake. Stunned, we realized that the rattler had done his part. He had warned us with a surprisingly vigorous alarm, one designed to be heard in the desert. It now echoed strangely off thick, slate floors.
My husband and son wisely stuffed towels under the bathroom door so the snake would not disappear into the house. I called the fire department.
The firefighters arrived quickly, amazed that the snake had slithered into our home. Using their cleverly designed extraction tool, they removed the Diamondback to the natural desert beyond our patio.
Later, we discussed how easy it would have been to have an unpleasant encounter with the poisonous rattler as he meandered within a few feet of each of us. We spoke of our rigorous planning and preparation and the safety measures exercised in the wild places we explored.
And how ironic it was that our closest call came within the “safety” of our own home.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and bring strength to
body and soul.
As a child I loved to curl up with a good story. I still do. A good book can transport us to magical places and encourage exploration.
Here are five places with stories to tell and the characters that bring them to life:
1 A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
A century ago, a Canadian soldier launched a literary legacy when he adopted a black bear cub and named it after his hometown of Winnipeg. The soldier took the cub across the pond and eventually donated it to the London Zoo, where Winnie became the inspiration for the well-loved character. Today, Winnipeg’s Pavilion Gallery Museum houses a permanent collection of Winnie the Pooh artifacts and memorabilia, including a painting by the book’s original illustrator.
2 Louisa May Alcott, Concord, Mass.
I can recall staying up all night reading Little Women. Today we can visit the home of this novelist who crafted a compelling story around the relationships within her own family. You’ll take a guided tour and get a glimpse into how the Marche family lived in the home known as Orchard House. Many of the family’s treasures remain in the well-preserved structure, including family china and photographs. You’ll find out why the Alcotts kept daily diaries and visit Louisa’s bedroom where the shelf desk, upon which she wrote Little Women, still remains.
3 Zane Grey’s America.
Best-selling novelist and avid angler Zane Grey created robust stories detailing the life and culture of the American West. Through titles like Call of the Canyon, Riders of the Purple Sage and The Thundering Herd, Grey’s tales of frontier character and romance inspired many to explore new country. His books involve every state west of the Missouri River except North Dakota. Visit his birthplace in Zanesville, Ohio, a town founded by his mother’s ancestors. You can also visit a replica of his Arizona cabin (the original burned in a 1990 wildfire), which served as his home base while exploring and writing.
Contact: zgws.org; rimcountrymuseums.com/zane_grey_cabin.htm;
4 Where the Wild Things Are.
My boys loved this book!
Why not use this creative tome as the centerpiece of a wild and wonderful weekend with the kids? Read Maurice Sendak’s book, then visit your local zoo or wildlife park, or walk through a nearby forest and discuss the adventures of young Max, the main character. Top off the weekend by streaming the Spike Jonze movie of the same name. The whole family will enjoy the mix of real actors, computer animation and live puppeteering, the combination of which brings the story to life. Let the wild rumpus begin! Contact: Netflix.com.
5 Jack London, Glen Ellen, Calif.
Channel the adventuresome spirit of one of the planet’s most inspired writers as you explore more than 26 miles of hiking, horseback and cycling trails across 1,400 acres in the stunning Sonoma Valley. Visit the stone barn and the home where London wrote his page-turners. The author of Call of the Wild and White Fang was laid to rest on this landscape that nurtured his creativity and drive. It is is now a National Historic Landmark.
Do you have a favorite literary location?
I recently spent some time rediscovering Denver. And, my how things have changed in recent years! No longer a Western outpost, the Mile High City is now an internationally recognized community of arts, culture, and culinary adventure.
Here are a few family favorites:
Recently opened, this historic transportation center has been reinvented as a social gathering place that also houses bike, taxi, rail and bus lines connecting the city center to outlying areas. Stay onsite, in one of the Crawford Hotel’s rail-themed guest rooms and choose from an array of dining options and shops including the Tattered Cover, a famed indie bookstore.
The station’s Grand Hall is a vibrant scene where visitors play shuffleboard, enjoy a snack, conversation and the parade of people passing through.
The Crawford Hotel.
The trendy hotel's unbeatable downtown location within the Union Station, combines unique historic elements with up to the minute amenities and top notch service.
Indulge in Art.
From art classes and kid-focused camps to clever “create and takes”, the Denver Art Museum welcomes families into the artistic fold. Family backpacks are available for use during a visit, chock full of art making tools, games and puzzles. Kids will also enjoy the Mile High city’s extensive public art program. Don’t miss a photo op with Blue Bear, a 40-foot playful sculpture that depicts the creature peering into the Colorado Convention Center.
Introduce the kids to the world’s best street food at Linger, a trendy establishment that overlooks the city. The founders circled the globe in search of the fare that defines regions from Mumbai to Manhattan. Built in an old mortuary, the quirky interior is made up of cleverly recycled items including tables constructed from rail cars, formaldehyde bottles for water service and specials printed on toe tags.
Pair your visit to Linger with a stop at the adjacent giant milk can for a sweet treat. The original Little Man ice cream shop is a local favorite known for their quality confections and the owners' community minded spirit.
Denver’s environmental focus and commitment to reduced obesity and affordable transportation are just a few of the reasons the city supports an extensive bike share program. Residents and visitors alike can pick up a bright red bike at any B-station, and ride to their destination. When it is time to move on to the next museum, park or restaurant, grab another bike and go. The Cherry Creek bike path, a 15- mile path along the creek, provides a great way to see the sites and the city skyline while avoiding traffic.
For information check out www.VisitDenver.com.
When the temperatures creep toward triple digits, those of us who make sunny Scottsdale our home, often hightail it to our breezy, beachfront neighbor to the West.
You don’t have to be a desert dweller to appreciate San Diego’s year round appeal!
Here are six places we like to stay and think you will too:
We’ve loved our visits to the Del! The iconic hotel, with its signature red and white Victorian architecture, sits on a wide, sandy stretch of beach, a perfect blend of old and new. Since the doors opened in 1888, the Hotel Del has played host to celebrities, dignitaries, and reunions of every sort.
Family members will love the spa, the teen and kids club, beach volleyball and an assortment of seaside activities, Get out your boogie board, take surfing lessons or watch Navy seamen from the nearby base train along the beach.
This 17-story, 429-room hotel offers views, views and views. Kids love the water wonderland where slides are plentiful and everyone has a splashing good time in the heated outdoor pools and hot tubs.
The proximity to sea-faring fun is a plus too. The expansive marina provides easy access to kayaks, fishing trips, sailboats, jet skis and whale watching excursions. The adults will want to check out the eco-savvy spa and enjoy a waterfront cocktail while the youngsters look forward to sundown s’mores.
Another family favorite, this iconic hotel offers oceanfront guestrooms and suites that make managing the clan’s vacation time a breeze. Do have hungry teens and toddlers? The mini kitchenettes solve that challenge. And with beachfront access, comped WiFi and a great location, everyone is happy.
I once enjoyed a great girlfriend getaway at this sunny spot, making great use of the 14 championship courts. You’ll also want to plan for a romantic evening at The Marine Room where award-winning cuisine will provide the perfect topper to a terrific day.
You deserve to treat yourself, right? So if a luxury beach stay is on your bucket list, this plush spot is sure to please. The sea-salty air will envelope you upon arrival in the open-air lobby. Make your way to your lavishly appointed guest room where you’ll find it challenging to choose between lounging by the pool, an afternoon at the spa or time on the tennis court.
Loews knows how to make kids and families feel welcome. With their handy location by the Bay, you can take advantage of movies and marshmallow roasts by the pool, as well as a comprehensive kids camp and well stocked game room. Youngsters can opt in for yoga classes and ride bikes along the water’s edge.
Eager for a day at sea? No problem! There are sailboats for hire.
Are you looking for a family-friendly downtown option? You can’t go wrong with Residence Inn where one and two bedroom suites make it simple for the family to spread out and get comfortable. It also makes it easy to manage meal and snack time. Access a complimentary full breakfast before your day’s excursions and know that an in-room, completely outfitted kitchen (plus a grocery shopping service) means the gang will have options a plenty. And of course, when it comes to pool time, you’ll head out to enjoy the sparkling water and steamy Jacuzzi.
We feel fortunate to be in some grand company.
Thanks to enthusiastic band of readers and friends we were voted into the top THREE on USA TODAY'S Ten Best Family Travel Bloggers list.
Our adventure and outdoor focus, combined with a commitment to provide healthy, smart and off-the-beaten path family travel options, is a passion we hold dear.
Thanks to those of you who took the time to vote for us.
And thanks for being a part of FamilyTravel.com and for your own commitment to family and travel!
Does your family travel in an RV?
Visitors to Death Valley National Park now have options thanks to the Furnace Creek Ranch.
The Fiddler’s Campground offers 35 RV sites (but no hook-ups). Located at The Ranch, the Furnace Creek RV Park offers 26 full-hookup RV sites and can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet.
Guests enjoy swimming in the nearby spring fed pool, laundry and shower facilities, complimentary wireless internet and easy access to restaurants.
For those who like to spend time on the links, the Furnace Creek Golf Course is directly adjacent to the Campground. As the lowest elevation course in North America, it’s one for your bucket list.
Both sites provide the perfect jumping off place to enjoy Death Valley National Park and the extraordinary night sky.