Altitude High

Traveling to far away places and writing about them can be exhilarating.  But so can wandering to places near your own backyard.  It really makes you appreciate what you have…especially when its’ very existence is threatened.

 

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Two boys view Spring Creek wildfire near LaVeta

 

Colorado Wildfire Update:  Spring Creek Fire has grown to over 100,000 acres

Third largest fire in Colorado history

Reading headlines these days can be heartbreaking, especially when it’s so close to home.  Spring Creek is located in the southwest mountains particularly in the Spanish Peaks area, home to some of the state’s most beautiful scenery and epic hiking/climbing.

 

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East side view of Spanish Peaks

 

Just three weeks ago, we were enjoying a camping trip with friends to Spanish Peaks.  Our campsite was at the top of Cordova Pass, nestled at the foot of the 13,600′ West Spanish Peak mountain.  We arrived on a Wednesday evening, set up camp and then headed out on a short hike to view the “beast” we hoped to summit the next day.

 

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West Spanish Peak. So close, yet so far.

On Thursday morning, we were grateful for a chill in the air as we started out on the trail.  The short hike to tree-line was enough to warm up the bones but it didn’t prepare us for the long haul up the face of the mountain which involved scrambling up a steep stony slope covered with loose shale and scree for another three hours.

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Halfway point rest stop

We summited mid-afternoon and were rewarded with 360 views from what seemed like the top of the world.  If you’ve ever hiked a 14’er, then you know what I’m talking about.  Rocky Mountain High never felt so good!

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Summit – West Spanish Peak

 

We are thankful for the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful part of our country just two weeks before the devastating fire that has gobbled up land and homes around little towns like Cuchara and LaVeta.  Our prayers are with those residents who are left homeless and traumatized by the carelessness of one camper.

And we hope that soon the skies will be red with nothing except the awe-inspiring southwestern sunset.

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Wander, Linger Savor Christmas

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I’ll come right out and say it…this is the hardest time of year to write a blog post about slowing down. I’ve already failed miserably at not “shoulding” on myself.

I should send out Christmas cards.

I should bake all those cookies.

I should have my shopping done.

I should have the tree decorated by now. (Oh wait, I don’t even have a tree yet.)

Guilt, self-criticism, failure, Bah Humbug!

Not exactly a good start for preparing my heart to soak in the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Imagine if God had a list of “shoulds” for that first Christmas.

I should’ve sent my son to a wealthy, firmly established Roman family instead of an unmarried, poor Jewish couple.

I should’ve waited until they got back from Bethlehem so they wouldn’t have to travel while she was pregnant.

I should’ve provided a cushy, comfortable room with qualified medical personnel to assist with the birth of my son.

I should’ve proclaimed the glorious news about the savior of the world to influential people that would immediately get the word out to other influential people…instead of the lowliest of humans – uneducated, unclean shepherds.

Point being…it wasn’t a Norman Rockwell perfect Christmas. But through the ages, painters, sculptors, retailers, and even churches have tried to glamorize a very messy, scary, confusing event that changed the history of the world. The Light of the World arrived on earth and for those who recognized Him, they would never be the same.

God had no shoulds. His timing and execution were perfect. And once again I’m reminded that He is God, and I am not. Perfection is His alone.

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Winter morning in Evergreen Colorado

This year I’m not aiming for the perfect Christmas – that was already done 2000 years ago. This year I’m looking for ways to:

Wander through a pine forest knee deep in snow instead of neck deep in chores.

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Linger over a few precious words about the first Christmas instead of trying to come up with the perfect Christmas sentiment in my own cards.IMG_3253

Savor a cup of coffee with a friend in need instead of shopping for things nobody needs.DSC_0036

My tree is up and lit but I don’t know if I’ll get around to actually putting ornaments on this year. And that’s ok. Because all those details pale and seem unimportant when the lights go on.

May the Light of the World illuminate your days with Love, your nights with Peace and your life with Hope.

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Quiet Christmas Day on Crete

 

 

 

 

 

Savor Autumn

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Nature’s Decoration

I walked into our local Home Depot yesterday and was immediately accosted by a forest of pre-lit Christmas trees and animated Santa figures.  For a fleeting moment I panicked thinking , “Wow!  I haven’t finished (or even started ) my Christmas shopping.”  I felt strangely off balance, like I’d been whisked ahead into December.  For a split second I couldn’t remember the day, or the month.  Stopping in my tracks to pull myself together and check my calendar, I realized it was October 20th.  Not even Halloween yet.  My first response was relief.  Then aggravation.  Then outright indignation.

In an effort to get a jump on preparing for a future holiday, we many times miss the beauty of lingering in the present.  And presently, it is a sunny and crisp day in the Colorado mountains.  A few yellow aspens leaves cling with their last strength to the trees in front of the house and they shimmer in the breeze.  Today I will bake apple cake (see recipe below) and decorate the house with pumpkins and pressed leaves of yellow, orange and red.   I vow to not put up Christmas decorations until after Dec 1.  And I savor these moments even longer, by lingering over some of my favorite Autumn photos from near and far travels.

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Colorado Gold

APPLE CAKE WITH CRISP TOPPING

Cake Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 ½ C sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ C oil
6 medium Gala, Fuji or Honey Crisp apples
¾ C chopped walnuts or pecans
2 C flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Crisp Topping Ingredients:
2/3 C rolled oats
2/3 C packed brown sugar
2/3 C flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ C (1 stick) chilled butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and oil. Peel and slice the apples and add to mixture in bowl (coating as you go to keep apples from turning brown.) Mix together baking powder and flour and add to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix well until all of the flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients. Pour mixture into a greased 9×13” pan.

For topping:

Combine first four ingredients and cut in butter till coarsely mixed. Sprinkle over cake.

Bake for approximately 55 minutes.

THE RELUCTANT EXPAT (Coming to terms with coming home)

 

I lost my journal for almost two months – misplaced, actually. It’s like an old friend I can confide in. I can sort out my thoughts in written words and somehow things become clearer. When you write, you have to slow your thoughts down in order to wait for the words to catch up with your pen. This was yet another “slow food for the soul” lesson I learned while living in Crete. I first started putting words to paper in Crete as an attempt to chronicle our lives as expats on a Mediterranean island. Hence, Cretan Chronicles was born and grew into a blog.

There were many things that were born and grew in me during those five years abroad. Things that have changed me forever – like deepened patience, tolerance, compassion, quietness, a sense of a bigger picture and a deep conviction that this world is not my home. It’s because of that firm “knowing” I can be content wherever I live.

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As I write this, my good friend is packing up and moving back to the States with her husband and children after living abroad for more years than living Stateside. (Husband works for the military and it is a requirement that after five years abroad you must return to the States for at least two years before requesting to go abroad again.)   They have loved every minute of their lives in Europe and I can imagine her mixed emotions as she sets her sights on a new life in America.

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Moving to Europe was one of the most difficult things I’ve done, but not as difficult as moving back to the States. Packing up all our belongings and navigating through all the details was nothing compared to packing up all my memories and navigating through all my emotions. I remember the feeling of bewilderment when someone said, “You must be so excited about going home!”

Where is home? If “home is where the heart is” then my heart must be in pieces. A little here, a few there, left behind like an intimate goodbye letter left on the mantle.  It’s hard to come home when you’ve been home somewhere else. In time, the leaving gives way to the coming and a measure of peace settles in. That’s when you know you’re home – again. Until the next time and it repeats all over.

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Sometimes the homesickness for Crete settles in so deep that I can taste the yearning and want to run there. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong here. But truthfully, I don’t belong there either. Sometimes I think if I’d never left here I wouldn’t have to deal with such a mucky mess of emotions.   But, if I had never stretched out my faith and moved into the unknown, I would not be the person I am today – changed forever. And I realize that there are a few lucky ones of us who can say we have many homes – each one has left its imprint on our hearts and influence in our lives. And the pangs of homesickness are a reminder that God has emptied us into the lives of others and vise versa. But mostly, the restlessness and yearning for home is put in our hearts intentionally by God. We may search the world over but there’s no comparison to the belonging and beauty of our place with Him – our true home.

 

The Beauty in the Beast

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Freezing cold temps, deep snows, driveways to shovel, fierce winds, snowed-in days, long cold nights.  It’s the nature of the beast – a Colorado winter.  How to tame the beast?  Take a deeper look and love it for what it is.  Freezing temps create thick smooth ice for skating on the lake, deep snows mean great skiing and sledding, snowed-in days are perfect for catching up on projects (like writing!), long cold nights spent by a warm fire with a glass of wine and good book – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.  Even shoveling the driveway has its physical benefits.  Fierce winds…this one is a stretch since I hate wind but I have to admit, it makes for interesting snow drifts and beautiful ice-flocked pine trees.

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Our winter season at 8000 feet is a long one but we enjoy dry “champagne” powder and the most intense Colorado blue sky you’ve ever seen.  And we are blessed with lots of sunshine that melts away even the deepest of snows within a matter of days.  I admit, by April, I’m more than ready for my bulbs to pop up their spring greenery, but I know from experience that won’t be until June.  Until then, we continue to pray for snow on the high mountains because we need the water so desperately in the summer.

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I personally love the changing seasons because there is beauty in each one.  Remember the old song “Turn, Turn, Turn” made popular by rock/folk band, The Byrds?   The lyrics are taken directly from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8  and the opening line is:

To every thing, turn, turn, turn.

There is a season, turn, turn, turn.

And a time for every purpose under heaven.

God created the seasons, each with a purpose.  Spring is the time for planting – a new beginning, purposeful creativity, fresh expectations.  Summer is the time for growth – watching the “seeds” you sowed beginning to sprout and nurturing them along to mature life. Autumn is the time for harvest – the hard work of gathering in, preserving, and sharing.  Winter is the time for slowing down, rejuvenating, replenishing, and resting.  This is the natural rhythm of the seasons of life.

Whether our lives are full right now with parenting children (or older parents), working at an education or career, traveling the world, or simply enjoying favorite hobbies, it is imperative that we find balance and healthy rhythms.  If we are stuck in a season too long because we either feel “trapped” or just plain comfortable, we will soon find ourselves face to face with the Beast called Discontent whose children are Laziness, Anger, Fear, and Exhaustion.  Think about it…if we planted all the time and never watered, weeded or nurtured, nothing would ever grow.  Or if we harvested everything without a care to replant, we’d eventually have empty storehouses.  Or if we completely ignored the need for rest and rejuvenation, we’d never have the energy to do anything to nurture ourselves or our loved ones.  Procrastination is a disastrous philosphy for healthy growth.

So, how do we learn from the lessons of the seasons?   Looking for the beauty in the beast and living with gratitude for whatever season you are in, is a start.  Making baby-step efforts to create your own seasonal shifts is another.  And above all, remember that we are not created to plant, grow, produce and sleep all at the same time.  Start small. Intentionally carve out time in your busy schedule to relax, alone or with loved ones.  Use this winter season to rest and plan for the busy spring.  I can hear you saying, “I don’t have time for that.”  Yes, you do.  There will be a day when time will be of no importance, so do it now.  There is beauty in every moment.  Don’t miss it.

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HOT COCOA, Thick and Rich (grab a spoon!)

½ C unsweetened baker’s cocoa

¼ C sugar (confectioner’s works best)

1 ½ T. cornstarch

Combine 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa mix per 1/3 C milk in a small sauepan. (If you want thicker cocoa, increase mix to 1 ½ to 2 T.)

Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until steaming. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil and thickens.

Add cinnamon, finely grated orange zest, Irish cream or Kahlua, or even a sprinkle of hot red chile powder!

Serve in small espresso cups. So rich, so good!

Use low-fat milk = only 98 calories!

 

 

Merry Christmas: Peace on Earth

 

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet,

Their words repeat,

Of peace on earth, good-will towards men.”

 

Dear friends and family,

This Christmas we are acutely aware of the need for “Peace on Earth.” As Americans, we are no longer insular to the tragedy and violence that many other cultures have lived with for generations. We have become all too aware of violence on our home soil that we previously thought was reserved for cultures far away from our shores, and we shake our heads and are sure that “it’s never been this bad.” But, there are many other points in history where evil has had run rampant on the innocent and left many wondering as we do today, “Where is God?”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem during the crisis of the Civil War, a tragedy of huge proportions on American soil. Many of his words eventually gave birth to the Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

And in despair I bowed my head;


“There is no peace on earth,” I said;


“For hate is strong,


And mocks the song


Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”




 How are we to keep the faith, to secure hope in these unsettling times? If God is not dead, He certainly seems far away.

But isn’t that the crux of the Christmas story? Knowing how desperately we needed Him, He drew near to us – so near in fact, that He left His throne and was born as a vulnerable baby in an unlikely place. No matter how we try to clean up and glamorize His first coming, the facts remind us that He chose to be born in crisis as the most helpless creature on the planet – a human baby, announced to a couple who weren’t married, born in dirty surroundings, into a Jewish race who had a long history of persecution, and into a largely pagan and powerful Roman Empire. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, the story continues and it is His Story in which we all play a part and He knows the ending. His story of reconciliation, redemption, all things made new because of His great love for all of us.

If you are a Christ-follower, take heart. “In this world you will have many trials. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Nothing can separate us from His love.

And if you are a seeker, take heart. God is nearer to you than you imagine; Reaching down to humanity and reaching out to you.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 


“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!


The Wrong shall fail,


The Right prevail,


With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

 This Christmas, may God grant you peace of heart and strength of soul to love with abandon, serve with abundance and live with extravagant gratitude. Peace on earth – pass it on.

With love,

Melanie and Richard

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Not Everything is Dessert – a Matter of Perspective

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Seeing the beauty among the storm clouds or…

“Life isn’t what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

I remember baking my first cake.  It was my mom’s birthday and I was 10 years old.  I was raised in an era when Mom did all the cooking and Dad and the kids did all the eating.  So, needless to say, I had no kitchen experience beyond the sink full of dirty dishes to wash, but that wasn’t going to stop me.  So, I banned Mom from the kitchen, and using her best recipe, I launched into a frenzy of baking a chocolate bundt cake for her birthday dinner. After careful measuring, precise execution and multiple batter samplings, I popped it in the oven and set the timer.  All good, so proud!  But best intentions don’t count with cooking. I sat on the floor in front of the cloudy window of the oven door watching the amazing metamorphosis of gooey brown batter rising into a beautiful spongy cake.  I could hardly contain myself as the timer finally went off and I carefully pulled the cake from the oven.  Now here is where it all went downhill.  I was impatient to get the hot cake out of the pan,  So, grabbing two handwoven potholders (my Christmas present to her) I inverted the cake pan and dumped the cake on the plate, only to get my hand stuck under it.  As carefully as I could I maneuvered my hand out from under the cake not only leaving the potholder there but breaking the hot cake completely in half!  I was devastated but not undone.  I let the cake cool (a little) and patched it all together with a huge amount of vanilla frosting, attempting to hide the mishap with sprinkles and LOTS of candles. So, when the big cake moment came,  I presented a lopsided cake with melted frosting to Mom.  Her eyes lit up and she ooo’d and ah’d over this crazy creation.  I was just hoping she wouldn’t look into the tubular hole in the middle of the cake and see the potholder.  Of course, when she cut the cake, the secret was out.  Her response?  She laughed and remarked, “Now that is certainly creative of you!  Thank you so much for my surprise cake.”  And then she hugged me.  The cake was a hit, the potholder was famous and I was redeemed as a cook.

That was one of my first lessons about gratitude (and patience!).  And I am reminded of those people that see the cup half full vs. half empty.  Those that have the ability to view this messy life through a different lens and SEE beyond the failures and into the blessings. I know people who have come through fire in their lives and they are an inspiration.  They are real with their emotions, disappointments and anguish but they don’t choose to live there for long.  Gratitude, especially when it’s hard, can be a taste of sweet frosting on a messy cake. 

Someone once said that if you’re looking for things to be thankful for, start with the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning.  If you woke up in a bed, be thankful.  Much of humanity, doesn’t have a bed.  If you turned on the faucet for a drink, be thankful.  Much of humanity has no clean, running water.  If you turned on the light switch, be thankful.  Much of humanity has no electricity at their disposal.  If you walked to the bathroom, be thankful.  Much of humanity is suffering the pain and despair of disease and disability.  If you hugged a loved one, be thankful.  Much of humanity is alone and lonely.  And the list goes on.

It’s easy to be thankful for the obvious when things peachy and going as planned but it is a daily struggle to practice the discipline of gratitude especially in the mundane and the ugly.  But if God is in everything and is so all powerful that “He turns what was intended for evil into good,” then I can relax, breathe in peace and let go.  Many times, MOST of the time, my act of thanksgiving is an act of obedience – of refusing to let go of God and instead let go of my will and my expectations.

In those heart-wrenching moments of trial and pain, I hold on to Him for dear life and in the end He blesses me with new vision, new lens, new eyes to SEE beyond the cracks in the cake and into the sweetness of love in which it was given.