Tag Archives: Experience

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Into the Mountains

A Journey of Loss And Acceptance in Wyoming

STORY & PHOTOS BY MIRANDA MCDONALD

“Are you meeting someone in Jackson Hole?” inquired the lady sitting next to me on the plane.

I wondered if she was genuinely curious or simply making conversation because she felt as anxious as I did about the turbulence currently bombarding our tiny aircraft.

“No,” I choked out as I tightly gripped the arm rest of my seat. At this point, my stomach felt like it was permanently lodged in my throat. “I am actually spending the week alone.”

“Oh. What brings you to Wyoming?” she continued. Her confusion now momentarily replacing the fear.

As I looked down at the backpack wedged between my feet, I thought of the list of possible answers I could give her: a failed marriage, the two years of utter confusion that followed, or I could describe the overwhelming guilt I carried with me every day since the moment I decided to leave my old life behind.

“I am here to hike in Grand Teton National Park and do some writing.” I decided to keep it simple.

“That sounds nice,” she replied. “Be sure to take some bear spray and try to find other hikers to walk with on the trails. They say groups of three are best!”

I wanted to tell her it wasn’t the bears I feared. I wanted to explain to her that I was embarking on a spiritual journey with this trip, and that I hoped to unpack all that guilt I had strapped on my back so many months ago and leave it on those trails in the mountains.

Besides the wildlife tour I had booked two days prior to my departure, lightening my mental load was the only thing I had really planned for the trip. Oh, but there was the minor detail of finding a place to sleep for three nights. I had thought about pitching a tent. However, once I discovered the temperatures dipped down to the 30s when the sun went down, I decided to book a stay at a Heart Six Ranch in Moran, instead.

My Arrival

Like the city itself, which has a population of just under 12,000 people, the Jackson Hole airport was small. Well, small enough for it to nestle comfortably at the southern base of the Grand Teton mountain range. As I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, I counted the snow-covered mountain caps directly in front of me. The mountains were unlike any I had ever seen.

“I hope you enjoy your stay in Wyoming,” the lady said with a smile as she walked by with her luggage rolling noisily behind her.

I watched her walk quickly ahead of me and into the airport. She had been so kind, and yet I had never bothered to ask her name. I was thinking of our interaction on the plane when my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of another plane flying overhead. I guess names were irrelevant at this point. It was time to gather my luggage and pick up my rental car.

Twenty-Six Miles

Even though the temperature was only 50s in Wyoming that day, I rolled down every window in my rental so I could take in the spring air rolling off the mountains. I quickly typed the address to Heart Six Ranch into Google Maps, and it informed me that I only had 26 miles to travel from the airport. However, what Google didn’t mention was that I would be driving through a national elk refuge that housed 25,000 acres of wildlife, or that I would also encounter some of the most beautiful views of the Grand Teton mountains during my commute.

By the time I reached Moran, I had parked to take pictures at almost every turnabout on the highway, stopped twice to allow elk to cross the road and watched a moose graze in a small creek that was just a few miles away from the ranch. Somehow, I turned my 30-minute journey into four hours of sightseeing.

When I finally reached Heart Six Ranch, the sun was going down, and I was welcomed by a furry, four-legged “ranch hand” named Leo. His body stiffened and he began barking as I got out of my car. As a peace offering, I let him sniff my hands. I guess he found my smell acceptable because once he was finished, he walked with me to the lodge for check in. I had been in Moran for less than an hour and had already made a friend.

A Cup of Coffee

The next morning, I loaded my backpack with water, a journal, my camera and a book, and walked over to the main lodge at the ranch. I needed guidance on which trails to hike while in the national park. Leo was sprawled out and still asleep on the couch by the front desk, but the property manager was already up and reading the local newspaper behind the counter.

“I was told I need a big can of bear spray for my hike,” I said as I slung my bag onto the desk. I hoped a little humor would be a good way to start a conversation so early in the day.

“Of course, but how about some coffee first?” he asked.

As we walked into the dining room, the smell of eggs drifted from the kitchen and into my nose. With our coffee in hand, we sat at a large table made of beautiful, tan wood. It matched the logs that constructed the entire building and all the cabins on the property. I sipped my coffee slowly and hoped it would help me shake off the fogginess from another sleepless night. I seemed to be having quite a few of those lately.

“So, what brings you to Wyoming?” he asked.

“I want to hike the trails by the Grand Tetons, and hopefully do some writing,” I explained.

“Oh, you are a writer,” he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster up before 8 a.m. “What will you write about?”

I picked my mug up and took a large drink of the hot liquid inside. “Divorce,” I explained after the coffee was fully down. Something about his presence made me feel comfortable enough to finally say it. “Well, not just divorce. I want to start figuring out who I am after divorce.”

“I see,” he replied.

“I was recently laid off from my desk job, so my schedule just got a lot more flexible,” I responded with a sarcastic tone as I played with the loose string hanging from a seam in my jeans. “I don’t own a home. I have no kids or even a dog. My marriage is over and there is no significant other that claims me. Oh, and my landlord just sold the house I am living in. So, here I am.”

“I see,” he replied again. “So, you are a gypsy?” His tone made the words sound more like a declaration than an actual question. “At this point in your life, you don’t have anything tying you down to one place,” he continued. “You, my dear, are a gypsy.”

I had never thought about this title before. Of course, I had been labeled many over the years: sister, writer, spouse, friend, coworker and now there was the heavy title of ex-wife. However, this one – gypsy – was completely new to me. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it, but I sat there for a moment and imagined myself trying the word on like a new pair of gloves. In my head, I pictured myself slowly pulling these gloves up over my fingers and then onto my wrists. Looking down at them as they covered both hands, I wasn’t quite sure how they fit.

“Now, about that bear spray,” he said after a long moment of silence.

Lake Taggart

After a few recommendations from various sources, I decided to hike the trail to Taggart Lake first. I was informed the walk was under 5 miles and boasted spectacular views of the park.

Once I arrived at the starting point, I laced up my hiking boots, tightened the straps on my backpack and wrapped a denim jacket around my waist. With a can of bear spray also hanging from my belt strap, I started my journey to the lake.

Even though it was May, there were still mounds of snow covering parts of the path. Eventually, I came upon a bridge that had an extraordinary view of a small waterfall. I slowly walked onto the narrow apparatus, and with water rushing over rocks of all shapes and sizes below me, I sat on its edge and dangled my feet over the side.

I thought about why I was there. I forced myself into these woods in search of something that would help me finally move forward and out of my current mental state, but I still wasn’t quite sure what that something was. I guess I was hoping it would meet me somewhere on the trail.

After sitting for a few moments, I realized the answers I searched for were not on that bridge, so I got up and started walking again.

I hiked a mile before I reached a small clearing. The trees were sparse in this area, and the snow was deep. I had only come across a few hikers that morning, but there was still a large path of footprints showing me the way to a part of the woods where the trail picked back up. The sun bounced off the snow with such ferocity that I was forced to shield my eyes with one hand as I walked. Once I reached the next set of trees, the temperature took a noticeable drop. I was getting close to the lake.

After a few minutes of walking through more snow and trees, I came to another clearing and stepped out onto a bed of pebbles. I then looked up and before me was a frozen Taggart Lake and an astonishing view of the Grand Tetons behind it. I walked to a fallen tree at the edge of this frozen body of water, and after a few minutes of stunned silence, I sat down to journal.

This is what I wrote:

At some point after my divorce, I came to believe that I deserved to be punished for hurting a person that I loved for so many years. Even if our 12-year relationship needed to an end, the guilt I feel from leaving my marriage consumes me every day. I still see the pain in his face and the fear in his eyes when I told him I had to leave. I still hear sadness in his voice when he told me not to go. The memory is just so vivid in my mind.

I have allowed this memory to block all the good memories that came from my marriage. I have allowed this memory to put a halt to any happiness that has tried to enter my life since that day. My failed marriage has made me also feel like a complete failure.

However, as I sit in front of something so grand and pure, I realize that there is so much beauty to be seen in this world. I have to start making space for this beauty. I have to unpack this guilt and leave it at on the edge of this lake.

I sat on the shore of Taggart Lake for what seemed like an hour. It was so peaceful in this spot that I could hear the silence fill the space around the trees behind me. Tears rolled down my face as I sat in the silence.

Before I started my journey back, I walked to the edge of the lake. There were a few inches of shallow water that had thawed under the warming rays of the sun. Dipping my fingers into the cold water, I tried to imagine the entire ecosystem that existed just below the surface. There was so much life sitting under that ice and it was just waiting for everything to melt so that it could finally reveal itself. Was I like this lake? Was I also waiting for a new season to arrive so that I could finally reveal a metamorphosis that was slowly taking place just underneath my own surface?

I’m Not Good at Goodbyes

After three days of soul searching on the trails of the Grand Tetons, it was time for me to catch my flight back home. I woke up early to see my last sunrise at Heart Six Ranch. As I watched the sun peek over the valley below the lodge, I wished I had booked my stay for longer. Leo must have known I would be leaving soon because he came to sit down beside me around the time the sun was almost completely above the ridge.

“I am not good at goodbyes,” I said to the French Mastiff as I rubbed a spot behind his ear. Besides a small group of bison I stopped for every day while driving back and forth to Jackson Hole, Leo and the ranch manager were the only regular contacts I made while in Wyoming. Most of my days were spent alone, and in silence.

A few more minutes passed before I walked to my cabin to gather the luggage I packed the night before. Leo followed closely behind. I picked up my backpack. It seemed so heavy when I first arrived, but now it felt a bit lighter. I guess I had accomplished lightening my load after all. This made me smile.

“Where will you go next, Gypsy?” the manager asked as I started to walk to my car with my luggage, Leo my faithful escort.

“Everywhere. I will go everywhere,” I declared with a feeling of confidence I hadn’t felt in some time.

After all, I was now a gypsy and there is just so much world to see.

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Deam Lake Dip

0By JD Dotson

For th e past few wi nters, I have been

asked off and on by my friends Jenna and Kara to

join them and a small group for a winter dip in the

lake. Every Sunday from November through April

these two will trek to Deam Lake – and sometimes

Blue River – to take a dip in the frigid waters. My

answer has always been the same.: “I love you, but

that will never happen.”

I pride myself on being a man of my word, but I

had to go back on part of it. Before I did, I wondered

if I would still love them as much after jumping

into a lake in early March.

I despise being cold and much prefer the heat of

the summer. New Orleans in July, for instance, is the

best time to go in my opinion. I suffer through the

cold weather, wishing summer would last longer

every year. To say I was dreading telling the girls I

would go with them would be the understatement

of the year. But I said it, it was out there and I would

honor my word.

Before I would subject myself to this icy torture,

I had a million questions and got the basics about

where to meet and what to bring, which included a

swimsuit, bathrobe, towels, a toboggan and water

shoes. I would get the rest of my grilling out in the

car ride. I figured if I was more informed about

why on earth people would walk of their own free

will into a lake in winter, it might calm my nerves

about the whole thing.

On a chance meeting at a New Year’s Eve party in

New York City in 2008, Jenna learned of a group of

people meeting the next day at Coney Island for a

dip in the water. The Coney Island Polar Bears are a

charitable club with member dues and a 12 dips per

season requirement to join. Jenna met her member

requirements doing a two-hour door to beach trip

across New York. Where I am a worshipper of the

sun and summer, Jenna is my polar opposite. She

thrives in the cold weather and is co-responsible

for bringing Santa Con to Louisville in December

and jumping in frigid waters all winter long. The

coldest water Jenna has been in was 36 degrees,

and the group has broken up ice to get to the water

in the past. Luckily for me, the day I dipped was

unusually warm and sunny out.

Many cultures around the world have been

practicing cold water plunging for centuries.

Dipping in cold water was all the rage during the

Victorian era as an exhilarating way to start the day.

Research and modern science tell us that there are

many health benefits, too. Any Google search will

include numerous medical and health professionals

extolling the virtues of taking an ice bath, none of

which are lost on Kara and Jenna. Studies show

that cold water stimulates the release of cytokines,

a substance vital to immune systems. Cold water

is known to reduce pain and inflammation by

releasing endorphins in a more immersive way that

is similar to the effects of an ice pack. There is even

evidence that the cold water helps with weight loss

by increasing adrenaline and causing your body

to burn sugar. Mental benefits abound as well as

research shows the cold water activates sensory

nerves leading to the brain, greatly improving

mood and leaving you with a feeling of elation

and accomplishment.

Health and mental benefits aside, the duo

ascertain that other important benefits of taking

the plunge is to test your willpower, and training

yourself to face your fears can be a practice. Kara

knows if she can walk out into icy waters for a

sustained amount of time, she can do anything she

puts her mind to doing. They both agree one of the

greatest benefits they both get out of meeting every

Sunday is the camaraderie of the group of people

that join, sharing tea and stories, and supporting

each other facing their fears together. As a moody,

arthritic person obsessed with his weight and scared

of doing new or uncomfortable things, this plunge

seemed to be just what I needed.

Armed with all of the knowledge I could want,

I enjoyed the camaraderie and tea, which felt like

a pre-game has helped allay some of my fears as

we headed lakeward. I knew what to expect in my

body, and my mind was set on doing this thing,

facing this fear. In reality, nothing can really prepare

you for the first time getting in water that cold.

The temperature of the water that day was 53

degrees, which doesn’t sound that bad. A 53-degree

day is actually pretty nice, sunny and mild. The

same temperature in water is not so nice.

The last person to wade out to the group, I

ditched the robe and thought to myself, Just go

out quick, get covered fast, yank the Band-Aid off,

so to speak. I was not expecting how my breath

would be taken away. I had a hard time forming

full sentences (though curse words came easy),

and I can only imagine the look I had on my face.

At the time, I would have told you I was out

there up to my chest for at least 10 minutes.00 In reality, I lasted 90 seconds, but I am proud of that

minute and a half. In 90 seconds, I felt the sting

of blood rushing out of my extremities to keep

my core warm and my skin numb. I held on as

long as I could before heading back to shore. The

more seasoned group stayed in the water up to

15 minutes, laughing and talking before casually

making their way back.

To say I enjoyed the experience would be a bit

of a lie. I did enjoy the company, the camaraderie,

the snacks and the tea. I do feel like I faced and

conquered a huge fear, and feel like I do not have

to be so “I will never do that” all the time. Maybe it

was psychosomatic, but my shoulder didn’t ache

in its usual, arthritic way, (although maybe I was

just numb.) Also, if the weight loss aspect turns

out to be true, I could be persuaded to make it a

regular thing. Summer is coming and my swimsuit

was a bit snug.

Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wrap

Instant Cooking: A Blessing for Our Busy Kitchen

By Adam & Kristin Kleinert

Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wrap

Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wrap

If you’ve read our column before in the now-tabled Extol Sports (Extol Magazine’s sister publication), you’ve probably heard about our enthusiasm for our Instant Cooker. It’s worked its way into our dynamic and is quickly becoming a dear family member. This month, we wanted to share a handful of our go- to recipes.

    While handy in a multitude of ways, the Instant Pot is a game-changer for our household due to the sheer amount of time it saves us. In the past, crockpot meals have been a staple, but the Instant Cooker allows for almost zero advanced planning. We can throw something in at 4 or 5 p.m. and enjoy a dish that would previously have needed to cook all day long. Even frozen foods can be ready (and delicious) in less than half an hour. Overall, this handy gadget is one more way to save precious amounts of time and, for our crew, that’s always a blessing.

PORK CARNITAS (SHREDDED PORK LOIN)

We do two of these loins at once and store the leftovers in the fridge for a day or two to eat in tons of ways: lettuce wraps, tacos, sandwiches, over salads. It’s lean, flavorful protein that our whole family loves…and it’s FAST.

RECIPE FOR ONE LOIN:

(again, we just double this and do two):

RUB:

    2 lbs boneless pork loin, cubed

    1 1/2 T Olive Oil

    1 t salt

    1 t ground chipotle chili pepper

    1/2 t black pepper

Cooking Juice:

    1 cup orange juice

    1/3 cup lime juice

    2 t dried oregano

    1 1/2 t cinnamon

    4 garlic cloves, minced

    1 onion, peeled and quartered

   Mix rub ingredients and rub cubed meat into it. If you have time and want let this sit, it’s extra yummy, but not a must. Turn Instant Pot to the saute mode and drizzle a bit of olive oil into pot. Add the rubbed meat, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides. Add the juice to the pot and secure the lid. Cook on high pressure: 17 minutes for one loin, 23 for two loins. Quick release the pressure and shred the meat. (Use a whisk or a potato masher for this). Enjoy!


Meatloaf & Mashed Potatoes

Meatloaf & Mashed Potatoes

Meatloaf & Mashed Potatoes

So it’s more of a splurge than a healthy, family recipe, but it’s a favorite comfort food at our house and we’ve found it soothes the soul after a busy week. Besides, who can resist trying it out when it cooks together, in one pot, in just 25 minutes.

Recipe:

    1 lb ground beef

    1 lb ground sausage

    1 small onion, chopped small

    1 egg, beaten

    3/4 cup bread crumbs

    Splash of worcestershire sauce

    1/2 tsp salt

    1/2 tsp pepper

    1/4 tsp cajun spice, old bay, or italian seasoning

    (your preference!)

    *3 or 4 strips of microwavable bacon, if desired

For Topping

    1 cup ketchup

    1 1/2 tsp brown sugar

    1 tsp hot sauce

For Potatoes

    3 1/2 to 4 lbs of potatoes, washed, peeled and quartered

    1 1/4 cups of chicken broth (butter, milk, broth…

    whatever you like to add to mashed potatoes)

Layer the cut potatoes in the bottom of the instant pot and pour the broth over top. Lay the rack that came with the cooker on top of the potatoes so that it lays pretty flat. Combine meatloaf ingredients (minus topping ingredients) and shape into a rounded loaf. Place on a piece of tinfoil, large enough to shape the sides up as if meatloaf is in a pocket. *If you are using bacon, lay strips over top of loaf. Place on top of rack and secure lid. With the steam release closed, use manual mode on high pressure and set for 23 minutes. When finished, quick release steam.

Lift meatloaf out of cooker and place on a baking sheet. Mix topping ingredients, spread over top and place under broiler for 3-4 minutes, until topping is caramelized.

Meanwhile, add your desired ingredients to the potatoes (we use a heaping spoonful of butter, a little chicken broth and some salt and pepper) and mash until smooth.

Serve sliced meatloaf together with potatoes. Enjoy!


Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

Weeknight Chicken

    Like the pork, this chicken is so versatile that it’s an invaluable staple in our meal cycle. Here’s the kicker (and thus, the beauty of an Instant Cooker): It’s a bag of frozen chicken. And it’s ready to serve or add to another recipe in less than half an hour!

Recipe:

    1 bag of frozen chicken breasts

    (about 3 lbs)

    1 can of salsa verde, OR 1 jar of

    any Asian sauce or chicken broth

    and spices of your choice

   Mix rub ingredients and rub cubed meat into it. If you have time and want let this sit, it’s extra yummy, but not a must. Turn Instant Pot to the saute mode and drizzle a bit of olive oil into pot. Add the rubbed meat, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides. Add the juice to the pot and secure the lid. Cook on high pressure: 17 minutes for one loin, 23 for two loins. Quick release the pressure and shred the meat. (Use a whisk or a potato masher for this). Enjoy!


Hard Boiled Eggs

Hard Boiled Eggs

FAST Hard-Boiled Eggs

Quick, wholesome sources of protein are key for our busy tribe and the Instant Pot delivers perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs with amazing efficiency. It’s so easy our kids can do it themselves. We cook a batch in record time and have go-to snacks on hand for several days. Bonus: this method causes the shells to slide off so easily!

5-5-5 Recipe:

    8 to 12 fresh eggs (a friend swears she

    does 18 at a time but we’ve never tried

    more than a dozen at once)

    1 cup water

   Using the rack that came with the Instant Pot, sit the eggs gently inside on the rack. Pour in one cup water and slide lid into place. Set to high pressure for just 5 minutes. Natural pressure release (which just means to leave them alone) for 5 minutes, then release rest of steam and put eggs into an ice bath for 5 minutes. Enjoy!(Use a whisk or a potato masher for this). Enjoy!

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Tucker’s American Favorites

Much More Than A Sports Bar

By Angie Fenton | Photos by Jason Applegate

OK, there’s no denying Tucker’s American Favorites is the perfect place to watch sports. The restaurant – which is located at 2441 State St. in New Albany – boasts three 118” big screen TVs and flat screens nearly everywhere you look, all of which broadcast one sport or another. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, especially in the large main dining area, which has tables and booths, including giant half-circle ones that can fit six people or more.

Additionally, the beer is cold, the wings plump and spicy (or not; your choice) and the bartenders, hosts and wait staff attentive and friendly. Plus, there’s an array of food choices ranging from the ooey, gooey and oh-so-delicious Queso & Chips ($6.99) and Tucker’s Beer Cheese ($5.99) to Rib Slabs (1/4 slab $10.99; 1/2 slab $14.99; full slab $18.99) and juicy steaks to Top Shelf Burgers ($11.99) and Fish & Chips ($12.99).

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Tucker’s also is incredibly family-friendly (kudos for the diaper changing station in the men’s room) and offers a menu for kiddos 12 and under, with all entrees priced at $4.45 and served with Fries or Scalloped Apples and Chocolate Pudding.

But what Tucker’s – the consummate sports restaurant with a full bar – also offers is an easy, appetizing way to stick to your diet, if you’re into that kind of thing.

For starters, you can order lunch-sized portions anytime. The Sirloin ($8.99) is oz. of USDA choice beef cooked to your liking and served with one side. Try it with Steamed Broccoli and add a Sweet Potato ($3.29), and you have the perfect mix of protein and carbohydrates.

If seafood is more up your alley, try the Salmon ($15.99 or $13.99 for the lunch size), the Grilled Tuna Steak ($13.99) or the Shrimp Dinner ($13.99), which you can order blackened or grilled (or fried).

t2Veggie fans should try the Vegetarian Delight ($9.99), a fresh Tucker’s Salad and your choice of three sides, which include Fluffy Baked Potato, Mashed Potatoes, Baked Beans, Country Green Beans, Creamy Coleslaw, French Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, Savory Sauteed Mushrooms, Sweet Potato, Onion Rings, Scalloped Apples and Steamed Broccoli.

There are a number of salads on the menu: The Tucker’s Salad ($4.99) is a bed of fresh greens topped with vegetables, tomatoes, cheese, bacon and egg. To keep it healthy/healthier, either request the bacon and cheese on the side or request the salad without them. Try the Chicken Salad ($9.99), which is a portion of grilled or blackened (or fried) chicken, or the Salmon Salad ($12.99), both of which are served on a giant – seriously – Tucker’s Salad.

A word of advice: Don’t overlook the Burgers & More portion of the menu. The Wild Alaskan Burger ($10.99) is a delicious, house-made salmon burger. The Bison Burger ($12.99) and Veggie Burger ($8.99) are both scrumptious. The Chicken Sandwich ($8.99) is, too, and can be ordered charbroiled or blackened (or fried).

If you’re one who believes in moderation, try Tucker’s Ice Cream Cookie ($4.99) at the end of your healthy meal. Added bonus if you share the giant, fresh, baked-to-order chocolate chunk cookie with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate and caramel sauce with a companion or two or more. You’ll cut the calories and your tablemates will be thrilled.

Tucker’s American Favorites

2441 State St. | New Albany

812.944.9999
tuckersaf.com