Tuesday, December 27, 2011

gettin our craft on

Christmas for the Holmes girls:

The unidentifiable princess on the far right is actually a prince with Justin Bieber hair.   These little figures fit perfectly in the Tonka ambulance and helicopter, so these princesses are rescuing/being rescued left and right.

Christmas for the Otto boys (and each of our Primary kiddies):

This one is Carson's, and Everett got a slightly smaller and thus easier version as well.

Parks families- don't show your kids this because they will probably receive the same or similar thing next year. Our creativity only goes so far.

Every Sunday for our Primary class:

Beau draws these for most of our Primary lessons. These are just a few of my faves.

Instructions for those who care after the jump.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

outtakes from my camera

Stay, Jimmer. 

See? That's cute. 

Face off. 


Also, demonstrating my Wolverine-like characteristics while Allison tries to come up with an idea for an X Men themed picture.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

frequently asked thru hiking questions

How long are you hiking?
The trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine, around 2,100 miles. Most thru hikers start in GA, but an increasing percentage of hikers are starting in Maine and heading south (southbonders, or SOBOs). I'll be starting in the beginning of April in Georgia and finish 5 to 6 months later in Maine.

How do you get food?
The trail travels near and literally through towns. It seems like most thru hikers these days buy food along the way, but some still use the mail drop method, where they send packages to post offices all along the trail and pick them up as they get there. This sounds like a huge hassle to me to package all that and plan when you'll need food. Lucky for me, I can also send word to Beau and let him know if I'm going to need something in particular and he can mail it ahead for me to pick up. Post offices in trail towns are accostomed to holding packages for thru hikers.

Wait, so Beau's not going with you? YOU'RE GOING ALONE??
Yikes, chill out. No, Beau is not going with me. He doesn't want to, and I don't blame him. Not many people think walking for 5 months straight sounds as fun as I do.  But I wouldn’t say that I’ll be alone. No, I’m not setting out with a partner like some people do, but considering a couple thousand people attempt this every year, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet some people I like and generally stick with.  While of course I’d like the support (and sharing pack weight!) of having my husband with me, I’m confident that we can do this.  We happen to live 45 minutes from the mid point of the trail- Harper’s Ferry.  This works out quite nicely that I’m never more than a day’s drive away, so Beau will be coming to visit any weekend he can.  My parents, who have a goal of section hiking the trail (they have completed 500 miles so far) will probably meet up with me at various times as well.

Is it safe?
An observation: This is a common question I get from people who are unfamiliar with the Appalachian Trail.  Anyone who is familiar with the AT does not really question safety (with the exception of my dear grandma- but you're allowed to do whatever you want when you're Gram).  I'm actually surprised and a little amused at the reactions I've gotten from some people in regards to this topic. I have concluded that I cannot convince anyone who thinks thru hiking is unsafe otherwise. I think I will be just as safe thru hiking as I would be going about business in NoVa.  I recently read Women and Thru Hiking on the Appalachian Trail, which gave me some good guidelines to follow about personal safety.  If you’re really really concerned, shoot me an email and I am happy to explain the safety precautions I will be taking.  If it’s any consolation, my dad is not overly concerned, and he is the most practical person I know.

Where do you stay along the way?
There are 274 shelters on the Appalachian Trail.  Shelters are usually 3 sided structures that sleep anywhere from 4-20 people in addition to tent areas.  I believe most, if not all, have water sources.  Thru hikers also frequent hostels or hotels, depending on budget and schedule.

Do people get lost? How do you know where shelters, water and towns are?
Getting lost is pretty difficult. The trail is marked by white blazes (paint) on trees or rocks the whole way.  There are actually two different and popular guidebooks designed just for thru hikers.  They list distances to the nearest shelters and springs and towns.  They also list what amenities the town has- grocery stores, hotels, dentists, laundromats, restaurants, post offices, etc. Sometimes they even have numbers of locals who will provide rides or help thru hikers out.
2,100 miles... 5-6 months... How many miles a day is that? Are you doing anything to train?
This, of course, varies per person.  People come in with varying fitness levels, but after the first several weeks, most hikers are doing 20 mile days on average terrain, and I've read tons of blogs where they're doing 25+ miles per day on easy terrain.  Of course, thru hikers take "zero days" in town every so often to resupply, do laundry, rest, etc.  So an average schedule would be wake up early, walk a bunch, have some snacks, walk some more, stop at a shelter for the evening, make some dinner, go to bed.  As far as training, they say the best way to train for walking up and down mountains with a pack on your back is... walking up and down mountains with a pack on your back. On the job training.  Of course, I'm going to continue running, cycling, going to the gym, etc., so I'll probably be a little more ready on the first day than your average bear, but everyone will be pretty evened out after a little while.

What about going to church?
I hope to attend church as often as I can.  That may end up being only once a month, but my plan is to contact the bishop or Relief Society president when the trail is within reasonable distance to a chapel and see if anyone in the ward would be willing to pick me up and give me a ride.  Maybe I can even get a shower out of the deal, too...
This is something I thought a lot about when I was first contemplating this whole thru hiking business.  In my church, the Sabbath is a day for rest and worship.  I don't think that sitting in a shelter all day on Sundays is really honoring the Sabbath much, but I would like to try to make Sundays a little different.  One idea I had was to put conference talks on an ipod reserved for Sunday use or having a more focused scripture study time.

Why do you want to do this?
That is an excellent question to which I am still forming a response.  The easy answer is that it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I think it will be one the coolest experiences of my life.  The more reflective (yet still brief) answer, is that I like to prove to myself that I can do hard things.  Yes, I like running and cycling- but running for 13 miles? That’s kind of hard.  Cycling for 100 miles? That’s really hard. Completing a thru hike is my ultimate bucket list experience. 

This was fun! Any more questions I can address?

Monday, December 5, 2011

family- isn't it about time? and food? and running?

Sometimes my family is so cool that we do themed dinners.  Egg-stravaganza! Soup night! Tuber-tacular!

A few weeks ago we had the much anticipated BYU foods night.  The menu:
bread and honey butter :: Sugar and Spice in the Cougareat
pasta salad :: the Skyroom
(And Dallyn, mid-bite)
J Dawgs, including the sauce (recipe here)
Navajo Tacos :: L&T in the Cougareat
(I see a suspicious lack of lettuce on Daren's birthday plate....)
Smoothies :: Jamba Juice
mint brownies :: Sugar and Spice... and any BYU catered event

Mackenzie Trivia: I have worked at two of the above mentioned establishments.

Continuing on the topic of delicious food, Beau and I went to Colorado for Thanksgiving and had a wonderful time with the whole Parks family.  Ellen is always a great hostess to everyone and we enjoyed spending time with family and continuing the tradition of the desirable White Elephant gift exchange.
This is a lot of cuteness (and pregnant ladies and mustaches) for one photo.
Beau is so photogenic. And/or Jocelyn is just a good photographer.

My sister in law Alyse's child in utero has a serious birth defect that will require the baby to have all sorts of therapy and open heart surgery and other scary things. Please check out their website to learn more about the situation and what you can do to help.

Back on the East Coast, we went on a little jaunt to North Carolina to participate in the Mistletoe Half Marathon.  I am super proud of my mom for doing her first half!  Page and Rick and I planned on doing this a while ago, and for weeks I kept trying to convince Mom to sign up. I received very negative responses. Then, on Thanksgiving day I called to say hello from Colorado and she reported she had done 10 miles that morning and signed up that weekend.

Unfortunately none of us actually ran together because we were all different paces... but we all came through with Mom as she finished.

I did not train very well for this race- a combination of poor planning, lack of daylight, and some random tendon pain.  However, I am pleased to report that I finished at 2:07- a couple minutes faster than my last half. Go figure.

And a little programming note... get ready for more frequent posting and an inundation of thru hiking talk. :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

i can do hard things

For the past 7 months I have been making plans to put one of my life goals in action: thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.

This is something I have wanted to do ever since my 4th year at Girls Camp. In my stake, the 4th year girls backpacked for 4 days on the AT covering 40-50 miles in Maryland in the month of June, a good time to see plenty of thru hikers making their way from Georgia to Maine.  I was fascinated by their stories, their drive to complete this enormous undertaking, and most of all, the culture of the trail.

Last May, Beau and I did a 4 day hike, covering many of the same parts I had done when I was 15.  On the last day of our trip, I felt so sad to be leaving and kept day dreaming of ways to thru hike.  You know those kind of thoughts- the "what if I...." inserting the "..." with something crazy but fun to think about. What if I left next week and went with the south bounders? What if I joined in with the thru hikers now and did VA-ME this summer, and finish the other half another time? What would thru hiking be like... how would I manage the logistics?  What would my trail name be?

But then I was thinking- why don't I just GO? We don't have kids yet, I don't have a fantastic enough job to keep me from leaving, and most importantly, Beau supports this crazy adventure.  From the beginning, he has been encouraging me to go.  When I say that I don't want to go that long without being together, he assures me he will meet up with me every weekend he can.  When I bring up concerns about day to day logistics, he reassures me that I'm a smart person and I can figure it out.  When I start to think about all the things I will miss when I'm gone, he reminds me that I will miss having this experience even more.

With the reassurance from Beau, I decided that if I wanted to thru hike, I would have to make it happen.  No one was going to plan it for me, buy my gear for me, or put me on Springer Mountain and send me on my way.  I would have to make it happen, and the only thing stopping me would be myself.

So I'm going.  All summer I've been thinking about it and planning a few things, but I've mostly kept it to myself and Beau because, I'll admit, I feel a little silly saying that I'm going to thru hike.  It reminds me of a junior in high school saying, "I'm going to graduate from Harvard!" Uh, sure you are.  Most people who say they are going to thru hike don't actually go. And most of the people who actually set out to begin the trail don't finish.  What makes me think I'm going to be in this small percentage of successful hikers?

I'm aware that it will not be all fun and games.  I try to think about the really not-fun parts (hiking in rain for days, humidity, biting flies in New England, being lonely) as much or more than the awesome ones (making friends on the trail, getting my picture in the book in Harper's Ferry, experiencing trail magic, KATAHDIN). Yes, it's going to be ridiculously enormously hard.  The hardest thing I've ever done physically or mentally. But I know I can do this- I can do hard things.

Friday, November 18, 2011

book review part II

I love reading.

I wanted to pick my top 5 favorite books read in the past year, and thanks to goodreads.com, it was easy for me to look at my comprehensive list to narrow down.  Striking books of this list to come to the "Top 5" was like cutting my arm off.  Not that I have cut my arm off, but nonetheless it was painful.  I felt like the cast off books were really sad to be deleted and not even mentioned.

The Book Thief :: Markus Zusak

I love books based on the Holocaust, but sometimes they blend together.  The way this is written, from the perspective of Death, is fascinating and captivating, standing out from any other World War II book I've read.  Death, while you would expect "him" to be gloomy, is actually personified as compassionate and, at times, oddly humorous.
"There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
1. He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else.
2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache.
3. He would one day rule the world.
...Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words."

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio :: Terry Ryan

Likeable account of a woman in the 1950's trying to provide for her family by winning prizes and money through contests.  Unintentionally, this is the only book in this list that isn't a little dark. I found it very entertaining and actually a little inspiring. I mostly appreciated the story shows that you don't have to be wealthy or have a perfect life to be happy.  This book makes me want to be persistent.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea :: Barbara Demick

Other than some education from 30 Rock, I knew very little about North Korea.  Because the media is so restricted in gathering information about the conditions there, the author interviewed several North Koreans who had defected to South Korea or China.  During the first few chapters, I kept having to remind myself of the time period.  I caught myself picturing the setting in the 1940s because of the technology and culture, but seeing a date and realizing it was actually in the 1990s.  It is fascinating and heartbreaking to read about this country and culture.

The Cellist of Sarajevo :: Steven Galloway

Another book proving my cultural ignorance.  What Bosnian siege? While the novel is based on actual events, these characters are made up/loosely based on real people.  I loved that the chapters were from 4 different character's perspectives, bringing a greater understanding to what was going on while Sarajevo civilians were under attack by snipers, or "men in the hills".

Cutting for Stone  :: Abraham Verghese

Possibly the most beautifully written novels I have ever read.  I don't think I could put into words an accurate "review", other than the second I finished the last page I wanted to start it all over again.

Okay, I guess I will mention the runner's up that I don't want to feel neglected:
Bossypants :: Tina Fey
The Nazi Officer's Wife :: Edith H. Beer
Half Broke Horses :: Jeannette Walls

Isn't reading the best? I love goodreads.com as a way to keep track of what I've read and to get ideas from other people on what I might want to read.  Does anyone have any books they can suggest for me to read next?

Monday, November 7, 2011

time out for halloweekend get away

Ever since the MD Horse Trials, Jimmy has been a little off (someone forgot to remind him he's 22 and shouldn't be so exuberant cross country) so we have unfortunately not been able to show the rest of the season.  The good thing is that this allows me to actually do other things on weekends.

Several months ago, Gram wanted to organize a girls weekend, and planned for any family who was available to attend Time Out for Women in Richmond.  Time Out is sponsored by Deseret Book and reminds me of an EFY for adult women. Unfortunately, Gram's sister passed away the week prior and was unable to attend, but it still provided for a fun weekend.

Fantastic pizza place in downtown Richmond

Capitol building? I guess? Also, some good stairs to add to our morning run.

The whole group- my sisters & mom plus aunts Melody and Melaney and cousin Bethanie

Me, Pagie, mom, Ashley, Reagan and Truman

After watching all 5 X-Men movies in the past week, Beau and I were feeling the super hero love when thinking of Halloween costumes.

SuperBeau and SuperMackenzie.

Me and T-Man at the ward party.

Beau and I did something last weekend we've never done before. We took off work Friday and went away for a weekend JUST FOR FUN.  And by "away", I really mean a hour and a half south to Front Royal.  Although anyone who's familiar with northern Virginia knows that an hour and a half south can feel like you actually traveled into another state, country, or possibly decade.

Friday night dinner- Element in Front Royal. Highly recommend.  The menu was quite short, so I was a little disappointed at first that there was nothing I was super jazzed about ordering.  The table next to me got the black bean and beef quesadillas, and they looked super yummy so I went with that. Beau got pork chops with cabbage and root mash (what?) and it was AMAZING.  Root mash, in case you were wondering, is a mashed concoction of carrots, potatoes, rutabegas, parsnips, squash, or any other tuber.  Then I wanted to try a bite of everything on the menu because if they can make cabbage delicious, I can only imagine what the Blue Cheese Crusted Mignottes would be like.

Anyway, the next morning we went for a bike ride in Shenandoah Natoinal Park.  Lovely lovely.

I thought this sign was cool. 

Who spells Mackenzie with out a "c"? This was our lunch destination on Saturday.  30 different burgers on the menu, and Beau chose this monster:

Of course, we stopped by the barn on the way home and Beau sat on Jimmy for the first time.

Fuzzy, fat, and ready for retirement.

I was talking about Jimmer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

horses and seagulls

In October, I competed in my very first horse trial.  Horse trials are different from the shows I've done since I was a kid- those were typically a jumping or flat class that was judged on either the horse or the rider's performance.  Recently, I've gotten into eventing, kind of a triathlon for riding.  There are three phases: dressage, stadium jumping, and cross country.  Dressage is on the flat and judged on the accuracy and performance of a prescribed test.  Stadium jumping is over about 10 jumps in an arena, with penalties for going over time or knocking rails down.  Cross country is over natural obstacles on a longer course in fields and woods and such, with penalities for time.

Jimmy has competed in the highest level of eventing in his younger days, and I entered us in the lowest  divison. :) It's always good when you're super nervous at a show for the jumps to seem small.  Anyway, rather than getting unnecessarily super detailed about everything, here are some photos from the photographer's site.

Beau's photography skills
smiling because I'm finished!

I finished 6th, so I was pleased to be in the ribbons on my first time out! There were lots of professionals in my division, and I saw later I was 3rd among the amateurs.  Yay for horses.

Speaking of event pictures... check out this shot of Beau at the Seagull Century!

Beau went with some guys from our ward down to Assateague and fought head wind and wild ponies for several hours.

Beau's awesome post race hair, with little ridges where the air vents are in his helmet.

Next up is the Mistletoe Half Marathon with my sister in Winston-Salem, NC.  On Saturday, Page asked if I had done a long run that day, and it occurred to me I have done absolutely zero preparation.  Oops.  Let's see if I can squeeze in some training in the next 4 weeks.