The Professor Goes West//Day 4//Sleeping Bags

Day 4—Wednesday, May 23, 2018

We arrived at our hotel in Moab, Utah late last night. The dark drive down into the valley on US-191 with the ominous ridges on either side filled me with a sense of dread. In the morning I read in On the Road about Sal’s dream of a shrouded traveler following him through the desert:

“Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven. Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death: death will overtake us before heaven. The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sign and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death. But who wants to die? In the rush of events I kept thinking about this in the back of my mind.” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Pt. 2, Ch. 2, p. 124)

 This is what the desert stirs up in me—the awareness of death—but for every dead tree and bare branched bush there are hundreds of living sagebrush and juniper bushes, cactus flowers, red ants, and little lizards.

 The red rock of Arches National Park made my heart swell with emotion and a kind of ecstasy when we climbed up into the North Window, stood under it and looked out over the rocky canyons below. The full breeze swept through the arch and I simply felt my prayer of awe and praise and desire for God.

We lunched after a hike to view the less mighty but iconic Delicate Arch. Later we drove up the cliffside to the Island in the Sky. I have longed for years to go to the top of a mesa, mostly because of the story of Tom Outlander in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Tom falls for a mesa while cattle herding:

The hillside behind was sandy and covered with tall clumps of dear horn cactus, but there was nothing but grass to the south, with streaks of bright yellow rabbit brush. Along the river the cottonwoods and quaking asps had already turned gold. Just across from us, overhanging us, indeed stood the mesa, a pile of purple rock, all broken out with red sumac and yellow aspens up in the high crevices of the cliffs…It was the sort of place a man would like to stay in forever. (Pt. 2, Ch. 2)

Our mesa was a red-orange rock which they had cut a road in up the less steep side. When on top it just looked like normal range land except for the steep drop and the canyon beyond. We sped along through the park with mountains and canyons and mesas on the horizon. We hiked out to the mesa arch, and then just sat on the yellow rock in awe of the steep drops and the maze of canyons of black and red below. It was incredible. I think I will long for it even more now that I have seen it. With reluctance we left and returned to our hotel for showers and supper.


Besides having a good sleeping pad, a good sleeping bag is essential. The professor has a mummy bag from his scouting days rated to some crazy temperature below zero. I used it once sleeping outside in the Fall on a retreat college, and it was extremely warm (but as I did not have a good sleeping pad my sleep was not so great). He is super happy with it.

I asked the professor to pick out sleeping bags for the rest of the family. He did quite a bit of research and settled on the Coleman Palmetto Cool Weather Sleeping Bag. We decided on the adult size bag all of the children, since we figured it was worth the investment. It is designed to be used in 30-50° F. We do not currently plan on doing extreme winter camping as a family, but the Minnesota summer nights often drop below 50°, especially if we camp up the North Shore. This range was perfect for the high elevation camping we did at the Grand Canyon and Great Basin National Park, but also worked well for the campsites near the coast in California. The coldest night we slept out in was upper 20s in Custer State Park, South Dakota, and we all stay plenty warm.

In case you were wondering we used our own pillows. I put them all in washable pillow protectors to keep them free of outside dirt and bugs. The covers worked well—we still use them inside for the kids!

Tomorrow I will talk about nighttime sleepwear.

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The Professor Goes West//Day 3//Sleeping Pads

Day 3—Tuesday, May 22, 2018

We woke up at 6 AM to find that T (almost 3) had rolled halfway across the tent and was sleeping at F’s (5) feet. We broke and left camp shortly after 8 AM. In Custer, South Dakota we stopped at the old historic bank which has been converted to a coffee shop to get caffeine. The old building was restored but maintained the Old West feel combined with the smell of coffee beans. Fortunately there were no fights or shooting while I filled the coffee cups.

We entered Wyoming on US-18. The Black Hills dropped away to wide open rolling grasslands covered in scattered sagebrush. Every creek out here has worn away a small canyon and is surrounded by trees—cottonwoods. They are the only trees in the vast landscape except for the firs growing on the jutting hillsides. Rocky buttes and grass-topped mesas arise out of the rolling, open fields.

At 11:25 AM in the small city of Douglass, Wyoming (home of the jackalope) we crossed a sturdy bridge spanning the North Platte River sparing us the worry of waiting a week for the water to get low enough to safely ford.

After passing through Casper, we came to the Oregon Trail crossing of the North Platte. The ferry is no longer under operation so we took the bridge across. We made it to the famous Independence Rock about 1 PM. It was a very breezy spot as a thunderstorm loomed in the distance. We walked out to the rock from the rest area and admired its large size. The professor and I could not help but touch it and sit on it as the travelers who came upon the Oregon trail must have done. It was an inspiring, unifying moment to feel the rock which so many had felt and etched their names into.

On the way back to the car things almost took a turn for the worst as we came upon a yellow snake with black markings. We made our luncheon and got back into the car and passed through Muddy Gap in the rain. We pulled over during a hail storm and then passing into the Red Desert in the Great Divide Basin faced a strong cross wind. We got gas in Rawlins and saw the old frontier prison where many outlaws must have been incarcerated. After a long, lonely stretch we finally came into Colorado where we followed a curving road through the western mountains of the Rockies.

My biggest opposition to camping was that I had never spent a comfortable night on the ground. The professor claimed that all I needed was good cushioning between me and the ground and I would be totally fine. I was skeptical and our first camping trip I slept in a camping cot raised above the ground. This was fine, but awkward and time consuming to put together.

For our big trip, I agreed to try this 3 inch thick self-inflating Therm-a-rest mattress. Let me tell you, it was very comfortable—more comfortable than our ten-year-old mattress on our bed. They are super easy to set up. We simply opened their valves once the tent was set up and unrolled the rest of the bedding. After about 10 minutes of self-inflating, we gently blew them up to our preferred firmness. The professor sleeps on his back, so he liked his on the firm side. I am a side sleeper, and as a woman happen to have hips. I made mine firm enough to keep me from feeling the ground but with enough give to accommodate my curves comfortably.

The kids all used the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic Foam sleeping pad. They all slept great, though our nine year being a light sleeper said that she felt the ground sometimes. I think we will probably upgrade her to a self-inflating for future trips. The older children were able to help set up and roll up the foam pads whenever we made or broke camp respectively, which was a great help.

I feel like this has turned into an advertisement for Therm-a-Rest, and maybe it kind of is! They make a great product! The professor tells me that he has friends from the Boy Scouting days that bought an off-brand and regretted it.

Tomorrow I will talk about sleeping bags!

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The Professor Goes West//Day Two//Camping with Little Ones

Day Two–Monday, May 21, 2018

We woke up to a cool, crisp morning, sunshine streaming through the trees in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The mountains are covered in tall pines. Our campsite is right above a beautiful, sparkling lake that we have to climb a hill in order to see.

We spent the morning driving through the Black Hills to get to Mt. Rushmore–the American Icon of four presidents’ faces carved into the granite of a mountainside with dynamite. T, the two year old, was not impressed. We later all agreed that the stunning natural beauty of this landscape surpasses the work of dynamite and calculated blasts.

We lunched at Sylvan lake which sparkled reflecting the stunning blue of the sky. We hiked a trail that curved around the lake and took us over and through giant six storey tall rocks.

It took the professor years to convince me to go camping with him as a family. My only previous experience had been as a Girl Scout with an inadequate sleeping bag on the hard ground. He, on the other hand, is an Eagle Scout with much experience in pitching tents, camping cooking, roughing it, and knew all the supplies we might need. I eventually agreed on one condition, that I be neither pregnant nor breastfeeding.

We made our first attempt when my youngest was two years old—our others were four, six, and eight. He slept in a travel crib. It went surprisingly well. He did wake up for a stretch and needed to be resettled—but we made it through the night. I personally would not attempt taking ones younger than two camping. Even at two we had to keep close tabs on him as he charged around the campsite, close to the road, and made mad dashes towards the nearby river.

Our trip this past summer was much smoother with the kids three, five, seven, and nine. The older ones were able to help with the setting up and breaking down, but most of all with helping the little ones stay happy and out of trouble. And all the kids slept and stayed in their sleeping bags.

The reason I like to wait has more to do with how my babies sleep—in cribs out of my room after they have outgrown the co-sleeper bassinet. I suppose a co-sleeping family might do well on a queen air mattress. I have a friend who told me about using a camping rocking chair for breastfeeding at night while camping. Other ideas for taking babies camping would be to bring a Pack ‘n Play for the baby to go in at the campsite outside or a travel baby jumper.

I am glad that I gave it a try when I did. I look forward to many adventures to come!

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The Professor Goes West//A Year Later//Day One

I  have an exciting blog series to kick it off.

Last May-June my family took a three week camping trip Out West. We traveled for 23 days, camped 11 nights, visited 10 National Parks, and saw 11 of the Franciscan California Missions. I kept a handwritten daily journal of our trip.

Since Lyme disease thwarted my plan to write about our family camping trip last summer, I will be posting my journal entries from the trip on the anniversary of each day of the trip. And include some family camping tips along the way.

Today is day one!

Day One–Sunday, May 20, 2018

We pulled out of our driveway at 7:50 am on a cool, sunny morning. The Minnesota river was full and glittering. Someone had built a bridge so we were able to cross without incident. 

Bloomington at 8:11 am–we crossed the Ferry Bridge–if we had come this way before 1996 we would have had to take a ferry. At 8:50 am we crossed yet another bridge over the Minnesota River. We followed the southern western shore of the river for many miles after that. At 10:12 am we passed a freight train with three engines next to a grain elevator. Around elevensies we passed by many wind farms and large plowed fields. 

We entered South Dakota on I-90 at 11:30 am. We took a 60 minute stop at Falls Park in Sioux Falls at 11:45 am. The kids climbed all over the pink rocks out into the river. The rapids created beds of fluffy foam. We saw the ruins of an old granary. 

Later in the afternoon we came to the rolling, soft green hills of the muddy Missouri. Trees and black cows dotted the hillsides and the giant expanse of the sky spread wide around us. We crossed safely over the smooth, paved bridge thankful that we did not have to caulk the wagon and float since we have forgotten the caulk. 

We spent the later afternoon exploring the Badlands. We hiked through them climbing a ladder up and down a steep cliffside. No one fell and there were no sprained ankles.

We saw some game–a few buffalo, antelope, deer, and a few mountain goats. Our food stock is still high so we decided not to hunt. 

We further spotted 20 head of elk on the mountainside in Custer State Park. We got into camp around 7:45 pm, and had everyone tucked in by 9:45 pm. The night promised to be cold, yet quiet. We heard coyotes, which I mistook for yelling teenagers, howling in the night off in the mountains. 

Rise Up–A Devotional on Virtue for Kids!

Over a year ago my eldest daughter mentioned to me that she was interested in having a new prayer book for devotional reading. This lead to my idea of collaborating with Blessed is She to create a beautiful prayer book for children rich in the Catholic tradition of becoming holy through growth in virtue. Further, I wanted to have a book for my children that taught them how to pray by learning to place themselves in God’s presence, make an an examination of their daily lives, and then received inspiration from the Holy Spirit. 

After a lot of writing and editing and waiting, this book has finally come together. I am pleased to introduce Rise Up:Shining With Virtue. It has 15 chapters broken down in seven days–with Scripture or a saint quote and a reflection for every day. Each chapter is written by a different Blessed is She writer and covers a different virtue.

My role in Rise Up was to choose the virtues and then explain them to the reader. The book begins with my introduction, which explains what virtue is and how to grow in virtue in general. Each chapter focuses on an individual virtue. I based the introduction for each chapter on St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of the virtue in his Summa Theologiae taking the language down to the level of a child. 

It starts with the three Theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These are followed by the four main Cardinal virtues prudence, justice, courage/fortitude, and temperance. The other virtues are parts or subvirtues of the Cardinal virtues: gratitude, generosity, obedience, perseverance, patience, humility, studiousness, and honesty. The book is written in such a way that children can unpack and apply growing in virtue to their daily lives, but also decode the more abstract ones that are more difficult to understand.

Then comes my favorite part in each chapter: a passage from one of the Gospels which demonstrates this virtue and a reflection on that Scripture leading the reader into imaginative prayer. Fifteen different Blessed is She writers wrote the five middle days of the week for each chapter based on a short Scripture selection or Saint quotation. On the final day of the week, the reader is encouraged to reflect, pray, and make resolutions on how to live this virtue out.  

We were super excited to get an Imprimatur for this book. The Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat means that a Church official has read over the book at the bishop’s request and has declared that nothing in the book contradicts or is opposed to the defined body of Church doctrine or goes against the moral law. As a parent, I look for this on Catholic books for my children. It helps me to know they are reading the truth.

It is so, so beautiful. If you have a kid in your life ready to grow in holiness or who has just received a Sacrament and needs a great gift. Check out this book. I can’t wait for my kids to pray with it. 

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