About a decade ago Ayelet Waldman wrote “Motherlove” – a controversial essay that ignited a firestorm and outraged those in the parenting community. The piece (reprinted in the New York Times column “Modern Love”) explored the nature of intimate spousal relationships and set forth a simple premise, one that was hard for some to digest. Waldman wrote that her children were not the center of her world, that “they were satellites, beloved but tangential.” That was the controversial part. Though Waldman proclaimed her love for her four children, she said “if you focus all of your emotional passion on your children and you neglect the relationship that brought that family into existence... eventually, things can go really, really wrong.”

Now don’t worry, things aren’t dire on this end, but I have been thinking a lot about how to balance life’s demands, which include work, marriage and motherhood. I don’t agree with all of Waldman’s points (Otis and Theo, you’re not satellites to me!), but there are parts of her essay that resonated with me. I agree with the idea that marriages need nurturing, and in our fast-paced world, quality time can be elusive.
Raising children has lots of rewards, but it can also be exhausting. I love my boys dearly, but by the end of the day I’m spent and it seems like the only thing I have energy for is scrolling through Pinterest (or some other activity that doesn’t require a lot of brain power). Once I pick those little energized bunnies up from school there’s cooking to do, books to read, baths to take, lots of cleaning (I’m very particular), laundry to be folded, and I’ve got to identify and remove the foul and mysterious odors emanating from the car. By the time everything is done it’s about 10 p.m. and I’ve got very little gas left in the tank, no pun intended.

Look, this is part of the life I wanted and it’s what I signed up for. However, I have come to recognize the need to reorganize things a bit and shift priorities a little. I definitely need more quality time with my husband. It’s sometimes hard to carve out the hours needed to reconnect and remind us why we decided to couple in the first place. But where’s there’s a will, there’s a way!

With that in mind….

You can probably imagine how excited I was to be surprised by a childfree trip to Hawaii!!!  It came at a welcome time AND it coincided with my 40th birthday.

Matt worked hard to put the entire vacation together. He “cashed in” thousands of hotel points and miles, snagged rooms at fantastic hotels (relaxation!) and secured a coveted reservation for a cabin inside Halaekala’s crater (adventure!). He coordinated with his parents (who flew across the country) and they provided kid-coverage while we were gone. He arranged our free flights, including first class tickets for the trans-Pacific leg of our trip (unlimited mimosas!), and he did it all without my knowledge. Well, until I spotted a hotel reservation in my inbox. Whoops! (It happened because he used some of my miles too.)

So what can I say about our adventure?

It was spectacular. We relaxed and we connected. We found off-the-beaten-path spots and ate incredible food. I had a fabulous birthday dinner and we went whale watching. We drove the Road to Hana in a jeep (roof down!) and we drank our body weight in Tangelo juice.

But perhaps my favorite part of the trip was the three days we spent hiking inside Haleakala’s crater-- off the grid, without cell service, computers, or distractions. I couldn’t get over how quiet it was and at times we felt like we were the only ones there, though we did come across a couple of Nene birds and some Hawaiian cowboys (see below). We took in the beauty of Hawaii’s black sand dunes and pink volcanic cones. And we hiked out of the crater under the moonlight in order to catch sunrise peaking above the clouds, something on my bucket list which I had always wanted to do. The trip was restorative and adventurous. We felt intrepid and connected. Now I just have to figure out how to incorporate those things into our day-to-day, because one can’t live life on vacation J

Here’s to a well-balanced life!



moab: arches and canyonlands

Three weeks before Theo celebrated his 4th year on Earth, I asked him what he wanted to do to mark the special occasion. His emphatic response was: adopt 32 Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaurs (apparently they would live happily in our backyard and he assured me he would be in charge of water and food distribution) or see "81 hundred million billion stars” (he’s really into the cosmos). I explained that there’s this pesky little thing called extinction and he was about 65 million years too late for his first wish, but I did know just the place where he could see all those stars. I told Theo about a little desert town in Utah called Moab and he was elated.

On a warm summer evening, we piled into the car, crossed our fingers and hoped for a smooth ride, free of tantrums and backseat fighting. This was the first family road trip we had taken the boys on that exceeded the 4-hour mark, but they did really, really well.  After movie and a quick roadside dinner, Theo and Otis both fell asleep…

The next morning, armed with our annual National Parks pass (one of the best things that money can buy), we headed out in search of area’s two main local attractions- Canyonlands and Arches.

Believe me when I tell you that two places are extraordinary. The giant canyon, which has been shaped over millions of years, is how I imagine the surface of Mars might look. Arches is equally spectacular. The formation of arches rarely occur in nature, but the national park, which features the largest collection of arches found anywhere in the world, boasts over 2,000 natural stone arches…along with enormous fin rocks, pinnacles and boulders. If you love geology, this is the place for you.

Now it’s really hot this time of year so we planned our hikes accordingly. We did one in the morning after breakfast and one after dinner, just as the sun was setting and the stars were becoming omnipresent in the summer sky...

The boys learned so much about geology, erosion, constellations and the park’s wildlife. We explained that these “living” places are constantly being altered by the forces of nature. Some of the arches we saw on this trip, like Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch, might not be there when we go back next year. It’s an ephemeral environment that is nothing short of magical.

Both Theo and Otis declared the Utah road trip to be, “one of the best adventures” they’ve ever taken. They loved the ravens, mule deer, lizards and other creatures we saw scampering about the desert floor. They also really enjoyed the hotel pool, which is where we spent many hours each afternoon.  

It’s always a guessing game how these trips will turn out. What the boys called the adventure of their lives provided us, their parents, with a handful of challenging moments. My husband, Matt, characterized the long weekend by using a bowling metaphor and described the excursion this way: there were many strikes (awesome hiking) and a few gutter balls (meltdowns at breakfast, in the hotel room, and before naps). But despite some behavioral hiccups, we both agreed we would do it again in a heartbeat. All in all it was a wonderful birthday adventure and I’m glad we committed to doing it. It really beats another weekend in the playground...

Happy trails.

PS: Theodore, I wish you the best year yet and I know we will continue to make awesome discoveries together!  I love you oodles and oodles!

Photos were taken with my iPhone because my real camera broke on the trip. 


In Arches
Delicate Arch
Landscape Arch
Balanced Rock
Skyline Arch
The Windows.

In Canyonlands
Mesa Arch at Island in the Sky District
Trails in the Needles District 

Accommodations: Moab has terrific camping options (be sure to book ahead) but the heat this time of year, coupled with the fact that we have young kids, made us think a hotel was a better bet. We stayed at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites, which can be pricey ($230-$300 per night), but we used hotel points when we made our reservations.       

Take lots of water. Make sure you know where the water stations are located; Arches only has two spot to fill up your bottles.

Distance: About 5 ½ - ¾ hours from Denver.

great sand dunes national park

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. 

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” 

- Cheryl Strayed 

Over the past few months I've found myself craving spontaneity and adventure. My life has (increasingly) becoming too predictable: school drop-off, work, gym, play dates, naps, meal-prep and so on. We have a calendar and we have routine. Not that there's anything wrong with a little order in life (especially when one has young children), but what was happening to my adventurer-self? The girl who would board a plane to Asia or Central America because a good fare popped up? Or the girl who would hop a boat - one filled with with cattle and ranchers- just to catch a glimpse of southern Chile? Or the 20-something-me who would take the trolley to the French Quarter and do cartwheels down the street just because it was a Tuesday night? I think she was starting to vanish

Now I know that at this stage of my life I have different responsibilities and obligations than I had a decade ago. There's a mortgage, my career, two kids, and college tuition to think of. But still, there's got to be a little room for adventure, some spontaneity, maybe even some silliness in one's life too, no? 

If you’re wondering how this ties in to Great Sand Dunes National Park, I’ll tell you. 

We had no plans to drive down. But when one of our intended guests cancelled their trip to Denver due to the flu, we seized the moment and decided to go for it. We had been talking about visiting the dunes for more than 2 years, but we always put it off. We were always making excuses (It's too far/I have too much work/I'm too tired/Maybe next year...) But not this time! We hastily secured a hotel room (there’s only one place to stay), packed a cooler (there aren’t many eating options at this point in the pre-season) and we drove south for about 3 ¾ hours. It felt good to do something  that wasn't planned months in advance. In fact, it felt great! 
So I encourage you to do something spontaneous! You won't regret it.  In the words (I'm paraphrasing here) of Dr. Scott, the paleontologist on PBS's Dinosaur Train, "Get out there! Get into nature. Have an adventure and make your own discoveries." 

Getting there: We took I-25 South going down to Great Sand Dunes. Going back to Denver we drove US Route 285. 
Total time from Denver: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Fee: $3 per vehicle, but it was National Park Day when we went so there was no entry fee.
Season: May-September. We went in the off-season (April 19th and 20th). Though the weather is usually chilly and windy at this time of year, we had perfect weather. The Medano Creek was flowing. I heard that peak flows are in May and June, but it depends on rainfall throughout the summer. If you're planning a visit keep in mind the sand can reach temperatures that exceed 140 degrees in the summer months- so that may not be the best time to take small children.
Accommodations: There are limited accommodations and camp sites are by reservation. We stayed at The Great Sand Dunes Lodge and the owners, Ratna and Rames, were extremely kind. The rooms were basic and clean. Breakfast was served. Rooms were $85 per night, but they are more expensive in the high season. Oh, and there's a pool. And a grill. This is the only lodging option immediately outside the dunes. The views were spectacular. There are more options in Alamosa, about 30 minutes away. 
For more information visit www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm  

hiking paint mines interpretive park + aran's roasted parsnip & apple soup with mustard croutons

There’s just something about hiking and being outdoors that invigorates the soul. Getting out there is just plain good for you. I'm always looking for new places to explore, so when Jen (of Hazel & Dewey) sent me an email about one of her favorite childhood places to hike, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park not too far from Colorado Springs, I put it on my short list of places to go. 

Recently I’ve been struggling with time management issues. I spent over 3 years out of the workforce raising my sons, but now I'm back in it and full force. Like most women who transition from stay-at-home-mother to hello-working-lady (!), I know that it will take a little bit time to get the balance just right. That said, being outdoors helps me feel centered and it helps me clear my head. It also gives me a bit of perspective.
I had a ton of work to do over the weekend, but I decided to carve out one full day- Saturday- to spend with my husband and kids.  I needed a day to explore some place new - free from work, without my computer, sans laundry piles and dirty dishes. All I wanted to do was spend time in the bright warm sun and hike a bit…everything else could wait for Sunday.
So we walked around. The weather was perfect and the sky was the deepest shade of blue. I'm not sure I've ever seen a bluer sky. The grasses were the color of wheat and straw and the rock formations at the park were beautiful, striped with red. Added to all this good-nature-stuff, was the fact that my boys were perfectly behaved and we spent an afternoon free of temper-tantrums. I'm talking about excellent behavior! (Can I get a witness?!)

While we hiked around for about 2 hours, you can easily go on for longer. There are miles  of hiking trails in the area, but we stayed in the immediate vicinity of the rock formations, which I just learned are called hoodoosIf you're thinking about doing this hike in the summer, just note that there is no shade. We picked a perfect 65-degrees day, and the sun was still really strong because the hike is at about 6400 ft. in elevation.  Now get out there are hike...you can do all your other chores and errands tomorrow!  

PS: Do you have a favorite hiking spot? Tell me about it in the comments section. 

Getting There: About 1 hour and 45 minutes drive from Denver, 35-40 miles west of Colorado Springs.

Difficulty: Relatively easy and not very strenuous- perfect for our kids who hike regularly.
What to Bring: A hat, sunscreen, water and wipes (our kids played in lots of mud and sand).
Facilities: Long toilets, but they were relatively clean.

...and then there was soup.
The past few weeks have been beautiful here in Colorado- with the exception of about 2 days which happened to coincide with a visit from my in-laws (drat!). But even when we get picture-perfect fall weather the bright sunny days turn into chilly nights once the sun goes down. This makes the month of October perfect for daytime hikes and soup-slupring nights. And right now I'm all about this soup!
I found the recipe in Aran Goyoaga's Small Plates, Sweet Treats. It's simple, clean, seasonal and delicious. I topped it off with some brown seed-bread croutons, a drizzle of olive oil and some Gruyere. 
Enjoy and happy trails.
xo, Batya
{Other Small Plates and Sweet Treats recipes on this blog: Grilled Corn + Herbed Chowder}
* * *

Roasted Parsnip & Apple Soup with Mustard Croutons
Adapted ever-so-slightly from Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten-free Cooking by Aran Goyoaga, author of the blog Canelle et Vanille.
Serves 6 to 8
  • 1 pound (450g) parsnips, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 ml) olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt 

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1 medium yellow onion, diced 

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 

  • 1 celery stalk, diced 

  • 2 medium Pink Lady or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced 

  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced 

  • 4 cups of vegetable stock + 1 cup of water (original recipe calls for 5 cups chicken stock) 

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander 

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 

  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 

  • 3 slices bread (recipe calls for Gluten-free, I used brown seed bread), cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
Grated Gruyère cheese, for garnish


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Toss the diced parsnips, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the slat, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the parsnips halfway through the cooking process. 

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery. Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender but not browned. 

3. Add the roasted parsnips, apples, potatoes, stock + 1 cup water, coriander, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. 

4. Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and thyme leaves. Add the diced bread cubes and toss them in the dressing. Lay the croutons on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until golden and crispy. 

5. Puree the soup in a blender. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the soup with the croutons, olive oil and Gruyère. The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or it can be frozen for up to 1 month.

hiking mondays: eldorado canyon (before the flood) + the hike that didn't happen

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the gift of gab. I’m loquacious, a chatterbox of sorts, a natural schmoozer, and even my first grade progress report read something like, “Batya will go far in life, if she just stops talking so much.” This particular character trait wasn’t terribly helpful during my high school years (it’s hard to concentrate on chemistry when there’s so much else to talk about), but it’s served me well as a relatively new transplant to Denver.
I talk to people wherever I go, and if I happen to stumble upon someone who’s native to this town, or someone who’s been living here for a long time, I always ask him or her about their favorite places to hike because I've found that these people know where to go... 

A few Saturdays ago we took the boys to Cranmer Park, which has some pretty spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains- especially at sunset. There I met a grandmother named Mary and we started up a conversation. She told me about Denver's past, her parent’s peach orchard near Grand Junction, her favorite swimming holes, and her favorite hikes - including the "4th of July" trail near Eldora. 
The hike got its name because typically you aren’t able to get to the trail head before the first week of July, thanks in large part to the high elevation and late snows which are common in the area. But once the snow melts and the dirt road is passable, this hike becomes very popular because of its spectacular waterfalls and majestic views. 
I knew we were heading to the mountains... 
I did a bit of research and found a blog that said the trail is gorgeous and "you don’t need an SUV to get there!" Being the proud Prius owners that we are, we were looking forward to getting into the mountains with the sort-of promise that we would be able to make it. Can you see where this is going?
We piled into the car and set out in the direction of Eldora, which is a bit past Nederland, which is a bit past Boulder. The paved road ended and then the dirt road began. After about 15 minutes of driving I started having flashbacks to the time when I got two flat tires near Mt. Adams in Oregon. And then I began to panic when our wheels started skidding and we saw a deep ravine up ahead (that I thought we'd get stuck in). Knowing that our car just wasn't gonna make it, we decided to turn around...
Anyway, this is a long-winded story about why I'm not sharing the "4th of July" hiking photos with you. I will at some point - but maybe after we rent an SUV for the day and regroup a bit. In the meantime I found these photos from Eldorado Canyon (an amazing state park close to Boulder) that I hiked with my friend Tina, her daughter and my boys about a month ago.

We took the Fowler trail and passed lots of rock climbers (look closely and you’ll see them). And after the hike we walked down to the mountain-fed river, which was really cold and turned out to be the perfect place to chill our watermelon.
Last week Colorado got a season's worth of rain in just a few days. There's been unprecedented and historic flooding in and around the Boulder area, as well as other parts of Colorado. My heart goes out to those who have been impacted by the storms. 
This post was scheduled to be published before the flooding, and upon checking out the current state of the area I discovered that the park has been closed indefinitely due to unsafe conditions. 
If you’re inclined to help out flood victims, here are some resources that you may find useful. I decided to post this hike anyway because Eldorado Canyon is a beautiful place and it's worth seeing what it looked like before the storms.
Wishing you happy trails and drier days ahead…