Category Archives: Family


The first time in a long time, I really felt like writing a Christmas letter. Looking back, there were so many landmark accomplishments in 2017, we don’t even need to talk about toils, trials and setbacks.

For location, location, location, you can’t beat sleeping in a beautiful place whether in the company vehicle or your own camp worthy conveyance. Here’s a sampling of my favorite, beautiful, sleeping in the car locations:

Ouray Colorado

Notom Road just outside Capitol Reef

Moki Dugway near Muley Point

Williams Arizona near the Grand Canyon Railway

Bluff Utah for a star party

Dixie National Forrest

The main difficulty with sleeping in the company vehicle lies in remembering to transfer all the necessary items from your own, perfectly outfitted Subaru, into the company car while still leaving room for the merchandise you are delivering or the event you are supporting. I spent the night in the company vehicle four times in 2017. I matched that number in my Outback. Though smaller, my Subaru has lots of little niceties- things like curtains, a sleeping mat, a fuller range of hiking gear.

You make discoveries when you sleep in a car – whether the company vehicle or your own. You acknowledge things like:

Burrrr it’s cold. All I really want for Christmas is a zero degree, down sleeping bag.

I spent the first two and a half months of 2017 at Natural Bridges National Monument where I am pleased to say I hiked all the trails. On March 15th I arrived in Page AZ. I waited through a long hot summer in Page for a chance to really get out and hike and explore the area. With temperatures often breaching 100 degrees, all hikes had to be completed before 8:00 am. While I waited – not so patiently – I swam in Lake Powell every night after work just to lower my core body temperature to a comfortable state.

September temperatures slacked off enough to start seeking beautiful trails. In October came reward in a big way for a tedious and difficult summer. With my daughter, Andrea, I hiked the South Kaibab Trail into Grand Canyon, stayed the night at Phantom Ranch and hiked out the next day via Bright Angel Trail.

In November I got the serendipitous chance to drive to Kanab and spend a few hours with son Philip. Also in November, I spent a weekend near Torrey with my brother and sister-in-law. There have been scattered trips to Grand Junction to visit family, friends, son Kevin and grandkids, though not enough to satisfy my parents.

I continue to write and make music-mostly for my own fulfillment. A few more experiences are in my inspirational arsenal and a few more guitar chords under my belt.

I wish you a Merry Christmas 2017!

In the coming New Year, I wish you the healing tonic of getting out in Nature. Nature is beautiful. Nature heals. Nature is God’s gift of love to those of us who are unable to find solace in the arms of a human lover. Whether you hike, bike or drive; camp, glamp, or pamper, I wish you Beauty – and the Great Outdoors.

Sipapu Bridge largest of the Natural Bridges
Sipapu Bridge largest of the Natural Bridges
Lake Powell from the air
Lake Powell from the air
Andrea heading down the steep and multitudinous switch backs of the South Kaibab.
Andrea heading down the steep and multitudinous switch backs of the South Kaibab.
Me smiling at Bright Angel Bridge
Me smiling at Bright Angel Bridge


A hike in honor of my brother’s birthday

I took a hike in honor of my little brother’s birthday. How could he possibly be 59 when I am still young and fit enough to exchange a 2-mile hike for 6 miles on a whim? Six miles is a feat I could not have pulled off when I was half his age, by the way. But age has its privileges and its victories!

“Where do you want me to hike in honor of your birthday?” I asked.

“You know the area better than I,” he responded. “You choose.”

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest and most fragile of the natural bridges. My brother is not the oldest nor the most fragile in our family, so that’s out. Also, Owachomo is a short hike, less than half a mile round trip. Not a fitting distance in honor of a brother – or my day off.

Sipapu Bridge is most fitting, I thought. It is the second oldest bridge after Owachomo and the second largest natural bridge in the United States. Of the three bridges here in the monument it is the most symmetrical and beautiful. Besides, Sipapu means “place of emergence” and my brother is obviously the more emerged member of our family. But Sipapu Trail is also steepest and lies in shadow. We have been advising visitors against Sipapu for the past week because of the cold and melting snow.

Kachina Bridge, the youngest of the three bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument, is so named because of the Kachina symbols found in the petroglyphs in the area surrounding the bridge. Petroglyph hunting seemed fitting for my brother’s birthday. Destination decided. Three quarters of a mile down. Wander around a bit taking pictures of petroglyphs. Three quarters of a mile back up. Easy Peasy, right?


My roommate expected me back in a couple hours. I was pleased with my total time of four hours. She will learn not to trust in my early return with an open day, a prepared daypack and (most importantly this time of year) strap-on YakTrax.

Trail Diary for a brother’s birthday hike: Made it down the slippery slope to Kachina in excellent time. Found the Petroglyphs and wanted more. Did a bit of exploring. Found more Petroglyphs. Wandered up the canyon toward Sipapu. Remembered that Horse Collar Ruin was somewhere up this canyon. Kept putting one foot in front of the other. Canyon often in sun and just as often in shadow. Passed Horse Collar Ruin where I had hoped to find sunny spot to eat a snack.  Sunny spot occupied by other hikers. Found fabulous pictographs – an entire congregation of high-fives – just beyond Horse Collar Ruin. Rounded the bend and saw Sipapu up ahead. Ascended Sipapu Trail. Steep ascent, manmade staircase. Snowy and icy in spots. Crossed the road to Mesa Trails. Mud slippery and sloggy across the mesa. Ate apple and peanut butter while slipping and sliding. Successful and satisfying hike in honor of my brother’s birthday. Returned to residence to be greeted by Bear’s Ears Monument news. Well now, that rather upstaged my efforts.  Happy Birthday, Brother!








The Retailing of Mother’s Day

In the late seventies I worked in the women’s sportswear department of a locally well-known and respected retail store. Our biggest sales day of the year was the Saturday preceding Mother’s Day. Everyone has a mother – 100% of the population – and most take time to remember and honor her at least once a year through gifts or our presence.

Christmas Eve runs a close second in record retail, but Christmas shopping is often fraught with chaos; noisy crowds, toys that screech, having to find something for everyone when not everyone has needs and some of the things on Santa’s list have not even been invented yet.

Part of the joy of shopping for Mother’s Day is there is only one person to shop for. Most mothers receive well and are not too picky. They are quite practiced at receiving dandelions, broken robin’s eggshells and refrigerator pictures. I have only one mother and it is a joy to try and find just the right thing to delight her. Gifts are part of my love language and I love to give. Turns out however, that delighting her is no easy task. She’s a little concerned about the cost of things and the value of my time and she does have her style standards. Nevertheless, I ploughed through two shopping trips this year.

The offerings were especially good with regard to color and fabric and cut. I found several things that suited her needs to a T. I even went back for more. As she revolved in a new skirt and blouse, dad and I complimented her. “It’s very nice,” she said, “I got a gift in the mail from your brother today too. But we are going to have to put a stop to this gift giving.” “Why?” I asked. “Why would we stop now just when we are old enough to afford to give?”

Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours! May we never stop giving and receiving. May we always have the joy of finding just the right thing for a special person.

Cremate me, then throw the concert of the century

She wanted to die doing something she loved. And she loved hiking in beautiful places. Each time she hiked, she made her peace with the God of the Universe. On that particular day, she thought about dying. This is a beautiful place, she thought. I am comfortable here alone, in my solitude. I would be okay with dying here, although I am feeling quite healthy. But, if I should die, would my grown kids know what to do? Would they shed needless tears or spend useless money? Would they cry over the fact that I died alone, out in the wild? Tears of grief should only be shed because they miss me and loved me. There is nothing wrong with dying (or living) in solitude. Would they feel compelled, out of grief, loss or guilt to spend money on useless things like caskets and plots and headstones? Ah, there it was, the challenge of dying without money. It is expensive to die in a hospital. It is expensive to die on the trail. It is expensive to die in your sleep. It is expensive to legally dispose of a body no matter how and where that body breathes its last. Therein she was not ready to die. She had little money to leave to her descendants and less still that she was willing to have them spend on the dead! Money should be spent on life! What she did have in abundance to leave with them was music and a love of music. She had birthed, raised-up, trained and then released; not one, not two, but three passionate musicians to the world. Different genres, different eras, different goals, yet all three saturated with acute audio receptors, secure pitch, word-smithed lyrics and throbbing rhythms. Music told the story of her life and her contribution to the lives of others. And this is what she wanted to communicate to her offspring:

Cremate me. Scatter my ashes in a beautiful place. And if you choose to spend money, let it be on musicians. Throw the concert of the century. Tune the piano! If there are any black limos, use them to ferry musicians. Pack them full of instruments and bands. Let the music be well-prepared and well-performed. Skip the church and choose the concert hall or the amphitheater.  A church building does not add one bit of holiness. For that matter, skip the speakers and preachers. Do not. Do not go down the moralistic route of speakers who try to shame, blame, coerce or manipulate the audience into a change of heart or lifestyle. The only kind of speakers I want to celebrate my life are those necessary for amplification of sound. Let the virtuoso string players play their adagios. Let the pop vocalists belt. Let the guitarists and drummers rock. Let the gospel choir sway and stack up the harmonies. Let the pipe organ thunder Bach. Let it be music well-prepared and well-performed. Fill the time with musical memories. Let the music comfort and speak. A good piece of music needs no explanation. Cut the preaching. Nix the manipulation. Play the music. Tell the story with music. Love and support the musicians. Take a trip down musical memory lane in my honor. Take a hike in a beautiful place. And I shall be at peace.

An abandoned house and a kept house – the tale of two households

She lives in an abandoned house and spends her days away, searching for jobs, and her nights shivering under extra comforters because there is no warmth in an abandoned house. Another person sleeps there too, and is employed. But still, whether the occupants are at home or at work the house is abandoned, for you see, something that would make that house a home is missing. No one fills the role of keeper of the house. There are two who huddle there. It would seem they could come up with an understanding of how to make that house a safe haven or even a comfortable temporary harbor. But plans are most successful when everyone concerned is on board. A team of one becomes exhausted without reciprocity from the other.

Meanwhile, in the same state, two other unrelated and unattached people occupy a large house. They both work and they both travel frequently. The house is often empty of people – but never abandoned. Both people are housekeepers. Broken things get fixed. Needs of the house are addressed as a means of meeting the needs of people. Both principal occupants are agreed that a stitch in time saves nine and that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Both the principal occupants understand the value of beauty and cleanliness in making a house a place of refuge, renewal and restoration for all who lodge there. The house is a place of welcome for all who pass through, whether for tea, dinner, or a temporary bed.

All four of the persons living in the two households share a philosophy in common: people are more important than things. All four verbally champion: “Use things, love people.” (The polar opposite, of course, is to use people and love things.) Yet, in an attempt to emphasize loving, some ignore or neglect material things. Notice how the two in the second household operate: Needs of the house are addressed as a means of meeting the needs of people. How much more effective and efficient it is to use things to love people!

A Little Christmas Wine

She was just 18-and-a-half and not a drop of alcohol had ever touched her lips. This was partly because of temperance promises made as a youngster and partly because she lived at home until she turned 18. During those first 18 years of life, her parents kept pretty strict tabs on her activities. Not legal. Not allowed. Not according to their standard? Not allowed. This was her first Christmas away from home. She was now a full-fledged adult, married five months previous.

Along with her teenaged husband, she was living in Germany, land of cautionary beer. Her husband was on the fast track for sampling everything adulthood had to offer. The young woman was doing her best to cling to the strict religious rules with which she was raised. There were times they clashed. Christmas Eve was a narrow escape.
The young couple was invited downstairs, from a tiny attic apartment to the living quarters of the landlord, to share in the festivities. Sparklers on a Christmas Tree. A full spread of breads and cold cuts served at the family table. An exchange of gifts around the tree. And then, a cut glass decanter passed round with tiny crystal cordial glasses.

A quiet soul and not given to making scenes, the young woman endeavored to pass. But the 19-year-old son of the host noticed. “Why do you not drink?” he asked with some suspicion, re-offering the decanter. The new husband, who could make a scene when the principle warranted it, knit his brows and glared at his teenage bride. The meaning was clear, “You are embarrassing me!” Meekly, she took the cup. Not out of blind submission or intimidation, but in respect to her hosts. In her quietness, she had been reading earlier that day. And what she read, loud and clear was: “ [When you are invited to a feast] eat or drink whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.” Obedience to a higher ideal.

An hour later she became violently ill. But it was not due to a fastidious reaction of conscience. Nor was it caused entirely by the abundance and variety of bread and salami urged on the couple by hospitable Germans. The illness continued four months. In late July, she brought forth her firstborn son. And they named him something rather Irish sounding that meant handsome by birth. To the young woman, he was the most handsome baby she had ever seen. But he was only the teeniest tiniest bit Irish and not a bit German.

I would like to say she never gave a second thought to rules about what she ate and drank ever again, but that is not the truth. The truth is, she still had a lot of growing and learning to do and she had only just begun to think for herself.

Undercover movie stars and Facebook stalking my grown kids

I had been writing for several years and was already published as a High Timber Times correspondent when I started blogging in 2006.  My daughter-in-law had a photo blog, which she updated regularly with photos of my infant grandsons; and she was honing her writing skills by blogging with other young mothers.  Shortly, I became addicted to the daily routine of checking out the internet and composing comments.

By 2008 conventional author wisdom said writers needed a platform on Facebook.  Dutifully, I built a profile. The first friends I chose were my technology wise children. With the oldest in media business, the second in college and the third in high school, I lurked, I stalked and basically kept up with their busy lives by watching for daily photos and conversations.

I visited college.  I met my daughter’s dorm mates and support network. I friended some. Others made insightful comments.  I followed them. I met my younger son’s girlfriends.  I shared prom pictures. Some of the girls remain my Facebook friends today.

So really, is it any wonder I proceeded to “research” my daughter’s new network when she began working high in the mountains at an adventure camp this summer?

Of course I began with Facebook.  For starters, I had to find the last names of the young men by cross-referencing mutual friends. Then I plugged a name into Google.

Up came a series of images. The usual suspects.  An accountant. A couple of college professors. A farm-team athlete. Gasp!  But, who was this movie star?  Hot.  With a photo like that you’d have to be a household name like Zac Efron. Maybe James Marsden. Well-known heartthrob! Yet, the features are unmistakably those of said co-worker. But the hair!  The clothes! Expensive. The obvious mark of a professional. Publicist. Stylist. Savvy photographer. “Andrea,” I croaked aloud,  “do you have any idea who you are working with?” Alert! Movie star undercover at AIE Base Camp!

Leather jacket. White, white for the T-shirt.  Confident and engaging pose.  Reminiscent of, of…. Wait – let me think while I fan myself. That’s it!  Senior pictures. Reminiscent of the senior pictures of my youngest son. Photo shoot compliments of my oldest son.

Who is this undercover movie star who works with my daughter in the wilds of Colorado? Relax mom, these are only senior pictures of a hot teenager with intuitive style. And the artistic work of a savvy professional photographer!

Philip Shellabarger 2009, Photo credit Kevin Decker, Paradice Studios
Philip Shellabarger 2009, Photo credit Kevin Decker, Paradice Studios


When octogenarians fail to individuate

The woman was barely in her sixties, trim, fit, well-kept; in fact, she still shopped for her clothes in the junior department, not because she was an ill-adjusted old lady, but because clothes from every other department had to be adjusted to fit.  She didn’t look a day over 45. She arrived at the party late, when things were breaking up and people were dispersing – an accurate indicator of her desire to be somewhere else, maybe up in the mountains, solitary. A distant acquaintance had invited her to this neighborhood party – pressed her to come – to someone else’s neighborhood.  Her parent’s neighborhood.  So she curtailed her hiking activities on her day off and slid in – to old home plate -just in time to greet the other guests and wave goodbye.

For a moment, her eighty-two-year-old mother’s face lit with pleasure on seeing her. Then a passing and quickly veiled expression of shock was directed toward her still shapely and tan legs protruding from stylish shorts, followed by composed greeting and introductions. Octogenarian Mama covered well, but her compulsions did not escape the 60-year-old woman. Mama tugged two or three times at the side of her own skirt bringing the fabric ever lower over her knees. It was a familiar gesture to the woman, one her mother employed liberally during the teen years to remind the daughter to cover her legs, to be more modest. 42 years.  42 years later, Mama could beam with pride outwardly, yet her subconscious betrayed her embarrassment through compulsive action.

It would be uncharitable to infer the older woman had not grown over the years. In as much as she was capable, within her limits, she made the effort to acknowledge the changes in culture, the successes of her children, to express her pride in their achievements, though they were certainly not making the exact choices she instilled in them. Like most mothers of grown children, she wanted to be a part of their lives as often as possible.  And like most grown, well-adjusted adults, the children pursued lives of their own in other cities and visited their parents sparingly. Healthily, the children, it seems, have become successful individuals. It is Mama who has failed to individuate. One simple gesture revealed volumes.  She still sees the daughter as an extension of herself. Daughter’s legs are showing and she is mortified. Who can save her from the shame?  Only herself. She must shake off that mortification and individuate. Learn to be happy and at peace by savoring her own independence as a unique individual. Respect and applaud the independence and individuation of others.  She is no longer responsible for her children.  Her reputation does not rest on them. And, in truth, they are not responsible for her happiness.


Vacations are for light and laughter

She meant it in love, but I almost laughed in her face.  As I exited the door for my  much longed for camping vacation, my housemate admonished, “You be sure and camp where there’s enough light, now.”  She meant, be safe.  She meant; we care about you. I intended to sleep in National Parks and State Park campgrounds.  Is a million stars enough?

It is good to begin a vacation laughing. After all, absence of laugher is a critical deficit. I was burned out. Discouraged.  I needed nature. I needed therapy.  Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

In my wanderings, I hoped to find clarity, specific guidance or maybe even a new life.   Is that too much to hope for? In place of clarity, I got peace. Rather than specific guidance, I got to travel and hike with my daughter. Sometimes the best therapist in the world is a wise daughter, sister or cousin. I didn’t get a new life, but I got to nose about in ghost towns and open spaces and contemplate old lives – including mine.  That too, brings peace.

And there was laughter.  The meal at Garbanzos was already well flavored with the humor of my two youngest before they were motivated to snap and post a selfie.  Being national siblings day, it was a legitimate social plan, rather than rude self-absorption.   As they fussed over their phones, I asked Philip if he wanted to add my leftovers to his takeout box.

He looked up and deadpanned, “We can’t talk to you right now, we’re on facebook.”

“Very well,” said I and whipped out my own cellphone.

A moment later, Philip looked up. “Mom!  Did you just voice text me?”

Yes, Son.  Yes, I did.

I may not have found clarity, specific guidance or a new life, but I loved talking with my grown children and seeing them relate.  I think I may have found myself again, for my sense of humor is intact.

As I said on facebook: Vacation is for those times your heart has come up missing, and you need to go and find it.

Solitary, Solitude, Single – Conversations with the Ghost of Christmas Present

Ah, ghost of Christmas Present, you are inescapably linked to the Ghost of Christmas Past!  Everything in the past informs the present. Even the peanut butter fudge of the past casts an appearance on the waistline of the present.  And so, precisely because there were melancholy times in the past, I am alone in the Present.

Yet, precisely because there were good times in the Past, I am melancholy in my aloneness. Ghost of Christmas Present, let us linger for a moment over the fabulous times in memory and why they inform the loneliness of the present.  See the children, beautiful, talented, sensitive, intuitive children frolicking in the snow. See them performing in candlelight and on stages; watch as they open a crazy kind of warm winter clothing called cabin cozies in anticipation of acquiring a cabin.  See the giggles and hugs and thank yous received for just the right gift – just the right need met with some thoughtful act on Christmas Eve or Morn.  Ah, Ghost.  Did you even consider that the deep joys of that present would cause the deep yearning of the empty nest?

No.  Because, rightly so, we were present in that moment, not straining ahead to the future. Because I was a big part of that planning and anticipation and acquiring of a cabin, two children now have a quaint little cabin in which to make merry for the holidays, though I am no longer included in that merrymaking. Because I had children early in life, I now have grandchildren- and they are near enough to enjoy weekly.

So, Ghost of Christmas Present, what do I want today? 

  • To be present in my life as it is now
  • To be at peace
  • To be happy

These are not things you merely wait for, cloistered in your room. Admittedly, there are times I have to make myself go out – make myself take my fun like medicine.  To be at peace and to be happy requires large doses of beauty. I needed beauty recently so I made myself go to The Nutcracker.  I took time to dress up and I am glad I did even though nobody dresses anymore. The casting was superb, the dancers exquisite, the music soothing. Have you considered what an advantage it is to go out alone, to the symphony, when there is a single seat available front and center?

There have been other successes this year as well. In daily life, I manage a bookstore / gift store – a most covetable position for a writer, author and people-watcher. Over two separate weeks of vacation, I entered heartily into travel, visiting Zion, Bryce, Mesa Verde, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Hovenweep, Canyon of the Ancients, Black Canyon, and Petroglyph National Parks and Monuments. I slept four nights in my Subaru. I hiked all 46 miles of trails in Colorado National Monument as well as trails in the parks mentioned and numerous trails the length of Western Colorado.  This is good, for there is nothing quite like hiking for keeping me in the present, at peace and happy – unless it is music.

Music continues to engage me in the present as well as bringing peace and happiness.  The public performances have been fewer, the private more numerous. However, the public performances of my three grown children have increased and the young musicians I raise in the present are my grandchildren.

Walk on, weary traveler, in search of truth and beauty. In that way will you find peace and happiness and the ability to be present in your life as it is now.