Love. This. Quote.

Play quote by Dr. Stuart Brown

With a new school year ahead of you, how will you incorporate play (or playfulness) in your classroom - both in a preK-12 and/or your college classroom?

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, an expert on play, play is essential in learning for all ages and stages. Essential!  Funny how most USAmericans think of play as something completely separate from learning or completely separate from working.  What if play co-existed with either of those - learning or working?  Would you believe me if I told you the research says your learners and workers would be more productive?

More productive?  Yep.  We need play.

Now, go and add some playfulness into your students' (or employees') day.   Leave a comment after you do and let me know its impact.

All the best,

Jen - master of play :)


Sometimes You Have to Go Big

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

Recently, Lil O, Mr. UpCyclist, and Jedi hiked a 13er - a mountain over 13,000 feet.  The mountain they hiked, called Bald Mountain, is one our family is very familiar with as we stare at it daily from our balcony in Breckenridge, Colorado.  See?  I think it is so pretty and grand.

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

I'm guessing the summit is obvious to you, but in case you think the ridge line is an optical illusion, here is the highest peak (the summit) circled.  Actually, I just wanted another reason to get fancy with my Studio app on my iPhone.  Do you love that app like I do?

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

Lil O, Mr. UpCyclist and Jedi hiked all the way to the summit.  To date, this is the highest mountain Lil O has summited.

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

Jedi, a pretty seasoned hiker himself, apparently loved all the rocks and chipmunk chasing opportunities.  I love how his coat blends into the environment.  That Mother Nature sure is sophisticated, isn't she?

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

Our family loves cairns - they are those piles of rock that mark trails and summits.  It feels like you are part of this universal communication system when you spot cairns or build them.  I think there is a lot to learn from cairns (I'm feeling another blog post coming on....).

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

This photo of Lil O is one of my favorites.  I love the view and vantage point, but mostly how gingerly her body placement looks while hiking.   Just an aside:  Can you see the Breckenridge Ski Resort in the background?

Bald Mountain, Breckenridge, Colorado

This summer is (or should I say "was" since the summer is ending) the summer of new hikes.  I am way proud of Lil O, Mr. UpCyclist and Jedi's trek up Bald Mountain.

After all, sometimes you have to go big....


PS - My sabbatical is off to a great start.   I will be laptop-free for a bit because of our upcoming road travel, but thankfully, I still like to use paper and pen for writing projects.  It is the happy, old-school in me :)


It's Sabbatical Time

Sabbatical drawing Jen Lara

Time to celebrate and get down to business.  My sabbatical starts today!  As you know, I am a teacher and college professor.  Engaging others in learning is my business.  The book I will begin researching and writing during my sabbatical will be about just that - engaging others.  I won't be actually teaching this semester, just researching and writing.

And writing some more.  And some more.  And then some.

Though I still have about two weeks of travel left this summer (follow my Instagram account to see where I'll be), the drive times will be fantastic for brainstorming chapter themes and mapping out the table of contents.

I certainly will miss teaching this semester, but I'll be back on campus in 2015!

Let's do this.  I'm totally psyched.

All the best,


PS - I am incredibly grateful my college supported my sabbatical request & wild dream.  My dean, director, and department chair have all been over-the-top amazing and my department colleagues are fantastic supporters.  Thank you all!


Why Jedi is a Starbucks Fan

Today's blog post is dedicated to Sue's sweet dog, Chester, who passed away this week after a magical 13 years of life.  This one's for you, sweet Chester!

Puppuccino for Jedi

When Jedi was just a puppy and we were in Breckenridge, our family stopped by Starbucks to get drinks.  Mr. UpCyclist jokingly (or so I thought) asked me to get Jedi a puppuccino.  I ordered our three human drinks, but did not order a puppuccino for Jedi.  I mean, really?

When I came out with the human drinks, Mr. U and Lil O were quite disappointed in me.  What?  You were serious?   So, I marched back in and ordered Jedi a puppuccino - a free cup of whipped cream from Starbucks.

Jedi's been a fan every since and it seems like he's not the only dog who digs a puppuccino (see more photos of other dogs enjoying their puppuccinos here).

Puppuccino for Jedi and Lil O

By the way, I swear Jedi recognizes the Starbucks logo all over the US.

xo to all the amazing dogs out there and remembering Chester,


PS - Breckenridge's Starbucks is rated as one of the top coolest Starbucks in the world by USA Today. See the original article here.  Just another reason to adore Breck.


More PicMonkey Love + Jedi

As you know, PicMonkey and I have a love affair going on for about 2-3 years now.  Since I use their Royale product often, blog about it, and they are a cycling team sponsor, they are kind and gift me a yearly subscription to PicMonkey (the Royale upgrade).  You can use the regular PicMonkey for free, but I like all the fonts and effects that come packaged in the Royale upgrade (which costs a mere $33/year).

On our roadtrip out to Colorado, Mr. UpCyclist took this photo of Jedi at one of our stops.  I love how this photo tells a bit of our roadtrip story.  In it, Jedi is yawning outside of Freddy's in Hayes, Kansas, which was a great, local place to pick up burgers, fries and milkshakes.  Though, I like the photo and the story behind it, I don't like the wet spot, french fry, dog bowl and extra space on the right side of the photo.   All those things "have" to go, in my opinion.  Plus, the photo is a bit dark.  See?

Jedi Yawning Original

So, I cropped the photo, cloned out the wet spot & fry and lightened it up with PicMonkey's awesome effects.  If you don't know how to clone, see my post about cloning here. It really is so easy, plus you feel like a graphic designer superstar when you clone.

Here is one version of the cloned Jedi photo.  I used the Lomo effect for the photo below.  I love how the texture of his hair is emphasized in this photo and the color now pops.  Notice the wet spot and fry are gone from cloning!

PicMonkey and Jedi Yawning Lomo Effect

I also tried the Fancy Focus effect to really concentrate on his face & neck (my favorite body parts of his) and make the photo less color saturated.  See how his legs and the bikes/car are slightly out of focus and blurred? 

PicMonkey and Jedi Yawning Fancy Focus Effect

This next one was created with the Film Stock effect.  It probably is the most natural of the effects I used.  No blurring, no color saturation.....

PicMonkey and Jedi Yawning Film Stock Effect

I wanted to see Jedi in black and white, so I used the Focal Black and White effect.  Notice how you can still see his pink tongue.  Cutie pie with a pink tongue....

PicMonkey and Jedi Yawning Focal Black and White Effect

To achieve a more artsy look, I used the Posterize effect below.  This one reminds me of a Warhol piece.

PicMonkey and Jedi Yawning Posterize Effect

And lastly, I thought a touch of sun would be fun on sweet Jedi, so I used the Sunglow effect.  It looks like he is yawning towards the sun (even though it was super overcast that day).  I wish I would have lessoned the orange tint in this photo, oh well, next time.

PicMonkey and Jedi Yawning Sunglow Effect

From this....

To my favorite one, this....

I heart PicMonkey, all its cool effects and this dog.  Oh, I love this dog.

How do you like to use PicMonkey?




RV Show = Game Changer

Last October 2013, I wrote a blog post about my idea dream for 2017.   I even told all the key players in my life about it both in person and online (like my three bosses, Lil O and Mr. UpCyclist).  At the time, I think the majority of those folks thought I was losing my mind and/or not ultra-serious - with the exception of one - my boss, CE.  She smiled at the idea and said we would honk at each other in our trailers/RVs.

Fast forward to now and my family - Lil O and Mr. UpCyclist - are totally on board.

The game changer was an RV show.

My family and I had never really checked out RVs/trailers before.  Sure, we pass them all the time in Colorado, but we had never really been onboard one.  That changed last weekend when an RV show came to Breckenridge.  We had the opportunity to stand in about ten of them and ask a zillion questions.

That show changed everything.

Change #1:  We learned that adorable, adventure vans like the white one above are way, way, way too small to live in for a year - unless you are 20 years old, single, with a medium-sized dog, and you are a pro-cyclist.  Vans, like the Sprinter above, are totally cool - just not spacious enough for us for an entire year of living on the road.  That really surprised me as I adore Sprinters and that genre of vehicle.

Change #2:  We need space for home-schooling (although, road-schooling might be more appropriate) and for Mr. U and I to work, in general. Most of the RVs we checked out had clever spaces for working like this pull-out desk Lil O is pretend using below.  This desk, by the way, is right up front as part of the passenger seat - clever!

Change #3:  We plan on living in our RV/trailer for an entire year.  Thus, we really want modern conveniences like showers, toilets, kitchens, etc. right in the RV.  What surprised me was how nice and sometimes fancy the RV amenities were.  I'm talking lovely showers, full and half-bathrooms, washer/dryer combos, and kitchens with islands.  

Change #4:  We have a ton of gear.  Currently, we travel with five bikes, one Diggler Scooter, a healthy stash of art supplies, my sewing machine, plus during ski season we have three pairs of skis and two snowboards (plus snowshoes) and gosh forbid we start bringing our kayaking gear - we have three whitewater boats + paddles.  To make a long gear story short, we need storage space outside of the elements, preferably.  The clever RV, below, has a "toy hauler" in the back with a queen-sized, lofted bed overhead.  Mr. UpCyclist and Lil O were both in heaven scheming how they would use this back storage space.

Change #5:  Our family does not agree on what size RV we need (I think we've ruled out doing a trailer, by the way; we all would prefer to drive and have access to our stuff simultaneously).  Lil O and Mr. U want a very spacious RV - like the photo below or the toy hauler RV above.  I don't think any of us want the disco lights like the one below has - ha!  However, Mr. U makes a great point:  This will be our home for a full-year.  We don't want to be on top of each other.  We all need space to chill, work/learn, and rejuvenate.  We aren't trying to camp or go glamping.  This RV will literally be our home on wheels.

Change #6:  Personally, I would prefer a medium-sized RV like the one pictured below.  Or at least, that's how I feel at the moment.  I think this size would be more maneuverable, guzzle less gas, and still provide enough space for our family of four (Jedi included, of course.)  My goal this fall is to check out more medium-sized RVs in Maryland to see if that size is a reality or not.  Any Marylanders are welcome to join me!

Change #7:  Seeing the RVs in person made the 2017 idea seem like a total reality.  Lil O, Mr. U and I have been talking about it ever since and really thinking about how to make a year in an RV work - financially especially.

As an aside, I've been stalking blogs of families who live full-time in RVs either to "live lightly" and/or because they want to have an adventure like us.  This blog currently has my interest.  I love this mom's honesty about RV living, road-schooling and sex!  Ha!

I'm guessing you might have thoughts or advice on RV living, what size RV makes the most sense, etc. If you do, would you mind emailing me or leaving your comments below?  I'd love to hear more perspectives since I am a total newbie to the RV scene.

All the best,

PS - Stephanie, if you are reading this, I will definitely contact your sister when I get back to Maryland.  Thank you for always offering her as a resource :)


Life Updated: The Spell Edition

I finally figured out what's going on.  I'm in a spell.  The Breckenridge Spell.  Here's what my family and I have been up to in my spell-like trance of just being in the moment....
  • Hiking.  Oh man, have we've been hiking.  I think we are up to at least four new big hikes this summer as evidenced by the natural-esque photos above.  Three of the hikes were spectacular. Just one was a dud.
  • Laundry.  Got to keep it real, right?  I was totally dreading going to the laundromat until Lil O proclaimed, "This is so much fun!"  Don't you just love a child's perspective?  It was fun because she was with me and because we had a laundry snafu and flooded part of the laundromat floor. Long story, but washing waterproof mattress protectors is harder than I thought.
  • Totally off topic, but we went to an RV show two days ago.  I figure we need to get ready for 2017 at some point.  Anyway, I couldn't believe how many RVs have washers and dryers. Without exaggeration, most of the RVs were more elaborate than our current homes.
  • And....now, Lil O, Mr. UpCyclist and I really, really, really, really want an RV.  I am obsessed with a home on wheels.  Obsessed.  Lil O and Mr. U want a giant RV.  I want a modest-sized one.  We will see how that story turns out.
  • We took a two-day trip to Denver to pick up Mr. UpCyclist from the airport.  He needed to work in Maryland, so we were without him for a couple of weeks.  He has returned.  We enjoyed Denver (saw our cousins and good friends) and now are back in Breckenridge - apparently, sipping drinks together like cheesy newlyweds.  Ha!  We do love this semi-new taco restaurant in Breck.  Yum.  Even Jedi enjoys it.
  • Shockingly, I've barely done any crafting this summer - it's that Breckenridge Spell thing again. However, Molly came over recently and we started a little DIY project.  We still have more to do.  The project is in this genre in case you are interested.
  • I decided not to attend the John Denver tribute concert (it was a fundraiser). Why, you ask?  I am a huge JD lover and I knew I would cry the entire concert - or at least for most of it.  Lil O was curious about why I would cry and all I could say was:  1) JD songs completely remind me of growing up and attending camp in North Carolina.  2) I miss camp; I have SO many fond memories of my ten years there.  3) Since JD passed away over a decade ago, I realize the bittersweetness of life.
But, to make me smile, I did go listen to the faint sound of the concert while Lil O, Jedi and Mr. UpCyclist played on the lawn next to the venue.  It was the right combination of hearing JD and letting tears well in my eyes without feeling embarrassed about them.

About crying:  One of my coaching instructors told me crying mean "there's something important there."

I agree.  There is something important there.

How's your summer?