Brave Lessons: The Wrap-Up

My Own Little Word - Brave 2014

I would have totally forgotten the year of Brave was wrapping up, but then I saw some of my favorite bloggers choosing their new word for 2015 here and here.  2015?!  Is it here already?

Here's what I've learned about Brave and here are my thoughts on next year's word(s):
  • Brave, you suited me well.  I needed you throughout the year in different situations and with different projects (like writing a book).  You were an encouraging sidekick to me.  
  • There were times where I could have renamed Brave to other words like Bold or Confidence. Now, that I am typing that, I think all three words come from the same word family.  Would you agree?
  • Brave is all relative.  My Brave is different than someone else's Brave.  Perhaps, the bigger lesson here is that all things, situations, and challenges are relative & person dependent.  It reminds me of that idiom, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."  LIFE is in the eye of the beholder, too.
  • I loved how Bravery found me in places I least expected - the kitchen (hence, my new cast iron skillet pictured above), on the trails, and even in my workouts.  Since October, I've added four mini-workouts a week into my fitness repertoire (they are roughly 20 minutes long).  Those are in addition to my regular hikes, walks, and trail runs that I do with Jedi.  I can see the micro-differences those mini-workout additions have made.  In fact, noticing those micro-differences fuels me to keep going in 2015 with my mini-workouts of the Dailey Method.  Here's to Brave fitness and not giving up!
  • Now, that 2015 is upon me, what will my next word be?  
  • I'm also thinking I might abandon one word and go for a phrase in 2015.  
What words or phrases do you suggest?  Do you have a word (or phrase) to keep you focused for 2015?  I'd love to hear....

Happy New Year to you!  


Happy Holidays & Trailer Love

Happy Holidays and Trailer Love

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and so much trailer love you and I both burst with joy!



Confused about my trailer obsession?  Read here and here for the backstory.  2017, woot, woot!

Ornament from Nordstrom.  Thanks to my amazing sister for gifting it to me.


Holiday Lara Love Style
Lego Friends Advent Calendar
Holiday Garlands
Less than a month left of my sabbatical.  It's time to write the fourth and final chapter before I return to the classroom.  Meanwhile, this is what's open in my browser, which keeps me happily procrastinating some days....

A Hello Kitty airplane?  My 6-year old self is cartwheeling.  Thanks, Melissa!

I can't get enough of this New Mexico artistry.  People are so talented.

I feel very much like this professor.  Students, I apologize for having to assign grades.  Thanks, Design Mom.

The wanderlust traveler in me wants this.

A pong traffic light?  I adore the idea of connecting with a stranger across the street.

I'm loving these hipster baby names.  Eisley might be my favorite.

I might need one of these when I choose my new word for 2015.

If you blog, you might like this blogging for books partnership.

Lil O literally counts the moments until she can open another door of her Lego advent calendar.  Best gift ever.

Simple artwork is awesome.

You know I have a thing for states.  Colorado being the top of that list.

This post inspires me to submit a children's book manuscript I've been sitting on for years.

You know my family and I love skiing.  This suit and footage is breath-taking.  Thanks, Mr. UpCyclist.

What's open in our browser?  



Brave Cooking

Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free chocolate chips cookies

I typically have confidence in the things I do.  Cooking, though, not so much.  When Lil O in early November said she was feeling "gaggy' after she ate, I knew it was time again to pull back the reins on her nutrition.  Five years ago (before I started blogging), Lil O was gluten-, egg-, dairy-, soy-, and citrus-free.  She was also free of 23 other offenders (pineapple, coconut, rice, etc) for almost three years.  Another day, I can blog about how we identified the original 28 offending foods in the first place.  That's a blog post in itself.

After a phone appointment with her nutritionist six weeks ago and a discussion about Lil O feeling gaggy coupled with some redness under her eyes (kind of like when you are tired and have bags under your eyes. Her bags weren't dark though, but pink instead), we realized it was time to give Lil O's system a break again.  I didn't know this, but pinkish skin is a sign of inflammation in the body.

When Lil O's system goes on a break, so does my system and Mr. UpCyclist.  I don't like having food in our house that is off-limits to Lil O.  I want her to have the freedom to eat what she needs and wants.  Thus, our home is 95% gluten-, dairy-, egg-, and citrus-free at the moment.  In case you wondering, her nutritionist advised us to take out the biggie offenders only, not all 28 again.

The good news is since taking out the major offenders, Lil O isn't gaggy feeling anymore.  The pinkness has not subsided, but I am confident it will over time as her digestive and immune system heal.  Our entire family is eating more diverse foods - not carbohydrates at every single meal.

My friend, Laura, pointed out most everything I do in life, I do and I am unafraid to fail. Cooking though was the exception.  I kept running away from the kitchen because I was afraid the meal I was making wouldn't turn out or I would waste precious ingredients.   What a revelation that was!  What? I'm scared of cooking?  Sure, there are scarier things to be afraid of, but cooking?  Come on, Jen, you got this.  What's your word this year?  Brave.

So, now I am in the kitchen cooking.   This time,  I'm cooking with bravery.  I'm falling in love with failure (remember that line from my new book?).  I've asked my test subjects - Lil O and Mr. U - to be patient with me.  Some meals might be an instant hit.  Others will need tweaking.  I'm experimenting more and more.  For example, those chocolate chip cookies in the photo above are an experiment.  The cookie on the left is made with a potato-based egg replacer, since we can't have eggs right now.  The cookie on the right is made with a chia seed egg replacer.  You can see the potato-based cookie (on the left) is more smooth.  The chia seed cookie is more bumpy.  They both taste great, though I prefer the taste of the potato-based replacer.  Lil O prefers the chia seeds (which does add another level of good nutrition).   I used a flour base like this one to make the cookies.  The cookies are chocolate chip, gluten-, dairy-, and egg-free (which also makes them vegan, in case a vegan lifestyle speaks to you).  The cookies have been a big hit with everyone who has tasted them.

Years ago, I wouldn't have experimented.  I would have been concerned about the cookies being a flop and wasting ingredients.  From writing my book this fall and having so many days of what-the-bleep! writing, I've realized failure is just part of the journey.  You've got to stumble a little to get your legs under you.  But, once your legs begin to get under you, you get great stuff like this:

Last night, my mom came to town from Memphis and I cooked dinner for all of us.   I made this amazing dish with thin-sliced, roasted potatoes and lightly steamed green beans tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper.  The meal was delicious.  My mom innocently said, "You are a good cook, Jen."  What?  Is she talking to me?  The girl who struggles in the kitchen?  She most certainly was talking to me. That compliment landed in the best way.  She had no idea how I felt about being in the kitchen.  All she saw (and ate) was a totally yummy meal made by an unstressed me.

A more confident me.  A Braver me.

This time around, I'm not running away from the kitchen.  I'm inviting Lil O to cook with me more - after all, she has a lifetime of cooking ahead of her as she will need to embrace moderation for the rest of her life most likely.  I am making cooking enjoyable.  I listen to podcasts (like Serial and Elise Gets Crafty).  I catch up on shows that I enjoy (The Voice, House of DVF, and Shark Tank).  I'm keeping a list of what turns out great, what needs tweaking, and what my family and I do not enjoy (like mushy vegetables).  I'm leaning into culinary skills learned from an amazing colleague, Ken, years ago.  You should see me with a knife!  Besides totally burning some sausages the other night, my grilling skills are fairly rock solid.  I'm having faith in the kitchen, but most of all, confidence in me.


I just let out a gigantic breath.  It feels so good to admit how scared I've felt before and how much I want to improve.

Brave has found me again.  This time, Brave cooking.

What about you?



Looptworks: One Year Later

Looptworks Shaxi iPad Case

It's been a little over a year since Looptworks sent us an iPad Shaxi case to enjoy.   I wanted to give you an update in case you need a gift for someone.

You might remember Looptworks sent me a Shaxi and gave away one to an Upcycled Education reader.  How fun are they?  If you missed that blog post, you can check it out here.  It is now one year later and I must say, I am totally impressed with the Shaxi.  As you can see from the photo above, the leather (which is all upcycled; you can read more about Looptworks upcycledness here) is still looking great.  There are no stains, scratches, or anything.  And, this iPad gets used every. single. day.  I wish I was kidding, but our family loves its technology.

From the photo below, you can see the inside has received a few stains and some dirt.  But, really, I don't think any human can keep pink gorgeous suede perfectly clean.  Not, when you use the Shaxi and your iPad every. single. day.  (Ha! We need a hashtag #everysingleday).

Looptworks iPad Shaxi inside photo

Probably my favorite thing about the Shaxi is it always closes perfectly (due to its strong magnetic closure).  It always stands perfectly. We used to use a different iPad case before this one and it sometimes would topple over, which annoyed me.  This case is built rock solid.

If you need a last minute gift for someone, I would recommend Looptworks in general.  They sell bags, cases, and even tees.

What's your favorite gift this season?


PS - My first post about the Shaxi was due to the Looptworks giveaway.  This post is just me saying, they're cool - plain and simple.  I heart cool companies, don't you?

UPDATE:  Looptworks just emailed me....the Shaxi (and your entire order) is 20% with free shipping until January 1st.  Yay!  Click here for more.

Life Updated: Late Fall

Jen and family at the beach
Lil O at the beach
Jedi's birthday at the beach
Jen on date night, woot, woot!
Sandy Spring Adventure Park
In love with Jedi

I don't usually start off a blog post with so many photos, but these called to me.  Here's what I've been up to (although it is probably obvious from these photos and my Instagram feed)....

  • We snuck over to the beach for Thanksgiving and stayed at a friend's empty beach house.  When we bought our place in Colorado, we knew we'd hardly vacation anywhere else.  Five years later, it's so true.  We hardly vacation elsewhere and I miss the beach dearly.  So, we went. Totally loved it even in the cold.  Jedi celebrated his 3rd birthday on the beach, too.  How happy and strong does he look?  And Lil O squishing her eyes shut slays me.
  • Mr. UpCyclist and I went on a date on a Sunday night.  Yep.  You heard me.  On a school night. That night, I wore this simple, yet adorable sweater my teen niece gave me.  Now, tell me if this is odd.  My teen niece cleaned out her closet and gave me a bag of her hand-me-downs.  I loved all of the hand-me-downs.  Am I strange? Or does my niece have the best taste ever?  It also looks like I've been to every Imagine Dragon and Mumford & Sons concert since they began touring thanks to my four hand-me-down concert tees.  Thanks, J!
  • My first jobs in education were all on ropes courses.  You can imagine how psyched I was when Lil O, Mr. U and I hit the adventure park in Sandy Spring, Maryland.  We were there for three hours and I think we would have stayed longer if our three-hour ticket wasn't about to expire and they served lunch.   Lunch, by the way, tasted so yummy.  Do you like Cafe Rio?  I could bathe in their barbacoa.
  • My book.  Notice there are no photos of me writing.  That's because when I write, I am either completely in the zone or totally procrastinating.  Here's the good news.  My goal is to have the book proposal complete to pitch to several different agents and publishing houses in early 2015.  I am on target for that goal as the book proposal is written; it just needs to be edited.  My second goal is to have four of the eight chapters written (at least in draft form) before I return from my sabbatical in mid-January.  I have three chapters written and just one more to go to accomplish that goal.  The bad news?  There is none.  Yahooo!
  • Are you in the winter nesting mode like me?  I am not kidding when I say as soon as the sun goes down, I want to be inside our house, in my pajamas, and not leave until the next morning. I think my family agrees, especially Jedi.  Almost every night, we put him to bed around 7-7:30pm.  He is so darn cute sleeping there (on our bed), we just have to snuggle him.  Look at his face?  He's either thinking, please leave me alone or I won the lottery with this family.
I think we won the lottery with him.

What have you been up to?  Comment below or email me.  I miss catching up in this blog space.



Chatbooks with Lil O and Mr. UpCyclist

A year ago, I didn't know my college would grant me a sabbatical to write a book.  I didn't know my family would out-run a blizzard from Colorado to Maryland in a 32-hour nonstop drive.  Or my word for 2014 would be Brave.  I didn't know the summer of 2014 would be one of my favorite summers on record.  There are just so many things I couldn't predict.

But, I do know one thing.  I am thankful.  Thankful for the past year.  Thankful for my family and for my friends.  They have cheered me on with book writing, let me practice coaching them, and simply put up with me when I was no where to be found refueling.  I am thankful for my college and my amazing colleagues there who have supported my professional dreams.  I am incredibly thankful to those three above (Jedi is at their feet).   We do much laughing together and growing.  I'm also thankful for you.  You keep coming back to this blog, reading, engaging, and reaching out every once in a while.

I know you are there and for that, I say thanks.



My Favorite Line So Far

Fall in love with failure - Jen Lara

Yesterday I started Chapter 3 in my book.  Chapter 3 is all about what I call the Power Triad - growth mindedness, play, and creativity.

This line might be my favorite in the book so far:  Fall in love with failure.   I wrote that line in relation to nurturing a growth mindset.  If you can't remember what a growth mindset is, check out my posts here and here.  Dr. Carol Dweck's research on mindset is truly amazing.

Back to writing, I go.  Have a great day!



PS - My goal by the time my sabbatical ends in January is to write the first draft of four chapters (the entire book is eight chapters, plus an introduction and "Grow Yourself" activities) and to have a completed book proposal pitched to an agent/publishing company.

Big Thinking

Lil O running - Bay Bridge 10K

Nine months ago, Mr. UpCyclist asked Lil O if she wanted to do a 10K together in Annapolis, Maryland.  This 10K is a pretty special one as it goes over the famous Chesapeake Bay Bridge and has lovely views of the Chesapeake Bay - a treasure in Maryland.  Lil O agreed and seven months rolled by.

In early September, we returned home from our Colorado summer.  It was time to start training.  For seven weeks, Mr. U and Lil O ran three times a week together.  They started with just one lap around our neighborhood (which is roughly 1.3 miles) and grew from there - their longest training run was the race distance - 6.2 miles.

Mr. U and Lil O finished the Bay Bridge 10K

Jedi, the pup, trained with them every single step of the way.  He literally didn't miss a training run - that sweet dog.

Yesterday, Lil and Mr. U ran the race in a respectably time - 1 hour and 15 minutes.  They ran the entire distance without walking.  Lil O even did a cartwheel when she summited the bay bridge.

Jedi will do anything to run with Mr. U

Jedi couldn't run the actual race.  There was a no-dog policy.  But, he and I greeted Lil O and Mr. U around mile 5.5.  Jedi was elated to see them running.  In fact, I swear, he would have pulled me on my bare knees to run with them.  He was yelped and howling to get their attention.

A few friends have asked why I didn't do the race, too.  I have two thoughts about this.  First, running isn't my jam.  Sure, I trail run with Jedi, but that's just because I like forests and I have to keep up with his furry self; Jedi's an antelope in the woods.  But, second, I love the fact that Lil O and her daddy shared this special accomplishment together.  Not with me.  Not because of me.  Not anything to do with me.  It was them.

Big thinking is like that.  It isn't always about you or me.

Mr. U and Lil O thought big.  They set a goal.  They worked hard towards that goal.  They endured their fair share of sweat and tears.  And ultimately, they reached their goal together.

10K training schedule

I'll blog soon about running with kids (or doing any type of co-training with kids).  I actually think I have a few tips to share on this from being a bystander during their 7-week training.  You can see a sneak peak of their training regimen above.  I'm laughing as I just noticed the giant checkmark on the schedule.  That's Lil O's way of saying, "We did it!"

Congratulations to Lil O and Mr. UpCyclist!  I am so incredibly proud of you both.

As Michael Port writes in Think Big Manifesto (affiliate link), “Big thinking is always, always, always worth the expenditure of energy.”

I totally agree.



We All Need One of These

JBL clip speaker

Mr. UpCyclist and Lil O are running their first 10K race this month.  In order to listen to their playlist on the run, Mr. U purchased the cutest JBL speaker to hook to his running pack ($49.95).  See?  Isn't it so adorable?  The speaker is bluetooth ready or you can physically plug it into your device.  The speaker also has a built-in carabiner; you can hang it off a pack or lanyard easily.  Not that you plan on wearing the speaker around your neck.  But, you could and rock the 1980's.  Mr. U told me the battery lasts for five hours.

JBL clip speaker built-in carabiner

The speaker is a little bigger than the iPhone 4 and not as big as the iPhone 6 length-wise.  I love how round and chubby it is.

What a fun gift, right?  So great for work & the classroom, cool for a picnic, and awesome for a 10K run.

Go treat yourself or a friend!  You can find the JBL Clip Speaker here.

xo and Happy Sunday,

Amazon affiliate links within the post.  Woot, woot!

Soul Money

Soul Money Lynne Twist quote

Perusing Instagram this early morning, I came across this photo.  It made me stop and think about money.  You see, I have a lifetime struggle with money.   In the past, I felt like I never and would never have enough.

It is somewhat surprising, too.  I have so much to be grateful for and so many neat ways my husband and I spend our money, which we earn from both of our salaries.  As I think you already know, we have two small places to live - one in Maryland and one in Colorado.  A say small, but really they are just the right size for our family of four (Jedi included, of course).   If you want specific square footage, our Colorado condo is right around 900 square feet.   Our Maryland home is 1,800 square feet.   In fact, I would say our Maryland home is one room too big for us.  We believe two small homes equals one big place to live.  Plus, we are thrilled to share time in both states.

We also believe a learning environment that resonates with Lil O's learning preferences is of the utmost importance to her being.  Thus, we go out of our way and drive by two public schools to send Lil O to a private Montessori school where she soars.  It is surprising to some of our friends as our public school district has a great reputation, yet we choose to pay over $10K a year for Lil O's schooling.

I tell you all this because with two mortgages and private school tuition, we are certainly not living the life of paupers.  We have enough.  And that is the point of this blog post.

We have enough.

A wise coaching friend, when I shared my lifetime money struggle, suggested I read The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist.  I did.  And so many of Twist's words spoke to me.  The biggest message for me was there is always enough money when we do what we love and align with our values.  That's me!  I am addicted to doing what I love and living a life aligned with my values (which includes my values of joy, connection, creativity, and taking initiative).

More of Twist's words spoke to me.....

  • Be a steward of money and not a gatherer.
  • What you appreciate appreciates.
  • Money carries your intention.
  • If you do what you love, sufficiency follows.
  • We create our most lasting legacy in the way we live.
  • Let your money express your soul.

I am not through my lifetime struggle with money, but I am redefining what money means to me. Money doesn't have to feel scarce.  It doesn't have to be never enough.  Instead like Twist suggests, money can express my soul and my family's soul, too.

Does the way you gain money or spend money express your soul?  It's an interesting question to ponder.  I'm thinking about it myself.

Deeply yours,


Amazon affiliate link included in this post - talking about money and making money all in the same post. Ha!


Bracelet, text, Upcycled Education

Fall is in the mid-Atlantic air.  The trees haven't quite read the email, time to change your colors.  I just finished my first full chapter - 6,200 words later.  I need a tee that reads, embrace the first draft. Meanwhile, this is what's open in my browser (which is my clever way of procrastinating or celebrating)....

Could someone please open one of these near me?

Word Hippo is my new BFF.

You've heard of the Slow Food Movement.  How about Slow Education?  Thanks, Christina!

My 8-year old self would do cartwheels for this subscription service.

I needed to read this.  Especially the butt in chair part.

Heading to NYC soon for a conference.  I'm going here for sure.

I'm a sucker for pumpkin and anything chai-related.  Plus, how awesome is this photography?

The weekend is a-comin'!  My mom is in town and we have some fun plans.

Enjoy yours,


Brave Lessons {No. 5}

Brave Lessons No. 5 Teaism

I cannot believe how much I've needed to lean into Brave these last few weeks.  Do you remember when I was wondering if I even needed Brave?  You can find that blog post here in case you missed it.  What was I thinking?  I bet a few of you were like, oh, she needs Brave, for sure.  Wait for it, Jen.

My word for 2014 is rightly chosen for me.  I need Bravery.  Period.

Here's what I've learned about Brave since the last update:
  • I am afraid of many things.  I know I may not look like I am afraid or sound like I am, but I am. I'm afraid of failing, letting others down, letting myself down, sounding like an idiot, dreaming too big.  Fear, fear, fear.
  • The antidote to all of those fears is one simple thing, Bravery.  I only have to be Brave.  
  • I've learned I am not alone.  Recently at a leadership retreat I attended, I found about 30 people (out of 40) who feel like I do.  Fearful.  And we all agreed, if we could just be Brave the fear would be a non-issue.  A non-issue!  Gone.
  • This book I'm writing.  Oh, man, have I had to own it lately.  Here's a true story - one that took Bravery and is a good example of dreaming too big (or dreaming just the right amount - depending on how you look at it).  I am on the airplane to Chicago to attend the leadership retreat I mentioned.  The guy next to me asks what do you do?  You know what I say?  I say, I'm an author.  I'm writing a book.  What?  Have I lost my mind?  Yep.  I'm an author (amongst many hats I wear, which I further described to him later in our conversation).  Bravery to say I'm an author aloud, plus a whole lot of audacity.
  • Oh, here's another true story.  I spoke to my literary agent last week.  I mean, if you are writing a book you need an agent, right?  She happens to be a childhood friend of mine, too, which makes our conversations equally serious and playful.  Anyway, she was sharing information about some of her authors and their "two book deals" they've received.  When I awoke the next morning, I said to Mr. UpCyclist, I think I have two book deal in me.  What the bleep?!  I haven't completed one book and I've got ideas for book #2?  And that's the day, I started a new list in my notebook, Topics for Book #2.  So far, I have two ideas written down.
  • That was also the day I started to question myself - is this Bravery or arrogance?
  • But, this I know.  Arrogance doesn't get you anywhere.  People dislike you.  No one wants to be around you.  Bravery is just the opposite.  The braver I become, the more magnetic life becomes.  So, what feels like arrogance, I believe is confidence.  And what feels like Bravery really is because I can feel and see the path clearing in front of me.  The more I lean into Brave, the clearer and wider that path becomes.
I hope you have one of those path-clearing-weekends - even if its a path right to your couch for fall movies, which totally sounds delightful.

Bravely yours, 


Love. This. Quote.

Daniel PInk quote

The massive outline for my book is complete.  I am now in the writing phase.  I show up everyday to write something - from one paragraph to pages of writing.

I am banking on this quote.



Sabbatical Update: Spoiler Alert! I love it!

Fun belt from Sue - Be Awesome!

The title of this post gave it away.  I am loving my sabbatical.  LOVING.  In my Jen style, here's a list of why - some of which will be totally obvious; maybe some a surprise:

  1. I am digging all the research.  DIGGING.  I could read research all day related to the topic I am studying - engaging others (to maximize learning).
  2. I have a 20+ page outline going and I LOVE it.  LOVE.  I've realized there is so much I've wanted to say for years and this book will be the opportunity to seam it all together.
  3. I am adoring working from interesting spaces - my vehicle, my sister and brother-in-law's cool office, with a friend, by myself (technically with Jedi by my feet), and coffee shops.
  4. Speaking of coffee shops, sometimes while I am researching and writing I listen to this.  I love the background noise.  In fact,  I am listening to it now.   Latte, anyone?
  5. I've had to shut up that voice that says, you can't write a book!  You aren't an author! a few times.  That voice pisses me off (yep, I used "pisses" in a blog post).  I actually now think there is a book in all of us.  Everyone single one of us.
  6. This sabbatical is a great metric of my ability to stay focused and on-task.  I would say my skills are fairly good at this until yesterday.   Procrastination visited and she wasn't helpful.  My cure was to take an hour to get out of the house and come back and get back to work.
  7. Work.  It's actually hard to call this sabbatical work because I am enjoying it so much.  Makes me think of this Dear Abby quote I blogged about a while ago.

Right now, this sabbatical feels like a dream job.  DREAM.  I'm digging deeper into a topic I love.  I believe the end product will add value to the world of education.   And I'm getting more in touch with my voice.  

Which apparently has much to say.

Off I go to work...Have a stellar weekend, fantastic blog reader,



After exactly two months of being away from Maryland, we are back.  Back to Merryland (typoed on purpose).  Back to the heat, which is my nemesis.  Back to our normal programming - school, graduate school, work, friends, family, life.  I can't say I'm too, too sad about being back.  After all, I choose to live in Merryland for many awesome reasons.  To bring our summer to a close, our family embarked on a 10-day roadtrip.  Here's were we went....

We started our trip driving north out of Colorado and entering into the gorgeous state of Wyoming. We camped one night in Grand Teton National Park at Colter Bay. Holy moly is this place gorgeous.  I think the Teton Mountain Range is one of the most stunning in the US.  We enjoyed a picnic dinner by the lake's marina before heading to sleep and enduring a thunderstorm most of the night.  Fact:  Mr. UpCyclist and I eloped in the Tetons ten years prior.  It's a special place to us.

Grand Teton National Park - Colter Bay

After a very brief stay in Grand Teton NP (I'll explain at the end why our stays in the National Parks were so brief), we drove up through Yellowstone NP from South to North so we could see the entire park in one day - or at least the main areas of the park accessible by road.  This park was Lil O's favorite.  There is so much to see, do and explore in Yellowstone.  One day is certainly not enough there, but since our roadtrip was more like a taster's roadtrip, we enjoyed the time we could spend.

The geysers in Yellowstone are plentiful.  Their explosions can last for 1-30 minutes - it's pretty entertaining stuff.

Geysers at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is such a diverse park - from hot springs to geysers to gorgeous waterfalls.  I didn't snap any photos, but the wildlife there is crazy - bison (commonly known as buffalo), antelope, bears, and mule deer roam that park freely.

Yellowstone Waterfall

From Yellowstone, we entered the amazing, to-die-for state of Montana.  Seriously, it has taken me two decades to get to that state and it was totally worth the wait.   We spent a night in Bozeman and our entire family fell in love with that town.  Mr. UpCyclist keeps telling Lil O she is welcome to go to college there at Montana State University.  We had a delicious meal at Sweet Chili on Main Street; seriously, it was one of the top ten meals of my life.  We wanted to hike the next day, but the rain kept us indoors.  Thankfully, Bozeman is home to the Museum of the Rockies, which has the largest dinosaur fossil collection in the US.  In fact, the Smithsonian in DC recently acquired a new T-Rex and it is from Bozeman and this museum.

I don't know about you, but on roadtrips, we tend to eat some pretty junkie foods.  Here, Lil O and Jedi are enjoying cool treats (Jedi is munching on a cup of ice).  I love that dog.  He is a roadtrip expert.  By the way, I really want to teach Jedi how to drink from a straw.  Any thoughts on that?

We left Bozeman and heading to Glacier National Park and camped right outside the park at the local KOA (which Lil O said felt like a village community).  That KOA campground had every conceivable amenity - pool, cafe, ice cream store.....  It may have been a bit too "Truman Show" for me.

Glacier National Park was incredible.  Stunning.  Awesome in the biggest way.  I've visited many national parks in the country and Glacier may be the most stunning I've seen.  It is not my favorite (my favorite is Arches National Park by Moab, UT), but it is so divinely stunning that you literally can't speak.  The photo below doesn't do this park justice at all.

Glacier National Park

Mr. UpCyclist biked the 50-mile, very narrow Going to the Sun road through Glacier.  Lil O, Jedi and I drove it.  I'm pretty certain Mr. U earned his nickname that day - again.

After a brief visit to Glacier, we headed to Kalispell and spent two nights there.  The impetus for our roadtrip in the first place was Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC).  They invited me to give a keynote and lead a workshop for their faculty and staff.  Boy, do I like FVCC.   Their staff/faculty is so energetic and youthful.  I loved their spirit and creative programs.  I liked it so much I didn't want to leave.

But, since Montana is super far from Maryland, we did need to keep our roadtrip moving easterly.

Roadtrip activities

We headed Southeast and met Sue in Missoula for a quick hike and doggie playdate.  Isn't that crazy we saw Sue in Montana?  It felt surreal to see a friend (and my coach there).  Next, we kept the surrealism alive and visited dear friends - whom we haven't seen in over a decade - in Billings.  I taught with these friends when I lived on the Navajo Nation.  It was SO good to be back with them.  I adore this couple and their family.  Plus, Lil O learned how to make traditional Navajo fry bread and Mr. UpCyclist learned all about Navajo traditions (he had many curious questions).  Just an aside:  You know how I adored teaching on the Navajo Nation.  If you want to live and teach there, check out this blog post I wrote about it.  I would live there again.

Next, after leaving Billings, we headed east to this iconic place - Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota! Molly was correct. You really only needed 30 minutes there.  I know that sounds cheesy, but once you've seen this PBS documentary on the monument, visiting only requires a short amount of time.

Mt. Rushmore photo

Spending just a bit of time was fine because we wanted to drive Needles Highway in Custer State Park, which was pretty and we saw more bison, but after visiting three national parks at this point, we could have skipped the Needles Highway - especially since the next day we visited Badlands National Park.

Look at this park below?  Badlands National Park looked like something from another planet.  And although I love stunning mountainous parks (like Glacier), I actually prefer parks like the Badlands. They are so unique and so incredibly strange.

Badlands National Park

You could tell the Badlands doesn't have as many visitors as the other parks we visited.  They barely had marked trails for hiking (though the park ranger said I could look online and get some GPS coordinates) and the Badlands two visitor centers were small (unlike Yellowstone's many visitors centers which are massive).  However, I still loved the Badlands.  Although, "if" I had to choose a cluster of national parks to visit in the US, I would gravitate to the national parks in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.  I would do Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon - just in case you were wondering.  Plus, now you know where to find me/us in our RV one day.

After leaving South Dakota and its Badlands, we hightailed it east and then south.  We spent a night in Illinois (but, didn't see any sights as we arrived at 2am!).  The next day, we visited Black Dog Rescue in Lexington, Kentucky.  We really wanted to thank Becca in person as she rescued Jedi almost three years ago.  We are forever grateful for Becca's rescue work.  We also wanted to play with the puppies.

I mean, look at them?

Black Dog Rescue Lexington

Our visit was a good one, but I realized how many puppies need a good home.  You just see two puppies in the photo above.  There were almost 40 puppies and dogs at Black Dog Rescue that need a home.  40.  If you know someone looking for a dog/puppy, consider Becca's rescue.  She is incredible and her love for these dogs and puppies is unending.

Our roadtrip was really a great, whirlwind one.  Our summer in Breckenridge was divine.  My goal was to be in the present moment as much as possible and I actually did it.  I actually just savored the moment and didn't think about much else (hence, my lack of blogging and crafting this summer).

Hot springs at Yellowstone

Thank you for still hanging out with me and Upcycled Education in spite of not blogging much. Thank you for your kind words on Instagram and Facebook.  I'm back in Merryland and ready for what's next, which includes....

Enjoy the last bits of summer....


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?