Rest & Relaxation + Nature

I love it when people visit us in Laramie, Wyoming. I love to show them our little house (on the prairie? almost), our fun frontier town, the mountains that surround us, the stark and undeniable beauty of the West.

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My parents waving from the pedestrian bridge to the oncoming trains that run right by downtown Laramie, just in the distance

Most of my family came to visit me this summer after a long roadtrip or flight/s. We explored Laramie as well as Fort Collins, Colorado (since that’s where I’ll spend much time next year). Thankfully the weather stayed sunny and warm for most of their visit, unlike the last time.

We went back to Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-dah-VOO) for a little hike on the Turtle Rock Trail. My mom was impressed by how lush everything was. Most of Wyoming in the summer is like dried herbs on a cracker crisp- sagebrush, dust, sun, wind. But because the granite in Vedauwoo leads the rainfall into certain pooled areas, through June and July many wildflowers bloom in the shade of lovely aspen groves.

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Libby took this photo of my dad on the Turtle Rock Trail through quivering aspen leaves

The granite at Vedauwoo is unique for its roughness (local climbers don’t call it “Bleed-auwoo” for nothing) in addition to its unusual shapes. The Sherman Granite is thought to be 1.4 billion years old.

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Sam and Boone enjoying the hike through sagebrush and wildflowers

I kindly allowed Sam to struggle with walk Boone the whole hike. They both seemed to enjoy it.

Matt and I also took everyone on a more intense trail in Medicine Bow National Forest which we’ve dubbed “the ridge hike.” We originally scouted out the trailhead via online maps of the area, but it was very difficult to spot from the dirt road you take to get there. The trail eventually emerges the further you walk up the very steep hill and into the woods, and is occasionally marked by helpful cairns.

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Parents enjoying a break from hiking while the kids take selfies and contemplate life

We refer to this trail as a ridge hike because, at several points, you get an almost 360º view- from the Rockies down in Colorado to the Snowy Range west of Laramie, and out toward Nebraska to the east.

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In the distance, Sam, Libby, and Boone enjoy the eastern view

It’s also a fairly exposed hike, with few trees to cover you, despite being in a national forest. You wouldn’t want to be up there if a storm rolled in.

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Introspective Ben on the right

After living in Wyoming for 3 years, I still can’t get enough of its beauty. I am continually surprised by the openness, the almost silence, the skies, and- let’s be honest- the wind. I am afraid I’m now used to the practically empty trails (I’m told this is not the case in Colorado). I believe we saw one other person the entire couple hours we were hiking.

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Even Boone, a Kansas native, prefers Wyoming hikes

Each year Laramie celebrates Wyoming’s anniversary of statehood, July 10th, 1890, with a week-long series of events it calls “Jubilee Days.” There are concerts, a parade, a carnival, a local beer festival, and- you guessed it- multiple rodeos.

I hadn’t been to a rodeo since I moved here but, what with everyone visiting, it seemed like as good a time as any to experience the cowboy side of this state. I took my folks to the ranch rodeo which, unlike your typical rodeo, isn’t full of professional bull riders and events like barrel racing, but is instead made up of local ranch cowhands (both men and women).

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Almost got ’em!

They were all trying to do the same thing within a six-minute period: rope steers, get one into a fenced-in pen, and another into a trailer behind a shiny new truck which was provided somewhat riskily by a local car dealership. The announcer jokingly asked if there was anybody left in the town of Walden- a small ranching town in nearby northern Colorado- that day, and dozens of people in the audience whooped and cheered.

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Got ’em this time

At the beginning of each round, one participant had to stand without her or his horse on the side of the ring opposite the rest of their teammates and horses. When the timer began, another teammate on their horse had to gallop across the ring, pick up the horse-less cowhand, and they both had to ride back across the ring so the first person could get their horse. Most of the horses were okay with having two adults on their backs for that short of a period of time, but one horse wasn’t so sure. The audience began to giggle as the horse refused to go forward. Then, very slowly, the horse stepped forward in lurches, eventually bucking its way across the ring, making for a very bumpy ride for the cowboy sitting on his haunches, and uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Though the roping was of course entertaining and impressive to watch, my family was slightly traumatized by the treatment of the cattle. Sometimes the poor animals ran face-first into the metal fencing at high speeds, which resulted in nosebleeds. Despite their black fur, you could still easily see the red blood dripping from their nostrils as they fled from the horses.

After Margaret, my older sister, flew up to join us, we drove down to Fort Collins for the fourth of July.

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Old Town of Fort Collins on the 4th of July. Photo by Libby.

We walked around downtown and Colorado State’s campus, ate burgers and sandwiches at Choice City Butcher & Deli, and tried local beers at Funkwerks Brewery, which specializes in refreshing sours, saisons, and Belgian ales.

The next day everyone but Margaret departed, so we began packing the car for a trip to Ten Sleep Canyon, a rock climbing destination in the western part of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It’s about a 5.5-hour drive, though a pleasant one, from Laramie. We were able to reserve a nice campsite (nice meaning with a picnic table and near a well-maintained pit toilet) at Leigh Creek Campground, which is at the bottom of the canyon on the banks of Tensleep Creek, for the first two nights of our trip. Though we’d never seen any poison ivy in the canyon before, the plants seemed to really enjoy living right by the creek. I’m actually surprised none of us ended up with any rashes. Anyway, after setting up camp, we went CLIMBING!

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Margaret on her FIRST EVER outdoor top-rope rock climb!

Ten Sleep is known for long, sustained, and really fun limestone sport climbing routes. This is kind of the opposite of what Margaret was used to climbing- short, powerful boulder problems. At first it was hard for her to get to the top of several climbs, even though she was strong enough to do every move of the route separately, but by the end of the trip she easily got to the top of a 100-foot climb. I hope we successfully convinced her that roped climbing is SO FUN!

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Me belaying Matt in the Lake Point area of Ten Sleep Canyon, WY. Photo by Margaret.

The approach trail to the Lake Point area, which crossed over a small CCC-built dam above Meadowlark Lake, was stunning.

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Boone on the trail toward Meadowlark Lake, through sagebrush and wildflowers, with the Big Horn Mountains in the distance

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Matt and Boone at Meadowlark Lake in the Bighorn National Forest

On our second full day in the Big Horns (our third day climbing), we decided to take a break and go for a hike instead. I’d only ever been climbing in this part of Wyoming, so I was excited to see more of the area.

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Margaret in front of a small waterfall just off the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Matt decided on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail, just the portion that would take us to Mirror Lake, which was about 7 miles round-trip. We started at the West Tensleep trailhead, which is adjacent to a campground and picnic area at West Ten Sleep Lake.

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At two points, the trail crosses creeks in lush meadows surrounded by lodgepole pine

We didn’t start hiking until midday because we had to change our campsite to an area higher in the canyon that didn’t require reservations, but the skies were clear and the trail was practically empty. We passed a few people in the first mile, and then ran into two more on our way back, but that was it.

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Margaret and Matt on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Our hike was very quiet and peaceful, except for our run-in with a marmot. He stood on his hind legs atop a rock pile and chirped loudly to alert his fellow critters that we were entering their territory.

It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to spot Mirror Lake from the trail; it was somewhat hidden behind a low-lying area of pine trees. At first we weren’t sure that was the right way since there wasn’t a distinct trail down to the shore, so we kept walking for another half mile or so. We never once saw the lake again, so we turned around and walked toward the lake through the trees, away from the trail.

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Margaret at Mirror Lake

Here we drank water, ate a few Clif bars, swatted away a few mosquitoes, and basked in the cool air coming off the lake’s surface. Then we headed back for the car and to our new campsite for dinner.

There was another day of climbing and camping, and an evening of visiting the town of Ten Sleep as well as the Ten Sleep Brewing Company to escape a brief thunderstorm in the canyon. This microbrewery opened almost three years ago, and their beer is really terrific. In the summer, dirtbag climbers drive up in their dusty rigs to pay for a shower and a beer, which they drink under strings of lights and stars at outdoor picnic tables. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough. Should you find yourself in this part of western heaven, get thee to the brewery.

After driving back to Laramie, Margaret and I showered and went out for dinner in downtown Laramie during the height of the Jubilee Days festivities. Streets were blocked off for live music, dancing, drinking, and the carnival. We walked around for people-watching purposes, but were too tired to join in.

The next morning we met up with several friends to show Margaret the bouldering in Vedauwoo. Before this, she’d asked us why we don’t just go to Vedauwoo every day to climb, why we bother driving to places like Ten Sleep. After trying it herself, I think she understood why.

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Our friend Bart Cubrich on “Bombay Hooker,” a crazy-looking and very hard V6 boulder problem in Vedauwoo

Not to say that Vedauwoo’s climbing and bouldering are bad- they certainly aren’t. They’re just- well, different. They take some getting used to, both mentally and physically. Callouses help. Physical callouses. Although if you’ve built up some mental callouses, those could quite possibly help here too.

We especially enjoyed the start to “The Hatchet,” another V6, which was seemingly made for campusing, meaning only your hands are on the rock while your feet dangle beneath you. Yes, we do these things for fun.

After a quick shopping experience in downtown Laramie, I took Margaret to the Denver airport for her flight back to North Carolina. This past week has mostly consisted of me sitting inside at work and putting off cleaning and organizing our kitchen. It’s hard to be productive inside when the weather where you live is only this good for four months a year. Live on, Wyoming summer! Live on!

Love to all.

A Beach Meditation

Though my response to the question “beach or mountains?” has invariably been “mountains” since I can remember, (sand is my nemesis – it has no respect for personal space) I must admit that spending several days at Figure Eight Island in North Carolina recently was a much-needed break from the dry, thin air of the Mountain West.

My brother Will woke up early one morning to see the sunrise

My brother Will woke up early one morning to see the sunrise

I live for the moment when, exiting the airport, two automatic sliding glass doors swish out of your way like curtains, parting to deliver you to the realm of humid, hazy summer air. Most travelers at the Raleigh-Durham airport were either walking very quickly to their intended destinations or waiting inside, getting all chummy with baggage claim, while I stood outside on the sidewalk, dreaming of a Cook Out milkshake.

Last year I went to the North Carolina coast to remember my Oma, my grandmother. Her four sons – my dad and three uncles – and my Opa spread her ashes in the ocean. It has been over a year since she passed away. She never met my cousin, who would’ve been her newest grandchild, baby Maxime, who is not yet a year old. We think she bears a strong resemblance to Oma.

Will took this adorable photo of Maxime on the beach

Will took this adorable photo of Maxime on the beach

A house filled to the brim with seventeen family members, all salt-crusted, tanned and sandy and sunscreened, sucking on sweaty soda cans, is a joy.

Beach hair & family

Beach hair & family

Figure Eight Island doesn’t have any public access beaches, so the strand stays relatively empty, dotted by the occasional sand castle, umbrella, swimmer, or fisher. On a few days, I went for walks barefoot in that small strip of land close enough to the tide that the sand stays compact, and footprints wash away behind you.

Photo credit to Libby

Photo credit to Libby

After a few minutes of step after step, I realized how empty the beach truly was. Once I turned around to head back, the wind threw itself at the front of my wide-brimmed straw hat. If I lifted my chin, the wind would catch the brim and toss the whole hat clear off my head and toward the dunes. If I tucked my chin down, the wind pushed up against the brim, pressing it into my nose and almost entirely obscuring my vision. It was like this when I realized I could simply walk forward with my eyes closed for minutes at a time. I can’t think of any other setting in the world in which this would be possible.

Occasionally I’d step on a shattered shell or a larger wave would catch my ankles by cold surprise, but mostly it was full minutes of waves, ocean rush, wind, sand beneath my feet, and nothing else. How peaceful to walk, completely trusting in the landscape and the strength of my legs, no background noise but breeze and sea. One dark step after another, the inner ear pulsing with breath and heartbeat, a walking meditation.

Libby took this photo of Ben on one of his walks

Libby took this photo of Ben on one of his walks

I admire our planet’s ability to hold a singular space for destruction and messy life alongside such transcendent calm- a flat, clean emptiness.

Christmas in North Carolina

Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday – smell of balsam and pine, clove and cinnamon; sharing food and drink with loved ones; watching a child’s face light up with joy upon opening a long-desired gift; huddling around either a lit Christmas tree or a crackling fire in the fireplace out of both reverence and a wish for warmth.

Log cabin Christmas

Log cabin Christmas

These things all have a special meaning for me now that I live across the country from my family. Coming back to visit is so special. I get to put Sam, my ten-year-old brother, to bed every night – sometimes via a game of Boggle, sometimes a game of soccer between two puppets ensues, and sometimes I start reading paragraphs of an educational book on cartography in a Liza Minnelli voice.

North Carolina was rainy, which was strange, as I hadn’t seen any rain in several months. In fact, just before I left Laramie, it snowed enough that, on the drive down to the Denver airport, the pines in Medicine Bow National Forest were covered in dustings of snow.

Frosty forest

Frosted forest

The wind hadn’t yet had its chance to strip them free of frost.

Landing in Raleigh, I could immediately detect the difference in temperature. My older sister Margaret picked me up and I requested we stop by CookOut, a North Carolina-based fast food chain with dank milkshakes.

On Christmas Eve, my mom made a delicious vinegar-y bratwurst and red cabbage stew while Sam and I attempted to assemble a gingerbread house. We learned icing is very sticky.

Even blinking Sam is adorable

Even blinking Sam is adorable

That night my uncle and grandparents came to town for Christmas festivities. Dark beer and bourbon-spiked egg nog were had while we caught up and opened presents. Because there are six of us Indermaur kids, to save us from the problem of needing to find gifts for each sibling, each year we are secretly assigned one sibling for whom to find a gift. Otherwise, Sam would probably give us each a pack of gum or something.

On the morning of Christmas Day, Sam appoints himself the sorter of presents under the tree and stocking deliveryman. We each have our stocking, full to the brim with candy and other small goodies, personally delivered to our beds.

After partaking in cinnamon rolls, coffee, and candy, we drove to Greensboro to meet up with the Indermaur side of the family. We had lunch at a delicious Thai restaurant (after all those sweets, savory curry was a welcome change) and went to Opa’s house afterwards for dessert, caroling, and presents.

Uncle Tom, Aunt Morgan, cousin Catalina and baby cousin Maxime couldn’t join us from their home in California, so we sang Christmas songs to them over Skype. We were all wearing the matching T-shirts Tom and Morgan gave us.

The Incredible Indermaurs!

The Incredible Indermaurs!

The next day we headed to what my mom has dubbed the “Creekside Cabin” in rural central North Carolina.

Ben fuels up on the way to the cabin

Ben fuels up on the way to the cabin

Mmm nothing like a fresh jar of pig foot

Mmm nothing like a fresh jar of pig hooves

The cabin is a restored tobacco barn plus a newer addition surrounded by some wooded acreage and fenced-in areas. We’re trying to convince our parents to get a pet donkey. Or some goats. Really, anything will do. Rabbits?

The cabin

Welcome to the cabin!

There is a tire swing, a little creek (true to its name) – perfect for crawfish hunting and splashing and panning for gold – random abandoned treasures (an old tent? mason jars?), and a neighbor with a donkey and llama farm.

Sam enjoys the tire swing

Sam enjoys the tire swing

Sam panning for gold

Sam panning for gold

The old chinking and pine walls in the main room are just lovely.

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Cabin living room

But of course, the best way to experience the cabin is to wander around the woods.

And the best way to wander is via piggyback

And the best way to wander is via piggyback atop your younger but taller sister

We spent the night at the cabin, wandered and played a little more, and made s’mores around Dad’s campfire before driving back to Raleigh through beautiful little Chapel Hill.

Will chomps down on his half-charred marshmallow

Will chomps down on his half-charred marshmallow

Libby, Will, and I saw the excellent movie “Wild,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, about a young woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo. IT’S SO GOOD AND YOU NEED TO SEE IT. NOW. YES, YOU. YES, NOW.

I wish I’d had more time to see all my friends in North Carolina, but I’m so glad I was able to catch up with my family and to warm up a little before returning to Wyoming just in time to experience several days of negative double-digit temperatures.

Happy New Year, readers, and may it be a beautiful one.

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Baking Bread

When I was little, I used to asked my Oma (“grandma” in German) how her hands were so soft. She told me that her kneading bread softened the skin of her hands over time.

Oma passed away earlier this year, in case you didn’t read my earlier blog post about her. Oma made this one particular type of bread so often that our entire family refers to it as “Oma bread;” and I’ve been meaning to make it since her funeral this summer. I acquired the recipe from my uncle Tom, my dad’s younger brother, who has made it many times. I shy away from bread recipes that require kneading since, I don’t know, that sounds like a lot of work, right? When I lived in Chapel Hill, I had access to delicious, fresh bread everywhere. The Guglhupf, an amazing German bakery in Durham, North Carolina, was only twenty minutes away. To note, if you’ve never visited a local bakery, fresh bread is CHEAP!

There aren’t any bakeries in Laramie that make fresh bread (there is one that focuses mostly on wedding cakes and other fancy pastries), so I’ve been making a lot of this King Arthur flour recipe, which doesn’t require any kneading (hooray!). It’s a great first loaf if you’ve never made bread before. It’s also fairly versatile; I’ve used it for circular sourdough-esque loaves as well as baguettes.

I felt like baking something this past Sunday because, well, it was Sunday. And the weather is beginning to deteriorate; we’ve had such a wonderful fall in Laramie this year! But today it snowed, and is still snowing.

Our snowy backyard this afternoon

Our snowy backyard this afternoon

And the email Tom sent me with the recipe has been burning a hole in my inbox. I told Matt, “I think I’m going to make Oma bread today,” and he asked, “Home-ah bread?” I said, “No, OMA bread – duh!”

So, without further ado, the (now) world famous OMA BREAD RECIPE!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached flour (up to 1/2c more while kneading)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 7-8 Tbsp frozen unsalted butter (8 tbsp = 1 stick)
  • 2 small packages yeast
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp anise (aka fennel) seeds
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ground zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp to brush loaf before baking

Steps:

  1. Set out the three eggs you’ll be using for the dough in order to bring them to room temperature.
  2. Microwave the cup of milk until it is warm enough that you can keep your finger in it for 5 seconds without feeling the need to yank it out – warm, but not hot. While microwaving, pour the sugar into your largest mixing bowl.

    Setting up

    Setting up

  3. Take 2 pinches of the sugar from the mixing bowl and drop them into the cup of milk. Add the 2 packets of yeast to the milk; do not stir. The sugar and the warm temperature of the milk will help to activate the yeast. If you’ve overheated the milk (as I did), simply let it cool for a minute or two before adding the yeast.
  4. Add the flour, egg, anise seeds, and salt to the sugar in the large mixing bowl.
  5. To capture the egg yolks, crack the eggs over a separate, small bowl. Drop the shell’s contents into your other hand, above the small bowl. Allow the yolk to sit in your hand while the white drips into the bowl between your fingers. Once you’ve sifted out the egg white, drop the yolk into the large mixing bowl with all the other ingredients. Repeat with the second egg yolk.
  6. To collect the ground lemon zest, use a zester or a grater. Add the zest to the other ingredients.

    I love this zester that my Aunt Lynn & Uncle Fred gave me for Christmas one year. It is great for zesting lemons!

    I love this zester that my Aunt Lynn & Uncle Fred gave me for Christmas one year. It is great for zesting lemons!

  7. For the butter: my Oma’s original recipe calls for room temperature butter to be added directly to the dough, but because I live in a small household, I almost always keep my full sticks of butter in the freezer, which means I have to know WAY ahead of time if I’ll be needing a full stick at room temperature later. I once read a recipe for scones that called for grated frozen butter, and I’ve been using this trick ever since. Take a cheese grater, like perhaps the one you used for the lemon, and an unwrapped stick of frozen butter, fresh out of the freezer. Grate the frozen butter – it will create beautiful little curly-cues that then stick together. Don’t worry! Once you add the clumped curly-cues, they will mix easily into your dough. After grating the whole stick, or 7/8 of it, add the butter to the dough. Mix the dough with a spoon.

    This is what grated frozen butter looks like - pretty enough to eat!

    This is what grated frozen butter looks like – pretty enough to eat!

  8. After mixing, check your yeast mixture. Is it foamy? If so, it is ready to add to the rest of the dough. (If not, wait a little longer. If it doesn’t foam after 10-15 minutes, either your milk was too hot/cold, or your yeast is bad.) Make a little indentation in the center of your dough. Pour the milky yeast mixture into that dent, and begin to mix with a spoon.
  9. After the dough is mostly mixed, switch to kneading with the hands until you get a smooth ball.

    Relatively smooth, anyway

    Relatively smooth, anyway

  10. Place plastic wrap or a cloth loosely over the bowl containing the ball of dough and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it’s doubled, 1.5-1.75 hours (or 1 hour if you live at 7,000 feet above sea level like I do!).
  11. After the dough is risen, knead it a little more. Take it out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 logs, or more, depending on what you want the loaf to look like.
    I made four logs to weave a round loaf rather than braiding a long one

    I made four logs to weave a round loaf rather than braiding a long one

    Interweave your logs to create a braided strand or loaf, and tuck the ends underneath the loaf. (I used this YouTube tutorial to braid my loaf like traditional Challah. Feel free to experiment here! What’s the point of all this work if your bread doesn’t end up being delicious AND pretty?!)

    Ta-da!

    Ta-da!

  12. Let the loaf rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  13. While the loaf is rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place a pizza stone inside to warm along with the oven. A pizza stone will help to evenly bake your bread. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can just use a cookie sheet – no need to place it in the preheating oven.
  14. Mix your egg yolk and milk in a small bowl until the liquid is a pale yellow.
    Getting ready to mix

    Fixin’ to mix

    Once the loaf has risen, brush it over with the yolk mixture. This will make your bread look pretty! All brown and shiny.

    Brushed & ready to bake

    Brushed & ready to bake

  15. Lift the parchment paper to transfer the bread to either your cookie sheet or your preheated pizza stone. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until the top is browned but the center is done.
All done!

All done!

Congratulations! You’ve made OMA BREAD!!! Taste it to understand our family’s obsession. Oma bread is good all by itself (obviously!), or with a little raspberry jam – organic, if you’re eating it in the spirit of Oma herself. I’m considering making some French toast with it one morning. What do you think?

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Love to all.

In Memoriam

Growing up in North Carolina, I feel like people always asked, “Beach or mountains?” the same way they asked, “UNC or NC State?” as if that would tell them something about your character. Beach folks like it easy, I suppose: beer, flip-flops, tan lines, maybe a boat if they’re serious. Mountain people prefer quiet and wildlife, and whiskey, stereotypically. Ballcap versus straw hat; pickup versus dune buggy; hiking boots versus surfboard.

Many people don’t have the luxury of this choice. I’ve met adult Wyomingites who’ve never seen an ocean, much less crossed one. Last week all the American Indermaurs met up at the beach, flying into Wilmington or Jacksonville in North Carolina to celebrate and commemorate my Oma’s life, to share her stories and make her recipes.

Walkway to the ocean, taken by my sister Libby

Walkway to the ocean, taken by my sister Libby

As you may recall from my previous post, Oma passed away in May after a long bout of chemo, and painkillers, and not being able to eat. I struggle to portray this accurately in writing; I hate the phrase “fighting cancer,” as in, “She fought a long, hard battle against cancer.” The word “fight” is not fitting in discussing disease; no one said I “fought mono,” or that my mother was “fighting chickenpox.” Besides, cancer is not something you beat so much as you sit with. Cancer patients aren’t doing any sort of conscious fighting. The reality is more insidious and more gentle than that: feeling tired, trying to eat, feeling weakness and loss and sadness and lack of time. Feeling useless. This is not how a warrior feels in battle.

No, Oma was no warrior in that sense. She did not waste her life fighting or being angry at the dealer of her cards, but rather spent it living, and loving.

All the Indermaur grandchildren at Oma's memorial service

All the Indermaur grandchildren at Oma’s memorial service

She was born in Germany in 1937 and grew up during World War II. She was just a young child during the height of rationed goods – no milk, very little sugar. The Nazis burned her schoolbook, and daily activities were interrupted by air raids. Her father died of cancer when she was very young, and her family was subsequently thrown into poverty. The German government was in disarray, and did not give my Oma’s mother any form of compensation (her father had been a World War I veteran) until many years later.

Oma met Opa (my grandfather) in a French language class in Switzerland. My Opa was supposed to move to the U.S. shortly after they met, but he postponed his trip twice, during which time they met each other’s families, who of course thought they were crazy. My Opa left on a boat for America, and Oma followed several months later, after they’d known one another for less than a year.

Upon her arrival in Manhattan, they were married at The Little Church Around the Corner. Their wedding party and guests consisted only of other people they’d met on the trip from Europe. Imagine having newly arrived in a country you’ve never visited, marrying a man from a different country whom you hardly know (no offense, Opa!), and starting life anew. It would be incredibly exhilarating, if not debilitatingly stressful!

Libby on the Atlantic Coast, photo taken by my sister Margaret

Libby on the Atlantic Coast, photo taken by my sister Margaret

Oma was always like this. When I was a girl, she and Opa traveled the world. They saw Nepal, Japan, Scandinavia, Patagonia, Antarctica, Costa Rica,and Kenya. And despite her adventurous nature, she was willing and able to sacrifice some of that sense in order to raise four children, my father and three uncles.

When I spoke about Oma at her memorial service, I referred mostly to her uncanny ability to see, acknowledge, and express gratitude for the beauty in every moment. Some people do this inauthentically, complementing a child on his unimaginative doodle, for example. But Oma was always forthright and honest about her convictions, particularly in what garnered her praise (e.g., she once told my coughing, sneezing sister that she had “a beautiful cold”). Oma was also an incredible giver. Her gifts were generous but, more importantly, they were little acknowledgements of the things she knew you needed, or that you loved. This winter she mailed me a package full of cold weather goodies, from scarves to hand-warmers. In high school when I was taking violin lessons, she gave me two CDs from the “Essential Violin” collection, a compilation of classical pieces featuring the solo violin performed by the best violinists of our time.

When you were with her, you were the most important person imaginable. Everything you loved, she loved. Oma was boundlessly caring.

What a marvelous way to live: always on an adventure, immeasurably generous, exceedingly humble. Oma has left me with her example of incredible living, for which I am grateful. The least I can do is attempt to memorialize the beauty that was her life.

Love to all.

A Quick Trip to North Carolina

When I was in North Carolina briefly last weekend, I tried to sit outside in the insanely nice 70-degree weather and sunshine as much as possible. This resulted in my eventual sunburn. Being comfortable outside in normal clothes? I’d forgotten what it felt like.

I ate lunch on Friday at Vimala’s, an excellent Indian restaurant in Chapel Hill, and sat outside in their little courtyard with my mom and little brother, Sam. Later I shared a beer with a friend on the lawn in front of Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. When I stopped by Trader Joe’s (how I miss you, TJ!) to stock up on trail mix and buy wine for my parents, the wine tasting guy totally recognized me and we chatted about my move out west, and winter conditions. He also noticed my sunburn.

After Trader Joe’s, I drove out to Duke Gardens in Durham, which was not nearly as brown as Laramie’s current state, but was also, astonishingly, beginning to blossom. Daffodils’ little yellow crowns were everywhere, forsythia was in full bloom, and I even spotted a little purple crocus, open just an inch above the dirt.

Daffodils

Daffodils

I met up with a friend who was sitting on a blanket in a grassy sloping field opposite shirtless Duke students. They haplessly and repeatedly tossed their frisbee into a nearby pond between drinking PBR cans, the labels hidden by koozies, and the box poorly hidden under a magnolia tree. The ducks were displeased by the frisbee intruder and flew back and forth between the water and a magnolia tree clear across the field.

Crocus

Crocus

I talked about skiing like it was the only interesting thing I’d done all winter (probably true) until another friend arrived, and we later went to Geer Street Garden for dinner to talk about books and feminism and how it can be oddly difficult to form new friendships.


The real reason I was in North Carolina was to visit my grandmother, who has just entered hospice for cancer. It’s strange, having time to prepare for death. For her to consider options like cremation or burial. What is to be done with the body that’s carried you through this life, and how will people seek to remember you after death? Even the act of spreading someone’s ashes is to literally let go, surrender their body back to the earth, to the elements. How hard that moment of letting go would be, opening your hand, loosening your grip, the wind taking over as it pleases.

Almost the whole family. Oma is the in the chair on the left

Almost the whole family. Oma is the in the chair on the left

Death is the ultimate “letting go” of our attachments, letting go of all we’ve ever known: our friends, our family, our home, our body, our passions and compassions. A yoga teacher of mine described the difficulty of letting go this way: you are swinging on a trapeze, enjoying the ride, when you realize it is time to let go in order to grab the next bar. If you hesitate, you miss it. The scariest part is not necessarily letting go so much as being in that moment where you are attached to nothing, between bars, having released the last and not yet reached the next. Complete vulnerability, complete surrender. Trusting in the not-knowing, the absolute fragility and discomfort, even pain.

We all have these in-between moments in our lives – between jobs, between relationships, moving, seeking diagnosis for disease, mourning a loved one’s passing. But facing death is the ultimate in-between and letting go. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described facing death this way in his poem “Crossing the Bar”:

…Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

You can read the poem in its entirety here. Hope is not certainty. The flood may bear him far, but he’s not sure. From the certainty of light and “Time and Place,” death transports him to “the dark!”; that we know. Death itself is certain (death & taxes!), but everything else about it is the opposite: when it will come and how, what happens to our souls and those left behind in death’s wake.

We experience many small preparations for death in our lifetimes by graciously letting go, by saying goodbye without fear or hatred. Though we can never be fully prepared for death, I think, there is room for us to be at peace with whatever comes next, or, at least, at peace with God.