Category Archives: Friends & Family

The ATM Cave & Concurring Fear

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

   My son at Jewel Cave, South Dakota

When ever chatting with friends and family about outdoor activities, and the subject of spelunking and exploring caves came up, I always said that’s not for me. I’m not all that claustrophobic but the idea of squeezing my body through a tight space in a dark cave gives me the eebie-jeebies. What if I get stuck? And panic? And no one is there to get me out? Flash flood? Cave in? Aliens? Nope, not for me… Forget it!

In 2015 we took a family vacation to South Dakota. While there we visited the Jewel Cave. The cave had an elevator, walkways, railings, and LIGHTS. I was a little nervous but there were not any tight spaces and as long as we kept moving and the guide kept talking I was good. On the outside of the Visitors Center was a block to crawl through demonstrating how tight some of the “off trail”  paths were. Nope, not for me.

This January my husband and I visited Belize for the first time. We were told that a “Must-See” was the Actun Tunichil Muknal “ATM” Cave. The ATM Cave is a Mayan archaeological site near San Ignacio, Cayo District, that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. It sounded cool, my husband did the research and we booked the tour when we arrived at the hotel.

On the morning of the ATM Cave tour I woke to this notice that it was a POW day back home.
We were instructed to wear cloths we can hike, climb, and swim in. Including water shoes and a pair of socks. I wore a one piece swim suit and a pair of light weight cotton shorts, (next time I will pack some river shorts). For my shoes I wore my Keens and a pare of smart wool toe sock booties. I wear prescription glasses, and so did most of the others in our group, we needed to wear retainers on them so we would not loose them or drop them on an artifact. We were allowed to bring a day pack with dry cloths, snacks, and a camera but we had to leave it in the van at the trail head. Cameras were not allowed in the cave, damage to the artifacts had happened when someone dropped a camera on a 2000 year old skull and broke it. After 3 separate incidents the government passed a rule forbidding cameras. I wasn’t even allowed to carry my eppi pen, I had to the guide to carry in his dry bag. At the trail head we were given a life jacket, climbing helmet, a head lamp, and a liter of water. It was a mile hike to the cave entrance and we were told to drink half the water before we get to the cave, the other half on the way back..

We hit the trail, the first thing we did was swim across a river that is several feet deep. There was a rope to hold onto to guide us to the trail on the other side. IOn the trail we crossed water 2 more times, and the trail itself had several muddy spots that squished around (and into) the shoes. When we got to the last several yards before the cave entrance we were told to find a place to set our water bottle. There were no facilities, the men were told to use the jungle on the left, women the jungle on the right.


Entrance to the ATM cave from the website
Click photo to read more about the cave.

It was a privilege to be able to visit the site, they only allow 200 people a day in the cave. All have to be with a guide. The guide instructed us on footing, how to step, and what to touch & not touch. Then back in the water we went and swam into the cave. What was I thinking when I said yes to this? I have NO IDEA what I was thinking! Maybe because the Jewel Cave was so commercialized I didn’t give much of a thought to what I was getting myself into. My darling husband, being the smart man that he is, didn’t tell me it was a non commercialized cave, we would be doing real caving. So, on I trekked, thinking “no prob, I can do this”.

Squeezing through the cave openings

The “Guillotine” – We could not have cameras, this is not
my photo, it’s from a stranger’s blog blog. But, I did that!

The water in the cave was over our head at the entrance, throughout the cave the water was anywhere from ankle deep to several feet deep. A little way into the cave we met our first obstacle, a tight spot nick-named the “guillotine“.  I was the second to last to go through, my husband was behind me. We had to position ourselves so that our head was above a rock sticking out, and the rest of our body below, so that our neck goes by the rock. Remember, up until this very moment doing exactly this was a “I will never do” activity, and definitely NOT on my bucket list! What was I thinking? HOLY CRAP! I was not going to turn around now, everyone would have to leave too, so OMG I’m going to do this! As the woman in front of me worked her way threw the opening I was having this quiet conversation with myself in my brain that started out “Oh sh–! Oh F—! Oh sh–! Oh F—! Oh sh–! Oh F—!….” Then I rationalized with myself that my husband is bigger than me and if he would not fit they would not let him go, therefor I will fit into that tiny little space and not get stuck. Once it was my turn, I made a couple tries then decided to take off my life jacket (not dangerous), I slipped right through, no freaking out, no panic, no alien abductions. YAY!! I could not believe I did it! I was so pleased with myself. The woman in from of me said she was having the same feeling about it too. After that anything else in our path would be a piece of cake.

A video of people passing through the guillotine.

On the hike to the artifact room the guide made many stops to tell us about the cave, the Mayans, the culture, stalactites, stalagmites, the sink hole, and answer questions. When we got about a mile into the cave we had to climb a bolder and up on a (wide) ledge to get to the artifact room. The guide instructed us on climbing the boulder. It had divots where to put your feet, I would compare it to hoisting myself into a saddle on an 18 hand horse without standing on a log, the first step was a doozie! I had my husband push my bum up that rock. Once we climbed onto the ledge we took off our life jackets and shoes. This is where the socks come in, no shoes were allowed into the artifact room, minimizing damage to the cave. The wool toe booties worked great! They were not saturated with water, the grip was good, and my feet were protected. As I was walking into the artifact room in my socks I thought to myself “this is sooo worth missing a pow day for!’. 

In the artifact room was pottery and human sacrificial remains 1500 – 2000 years old, some just inches from the marked trail. For example, an artifact named the “Monkey Pot” was right there, next to our feet, easy to get a good look at in detail. It was SO COOL! In the very back of the cave was a calcified full skeleton nicknamed ‘The Crystal Maiden’, our guide said that was just a name dubbed by a reporter and there is not enough evidence to determine if it is a male for a female. The archaeologists believe she (or he) was sacrificed during a period of drought, to appease the god of rain. The Mayans believing the cave was where all water originated.

Did you read this and say ‘Hell no! Not me!”? I want to stress… don’t let your fear get in the way of this awesome opportunity. If I can overcome my fear and do this, so can you.
On the way out we stopped and the guide had us all turn off our headlamps. Then he had us close our eyes. When we opened our eyes they did not adjust, it was completely black. Up until this moment I had not even given the darkness a second thought. Imagine the Mayans trekking to the back of this cave with only torches.

The next day it started raining and all the caves closed, and it didn’t stop the rest of the week. We chose our day well. Would I do it again? YES! However there are so many other cool things we didn’t get to see in Belize I probably would not do it on our next trip unless we were with someone who had not done it before.

Ski Term: Ski Buds

Ski Buds



A group of Bros that enjoy *ripping pow, drinking beer, riding lifts, Aubrey ski, and spending time together.

Holly Balogh, Sue, BJ, Cecilia, Claire, Julie Wilson

Holly, Sue, BJ, Cecilia, Claire, Myself

Judy, Becky, Jay, Julie Wilson, Claire

Judy, Becky, Jay, Myself, Claire

BJ, Judy, Julie Wilson, Jay

BJ, Judy, Myself, Jay

*However there is no such thing as a friend on a powder day.

Julie’s Perfect Roast Turkey & Mashed Potatoes

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Over the years I’ve read many techniques and recipes on how to cook a turkey. Taking the best parts of those reads, I’ve come up with this method. Many friends and family have asked for my recipe, so here it is.

  • I do not like to brine, I think it adds too much salt to the bird.
  • I do not use a bag, it boils the bird and gives it a different texture than roasting.
  • I do not use an electric mixer for the potatoes, it gives them an odd texture.

Use a high quality roasting pan, I use the Pampered Chef Roasting Pan. I earned mine at 60% off by hosting a party with a few years ago, but even at full price it is worth every penny. Once you roast a turkey in a high quality pan you can never go back. They last, no scratches, no nicks, no peeling, and when the turkey is done I move it to the cutting board and put the roaster right on the stove to do the gravy. If you don’t have a quality pan, any pan works with a few adjustments but be sure to keep the bird off the bottom of the pan with a rack or crumpled up foil.

Temperature is very important too, if you even suspect your oven t-stat is a little off get a thermometer designed to hang on rack inside oven. Last year my turkey did not roast correctly, dinner was late, and the turkey was not so perfect. I found that my oven was sensor was bad and it was cooking at 30+ degrees cooler than I had set it to.

This is for a 18-20 lb turkey, dinner at 5:00 PMimg_2734

Shopping List:

  • Good Quality Whole Turkey, I prefer Butterball
  • Cheese Cloth
  • 6 cans or 2 cartons of Chicken Broth or Chicken Stock
  • 2 Lbs UNSALTED Butter
  • 1 lb sour cream
  • Produce:
    • 2 Leeks
    • 1 Onion
    • Carrots
    • Celery
    • Fresh Thyme
    • Fresh Sage
    • Fresh Rosemary
    • Fresh Parsley
    • 2 or 3 heads Garlic
    • Bag of Potatoes
  • Bay Leaves
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Pepper Corns
  • White Pepper
  • 2 Bottles good quality Sauvignon Blanc. Buy a brand you would serve to guests.
  • Add the ingredients for the stuffing Recipe of your choice. I like No. 38, Southwestern Cornbread, from these Food Network 50 Stuffing Recipes. I cut the recipe in half and have plenty for a bird 20 lbs or less.


Remove turkey from refrigerator, let stand at room temperature for a couple hours.


Preheat oven to 350º.

10:00 am:

Roast 1 or 2 bulbs garlic for potatoes.
Cut off top of bulb, put in a small covered baker or casserole, (I use the Pampered Chef Garlic & Brie Baker), drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, bake at 350º until cloves are soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. No covered baker? Another method is wrapping each bulb in foil and place in a muffin pan.

Read over recipes and prepare stuffing as directed.

10:45 am:

In a 3-qt. Covered Saucepan combine 1½ cups each chicken broth and Sauvignon Blanc, 1 stick unsalted butter, the giblets, a bunch each of fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme. Bring to simmer. Keep on lowest flame/setting possible. If your more of a ‘little of this and a little of that’ cook, the ratios are 1 can broth, 1 stick butter, and a half bottle wine.

Prepare roasting pan by setting the rack in the pan and adding one onion cut in large pieces, 3 large carrots cut in large pieces, 3 or 4 stalks of celery cut in large pieces, the white and little bit of the greenish white part of 1 medium leek cut into large pieces. Add the neck, 2 large or 3 medium bay leaves and a small handful of fresh parsley. If you are a garlic lover you can optionally add 4 or 5 garlic cloves. Add ¼ to ½ cup of cold water to pan, just enough to barely cover bottom so the vegetables don’t burn in first half hour.

11:00 am:a12c7aa3-51a3-4762-9b48-70825731b427

Preheat oven to 425º

Clean, pat dry with paper towel, stuff, and truss the turkey. Generously season with fresh ground sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

I either buy a butter ball turkey or I use my Grandma Krejci’s method of slitting a hole in the skin over each breast, separate some of the skin from the meat with the back of a wooden spoon, and inserting several pats of unsalted butter under the skin. About 1 full stick total for a 18 lb turkey.

Place turkey in roasting pan, you may have to move around the vegies to get it to set correctly. Place a bunch each of fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme on the breast. Cut a piece of cheesecloth big enough to cover the breast and legs of the turkey. Soak the cheesecloth in the simmering broth mixture. Use tongs and a fork to take the cheese cloth out of the hot simmering mixture and position over the bird, covering the fresh herbs, breast and drumsticks, but not the sides.

If you have two slow cookers you can use one for the extra stuffing. Coat the sides with butter, add stuffing, cook on low for 4 hours stirring every hour so it does not burn.
(Thanks for the tip Dianne M.)

11:30 am:

Place turkey in 425º oven.

08e7b17f-7579-4618-b8f0-56cdebd26ec5Prepare mashed potatoes: In a slow cooker, add one can (1½ cups) chicken broth, the white part of a leek finely chopped, the mushed up soft part of the roasted garlic, and 6 – 8 large Idaho Potatoes cut into medium pieces. I prefer to scrub the potatoes with a brush rather than peeling them, the skin adds flavor. Do not overfill crock pot. Add more broth if needed, but do not cover with broth, the level should be about 1 to 2 inches from top of potatoes. Set slow cooker on low for 6 hours or high for 4 hours. – Update November 2017, I used the Pampered Chef Rockcrok® Slow Cooker Stand and Rockcrok® Dutch Oven. It was perfect for 8 Idaho potatoes oh high for 4 hours.

12:00 Noon:

Generously baste turkey using a ladle, be sure to moisten all of the cheese cloth. Close oven door and reduce temperature to 350º. Generously baste every 30 minutes (use a timer) with the broth mixture, NOT using the drippings for basting.

Add 1½ cups each chicken broth and Sauvignon Blanc and 1 stick unsalted butter to simmering mixture as needed through out day, removing the giblets when they are done cooking. If your stove does not have a low enough setting, after simmering a bit I turn off the burner and set the pan next to the oven vent on top my stove, turning back on each time I add more stuff to the mixture.

3:30 pm: (1 Hour before Turkey is due to be done)

Remove the cheese cloth from the turkey before basting.

Check the potatoes, they should be soft. Drain and reserve the liquid from the slow cooker. Add 1 stick unsalted butter and one lb of sour cream. Mash and stir well, adding salt and white pepper to taste. The mashed potatoes will seem a little loose but will set up while cooing on low until dinner is served.

4:00 pm:

Use remainder of broth mixture to baste the turkey, the roaster should have lots of liquid by now.

4:30 pm:

Pull turkey from oven, insert meat thermometer into thickest part of Turkey thigh. It should read 180º when turkey is fully cooked. (If not done, place back in oven, baste with drippings and check again in 30 minutes.)

Remove the turkey from pan and let sit at room temp for 30 minutes. It will continue to cook a bit as it sets.

For perfect gravy.

Use tongs to remove all the vegies and neck from the roaster, putting them into a glass bowl to cool before trashing. Pour/strain the drippings into a gravy separator, you should have plenty of drippings for gravy. Let separate. If you do not have a separator strain into a large measuring cup or bowl and let sit until separated, then using a large spoon to scoop off the fat into another bowl.

Put the roaster directly on stove, add several tablespoons of the fat back into the roaster, (or sauce pan if roaster is not suitable for direct cooking), and add flour to make a roux, about equal to the fat, and mix with a whisk. Simmer, whisking the roux constantly while it cooks, the mixture will begin to thin and darken after several minutes. Slowly pour the separated drippings back into the roaster, less the fat, whisking the whole time. Also add the reserved liquid from the potatoes. If you need more liquid use more chicken broth. Simmer stirring with a whisk until the gravy is at the consistency you want.  Taste before seasoning, you should not need much salt and pepper if any, it picks up the salts and seasonings from the roasted bird.

If you like giblets in the gravy chop them into small pieces and add them with the liquids.

5:00 pm:


I do not sell Pampered Chef, I have a friend who does. I love good quality cookware and especially like it when a friend or small business person benefits from my purchase. Click here for Jennifer’s PC page and be sure to tell her I sent you.