Needles and a Pen » Knitting, Sewing, and Nursing School

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  • Welcome to my blog!

    Hi! I'm Traci. I'm a nursing student and CNA who loves quilting, knitting, cross stitch, Project Life scrapbooking, and the great outdoors. In my pre-scrubs life, I owned Real Photography, and you can still see my old wedding and portrait photography site here .

    I great big puffy heart *love* comments, so please let me know you visited! I try to always reply!

Horsethief Falls Trail Review

horse thief falls trail review

For our family this hike was part of our first backpacking excursion.  It is well known as being a side excursion to the longer and harder Pancake Rocks hike, but for a young family it’s a great hike on its own.  While there are some nice steady grades for little legs, there is also a flat section in the middle for them to catch their breath.

Pros:  You’ll enjoy shade for most of the hike. It’s not difficult and would make a good introductory hike for young kids.

Cons:  This is a popular hike, so it may be crowded.  I was also a little spooked by several marking trees next to the falls, but given the number of visitors to the falls it’s hard to imagine you’d actually see a bear during the day.  It was just enough to make me 100% sure our backpacking spot would NOT be near the falls!

Distance/Difficulty:  This is a nice family hike–the mileage and elevation are very manageable for new hikers at 2.6 miles and 655ft.

Directions:  This hike couldn’t be easier to find.  Take US24 to Divide, then take US67 south for 9.3 miles.  You’ll find the trailhead easily around a bend in the road, as it is notable for its large parking area next to an old tunnel.

Trail Teaching:  

  • Bear marking trees.  I spotted several trees that a bear had recently shredded (you can see in the pictures all of the fresh pieces of bark next to the tree).  The trees are a good opportunity to talk about bears and spotting signs of wildlife even when you can’t see the wildlife, but also a good chance to talk about safety.
  • Water as a method of transport.  When we were hiking, there were plenty of branches and logs clogged up in the creek.  You can talk about how all sorts of things are brought along by rivers–rocks, leaves, branches, mud…and how they are deposited when the water slows down.
  • Area history-the hike takes you along the outskirts of Horsethief Park.  The guidebooks make vague references to Horsethief Park’s “colorful history,” and a few blog posts explain that the park received its name from the thieves who lived there and stole from the gold camp travelers.  From Pancake Rocks you can look out to see the giant American Eagles Mine and talk about the history of mining in Cripple Creek.  US-67 runs along the old railroad bed that ran to Cripple Creek.  According to Roadside Geology of Colorado, Cripple Creek produced $450 million in gold and silver from 1891-1942.



a laundry bag for scrubs


I wear scrubs six out of every seven days.  Six days a week I wear scrubs and then on Tuesdays my jeans and I have a talk about how my current lifestyle is not without consequences.

I launder my scrubs separately from regular clothing because my nursing school whites require a serious amount of bleach for me to not just burn them at the end of every day, and my burgundy scrubs are covered in baby cooties.

My current method for keeping my scrubs separate from the rest of the laundry has been leaving them on a pile on the floor until I run out of whatever color fits my health care role of the day.  Nic hasn’t been super thrilled about that method of laundry storage.  Enter my new dedicated scrubs laundry bag!  A perfect 15 minute solution in a Sarah Jane border print I love.  It’s not fancy, but it is finished!

Pancake Rocks Trail – Hiking Review


The hike begins after a nice climb up from the parking lot on an old wagon road through relatively flat Horsethief Park.  Unfortunately you are on the less attractive side of the park (although the shade from the trees is nice)–the creek and beaver dens are all on the left.  The Ring the Peak Trail runs left off this trail and offers the prettier view of the park, but this trail stays in the trees.  At 0.7 miles there is a large difficult-to-miss sign pointing out the junction between the trails to Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks.  Adults and older kids could easily do both in a day, but my recommendation for young elementary schoolers would be to keep the two hikes separate, or at the very least, do Pancake Rocks first and if after that the kids were up to seeing Horsethief Falls on the way out, great.  At this point in the hike, things get real.  You’ll gain 800ft of elevation over the next mile of switchbacks through the trees.  At the top there’s a great spot for a rest (unless you’re trying to beat a thunderstorm like we were)!  There is a fire spot and enough level area for a great backpacking site, however it is a long hike down to the water.  There is a nice flat section before you drop down (argh) and then up again (double argh).

Pros:  This was a great hike to put my little hikers to the test!  It was not very crowded once you get onto the Pancake Rock section, had nice variety, and the namesake rocks a the end of the hike were a nice pay-off.

Cons:  I like my hikes to be predictable.  I like my ups to go up and my downs to go down.  This one is emotionally trickier–there’s a significant little descent on your way up (elevation you then have to gain back).  There is also very little water along the hike.

Distance/Difficulty:  This is the most challenging hike we’ve done as a family.  At 6.4 miles and 1400ft elevation gain at 10,000ft, you are going to be trying to suck down some oxygen and wondering where it is!  We’d prepped the kids that this would be a challenge, but three quarters of the way up the steep switchback section, as I was huffing and puffing, Ellie piped up with “when’s the hard part going to be?”  I think what made it such a success in spite of her tiny legs is that she’d been hiking all season with a camelback full of water, but we’d left that at our campsite to lighten her load for this longer/harder hike.  It was a very successful strategy!

Directions:  This hike couldn’t be easier to find.  Take US24 to Divide, then take US67 south for 9.3 miles.  You’ll find the trailhead easily around a bend in the road, at it is notable for its large parking area next to an old tunnel.

Trail Teaching:  

  • Pancake rock formation–for all of my books and internet research, I actually couldn’t find a good explanation of how the granite pancake rocks formed.  There are explanations online about limestone pancake rock formations, but the internet geology buffs go silent when it comes to granite pancake rock formations.  So have the kids use what they know about geological forces to make guesses.
  • Area history-the guidebooks make vague references to Horsethief Park’s “colorful history,” and a few blog posts explain that the park received its name from the thieves who lived there and stole from the gold camp travelers.  From Pancake Rocks you can look out to see the giant American Eagles Mine and talk about the history of mining in Cripple Creek.  US-67 runs along the old railroad bed that ran to Cripple Creek.  According to Roadside Geology of Colorado, Cripple Creek produced $450 million in gold and silver from 1891-1942.


pancake rocks hike colorado

This series shows pictures from the beginning of the hike, starting with the old tunnel and trailhead and ending with the trail junction that marks the start of the switchbacks.

pancake rocks hike divide

Up the switchbacks to a little campsite at a great overlook spot before a nice flat section and then a steep descent before your final ascent to the pancake rocks.  This area of the trail had some summer snow for snowballs!

pancake rocks hike

The pancake rocks themselves and view toward the American Eagle Mine (the brown hillsides on the horizon).

Further Reading: Great pictures from a late season hike on this blog and a thorough trail review here.  If you’re interested in adding on Horsethief Falls to this hike, here is my post on Horsethief Falls

My nursing school clinicals / CNA favorite products


Here are a few of my nursing school/CNA must haves:

  1. Stethoscope name tag – the etsy store is on vacation right now but she needs to hurry back!  I need a new one on my adult sized stethoscope!  Standard name tags are really hard to read, but if you toss this around your neck or use one of the badge reels, patients can easily see your name.  (I have a badge reel for work that I love!  I went through several cheaper badge reels but whatever she uses as a base is sturdy enough to handle the 18 million times a day at work that I pull out my badge to open a door!)
  2. Nurse cards – These are a great resource with lab values and signs/symptoms.  Great for a study resource or to help you out if your brain suddenly goes blank!
  3. Myndology index cards – I have never been a huge fan of index cards, but I love these little pocket cards.  I stick them in my pockets at work and clinicals and when I have a spare second I quiz myself.
  4. Pocket organizer.  I have two–one for work, and one for clinicals.  The one for work lives in my locker, the one for clinicals lives in my clinicals bag.  Inside my work pocket organizer I keep a multi colored pen, a black pen, highlighter, sharpie, scissors, and a white board marker.  Inside my clinicals organizer I keep
    • Multi colored pen
    • Scissors and pen light (came with the organizer)
    • Sharpie
    • Alcohol wipes
    • Chapstick
    • A small tube of essential oils (I like Bergamont for when I feel like I smell like the poop I’ve been cleaning up all day.  I prefer the non FCF version, but it looks like they don’t carry it anymore)
    • Cash + my ID/debit card (I have to remember to move these two things back and forth between my purse and the organizer.  I am successful approximately 40% of the time.)


Backpacking with Kids – Our Rookie Trip

Hey!  Look what I found in my drafts folder!  A post almost all ready to go about our first backpacking trip–I finished it up and here it is!

tips for backpacking with kids

Last month we backpacked for the first time as a family.  I am so excited for the flexibility this offers in terms of planning.  Great campsites need to be reserved 6+ months in advance, and with my schedule at the hospital changing from week to week and often unavailable to me until two weeks prior to the dates in question, this is a risky move at best.  Backpacking also allows us flexibility in weather–you can go where the forecast is best!

The Location

For our first trip we chose the Horsethief Park area (located between Divide and Cripple Creek).  We were looking to hike about 2 miles to test Will’s ability with his pack.  We ended up hiking up to Horsethief Falls, then back to the Ring the Peak trail junction, which we then followed for about a third of a mile before finding an established campsite with a fire ring and flat area for a tent.  Our backtracking meant that we were really only a mile from the car, which allowed us a nice low commitment way to gear test!  We hiked to Pancake Rocks the next morning before packing up and heading out.

The Weather

Nic didn’t want to go on this trip because the forecast was for thunderstorms on both Saturday and Sunday.  I argued that if we waited for a summer weekend without thunderstorms, we’d never go camping.  We had our camp set up before the storms rolled through Saturday evening, so we retreated to the tent for about an hour, and it worked out just as I’d expected.  What I hadn’t thought about was how it would go if you had to pack everything up in the rain.  Sunday we hiked up to Pancake Rocks.  It started raining when we reached the top, and didn’t stop for the rest of the hike.  Everything not covered by our raincoats was drenched, and though we had a tent to crawl into and dry clothes to put the kids in, we still had the prospect of packing up in the rain.  Luckily the rain stopped just as we had finished packing up everything inside the tent, so we were able to put the tent away dry and the weather held for our walk to the car.  But it was enough to bring me onto Team No Rain.  We had wanted to go backpacking this weekend for the 4th of July, but when the forecast showed thunderstorms for everywhere we were thinking about going, we stayed home instead!

The Food

I had told my sister-in-law that the food part of backpacking was really stressing me out.  It’s either heavy or complicated.  She recommended that I just grab the Mountain House box of dehydrated meals from Costco.  They were on sale for several weeks, which made them an even better deal–the packs are usually about $8 each, but the box of 13 was $48.  We made two pouches for dinner and two pouches for breakfast and I was worried that with Will and Nic it might not be enough food, but there was more than enough.  Two pouches will definitely feed a family of four even if your kids are older.

Along with the dehydrated meals I brought our usual hiking snacks – Luna bars (which Ellie is in love with) and Larabars (which both kids also eat well).  It’s amazing how much tossing one of these at the kids during a hike will improve their mood 15 minutes later!

The Gear

Choosing our tent was a major source of stress and our biggest logistical challenge for backpacking as a family.  No one makes a true backpacking tent for four people!  You go from 3lb three person tents to 7lb four person tents.  It is actually better in terms of weight to take two two person tents than one four person tent.  (Laws of efficiency make this just so WRONG, but there it is.)   We talked about going with two two person tents, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy with that solution.  So, (in keeping with most of the weight-decisions), we decided to eat the extra weight and get a light-ish four person tent.

This was one of my big revelations while planning:  While I admire my ultra-light family members, we realized that as a family of four, we’re not cut out for the ultra-light mentality.  Backup equipment, contingency plans, and comfort are too important when traveling with kids.  When hiking with elementary school kids your distance will be low, anyway–a heavy pack isn’t as big a deal.  (Says the woman carrying around a 4lb sleeping pad.  No joke.  My sleeping pad weighs more than most backpackers’ tents.)

Want to see our gear?  Here’s what we used:

The Loads (or, Life Isn’t Fair)

We ask Ellie to carry her water and coat.  Will carried his water, his clothing, his sleeping bag, his sleeping pad, and Ellie’s sleeping bag and her sleeping pad.  (Telling him this was actually very helpful.  When we first put the pack on him at home to test it out he acted like he was that idiot woman from Wild (my reaction to that book is so strong I probably would have been kicked out of book club over it if I hadn’t had to quit anyway because of my schedule) and just about fell over.  Then I told him what was actually in his pack and he said “Is that all?” and realized that it actually wasn’t very heavy.)

The Fun

The kids did beautifully.  At 5 and 9 this proved to be very doable.  With weight for a consideration, we didn’t have some of the usual distractions (making treats, board games, etc), but I did bring our absolute favorite thing: my Eno hammock.  I also brought the lightest book I could find for bedtime (Homer Price)–which we ended up reading in the tent while it rained.  Ellie found a baby tree to tend to within an inch of its life.  😛   It ended up being our only backpacking trip of the year because of our schedule and the weather on the weekends that we did have free, but if the weather and schedule had cooperated our plan had been to bump up the distance to 3 miles one-way for the next trip.

The Pictures

camping with kids

Marta S. - This is SO helpful, Traci!

Thoughts on surviving the first semester of nursing school

I survived the first semester of nursing school, and somehow we’re already halfway through the first bimester of my second semester!  (That was a mouthful.)  The good news is that the time flies.   I spent a lot of time before nursing school poking around the internet trying to figure out if this was all going to be actually doable, so I feel like I need to put my own tips/experiences out into the interwebs for the next nursing student mommas coming down the line.  Because YOU CAN DO THIS!  You can work, and have kids and a husband and get As in nursing school and even maybe read a book.  It can be done!

nursing school with kids tips

Here’s what I learned that I wish someone had told me (or they did tell me and I didn’t listen, so I’ll add my voice to the chorus):

  • Everyone is going to tell you that you shouldn’t work during nursing school.  Ignore them and figure it out for yourself.  I work part time: two twelve hour shifts a week.  This bimester (first half of spring semester), it’s a little ugly.  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I have clinicals from 2-10:30pm.  Saturday and Sunday nights I work from 7pm-7:30am.  Monday morning after work I get in my car and drive to school where I take my weekly test on the previous week’s material, and then sit through three hours of lecture.  At 12:30 I get to go home and sleep until the kids get home from school (at which point I wake up and zombie around the house before going to bed again around 9).  Tuesday is another 8:30-12:30 lecture and then it all starts again.  Does it sound insane?  Sure.  But I absolutely love my job and I’m almost halfway through this particular schedule already!  Which brings me to my next point:
  • You can do anything X times.  There are a lot of things in nursing school that you probably won’t be in love with.  Tests, certain clinical rotations, certain projects, whatever it is, figure out how many times you have to do it.  It’s probably not that many.  Like my crazy schedule of insanity, for instance.  Yes, it sounds dumb.  But as I looked ahead into the semester I knew that I only had to do 7 crazy Mondays.  I only had to do it 7 times.  Easy, peasy.  You can psych yourself out thinking about how many months or years you have left of nursing school, but the actual bad parts do not last long.  There is spring break and Christmas break and summer.  (SUMMER!)  I find that May of 2017 seems like a very long time from now.  So I look at the thing that’s daunting right now: the Mondays.  And I count them.  Seven.  I worry about that and leave the rest for later.  (It’s very Scarlet O’Hara of me, but you do what works!)
  • Your family will do amazing things.  Will can start a load of laundry.  Nic meal plans and makes dinners and does grocery runs.  This weekend he took both kids skiing by himself.  Ellie had been skiing twice, Will less than a dozen times, and he got them up, got them dressed, packed a lunch, and was out before 7am to drive 2 hours for a day on the slopes!  They made amazing memories, and wowed my socks off while I slept and studied between my Saturday and Sunday night shifts.  If you’re going to work and go to school you aren’t going to be the do-it-all mom you used to be.  You aren’t going to be there for every dinner or every outing.  Embrace it.  Watch in awe as your family steps up and be wowed when they rock the things you thought you had to do.  You are growing with the challenges of nursing school, and in not trying to do everything you used to, you give them the opportunity to grow too!  You can feel guilty about it, or you can be super proud of them.  I pick proud.  Because really, they’re killing this.
  • You might not be top banana anymore.  Seriously.  Yes, even you.  No, really, I mean it!  In reading about nursing school, I read a lot of remarks about how nursing school is one of those small fish, big pond moments.  I read it, and then arrogantly dismissed it.  That wouldn’t happen to me.  I mean, someone has to score the top grade.  It’s usually me, so…you know….I got this.  Except I didn’t.  I got an 88% on the first test.  And an 86% on another one.  And sure, I got my As overall…but I knew that when I got 98, there would be a couple of 100s.  And when I got 100, I would be in good company.  My top banana days were over.  The competitive part of me wanted to dig in, give more, reclaim my crown as queen of the exam…but then reason set in.  Which brings me to:
  • Don’t try out new medication.  You are going to take pharmacology, where you will learn about anxiety meds.  You will also learn about anxiety, and you will realize that this describes you perfectly.   (Nursing students are type A stressed out sleep deprived perfectionist beasts.  It’s less a classroom than it is a psych ward.  All semester I kept coming home and saying things to Nic like “You don’t understand.  *I’m* coming across as well adjusted.”) THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO GO TO YOUR DOCTOR AND ASK FOR ALL THE GREAT MEDS YOU JUST LEARNED ABOUT.  We had a couple of students in our class fail or nearly fail because they either went on medication or messed around with their medication dosage during the semester.  It was like watching an after school special.  (And lest I come across as being above the great medication debacle, remind me to tell you some time about the day I took melatonin to help me sleep between shifts.  It turns out the side effects of melatonin include headache, depression, and confusion.  If you’ve never been medically depressed AND confused, you have missed a great hilarious self deprecating story.)
  • Don’t get swept up in the tide.  There is nothing a group of nursing students likes to do more than spiral out.  You are going to hear about how difficult X is, or how many hours someone spent on Y, and it is tempting to jump into the pool of crazy and let yourself get all pruney in it.  I really like my fellow classmates and enjoy learning from them and celebrating with them, but I am also cautious.  I keep to myself before a test and usually try to keep to myself after it.  When I don’t, I regret it.
  • Follow test strategies.  Our instructor made this book mandatory our first semester, and it is a fantastic resource.  I already followed many of the tips (like underlining key words in the question and using symbols to mark the answers [though I use “-” and “x” instead of their “-” and “+”).  It’s a really good investment of time and money.  I felt like I already had my multiple choice strategies locked in, but I learned new things!

  • “But Mom, there’s no such thing as more right.”  “Uh, yes there is.  And less right is wrong.  Welcome to nursing school.”  This is a conversation I had with Will one day when helping him with his math homework.  He had something like “10/20” as an answer and he was trying to argue that he didn’t need to change it to 1/2 because “both were right.”  The multiple choice questions in nursing school are insane.  You are going to come across ones like this:
    • Which of the following statements or questions made by the nurse addresses the nature of her patient’s pain?  (Select all that apply.)a)”Describe your pain to me”b) “Is the pain worse in the morning or in the evening?”c) “Place your hand over the area that is uncomfortable.”d) “Rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10.”
    • The answer is “a” and “c.”  The rationale given is that b is a precipitating factor and d is severity.  I think that the actual rationale is that the people that write nursing exams don’t have a good grip on words.  And you know, what they mean.  But this is your life now, and you will eventually crack their code.  Test strategies help a ton.

  • Tips for the NCLEX will help you now.  The NCLEX sounds like something that it is a little soon to worry about, but one of the best things you can do is start preparing for it now.  Nursing school is there to get you to PASS the NCLEX, so in preparing for the NCLEX you are actually preparing for your regular tests!  These little NCLEX “rules” help me out all the time:

    • When prioritizing actions during emergencies, remember “ABC” (Airway, Breathing, Circulation).  The actions in your question are all going to sound right, so remembering ABC will help you to choose the right answer, which will have something to do with securing the airway.
    • Unless it’s an emergency, assess first.  Getting vital signs or assessing lung sounds will be the right “first action” most of the time, unless the question is an emergency, in which case you drop into the ABC rule.
    • Don’t pass the buck.  Most of the time, there is something the nurse should do before calling the provider.
  • Take NCLEX practice tests.  You can find lots of NCLEX practice tests on various subjects online and in book form.  While these will be geared toward the national standard and not your professor’s particular big ticket items, they help tremendously.  They get you used to the mean multiple choice questions of nursing, and they help you better understand the material.  This semester I’m getting a lot out of this Med Surg practice test book–I just got 98% on our big Med Surg test!
  • Get really interested in something else.  Anything else.  The week before finals I got really interested in applying eye makeup properly and spent a lot of time watching the you tube channels of 20 year olds.  The month our skills tests got really intense I listened to Carry On (the latest young adult novel from Rainbow Rowell) a dozen times.  (That’s a conservative estimate.)  This semester I’ve been listening to the Magicians novel series and researching houses I might want to buy and updating blog posts.  In all that, I mean: give your mind something else to obsess about.  Have something else going on so that you’re not just obsessing about the next test.
  • You will probably fail at some point.  And cry.  And doubt yourself.  I have yet to meet someone who didn’t cry at least once during nursing school.  For me, it happened in melodramatic fashion at the point in the calendar when I was sleep deprived to epic proportions.  Already in sleep debt, I got three hours of sleep and showed up for my medication skills checkoff.  I forgot to aspirate before giving an IM injection and failed the checkoff.  That seemed about right for that week.  I was fine until I got to the car, where the stress and lack of sleep caught up with me and I cried and drove and cried and drove.  I didn’t want the stress of a skills retake (fail a skills checkoff once and you retake the checkoff, fail twice and you have to retake the class).  I didn’t want my undefeated skills checkoff streak to be over.  All I wanted to do was go home and cry myself to sleep, but my poor grandmother was there that week to help us with fall break childcare and I didn’t want to show up weepy and defeated.  I pulled over on a side street, lay down in the backseat of my car and threw a little sobfest for myself, pathetic princess style.  It was not a high moment.  Then I went home.  Where I received a phone call from the lead instructor an hour later that said that they’d decided that I shouldn’t have failed since the rest of the med pass had gone so well and the jury is currently out on the value of aspiration anyway.  She said that they were going to list this as a pass and I wouldn’t have to retake it.  Which meant that I had acted like a total moron and wasted all of that emotion over absolutely nothing at all.  It was ridiculous.  *I* was ridiculous.  BUT it was like after seeing how ridiculous it was to let my performance in nursing school define my sense of self, I was able to really let that go.  The pressing-weight-style stress left.  And it’s never come back.  From what I can tell, it’s normal to have a meltdown or two.  So if at some point you find yourself sobbing in the backseat of your car, know I’m right there with you.