Goings On


Currently Listening To: Dragonfly ~ Nahko and Medicine for the People

As per usual, I failed at staying up-to-date in writing. A lot has transpired since my last post. We went to Salida, Colorado over a long Father’s Day weekend. We experienced FIBark, took a drive down to Great Sand Dunes National Park, and, the visited a ghost town and fed chipmunks before heading back to Denver. The night we returned, the girls were picked up to leave. They headed back to the East Coast for two weeks to see family, before departing on July 3rd for Tokyo. We will see them again in December. I am hoping that I can get one or both of the girls to write a post or two once they are fully settled and have done some exploring.

Since they left,  we have had dog-sitting duties, spent another weekend in Salida (where we hiked Monarch Pass Trail and post-holed through over a mile of snowpack, and got up to Cottonwood Pass and hiked to the ridge to get some fantastic 360 degree views), and then spent the long 4th of July weekend down outside of Fort Garland.  We have only camped once since we arrived here a year and a half ago, and that was just an overnight in a campground that was not our favorite. This camping was classic no amenities camping. In the desert, where it is dry and dusty. But it was a blast.

We hiked up to Zapata Falls, just outside the the Sand Dunes, and naively thought we might have shade on our hike. Instead, we hiked four miles uphill in direct sun followed by swarming mosquitoes (we have not experienced mosquitoes since we left New Jersey) that made it uncomfortable to stop moving. The mosquitoes were far worse at the water’s edge. Once at the falls, to reach the crevasse where the waterfall is requires wading through hypothermia-inducing cold water. We recently scored expensive trail running shoes on the cheap and they came in immensely handy for navigating cold rushing water and slippery rocks.

We also visited the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge. In the middle of the desert, because of the ditch boom in the late 1800s, the irrigation ditches lent themselves to the creation of this refuge in 1962 for migratory birds and mammals. We had the place to ourselves. That may have been because the two mile nature trail that runs along the Rio Grande River was closed due to flooding and the nesting of an endangered bird species.

On Sunday, when we headed back home, I realized that we were only about 35 miles from the New Mexico border. So….in an attempt to delay coming back to Denver and reality, we headed South first into New Mexico. It was a pretty drive. We turned at Questa and drove through Carson National Forest and the found ourselves driving through Red River Valley Ski area (which was a happenin’ place, by the way! And beautiful to boot), the huffed it up to Bobcast pass and the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area, and dropped back down into Eagle’s Nest Village in a high alpine valley. We dropped out to the plains through Cimmaron Canyon and then Palisades Sill

All-in-all it has been a busy few weeks. This weekend we are staying local, but I am looking for something fun to do today or tomorrow. It has been in the mid-90s since Wednesday and we are not expected to get a reprieve from 90+ degrees until a week from Monday (and then it will still be 88 degrees).  I am hoping to get a photo post going to give some visuals for what we’ve been up to.

 

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Choose Your Own Adventure…


Currently Listening To:  Thrive ~ Mitch King

Father’s Day is this weekend. We aren’t a family that is huge on gifting (or at least I don’t think Tim considers himself to be, though I have always enjoyed finding thoughtful gifts for people). That being said, I did get Tim a gift from the kids that we know he will like and that he will use. Sanuk is an awesome brand of upcycled and eco-friendly footwear. Add in the Grateful Dead (one of Tim’s favorite bands), and we have the perfect gift for him. No worries, he isn’t going to be reading this to give away the surprise.

Father’s Day falls a week before my birthday (June 25th! It’s a great day – and also exactly 6 months from Christmas, for all your scrooges out there who feel the need to remind the world in June that Christmas is 6 months away….and there are most definitely those people!), and this year we are taking a long weekend on Father’s Day and making an event out of it. We did the same long weekend idea last year and ended up spending a night in Buena Vista, Colorado and then headed down to Guffey to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation.  We got in a hike at Paradise Cove before heading over to spend the afternoon hanging out with wolves. It was a pretty neat way to spend Father’s Day for sure. For anyone looking to check out this awesome wolf sanctuary, I do recommend booking way in advance. I booked Father’s Day (not on purpose but because it was the soonest available weekend date) in March of last year. It is a popular place to visit!

This year we are headed to Salida, Colorado for a long weekend to check out FIBArk the town’s signature event, and the oldest whitewater racing event in the country. We are hoping to get some other activities in over the weekend, and are currently discussing possibly going whitewater rafting in either Big Horn Sheep Canyon or Brown’s Canyon. Brown’s Canyon is supposed to have great views of the Collegiate 14er Peaks. There is also an intro to rock climbing package that looks neat. These are both things I have done before when I was younger, but Tim and the girls haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy such awesome adventures yet. Or maybe we’ll get the kids to zip-line across Royal Gorge  Somehow I think the answer will be No. We may attempt to get down to the Fort Garland area and check out the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It won’t be a New Jersey beach (my favorite being Sea Isle City since I spent entire Summers there since I was a baby), but about as close as we can get with sand in a landlocked state.

Stay Tuned for after the weekend, because there will surely be an update on what our choose-your-own adventure will turn out to be!

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
~ Hunter S. Thompson,

 

Things We’ve Done and Seen Lately…


Currently Listening To: The Great Divide, National Park Radio

Since the weather has finally changed for the better since the end of May (no more snow storms!), we try to take at least one day during the weekend to get out and do something. Memorial Day weekend we checked out Denver Day of Rock for a little bit, and on that Sunday, we hiked a mountain with the kids. We like to hike, and I looked up easy to moderate hikes near Estes Park, and found Lily Mountain. Listed as moderate, with elevation gain of about 900 feet. The reviews made it sounds like it was mostly towards the summit. However, the reality was that it was 1,200 feet in elevation over 1.9 miles. It wasn’t hot out, thankfully, but we were all quite miserable until we reached the summit. A number of short breaks to catch our breath (we are all acclimated and over 9,000 feet it still becomes more difficult to breathe), a bunch of cursing, and lot of perseverance brought us all to the summit, which boasts 360 degree views of Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park. I will mention it is not for those who are deathly afraid of heights. I had an anxiety attack while we were at the top (there is a drop-off of at least 1,000 feet). We knew it was time to go when the clouds moved in and the hail began. It doesn’t seem that hail on a mountain seems to be a deterrent to hikers out here, though. There were plenty of people on their way up as we hiked down.

The first weekend in June we decided to check out the Denver Chalk Art Festival at Larimer Square. A piece of advice is to go early (at least in the morning) to try and avoid the rain. We arrived right after a rainstorm had passed through and cleaned the pavement of most of the chalk art.

Yesterday we got in the car and drove up to Vail to check out the 18th Annual GoPro Mountain Games. The Games were expecting to bring in about 80,000 people to Vail over the course of the event. The last time I was at Vail was about 3 years ago at the end of Summer, and there was nothing going on and very few people around. We arrived just before 11 AM (which seemingly was the best time, because when we left just over 2 hours later, there was no parking available) and started at Lionshead Village with all the dog-related events. There were so many pups! We walked from Lionshead along Gore Creek – which was running super high because of all the extra snow this year – and made our way slowly towards Vail Base at Gondola One. We brought lunch, and took a seat in the grass along with a couple hundede others and watched the climbing event and Pepi’s Face-Off take place.

When we left Denver the clouds were low and stormy-looking. By the time we arrived in Vail there were clear skies and sixty beautiful degrees of warmth. We hung around for about 2 hours or so and walked about 2.5 miles between all the event venues. Then we got back in the car and drove North.

We drove up through Silverthorne and Hot Sulpher Springs and Granby and stopped for a break at Grand Lake. Then it was on to Trail Ridge Road! Whenever we have done this drive, we have approached it from the Estes Park side, so it was a nice change to do it backwards. The road was finally cleared this past Wednesday of snow, though the walls of snow were massive in some places along the drive. Because of the amount of snow, we didn’t see any wildlife up on the tundra, though once heading down into Estes we saw a lot of deer and elk. It was closing in on 5:00 PM, which made sightings higher than if we had done the drive mid-day.

For anyone who has never driven Trail Ridge Road, it is definitely an experience worth having if you are visiting Colorado. Beware, however, that there are no guard rails and it can be a bit intimidating to drive. I have driven it at least 4 times myself and I still had anxiety while driving it yesterday. Though it may have had more to do with a fear of the massive wall of snow collapsing and pushing the car off the side of the mountain. But alas, it was a great drive, and it was beautiful weather. We started this portion of the drive at around 3 PM, which can be prime stormy weather time for this state. But instead we were blessed with clear skies and barely any clouds and full sunshine for the duration of our drive (and 99% of the day yesterday).

We arrived in Estes and decided to try and stop to grab a quick bite to eat. The town was packed with people (but we didn’t see any of the resident elk), so we weren’t sure if we would be able to find parking or not. We were in luck, and were able to stop at a cute little place that backs up to Fall River – which was also running at a high water level. After some grub, we hopped back in the car and headed home, through Lyons and then Boulder and then back to the city. Over 325 miles driven since 9:30 AM and a couple of different mountain town stop-offs. All in all, a good day.

 

The Rocky Mountains realize – nay, exceed – the dream of my childhood. It is magnificent, and the air is life-giving.

~Isabella Bird

Four Years Later and a New City


Its been over four years since the last posting. I was tempted to start completely fresh and delete the old posts since they seem almost as if from a previous life entirely, but decided that they need to remain as artifacts of who I was and who I have become.

Since the last time I wrote, I have interned on a farm in Upstate New York, helped build a vineyard in South Jersey, had a couple of office jobs, traveled a bit, and moved to Denver, Colorado with Tim. It is this last piece that has been the most challenging and rewarding, in a variety of ways on both ends. The upheaval of leaving everything you know, friends, jobs, life, to drive across the country with what you can fit in the back of a pickup, and starting again, was difficult, to say the least. We have now been here 15 months at the end of May, and I think Tim and I can both agree that we are just now feeling like we are hitting a stride. We arrived without having jobs fully set up, and its been somewhat of a struggle since day one.

That being said, it has also reaped its rewards upon two people who have both longed to live in this awesome state. When money has allowed, we have traveled around parts of the state, hiking and exploring. It is the art of balancing work and play at its finest. Some days I feel like a hamster in a wheel, constantly moving and working and never really feeling like I have accomplished anything. And some days I feel like I need to be doing something more, or something else, than what I am doing. Other days I step out onto the balcony where I now sit writing, and look towards the mountains and feel blessed to just have the view, let alone the ability to get into the wilderness within a thirty-five minute drive.

I hope to write more. I also really really hope to read more. I have gotten away from it, and I am an old-school soul who needs physical book in hand, not a Kindle or a computer screen. If you have any awesome reading recommendations, please share!!  Laslty, I hope to share the travels and exploring that we undertake this Spring and Summer (really, we have had so many experiences since we arrived last February! I could write so much about those experiences alone!), and I hope you join Tim and I for the fun.

 

“Great laughter rang from all sides. I wondered what the Spirit of the Mountain was thinking, and looked up and saw jackpines in the moon, and saw ghosts of old miners, and wondered about it. IN the whole eastern dark wall of the Divide this night there was silence and the whisper of the wind, except in the ravine where we roared; and on the other side of the Divide was the great Western Slope, and the big plateau that went to Steamboat Springs, and dropped, and led you to the western Colorado desert and the Utah desert; all in darkness now as we fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess.”                                 ~ Jack Kerouac (On the Road)

Making a Difference on Thursday Evenings


Yesterday evening was the weekly Sunday Suppers program held at Memphis Street Academy in Kensington, Philadelphia. Sunday Suppers is a family meal-based initiative that seeks to improve dietary behaviors, awareness of healthier food purchasing and preparation, and family meal practices. It began as a pilot program that ran on Sunday evenings, but has since moved its host site to Memphis Street Academy, and the program now runs on Thursday evenings. As a graduate student in the Masters program of Public Health, my capstone/thesis project is aimed at completing a program evaluation of Sunday Suppers, to see if it indeed has helped improve dietary behaviors and attitudes as well as increased fresh fruit and vegetable intake in the participating families.

Each week there is a “program” during the first 30-45 minutes of the evening. Sometimes its teaching yoga, sometimes it is an educational piece with a hands-on portion to involve the families that participate. Last night was a special treat, in that the main chef, Kristen, had invited three of her chef friends as guests.

Chef Hayden demonstrating how to properly prepare raw chicken breast for cooking

Chef Hayden demonstrates how to properly prepare raw chicken for cooking.

Chef Hayden, who is originally from Trinidad, showed off the preparation of chicken curry, using his family’s recipe. He went through all the steps, from how to properly cut up the chicken breast to how to prepare the curry sauce. He also had whole grain brown rice prepared.

The next station was Chef Lindsay Gilmour, who is originally from New Zealand and who has had her own catering company.  Chef Lindsay showed ways to prepare fresh veggies – a veggie saute and cooked greens beans tossed in olive oil and seasoning.

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Chef Lindsay shows some of the children what the veggie saute looks like while it is cooking, and discusses how she is going to cook the green beans (at front)

She also instructed those interested in how to best prepare veggies from the slicing and dicing to how to properly blanch them without overcooking.

A third station was hosted by Chef Laquanda, who born and raised in West Philadelphia, and who at age 14 enrolled in a program that teaches adolescents how to cook healthier as well as how to teach others. Now, ten years later, she has already worked with at least 3 non-profits in the food justice realm and is studying culinary arts in Philadelphia.

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At front, Chef Laquanda demonstrates healthier snacking options with homemade popcorn. Chef Lindsay’s station is to the right, and Chef Kristen’s station is at the back.

Chef Laquanda showed how to prepare a healthier snack version of popcorn. This was done by showing how to cook popcorn using a regular cooking pot, then how easily it is to season accordingly. One version was with cinnamon, one was with taco seasoning, and a third was with Parmesan and hot pepper flakes (the take home favorite!)

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Parents and their children trying out their new culinary skills – preparing apples to be used in the apple crisp for dessert!

A fourth station hosted by Chef Kristen was to show how to properly cut a variety of produce. Different techniques for handling the knife were demonstrated and then with parent supervision, families were able to put their skills into action. Carrots and broccoli were the vegetables cut up, and then a bunch of apples were cut into small pieces.

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Chef Laquanda preparing the apple crisp topping, with assistance from some of the participating children.

The veggies were then used for appetizers to dip in hummus (store bought), which many participants had not encountered until that night. The apples were part of a large apple crisp that was to be for dessert. The preparation of the crisp topping was demonstrated again by Chef Laquanda.

The greatest part of the evening was watching the families inquire about cooking techniques, get involved in learning new culinary skills, test out new (healthy!) foods, and seem overall excited about the evening. I helped served the meal (served family style), which is an experience in itself, I am sure, for these families. As the population of participants are well under the poverty line, the idea of going out for a nice dinner as a family is well out of reach.

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Chef Kristen instructing the families on various techniques for prepping veggies.

The go-to foods are fast food, quick, fast, and cheap. But at Sunday Suppers, they get the full treatment: nicely furnished tables complete with table linens, flowers, and nice dish and glassware (as opposed to paper or plastic). The volunteers act as servers, refilling water glasses and serving food as though it were a restaurant.

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One of the mother’s helping Chef Hayden make sure the chicken didn’t overcook. Looking on are two of her children.

As I was refilling a platter of curried chicken and brown rice, I asked one of the youngsters, named Sergio, whether he was enjoying the meal. His response:

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My plate of rice and curry sauce (no chicken since I am vegetarian), sauteed veggies, and green beans and broccoli. That room smelled so delicious, I was dying to try the finished product! It was as good as it smelled!

“This is the best different chicken I’ve ever tasted. I mean different because before we came here the only chicken I ate was fried.” This is coming from a child who is about eight years old, if I had to guess.

I am hoping next week to get some anecdotal stories from participants on their favorite meals so far, and why they enjoyed them. It is exciting to hear comments like this young child, and it is equally exciting to see parents and children alike wanting to participate, and then to taste what they helped to create. Small steps are the way to pave the road of change, and it seems that Sunday Suppers is helping families take these steps and begin to make them strides.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ~Thomas Campbell


“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” ~Mother Teresa

There are many things that most of us take for granted. The ability to get up each day, to go to work, or to school (or both!), to enjoy laughter and gaiety with our friends and family, to enjoy a good home cooked meal, to sit and read a book or listen to music and let a couple of hours slip away. Mostly, though, we take for granted the breaths that move through our bodies, the fact that we are here today and able to do these things. It is in rare moments that we pause and reflect on exactly what this gift is that has been bestowed upon each of us. It is something finite that none of us knows the duration of, and yet many of us live as if we have unlimited time.

These last few weeks have brought this sentiment to the forefront for me. Close family friends have been watching as mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother has slowly slipped away, until she passed peacefully yesterday afternoon. At 93 years old, she was a woman whom I have known since I was a kid, for some 25 years now. While she was not “family” by the traditional sense of the word, I loved her as if she were.

I have been fortunate in these last couple of months to spend a few hours with her a week, visiting and sharing a few laughs. My holidays this year were a bit brighter because I was able to spend Christmas Eve with her and her family along with my own. My New Years Eve was spent sitting and talking with her in front of a warm fire, eating pistachio cake and chocolate chip cookies, listening to Pavarotti (she played the part of conductor), and reminiscing about when she was a younger woman. I couldn’t have asked for a better evening.

That day, she also had a very frank, unsolicited, conversation with me about dying. She knew her time was limited, and I believe she was making her peace with people and saying her goodbyes. She told me she was curious as to what Heaven would be like, if there would be music, if her family would be there. She shared how appreciative she was that she was able to spend these last months at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, even if she had resisted in the beginning. I was unprepared for this conversation, and she ended up comforting me, which is so much like her. She was strong of heart, of opinion, of faith, and of love, right up until the end.

I hope beyond hope that she has been able to be reunited with her sisters and parents, dancing, and singing, and having a scotch and a smoke. I hope she is smiling down on her remaining family, comforting them with her presence and her love.

You are forever in our hearts, Mrs. Meade.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ~Thomas Campbell

A Christmas Reflection


The Christmas season is an interesting time.

When we’re young, we focus on the gifts. The materials ones, that is. And parents focus on making their kids happy and getting them the season’s hottest toys. Grandparents dote on their grand kids and get to spend quality time (especially if the case was as mine was, where my grandparents lived many states away), that in some ways, is cherished more by the adults than it is the children (until we grow up and realize we should have been more present).

When we’re adolescents and young teenagers, (which is a notoriously treacherous time for all who have deal with the irrationality and wrath of hormonal teens) a shift begins for some of us. Parents grow older. Grandparents grow older, too. There is more awareness (hopefully) for young people regarding what the Christmas season is truly about.

Between the teenage years and late twenties/early thirties, most of us begin to experience loss. And if we as young adults are experiencing loss, so are those older than us – our parents and grandparents. The holiday season is an unfortunate time in that there is an uptick in illnesses and deaths for the elderly. Both sets of my grand parents passed away on either end of the winter season, thus forever marking the holidays as a bittersweet time for me (and for my parents).

But these events also, at least for me, help me focus on the “reason for the season.” Life is short. Some lives are longer than others, while others are cut short way before the rest of us are ready for. But the fact remains – each of us is only gifted one go at this thing called life, and this is a season in which we are reminded of the gift that it is. And that we need to put aside our differences and quarrels and come together as family, as friends, as strangers, as enemies, as society.

There is so much negativity and anger and hatred in this world that it scares me. And yet, on a given day, you can witness someone being kind for the sake of being kind. Of helping a stranger. Of paying it forward, in however big or small a gesture.

It makes me wonder: Why do we wait until the holidays to bestow grace and kindness and love to those around us? Why is it so difficult for the majority of us to find compassion in our hearts, or remember that we are capable of giving the best version- the most loving version- of ourselves not only to ourselves, but to the world – every day of the year?