Sunday, March 22, 2020

Westward Ho!

     Just a few days after we returned from New Hampshire, it was time to fly to Colorado to visit Daughter #1! Claire and her family moved to CO last summer. At Christmas she asked if our gift to them could be for Steve and I to fly out for a visit. It seemed more like we were on the receiving end of this gift but, oh well. : )
     I have never been farther west than St. Louis so this was a first for me. Of course, what caught my attention the most were the Rocky mountains. We live in mountains in Virginia but compared to the Rockies, our Blue Ridge Mountains are foothills. (Steve and I had a discussion on mountains and agreed that one really cannot compare because each range has its own geography and personality.) I was fascinated with those mountains and it was hard to take my eyes off of them whenever we went out. It was wonderful to see our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. They showered us with cards and drawings and snuggles and laughs. Claire and Daniel also took us sightseeing as much as we were able. The corona virus was announced as a pandemic while we were away from home. Schools, businesses, and practically everything else began shutting down each day that we were there. It was disconcerting to have this happen while we were so far away from our home. We weren't planning to be gone for long but part of me felt compelled to return home to prepare for whatever was to come. In the end, we remained calm, enjoyed our visit, and observed how Coloradans responded to the pandemic.
     Fortunately, Colorado is a place where they embrace the outdoors and much leisure time is spent in the wide open. No one shut down nature and our excursions focused mainly on that. On our first day, (before businesses closed) we walked around downtown Boulder and visited a wonderful bookstore. The next day, we went to see Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The weather was mainly cool and a little bit snowy/rainy. Whenever the sun came out, it quickly warmed up. Soon after we left Red Rocks, they announced their closure.

Pedestrian shops at Pearl Street, Boulder, Co
Approaching Red Rocks (queue the Flintstones theme song)

The entrance and ticket booth. There is a museum and restaurant below.

The amphitheater was much larger than I expected. It was beautifully worked into the natural landscape. I was told folks gather for yoga here and I noticed people walk up and down the steps for a workout.

I would like to return for a concert one day, although the juxtaposition of the place had a dizzying effect on me.
 Later that afternoon, Claire took Steve, Mari and I to the beautiful Boulder Dushanbe Tea House. We had afternoon tea and it was lovely.

Click on the link in the paragraph above to read about the intricate workmanship of artisans who created this building in Tajikistan.

Afternoon tea

He ended up ordering a beer.
      The next day Daniel drove us all up to the Rocky Mountain National Park. We reached an elevation of around 9,600 feet. The frosty trees were beautiful and although the ground was snow covered, the sunshine was warm. The magnificence and beauty of the mountains are hard to capture in photographs. It was hard for me to take my eyes off the peaks nor to keep my mind from wondering about the earliest humans to cross those monumental mountains on foot.
     Claire packed hot chocolate and snacks and we took a nice hike around Bear Lake. Other portions and trails in the park were closed for the winter season.
Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Snowball fight in the parking lot!
During our down time, Mari and I sewed little woodland animals from felt. Then, we turned a shoe box into a forest home for them. Steve took the boys on bicycle rides and played Frisbee. We all played board games, Matthew built a huge train track, we watched evening movies, and cooked dinners.

Mari is good at drawing mazes for Steve and I to solve.
     On our last day, we hiked a trail on the Enchanted Mesa near the Flatirons outside Boulder. It was a beautiful day and many, many people were outdoors. By this day, all schools, restaurants and even ski mountains had closed due to the Cornona virus. Steve missed his chance to ski in Colorado by one day. We'll just have to go back. : )

Enchanted Mesa Trail

Flatirons in the background.

Overlooking Boulder, Co

Everywhere there is a backdrop of mountains. (The Flatirons are actually considered foothills.)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

It Is COLD Up There!

     A subscription to Yankee Magazine is one of my favorite indulgences. Ever since we left the northeast and migrated south, portions of my beloved New England will not let me go. Yankee Magazine helps me feel connected to my past even though the nostalgia of longing for the home that is not only far away in distance but also in years, makes me sad. The issue before last actually made me cry for the homesickness and I decided I wasn't going to subscribe any more because it was self torture. (I say this in good humor as I laugh at my ridiculousness.)
     Anyway... The latest issue of Yankee Magazine had a wonderful article about sugaring time in New England. Come March, the maple sap is running and the sugar shacks are gearing up for the ancient harvesting of maple syrup. The magazine article told about some of the best places to see the syrup process in action, where to taste, and what to bake with the syrup, etc. I read the article (with longing) and set it aside thinking one day I will get up north during sugaring time.
     A few days later, it came to pass that I felt needed in New Hampshire where our second daughter just had a baby, her third boy. I was originally going to visit them a little bit later in the season, toward spring, but it turned out to be best for me to go sooner. I can't make the twelve hour drive by myself anymore and I was thankful that Steve offered to take the time off from work to drive me to New York and then I would continue across Vermont to New Hampshire on my own while he spent the week with his dad. And just like that, I found myself in the heart of New England when I least expected it.
     The realization that we were in the north dawned on me when I woke up that Saturday morning in New York and saw snow flurries out the window. We had left daffodils and bursting buds behind in Virginia and here I was facing freezing temperatures with only a rain jacket. I quickly realized how "soft" I had become living in the south for the past twenty years and I was annoyed with myself for allowing it to happen.  Later that morning, as I drove up and over the Green Mountains behind a snow plow, I recalled how hearty we had been raised in this harsh, wintry climate. A few inches of snow was nothing and road-salt encrusted cars were a fact of life. Yet, here I was with Virginia plates, wearing only sneakers and my late mother-in-law's LL Bean barn coat that my father-in-law gave me because I was so ill prepared. (Thank you, Jane!), following a snow plow that I couldn't remember if I was allowed to pass or not. I pep-talked my way over one hundred and eighty snowy, mountainous miles alone with, "You can do this.", "This is who you are.", "This is nothing.", and "Isn't this great?!" As I came down the other side of the mountain and the roads cleared, I relaxed and embraced this wonderful opportunity that was before me. I enjoyed the spectacular scenery, I stopped to buy cider donuts at a roadside market, and I popped into a little junk shop and poked around. I was finally beginning to feel confident in my old element.
     Arriving at my daughter's house made every anxious, white knuckle driving moment worth it. I embraced my grandsons whom I had not seen since last November and I began to try to be useful. As the week progressed, it turned out to be providential that I was there and we endured some worrisome moments. Finally, as the week came to a close and we could breath easy that we had gotten through the hardest part of the week, it came to pass that we would be paying a visit to...a sugar shack! Chelsea's friends own Kearsarge Mountain Farm and they make about six hundred gallons of maple syrup each year. The boys needed to get outside so we planned to go see the baby lambs and the sugar shack. It was a cold and blustery day, typical of early March. Old snow and ice patches dotted the muddy landscape and the dampness reached into our bones. As I was introduced to two generations of the family who owns the farm I was struck by how hale and hearty they were. The younger generation, Sam, spent the entire time outside with us wearing only a heavy hooded sweatshirt. I stood shivering in a turtleneck, fleece vest, wool scarf, gloves, and Jane's barn coat. Sam's mom, who is about my age, fed the animals and chatted with us about all the goings on like it was every day that she stood in the freezing wind- because she does. They plant greenhouses of vegetables, raise cows and sheep, and make the syrup. Life is never on hold due to the weather.
     I admit, I was glad to get into the car and crank the heater up when it was time to go. (Did I mention how COLD it is up here?! Even when it's not cold, it's cold.) On the drive home, Hugo and I chatted about how nice it would be if we could have maple syrup for lunch. Back at the house Chelsea suggested we make waffles and I got right on it. The boys were so excited about lunch and I tell you, waffles never tasted so good. Maybe it was the fresh air from the morning spent outside or maybe it was the maple syrup that was only just bottled a day or two earlier, but we inhaled those waffles and licked our plates. It was perfect. Or maybe it was the fact that I drove six hundred miles to get here and I don't get to have this any old time I want that made it special. Whatever is was, I won't take it for granted, I'll always be homesick for it, and I may just have to keep my subscription to Yankee Magazine going a while longer.

The reason for my visit.

Mud season!
Aren't they the cutest things!
The back of the sugar shack and the wood that will fuel the boiler to make the syrup.

Maple syrup shots with lunch. (Chelsea's idea) A toast to New England!