Monday, December 30, 2013

Mockingjay

By the end of Mockingjay, the third and final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy, I was pretty ready for the series to be over.  The first person present narration had grown tedious, the bizarre love triangle held no interest for me, I'd grown weary of Katniss whining.  But there were some bright spots and I'd still categorize it as an enjoyable read.

The book picks up shortly after the events of Catching Fire.  Katniss and some of the other victors have been rescued by the rebels of District 13.  Peeta and a couple others were captured by the Capitol and are being subjected to who-knows-what kinds of torture.  Although she feels no particular affinity for them, the rebels want Katniss to serve as their Mockingjay - a sort of figurehead for the rebellion to keep them fired up.  She eventually agrees, as the book's title implies.

Life in District 13 is something of a drag, but the primary point of these scenes seems to be Katniss rekindling her relationship with Gale.  Which doesn't do much for me - yeah, he seems like a way hotter choice than Peeta, but a couple of tongue kisses followed by petulant pouting a romance does not make.  Soon, though, the Mockingjay and her security forces (which, of course, includes Gale) need to head into battle for some propaganda filming. 

The war has some very violent, bloody action, and the plot moves quickly through some exciting scenes.  Katniss has her own goals, which don't always align with the rebel forces.  She is, however, something of a force herself, earning the loyalty and respect of her fellow soldiers much the way she earned allies in the Hunger Games arena.

The near-final scenes were great, suspenseful and emotional, but the epilogue should have been jettisoned.  In all, it was a fun conclusion to the series.  But perhaps it would have been better to have taken a break between installments.

Next up: Santa left The Gormenghast Novels, a trilogy that's considered by many to be the preeminent grotesque fantasy classic, on a par with The Lord of the Rings.  I think Santa has my reading tastes pegged, and am very excited to dig in.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Catching Fire

Suzanne Collins' follow-up to The Hunger Games started out leaving me cold.  That romantic love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale dominated the first section of the book.  Or so I thought.  Just below the surface the reader begins to learn about a rebellion building up in a number of the outlying districts.  A rebellion brought on by Katniss' move at the end of the prior Games that allowed her and Peeta both to win.

This rebellion is where things begin to get interesting.  Panem's Capitol controls the media, so it's not like it makes the news.  Ordinary citizens in the Capitol hear, for example, that weather in District 4 has caused a shortage of seafood.  But when Peeta and Katniss embark on their Victory Tour across the districts, they start to see and hear things.  Unrest has begun, and Katniss is its hero.  Also, they see adults get killed.  Seems like the shit just might be gettin' real.

The action begins in earnest when the premise of the Quarter Quell - a twist in the rules for every 25th Hunger Games - is announced, and Katniss and Peeta learn that they'll be back in the arena along with other former victors.  This means their mentor - and all of Panem - already knows (and, in many cases, adores) their competition.  The action during the Games is pretty exciting, and there are some twists I honestly didn't see coming.  And the ending does quite the opposite of wrapping things up in a bow.  It - surprisingly, I might add - sets up for a very interesting conclusion to the trilogy.

Another quick and enjoyable read.  Another sad use of first person, present tense.  [N.b., perhaps that style appeals to young adults for some reason?  I couldn't imagine.]  And yes, I'll finish the trilogy next.

Next up: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.  I've come too far to stop now!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ah-choo, sniffle-sniffle, cough cough

So our household has gotten a bug, and gotten it good.  Not the nice Bug, although she was the first to come down.  Poor little thing had a fever for hours on Sunday night, barely budged from the couch on Monday... and *still* had a temperature last night so is on day three of stay-at-home.  Luckily she feels pretty fine, so I picked up her missed class work to keep her busy today.

The Bunny got it last night.  After a great day of school, she was whiny and crying during dinner (which was pasta; the food clearly could not have been the cause).  Lo and behold, fever there, too.  So she's home, too.  And she also feels pretty fine.

I might be the most pathetic.  I'm all sniffly, achy, freezing (especially in my office, where I have on snow boots, my hat, a warm sweater and a scarf - no joke - it's terrible), coughing, feverish and headachy.  So I'm a somewhat lousy Doctor Mom.  Which I suppose is why I'm at work and Joker is home with the girls.

Joker's been home free.

On the plus side, with any luck this will be long gone before Christmas celebrations begin in earnest.  (Although let's be honest here... there's a fairly good chance of Joker contracting it right before we leave for my extended family party on Sunday afternoon.  Right?)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Game. (The Harvard one, of course)

The weekend before Thanksgiving I hopped on a plane and headed east.  The destination?  Sunny New Haven, CT where the Game (or, if you didn't go to Yale, the "Harvard-Yale Game") was being played.  I was all set to meet up with my girlfriends and enjoy a kid-free weekend of fun.

It started with a truly terrible day of travel.  Although that started with me cruising through security with my boots on my feet, so I had no clue it would go awry.

Anyhoo, I finally arrived at the hotel, put down my stuff and met Lynne, Maureen and Aldina at the bars.  We drank some beer.  Then we ate late-night pizza.  Perfect.

In the morning, we got up, threw on our oh-so-cold-weather tailgating clothes, chugged some coffee and hit the fields.  Tailgating was a blast.  The Game itself?  Well, let's just say Yale isn't the football powerhouse it may have once been.  We lost with aplomb.  We (meaning my friends and me) did, however, manage to situate ourselves inside a skybox that was rolling with beer, wine and old friends.  It was great to reconnect, see the inside of the Bowl again... and (of course) return to the tailgates.

After that, we hit Yorkside for chow, old school style.  Then the hotel bar for drinks and conversations about zombies.  That part is new school style.  So was the fancy brunch on Sunday, complete with oysters and mac and cheese.  I guess that's the way to roll when you roll back to campus.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hunger Games

Lest it be said I never read mainstream pop novels, I just breezed through Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.  It happened rather by accident - facing a four-hour delay on my way to New Haven, I simply couldn't imagine bellying up to the bar with my multi-generational Saharan Desert saga.  So, Hunger Games.

I definitely enjoyed it.  Highbrow, complex literature it was not, but it's fun.  If you're not already familiar, the story tells of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who claims only one of the totally lame names in the book.  The Capitol of dystopian Panem, a nation that has grown up where the U.S. of A. once was, keeps control of its twelve outlying districts by forcing them to compete in an annual event.  The names of a teenage boy and girl from each District are picked at random, kids who have been selected to represent their districts in a highly staged battle to the death.  Only one of the twenty-four comes out alive.

So Katniss' younger sister's name gets pulled, and Katniss volunteers to take her place.  She rightfully assumes she'll be better suited to this competition, given she's been hunting illegally in the outlying woods to feed her mother and sister since her father was killed some years prior.  Katniss and Peeta Mellark, the (also unfortunately named) District 12 boy, are then hauled off to the Capitol with their mentor (a prior year's winner) and a team of stylists. 

The world inside the Hunger Games arena - and the governmental machinations behind the scenes that made it all possible - are enjoyable and thought out.  The book's well paced, there's plenty of action and it's rather less gruesome than it could be.  The whole romance thing - a contrived triangle between Katniss, Peeta and a guy named Gale - I could have lived without. 

Next up: Despite the impression I have that the romance nonsense will dominate, I'm going to burn through The Hunger Games: Catching Fire next.  And if that doesn't make me too nauseous, I'll probably read Mockingjay right after that.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Bunny's 4th birthday

Somehow or another, and without nearly enough warning, the Bunny turned four last week.  We celebrated in world-class style over several days, and can hopefully have a little time now to recover.

The parties kicked off with frosted, sprinkled brownies at school on her actual birthday.  Then we took dinner (per Bunny's request: baked ziti, meatballs, carrot sticks with ranch dressing) to Aunt Jessie's house for a party with Mima, Boppie and the great-grands.  Not only did she get a rainbow ice cream cake, but she also got some super fun presents.  And the Bug did pretty well, too, raking in her share of un-birthday gifts.

Yesterday was the Bunny's very first Friend Party, and a pile of four-year-olds, their siblings and their parents came over for an afternoon of fun.  We stole a fantastic idea from our friends and temporarily converted the garage into a rec room, complete with astroturf, picnic tables, coloring stations, hula hoops and a disco ball.  The kids had a blast.  The grownups did, too.

So what changes has turning four brought to our little Bunny?  Well, she's still all curls and attitude.  She can now pronounce her letter "l"s, which is actually a little disappointing to me.  She's doing great in school and forging new friendships.  The Bug is still her very best buddy, although they do argue with a bit too much frequency.  She's getting closer to actually swimming; she's excited for ski season; and she did eventually enjoy playing soccer.  She still likes to cuddle with Mommy.  She loves our little black cats.  She doesn't have nearly the sweet tooth of her sister, but she'll take a slice of cheese pizza any day.  Hilarious things come out of her mouth, including her recent adoption of the phrase "What the...." (She also recently told me not to call her "smartiepants" any more.  "Call me smartie, and call my pants pants.") The Bunny?  She's just a sweet little pumpkin pie who makes us all smile. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

(Overdue) Halloween hoo-ha

We had a really fun Halloween this year - the kids are just about the perfect age for all the shenanigans. So even though it's a week ago already, here are a few fun highlights.

We were late to pick out our pumpkins, but were so happy to buy them at J.P. Total's, a local business that had been hit pretty hard by the recent flooding.  As expected, the pumpkins were awesome, the animatronics amusing and the cider tasty.  When we carved 'em that evening, the Bug wanted a scary pumpkin like Joker.  The Bunny initially wanted a happy princess pumpkin, but as soon as she saw Daddy's, the order changed to MAD PRINCESS. 

Mine?  Clearly Surprise!!!  Followed by Bug's, Joker's and MAD PRINCESS!     

A fun new tradition we tried out this year: Trunk-or-Treat at the school.  Various cars - including our friends' hearse, which was totally the best - were decorated in the school parking lot, giving the kids a very safe and comfortable Friday-before-Halloween venue to seek candy, check out each others' costumes and see the "Haunted hallway."  Really good stuff.

The girls' costumes?  Bunny was a cupcake fairy.  Since, you know, that's made up... I decorated some wings and a wand with cupcake stickers and such.  She wore a tutu, and basically looked like she was dressed for a Tuesday at school.  The Bug was a witch (a scary one), but wouldn't let me take a single picture in her awesome hat.  So sadly, not much to say there.

And Halloween itself... really fun daytime kids parties at the school.  Freezing cold night for trick-or-treating, which quickly devolved into returning to our house for The Great Pumpkin while the adults drank wine.

Oh and best idea of all time?  I "allowed" the kids to do science experiments with their candy.  By the time they'd dissolved all they possibly could into a glass of water, we were left with next to nothin'!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

On Saturday we met up with Mima and Boppie at The Wild Animal Sanctuary, near the town of Keenesburg, about an hour drive north and east from Evergreen.  This place is amazing!  You should go.  Bring binoculars.

Chase is re-learning how to be a tiger.

The sanctuary is home to hundreds of animals, specializing in large carnivores.  What this means to you is that there are dozens each of tigers, bears, lions, wolves, mountain lions and other large cats to observe.  The largest of its kind in the western hemisphere, the facility spans about 720 acres, with another 400 in development.  From the website alone I was worried this would be the kind of self-important, save-the-animals clap-trap that annoys me.  I couldn't have been farther from the truth.  Yes, these animals were all saved from terrible situations.  But the focus is not on the past; rather you experience the incredibly pleasant (and well-fed) lives the animals lead today.  They all have shiny coats and plenty of space to roam.  The staff clearly understands how these animals relate in social groups, and each species is introduced to others of its kind in a different way.

You do not want to cuddle with Tabitha.  I promise.

So the sanctuary isn't like a zoo, designed for the optimal viewing experience of the humans.  Rather, this is the animals' home, and we've been invited to visit.  They've built a mile-long, 22-foot high viewing platform which crosses above the multiple tiger habitats, a handful of bear and wolf habitats and several lion prides.  The animals crossed right below the platform and roamed around their spaces.  Though the sanctuary has been in operation for over 31 years, it's only had this public viewing experience since last spring.

Giant caboose; tiny face.  Bears are funny.
 My brief take on the animals: Wolves? Noisy. Tigers? Awesome.  And strangely anti-social; apparently it takes them much longer to adapt to a social group, which is why so many of them are in the "tiger roundhouse" with close proximity to other tigers, and some social swimming pool time to boot! Lions? Powerful.  Especially the females.  Bears? Hilarious.  They have these gigantic fat asses and little tiny ears.  Plus, they waddle.  Camel?  (No, seriously, there's one of those, too.) Ridiculous.  
One of the Bolivian lion prides, with Morrison (the camel) beyond.

We love the Denver Zoo, but this was such a different experience.  All of us thoroughly enjoyed it, and when we sat down to talk about our day at the dinner table, there were so many cool things to recollect we each had a unique Top 3 List. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The crazy cousins go to Storm King

Last week the girls got a postcard from someone different - Cousin Lily!  She and her family spent Columbus Day at the Storm King Art Center, a place we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves just a couple of years ago!  Even the glimpse of one piece on a postcard had us fondly remembering the day we visited.  It's a museum that is absolutely worth seeing.  Thanks, Lily, for thinking of us!

Maya Lin's Storm King Wavefield

Friday, October 25, 2013

First dance

Last Friday night, the Bug's school had a dance.  Yes, I know she's in the first grade.  Yes, I am fully aware that we have plenty of years still ahead, during which there will be ample opportunity to introduce our children to highly awkward social situations.

Nonetheless, it was a dance.  And since the Bug wanted to go, we went.

One of the first things you might notice is that the theme is "sports."  This meant kids should wear sports clothing, jerseys and the like.  We didn't know that, so the girls (oh yeah, Bunny went, too) wore dresses and tights.  Which was fine; we weren't the only newbies.

The event itself was kind of a riot.  It was at the "tennis bubble" indoor sports facility in town.  Half of the space was a dance floor "with a real disco light, Mommy!"  The other half had hula hoops and jump ropes and stuff.  The kids even played tug-of-war.  The Bunny mostly just hopped on one foot.  Two hours later, we left.  And next year?  We'll be back.  The girls are already excited for it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo

It has taken almost four months for me to finish the 1100+ pages of Alexandre Dumas' masterpiece The Count of Monte Cristo - which can only be chalked up to the sheer size of the book.  It's wonderful to read, the story is fantastic, the characters are complex and the book deserves all of its renown.

In order to take just the middle 100 pages backpacking, I had to cut my copy into thirds.


The story begins with the admirable and talented seaman, Edmond Dantes, upon whom life is smiling grandly.  Dantes has earned his place at the top of Captain Morrell's ship staff, and he's also engaged to marry Mercedes, the beautiful and charming Catalan.  Clearly, though, this can't possibly work out well for Dantes: he's elicited the passionate envy of his rivals on both fronts.  Danglars feels he was overstepped for promotion to foreman on the ship; Fernand desires Mercedes' affections.  The plot of these two, along with the complicit actions of lazy town drunk Caderousse and the crooked prosecutor Villefort, lands Dantes in jail.

And not just any jail.  We're talking the fortress of the Chateau d'If, a castle on a rocky crag in the Mediterranean.  Dantes is tossed in, the key is thrown away, and our friend is long forgotten by the crooks.

Fortune visits Dantes six years later in the form of "The Mad Friar" Abbe Farina, who's slow and steady plot to dig his way out of the Chateau d'If proves to have some engineering miscalculations.  He lands in Dantes' room, and the Abbe not only convinces Dantes to have faith and live to see another day, but he also teaches him languages, culture, mathematics, science... and the location of otherworldly fortune on the uninhabited island of Monte Cristo.  When Dantes finally gets out, after another eight years in his dark, dank inhumane imprisonment, you can guess where he heads first.

What you can't guess is the path of the rest of his adventures.  Dantes essentially determines his job is to mete out justice, both to the loyal and deserving Morrell, as well as to the four who sent him to his doom.  Fourteen years in an ungodly hell-hole, brother's got an axe to grind.

This tale of love, passion, revenge and deception is incredibly told.  Could Dumas have saved a few hundred pages along the way?  Probably.  But then, what's a thousand pages between friends.

Next up: Nobel-prize winner Desert by J.M.G. LeClezio, which came highly recommended by the young Russian woman who works at my local bookstore.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mykonos, Greece

After spending some time in Athens, Mima and Boppie hit the islands.  What a paradise for their anniversary trip - stunning views, beach time, incredible food, ouzo, more food.  They even looked up an artist Joker once knew on Santorini!  What a lovely time they had - I look forward to following in their steps myself sometime.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Bunny's budding artistry

Over the summer there were certainly fewer examples of kid art for me to showcase here, but both the Bug and the Bunny continue to be prolific with crayons, markers, glitter glue, scissors, beads, tissue paper.... Basically with whatever they can get their hands on.

Yesterday this came home from the Bunny's preschool and I just loved it.  The colors!  The backstory!  The easily discernible, realistic elements!


Well, it *is* pretty.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mima and Boppie, from Athens with love

Big break - sorry about that - posts are a-comin' I promise!

In the mean time, Mima and Boppie just returned from a 40th Anniversary trip to Greece.  First, big congrats on 40 years - yippee!  Second, I want to go to Greece!!

In contrast from the month-long Mexico postcard delivery, this actually arrived before they returned from their trip.  The girls were super into the idea of a whole temple to celebrate the goddesses.  Athens sounded amazing, and we can't wait to hear about the islands, too!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lake concerts are awesome

I'm not really sure how I've managed to miss mentioning the Evergreen Lake Concerts, one of the coolest and most fun town traditions I know of.  All summer long there are free concerts every other Wednesday night at the Evergreen Lake, and the entire town turns out.  Kids swarm (after all, there *is* a bouncy house), grown-ups drink beer and wine, everyone brings blankets and chairs and we've been known to put out some incredible spreads of food to share.  It's a social scene for all ages.  And bonus: the bands are really pretty good!

What we only learned last month, though, is that on the other Wednesdays there's still a lake concert - one with a suggested donation that benefits a local organization.  These are a far smaller scene, and the kids have to swarm in the trees and lawn (no bouncy house), but it gives the adults a chance to actually relax while we sip wine outside and listen to music.

That's our buddy - the dude in the green skirt.
 In all, the lake concert series is one fun town initiative.  Another reason to love Evergreen.

Nice post-concert view, right?


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Long hiatus, but now I have a job

Or, wherein I reflect on unemployment

So I'm finally back to work again, and if my start-up exhaustion weren't enough, I'm now back to - you guessed it - helping start-ups.  I'm super psyched to be back in Adultville, and talking about things like profits and exit strategies and "the warts on a deal" again.  Trust me, I love this stuff.

And now that I'm commuting (first time in a car, with the exception of my brief L.A. tenure), and my kids are back in school, and I am still trying my best to fit in CrossFit, and I like to read my newspaper and boy do I love 5am!, and, and...... I'm also fondly recalling my months of not doing so.

After the initial stress and being bummed out, I snowboarded.  A lot, really.  I got in the best shape of my adult life.  I went on field trips and drove my kids to pony camp.  I learned to ride a mountain bike (still lots of ground to be gained there, but it's a start). 

I took my kids to the pool.  A lot.  During which time the Bug really learned to swim and jumped off the diving board, and the Bunny got infinitely more comfortable in the water and jumped off the side.  We went to Lakeside and the zoo.  We went to Wyoming and South Dakota and Utah.  We camped a little and played at the farm. 

So, how did I feel about unemployment?  Undoubtedly it was a blow to my ego and a source of frustration.  I think I'm a better parent - and person to be around - when I am fulfilled on all fronts.  But I am glad that my support staff (you know, Joker and the girls and my parents and friends) all encouraged me to enjoy it.  Because, you know what?  I did.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Backpacking. (Makes camping look easy.)

A number of years ago, both my sister and my brother started backpacking with my Dad. I pretty much figured that was their special thing, and that was totally cool. But when Joker and I started camping with the kids, I realized I was missing out. 

This spring, my Dad threatened to hang up his hikers.  If a trip went off this year, it would be his last.  Even though I didn't really believe him, I signed on. 

Joker was stuck working all weekend, so our party was Boppie, Aunt Jessie, Andy and myself.  We hit the farm on Thursday night to divvy up the stuff - pots and pans, hatchet, flatware, etc. - and make a plan.  Also, to leave the girls with Mima for the weekend. 

Friday morning started with the long and super beautiful drive up the Poudre Canyon, through Walden, past Steamboat to the Flat Tops Wilderness area.  It was pouring rain when we pulled in.  Also, hail.  So we ate our sandwiches in the car, waited out the fury of the storm and hiked with virtually no weather.  And hiked and hiked.  It was pretty far.

Lakes in the Wilderness.

Big test for our group came when we lost the trail and weren't sure where we were.  We reconned up and down the hill, without seeing our goal.  Then we voted.  Then we backtracked.  When we pitched our tents (during daylight - yay!), we were all still friends.  And grateful for the wine Andy had hauled up there.

Gorgeous first camp site.
Next morning, we had a half-hour hike before we saw the vista that is Deer Lake.  Wow.  Now I know why you backpack.  You can see beauty via car, but this was outstanding.

First view of Deer Lake.
We fished (unsuccessfully).  We read.  We played cribbage during the rain and hail.

Clouds and mountains.
We hiked back to the car on Sunday morning, and the beer that awaited us was cold and delicious.  Trip of a lifetime, crappy weather and crappy fishing and imperfect navigation all included.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The National Aquarium, in Baltimore

Before our backpacking weekend (more on that later, I promise!), Mima and Boppie snuck in an awesome visit to the baby cousins.  The highlight, clearly, is that the now-2-year-olds are talking up a storm, Caleb is rocking his new walker, Wyatt is super kind.  Also, they share.  Which is kind of amazing to me, coming as I do from a house where the girls swing from best buds to cat fights and back pretty much constantly.

Anyway, I learned that the Baltimore Aquarium - always far, far superior to the National Aquarium in DC - is now the National Aquarium.  And it's fabulous (if a tad pricey).



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Holy massive monolith!

Devils Tower, the final destination on our road trip, was the one place I'd hoped was as cool as I'd remembered it.  It was every bit as incredible, and more.

The drive from South Dakota to Devils Tower is another beauty.  As you leave the Black Hills, the earth becomes a rich red color, and there are bluffs and mesas and hills that were all carved by the Belle Fourche river.  The first view of the monolith is a shock, and as you get closer it only grows more fantastic.



We hiked the 1.5-mile Tower Trail which circles the base of Devils Tower, but there are a number of trails that wind through the red river basin as well.  The boulder fields around the base of the tower are totally on limits, and the Bug and Joker climbed as high as non-technical climbers are allowed.  The hike was fun and easy, and the crowds really thin out as you get away from the parking lot and visitor center. 

The drive back to Evergreen was a long one, especially since the two girls had us stopping at every rest area in Wyoming.  But after some fairly lame rain we were gifted with one of the prettiest sunsets I've seen.  The verdict?  One very successful road trip.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Hiking in the Badlands

From Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, we adventured to the west.  Although I'd been to the area before, I didn't even know that Badlands National Park existed.  I love the drive out there; I can't get enough of the unending grasslands.  It's worth noting that the "towns" we passed through were virtually ghost towns, so gas up before you leave Rapid City. 

Canyon below the Windows Trail



Along Windows Trail
Formations along the Fossil Exhibit Trail


We approached the park from the south and started our visit at the visitor center.  There we learned that the park has an "open hiking policy," such that the kids can run and climb anywhere they want.  We started at a couple of very short hiking trails just north of the visitor center, then made our way northwest to exit via the park's other major entrance.  There are numerous places to stop, view and hike along the road, and we took advantage of many of them.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

View from Pinnacles Overlook
I've actually heard mixed reviews about this park, but we all loved it.  Hiking / climbing around the formations is a  blast, and the stark beauty is awesome.  We will absolutely return someday!


Friday, August 2, 2013

Magnificent Mount Rushmore

After taking our leave of the Fort Laramie area, we headed for the hills.  Specifically, the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

My grandfather had suggested that we see Mt. Rushmore by both day and night - advice we were eager to heed.  After settling into our hotel and having a bite to eat, we hit the memorial to see it illuminated.  We should perhaps have done a little more research - they don't just turn on the lights.  Rather, there is a (very well done) 45-minute presentation that begins around 9pm.  The Bunny fell asleep before it started, but the rest of us were very glad to see it, and the night-time view was incredible.



The next morning, we returned to the memorial for a closer inspection and a hike.  We picked up the Junior Ranger materials first, and were pleased to see that this one was within reach for both girls.  The one mile-ish Presidents' Trail is accessible for the first half-mile or so, and involves about 250 stairs after that viewing platform.  En route, we caught the tail end of a ranger talk about the Native American history of the area, and the girls checked out the inside of a teepee. 

This stop was probably the girls' favorite of the trip - they must have recited the presidents' names 50 times before we left.  They were also thrilled to earn their first Junior Ranger badges!  (N.B., And "earn" they did; there is a lot of work involved in getting those badges!)  While Joker and I could easily have spent more time in the visitor centers and museums, this was a wonderful visit.  Mt. Rushmore is a must-see for every family!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Where the old west still lives

Earlier this week, we took our very first family road trip: up through Wyoming to South Dakota and back.  Filthy camping dishes, camping laundry and car-after-four-days-in-it-with-kids aside, it was a fabulous trip!

First stop: Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  We hit the Fort on Sunday.  It's part of the National Park Service, and had fallen into pretty serious disrepair before the Civilian Conservation Corps came into existence.  Today, many of the buildings have been restored to their 1850s or '60s appearances, and a number of volunteers in period dress can answer questions about the fort and its occupants.


From there, we proceeded three miles west to Boppie's cousin's ranch.  We camped there along the Laramie River, enjoying the hospitality of our cousins.  Joker fished (with, among others, a keeper small-mouthed bass), we relaxed, we saw shooting stars and a spectacular lightning storm in the distance and generally had a great time.  The next morning, we took a hike to the highest point in the ranch, with commanding views in all directions - where Native American scouts and cavalry commanders had clearly stood before us.
 
Dinner on the Laramie River
The final stop on the ranch - and a highlight, especially for the Bug - was the site of a former Native American burial ground.  All visible traces have been long gone, but the ants living there have unearthed, so to speak, some secrets.  Beads from the Native Americans' clothing, lost underground, are occasionally carted up as the ants excavate their tunnels.  We swept aside the pebbles and uncovered six of the old beads - an incredible treasure for us!  Many, many thanks to the Petersons for their hospitality - this leg of the trip would not have been so spectacular without our stay at the ranch!

The Bug displaying our treasure

Stunning ballhead waterleaf are all around the Wyoming plains
Before turning north, we went another 10 or 15 miles west to the town of Guernsey.  This tiny town is home to two incredible sites along the Oregon Trail.  Carved three or four feet into sandstone are the Guernsey Ruts - made by wagon wheels as over 30,000 people per year sought their fortunes in the west.  And when these emigrants passed Register Cliff, many carved their names into the soft stone.

One of the names on Register Cliff

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Camping near Chambers Lake

After dire (and, as it turned out, incorrect) predictions for rain in the Crested Butte area, Joker and I called an audible and changed our weekend plans.  It was just about the only weekend remaining in the summer when Mima and Boppie were free to camp with us - and after the fun we had at Long Draw two summers ago, we didn't want to let another year slip away.

Since we were making last minute plans and weren't able to reserve a campsite, we decided to meet at the no-reservations Tunnel Campground, about six miles north of Chambers Lake.  While the campground wasn't empty, there were plenty of trees and enough space for us to be comfortable.  Plus, we had access to nearby beaver ponds, and the girls enjoyed hiking and spotting wildflowers in the adjoining paths.

Chambers Lake

Mima and Boppie brought their canoe so we were able to hit Chambers Lake each day for boating and fishing.  Other than that, the agenda included a leisurely bike ride with Joker, and a whole lot o' nothing else.  It was super relaxing - great to just hang out and be outside together.  And the real highlights were the other wildlife we saw!!

We saw this handsome fella several times!

On a short hike around the nearby beaver ponds the first evening, the Bug spotted a male moose in the brush just yards from us!  Sunday we saw a mother moose, and we saw *where* her baby was, though none of us actually laid eyes on it.  We got to see a bald eagle swoop down over the lake and snag a fish.  Twice.  And a giant nest just off the road housed another (presumably) juvenile eagle.
 
Look closely at the brown thing in the middle.  It's mama moose.
What a great time, just hanging out together and enjoying Colorado!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kickin' wildflowers, butterflies and a hummingbird's nest

With the success of our hike last week at Three Sisters, and with the incredible thundershowers that have been hitting us every single afternoon, we decided to take the girls out for a hike this morning.  We picked another destination we'd not yet visited: O'Fallon Park, which is part of the Denver Mountain Parks system.  Located less than a mile east of Kittredge, it's easy access from Evergreen.

Purple flowers along Picnic Loop trail
While the trails are very well maintained, we (along with the other hikers we encountered) didn't find them to be well marked.  There are also no trail maps at the trailheads.  Next time, I'll print out a map at home before we take off.  

We parked in the third lot, and started off heading uphill on Picnic Loop trail.  From there we caught the lower side of West Ridge Loop, and took another left onto Meadow View Loop to bring us back to the parking lot.  The hike clocked in at 3.1 miles, and both the Bug and the Bunny handled it with ease.  We lucked out by it not being a hot day, and the trails have abundant shade.

As for the highlights.... this is the easy part.  The entire park is currently a giant wild flower garden.  Everywhere you look there are pinks and purples and yellows and whites, flowers of all shapes and sizes.  Some we see all over the mountains; others were new to us.  We saw butterflies galore; from the big yellow swallowtails to the small orange, white and yellow ones, they were everywhere.  They flew between us as we hiked, nearly brushing the girls' cheeks as they passed.  We saw a couple of deer up a hill from us, one with small velvety antlers.

Thistles in a meadow

But the real highlight?  We saw a female hummingbird flitting around a tree right off the trail.  Then we saw her land in a nest.  I've never, ever seen a hummingbird's nest before - it was incredible!  And, as if she knew how cool it was, she sat back in the nest and posed for me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hiking with the kids in Alderfer/Three Sisters

I've spent a lot of time in Elk Meadow, the Jefferson County Open Space park nearest our house.  But we somehow missed out on Alderfer/Three Sisters, though, until Frankie and Pop-pop were here last week.

Rock formation along the Ponderosa Trail

This park, located just west of Evergreen, has over 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, including the well-known summit of Evergreen Mountain.  Trails are well maintained and well marked, and there are maps at the trailheads.  We chose a fairly easy path for the kids - a 2.7 mile loop that passed the landmark Three Sisters rock formation. 

We parked in the west lot and took the Sisters Trail until it looped around and met up with the Ponderosa Trail.  There were a few steep spots, but the kids did great.  This park boasts a ton of cool rock formations - magnets for kids who want to climb.  Our pace certainly would have been faster without the numerous climbing detours, but it would have been a far less fun hike.  At the Three Sisters, Joker, Frankie and the Bug even called down to the Bunny and me from some vertigo-inducing heights!

Also fun: there are a ton of geocaches hidden along these trails, if you're into that sort of thing.  We found three, dropping a TravelBug into one and getting little kiddie prizes in the others.  There were several along these trails that we passed up - so next time, still new things to discover.

What a fantastic place for Frankie's very first hike!  Great views of the mountains and of Evergreen.  Fun rocks to climb on.  Plenty of shade (and spots to stop for snacks).  A few tough uphills that result in nice easy downhill payoffs.  What more could you ask for?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This is where milk comes from, kiddos!

While Frankie and Pop-pop were here, we took them to Mima and Boppie's farm for a little tour.  Standard stops include a paddle across the lake pond overgrown mud puddle, driving the tractor and the loader and a ride in the bed of the pick-up.  This time, though, we got a special treat - something that even my parents and I hadn't seen for years.  We got a tour of a dairy farm.


The farm is run by J.R. Pennington, a good family friend (and Boppie's golf buddy) with whom I went to high school.  They have a few hundred cows - small compared to the newer commercial operations, but big enough to make it a 24/7 constantly moooo-ving (sorry!) milk factory.

First stop was technically, I suppose, a glimpse into where the magic begins.  One of the cows was in the chute, ready for her insemination.  The Penningtons used to keep bulls, but there are a couple of major drawbacks.  For one, small bull selections can lead to inbreeding.  That's bad, even for bovines.  Secondly, they are a gigantic pain in the ass.  They're unpredictable, they can be very dangerous and, if I recall correctly from my childhood, they stink.  So now dairy farmers peruse the latest Holstein Magazine, select their donors based on beefcake (sorry again!) photos and stats and keep tubes on dry ice until ready to use. I thought the kids would be freaked by the demo, but the Bunny and the Bug actually scooted around to our fair friend's caboose for a better viewing angle.

The Bunny and the Bug (oddly enough) really want to see this action.


I was struck while walking through the corrals by just how friendly these girls are.  They weren't frightened of any of us, and we were able to pet their fat flanks as we passed.  They followed me while I was taking their glamor shots, and I'm pretty sure they would have nose-print-kissed my camera if I'd let 'em!

"Now get my close-up, honey"
Next we went into the milking building, where the ladies line up three times a day to have their udders emptied.  Each cow's tag tells the milker what to expect - where she is in the cycle, how much she's been delivering daily, and if there appears to be a problem that needs review.

From there we saw the feed.  The kids jumped between the huge hay bales.  Boppie felt sugar beet mash for the first time in years.  But that's not the highlight.  How exciting can feed be, really?

The highlight: the calves.  These sweet little things start off around 80 or 90 lbs. and grow from there.  One was just hours old.  Like the cows, the calves were super friendly - we scratched their sides and they sucked on our hands, and the Bunny wanted to pet every single one.  Especially the white-faced ones.  

This was the Bunny's especial favorite!

Thanks for the tour, J.R.!

Bonus photo: Frankie behind the wheel!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Big cousin, big visit

While it's hard to complain about our Colorado life, we dearly miss the family and friends who are still in NY and CT. 

So for our oldest nephew's tenth birthday, we brought him out to see us.

Frankie and Pop-pop arrived in DIA last Monday, and stayed with us for a very, very action-packed week.  He saw his first elk and deer (including plenty of new babies), hummingbirds and mountains.  He drove his first tractor, went on his first hike and ousted Joker and me as the Bug's partner-of-choice for the roller coaster. 

Perhaps most importantly, the girls got to really know their big cousin, probably better than they had before we moved here.  The three of them played together incredibly well - they shared, they didn't argue and the girls now know that boys (even big boys) can be really cool.  I played Monopoly with Frankie and the Bug, we all watched a movie or two together, Joker and Frankie played catch.  The kids splashed in creeks, unearthed fossils, ate watermelon, jumped in the pool.  Together.  Great memories for us all.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner's Nobel Prize-winning novel As I Lay Dying handily solidified the author's leading position among all authors (alongside Dostoevsky and Tolstoy), in this blogger's humble opinion.  It is a fantastic story with memorable characters and an impeccable writing style.  Faulkner was known to refer to it as his "tour de force," a label with which I cannot disagree.

The book's premise is simple enough; the execution is anything but.  Addie Bundren, matriarch of a poor, tragically flawed family in Yoknapatawpha County, is dying.  By the time her husband, Anse Bundren, sends for the doctor, it's too late for him to do anything.  With her passing, Anse is determined to fulfill his promise to her: to bury her in Jackson alongside her own family.  Difficult in even the best of times, this is made nearly impossible by the storm that just passed, washing out the various bridges within wagon-driving distance.

The book is told through the perspectives of the Bundrens (Anse, Addie and their children Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell and Vardaman), as well as their friends and neighbors and members of the larger community.  Each chapter continues (or fills in) the story, and in doing so, fleshes out the narrator's and other characters' stories.  Herein lies Faulkner's gift.  Through stream of consciousness storytelling and the use of internal monologues (that of one narrator, in particular, being clearly more intellectual than the character himself could be), the reader understands the motivations and challenges of each character.  Woven together, it's a far more complex family - with far greater problems and historical baggage - than you'd imagine.

Reading none of the characters presents the difficulty of interpretation found in the brilliant The Sound and the Fury, making this book much more accessible.  It would be a wonderful introduction to Faulkner's complexity - and to his writing style - and to Southern Gothic literature at large.  I'd recommend it without reservations to anyone.

Next up: The behemoth The Count of Monet-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  A fellow Doestoevsky fan says it's her favorite book of all time.  How can I resist?

Monday, June 17, 2013

AOK top 25, 2013 edition

The other day, Joker reminded me that I needed to publish my updated top 25.  I was shocked to see it's been over three years - and oh, so many books - since I'd done it last!  The top 10 remains mostly the same, but major shifts in the next 15. 

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky's masterpiece, and my favorite book of all time. It's why I love the Russians, and Dostoevsky first among them. Murder, love, dysfunctional families, the devil... Dostoevsky knows how to tell a compelling tale.  Full review here.

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. The Devil comes to Moscow and all hell breaks loose. Full review.

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison. Powerful, horrifying and beautiful story of slavery and its aftermath. Full review.

4. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. A poetic portrait of English aristocracy, a highly personal examination of the Catholic church, and an insightful dive into personal relationships. Full review.

5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Epic story of the Bolkonsky and Rostov families during the Napoleonic Wars. Full review.

6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. The most difficult book on my list, hands down. Faulkner is a difficult read under the best of circumstances; throw in one narrator with severe mental retardation and others who are unreliable and you're up for a challenge. In this case, though, it is worth the effort. This story of a tragic Southern family showcases the extraordinary talent one of the country's greatest writers.

7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Ambitious and captivating, Murakami blends dreams and reality in this story about a Tokyo house-husband's search for his missing cat. Full review.

8. Emma by Jane Austen. Flawed and self-delusional but charming and witty, Emma takes Harriet Smith, a sweet girl from a lesser societal rank, under her wing and commences matchmaking. Full review.

9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Another doorstop of a book at over 1100 pages, Infinite Jest is certainly a commitment. Alternating between a halfway house and an exclusive tennis school, Wallace weaves together numerous sub-plots, zany characters and political satire in the near-future Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (calendar years now having corporate sponsors). Also notable for its prodigious use of acronyms and end notes.

10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The book follows the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov after he commits a gruesome crime. Can murder ever be justified? Is true punishment that which is handed out by the authorities, or the self-flagellation of regret?

11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The best one hit wonder of American literature, this high school required reading gave birth to some of literature's greatest characters: Atticus Finch, Scout and Boo Radley. The book is funny and warm, even while examining the serious issues of rape and racial inequality.

12. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I don't buy into this being one of the best love stories ever written, but this story of Humbert Humbert's obsession with a prepubescent girl is shocking and disturbing and wonderfully written.

13. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. In the deranged world of Mark Renton and his so-called friends, heroin addiction is the prevailing force. It is a tale of greed, crime, Scottish identity, sexual morality and betrayal. The movie is excellent and bit disturbing; the book is really excellent and really disturbing.

14. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. (2010 ranking #16) Textbook Faulkner: the epic decline and fall of a Southern family. Brilliantly written, memorable characters and the longest sentence ever published in a novel.

15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. (2010 ranking #17) Randle P. McMurphy enters an insane asylum to finish out a prison term as the "bull goose loony." He torments old Nurse Ratched and urges his fellow patients to assert themselves.

16. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. (2010 ranking #18) Frodo Baggins saves Middle Earth; saga provides inspiration for generations of fantasy/sci-fi geeks.

17. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark.  (Not ranked in 2010)  The pseudo-historical history of English magic.  Something of a grown-up Harry Potter, but mixed with elements of Jane Austen, David Foster Wallace and Mikhail Buglokov (all of whom, if you didn't notice, appear on this list, too).  One of the best contemporary novels out there.  Full review.

18.  The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.  (Not ranked in 2010)  Brilliantly written, complex tapestry of a novel about two sisters, one of whom commits suicide before the present-day events.  Includes a novel-within-a-novel, in a totally non-contrived way.  Full review.

19.  Persuasion by Jane Austen.  (Not ranked in 2010)  Perhaps Austen's tightest narrative, tells the story of Anne Elliot, still single at the ripe old age of 27 with - could it be? - two potential suitors.  Witty and clever, it's classic Austen at her best.  Full review. 

20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (2010 ranking #15) Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March grow up amid love and laughter. It was the first book I truly adored. I still cry more when Jo finds out that Amy married Laurie than I do when Beth dies. Full review.

21. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.  (Not ranked in 2010)  A biting satire of the British landed class, the book tells the story of the complete unraveling of a family.  Hysterically funny until it becomes wickedly macabre.  Full review. 

22. Sula by Toni Morrison. (2010 ranking #19) Short but complex, Sula explores relationships, sex, love, guilt and the difference between good and evil. Morrison captures the difficulty of post-emancipation life in the midwest, and breaks your heart several times while she does it. Full review.

23. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. (2010 ranking #20) "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Surprisingly modern, gossipy and easy to read.

24. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (2010 ranking #21) The glamor of the Roaring '20s thinly disguises a society riddled with materialism and a lack of morality.

25. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. (2010 ranking #22) Fat, lazy Ignatius J. Reilly on a quest to find a job in New Orleans' French Quarter. Hilarius.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

It's Vancouver, eh?

After their Seattle stay, Aunt Jessie and Andy hit the northlands and spent some time in Vancouver.  That is a city I absolutely want to see (and ski)!  According to their postcard, there's even a rainforest up there.  Who knew?!  Looks stunning, and I'm intrigued by the Denver International Airport-esque rooftop on *something* in the bay there.

Bonus points for the use of a Canadian stamp.  Although we can't seem to identify the mutant baby animal on it.  A moose, maybe?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hiking. Snow White. Big dancing chicken.

This evening we did something totally out of the ordinary with the kids.  We went to the Theatre-Hikes Colorado presentation of (a very interesting) Snow White, where we launched from the Buchanan Rec Center and hiked through the adjacent park.  It was a great call; we all loved it.

Snow White.  With chicken.
A little background on the organization.  Originally founded in Chicago ten or so years ago, Theatre-Hikes came to Colorado in 2009.  Tonight was their inaugural Evergreen performance.  Their usual venues are Chautauqua Park in Boulder and the Denver Botanic Gardens.  Their goal: to combine theater and the outdoors.  In this they succeed very well.  It's a short hike (in our case, very low intensity along a paved trail) between scenes.  The actors move ahead followed by the audience, and we set up our blankets (and poured another glass of wine) as we arrive at each new space. 

Fans on the move
We lucked out with a perfect evening: beautiful and sunny but not too hot.  The show itself was fun.  It's a quirky adaptation of the traditional fairy tale, told primarily from the perspective of the girl who grows up to become the wicked stepmother.  There's also a giant chicken with a fondness for jazz.  (Trust me; it works.)  The acting was solid - far better than I'd expected - and the jokes were funny to everyone from the Bunny on up to the gray hairs in attendance. 

The dwarfs
I'm just hoping that they'll bring their fall performance of Jekyll and Hyde to Evergreen so that we can round up a posse to join us!