Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conquering Red Rocks

I attended a recent comedy show here in Denver where the touring headliner made a joke about how people don't like to walk anymore. Dead silence. Crickets chirped. He looked puzzled and did not understand why the joke fell flat.

He'd failed to grasp a basic Colorado philosophy: All forms of outside movement are taken very seriously. Not only do we walk with great zeal, we hike, run, cycle, ski, board and climb. For this, I am forever grateful to the Centennial State because without significant peer pressure, I am quite the lazy ass.

The above photo was taken last Sunday from an entrance ramp at Red Rocks Amphitheater - THE best place to see a concert on the planet, or even a classic film. It also happens to be the very same place where folks go hiking and conduct grueling exercise regimes.

Although one can certainly park at the top and walk down, the great majority of locals tend to park at the bottom and hoof it up. I once heard a KBCO DJ scoff when he'd heard a visitor complain: "Hey, if you can't make it, you don't deserve to be at Red Rocks." They are not kidding. (Seriously, they have suggested exercise routines posted on their website.)

So, when guests visit, we inevitably end up at RR, where they 'oooh' and 'aaaah' and point to the tiny Denver prairie-opolis in the distance. It's not just the intense reds and pinks of the rocks, it's the entire natural grandeur of the place. (We think the rocks resemble melted Neopolitan ice cream or super stripey bacon.)

Even performers gush. When Tom Petty launched his Mojo tour last summer, he chose Red Rocks and thankfully, we were there too. Lyle Lovett makes no bones about RR being his favorite venue and plays every summer. Then there's Steve Martin during his comedy tour, who, after coming out on stage, looked around and deadpanned: "What a shithole. I'm gonna have to fire my manager."

And I don't think I need to even mention U2. (After Pollstar magazine awarded Red Rocks Best Small Outdoor Venue for the 11th time, they finally just gave up and renamed it The Red Rocks Award while permanently removing RR from the running.)

Anyhoo, when my dad visited in August, we took him to Red Rocks and we watched people work out there - running the bleachers, upside down push ups, stair climbing - you name it. It all looked painful to me until I saw a woman jogging back and forth, working up the venue, one row at a time. 'Hey,' I thought, 'I could probably pull that off sometime.'

So, this past weekend, I did! Took me about 40 minutes but I heard Rocky music at the end, even though I forgot my headphones. This ended up being a blessing as I would have missed a beautiful song by some girl down on the stage in a cowboy hat and jeans. Her voice was angelic and the acoustics were perfect. Less angelic but equally adorable was the old guy who followed with a crusty rendition of 'King of the Road.'

From the ground, post-run.
Meanwhile, every time I passed someone sitting on the bench, I'd ask, "Encouraging words?" This elicited some funny responses, such as:

"Um...It's nice and cool at the top!"
"Only 90 more rows to go!" 
"Whoever is chasing you, you've lost them."
"If you stop, you'll have to do my homework." 
"Great job! Way to go!"

SweaterGod, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest so many times but once I got the rhythym, I knew I would not be stopping for anything. Eventually, I conquered 69 really long rows at 6,400-ft. elevation and I felt like a Colorado milestone had been reached.

(No matter that Kirk flew up and down the venue three times - two stairs at a time - with enough leftover time to take a fucking nap - he's a freak of nature, so it does not count.)

  I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tragedy Hits Home

Photo: Brian Wilkins via Flickr.
So, what's another random shooting from yet another armed enraged man, right? Mass killings such as the one that happened yesterday in Seal Beach, California, have become much too common but this one, this one hit much too close.

When Kirk told me about a shooting in Seal Beach, it made me nervous. I grew up in the very next town, Long Beach, and Seal Beach was one of our many beachy teenage hangouts. My memories there are endless - getting ice cream from Grandma's on the corner, flirting with the lifeguards, bikini shopping along Main Street and happy hours too numerous to count.

Seal Beach Pier
Seal Beach always felt like an old-fashioned, gen-u-ine small town squished between the insanity of LA and shallowness of The OC. A place where flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts were always in fashion, year-round. It was a place where you could always find fish tacos, Irish beer and beach shells for sale. It was one of the few beaches along PCH that had a playground on the sand. People that are from there, stay there, and people that move there....well, they're just plain lucky.

The population count from the 2000 census was 24,157. In 2010, it was 24,168 - 11 more people. And I'm pretty sure I know at least three of those. Not a lot of big changes happen there, which is the crux of the Seal Beach charm. It's nickname? "Mayberry by the Sea."

Sadly, thanks to an angry, deranged ex-husband, Seal Beach became a place of mass murder when Scott Dekraai busted in to a hair salon and killed eight people, including his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier - a girl I knew from high school. It's a sign of modern times that my high school annuals, once kept purely for nostalgia, have now become a reference tool for Facebook invitations and shooting victims.

Michelle Fournier, pictured at left, with Christy Wilson.
But it gets worse. I quickly discovered that Christy Wilson also perished in this horrible event. I didn't know Christy personally but heard so much about her through my close friend, Debbie, who shared many memories with her. Debbie's daughter, Hannah, was also quite fond of Christy and posted this photo of she and Christy together on her Facebook, taken when Hannah was much younger:

Shortly after this, I get an email from my friend, Susie, who informed me that her friend, Laura Webb, also died in the shooting. Laura's mother, Hattie Stretz, was the lone survivor and is currently in the hospital. Hattie was in a chair, getting her hair done while visiting her daughter, when the shooting took place.

There is a candlelight vigil tonight and I so wish I could be there to honor the dead, including the innocence lost in this tiny seaside town. The OC Register is publishing the entire victim list tomorrow and it makes me nervous. As Susie wisely observed in her email today:
"We may have moved away but we come from a village."
I'm keeping so many people in my heart and prayers tonight and in the days going forward, including every single citizen of Seal Beach, California. But mostly, for Michelle's 7-year-old son. Evidently, this gruesome insanity was sparked by a custody battle and the irony is, now that little boy has no parents at all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lakeside: Old School Amusement

Saturday night, Kirk and I walked - yes, walked! - from our house to Lakeside Amusement Park, a step back in time for sure. Since we live precisely on the grounds of old Elitch Gardens, we recently had visited the relocated-downtown Elitch Gardens and found it crowded, expensive, disorganized and pretty much soulless. Being so close to Lakeside, we felt obligated to visit this vintage gem on its' last weekend this year.

After walking through our beautiful neighborhood, we showed up around 6 p.m., just in time to catch an amazing sunset. Riding a crazy roller coaster and catching a gorgeous lakeside sunset is an experience I highly recommend.

After paying the outrageous entrance fee of $2.50 (!), we skipped the coupons-per-ride set up and got the ride-everything-anytime wrist bands for around $19 each. Compare this to the $43 ticket price at Elitch and it makes your head spin. (I believe Disneyland is up to $80...?)

Established in 1908, Lakeside is currently owned by Rhoda Krasner, a delightful old woman whose father, Ben, had purchased the park in 1930. Immediately, he began art deco facelift which remains to this day. Sure, the park could use some loving repairs and a few new light bulbs but in a way, the natural decay is part of Lakeside's charm.  A Yelp review from Kelly T. sums it up nicely:

"If Lakeside were a man, he would be one of those old guys that hangs out in Winchell's Donut Shop drinking 50 cent coffee and eating a bear claw while reminiscing about better times with his old poker buddies. He still smokes a cigar every day. He still believes that a martini with lunch is perfectly acceptable. And, goddammit, he WILL have butter on his potatoes, not some awful oily margarine." 

Our favorite ride was definitely the Cyclone roller coaster, a wooden ride that does not do anything fancy except go very, very fast. A real bone rattler. Second was the Lakeside Train that circles Lake Rhoda - so delightful! Especially after dark when all the neon reflects off the water.

Our least favorite was The Spider, which I'd convinced Kirk into trying and well, we both regretted it. Later, while visiting the bathroom, I helped a poor woman wipe barf off her pants from riding the same evil monster. Poor lady, I think she might have been on a date too.

When time came for dinner, we (okay, Kirk) paid $12 whole dollars, for both of us. (2 slices of pizza and 2 sodas.) I can't imagine getting away with that at Disneyland. Also, Lakeside allows, and even encourages, people to bring their own food and have a picnic there on-site. Can you imagine a Six Flags' letting people come in with coolers? With the economy in such turmoil, places like Lakeside make it possible for families to have fun without spending a fortune.

On top of this, every employee we spoke to was polite and charming even though one can assume they are not making high dollar. (Although Admissions Guy could probably use more focus but no harm done.)  Mostly teens, sure, but not surly - no eye-rolling or mumbling, which was nice.

And the kicker? I think the longest we waited in line was 5 minutes. Although, my stomach did get permanently flipped by this damn thing:

Kirk was smart and stayed off it. Wish I had too. Still, I managed to keep everything down and recovered on the ferris wheel. It was a beautiful night and I felt lucky to have this old beauty in my city and in my 'hood.

Long live Lakeside!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Primo Visits

This weekend, my travel buddy, Mat Small, trekked out to Denver for a visit. He's one of many who have made connections at DIA but never emerged from the terminal. At long last, he explored Denver with my help and an old friendship was re-strengthened.

Mat is my Primo, Portugese for "cousin." Years ago, as we traveled through Brazil together, we kept being mistaken for spouses or siblings - neither of which described our platonic relationship. We settled for cousins and forever being Primo & Prima to one another.

Aside from seeing Denver, Mat was on a mission: To convince me to join him next May on a 12- day journey to the country of Georgia, a small nation bordering Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea. He showed videos. He drew maps. He bragged about their wines and their status as the world's first Christian nation. He even cajoled my friend, Inna - who originally hails from Kazakhstan - to back him up. No luck there.

Still, I'm intrigued. Mostly due to the fact that Mat is a relentless researcher on exotic locals that bring the most bang for the buck. I tease him about his obsessions with world currencies but as his travel partner, it certainly pays off. In fact, Mat usually researches absolutely everything and I just show up. My part of the deal involves photographing the hell out of the entire experience. All in all, a fair exchange.

So come May, who knows? I may be slurping Georgian wine....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mama Iva Visits

At nearby Sloan's Lake.
Though we are required to love our mothers, I am fortunate in that I also like my mother as a true friend. She is sweet, generous, laughs easily and is generally low maintenance. She does not hold expectations of me nor does she try to tell me what to do. Even though we are very different people, we instead celebrate our commonalities. Best of all? She is smart enough to never turn down offer of a cocktail.

In our living room.
Mama Iva, however, is no passive granny figure. Though she is 78-going-on-60, she chooses to work 40 hours a week as a secretary for an industrial tire company. There, she is universally loved and she returns that love by providing a bevvy of snacks to an all-male sales team every week. I was actually present the day her boss told her, "No matter how old you are, you have a job here. I mean, we'll just build you a ramp if we have to." Having a place to go M-F, 8-5, and be appreciated - it means the world to her.

Mama Iva's decision to remain in the workforce was prescient, as the economy tanked and Medicare and Medicaid have come under the knife, she remains solidly self-sufficient with regards to income and healthcare. Plus, my mother is someone with an active brain. She knows what is going on in the world and does not like to be left out; she was taking computer classes in the 80s.

In fact, a few months back we were sitting in her living room when she leaned over and said to me sweetly: "Will you teach me how to text?" Oh, the joy! She's got an older phone so it's not as handy as my iPhone but she gets it done and fully grasps the medium. She's even texting me photos now.

Mama Iva and Kirk at Red Rocks.
Recently, I convinced her to spare 48 hrs. for a quick visit to Denver. She had not seen my new place ("The Commune" as the family refers to it) so it was fun to show her my life, such as it is. We fed her from our garden, drove her up through the mountains and generally made her comfortable. I even got to send her home with food - I love a good table turn!

At one point during her stay, she asked me: "Will you give me a tutorial on Facebook?" WOULD I?!?! It was during this I gave her some sage advice: "Don't bother with all the privacy settings. The only filter you need to be concerned about is the one at the very beginning when people try to friend you. If the name doesn't conjure a familiar face, a shared memory or a warm fuzzy, just ignore it. Period." I hope she takes this to heart instead of worrying about hurting people's feelings. (This is how we are different.)

He's molting so cut him some fashion slack, okay?

As an animal lover, I was so pleased that Mama Iva got to see some wildlife while here in Colorado. Coming down from the Guanella Pass into Georgetown, we turned a corner and voila! An entire herd of mountain goats. She loved that and the adorable town of Georgetown too. 

I hated to see her go but she's got a full life to get back to - a full-time job, a social life (she's membership chairman of Young At Heart Singles), a big house and several pieces of property to maintain. Still, I miss her and wish one of us lived closer. I'd sure love the chance to feed her more often. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Urban Forager

A few weeks ago, one of my friends from the Master Composter group - a pack of loving dirtbags, if ever there was one - invited me over to her place for some "urban foraging." Now, this was no ordinary social call, this was an opportunity NOT to be missed.

My friend is Kate Armstrong, known 'round these parts as The Urban Forager and keeper of infinite knowledge on all plant life. (Our local NPR station recently did a story on her which you can listen to here.) Kate is one of those women that is a sheer force of nature with a multitude of identities and past lives to pull from. Mother of five grown children and grandmother to several, she is tenacious, funny and passionate about healthy food. I'd like to be Kate when I grow up.

 When I arrived at Kate's house, another fellow composter was there too, Nina Faust, a lean, gorgeous blonde who runs her own catering company. For the next couple of hours, we all discussed edible weeds, organic gardening, the evils of GMOs and the proven benefits of talking encourgingly to one's plants. (Vindicated at last!) But mostly, we trolled the alley ways and sidewalk cracks of Denver in search of our lunch as Kate educated us along the way. 

This is sorrel, I believe.
We certainly didn't have to go very far to find yummy edibles forcing their way up through the concrete. Kate showed us the difference between sorrel, dock, marrow and dandelion. She explained how to tell where evil pesticides had already been sprayed - a circle of brown death.

At some point, a friendly grey alley cat joined us as we worked our way around Kate's neighborhood. When Nina asked, with some concern, "What about dog and cat pee?"

Kate just shrugged, "You're going to wash everything anyway, besides it is still less harmful than all the pesticides from produce at the store." Too true.

Then, we went back to Kate's and made a gorgeous yummy salad from our green bounty, mixed in with some garden lettuce, tomatoes and parmesan too. It was unbelievably delicious - it tasted so clean, so pure and like nothing I'd ever eaten before.

Made me think about all these people going hungry, resorting to junk food and dealing with a multitude of health problems, when the best stuff is right under our feet, for free.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Neighborhood Concert

A couple months back, my friend, Terri Jo, and I realized we had twin passions: Music, and making things happen. We also realized that we had a perfectly good gazebo in our neighborhood that wasn't being used...complete with a power outlet. And so, the first Highland Gardens Community Concert was born.

I had whipped up a flyer and TJ plastered it all around our 'hood. She posted on websites and informed all her music students and their families. I posted the info here at Heartstone and sent out emails. TJ also put up the flyer up and down Tennyson - a nearby street with shopping and restaurants.

Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, we made it happen - ready or not. When 4 p.m. finally rolled around, we were set up but had very few actual audience members: A small family of three and a delightful woman named Helen, who had walkered her way over from the nearby senior living facility. "It was in the monthly newsletter so I thought, 'Why not?'" she said, gamely.

Eventually people came in dribs and drabs, with kids, blankets and snacks, and we put our best show forward. I was the MC and (I'm told) my humor was appreciated. Terri Jo sang and played the guitar - she sounds like an angel, I tell ya. She also brought small musical instruments to distribute to all the kids so they could clang and bang their way along to the music.

Next up was Andy Ard, TJ's friend, who played some old timey- tunes with guitar and harmonica. (I caught Helen singing along from a bench near the stage.) I'm always impressed when musicians strap on those portable harmonica players and huff, play and sing altogether. I mean, are they even human?

Then came the comedians. Steve Loukas (The Denver Wigs), Emily March and Kat Atwell (All of the Above) generously donated their time to make the funny. (I jumped in too but I'm kinda rusty.) We tried to involve the kids as much as possible and they just ate it up. Children are such natural comedians, without all those silly social barriers that keep adults in the comedic closet, they just go for it. 

This kid in front - I think his name is Sirus - was especially funny.
 My pal, Camille Brightsmith, was up next. She played guitar and blew us all away with her powerful voice. At this point, I paused and felt some gratitude for having such talented friends. It sure makes putting a show together much easier. 

We closed the show with an all-cast performance of "Angel From Montgomery." It was supposed to be just me on the guitar singing with them as back-up but lost my nerve at the last second. I am still getting my musical performance legs under me and I sure didn't feel like following TJ, Andy and Camille - that's not a comparative competition I would win. I also meant to do some storytelling but we ran out of time.

It all had a touch of Mayberry with a big dose of "Hee-Haw." We plan to do it all over again on July 24th. We'll make a few big changes next time, such as including some mandolin and sidewalk chalk.

Carnegie Hall, here we come.

New Friends: Helen, me and Jerri.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Earth: Leave Already!

Nothing personal, but I've often said that the human race is really nothing more than a virulent rash on planet Earth and it must really be itching to get rid of us. After all, we only take, take, take and rarely, if ever, give anything back. Planting a few trees here and there is nice but when you're essentially raping rain forests to obtain palm oil for your candy bar or some other modern, temporary comfort, it doesn't really balance out.

So, you can imagine my smugness when not one - but two - trusted news sources shouted in agreement during the same week.

First, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times let us know plaintively that "The Earth is Full." He opens with a peek into the future:
"You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornadoes plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once."
Seems that the human population is, according to Global Footprint Network, using up natural resources significantly faster than can they be replenished. Thus, we are 'eating into the future.' Mankind is using about 1.5 Earths - which poses a problem since we only have the one. 

Friedman goes on to quote Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur and author of “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World”, on why we choose to ignore those giant red flags:
"The only answer can be denial. When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”
And then, The Onion, (which is supposed to be satirical but is often more accurate than CNN) screamed the headline: "Planet Earth Doesn't Know How To Make It Any Clearer It Wants Everyone To Leave."   An excerpt:
"Following a recent series of disastrous floods along the Mississippi River and destructive tornadoes across much of the United States—as well as a year of even deadlier natural catastrophes all over the world—the Earth said its options for strongly implying that it no longer wants human beings living on it have basically been exhausted. 

"At this point, I think I've stated my wishes quite loudly and clearly," the Earth's statement to all of humanity read in part. "I haven't exactly been subtle about it, you realize. I have literally tried to drown you, crush you, starve you, dehydrate you, pump you full of diseases, and suck your homes and families into swirling vortexes of death. Honestly, what more is it going to take for you people to get the message?"

I hear the message but I fear that humans are not unlike the tenacious, icky cockroach. Earth may just have to get a really big piece of canvas and tent the whole damn thing.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Where I've Been

Visited Countries

Visited Countries Map from TravelBlog

Some awfully big chunks missing in there - no bueno. Entire continents still unexplored! Thankfully, I'm still young and my passport, current. Foreign airports are calling to me....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Bean Bounty

Good thing we drove to NoDak because we made quite a haul. Brent had kindly put together a 'home box' filled with goodies grown or sourced directly from the farm. But, when he took it to the local post office, he discovered the cost of sending a 50-75 lbs. box to Colorado was a bit too spendy.

Thankfully, he waited for our visit and we came home with the following:

5 lbs. of flour (from North Dakota Mill, where Brent sells the wheat)
4 lbs. of sugar (from Crystal Sugar, where Brent sells the sugar beets)
6 lbs. Navy beans
Three 6 lb. bags of Pinto beans
10 lbs. of corn grain
10 lbs. of soybeans
Two 10 lb. bags of wheat grain
Plus, his mother's cast iron skillet, taken straight from the stove of his boarded up childhood home, also on the farm. (See below.)

That's 73 pounds of food - in very raw form - that I am now challenged in dealing with. While I've sent out the call far and wide for a grain grinder, I've jumped on the beans. Pinto, specifically. Boudreaux helped me go through them and pick out the bad ones - very few of those.

Then, I soaked those babies overnight and whipped us up some Pinto Beans with Vegetables and Red Wine, compliments of the Vegetarian Times Cookbook. Very savory and quite filling. Plus, who doesn't love cooking with wine and mushrooms?

Great! Only 72.5 pounds to go ....

Seriously, it feels incredible to be eating food from our land, created by someone I know and consider family. Wish I could say the goods are GMO-free but the system (meaning Monsanto and the Feds) have pretty much hog-tied the small farmer so he does not have a choice.

For now.