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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, The Final Entry

It was our last evening in Colorado. We had one more thing we needed to check off our list: Annette. Not a person, but a place. Not possessive, as in Annette's. Just Annette – one of the top restaurants in Denver where Alex's pal and roommate works as an up and coming chef: Jacob Taggs. (Yes, that Jacob Taggs. Local celebrity. You might've read about him in the paper! See the link on his name.)

Disclaimer: I'm no food blogger. The most sophisticated culinary description I can think of right now is "delicious." But I think even Bobby Flay would agree there's not a better word to describe the food we enjoyed at Annette.

On to the actual experience.

As soon as walked in, I fell in love with the atmosphere. It was swanky and intimate without being one bit pretentious. Think of McDonald's. Then imagine its polar opposite. We settled into our table wearing the fanciest clothes we brought to Colorado. The boys sported their best American Eagle T-shirts, because nothing says fancy like a graphic tee.
our last supper

We were given dinner menus by the chummy server who already felt like a good friend. (To be fair, she was a friend of Alex's).  And after the "I'll give you a few minutes," it got quiet in a hurry. Our heads were buried as we perused our food options. Pork Tonnato? Grilled Beef Tongue and Marrow Toast? What were these things? We might've been in over our heads.

A few years ago, Doug and I decided to start sharing meals. Yep. We hit that age. We're the little, old couple who splits their ham sandwiches. We don't always do it, but when we're on the tail end of our vacation and are scraping for pennies, it's pretty much the expectation.

As we studied the menu, Doug asked if I'd like to share something. I was a bit reluctant. Jacob had recommended the "roasted whole fish" which was served with kale, salsa verde and other ingredients I didn't understand. So, I responded, "Sure. Can we have the fish?" He kept looking at me, as if I hadn't responded. Finally, he said, "So you don't want to split anything?" The sharing program only works if I don't eat fish or salad. We agreed. We'd each order separately for this meal.

The server came back, ready to answer a round of questions. Our first task was to get drinks. Seemed easy enough. But it came with its share of complexities. Doug had a house brew, which doesn't sound terribly bold unless you know that Doug is as loyal to Bud Lite as he is to his wife and the KC Royals. I had something called the Palisade Pisco. (I have no idea what it was, but it was dangerously tasty with its tart cherry essence.) My sophisticated Alex stuck with a bourbon concoction. Cole had a lemon and rosemary soda. Michael ordered an Earl Grey and dill soda. When I asked Michael if he liked tea, he said, "Oh, yeah!" Then he quickly changed his order to a Sprite.

Once the drinks were done, we discussed the appetizer. We had all agreed to be adventurous. Thus, we ordered the popcorn. But it wasn't your run-of-the-movie-theater butter-laden popcorn! It was light, fluffy, and spicy. In other words, the popcorn had character. It was gone in sixty seconds. Along with our drinks.

Fred Flinstone Portion!
Finally, after a few refills of beverage, it was time to order. We were ready. Pasta called out to Alex, so she ordered the gnocci. The boys began to order separate dishes when our server cut in. "Just so you know, many of these portions are huge. Most people share." I looked at Doug. Doug looked at me. Fish was off the table. We'd need to regroup. The boys decided to split the Maschhoff family bone-in pork chop which reminded me of the dinosaurus burger from The Flinstone's. Doug and I settled on the wood-fired half chicken. I couldn't be disappointed as I sipped on my yummy cherry drink.

The food came. After one bite of the melt-in-your-mouth poultry with its tangy glaze, I didn't have one regret about passing on the fish. Neither did Doug. We tried each other's food and dined on the side dishes – things like dandelion greens, asparagus and lentils, and fries with garlic aioli. I wonder how many times we shook our heads and said, "mmmm." Amazingly, we had just enough room for pecan pie and vanilla ice cream that made me wonder if I'd ever be satisfied with Dairy Queen again. (I found out a few days later, I would be.) Nonetheless, everything tasted like heaven. As I sit here remembering the feast, I'm a little sickened by the tater tot casserole I made earlier tonight.

Fierce Competition.
After a few hours of a delightful evening, we left bellies full and awestruck by the delicious food. (Jacob had prepared everything we ate, so we extended our highest compliments to the chef.) To walk off our gluttony, we toured the historic Stanley building. Lo behold, what did we find? A foosball table. Game on. Alex and Dad challenged Cole and Michael. As usual, Mom played spectator. It was a vicious match. Early on, the youthful Kramer/Heithoff team dominated. Then memory muscle kicked in for Doug. He and Alex slowly made a comeback to defeat the youngsters who think they're so hot with their Fort Nite and soccer skills. They were good sports, sort of. It was all in good fun.

We were ending our Colorado journey on the perfect note, having shared divine food, comaraderie, and lots of laughter. It was like vacation zen.

Then next morning we bid adieu to Alex and set off on the nine hour trip home to Iowa. The boys would get to watch a little more Star Wars. I'd finally finish 1776 with a few well-timed catnaps. And Doug would drive without the stop and go's of Denver drivers. Vacation was wonderful. We had a spectacular time. And best of all, we got some great pics for Cole's Instagram. But as soon as we saw the familiar cornfields and pulled into our driveway to be greeted by our dog and cat, I felt happy to be back. Maybe that's the best part of vacation: remembering how much you love your home.

Thanks for taking this Colorado journey with me. I hope you enjoyed.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part IV

It was our last full day in Colorado. After becoming recharged by nature and awestruck by the mountains, we opted for some good old-fashioned commercialism. We spent the day on the 16th Street Mall in Denver – an outdoor conglomeration of your standard franchise stores peppered with organic eateries and unique breweries. And it had a piano in the middle of the street.

We started off by catching a healthy and delicious lunch at the Modern Market Farm Fresh Eatery. There would be no McDonald's clogging our arteries that day! Then the boys were lured into an athletic store. Doug and I decided to take Alex to an H&M a few blocks away. As we strolled down the brick street, Doug grabbed a hold of us and pointed to something just ahead of us. Something horrifying. A man wearing a giant, yellow python around his neck. A live one. A real one. It was scariest moment of the vacation. Ziplining was nothing compared to the blood that rushed from my face as I imagined the snake getting loose and wrapping itself around one of us. I closed my eyes and waited for crazy man and snake to drift away. Apparently, Cole's shoe fetish kicked in at just the right time. If he would've seen it, the six foot kid would've crawled up his daddy's back.

Before we reached the H&M, we came across an outdoor Mexican restaurant with several TVs tuned into the World Cup. Croatia versus England. One of the final matches. There were lots of soccer fans, and, most importantly, there was beer. As we bonded with our new soccer friends, all peeled to the intense game, I texted the boys to come quick. "We found a great place to watch soccer." The boys, after all, are all about soccer, playing the sport all year around high school and club. They would certainly be excited to sit down and watch the World Cup. So, they came. And being the soccer aficionados they are, they stayed for about two minutes before setting off to find a Game Stop.

After we toasted Croatia for their stunning win, Doug urged us to get on with our shopping. (I think it was Doug, anyway.) And soon we found H&M. I couldn't help but feel proud as Alex opted for blazers and dress pants to jumpstart her career wardrobe. The days of Hot Topic seem to finally be over! Adulting is setting in. Of course, we did swing by a Sally's to pick up blue hair dye. I guess she does have one year left of college to be cool.
It's not all healthy in Denver.

After her splurge, we met the boys at a Hard Rock so they could grab a snack since it had probably been two hours since they ate that healthy crap. As I was thinking about Alex and her smart shopping choices, Cole also gave me reason to be proud. While his buddy, Michael, has purchased a fancy new pair of athletic slides for the low price of $50, Cole bragged how he had refrained from getting shoes or an NBA jersey that he had really wanted. But I did notice a small Gamestop bag in his possession.

"So, did you get anything today?" I said.

"Just a game," he said. "Lego Star Wars III."

I guess the cost of video games doesn't count. It'll be a while until Cole starts adulting.

As we headed back to the condo, I noticed we had all fallen into that cone of silence that happens when everyone has spent lots of time together. I managed to capture a video with some stellar singing. But I could tell everyone was getting just a little tired. The vacation was on the downhill side. But we'd have one more really cool experience. And it was a culinary splurge.

Next post: Find out if we ordered that cow tongue with the bone marrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part 3

Have you ever noticed how some people take on a whole new persona when they go on vacation?Take Cole's buddy Michael, for example. He's always a very affable and polite kid. But we all know he isn't necessarily a morning person. So, we were all a bit surprised to see Michael up at the crack of dawn one day as peppy as peppy could be. Then he looked at the clock and said, "That's weird. The time says 7:00." He had been bamboozled by Cole who had told him it was 10:30. He needed to get up! Needless to say, Michael remained very pleasant even at the early hour.

So, Doug can't swim. He doesn't particularly love water sports. But it was vacation and people do silly things on vacation like get up at 6:30 in the morning. I thought maybe, just maybe, Doug would bend. So we continued our debate. Rafting or ziplining?

I have never cared for the idea of free falling from great heights. Roller coasters? Yuck. I did them because I'm a good and attentive wife/mother. And didn't want to witness my family falling to their deaths. But I can't say that I enjoyed those rides. My heart speeds up even as I recall these memories. Ziplining would be no different. So, I continued my plea.

Doug! What could go wrong? Floating down a creek? Safely wearing life jackets?

He wasn't buying the life jacket bit, as if I was exaggerating the reliability of a life vest. Eventually, Doug won. He claimed it would be much better to fall six stories to a hard ground through prickly pines versus being flipped from a raft into... water. How do you argue that? So, that was that. It would be another roller coaster event for me.

The day didn't start off so hot. On the way to Idaho Springs, an accident shut down I-70 rerouting us to take a highway up the mountain. Of course, this was going to make us super late for our appointment with death. You could taste the disappointment in the car. But Driver Doug wasn't giving up. He navigated the hairpin turns as our ears popped. But despite everything happening, the view was spectacular. I wish Doug could've seen what he was driving through. But I didn't dare point out the sights.

Eventually, we made it. The Colorado Adventures Company was entirely accommodating and got us into a different slot. Apparently, Stef Kramer would be ziplining that day.

Lots of quality car time.
Here are the highlights:
  • I panicked on the first line. Suffered slight whiplash. Everyone else landed beautifully. 
  • Guides love Doug. This happened at ski school. And it happened ziplining. I think they either find it fun to break through his stoic facade, or they appreciate his tough exterior. What fazes that guy? (If they only knew his aversion to that lovely creek we were gliding over.)
  • I broke up the only sibling fight of the trip. Only one! And it was a very mature argument. Alex took the side of a proud feminist. Cole took the side of a 16-year-old boy. The kids are growing up.
  • Despite my ten push-ups a day, I must look weak. I didn't quite make it to one of the towers – which isn't completely unusual. So, I was easily pulling myself home, hand over hand, when the guide zipped over to rescue me. I was slightly offended.
  • By the third line, I was loving it. It was swinging without having to pump forward. A lazy person swing. It was quite exhilarating, really.
  • Guess who won Tarzan screaming contest? Out of 11 contestants, Doug and Michael won! They didn't take home any prize. Just pride – sort of. The guide attributed their interesting screams to cracking voices.
  • There are no pictures of this event. We couldn't take our cameras, but luckily we could purchase a photo package for $50. After a glance of the proofs, we declined. I was really shocked how short I looked with our group. Apparently, I'm a shortie and a weanie.
It was a good day. I'd even do it again sans the fear. To celebrate our survival, we found a (wait for it) craft beer place in the quaint old mining town. The nachos were never-ending and delicious. But it wouldn't be the most delicious food we would eat. That was yet to come. Just a little more driving ...
Don't look now Doug! You won't look away.
P.S. We couldn't have gone rafting if we wanted to. The water was too low. I had no choice but to brave it up.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part 2

When Alex arrived in Colorado, she quickly noticed how much better her allergies felt. Thus, I was quite excited about the possibility of waking up in the morning without a sinus headache. However, there was just one problem with this theory. Craft beer. Did I mention Colorado is not only known for cannabis, but also for craft beer? Thank God for migraine meds.

Anyway,  our second day arrived. We had been debating between ziplining and rafting. Stef was pro-rafting. Doug was pro-ziplining. The kids wanted to do it all. And why not? It wasn't going to cost them a cent. So we delayed the decision and decided to venture to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. I was told admission was free, which was good. But I was also slightly skeptical of the coolness factor. I mean, free is often... disappointing.

As is usual for me, I came out of our bedroom wearing a carefully planned outfit. I envisioned us taking a casual stroll, taking a few photos of us in the pretty rocks. Then Alex said, "Mom? You're wearing white shorts and sandals? You're gonna get filthy." Amazingly, the boys were already appropriately dressed. But not to worry! I brought plenty of activewear which would give me the opportunity to wear my new baseball cap. So after a quick change, we were off.

After learning how to drive the I-25 which involves breaking at 70 MPH every five minutes and uttering a few well-placed "how fucking dumb are these people," we made it.

We set off on a path amidst towering red rocks. Cole froze for a second when he caught sight of the "Beware of Rattlers" sign. (Note the foreshadowing here... ) But we convinced him that rattlers are very shy reptiles who do everything possible to avoid humans. I have no idea if that's true, and my maternal sense questioned my sensibilities right then. But we had Doug. He's the sworn protector of the family. I have no doubt he'd give a rattler a darn good fight while the rest of us fled.
Can you see them?

We walked and climbed, walked and climbed. We met other fellow Iowans. We witnessed scenery so beautiful that Cole and Michael could only describe it as being as good as CGI (computer-generated imagery), which I found ironic. We saw fathers videoing young tikes zipping up the side of tall rocks. Would I have allowed that? Not in a million. And while I might've had to hold a toddler Cole back on the idea, I wouldn't have had to worry about Alex. She was the little girl whom I had to coax down the park slide. She was the girl who practically had her father sign a contract to never let go as she learned to ride a bike.

Apparently, she accosted those fears. It wasn't long after we were near the top of a certain climb when she led Cole and Michael into a forbidden area as I yelled at them not to go. It was the weirdest thing. They acted like they didn't hear me and went right over the blocked off area without one ounce of hesitation. I'm extremely happy to report they all came back out unscathed of falling debris without getting a $500 fine.

We made it through the day without any snake bites, twisted ankles, nor rocks hitting our heads. We got fresh air, exercise, camaraderie, and great pics. We topped the day off at yet another craft beer joint, in which Michael in his adventurous spirit attempted an unfortunate PB&J burger and the legals tried a new and different ale. We quickly understood why Colorado is known as the fittest and drunkest state. It strangely reminds me of my marriage. And it works! Really, really well, in fact.

Better than CGI!
Anyway, the Garden of the Gods didn't disappoint. The only real challenge was helping Cole come up with a a caption for his Instagram post. We capped off a good and successful day without spending hordes of money. That would change soon enough.

Upcoming episodes: Whose fears were conquered? And which unlikely spot did we find a snake of all snakes?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part 1

Last Sunday we took off for a family vacation. With our daughter in college and using her time off to do spring break-ish things and the rest of us doing the soccer tournament circuits for the past twenty years (it seems), the old family truckster was due for a trip – a real Clark Griswold and his gang type of trip.

We debated where to go. Then fate decided for us. Alex got an internship in Denver for the summer. The Rocky Mountains became our destination. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I was certain we'd discover majestic scenery while pacifying a mother's heart by spending more than just a few hours with our long-lost daughter.

So, we set off for the nine hour drive to Aurora where Alex dwells this summer. In the Traverse was me, Doug, Cole, and Michael (the honorary Kramer kid and soccer brother to Cole.) I decided to do a little video diary to capture our spirits. I love the anticipation of a trip! Who doesn't, right? The chance to experience a different world. The thrill of trying new things. And the simple delight of not having to respond to 100 emails in a day. I was certain our troop felt exactly the same way!

Okay. So there was just a tad bit of skepticism as we took off. (I had to cut off the end due to my son's vulgar nature.) But I wasn't deterred. As a matter of fact, within minutes of our departure, we came across the sight of two eagles! Two beautiful eagles! I couldn't help but think it was a sign of many more great things we'd see. We just had to get through Nebraska first.

We crossed through the all-too-familiar cornfields and cattle pastures. The boys continued their in-depth study of George Lucas with a Star Wars marathon. I toiled through some light summer reading – David McCulloch's 1776. And Doug took the bullet and drove. After several hours, we were never so excited to see the Colorado welcome sign! The scenery was certainly about to change.

Except that it didn't. As we drove through dry and barren plains, Doug kept repeating a line from Dumb and Dumber. "I think that John Denver was full of shit." In truth, it was a bit boring. I kind of missed Nebraska. Yet! I was still undeterred. The unremarkable nature of that scenery was offset by the anticipation of seeing the mountains and, of course, our daughter.

Eventually, we began to see the outline of the Rockies. At first, I wondered if it was my imagination. It was like seeing a pencil drawing with some light shading. Then, boom. They were there in all of their glory as if they had been waiting for our arrival – like someone else actually was: Alex!
Alas! Father and Daughter
After a full day of driving, Alex guided us to downtown Denver for some art and the first of many craft beer joints. The boys especially enjoyed the art after discovering a large painting of what appeared to be Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy. Doug especially enjoyed the beer. We all loved the pizza. But my joy was more straight forward. I was happy we were all together. And I was still anticipating great things, as the first travel day seemed to indicate. And there were many great things.
In the background: Star-Lord?
There'd be adventure forcing us (mainly me) to face our fears, intense competitions, deep conversation (obviously with two 16-year-old boys), incredible scenery, a culinary splurge, and plenty of laughter. Too much for one blog post. So, I'll sign off for now. But be sure to stay tuned for the next post to read about what we found in the Garden of the Gods.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Love, Laughter & Ever After

One summer, when we were young, Doug was telling, complaining rather to his landlord how many weddings we had. His landlord quickly replied, "Enjoy it. When you get to be my age, all you do is go to funerals." Point taken.

There were several years we received nary a wedding invitation. Then, the nuptial cycle began for the kids of family and friends. Invitations picked up. I won't lie. We were a little excited, remembering all of those weddings of old. I'd like to say we reminisced about the beauty of the ceremony or the purity of young love. But it was really about the beer. Lots and lots of beer.

It's funny how quickly you go from being young and hip to old and clueless – as indicated by my use of the word "hip." When we attended one of those second round of weddings a few years ago, we discovered quite quickly we had transcended our youth. We got ourselves all dolled up, sat brightly at church, then went to the bar before the reception, following the wedding party just like we used to do.

Then we noticed something. Actually, the bartender pointed it out. "What are you guys doing here? With all these young people?" We finished our drinks and sheepishly plodded to the reception to join the other middle-agers.

Officially old.

Fast forward to 2018. Two nephews got married this year. One was married at a lovely country club in Las Vegas. The other was married in our hometown church. Both were spectacularly fun in their own ways. And here's the thing. It had nothing to do with the drinks consumed. Not that we didn't consume. We did. But this time the joy had everything to do with the beauty of the ceremony and the purity of young love. I guess it takes some aging to appreciate those things.

I'll end with a quick, sweet story from the weekend. We went to the church early to partake in family pictures. When I saw my brother-in-law (father of the groom), he didn't bring up how beautiful the kids looked or how smoothly everything was going. He smiled sweetly and asked, "Have you seen my wife?" She was smashing! And it didn't go unnoticed by her husband of over thirty years. Perhaps I should correct my earlier statement. Not only was I struck by the purity of young love, but of all love. That's the real magic of a wedding.

Love, ever after.