Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Bouldering" and thoughts of travel.



The travel bug hit.

I just talked to my younger son and his family, Floridians spending Christmas in Stockholm. On the 26th they fly up to the Arctic Circle for a stay in an Ice Hotel. They’ll venture far into the forest for dinner around a campfire in the snow. When it’s time to leave the Arctic, they will go to the airport by dogsled. I hope it’s cold enough up there for them to get the feel of the place in the dead of winter.

My older son, who lives in Tokyo, is on his way north with his family for a ski vacation.

I’m about to bundle up and go for a long walk in the foothills close to home at Horsetooth Reservoir. While I walk, I’m going to think about some travel plans. At a Christmas celebration I attended, conversation revolved around people’s adventures in faraway places and their future plans for seeing this great big world. It made me feel as if I’d been close to home for too long.

Maybe I’ll get over that. But maybe, one of these days, I’ll find a “deal” on the Internet that I can’t pass up and I’ll be outa here.

Meanwhile, it’s out my front door.

I’m back with mud on my shoes and curiosity about bouldering, a sport I hardly knew existed. It started when I saw a guy with what looked like an oversize mattress strapped to his back making his way down a steep, narrow path toward Horsetooth Reservoir.

“What’s that? I couldn’t help myself.

“It’s a mat to keep you from getting hurt when you fall. We’re going bouldering.”

A few minutes later, I met a man and woman with similar mats preparing to head down the same path. Curiosity got to me again.

I learned that bouldering is rock climbing without ropes or harnesses and can be done with no equipment at all. Turns out most “boulderers” wear special shoes to secure footholds, carry chalk to keep their hands dry and bring along bouldering mats to prevent injuries from falls.

“Do you use the mats much?”

“Oh. All the time. We fall a lot.”

Turns out this sport can become obsessive. It’s usually rock climbers who are attracted to it. “It can be simple or very complex and technical,” I was told. “Most people eventually go back to rock climbing but some become obsessed with bouldering.”

I also learned that Horsetooth Reservoir, only a few miles from downtown Fort Collins has been called “The home of modern American bouldering.” There are hundreds of routes and “boulder problems” within ten minutes of my house. Who would have known?



It was a good walk. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be strapping a bouldering mat to my back any time soon, but it sure was interesting.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A cross-country ski close to home





Last night, on my way home from a movie in downtown Fort Collins, the thermometer in my car dipped to minus 6. This morning it was right at 2-plus. But then, the Colorado sun came out and the temperature began to climb until it was reaching for 25 degrees by noon. Pull out the long underwear, mittens and hat, grab the cross-country skis, still in the front closet from last winter, and get out there for the first ski of the season.

I only have to take a few steps before I’m in powder, within sight of my front door. I live in town but on a boulevard with a wide grassy strip in the middle, that runs about three-quarters of a mile west from my house into a cemetery, golf course and city park. No hills. No excitement, and this Sunday morning no traffic, just quiet and virgin snow except for a sole set of tracks that I happily follow.

Within minutes, I’m warmer than I’ve been all morning inside my house. After being totally alone for more than a mile, I arrive at the golf course where ski-skaters have carved out a course and are flying around it. It would sure be fun to have the kind of skis that would let me do that, but still, I’m content plodding along at my own pokey pace, just happy to be outdoors beneath such a brilliant blue sky.

I cruise around for a while, then head back toward the cemetery where it strikes me that the artificial poinsettia plants beside some graves look a little out of place poking through the snow. More surprising is the sight of several deer wandering around searching for food. They seem quite at home and don’t scurry away as I ski by. With fairly busy roads surrounding the cemetery, I wonder how they found their way to this safe place and more importantly how are they going to get back where they belong, perhaps in the foothills a few miles away?

I’ve been gone less than two hours.

I can’t think of a better way to spend the Sunday afternoon before Christmas!



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Christmas tree

If you look very closely at my lame little Christmas tree, you can see a string of cranberries that are at least 55 years old adorning a branch. They are no longer red; they’re black, and as hard as little rocks. Here and there you can see a few bits of popcorn that my first child, Kristin, strung between the berries when she was very small.


These berries emerge every year when it’s time to decorate the tree. My trees have never been anywhere close to perfect, and now it seems I go after a smaller and scrawnier ones every year. I am very fortunate to have friends with a beautiful ranch in Wyoming who invite friends and relatives every year for what some clever person dubbed a “deforestation project.”  The gathering always sets the stage for the holiday season.

I put the same stuff on my tree every year. An ancient macaroni angel, a white plastic snowflake, a mouse made from a corncob, bits of tinsel, a string or two of beads that help to cover bare spots—and a single string of white lights.

This tree, along with another string of lights around my front door and a few greens and ornaments on the mantel above my fireplace and my Christmas d├ęcor is complete.  A little shabby when compared with the rows of lights and decorations in my neighborhood and all around town. It makes me think I’m lazy, disorganized and probably cheap, but that’s the way I do it, and no doubt I always will.

And now that I’m thinking about it, it just might be my reaction to Christmas decoration overkill.

Kristin and her sister Jeni have, for better or worse, inherited my gene.  Their trees are bigger than mine for sure, but they lean toward the barren look and these trees are lucky if they get adorned with a string of lights that actually work.

The exchange of notes and cards has always been my favorite part of the holiday season. I love hearing from faraway friends and catching up on their lives—even if it is just a few sentences in an email.

So, if it is going to make you feel any better, or less harried, don’t go for perfection, buy into the “less is more” thing and have an uncomplicated Christmas.

Try stringing some cranberries together to put on your tree. They last a long time!




Sunday, December 4, 2016

A good start to the holiday season




For the eighth time in that many years, I tore into my house last week, removing everything from the walls, all the little and not-so-little stuff lying around, in an attempt to turn my house into a little shop for two days. I figure it is a good excuse to clean all those behind-the-scene places that need attention at least once a year.

I do this because a small group of artists display their wares at my house to kick off the Christmas season. We have pottery, jewelry, all sorts of wood items, notecards and books by local authors. We call our gig, which opens on Friday afternoon and early evening and runs through Saturday, Just in Time, and over the years we’ve developed a loyal following.

This year I came across a big bookcase with a free sign on it in the neighborhood, hauled it home, painted it and stacked it with books by a dozen or so local authors. I placed it near a comfy couch and wrote little notes about the books—my lame attempt at marketing. To my way of thinking, there’s no better Christmas gift than a book.

Half the fun of this event is hanging out in the kitchen with the artists, listening as they visit with each other and with the customers who grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and cookies or cheese and crackers as they shop. A timely skiff of snow showed on Friday afternoon which helped to set the mood.

I make homemade soup and bread for the artists and share it with the occasional customer who arrives hungry. It‘s the epitome of “shopping locally” and I think shoppers like the idea of buying from people they can chat with. Some of them hang around and talk for quite a long time before they even begin to shop.

It takes me a while to gut my house to make room for the art, but the process of turning it back to normal is accomplished in about an hour, with all hands carrying plants, photos and paintings, tables and chairs back to where they belong.

Before six p.m. I was ready for the final event of the day—an “athletes’ dinner.” A couple I know who are avid swimmers invited some amazing athletes to spend the evening together. I sat next Diane who has completed 17 Ironman triathlons and across the table from Sarah who just swam 80 miles across Lake Powell in 56 hours—with no wet suit. She’s young and cute and humble as can be and she’d never tell you that she holds the record for the longest continuous cold water swim ever, anywhere! She’s done the English Channel in 11 hours and said she felt good enough to swim back to the UK. I thought I was tired when I set out for the evening, but the crowd was so animated and fun that I perked right up.

A good way to start the holiday season!