Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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“No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Yogi Berra

I recently moved to a resort town. Our tiny village of Estes Park, Colorado, has 6,000 full-time residents, yet nearby Rocky Mountain National Park hosted 4.5 million visitors last year, with many of them coming through or staying in Estes Park. There are bound to be some issues.

I often see visitors too close to wildlife. Some say this problem has a way of working itself out, but then the wildlife, just acting like, well, wild animals, will be put down if something happens.

I recently confronted a teenager in Rocky Mountain National Park who was attempting to coax a ground squirrel onto her hand to “pet” it. I told her that was actually harassing the wildlife. She said, “Hey, I’m not feeding it!” Folks, the wildlife do not want to be petted, or ridden or even be in your selfies.

As a Colorado campaign for safe wildlife viewing states in their humorous ads, “Sometimes the best relationship is a long-distance one.”

Most visitors come to our town in the summer and early fall. The roads are congested, our one grocery store is almost impossible to navigate, and crowds virtually shut down Rocky Mountain National Park on most days during the season.

Town folk, on the other hand, moved here knowing full well it is a tourist destination. It has been from its inception. Moaning about the tourists in Estes Park is like jumping into a pool and then complaining it’s too wet.

Because of our visitors, we have many things most towns of our size do not. A hospital, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, a good-sized police force and other emergency services, as well as a thriving community, festivals, and a myriad of cultural experiences. Our visitors contribute a great deal to our economy, and many of us are employed, directly or indirectly, because of them.

Yes, we wish all visitors would do a little due diligence before visiting. Not everyone will. But we all must realize that we, too, could be in new situations and do a “touristy” thing or two, as well. For example, did you know:

If you are in Spain and get bird droppings on you, a nice person will come up and help you wipe it off. It is only later you will realize your wallet is missing, and the bird poop was fake.

If you are on the beautiful island of Anguilla in the Caribbean, it’s considered the height of rudeness to just conduct your business without first shaking hands, introducing yourself, and spending five or so minutes chatting.

If you are riding the tiny escalators down to the underground metro stations in Washington, D.C., stand on the right, leaving the left open for people in a hurry. And don’t stop at the bottom of the escalator to figure out the ticketing system.

It is considered very rude to eat or drink while walking down the street in Japan.

In many Arab countries, it is considered an insult to show the soles of your shoes.

Most churches in Italy request women cover their bare shoulders and have clothes at least down to their knees when visiting.

And yes, there can always be communication and/or cultural differences. Last night Hubs gently reminded some neighborhood VRBO renters that they were climbing on our neighbor’s private property.  They gave him a friendly “thumbs up” sign as they left, a very nice gesture. Unless they were from Italy or Greece, in which case it means “Up yours!”

Last week I met many people on the trails in the national park. One said, “It’s great here, everyone is so friendly!” I think it’s because most of the time, we residents remember how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. That’s why so many people visit!

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If I Ran the Zoo

Man covering mouth

“But If I ran the zoo,”                                                                                                                           Said young Gerald McGrew,                                                                                                                 “I’d make a few changes.                                                                                                               That’s just what I’d do … “.

If I Ran the Zoo, by Dr. Seuss, was one of my early childhood favorites. Like many things from the past, this children’s classic, published in 1950, seems a bit politically incorrect to modern eyes, but I still love its wild, imaginative words and drawings. (Word Nerd alert: The word “nerd” first appeared in print in this book.)

I have to wonder if my personality was in any way influenced by the constant repetition, forced upon my father, to read this over and over to me before bed. I do seem to have a rather severe case of “If I ran the zoo” syndrome, as does Son 1, who also enjoyed this book as a child.  In fact, during Son 1’s formative years, we often said he needed to learn to “hone his leadership tendencies.” That he has accomplished, as he has honed these tendencies into a knife-like form as an attorney working in politics. I’m not quite sure that is what we intended, but it’s always good to have a job that plays to your strengths.

These, shall we nicely call them “leadership skills,” are great if you are the boss, but not so much if you are a worker bee.

I am now a happily employed, part-time worker bee. How nice to come home and not have to worry about anything work-related! As a previous business owner, I revel in not agonizing over bottom lines, profits, financing, scheduling, errant employees, power outages, shrinkage, licenses, and everything else that comes with owning your own business.

And yet … I still look at everything with a bosses’ eye. I am not in a position to do this at my new job, nor do I want to, so I tend to do it in all other aspects of my life. For example:

Why is the self check-out at the one and only grocery store in my town so complicated and glitchy? I had used this type of technology in my old home town for years, the last few using the Spanish option to make it more interesting, with no problems. A worker at my new store informed me that if you have to call her over once to fix a problem, she has to come over when you are finished to approve again. Really? If it takes longer to do it yourself than wait in the normally long lines, it’s not really helping anyone, is it?

To the companies that have told me “We cannot accept a post office box as your mailing address,” um, that’s my mailing address, so … yes, you can. I love rules as much or more than the next guy, but logic should always supersede regulations.

To our fence builders, who said it couldn’t be done, it’s up, finished and just what we wanted. Most problems have solutions, even if we are the ones who have to provide them.

I see some conflicts on the horizon, as Son 1 and I are planning a family trip to Spain this fall. We both are armed with piles of books and internet research for the itinerary. May the best man win! (And he will.) Easygoing Hubs is up for anything, just along for the adventure, and Son 2 is attending for the ham, cheese and soccer. Neither of these two has ever had a problem with invasive leadership skills … unless you cross them.

This is my life now. Wonderful as it is, the struggle is real!

 

 

 

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Turkey With Sage

turkey 2

Living in a house with no window treatments has afforded me the opportunity to ponder life’s important questions in the early, early morning hours, while watching the sun rise.

True, I don’t often ruminate over solving world hunger, the inequality and injustices of life or the lack of civility in our nation.  I spend my time thinking  of much more profound things, like: Are turkeys really as dumb as they seem?

This leads to google research, such as … Did Benjamin Franklin really want the national bird to be a turkey? No.

What’s a group of turkeys called? Well, any group of birds can be called a flock, but a group of turkeys is referred to as a rafter. One can either believe a) this is because they were often found hiding in the rafters of things being built by early pioneers or b) it can be traced to an Old English word, “raeft,” which refers to any aggregate group of like things.

I did not do my journalism school due diligence to find three credible sources to back up either claim. I was too busy going down the rabbit hole of Benjamin Franklin minutia. My true intellectual theory as to why a group of turkeys is called a rafter is c) somebody for some reason decided to name it this, and for some reason, it caught on.

Whoever this person was, he or she certainly was not as clever as the person who named a group of flamingos a flamboyance, or a charm of hummingbirds, or a party of jays. And no, these “facts” were not triple checked either, it was, like, 5 a.m., people!

Anyway, back to the story I was not as yet telling.

We thoroughly are enjoying our multiple daily walks around our new mountain neighborhood. Things we often see: mule deer, mountain bluebirds, elk, chipmunks, turkey feathers and weird animal tracks that we are not that good at identifying, but do make us look warily around.  Things we sometimes see: bald eagles, blue and grey jays, ground squirrels and neighbors. Things we have seen once: A moose; one lone deer leg, nothing else, just the leg, and a very freshly killed turkey carcass.

It is so wondrously, beautifully quiet around our mountain retreat that yesterday we could actually hear the soft ping of snow/sleet (sneet?) landing on our jackets. But one thing  always interrupts the peace. It’s the distinct gobble gobble of wild turkeys. We seldom spot them, though, as they seem to wear pretty good camouflage.

While walking down a snowy road (unplowed, not driven upon, it felt like ambling inside a Christmas card), we spotted some tracks that even we could identify. Either there were giant, mutant chickens about, or a herd/pack/flock/group/ton (hadn’t done my morning research as yet) of turkey was close. Faithful dog Lily was quivering with excitement, sniffing the air all around and lifting one paw up in her nod to some vague ancestry of hunting dog.

We looked all around, but couldn’t spot them. We stood for a few minutes, then gave up. A few steps forward, and WOOSH, the trees came alive. Flapping, squawking, scurrying as dozens of turkeys descended from their roosts … in tree branches six to ten feet up. Hunting dog turned into scaredy cat, and cowered behind us during the melee.

The turkeys escaped very quickly, but they did look amusingly frantic and a bit roadrunner-ish as they dashed to safety.

We were surprised, in the way only city folk can be, that turkeys actually roosted/hid in trees. Who knew? Well, probably a lot of people, but not us.

This, of course, lead to a deeply cerebral discussion of the Benjamin Franklin myth about turkeys as a national symbol. Hubs asked, “So if turkeys were the national bird, what do you think we would all eat at Thanksgiving?”

“Bald eagles,” I replied.

Which begs the question, which species is really the dumb one?

 

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Of Moose and “Men”

Things that made me laugh today, Estes Park edition:

“Do you want to see a moose?”

Not something I would expect to hear in my previous life in suburbia, so it prompted me to jump out of bed, throw on some semblance of clothes and cloak, and streak out the door. Yes, I saw said moose, only my second real-life spotting, and took a few pictures from a safe distance. I posted a shot on social media, and received a few responses questioning my moosie identification skills.

It is, I admit, very unusual to see moose in my neck of the woods, we are at such high elevation, and no nearby lake or stream, where moose tend to hang out. And yes, it was a distant pic, due to universally acknowledged and duly documented moosoidal unpredictability. But, um, have you ever seen a moose? They are fairly recognizable … This does make me laugh, though, as moose are called “elk” in Europe. So what do they call elk?* Must google.

I returned home to discover a scene of utter panic. Not just one, but two! microscopic spiders were hanging out on the vaulted ceiling. My sons and Hubs are all afflicted with powerfully unhealthy doses of arachnophobia, so I am always the designated spider wrangler. I looked up, squinted my eyes and tried to coordinate a rescue mission. I’m not really overly Ghandi-esque, but I do try to capture indoor spiders and release them outside, so they can work their way in again, lather, rinse, repeat. As I was plotting and mumbling, contemplating the seemingly insurmountable problem of my stature versus the ceiling height, Son 1 suggested (as he ran down the stairs to safety) I use a broom. Son 2 replied, (as he ran for cover in a bathroom) “Yes, we are humans, we can use tools.” So I killed them. The spiders, not the sons.

In my defense, my slow synapse response regarding the spiders and their subsequent murders can be blamed on the moose. I am a “wake up slowly” person, and don’t really function before my coffee. The moose robbed me of my daily brain-stimulation rituals and hence my usually stellar problem-solving abilities.

Later, while enjoying my first cup of coffee, post moose encounter and spider trauma, Hubs stated, “I think the only two words that could get you to shoot out of bed like that are ‘moose’ and ‘fire.’ ”

Wrong, Smartypants, you forgot “cinnamon rolls.”

*Red deer.

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Mountain Home Do’s and Don’ts

house

Welcome one and all to our new piece of paradise in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a bit different from living in suburbia, so we felt it necessary to compose a list of rules we all need to follow to keep everything… flowing.

Now, I love rules, but I also want to know the reasons behind them. I bristle against bureaucracy for the sake of power or paperwork. So I have compiled a brief list of do’s and don’ts for guests to our mountain home, with the reasoning behind each request, broken down by whether you are a Democrat or Republican. If independent (and good for you!) read both and choose your own favorite justifications.

Democratic friends:

Welcome. As you know, we now live in a delicate, yet almost pristine mountain environment, and it is important for us all to do our best to conserve and protect our world.

  1. We recycle everything possible. There is a bin outside our garage door for all mixed items: bottles, cans, paper, aluminum, plastic … Unsure if it can be recycled? Just ask us. It is imperative we all work together to try and create environmental sustainability.
  2. Water is a precious commodity, especially here in the West. Please do not run water unnecessarily, such as while brushing teeth or shaving. Brief showers are appreciated. We must all do our part to help Colorado and all neighboring states combat the problems of drought from urban encroachment and global warming.
  3. We are on our own septic system. Please deposit only natural waste and a modest amount of toilet paper down the commode. No tissues, wipes, feminine products or anything else weird should be flushed. It is a natural, contained sewage system that helps keep our environment clean.
  4. We live in a wildlife area. Please do not leave food, drinks, or any trash outside. It attracts bears and other animals, and it could be detrimental to their health if they start depending on humans for food.

Republican friends:

Welcome. As you know, we live in a wonderful mountain vacation area, and it is important to maintain the value of our investment, as well as protect the area for future generations.

  1. We recycle everything possible. There is a bin outside our garage door for all mixed items: bottles, cans, paper, aluminum, plastic … Unsure if it can be recycled? Just ask us. The Estes Park Transfer Station (locals accurately call it the dump) charges $8 to toss a trash bag, but all recycling is free. We can save a chunk of change by recycling everything possible.
  2.  Please do not run water unnecessarily, such as while brushing teeth or shaving. Brief showers are appreciated. We are on our own well system, and if it runs dry, it will cost us thousands to re-drill.
  3. We are on our own septic system. Please deposit only natural waste and a modest amount of toilet paper down the commode. No tissues, wipes, feminine products or anything else weird should be flushed. If we have to do any septic repair, it will cost us, dare I say, a crapload of money to fix.
  4. We live in a wildlife area. Please do not leave food, drinks, or any trash outside. Bears and other animals can be very destructive, and cause expensive damage. Plus, we would hate to have to shoot one.
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Pass the Pi

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I have this thing my husband calls my patent-pending salmon maneuver. If I see crowds going one way, I am compelled to go the opposite direction. If you tell me to do something, it’s very likely I won’t. I am in no way a follower. My childhood answer of “Make me” has matured into my frequent adult use of “No.”

I get this rebel/contrarian streak from my mother.

She was feisty, opinionated and  sometimes jarringly abrupt. Her favorite defense, “Well, I can say it because it’s the truth!” She once told me she didn’t like my hair short because I have a fat face. She also confessed she never really liked my name, but my father chose it. Thanks, Mom. You would think this would scar, but it makes me laugh. That was Mom; biting yet loving, giving yet self-absorbed, a gloriously imperfect person, one of the true loves of my life.

But she was much braver than I. She would have no issue with telling anyone and everyone what she thought, to their faces, whenever she wanted. I hide behind a keyboard.

Here is one of my favorite Mom stories. I think it illustrates her personality perfectly.

It was an extremely cold winter morning (remember those?) third grade, public school. This would have been the late 1960’s. It was a time when school faculty frequently would admonish girls to be “more ladylike.”  On very cold mornings, girls were allowed to wear pants to school, but had to bring a dress or skirt to change into once we arrived. My mom bristled at this ridiculous edict. Her nonsense-tolerance limit finally exploded. She thrust a pair of pants at me. I put them on, then went to grab a skirt. She yanked it out of my hand. “No. Go to school in those pants.”

I begged her not to make an example of me. “I’ll be sent to the principal’s office!”

“Good, have him call me. I think we have some things to discuss.”

It went as expected. My teacher told me to go change into my girl wear. I didn’t have any. I went to the principal’s office. He asked me what excuse I had. I could only answer, “My mother.”

Three days later a letter was sent to all parents alerting them to changes in the school dress code. Girls now were allowed to wear pants at school when the morning temperature was below X degrees.

As I grew older, I noticed a few other things. Her life did not revolve around her children. Of course she loved us and cared for us, but her husband was her first priority. Looking back, I don’t see this as a bad thing, theirs was an epic love story I hope to emulate with my husband.

She also didn’t parent quite the same way as other moms. We didn’t really get “grounded” or punished often. She simply allowed us to suffer the consequences of our actions, and didn’t swoop in to smooth things over for us. I remember skipping an afternoon class in high school and arriving home when I thought Mom would still be out. She wasn’t. She said, “When the school calls, I’m going to tell them you are skipping class,” and walked out of the room.

Looking back, she was an excellent parent. All she had to say was “I’m so disappointed in you” to get us to rethink and make different choices.

She also was vivacious and fun-loving. She collected friends like flowers, loved a good joke, practical or otherwise, and once froze over our driveway so we could have our own ice-skating rink.

I think she was a bit disappointed she never became a true entertainer. She sang and performed in local groups, but I think, in her heart of hearts, she wanted to be a star, perhaps a natural off-shoot of her rather severe case of only-child syndrome. She was a bit of a stage mother to me, which caused more than a pinch of friction with a daughter who didn’t really want to be on stage.

I remember looking up at her funeral and seeing so many people truly touched by her life, smiling through tears. What a wonderful legacy to be so loved, and a testament to a life well-lived.

I think she would be glad to know she is remembered, a star in her own way. She died two years ago, on 3/14/15. Even a non-math person like me appreciates the infinite irony of pi. She was a force of nature, and I think the death date may just have been her choice, a very Mom-like, unforgettable last curtain call.

 

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Frozen Custard and Ravioli

gloves

Nothing exemplifies the incongruity of my old life with my new like a pair of white debutante ball gloves. Oh, people in Estes Park, Colorado, do use leather gloves, but they are usually of the real work or calf-roping type rather than the Champagne and canapé variety.

As I pack up the last few bits of flotsam and jetsam for our big Colorado move on Sunday (while Hubs and Son 2 are skiing, but that’s a story for another time), I wonder what I will miss the most about my hometown of 56 years.

Besides the people, of course, which I can’t talk about or I burst into tears.

Certainly big city life is convenient. Although we are no New York City or Chicago, St. Louis offers the ability to get almost anything you want, at any time, within about 20 minutes or less. Forgot something at the grocery store? Take five minutes and go pick it up. A pair of jeans or new shoes? Dash to the mall. Need to pop into a doc-in-box for a quick few stitches or some antibiotics? Choose from many. Pizza delivery? Sure, or how about Chinese, or burgers? Live theater, the Fox, oh, gosh, the Muny …

And St. Louis dining …  Gourmet, casual, about any ethnicity you can name, so many great chefs and wonderful neighborhood restaurants. Toasted ravioli, Imos pizza, Ted Drewes, gooey butter cake, anywhere on the Hill, Niche restaurants, Sidney Street, Trattoria Marcella …

St. Louis Cardinals. Enough said.

Last visit to Estes Park, a carpenter at our new house asked where we were from. I answered St. Louis. He smiled and asked, “Where did you go to high school?” A fellow St. Louisan! I don’t think we will hear that question much in our new hometown.

I have already noticed in my dealings with small town bureaucracy that the pace of life will be different in Estes Park. It seems more of a Caribbean, “no hurry, no problem,” type of vibe I am sure will eventually smooth the rough edges of my hurry-up, big city mentality.

And I fit right in with the mountain town dress code!

The population of Estes Park is approximately 6,000 people. My St. Louis high school contained about 4,000 students.

I do enjoy being able to reach my home in St. Louis without worrying about skidding off the side of a mountain. True confession, I have only driven to my new home once. I make Hubs take the wheel. I have no depth perception, am afraid of heights, and am not a confident driver. In fact, many Estes residents don’t enjoy driving the route to our house, not to mention our driveway. The only ones who seem comfortable are the UPS drivers and propane delivery guys, who maneuver with great ease on our one-lane, winding and precipitous gravel road.

I discussed with a new neighbor my fear of the journey, especially in snow. He laughed and assured me I would actually like the drive better in winter weather. The plow banks up the snow, making an illusion of a barrier between the road and certain death. “I’ll come pull you out, if you get stuck. I do it for everybody.” ???????

I am learning all about septic tanks, and well water, and what to do in an emergency (drive down off the mountain, meet an ambulance somewhere near town, go to the hospital and get helicoptered out, if very serious.)

In St. Louis we have murders and carjackings. Estes has bears, mountain lions, and an occasional justly irritated elk or moose.

And 4 million plus visitors to adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park annually, most in the summertime. I’ll be stationed on my back deck between June and August, if you need to reach me.

Right now, I am about 51% excited, 49% sad, which I think it a good thing. St. Louis was my home and heart for my whole life so far, and the memories of a life well-lived here are all packed up and ready to move with me. I can’t wait to open up the next chapter and see what happens. Or is it a whole new book?

 

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