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Red, Red, Rocks.

You know that feeling — that feeling you would get in a certain place as a kid — that made it seem as though it were filled with magic and wonder and that it was somehow much bigger, really, than it actually was?

Grandma’s house was not just Grandma’s house, but a cozy cottage that smelled of Grandpa’s spicy pipe tobacco and Grandma’s famous pumpkin bars and where handfuls of Werther’s Originals could be snatched from the old crystal dish as I ran through the arched kitchen doorway to splay across the soft, brown shag living room carpet.  The kitchen floors were beautiful, speckled brown and orange and green and I’d wait, sometimes, in rare moments of patient composure, for the bird to pop out of the coo coo clock to indicate the hour.  The basement was scary and filled with adventure.  Boxes of old toys and musty don’t-touch-thats and the home’s only shower but that was okay because baths were a novelty at Grandma’s house.  I wove yarn tissue box covers and baked peanut butter pies and picked raspberries in the garden and chased squirrels from the bird feeders.  These things I did at grandma’s house, which wasn’t just a house, but a world.  I’d rub my cheek against Grandpa’s rough stubble and snuggle up to his warm flannel shirt.  He used to tap his rings to his own tinny tune on the steering wheel when he drove as I slid around on the worn leather seats.  His truck had a square orange pillow I liked to squeeze.

But then.

But then I grew.  And the house became a house.  An old one with ugly linoleum floors and creaky steps and I had to wash my hair in the sink and barely reach to touch the top of the archway as I passed beneath, the coo coo bird mocking each slow passing hour.  And the magic wasn’t just lost for me, but lost for them.  And then Grandpa was gone, and now, with just Grandma, it feels not like a house but a trap.  Because I want more for her, you know, than lonely last years.  I don’t know what happened to that faded orange pillow.

Time changes things, it’s true, and not always for the worse but sometimes for the better — though even the better, sometimes, can feel worse if you know what I mean.

Take, for example, the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs.

Garden of the Gods

Stunning red rock sprung from unearthly ground against a backdrop of towering Rockies.

My family used to go there when I was still a kid and we were still a family.

I remember it being vast.  Rugged.  We couldn’t just drive to everything we wanted to see — we hiked.  Of course, some of these memories could just be small worlds made big in the mind of a child, but on our most recent trip to Colorado, I saw that still it had changed.  More roads.  Easier access.  More people.  Less… magic.

On the one hand, simplified access to this free and natural wonder is fantastic.  People who might never have bothered can now behold, but sometimes I think.  I think those who mightn’t bother if access were more difficult are those who throw the trash.  Those who scream and shout.  Those who just want to go, go, go and not stop, for a second, to see if the magic is still there.

Wide, paved paths.

So tempting to leave the trail…

Kissing camels.

Fortunately, I was with Justin’s family.  They came out to visit while we were staying with my mom to say goodbye before he left for Afghanistan and, despite my disappointment with the throngs of people with whom we had to share the Red Rocks, exploring the park and the nearby town of Manitou Springs with them was a wonderful way to spend the day.

Gard family.  There’s only 547 of us.  From left to right: Hannah (Justin’s sister), Andrew (Justin’s brother), Becca (Justin’s sister), Ashley (Justin’s sister — are we sensing a pattern?), Jack (Justin’s nephew), Jon (Ashley’s husband), Me, Justin, Justin’s mom and dad.  (Thanks, Aunt Lori for taking the photo!)


Travel tip: Explore with fun people who wear bright shoes.  Seriously.  They’re way better than boring people with boring shoes.


Tip: Travel in packs. Other tourists will get scared and you’ll have the whole place to yourselves.


Tip: If you’re going to climb, don’t photograph the evidence.

Uhh…

Climbing?  We’re not climbing.  (This is Brad.  Remember Becca and Brad from our trip to Spain?)


Pegg!  (Sign: “If you are not a technical climber using proper gear and a permit, stay on the sidewalk!”)  Seriously.  “Progress” makes the park safer and less fun.

Balance Rock Garden of the Gods

The Gard Men are RIPPED. (Photo by Hannah Gard.)

Even little Jack was a champ.

Late lunch in the adorable town of Manitou Springs was the perfect way to relax after the park.

It turns out the improvements made to Garden of the Gods over the years are what made it possible for us to see it as a family.

And in the end, I guess that’s not such a bad thing.

After all, time does change things.

It always will.

My family has grown exponentially.  It laughs.  It plays.  I miss them sometimes.

And the future, to me, doesn’t look so bad.

See our tour of the Coors Brewery HERE and a chalk art festival in downtown Denver HERE plus the best hot dog ever right HERE.

Broncos? I’m Pretty Sure They Should Be The Denver Dogs.

Did you know that the song, “Build Me Up, Buttercup” always puts me in a good mood?

It doesn’t matter that my allergies have practically crudded my contact lenses to my eyelids and my husband’s in Afghanistan and the dogs have been waking me up at 5:30 every morning so they can drag me 2 miles around the neighborhood.

Ultimately, it’s The Foundations — not the sunrise over the lake or the smell of my morning coffee or any amount of caffeine — who put the spring back in my step.

Which only further proves that I was born in the wrong generation.

Technology makes me nervous, and I’m pretty sure that a poppy-seed from my bagel just got stuck inside my keyboard.

That wouldn’t have happened with a typewriter.

Of course, then this whole blog thing wouldn’t be happening either, and I’d probably be haphazardly wandering the streets of Fayetteville talking to anyone who will listen about the merits of Poo-Pourri while shoving photos of family vacations in their faces.

But instead, I get to shove them in your faces, which is much more gratifying.

So.

After our first day in Colorado was spent guzzling free alcoholic beverages at the Coors brewery, we decided we needed some culture in our lives.  My mother, her boyfriend Ed, Justin and I hopped on a train that speedily dropped us in the heart of downtown Denver.

(Can I just say for a second how much I love public transportation?  Seriously.  My dream is to live in a city with clean, efficient public transportation — where I can jet from one place to the next without worrying where to park my car, how much it’s going to cost, or whether I might lose the drag race I just accepted with a 60-year-old man.  True story.

I won.)

Denver Public Transportation

 Just one of many modes of Denver mass transit.

Anyway.

Our first stop in the Mile High city was for food.

You know my priorities.

Justin, always the advocate for anything highlighted on the Food or Travel networks, opted for Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs.  We were searching for their street cart at the specified location, but ended up walking several city blocks to the actual restaurant when we learned it was an off-day for the food cart.  Turns out this was a wise decision, since I’m pretty sure they don’t sell beer from the food cart.

But I’ve been wrong before.

The decor is minimal and industrial, but their main food is hot dogs.  What do you expect?

An interesting juxtaposition of good ol’ “Amurcan” cuisine, gourmet ingredients, and several oddities you’d be more likely to find dead on the side of the road than in Manhattan’s finest establishments make up the simple menu.

Tip:  The larger the selection of food on a restaurant’s menu, the crappier it will likely be.  Smaller, more selective menus are generally where you’ll find the best food.

Biker Jim's Menu

I ordered the Weiner Wellington — an insanely delicious rib eye steak brat with mushroom duxelle and grainy Dijon cream wrapped in puff pastry and drizzled with Bordelaise.  I don’t know what most of that is, but I do know this: It tasted like heaven wrapped in fluffy clouds dipped in gravy.

For $8.50, this is not the most I’ve spent on a dog, believe it or not.  Nor is this the widest selection of toppings I’ve seen.  But it was, my friends, the tastiest.

Take one.

Wellington Dog

Take two.

Take… *burp*

Now.  I honestly can’t remember what Justin and Ed ordered.  It may have been the southwest buffalo.  It may have been the Wild Boar.  Maybe the smoked bacon Bat Dog, with avocado puree, tomato cream cheese, caramelized onion, and bacon bits.  And I know the idea of the rattlesnake and pheasant dogs were at least discussed.

But I do know they were delicious.

Pretty sure this is the Bat Dog.

And… um… boar, maybe?

But they weren’t quite as good as mine.

It was the puff pastry that sealed the deal.

If this is Denver, consider me a fan.

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs - The Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for… BEER!

I wouldn’t say I’m a beer snob, but if you stick a can of Coors Light in front of me, I’m not going to lie — I’ll ask you to bring me a glass of water instead because it tastes the same and has far fewer calories.

Unless it’s a hot summer day and I’m craving a cold light beer to get me through a project or a giant, juicy hamburger, I’m usually going to pick a darker, heavier beer.

So when Justin said he wanted to tour the Coors Brewery while we were in Colorado, I was intrigued because I hadn’t been since before I was of legal drinking age, but also secretly wishing we could have gone to some other brewery.

Turns out, though, that this one was worth the trip.

We arrived at the complex in Golden, Colorado, parked, and waited in line for about 20 minutes before getting on a tour bus.  The folks at Coors run a smooth — and free — operation.  My only complaint is that the outdoor waiting area wasn’t covered, hence my first high-altitude sunburn of the trip.  Our tour guide was hilarious, taking us on a quick run through downtown Golden before dropping us off outside of the brewery.

Coors Brewery

Hey, red shirt guy.  Get out of my shot.

Since the last time I was there, they turned the brewery part into a self-guided tour.  The nice thing was that we could meander as we pleased, listening to our little self-guided tour speakers.  Coors also had stations set up throughout the walk where employees could answer any questions we might have.

Of course, I don’t remember anything I heard through the speaker, so let’s just look at the pictures, shall we?

I have no idea who this woman is.  But she wouldn’t move, so I took the picture anyway.  She happens to be pointing to the label of what I’ve since discovered is a very awesome beer.

copper kettles

 The infamous copper kettles.  All I remember is that there were a lot of them, and you could determine the various purposes of each by looking at the size of the shaft.  (Ha!)  Also, the big red signs.

We’ll call this Mission Control.  I’m pretty sure that guy was watching football.  Or porn.  Or both.

Hmm… how does one test the quality of beer?


By drinking it, I imagine.


About halfway through the tour we came upon the Fresh Beer Room, where we were able to sample exceedingly fresh Coors or Coors Light, straight from the source.

I’ll admit it was tasty, fresh as it was, but it was still just Coors.

One of the coolest parts was the packaging room.  The maze of conveyor belts, gears, and complicated looking machinery had us mesmerized for several minutes.  Waaaay up high in the back, we could see cans coming in.  Then stuff would happen and suddenly they’d be in boxes.

Crazy.

By this point we were getting antsy and ready for the final stop of the tour — the bar.

The coolest part about the entire experience, aside from seeing that it’s actual people — not elves — who are responsible for putting beer in my fridge, was the fact that everything was free.  Including 3 pints each of our choice at the end of the tour.

The Colorado Native was good, but the Batch 19 was phenomenal.

Couple of Batch 19s.

I asked the bartender how they manage to keep the locals from stopping in every day for some free beers, and he said that they don’t!  Guests are limited to one visit per day, and he said there are students from the Colorado School of Mines who show up daily.

Daily.

Dude.  I totally went to the wrong college.

I Can’t Decide What I Like Better: The View of the Mountains, or the Tile in the Denver Airport.

I know, I know.

I’ve neglected you and you don’t know why.

Unless you follow my Facebook page, in which case you know we hopped a plane to Denver a couple of days ago and haven’t been seen or heard from since.

Unless you frequent the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado, which case you probably came to know me and my high altitude sunburn and my affinity for Batch 19, a pre-prohibition style lager quite well.

Happy Domestiphobe
Coors Brewery Batch 19

The trip wasn’t exactly spur-of-the-moment.  But for some reason, it seemed really far away for a very long time, and then suddenly it was here, and I was throwing the majority of my clothes into a suitcase on the morning we left while Justin impatiently tapped his foot in the kitchen and gently reminded me that we still had an hour drive to the airport and would I please hurry up because it’s raining and we still have to go through security and GOOD GOD, WOMAN there’s no way this suitcase weighs less than 50 pounds.

And then we got to the airport, where our combined suitcase weighed exactly 49.5 pounds thankyouverymuch, and anyway it was free because he’s active duty military and oh, also our flight was delayed for 2 hours due to inclement weather between Raleigh and Dallas so sit back, relax, and have another cup of very expensive java.

These things always have a way of working themselves out.

Justin just doesn’t understand how I roll.

So now we’re here, in Colorado, partaking in the consumption of beer and mountain scenery and beer.

When we finally arrived after many delays and plane-sittings and plane farters and children who kick seats, I entered what can only be described as Mecca, otherwise known as the Denver Airport Ladies’ Restroom.

Denver Airport Bathroom

Obviously, I had a hard time capturing the true beauty with my iPhone.  And I was a little nervous that the cleaning lady, who was already staring at me with bemused curiosity, might call security if I pulled out my DSLR.

It’s only the second time we’ve visited my mother in the 6 years she and Ed have lived here, so it’s amazing how we fall into a routine, like we only live a few hours away and do this every weekend.  Wake up, fix coffee, stare at the display of distant mountains to see what kind of view they care to give today: mysterious haze, sharp lines and saturated contrasts, shimmering mirage.  Always something new, sometimes slapped rolling and haphazard across the horizon with careless impressionist watercolor abandon — and other times sketched carefully with such detail and accented with dark oils that they actually look real.

Soon, Justin’s family will come wheeling into town (a couple of his aunts already live here, which is just sheer good fortune), and we’ll spend that overwhelming chaotic time together eating and laughing and drinking and my mom will feel, for the first time in a long time, what it’s like to have lots of family around at once.

We all want to spend some time with Justin before he goes to Afghanistan, and I suppose I’ve learned that I have to share.

It doesn’t hurt that his family is awesome.

But here’s the thing, in case you were wondering.

I know I’m domestiphobic.

I know this so well that I made up this whole word to describe my aversion to all things domestic and I think, on some level, that most of you can relate.

At least a little.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t miss my husband.

All it means, in the end, is that I won’t miss his laundry.

You know?