Saturday, January 26, 2008

Snowshoeing, more skiing and boarding

Since we last posted, we’ve been keeping busy. Let’s see…

After six straight days of skiing and snowboarding, we took a day off on Wednesday, January 16. An arctic front had come in, and high temperatures were in the low single digits, so it didn’t seem like a good day for skiing. Besides, we needed to take care of mundane details like laundry – we just don’t have enough ski clothing to go for a week straight without doing laundry, at least not if we want to smell OK.

The next day was still cold, so we went snowshoeing. It turns out that we’re surrounded by National Forest and wilderness, so there are dozens and dozens of hiking/snowshoeing/cross-country skiing trails within just a few miles of our house. We picked a short trail to Lily Pad Lake. Here’s Sarah, bundled up in the forest:

A short way into the hike, we discovered that we were entering the Eagles Nest Wilderness:

The trail was pretty packed down, but we tromped off into the woods several times to snowshoe on some fresh powder. Even with our snowshoes, we would occasionally sink so deep that the snow was up to our knees. “Cascade concrete” is what they call the snow in the Pacific Northwest – that’s not what we have here in Colorado! This stuff is light and fluffy, and in the forest, of course, not so evenly packed.

After 1.5 miles of alternately hiking along the trail and playing in the woods, we reached the lake.

When we arrived, a couple of cross-country skiers that we had passed were taking ski runs from the trail down into the lake basin and onto the frozen lake. Although it looked pretty solid, we weren’t confident to walk out onto the lake, so we made our own trail around the lake through the snow. Then we walked back to the car. It was a perfect activity for a cold day – we kept moving and didn’t have to brave the high winds on the ski lifts.

The next day, Friday, January 18, and every day since then, we’ve been back in the mountains. Let’s see…

  • Friday, 1/18: Skied at Breck
  • Saturday, 1/19: Skied at Keystone
  • Sunday, 1/20: Snowboarded at Breck
  • Monday, 1/21: Skied at Breck
  • Tuesday, 1/22: Skied at Breck
  • Wednesday, 1/23: Snowboarded at Breck
  • Thursday, 1/24: Sarah skied and Brian boarded at Keystone
  • Friday, 1/25: Skied at Breck

The best day of the week, and possibly of the year so far, was Tuesday, when Breck had three inches of new snow and we were the first ones to ride the 6 chair (it has no other name – just “6”) up to the upper part of Peak 8. We skied run after run, floating through soft fresh powder, jumping off snow drifts and plopping down into powder, meandering through the trees in powder. It was fantastic, and even two hours later, there was still fresh powder to be found! We explored, too, finding the route from the 6 chair to the Horseshoe Bowl and discovering a steep, powder-covered slope that drops down into a run called Psychopath.

Yesterday started out gray and windy and our legs were tired from seven straight days on the slopes, so we thought we’d make a short day of it. Then we discovered a set of double-black runs on the leeward side of Peak 10, and they were so much fun that we did four or five runs there, taking us to about 3:00 in the afternoon. After that, we headed to the Whale’s Tail for happy hour.

Happy hour has been one of the pleasant surprises of living here. Although most things are expensive in Breck, the happy hour specials are ridiculously cheap. A pint of beer costs anywhere from a dollar to two dollars. That’s mostly domestic beer (PBR, Bud), although the Breck Brewery, maker of Avalanche Ale, offers their microbrews for $2 a pint until 6 p.m. Appetizers are often half-price, too, and one place has huge slices of pizza for $1.25, so you can drink a quart of beer and fill up on bar food for five bucks around here. It’s fabulous!

Other activities… We saw “Juno” at the Skyline Cinema in Dillon and loved it – Ellen Page was fantastic. We’ve been watching the Winter X Games in Aspen on ESPN. We considered going to see the event in person until we realized that Aspen is 2.5 hours away from here – it looks so close on the map, but there’s no direct route. We went to a Breckenridge Heritage Alliance talk on the reconstruction of a mine. And we’ve been driving through downtown Breck daily to follow the progress of the contestants in the International Snow Sculpture Championships – more on that the next time we blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Skiing at Keystone

Sunday brought an inch of new snow, so we skied at Breck, mostly on Peak 10. We took long breaks to watch the Colts-Chargers game in a reggae-themed lodge at the base of Peak 9. Yesterday and today, we skied at Keystone, where the crowds were thin and the skies were blue. And we finally took some pictures!

We woke up this morning to a bright pink sunrise out our bedroom window, so we ran out onto the porch to take some pictures. These are looking down at the town of Breckenridge:

When we got to the slopes, we took the gondola up to the top of Dercum Mountain and skied down the Schoolmarm run, a 3.5-mile-long green run that affords fantastic views. Here are a couple shots of the Gore Range with the Dillon Reservoir in the foreground. The towns of Dillon and Silverthorne are at the right edge.

Here’s a close-up of Buffalo Mountain, the most prominent mountain of the Gore Range with its two avalanche chutes, known as “Big and Little Elvis”:

Brian got Sarah to pose in front of the Gore Range:

This next shot shows most of the Tenmile Range and part of the Mosquito Range. Four of Colorado’s famous fourteeners (14,000-foot-high peaks) are at the left end of the picture: Bross, Lincoln, Democrat, and Quandary. The next peaks from left to right are Peak 10, Peak 9, Peak 8, and Peak 7, the four mountains of the Breckenridge ski area. Peak 6 is at the far right of the picture, and Peaks 1 through 5 are out of the frame to the right.

Here’s Brian posing in front of Mt. Guyot and Bald Mountain:

And Brian with yet another scenic mountain backdrop:

The Keystone ski area consists of three mountains: Dercum Mountain, North Peak, and The Outback. This is the view of The Outback from North Peak:

Here’s Sarah in action:

We spent a lot of time in the terrain park this morning, standing out of the way and marveling at the talented skiers and snowboarders jumping over 20 feet in the air, doing flips and 540s and assorted other tricks. Here are just a few of the crazy photos that we took – don’t try this at home.

Here we are, riding the lift from The Outback back to North Peak, toward the end of the day:

Finally, here’s how we ended our day, skiing down to the River Run base area of Keystone:

The blue sky for much of the day made for some great photo-taking opportunities. And the skiing was great, too. It was in the 20s all day and sunny – we actually broke into a sweat skiing moguls! Some arctic air comes in overnight, though, and the rumor is that the high tomorrow might only be around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Brr! We’re thinking we’ll snowshoe instead of ski!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Snowboarding at Keystone

Yet another fantastic day in Colorado! Keystone had 6” of new snow in the past 24 hours, so we both snowboarded. We got there just in time for the first lift rides up and rode on North Peak and The Outback all day. The snow was very good, and the weather was great – not as cold as it’s been the past few days, and very little wind. Brian’s starting to ride goofy with some proficiency, and Sarah’s snowboarding is getting better and better. We managed to ride from 9 to 4 with limited breaks. When Sarah decided she was done, we were at The Outback, the third of Keystone’s peaks, so we had to ride two more lifts and take two more runs to get to the base area. We were really done by the end! Still no pictures to post – the snow conditions were too good to waste time taking pictures.

We had an interesting run called Pika – it was signed as a blue run, so we took it, but it turned out to be a narrow run through trees. While we like glades, particularly when we’re on skis, they need to be pretty well thinned for us to be able to maneuver them on snowboards. The powder back there was great, but it took us a long, long time to wind our way carefully to the bottom. After the run we looked at our trail map, and it was really a black – the sign at the top of the run was just wrong. We’ll have to try it on skis sometime, though!

After our day of skiing, we went to Jake’s Dive Bar in Breck for happy hour and to hopefully watch the Seahawks beat the Packers in the playoffs. When we got there, the score was 42-20 near the beginning of the fourth quarter, so we got to watch the Packers run out the clock. (Sorry Lloyd!) But the food was great! A huge plate of loaded nachos, six chicken wings, and a pint of Budweiser for $8 – we love Breck’s happy-hour specials.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Skiing in Colorado

We left Illinois on the morning of January 2. Destination for the day: Motel 6 in Lincoln, Nebraska. We hit some snow in Illinois, and then as we drove through Iowa, we saw dozens of cars in the median or in the ditch on the right side of the road. The weather was fine for us, but apparently they’d had some nasty snow a few days earlier and there had been so many accidents that they hadn’t gotten all of the cars towed out yet. It was kind of eerie – I-80 was like a car graveyard.

The rest of the drive to Lincoln was pretty uneventful. We got to the highway exit for our motel, and lo and behold, it wasn’t just any old Motel 6… This was a Motel 6 with a 24-hour lingerie shop next door! We were in luck! We checked in, parked our car in a well-lit area in full view of the motel’s front desk, removed our valuables, and headed to our room, where we promptly forgot about the bounty of satin and lace next door and instead watched “Wife Swap” on TV, which was incredibly trashy but oddly captivating.

After a good night’s sleep, we got up in the morning, took advantage of the Motel 6 breakfast buffet (that is, we drank some coffee out of Styrofoam cups), and headed out. By afternoon, we’d made it to Boulder, where we met our friend Mark and freed up space in his garage by taking back two sets of skis, two snowboards, two pairs of snowshoes, six pairs of boots, two helmets, five pairs of goggles, shovel, and a few other items that we’d left there in October. Only problem: Our car was already full. We’d added a snowboard from one of Sarah’s sisters and assorted Christmas presents. Where was all the snow gear going to go? After much fine maneuvering and some brute force, all that was left to sit in Sarah’s lap in the passenger seat were a helmet, a pair of boots, the laptop, and maybe a few other things. She couldn’t move, but hey, it’s only a little under two hours from Boulder to Breckenridge. We could have gone a little out of our way to get on I-70 sooner, but Sarah wanted to make things hard on herself, so she directed Brian down Highway 6, which is a windy road down a narrow canyon. It was a beautiful, somewhat uncomfortable drive.

Eventually we got to Frisco, the next town over from Breckenridge. We decided that we should get some staples, so we bought a couple of gallons of milk and a gallon of orange juice, which filled up some of the last remaining free space in the front of the car. Then we drove to Breckenridge, to the house that would be our home for the next three months. The house was empty when we got there, which was just as well, as we carried load after load of stuff from the car into our room. We discovered that Sparky, the family dog, had decided to welcome us by decorating our carpet with a few droppings. No sooner had we cleaned that up than Sarah discovered that the bottom of one of her socks was yellow – what we had thought was a puddle of melted snow was, in fact, not. Gross! A Wal-Mart trip to acquire carpet cleaner was in order.

Aside from occasional run-ins with Sparky, though, our living situation is great. We’re living with a woman named Rachel and her three kids. Rachel loves to cook, so she made dinner for us the first two nights we were here. She has wireless internet, so we can continue to update our blog. We have cable TV in our room, and Rachel even gave us a hotplate so we can make our coffee first thing in the morning. We live on Peak 7, which is the northernmost of the four mountains that comprise the Breckenridge ski area. To get to the slopes, we just drive down to the base of Peak 7 and park in a free lot there, then take a bus to the gondola. Breck has all sorts of things to do – it has the typical ski village stuff (including great happy-hour specials), but it’s also a town with a real year-round population.

The next day was Friday, our first ski day of the winter! We headed to Breck and skied all day, mostly on blue stuff to start getting our skiing muscles in shape. We spent a while on Peak 7 and then moved over to Peak 9. In the Berghoff restaurant, a guy introduced himself and asked if we were interested in learning about an opportunity to purchase a timeshare. We said no, but then he sweetened the deal with an offer of a $200 spa treatment, and Sarah was hooked on the idea of a massage. We signed up for a two-hour-long timeshare presentation on Sunday after skiing, after which we would get our spa vouchers.

Saturday we went to Keystone. We had a great day of skiing until Brian got a splitting headache, presumably from the altitude. When you’re used to being at sea level, exertion at 12,000 feet takes a lot out of you! We’d been drinking a lot of water, knowing that that helps combat altitude sickness, but it was still too much for Brian. So we ended our ski day a little early and headed back home to Breck.

We have the Colorado Pass, which lets you ski all winter at Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, with ten days that you can use at Vail or Beaver Creek. All of that costs $439 ($339 without the Vail / Beaver Creek days), so we figure we’re spending $4 each per day for the opportunity to ski, or $14 a day for Vail and Beaver Creek. We find that our mentality is a lot different with a season’s pass. When we’re paying $86 for a day of skiing, we want to get our money’s worth, so we go, go, go from when the slopes open to when they close. We even try to get on the last chair right before it closes so that we can get one last run in to end the day. When you’re paying $4 a day, though, and skiing all winter, you can take your time. We still try to get to the lifts when they first open, particularly on powder days, to get the best conditions. But we may ski for a couple of hours and then go into a lodge to take a long break and warm up. Then we come back out for a few more runs, and then head back in. Also, we may find ourselves becoming fair-weather skiers – if the weather’s not ideal, we’re much less likely to force ourselves to stay outside to get our runs in.

On Sunday we checked the morning snow report and saw that Breck had a couple inches of new snow, so we headed out with our snowboards. Brian decided to try riding goofy all day to see if he could get the hang of it, since the powder would cushion any falls. We spent the whole day on Peak 9 at Breck – Breck has so much terrain that you can literally spend an entire day on just one of the four peaks and not get bored. By the end of the day, Sarah was feeling pretty good about her snowboarding, and Brian’s spectacular falls were coming with less frequency. At one point Sarah fell victim to the altitude headache, so we hung out in the Beaver Run lodge watching football. But all in all, it was a fantastic day.

After our day of snowboarding, we headed to Grand Timber Lodge for our timeshare sales pitch. A salesman took us back to his cubicle at the appointed time and talked about skiing for five or ten minutes, then asked if we had any questions. We fumbled to come up with some intelligent-sounding questions, surprised that he didn’t have a sales pitch or a slideshow or something. After we asked a few questions, he tried to sell us for a few minutes on the investment properties of a timeshare, saying that he was so glad that he’d taken all of his money out of the stock market in 2001 and put it into timeshares. When he could see that that pitch wasn’t going anywhere, he confessed that he had other pitches to use on other people – for instance, if we had kids, he’d tell us how time with our kids is so short, and we needed to make the absolute most of our vacation time together by spending it in a timeshare. But based on the questionnaire we’d filled out (staying with a friend in Breck, have no kids, etc.), the only reason why we’d want a timeshare is as an investment. We were dismissed within 25 minutes, and with our $200 in spa vouchers in hand, we headed for happy hour at the Grand Timber Lodge bar, where we watched more football and drank Sam Adams and a tasty fruity rum drink. What a deal -- $200 in massages to chat with a guy for 25 minutes!

Monday was another powder day – six inches of new snow at Breck! So we headed out again with our snowboards and got to the mountain 15 minutes before the lifts opened. We were the first ones to ride the Rocky Mountain Express that day and made fresh tracks. This was our best day yet – the feeling of floating in powder on a snowboard is unbeatable. Over time, the snow got tracked up, but the riding was still fantastic with so much snow on the mountain.

That night, we went to the Colorado Mountain College, where a traveling version of the Telluride Mountainfilm festival was showing. Mountainfilm is a festival of short films about the spirit of mountains, and this show consisted of nine films from past festivals. The film themes ranged form an orphan boy’s struggle to find family in Uganda to climbing the cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to spoofing the materialistic lifestyle of the wealthy occupants of Telluride via a fake anthropological investigation into the deserted mountain village. One of the best films was about Martin Litton’s role in saving the Grand Canyon from damming – Litton is a hilarious guy who’s run the Colorado River many times and used his platform as editor of the Los Angeles Times to build public support for keeping the Grand Canyon wild. The film is adventure, biography, environmental history, and comedy all rolled up together.

Tuesday we headed back to Keystone for another day of skiing. This was another powder day, but for the first time, we had clear blue skies and fantastic views all morning long. We’ve gotten storm after storm, which makes for great snow but sometimes limited visibility – not today. Brian got his ski bindings adjusted at the end of the day. They’d been set to 6, but the shop determined that they should be at 9.5. No wonder his skis were always popping off!

And on Wednesday, after five straight days of skiing and snowboarding, leading to many sore muscles, we rested. We made an appointment to use our spa gift certificate for a couples massage at 2:00 at the Grand Timber Lodge. We got there a little early to use the hot tub and pool, then headed to the couples’ massage room. Sarah had had one massage before, and Brian had never had one, but it’s something we definitely could get used to. We lay in side-by-side beds, with two massage therapists, one working on each of us. Muscles in Brian’s shoulders that he didn’t even know were tight were suddenly loosening up. The music was calming, the massage oil was soothing, and Brian almost fell asleep. When our hour was up, we didn’t even want to move.

Afterwards, we went to Windy City Pizza for happy hour -- $1.25 slices of pizza and PBR pints. What a deal, and for a little while we were the only ones there. Then we headed over to the park for the Ullympics. The Ullr festival is an annual festival for the Norse god of snow, and each day during the festival is a different event. Tonight’s was the Ullympics, a sporting competition. When we arrived, there weren’t many teams present and they were still taking entries, so we met a couple from Alabama and convinced them to sign up with us as a four-person team. We called ourselves the Procrastinators and were one of six teams in the competition.

The Ullympics consisted of three events. First was a group ski – the four team members had to get on a single pair of “skis” (really a pair of 2x4s with pieces of rope for bindings) and shuffle across a tennis court. We and another team volunteered to go first. Only problem: The tennis court was covered in thigh-deep powder, and four people on 2x4s don’t really float. We tried hard, but eventually ripped our bindings out, and our opponent split one of their skis in half, so we resorted to taunting and throwing snow at each other. You can see us in a video on the website of the local newspaper, the Summit Daily. After our race, the Ullympics organizers decided to change the competition to a simple running race, in which the four members of a team had to hold hands and run across the tennis court. For our struggles, we and our opponents got the top two rankings in this event.

The next event was the frying pan toss – toss cast-iron frying pans at a target. Many different strategies were attempted, from underhand heaves to Frisbee forehands and backhands. Plastic pint bottles of Bud Light (the major sponsor of the Ullympics) were handed out to all participants prior to the event, so while some of the tosses left something to be desired, the heckling was consistently strong.

And the third event was the retro ski race. One member of the team had to be dressed up in a retro uni ski suit and goggles, carry skis to one end of a field, then get in them and skate ski back to the starting point. Sarah was our volunteer and did a fine job despite Brian’s initial attempt to stuff both of her feet into one leg of her suit.

In the end, our team finished third, good enough to win a huge stack of prizes, including a full case of Bud Light (Brian’s drinking one as he writes this), a bottle of Ullr (apparently also a Norwegian schnapps, not just the god of snow), Bud pint glasses, a Bud Christmas mug, Ullr T-shirts, and more. All participants also got blue foam Viking horns, which we brought home to the kids and were a big hit. Having gone thinking we’d just watch, the Ullympics far surpassed our expectations – we had a great time.

On Thursday we woke up and saw that Vail had nine inches of new snow, so we rushed through breakfast and headed over. We parked in one of the free lots a few miles from the slopes and promptly got the car stuck in a foot of poorly-plowed (or perhaps not at all) snow. With some help from three other skiers, we dislodged the car, parked it, and got on our way to the bus stop to ride to Vail Village.

So far, every day had been better than the last, and this was no exception. We headed straight for the Back Bowls and plowed through powder, Brian on his snowboard and Sarah on skis. Bright blue sky afforded fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. It was a bit cold so we headed inside to warm up, then headed back out to Blue Sky Basin, the farthest part of the Vail ski area. There are some great black runs there, where you drop over the edge of a cliff, down five or six feet and then ski an open bowl briefly before heading into trees for gladed skiing. Sarah wasn’t sure she wanted to jump into a bowl where the initial drop was taller than she is, so Brian dove in and gave her no choice. On an icy day we’d probably do serious damage to ourselves on this run, but on a powder day, any lack of skill is forgiven by soft landings.

On Friday, we headed to Arapahoe Basin, where the new Montezuma Bowl would be opening for the first time at 11:00. This is a big deal – it’s 400 acres of new terrain, enough to expand A-Basin’s skiable terrain by 80%, and serviced by a quad lift. A-Basin had four inches of new snow and yet again, we found ourselves skiing in powder. The snow just keeps falling, every single day! We look outside from our windows and there it is, more snow. We get outside in the morning to our car and have to brush off two or three inches of new snow. It’s amazing!

The only problem with A-Basin was that it was cold, with very high winds. We had a few nice runs and then went inside to warm up before heading back out for the opening of the Montezuma Bowl. We got there a little late but still got to ski one of the first runs in the bowl. At one point, we found ourselves stuck in waist-deep powder and could barely get out! The lift line, naturally, was really long, so we just did the one run and headed back to the front side. We were cold and decided to cut our day of skiing short, but we decided to do one last run. After getting on the lift, Brian got his skis stuck in the snow and they popped off! There he was, riding up the lift in just his boots, not knowing what to do, until eventually word got passed back from chair to chair to the lift operator, who slowed the lift, retrieved the skis, and handed them to a skier about 10-15 chairs back from us. When we got to the top, a girl on the chair behind us offered the helpful suggestion that Brian could just ride down the lift and look like “a total dork”. Brian thanked her for the great idea but let her know that he was already a total dork, and besides, his skis were on their way up. This incident provided plenty of laughs and a good test for Brian’s newly adjusted bindings – apparently 9.5 is tight, but not so tight that you get dragged off the lift when your skis get stuck, thank goodness.

After that run, we headed home and hung out at the house for a while, catching up on our blog. No pictures in this entry, unfortunately – we refuse to take pictures on powder days. One of these days, the snow will let up, and we’ll have a sunny day without much new snow that’s great for taking pictures and less awesome for skiing. When that day arrives, we’ll take some pictures. Until then, we’ll be enjoying the powder.

Party in Illinois

We set out for Illinois bright and early, around 5:45 AM on Sunday, December 30. First stop was the Portland, Maine, bus station, where we dropped Lisa off. After that, we were on our own for 800+ miles of driving, mostly on toll roads. Toll roads stink – most obviously because you have to pay to drive them, but also because you tend to be stuck on them because you don’t want to exit the toll road and get back on. So you buy gas at service stations right beside the toll road and overpay – we paid $3.39 for gas at one point, a new record for us. Ugh!

Anyway, after a long day of driving, we arrived at the Stanford Hostel in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where we’d stayed earlier this month. It turned out that no one else was staying on this night, so we managed to rent out an entire farmhouse (that sleeps 38 on busy summer nights) for $22 -- $11 per person! We slept in the first-floor suite, a huge room with an adjacent bathroom. It was fabulous. We went to bed before 8 PM and didn’t get up until after 7 AM – driving that far is exhausting!

On our way out of the park, we stopped when we saw a group of deer on the side of the road. This one cautiously approached our car until he was no more than 10 yards away! Then he stopped for a minute or so posing for us.

We stopped at a Shell station to fill up, and noticed that they had a car wash. Sarah’s dad had recommended that we get a car wash with an undercarriage spray because our car had lived its whole life in the salt-free locations of Texas and Washington, and it would be a shame if the salt that accumulated from driving across the Rust Belt damaged our car. So we paid our $9 for a premium car wash with undercarriage spray, got our ticket, and drove over to the car wash building. When we got there, we saw that the door to the car wash was shut, and a big orange cone and tarp were blocking our path. The car wash was closed!

Shortly, two Shell employees promptly appeared, promised us that the car wash would be open in “one hot minute”, and hustled around to get the car wash opened, and then one of the employees directed us to move our car forward onto the conveyor belt. She seemed pretty unsure about whether the car wash was working, and we wondered if our car was going to be damaged. We got partway through the process – the car was soaped and rinsed – and then the machinery completely stopped with our car still sitting on the conveyor belt. The employee now appeared at the other end of the car wash, told us to drive out, and said she didn’t know what had just happened and would refund our money. She hustled into the convenience store and came back with $9 for us. Not bad – we got most of a car wash for free. But we still had salt on the underside of our car.

The second day’s drive was comparatively short – somewhere around 500 miles. We got into Illinois early in the afternoon, so we stopped at Trader Joe’s, our favorite grocery store, before heading to Brian’s parents’ house. It hadn’t snowed since we left Maine but started snowing just as we left the grocery store. That was fortunate timing for us.

We went to Brian’s parents’ house for no less than four reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s almost right on the most direct route between Maine and Colorado, so Brian’s parents’ wouldn’t have been pleased if he didn’t stop in. Second, it was a chance to celebrate Christmas and open presents together a few days late. Third, Brian’s dad had just had his birthday, so it was a chance to celebrate that. And finally, the University of Illinois, Brian’s parents’ alma mater, was in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1984, so we could watch that together on New Year’s Day.

Because there were so many occasions to celebrate, between Christmas, Dad’s birthday, and the Rose Bowl, we broke them up – Christmas on New Year’s Eve and Dad’s birthday and the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Here’s the Christmas tree, all decorated up with presents under it:


The back porch was also looking quite Christmasy:

We knew Brian’s dad had been working on some home-made Christmas presents, but we had no idea what they were. Turned out that he had printed notecards for us, with various photos from our blog on them! They came out really nice – we’ll be writing lots of notes to friends and relatives on them, particularly since we’re in Colorado for the winter and can only send so many Colorado postcards. Another highlight gift was a national parks pass (called the America the Beautiful Pass now), which we’ll likely use a lot once we leave Colorado at the end of the winter. Brian’s sister bought us a gift card for Breckenridge Brewery, where we’ll drink many happy-hour beers, and Sarah got new homemade scarves and hats from Brian’s crocheting mother and knitting sister.

Sarah also got a sarong:

And yet another hat, this one with earflaps, that she’s been wearing regularly ever since:

Brian’s mom was excited to get several new CDs from us:

And in his retirement, Brian’s dad has taken up eBay sales as a hobby. Only problem: He didn’t have a postage scale, so he had to wait in line at the post office to have each package weighed. We figured we’d solve that problem by getting him a scale from, where else, eBay. Now he can weigh his packages at home and print postage online.

We mentioned in an earlier posting that we’d had technical difficulties – the problem was that the power cable to our laptop had broken. Our laptop is a five or six years old and the battery doesn’t hold a charge anymore, so we were computer-less. We’d ordered a new power cable, and an extra one as a backup, and had them shipped to Colorado. But on New Year’s Day, Sarah found one on craigslist in the Chicago suburbs, so she drove 40 minutes to get it. Problem solved: The laptop was working again, and now we would have no fewer than three power cables, just in case we have any future malfunctions. So if you noticed that we went for a little while without blogging, that’s why.

On New Year’s, Brian’s Aunt Pam and Uncle Ron came over for the University of Illinois game – they were playing USC in the Rose Bowl. The Illini lost 49-17, so the game was pretty much a disaster, although it was still better than their last Rose Bowl appearance, when they lost to UCLA 45-9 in 1984. Given that the Illini seem to make the Rose Bowl every 24 years or so, Brian joked that they should all meet again for the Illini’s next Rose Bowl appearance around 2030.

At some point, we also saw part of an NHL game, the first one in the U.S. ever played outdoors. It was in Buffalo, in a total blizzard. We’d driven through Buffalo two days earlier, so we were very grateful for the fantastic weather we’d had for the drive between Maine and Illinois.

Before we left, we had to pose for a picture in front of the tree – there’s Brian in his University of Illinois T-shirt. He was tempted to burn it in effigy, but it was borrowed from his dad, so he refrained.

Now, on to Colorado!

Home for the Holidays

Home is a strange concept for us these days since “home” is in essence wherever we park our car. Most of the time that’s an adventure, though we’ll admit to a few days when we were tired and just wanted to go home, but weren’t even really sure where that would be. Anyway, we spent Christmas “at home” with Sarah’s family in Maine. It was wonderful to have such a long visit because typical holiday visits seem very rushed. We certainly kept busy during the two and a half weeks we were there, though.

The first few days of our visit were spent mostly painting Sarah’s grandmother’s living room. We had never painted a room before, so this was a new experience. Diane, a friend of Sarah’s family, graciously offered to come help us out. This was much appreciated because things that are obvious when you’ve painted once are not necessarily all that obvious the first time around. We also really enjoyed our time visiting with Diane. It turns out that painting is kind of a process. The first day was spent moving furniture (including two china cabinets) away from the walls and covering it, washing the walls (which, as it turns out, hadn’t been washed since the walls were last painted sometime in the ’80s), and priming the formerly brown trim. Day Two was spent doing a first coat of paint on the walls and trim. On the third day, we put a second coat of paint on the walls and a second and third coat of paint on the trim. We were pretty proud of our handiwork when we were done. Here are the almost-before (the trim has already been primed) and after pictures.



While we were in Maine, it snowed four times. Sarah’s Dad thinks this is a big pain because each snow storm results in several hours of work to get the driveway and the lot of his business cleared out. We took the opportunity to play in all the snow. Our first outing was with Sarah’s parents and Diane to get Christmas trees. We went hiking behind Grammy’s house. Hiking in the woods for a tree is something Sarah did as a kid but this was a new experience for Brian. It’s actually pretty tough to find a natural tree that isn’t really lopsided or with oddly spaced or sparse branches. We had a lot of fun walking around in the woods and we found trees for Sarah’s parents’ house and for Grammy’s house. Here’s Sarah cutting down a tree for her Grammy:

And here is Sarah hoisting the tree – isn’t she strong?

Somehow the trees always look better in the woods covered in snow. When we got the trees back, Grammy pointed out that hers was the scrawniest tree she’d ever seen (despite the fact that in years past she’s had some pretty scraggly trees). Brian promptly dubbed the other tree “the Barbie tree” because it was very full on the top and bottom and thin through the middle.

We also did some snowshoeing behind Grammy’s house after one of the snowstorms. Since we had left our snowshoes with our ski equipment in a friend’s garage in Boulder, Colorado, we used my parents’ snowshoes. These snowshoes are the old-fashioned wood-and-leather style that are really large. After tripping over the shoes repeatedly for a few minutes, we got the hang of it. We snowshoed for a couple of hours and took a bunch of photos along the way. Here’s the barn behind Grammy’s house:

Sarah resting in the snow:

Some views from the top of the hill behind Grammy’s house:

Brian taking in the views:

Another afternoon, we went on a family cross-country ski and snowshoe outing behind Sarah’s parents’ house. Here’s a picture of Sarah and her sister, Amy:

Sarah with Amy and Mom:

Funny pictures of Amy and Sarah’s mom trying to cross a creek on cross-country skis, which is no easy feat:

After crossing the creek, our skis were so iced up that they wouldn’t slide at all. It was like trying to snowshoe with cross-country skis on. Here Lisa, Sarah’s other sister, is scraping the ice off her Dad’s skis:

Shortly after this, Dad’s several-decades-old cross-country ski boots and bindings fell apart and left him walking, with one of his feet very cold. We eventually made it back to the main trail. Here’s Mom celebrating:

And lastly, Sarah just before getting back home:

We did lots of cooking while we were in Maine. Sarah likes to cook, and since she hasn’t had a real kitchen in several months, she was excited to have access to one for a couple of weeks. Somehow though, mention of this to her mother turned from her volunteering to cook a couple meals to her taking over the cooking while she was home. Something must have gotten lost in translation. The cooking that was the most fun was, of course, baking Christmas cookies. We spent a day with Diane baking her famous chocolate crinkle cookies and holiday-shaped sugar cookies. Every year, she bakes nine batches of each type of cookie for holiday gifts. Diane’s house is the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit because she has more holiday decorations per square inch than anyone else we know. There are decorations everywhere! The cookies were delicious. Needless to say, some of them were pillaged off the cookie sheet. Our big downfall, though, was forgetting to take some home for Sarah’s Dad. Anyone who knows him knows what a chocolate fanatic he is, so forgetting to bring him cookies was a big oversight.

Also on the cookie menu for the week were peppermint bonbon cookies. These were an experiment and turned out to be the most decadent chocolate cookies ever. Here’s Sarah showing off her creation:

If you’d like to try them out, you can find the recipe here. Brian also made these crazy multi-layered cookies, which are officially known as “Black and White Striped Cookies” but which Brian promptly renamed “Forty-three Layer Cookies”. If you’ve got some patience, there were really yummy. You can find that recipe here.

Once Lisa and Amy were both home, we decorated the house. Here’s the “Barbie tree” all decked out:

In addition to decorating the tree, the “house pets” got decorated as well.

Cary the Caribou:

Max the Moose:

Wally the Deer:

Dad and Amy chilling after decorating:

The Sunday before Christmas was busy with family Christmas parties. First was the Damon family Christmas party. Sarah’s Dad is one of nine kids, so there are always lots of people at the Damon party. It’s always fun to see aunts, uncles, and cousins that we don’t see the rest of the year. After the Damon family party, we went to Sarah’s mother’s family Christmas party. By this point, we were stuffed from potato rolls, scalloped potatoes, and a number of other yummy foods from the first party, so even though the food looked delicious, none of us ate much at the second party. The first party was all adults. By contrast, there were eleven kids under age 6 at the second party, mostly the children of Sarah’s cousins. Sarah had fun chasing them around with her camera. They all move so fast that it’s tough to get a good shot.

Nicholas posing for the camera:

Katie and Riley:

Ava and Hannah:

Bailey and Emily:

Another one of Bailey and Emily:


A bunch of the kids playing with a sand-castle kit:

On Christmas Eve, we went to mass and then to another family holiday party. Brian was a hit with the three-foot-and-under crowd, who were all sad to see him go at the end of the evening.

Brian playing with Brandon:

Brandon lounging:

Brandon and Bailey (Sarah’s twin cousins) and Acacia and Quinn (kids of one of Sarah’s cousins) posing in front of the tree:

Quinn showing off his new hat:

Sarah’s family after the party:

On Christmas morning, we got up and opened our stockings and presents. Brian thinks Sarah’s family is the slowest ever to open presents. There were plenty of presents to be opened.

Sarah and Lisa still waking up:

Lisa, Sarah, and Amy with cookies from their stockings:

Dad opening a present:

It was the year of headlamps, with Sarah, Lisa, and Mom all getting headlamps. Here’s Mom showing hers off:

Sarah and Amy showing off their new Patagonia long johns:

Sarah with her gift from Amy – a gift certificate to go tubing at a local mountain:

Later on Christmas day, Grammy and Ervin came over for Christmas dinner. After dinner, we got everyone together for a family photo:

This is my favorite “outtake” photo from the photo shoot:

The rest of the week of Christmas was spent hanging out with Sarah’s family. We went to see Charlie Wilson’s War at the movies one evening. Another day, we went tubing with Amy and Chuck. If you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend it. Each person gets their own tube. There are a couple of lanes on a hill with banked slides. A tow pulls you to the top of the hill and then you slide back down. It’s amazing how fast you go! You can slide down by yourself or form trains of tubes by holding on to the handles on someone else’s tube. At one point, all four of us went down at once. Whee! That evening, we had dinner and celebrated Christmas with Diane and Larry. This, of course, involved eating more cookies! We finished the week out with a lobster and steak dinner with Sarah’s family plus Grammy and Ervin. Though we don’t eat lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while in Maine like some people seem to think, no trip to Maine would be complete without lobster.

Finally, since this seems to be the blog entry of photos, here are pictures of Sarah’s parents’ house and the surrounding area that we took during the week.

We had a great visit in Maine, but it all too quickly was time to continue on our journey. Next stop is Chicago, on our way to Colorado for the winter.