Property Virgins No More

It is now official: Doug and I have purchased our first home.

Our days of pouring cash into some landlord’s pocket are numbered. So are the days of trying to figure out what goes with 1960s brown camo carpeting or brown and cream vinyl kitchen tiles that extend to the backsplash (answer: nothing). Next month when we move into our new detached digs in Edmonton not only will we be building equity, but more importantly – I get to unleash my inner design diva!

One good thing about brown camo carpet from the 1960s: you’re really not worried about pet hair and dirt.

She has, alas, been repressed far too long. There have been the odd outlets: helping my mum redecorate her basement workout space and painting my mother-in-law’s den last fall. But that’s kind of like being a surrogate: you do a bunch of the work but don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labour (so to speak). Sure you get that whole warm and fuzzy feeling from doing something nice for someone else… I guess…

I’m looking forward to doing up our own place, though, and Doug and I are excited about the DIY projects, the paint swatches, the linen choices, etc. I’ve pulled down my notebook with ideas torn from magazines I started putting together in 2008 when we finished grad school. That was when we thought Doug would find work in Canada and we’d buy a place (Instead we went to Wyoming – a small detour!).
I’ve also bought a few books and watch the design shows on HGTV religiously. Now I eagerly await shows like Colorsplash, Design on a Dime, and Designed to Sell (which has a lot of low-cost ideas). Before it was all Property Virgins – which mostly takes place in Toronto and therefore made us feel better about what we could afford in Edmonton – and My First Place – which showed the ridiculously cheap mansions you can buy in Texas and made us cry.

Sandra Rinomato: We couldn’t have her as our realtor, but she sure helped us out with her show, Property Virgins!

But those hours of house-hunting shows paid off. And even though we couldn’t have PV’s Sandra Rinomato (which I have a serious realtor crush on) as our real estate agent, Re/Max’s Janet Bossert has been incredibly friendly, efficient, patient, and most importantly, she took us on a culinary tour of our future home town.

Janet also stepped us through the hunt, the negotiations, and the paperwork. And she handled the “interesting” process having clients who work for Schlu*&$#er (which I gave some choice nicknames the past few months). In fact, she’s been dealing with another couple the past month who also works there and suggests we start a support group!

But, as I hear from my friends who have birthed children, when you look at that bundle of joy the pain starts to fade. And that’s how I feel about our adorable 1970s bungalow: it is a hard-won prize that I will treasure, and groom, and make all mine.

At least for the next five to seven years…

A Festive Staycation

Doug had another set of days off last week, but after a bunch of long-distance, long-haul travelling and a particularly gruelling “hitch” (days on), we decided to go the “staycation” route and hang out close to home.

This turned out to be a good thing since here in Southwestern Wyoming we got hit by a week of frigid temperatures and a couple of decent snowstorms. So we hunkered down, got stuff off of our to-do lists, and tried to generate body heat at the gym (where snow was blowing in under doors).

During the two-day clear weather window last week, though, we did head out to Park City and Salt Lake City, just across the state line in Utah. The roads were good, our Visa was paid off, and the sales were on at Tanger Outlets, so we left Riker at the kennel and drove west.

2 1/2 hours later we were in Park City right as the outlets opened and were the first through the doors at Columbia. We blitzed through a couple of stores, loading up on cold weather gear like snowpants (Doug got his for $18!) and a knee-length down coat to keep my thighs from freezing when I walk the dog. Then we headed over to the Red Rock Brewing Co. where both of us immediately zeroed in on the Kobe Burger on the specials board. I tell you, every once in a while I think I should go veggie, but it is meat-a-licious meals like this that keep me from it (I did keep my fingers crossed that it was ethically raised and slaughtered and said a little thank you to the cow that gave up its life. Mostly I thanked it for being so delicious, though…).

After lunch we drove to Salt Lake City to check out spinning bikes at a couple of fitness equipment stores. Some of you may recall that a few months ago I was a little afraid of group cycling classes (aka Spinning). Well, I have been converted to this awesome workout that now regularly kicks my butt. And Doug decided that indoor training might be preferable to risking life and limb on the icy sidewalks so we started talking about a home gym for the new place in Edmonton. Treadmills are too noisy and crap out more quickly because of the beating they take (makes you wonder about your knees!) and ellipticals are large and very expensive. But with our budget we could get a pretty good mid-level spinning bike that will likely last 10-15 years because of the activity’s low-impact nature.

We’d found some pretty good deals online but wanted to actually get on the bikes to check them out. So we stopped in at two places in SLC and were immediately icked out by the used-car-salesman vibe we got from the people there. So we decided to go for the person-free transaction of online shopping and free shipping to our doorstep. It’s supposed to arrive in a week or so – review to follow!

The main reason for stopping in SLC was to get the Mini brake pads checked out. The light had come on a few weeks before but everything seemed fine, so we just kept driving it until we had time to make it to the Mini dealership 300 miles away. Another reason I can’t wait to move to Edmonton: there Mini is right in town!

$400 later our rear brake pads were fixed and we were ready to drive back to Park City to check in to our hotel, The Yarrow. We’d booked it through, our go-to for killer deals on hotels and for $70 it was more than decent. My only complaint is that they’d had the heating turned off in our room and so it was probably hovering around 10 degrees when we arrived.

This wouldn’t have been such an issue if we could have just turned on the heat and headed out to dinner, but our Visa had been declined at the front desk and so Doug wanted to figure out what was going on before eating. Well, that turned out to be a huge hassle (which it tends to be when the Schlumberger Employee Credit Union is involved). Thirty minutes later after calling multiple phone numbers and only being able to get through to a live person after saying “help” repeatedly (and pitifully) into the handset, we were both ready for a stiff drink.

Instead, we ended up walking uphill in snow into a stiff wind on Main St. But it was all worth it when we arrived at the Riverhorse . It was decorated in a sparkling, festive way and had classic holiday tunes playing. The staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and most importantly, the food was amazing. The chef sent out an amuse-bouche just as our glasses of red wine arrived. Then came the cranberry-walnut bread from a local bakery. We decided to share the appetizer sampler: smoked salmon on crunchy potato latkes, chicken satay skewers, and to-die-for goat cheese wontons. Doug’s lamb was perfectly done and his butternut squash and fig risotto – heavenly. My pear/praline/blue cheese salad was also incredible and then we topped it off with a warm apple and toffee cake. It sounds like a lot of food (okay, it kind of was – hence the spinning bike), but the portions were just perfect. Unlike so many restaurants these days, the Riverhorse really focuses on quality over quantity!
Pleasantly full, we endured the cold once again until we got back to the room, now warm. The hotel boasts a heated year-round swimming pool and hot tub, though, so it wasn’t long before we squeezed ourselves into swimwear. While there is nothing quite as nice as sitting in a hot tub when it’s chilly outside, it is also true that stripping down and getting to said hot tub when it’s

-20 is probably one of the worst! Nevertheless we did it, loved it, and Doug showed off for the other patrons by periodically getting out and rolling in the snow…

Friday we got up early (okay, I got up early and bullied Doug into waking up) and went to the hotel’s restaurant, the Mountain Grill, for breakfast. It was pretty chilly in there too, but we snagged a seat near the fireplace and by the time we tucked into our carafe of coffee and our breakfast skillets, we were warm and happy.

Then we split up – Doug to Best Buy and other places and me to the outlets to continue my hunting. By noon our budgets were exhausted and we were hungry again (Again?!!). I’d read about a neat-sounding restaurant called the Hapa Grill, that did a Japanese-Thai-Hawaiian fusion, and it exceeded our expectations. The Miso soup was fantastic, our fried calamari with Hawaiian salsa exquisite, and the California roll scrumptious. Doug also ordered a wrap he only got halfway through that was tasty (and spicy!) and the fries that came with were awesome. Surprisingly they really do it all!

Our last stop on our foodie adventure was to pick up supplies at Whole Foods, a supermarket that specializes in organic and yuppy-hippy foods we love. Our neighbour had given us a shopping list as well, and we managed to drop a pretty penny on curry stuff (that we shared with friends the next night) and some goodies for our own personal Christmas celebration later this month. I feel like I already got my presents, though!

Adventures in Edmonchuk

From Vegas we flew north – way north – to the city of Edmonton, Alberta, where Doug and I will be moving sometime in the next few months. Doug had a one-day orientation scheduled at his soon-to-be workplace the day after we were scheduled to drive back to Green River from Vegas, so I decided it might make sense for both of us to fly up on a fact-finding mission (I’d never been to Edmonton before). Plus I didn’t want to drive the 9 hours back to GR by myself if I could help it!

It also turned out that a round-trip fare from LAS to YEG was $279 versus the $800+ from our closest regional airport, RKS. And of course it didn’t hurt that his company was paying Doug’s flight and our hotel for four days either.

Here’s a little map to help people get their bearings.
For those Americans among you, Alberta is the province
directly north of Montana!

So off to Edmonton we went, after leaving the car in the NY NY Casino & Hotel parking lot and taking a taxi to the LAS airport at 4am (tip: it costs $10 in cab fare, the parking at the hotels is free, and the parking at the airport is upwards of $10/day. Don’t worry, we checked: they wouldn’t tow us!).

After a short stopover at the Salt Lake City airport, we landed at YEG around 1pm. There we were met by a shiny black luxury sedan sent by the company to ferry us to our hotel. I tell you, there are a lot of frustrating things about the company Doug works for, but sitting on those leather seats with more legroom than I’d had on the plane, I loved ’em… And I loved the company even more when I saw where they had booked us: a boutique hotel on Whyte Ave in the heart of Old Strathcona.

The Metterra on Whyte is nothing short of amazing. The whole place is decorated in an earthy-zen way, there are soaker tubs in the bathrooms, a wine and cheese every evening at 5:30pm, and a deluxe continental breakfast each morning. There was also a great fitness room that was like my personal gym, and a business centre with two computers and a printer that was basically like my personal office except when I ‘had’ to share it with the co-host of the Discovery Channel Canada’s Daily Planet show, Jay Ingram. I am a huge nerd, loved the show when I lived in Canada, and was quite ‘chuffed’ when I got to meet him in person!

Maybe one of the best parts of the hotel was the ‘hospitality suite’ where breakfast and the wine and cheese was served. 24 hours a day you could find coffee and tea as well as one of the coolest coffee barrista robots ever: it was a machine with a touch screen that would make you anything you wanted from hot chocolate to caffe mocha. I made it my mission for our stay to try out as many combinations as I could… flavour shot? decaf or caf? So many decisions!

We didn’t take the time to enjoy all these fine amenities right away, though. First we went next door to Julio’s Barrio Mexican Restaurant to grab a quick plate of nachos (our driver recommended them) and at 2pm met our realtor, Janet Bossert, who picked us up in her silver Subaru Outback and took us on a tour of the city.

After seeing a few semi-dilapidated properties at the top of our price range in the more desirable parts of town (i.e. closer to the University, Old Strathcona, etc) we were more than happy to refocus our search nearer to the research park in the southeast corner of Edmonton: Mill Woods. But that would have to wait until Friday, after Doug’s nail-biting day of presentations, interviews, and informal chats the next day.

Thursday I caught up on some work, worked out, and tested the public transit system by busing it downtown to the Edmonton City Centre. Apparently, Edmonton has the highest level of shopping per capita in North America. I don’t doubt it! I spent a few hours at just one of three downtown shopping centres and didn’t even make it to the shopping mecca – the West Edmonton Mall, with its 800 stores, skating rink, wave pool – or to the big box store development in the south end (Ikea! Home Outfitters! Pier One!).

Edmonton is also one of the greenest North American cities with its parklands, off-leash dog areas, bike paths, and massive recycling program. Sounds like a great combo to me!

Over the next few days Janet-the-realtor drove Doug and I around looking at several more places and grabbing lunches at great spots like the Maurya Palace Dining Lounge (weekday lunch buffet for about $10) and Earl’s, where the three of us split an amazing slice of gingerbread cake for dessert.

Doug and I also explored the gastronomical offerings of Old Strathcona by trying a different cuisine each evening for dinner. Night #1: The Keg, where we feasted on sirloin and king crab legs. Night #2: Chianti Cafe (known as Chianti’s by the locals) where the hand-made pasta melts in your mouth and the 1/2 portion with a salad is plenty. Night #3: Yianni’s, a Greek restaurant that doesn’t look like much from the outside but is warm, vibrant and bustling inside. Plus, we got to sit in a cozy booth downstairs in the lounge where we chilled on cushions while devouring the Mezethes (appetizer) platter – more than enough food for two people! I only wish I’d saved room for some baclava…

On the crisp Saturday morning we also ventured around the block to the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, where you could easily ingest a meal’s worth of samples from the fruit/veggie stands, Ukrainian meat tables, cheesemakers, and bakeries.

Sunday we packed our bags, saw a few last properties – including the one we’re hoping to make an offer on this week – and said a sad farewell to the Metterra, Old Strathcona, and Edmonchuk, that wondrous most northerly metropolis in North America. Ah, Edmonchuk, we will meet again soon and I will get to call you my home…

A Sejour in Sin City

Most of our trips this year have been into the backwoods and we are generally happier in low-density areas, but we decided that one place on our must-see list while we’re in Wyoming had to be Vegas, baby!

So I spent hours scouring the web looking for the best deals and Sunday, November 15th we packed up the Mini and started the 9-hour drive accompanied by Vegas-themed music. Other than some dicey roads on some of Utah’s mountain passes, the ride was pretty uneventful. Even so, 9 hours is a long car-ride and by the time we pulled out of Nevada’s desert into the insanity of the city, we were tired and more than a little overwhelmed.

With the help of our trusty GPS, though, we managed to exit the I-15 and find our hotel for the night, the Excalibur. This taste of “Merry Olde England” is like Disney’s the Magic Kingdom on crack. It was huge: the parking lot could fit more cars than exist in our whole town of Green River, and we had no idea where we were supposed to go. So Doug pulled off to the side and I jumped out to try and find hotel registration. Entering the building I have to admit I fought a panic attack. It was dark, smoky, and the ring of slot machines echoed off the walls. I stayed focused, though, and made my way to the registration desk. Clutching our room keys and reciting my parking directions like a mantra, I plunked back into the Mini and took a deep breath.
Doug and I found parking and then wrestled our bags into the building. In Vegas, you have to walk through the hotels’ casinos to get anywhere, so we pulled our suitcases between rows of one-armed bandits (slot machines), trying to home in on the elevators. Up, up, up and we were in the silence and safety of our very nicely appointed tower room.
While my first instinct was to curl up in a ball and rock back and forth, I summoned my strength and we went to collect our welcome drinks, play the penny slots for an hour or so, and then go to our dinner show, The Tournament of Kings.
It was a blast and smoke-free, since it’s considered a restaurant (and family-friendly). We sat in the ‘Dragon’ session and cheered for the bad guy who kills King Arthur and booed for all the other kings: Russia, Norway, Spain, Ireland and so on. The best part, as Doug demonstrates below, is that we didn’t have any utensils to eat our Dragon’s blood soup (tomato), pheasant (chicken), or dessert. We even got to drink out of tankards and sing drinking songs while we imbibed our Pepsi products. Doug’s only problem is that he’s allergic to horses and had forgotten to take Merlin’s magic pill (Claritin)… atchoo!
After the show we decided to explore The Strip a bit, and wandered down to the Luxor where ancient Egypt has been re-created, and then to the Mandalay Bay, a posh hotel where our martinis cost $12 a pop (tip: in Vegas you can get 4-star rooms for dirt cheap, but they nickel and dime you everywhere: like no coffee in the rooms – so you pay $4 in the in-house Starbucks). Luckily Doug managed to cover the drinks with his blackjack winnings…
We got to sleep early the first night because I wanted to be in top form for shopping at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets: 150 stores full of deals waiting for me! A much better gamble than the slots, in my opinion, and I was right. I’m glad we got there early – by 2pm it was overrun by people and the line-ups were snaking all over the place.
It was time to check in to our second hotel, New York New York, anyway, so off we went. I immediately liked NY NY better than Excalibur in terms of layout and adult-orientation. It was also less smoky and noisy, and they’ve tried to re-create a little NYC neighbourhood with shops, restaurants, and bars.
We decided to eat at the hotel’s laid-back restaurant, America, and Doug got one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. My veggie club was good too, but I kept ‘helping’ him out. Then I screwed up my courage and we hit the $5 blackjack table. I had decided pretty early on that I didn’t like the slots – sitting there pushing a button endlessly didn’t appeal – and after watching Doug play and practicing on a 25 cent video terminal, I felt ready to give it a go. I was also feeling pretty lucky after scoring a pair of knee-high black leather boots for $56 at the outlets!
My beginner’s luck didn’t fail me and at the NY NY casino I won about $80 at blackjack. Then we decided to wander up the Strip toward the more European casinos: Paris (where Doug lost a chunk of cash at the Caribbean Stud table) and then on to the Monte Carlo, where I won another $50.
By midnight it was back to the America restaurant where I sprung for a banana split for Doug and I to share.
The next day involved a long nap (even when I go to bed at the witching hour I’m up at 6am – so I end up feeling pretty witchy…). I also managed to lose all my winnings plus some by noon but then was back at even a little later. That evening we headed across the street to the massive MGM Grand hotel and casino in search of our ‘big meal out’ (i.e. fancy, pricy fare). We were aiming for seafood and there were several options, but when we spotted a happy hour at the Sea Blue where pints of Fat Tire were $2 and oysters and jumbo shrimp were $1 a pop, we abandoned the plan and stuffed our faces for $25. We also met some lovely people at the bar including a harpist from Hamilton, Ontario named Alyssa who had just released her first CDs.

At 7:30pm we wandered back to NY NY and rounded out our meal with pretzels and ice cream. Not a vegetable in sight, but that’s Vegas. Then we headed to bed early after setting our alarm for 3:30am to make our flight to Edmonton Wednesday morning…

The Luxury and the Misery

After Doug suffered through two gruelling weeks of being out at various rigs (we figured he slept at home 3 nights out of 14), I whisked him off on a trip to Jackson Hole in northwestern Wyoming and Teton Valley in eastern Idaho.

On Friday the 7th we headed up to Pinedale with a friend of ours, Andria, and her two dogs, Belle and Chase. It was a beautiful, sunny day and perfect for the day hike we had planned in the gorgeous Wind River Mountains (a range within the Rockies). After trying to figure out which trailhead to start from, we ended up on the Pole Creek Trail that leaves from Elkhart Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It’s a popular trail with day-trippers like us and backcountry campers, so we weren’t worried about bears, just about slipping in the poop left behind by the numerous Llamas being used as pack animals for campers.

After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at this picturesque overlook. Andria was kind enough to share her gourmet lunch fixings like pine nut hummus, wasa crackers, and peaches. I had a generous hunk of white chocolate/lemon/mint bread from the farmer’s market that I contributed and we feasted like kings. Then we headed back to the trailhead where Andria embarked on her two hour drive back home with a Llama poo-covered dog (why do dogs enjoy rolling in excrement?) and Doug and I booted it north to the swanky mountain town of Jackson, where our B&B; awaited us.

Jackson is an incredibly expensive place to live and play, and July-August is peak season. Doug and I don’t mind paying a little extra for a special experience, but in a place like Jackson the Best Western costs you $230/night and the nicer places can run $400-$500/night. Luckily I’ve got some experience hunting up deals and found us the most amazing place to stay at a 40% discount because we squeezed into a one-night spot between reservations. I had high expectations for The Bentwood Inn after poring over the website and it did not disappoint.

We arrived at 5pm pretty grubby after our hike, but the co-manager, Peter, welcomed us warmly and gave us a quick tour of the Great Room (above), the breakfast area (home-baked chocolate chip cookies available 24/7), and showed us to our lovely room (below) complete with Scandinavian Inglenook bed, jetted tub, private balcony, and gas fireplace. After we cleaned up, we enjoyed their nightly wine (imported from the Republic of Georgia) and cheese (and fruit, and crackers…) in the Great Room while chatting with the other guests.

After some discussion about dinner options, we decided to go to the Snake River Brewing Co. in Jackson, which I’d heard had some great microbrews. It was packed full of outdoorsy-people but it didn’t take long for them to find us a table. By then we’d already grabbed a Zonker Stout (Doug) and a Hoback Hefeweizen (me). Then we had to decide what food would complement our ales. Doug picked a unique pizza: bbq sauce, grilled peaches, italian sausage, and goat cheese. Once he was able to shift his “pizza paradigm” he enjoyed it quite a bit. I had their award-winning buffalo chili and a chunk of corn bread. Delicious!

I could see Doug starting to come back to life after his exhausting stint in the field. After a 10-hour sleep in the cozy room and an incredible three-course breakfast replete with what I have dubbed Beavertail Coffeecake and a sundried tomato and goat cheese omelet, we were ready to head out into the wilderness and rough it for a couple of days.

First we had to decide where we were going. The original plan was to go to the Alaska Basin on the western edge of Grand Teton National Park for a one-nighter and then to Yellowstone National Park for a two nighter at the end of our trip, but I had glimpsed in the local newspaper that Yellowstone was in the midst of its busiest season in decades: 900,000 people in July alone. There was also major road construction going on that was causing long delays. We both agreed that we did not feel like dealing with those hassles during our relaxing getaway.
So we changed things up. We drove the mountain pass through to the Teton Valley – formerly known as Pierre’s Hole – on the Idaho side. Then we went north of Driggs along a one-lane dirt road into the Targhee-Caribou National Forest where we parked and embarked on what we hoped to be our first successful overnight backpacking trip to Green Lake.
The hike started well enough. We knew there was a good chance of rain and that it was going to be chilly in this alpine region, but we felt we were prepared. Lugging our bags up the steady incline was challenging, but we were well-rested, well-fed and in good spirits. We enjoyed the views, the beautiful alpine meadows, and chatted amiably with the sparse groups of folks we encountered.
Then the drizzle started. No problem, we though, just a scotch mist. Then it started coming down harder, turning the dirt path into a muddy stream and coating the wildflowers so that brushing up against them soaked our pants nearly up to our waists. Then the rain turned to freezing rain, then to hail, then to wet snow. By the time our three-hour, 2000-ft climb ended at Green Lake, I was so cold, wet and tired that I didn’t even bother to rock-hop across a stream: I just waded through it. My boots were soaked anyways!
We set up camp as quickly as possible in the cold rain, struggling because our fingers were numb. Then we ditched our wet clothes under the rainfly, towelled off as best we could and piled on whatever dry clothes we had before bundling into our sleeping bags. It was about 3pm but Doug passed out for two hours. I was too cold to sleep so tried my best to distract myself with M&Ms; and a book I’d brought along, Jenny of the Tetons.
It was an appropriate book, set in the 1870s in the Teton Mountains. And I felt silly about putting myself through potential hypothermia and privation on purpose when Jenny, Beaver Dick Leigh and their family had to deal with it for survival. In any event, I finished the book by the time Doug had woken up and the rain had abated. It was time to venture forth to make a fire and dinner but our boots were still soaked so Doug fashioned himself some ziplock booties and I wrapped my dry socks as best I could with tied-up garbage bag pieces and we gingerly put the boots back on.
Then we went in search of dry wood (quite the feat) to make a fire in an attempt to dry our clothes. The next step was to try and light it, but while our matches were waterproof the boxes (and strike pads) were not. After finally striking them successfully, then the toilet paper did not want to catch. In desperation, I started ripping non-essential pages from Jenny of the Tetons, which lit beautifully. I figured a Shoshone woman and a pioneer woman would both encourage the action. The fire didn’t manage to dry our clothes despite our best efforts, but its warmth and cheeriness dispelled some of our gloom. As did our freeze-dried Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with lots of hot sauce.
It started raining again during the night, water pooling on the rain fly and dripping into the tent. It was perhaps the coldest night I’ve ever spent, and the next morning we awoke to hail around the tent and a light coating of snow on the ridge above Green Lake. We broke camp as quickly as possible, scarfing a granola bar for breakfast. We knew that as soon as we got dressed and got out we would need to start moving to stay warm. I put on as many top layers as possible: t-shirt, hoodie, fleece, rain jacket. Our only dry bottoms were shorts, though, which in the end we decided might be better in the sodden meadows anyway.

We power-marched it back to the Element, fantasizing aloud about dry shoes, clothes, and the warm bed we’d be sleeping in that night at the Grand Targhee Ski Resort, but all the while trying not to kill ourselves in the muddy mess that had been the trail.

After catching our breath in Ellie, enjoying the feel of warmth and eating a lunch of jalapeno-cheddar bread, buffalo sausage, and chocolate pudding, we left the woods.
But the adventure was only half over…

Oystergrass and Bear River

Nothing says summer like an outdoor music festival, so when I heard there was a FREE one nearby some friends and I piled into a car and headed out for the afternoon. The Oyster Ridge Music Festival (known by those in the know as Oystergrass) is a three-day annual festival in Kemmerer, WY that brings together a variety of musicians, but mostly in the bluegrass, folk, and rock genres. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the official beer provider was the New Belgium brewery out of Fort Collins, CO.

Julie, Kaylee, and I enjoying the sun and tunes.
We went Saturday, Aug 1st for the afternoon line-up. The first band, Mike Mangione and The Band, was fantastic and is the reason I enjoy music festivals: here was a group of musicians who write their own songs, incorporate a variety of instruments (cello! violin!) and have a great stage presence but aren’t widely known yet. It’s not often I buy CDs these days, but I went right up to the merchandise tent after their set and snapped one up (called Tenebrae – you can also get the songs through itunes). I can also say that we chatted with Mike and the bass player, John, and both were incredibly down-to-earth.
We also caught Sweet Sunny South, an old timey bluegrass band, and Town Mountain, a more modern bluegrass group. We really enjoyed that music as well and it provided a great ambience for chowing down on burgers and fries and checking out the vendors’ wares.
A couple of days later I hit the road again, this time with Riker, to load up on freeze-dried food at REI in Salt Lake City for our camping trips, do some outlet shopping in Park City, and check out Bear River State Park near Evanston, WY. I’d passed the park on several occasions driving along the I-80 to and from Salt Lake, but never had the chance to stop. Its main feature is a captive herd of bison and elk that people can look at, but it also has paved pathways along the Bear River with picnic spots.
It was all a little too groomed and civilized for me and Riker, so we went tramping through the woods on little game trails and waded along the river. Along the way I startled this snake sunning itself on the warm river rocks.

After a long and busy day, my co-pilot conked out on me. Riker still believes he can fit in the front seat and insists on squishing in there, even though he has the whole back of Ellie to curl up in (including his orthopedic bed laid out back there). As Doug says, he’s a bit of a momma’s boy.

I think he just doesn’t want to miss out on any possible people snacks…

Colorado, When Can I See You Again?

On Monday, July 13th, Doug had to go to Denver for two days of oral exams to move from the training/apprenticeship stage of his job to full-fledged Field Engineer status. The company would have paid for his flights, but we got the go-ahead to drive there instead (only 5 hours) and so set off around noon from Green River, WY on the I-80 eastbound and then headed south at Laramie for the more scenic drive down to Denver through Fort Collins.

The company had us (and the other candidates) set up in the downtown Sheraton, smack dab on the 16th Street Mall, an open-air pedestrian mall that stretches for over a mile. We were on the 16th floor (lucky number?) with this incredible view of the downtown core and the Rockies beyond. Our first day in town, Doug had a full day of interviews so after we had breakfast at the Delectable Egg I went for some much-needed pampering at the Body Massage Wellness Spa a few blocks from the hotel, then grabbed some lunch at Cook’s Fresh Market, a gourmet deli/grocery store, before heading out to my hair appointment (more pampering!) at Shear Productions. Then I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to another, stopping in at some of the stores for some air conditioning and big city fashion.
Doug had told me he was to have dinner with the company people, so I took myself to Earl’s upstairs patio for mojitos, food, and people watching. Soon afterwards, though, Doug called me to let me know his group were headed my way, so I saved tables and got to meet some of the other folks.
The next morning Doug had his final round of chats and a wrap-up session, so I decided to hit the streets while it was still cool for some exploring. Right around the corner from the hotel are most of Denver’s museums, art galleries, and civic buildings. They weren’t open yet, though, so I didn’t make it inside but I fully plan to check out the Colorado History Museum, Denver Public Library, the Molly Brown House Museum, and the haunted Brown Palace Hotel on my next trip to Denver.
I did make it to one museum, though, the Black American West Museum, about a 30-minute walk from the hotel. It’s off the beaten tourist track in the Five Points neighbourhood, often called the “Harlem of the West” because of its proliferation of jazz clubs in the 1920s-1940s where Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington played before integrated audiences. Now it’s got a more hispanic flavour, but the museum is a testament to the neighbourhood’s, Denver’s and the West’s Black past. It’s housed in the former residence of Dr. Justina Ford and gives a great overview not only of Denver’s first Black doctor, but also Buffalo Soldiers, Black cowboys and settlers in the West, and the utopian Black colony of Dearfield, Colorado. This is an area of history not often taught and my knowledge is sorely lacking. My visit was very enjoyable and I picked up a copy of Charlene Porter’s historic novel, Boldfaced Lies, about race relations, the KKK, and identity in Colorado which I can’t wait to read.
That afternoon Doug slept while I enjoyed the roof-top pool and then we headed out for dinner at Ling & Louie’s, where the spring rolls are divine and they serve up cool twists on classic cocktails like the Ginger Cooler (sake, ginger beer, lemon and lime and crushed mint). After walking off our considerable dinner by heading over to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in trendy LoDo (Lower Downtown), we went for dessert at The Cheesecake Factory where they have 20+ different kinds of cheesecake on the menu. Yum!!
The next morning, our final foodie stop was for breakfast at Sam’s No. 3 restaurant, which has been around since the 1920s. If you’re ever in Denver, you need to stop here: their early-bird (before 10am) specials are around $4 and you will get enough food to last you to lunch and beyond! Then we packed our stuff into the Mini and got on the I-70 west for a four-hour drive through the Rocky Mountains past all those ritzy ski areas of Golden, Vail, and Aspen and into the wine and fruit-growing region of The Palisades, just east of Grand Junction. There we bought a couple of the juiciest peaches ever from a road-side vendor, and sampled wines at the Grand River winery.
By this time, it was 5 p.m. and the car’s thermometer said it was 38 degrees celsius. The original plan was to go to the Colorado National Monument and hike into a primitive camping spot. We were melting standing still, though, so there was no way we were going to load up our packs and head to a lower elevation with higher temps. So we decided to wing it and jumped back in the car, headed north toward Rangely and agreed that when the temperature dropped under 30 degrees we’d start looking for a place to camp (it’s mostly public lands up the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway).
This happened around 6:30pm at Douglas Pass, where the elevation was about 8,000 feet. After climbing a gravel road switchback, we stopped the Mini by a clearing where we startled a mule deer. We walked 10-minutes down to the spot and set up camp right over where the deer had been bedded down.

The view from our tent – and no bugs either!
Colorado is known for its microbrews (not just Coors anymore!) and so we picked up a mixed case of Denver-based Great Divide beers in Grand Junction, which just happened to still be cold when we set up camp. Nothing goes better with freeze-dried curry than a good beer!
Friday morning, after sleeping under a blanket of stars (well, a lot of tossing and turning for me. Were there bears here? I couldn’t remember!) we continued north to Irish Canyon – named for the three Irishmen who robbed a saloon and stopped at this location to consume part of the take – for a little hike. We didn’t go for long, though, as it was high noon and the sun was beating down on us!

Doug, doing his best Spiderman impersonation in Irish Canyon, decided to climb up a sheer rockface and hide from me. As every hiker knows, though, it’s always harder to get down than it is to get up. Don’t worry, I guided him to safety….
After Irish Canyon we drove to Browns Park, a nearby wildlife refuge along the Green River near the borders of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It also has a one-vehicle swing bridge which Doug thought was pretty cool (and so had to drive over).
Then we headed home through Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, with a quick stop in Manila, Utah for sandwich fixings and an ice cream treat. Now Doug’s back at work for the next two weeks and I’m settling into a post-book/new project schedule. But Colorado, you and I will definitely meet again….

Launching Summer

Although I missed my official book launch at the Book & Bean in Green River, WY on June 15th because of car problems, the owner and I decided to schedule a little meet and greet on Saturday, June 20th. I made sucre a la creme (using my aunt Micheline’s recipe) and gave out maple candies to the few folks who came by to chat.

On Wednesday the 24th, possibly the sunniest, warmest day the county had seen so far this summer, I was scheduled to give a talk at the White Mountain Library in Rock Springs. I had my powerpoint slides all set and when I arrived it was a great room with a big screen and ceiling-mounted projector. The weather was not conducive to an indoor event, though, and even with decent local media coverage the turnout was small. It’s quality not quantity that counts, however, and we had a great chat.
The weather was iffy on Friday the 26th when some friends and I set up our booth at Festival in the Park, part of Flaming Gorge Days here in Green River. The day began with torrential rain but tapered off a bit while we put up our sun/rain shelter. Halfway through the afternoon a thunderstorm hit us again and we all huddled together trying to protect our wares. Saturday the weather was much nicer and the Festival was much busier, but we all realized that people were there for sno-cones and Made-in-China souvenirs and were not interested in our artisanal products (my book, hand-made pottery, garden-planning “flower fan,” and broadsheets). As Doug remarked after a few hours of people watching: this is definitely not your target market. I guess I should have known when one of the headlining events was cage fighting.
My friend and booth-mate, Luke, handing out his self-published broadsheet, The Fiddler at Festival in the Park.
So after a tiring few months of deadlines and travelling and a pretty disappointing result from my Wyoming events, I decided to take a week or so off to relax and spend some quality time with Doug and the pets. One of our first orders of business was to head to Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) in Salt Lake City to purchase our camping gear. Then of course we had to go test it out. Which we did July 1st (both Canada Day and Doug’s birthday) at the Popo Agie (pronounced popo-zha) Wilderness Area in the Shoshone National Forest.
We stayed at the Popo Agie Campground, a no-fee, no services grouping of tent sites with very limited vehicle access. We were actually there the first day that section opened (it’s an alpine region so the snow recedes later) and no one else was camped. We loved the seclusion but the mosquitoes were plentiful in all the little snow-melt ponds and chased us out a day early. But we got the chance to test our gear in sun, hail, wind, and heavy rain – all in one 24 hour period! And Riker has decided he loves camping – especially weenie roasts.

Roadside “waterfall” in Shoshone National Forest

We attempted a hike from Christina Lake trailhead, but I hadn’t slept very well (who knew nature was so noisy at night?!) and the bugs were really getting on my nerves. So we called the trip and decided to go home, catch up on rest and regroup. This turned out to be a very good idea as I seemed to come down with a 24-hour bug once I got home and was out of commission yesterday.

This morning I felt great, though, and Doug and I headed for a hike up White Mountain to Pilot Butte (the rock formation behind me). We drove a short ways north to the Wild Horse Loop and then deked onto a track for a few kilometers before getting out and tramping through the sage brush. In the process I startled two pairs of sage grouse which made me screech and just about gave me a heart attack. But we made it and had a great hike, seeing several wild horses, pronghorn antelope, and what I think was a red-tailed hawk.

Riker is loving all this fresh air and exercise. We even bought him his own collapsible “Adventure Dog” bowl for trips. We’ve also discovered that the farther out his tongue hangs, the more tired he is. The tongue in this picture lets me know he will be comotose for the next day! Sure enough, as I write this, he has been passed out at the bottom of the stairs pretty much since we got back four hours ago…

At Pilot Butte there’s a metal ladder to get you to the very top. It’s pretty solid, but still a little nerve wracking.

“Wyoming folks have it better than most”

This was the headline for last week’s Green River Star editorial by Kathy Gilbert and from what’s been going on around the U.S. and the rest of the world, I tend to agree.

Gilbert was writing in response, of course, to the national recession and everything it entails: increased unemployment, reduced drilling for natural gas and oil (Wyoming’s major economic export), and the general sense of doom and gloom. But, Gilbert argues, she and many Wyomingites have had the “privilege of living with a boom-bust economy” for many years, making this less of a shock, perhaps:

“This isn’t new to those of us living in the middle of Wyoming’s huge natural gas reserves. Those of us born here have seen this boom and bust all our lives. It’s something we can count on, almost as surely as the sun rises. But the other thing we can count on is that we will survive. It might be a little harder this time … but we will get through this bust just as we have in the past. There will be some belt-tightening in most households. Some of us may have to forego a planned vacation, but overall, we’ll be fine.”

She also notes that “people in other places are talking about how they are now taking lunch to work instead of eating out. They say their familes used to eat out once or twice a week, but they’re cutting back by not doing that now.” I, for one, have taken lunch to work or school 99% of my life and I rarely go out for food more than once every couple of weeks, not only for financial reasons but because, as many magazines report, it is very hard to keep track of nutritional information and portion sizes at restaurants. Could it be that an interesting by-product of this recession might be a decrease in American obesity and type-II diabetes?

A few lines later Gilbert also writes that “one woman spoke about buying clothing at thrift stores” – something she hadn’t done before. Again, something I’ve been doing for years, especially at fun consignment stores in Vancouver’s rich neighbourhoods (a guarantee for good deals on chichi clothes). As a full-time student for six years living on my own, I learned to find sales, clip coupons, and enjoy used book stores. The hunt is half the fun!

While there are certainly those who have watched their pennies, worked hard and still lost their jobs and homes, it appears from media accounts (and the rumour mill) that many people lived the “Fat Cat” lifestyle during the boom times of this decade. Their overspending, undersaving, and general “I want it now but don’t want to pay for it until later” mentality has led to a large number of foreclosures and reposessions.
It may very well be that students used to scrimping, delayed gratification, and peanut butter and jam sandwiches have it better than most!

Not a resolution

If you’ve looked at the newsstands lately you probably noticed that just about every women’s magazine (and quite a few men’s) feature New Year’s Resolutions. “Half her size!” One of them exclaims. “This is the year you reach your goals!” Another promises.

I personally don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. In my experience, guilt-fuelled vows made after a night of too much drinking (and a month of too much eating, spending, etc) often aren’t backed up with much commitment. But maybe that’s why it’s the people who celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s on January 1st who make resolutions. We are all in serious need of detox by then.

When I was 18 years old I took a yoga class. I had just gotten over a horrible case of mononucleosis and I was weak, stiff, and feeling completely non-physical. So I took this gentle yoga class at the local recreation centre to try and ease myself back into the land of the living. At the end of every class, our instructor would take us through guided meditation. She would ask us to focus on our breath and try and clear our minds. This was tricky for me -my mind is always going a mile-a-minute – and the first time I got really frustrated with myself.

Then she said something revolutionary: every time you stop focusing on your breathing and find thoughts cluttering up your mind, acknowledge it, and then return to meditation. No guilt. No failure. Just awareness, forgiveness, and re-committal.
A week ago I found my thoughts wandering and my breathing shallow, in a sense. I wasn’t being as mindful of my health as I had promised to myself. Instead of getting angry, feeling guilty, or giving up and giving in to the all-you-can-eat IHOP gorgefest (it exists!) I sat with my awareness. Then I bought a rec centre membership, went to a couple of fitness classes this week, and began tracking my nutrition more closely.

One of the reasons I think so many people give up on New Year’s Resolutions – or any commitment to themselves – is that the second they slip-up they feel guilty. They think they’ve failed. As that yoga instructor would remind us, we’re only human and we’re bound to get off-course on our road to enlightenment, healthy living, or any other type of goal. Instead of beating ourselves up about it, why not accept the moment and resume our journey?
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.