Monday, January 16, 2017

Here's to a Knowledgeable New Year

Just before the new year rolled around I came across an article that boasted how you could learn new skills in an afternoon. Of course I was curious. Who wouldn't want to learn something new and at such an accelerated pace? After the initial excitement of "something new" wore off I continued to read the article and laugh at myself for falling for such a scam. Sure you could learn any of the skills but not in ONE afternoon and not for free. Sadly this article had me hooked on the idea that I needed to learn something new and learn it RIGHT NOW.  Since none of their suggestions were going to get me there I searched for a place that would help feed the need. https://alison.com/learn/ was the answer I was looking for. This site states that it has 750 online courses in various subjects, some that you can even print out a diploma or certificate of completion when you've successfully finished the course. Some of these courses even come from prestigious schools such as Harvard and Yale. The one drawback, some of the information is old. That sounds silly because most information is old but in the age of technology it's tough to take a course using a specific software. For example, if you're using Photoshop and the material is ten years old, the info is old. Still usable but recent updates may make it difficult to follow along. Either way I'm going to attempt to work my way through some of the more interesting sounding courses. Data Analysis and Typing aren't high on the list, but I look forward to learning French and Carpentry among others. I'll keep you posted on how many diplomas I print out throughout the year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Whipping My Way into the New Year

2016 was filled with adventure and lots of fun. It's hard to sit here and think of one new thing I tried that I didn't like. Perhaps trying to brush the beagle's teeth with an electric toothbrush would land on the list of things I tried but will never attempt again, but that's about it. Hopefully 2017 will be just as adventurous and fun.
It only seems fitting to share a few of my favourite things from 2016.  First up is meringue. I had never attempted to make meringue before in my life and was completely intimidated. It looks really difficult and on top of that, people who already know how to make meringue do their utmost to make it seem like an impossible task.  You know the type, they try to make something seem incredibly difficult simply so you'll sing them praises. For all we know those people buy it at the store and pretend they made it themselves. Anywho, I'm here to tell you that as long as you have an electric mixer there's absolutely zero difficulty involved. I'm so glad I decided to not be intimidated by meringue because it turned out to be one of the most successful Christmas "cookies" I've ever made.
Here is the link to the recipe that I decided to try. I ended up having to make this twice because the first time I around I forgot to put in the powdered sugar. WHOOPS! Except it didn't make that much of a difference.  The second time around I did add more lemon though and that did make a difference. Since I wasn't sure I would even be able to make the meringue I didn't want to spend a lot of money on the rest of the materials and I bought the Cake Mate brand disposable piping bags.  I highly recommend you don't bother with them. I think a regular plastic freezer bag would have worked just as well, so maybe spring for a more reputable brand piping bag and tip. In order to put the yellow stripes on the bag I used a chopstick. I simply coated the stick in the gel colouring and drug it up the sides of the bag and it worked really well. Just a word of warning these are highly addictive. Now that I'm no longer intimidated by making meringue I'll try this same recipe with different flavours. Coconut, lime, raspberry, the possibilities are endless.

The favourite book I read this year, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I've read a lot of very, very good books this year but this one tops anything I've read in quite awhile. I'm not going to go into too much depth on it because it presents itself in a way for you to form your own opinion. Basically it's about the study of animals and how much we don't know.  I was just discussing this book with friends the other day and one brought up the idea that maybe humans are just scared of the thought that we're not the smartest animal on the planet.
One of my favourite things I got was this Lomography Konstruktor 35 mm camera. I put it together myself! Seriously, all on my own and it actually works. Maybe 2017 will bring me my own darkroom so I can have even more fun with this. 
With only four days into the new year I haven't yet compiled a list of things I'd like to try. I know I'll be taking several fun road trips and going on lots of new adventures but as far as meringue and attempting the impossible, I'll have to wait and see what comes my way. 


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Things You Don't Need

A couple of years ago I decided to only buy things if I really need them. The only things I've failed in this decision are socks, books and cameras, but I really NEED them so it doesn't count. Honestly, I don't get much enjoyment out of spending money and I get way less enjoyment cleaning and dusting the junk that was purchased back when I thought I needed to spend money on crap I really didn't need. 
Last week when I went on a shopping trip, for stuff I needed, I came across these fun notepads that look like sticks of butter. A few years ago I would have actually wasted money on them. Mostly because it reminded me of my school days. In college I had to take a Design I and II class and the professors never made it clear what the actual point of the courses were. Design what and what for? So when it came time to build stuff and explain what the purpose of my "product" was I always said, "to hold sticks of butter".  Seriously, if we were going to get ridiculous assignments I was going to give ridiculous results. I always put my best effort into it but looking back I could have had a better attitude about things. Instead of being slightly judgmental towards the professors' teaching methods I should have just asked questions.  I didn't need any butter holders, I needed to be more proactive in my education.  
Something else I realised I didn't need, my Amazon Prime membership. You know what, if I can't wait five days for something to ship to me then I need more patience. Amazon Prime was really nice to have for the last two years but getting stuff in two days just made me more impatient. I used to think getting a pizza in less than 20 minutes was the living end but after eating a pizza that someone spent more time and put more effort into I realised that pizza that took 45 minutes tasted so much better.
You know what else you don't need? Negativity. Sure it sounds like a dorky thing to say but trust me, if you can remove (not literally) one negative person/thing (probably literally) from your life you'll start to see the benefits. Soon you'll stop associating with negative people and you'll find yourself surrounded by positive ones. Those positive people will help you see an entirely new world. 
Something else you don't need, plain tomato soup. Seriously, if you're not putting basil and garlic in your tomato soup you don't know what you're missing. 


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Taos, You're Too Much

After leaving the ski lodge, where no skiing was done, we headed off to Taos, New Mexico.  To say the drive was depressing would be putting it mildly and it wasn't due to the company in the car. It was the landscape around us. The woman at the lodge mentioned to us that she admired the farms of the Midwest because they were so well "groomed". It was hard to believe the land we were driving by was what they use for farming. Every where you looked you could see broken down vehicles, shacks and various other large machinery just abandoned out in the middle of, I'm guessing they call it a field. We weren't sure what was actually growing on this land and we didn't see any livestock so I had to look up what they farm in New Mexico. According to this page we can thank New Mexico for pecans and a few other crops. For being called, The Land of Enchantment, it wasn't very enchanting to look at.
On our way into Taos we drove through the Earthship Biotecture homes. They looked neat but the area surrounding the homes wasn't much to look at. All I could think was, this looks like Mars and if we opened the car windows our eyes would start popping out of our heads like on  the movie Total Recall.
--------I wrote all of that on October 12, 2016 and abandoned it. Why? Because I felt like I only had negative things to write about Taos, NM.  It wasn't as great as we had anticipated but there were a few redeeming qualities, so I'll finish it up now,---
When we first rolled into town we hit the galleries and got something for lunch.  Taos is definitely a tourist hot spot, the downtown area was bustling which kept up the illusion that this was a great place. After we managed to get some lunch, everywhere was crowded, we checked into our hotel. It was very evident that it was going to storm.  I asked the girl at check in how long storms usually lasted around there and she kind of gave me a weird look. She clearly had no knowledge of a Midwest type storm where they can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 25 hours. The sky gave the illusion that the storm was going to be brutal and last for hours. It lasted about 5 minutes and didn't amount to much. Taos should be renamed The Land of Illusions.  While we waited for this heavy storm to roll through we scoured every touristy magazine that they put in the hotel room to find something to do. We struck out with the downtown area so we needed to see some other stuff. We didn't see anything interesting in the magazines and it was seeming hopeless to find something to do. I grabbed my phone and got on Instagram. I searched the hashtag Taos and thank goodness for those helpful tourists that tagged their photos so we could find some places to go. We first tried out the Taos Pueblo. It was quite an adventure just to get there. A dirt road with nothing nearby it felt like we had taken a wrong turn. Once we got there it was closed for some sort of repairs. We left there and went on the hunt for the large pair of glasses. Before we left on our trip we started a board on Pinterest where we pinned things that we thought looked interesting. One of those pins was the large pair of glasses on the side of the road. We found them and much to our surprise it was a whole sculpture garden at the Bareiss Gallery. The gallery wasn't open but we had fun walking around looking at the sculptures that are outside.
Something else we had pinned was the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. We had crossed it on the way into town and didn't think much of it. We figured we'd stop by on the way out of town to check it out. It was just a bridge after all. Since we couldn't find anything else in town we drove back out there and checked it out. I don't really have a fear of heights so this started out as no big deal. Then when I got nearly half way out I stopped and was ready to turn back. Amber was just starting to walk out and she couldn't figure out why I was ready to turn around already. When a large tanker truck drove by she quickly learned why I was ready to turn around. Sure I've been on bridges that shake, even when there aren't cars driving across them, but this bridge was shaking over a VERY long way down. I offered to let her stay out there and I'd head back. Surprisingly she did stay a little longer and took some pictures but we both agreed that a shaky bridge over a very long way down was an uncomfortable place to stay for too long.
Clearly we needed drinks after that experience. Lucky for us the Taos Mesa Brewing Company was just down the road on the way back to town. I ordered beer and nachos and they were both delicious. We sat outside which was very nice. Lots of people with their dogs, the setting sun and the live music was all relaxing after our tough day trying to find something interesting to do in Taos.
Sadly we both agreed that Taos wasn't our favourite place, but we gave it a shot.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

South Fork, CO

The sun setting in South Fork, CO

What's the saying, if you see a fork in the road take it.  Why did we choose South Fork, CO as a destination? Easy, it was in between Glenwood Springs and Taos, New Mexico.  Our goal was to get to Taos and we could have stayed another night in Glenwood Springs but the hotels were all booked or way too expensive.  The logical thing to do was to find a post somewhere in between the two and find a place. This was the scariest part of the trip for me. I don't usually throw a dart at a map and says let's stay there but that's kinda what we did. I've never heard of anyone going to South Fork before so I had no idea what kind of town we were headed to.
Turns out South Fork is a relatively normal, small town that seems to depend mostly on tourism.  We had just missed the Shady Burro Enduro, which is an enduro race through the mountains that's either 100 miles or 75 miles depending on which you sign up for. If you don't know what an enduro is ask your dirt bike riding friends. As we were going into town we could see all of the racers leaving town. Oh well, we were just staying for the night and getting rested for New Mexico.
It was a little obvious that this was a railroad town. In front of our lodge there were several old Santa Fe cars parked.  Seeing the old cars makes me sad that design and style seem to have gone by the wayside.  Sure one doesn't need their train car to look appealing in order for it to get you from point A to point B but still, it's nice to see that someone put in some effort.
Something else right across the street from the lodge was the cutest little church. Turns out the Holy Family Catholic Mission was actually someone's home before they donated it to be turned into a church.
Our main outing in the town was to a restaurant called Ramon's Mexican Restaurant. My friend REALLY likes tacos and she was anxious to try some from the area.  Me, I don't get too worked up about Mexican food. I can get some of the best Mexican food at home. Literally. The one Mexican dish I get worried to try at restaurants are Chile Rellenos. In different regions of Mexico they use different sauces and different chiles, and I'm a little particular about which ones I like. If your relleno isn't made with a poblano pepper then I might not like it. Over the years I've learned not to be too particular about the sauce and in this case I'm lucky I'm not. When it was brought out to me the sauce was pink, no lie it was pink and garnished with an orange. Did I order a fruit cocktail or a chile relleno?  I was brave and tasted it and it was good. Still have no idea why the sauce was pink or what the orange slice was all about but I ate it and I'd eat it again if I had the chance. The margaritas and chips and salsa were really good too. Ramon's did not disappoint. The only disappointing thing about this small town was that everything closed super early.
Apparently there are some good hiking trails in the area as well. Some of the people staying at the same lodge said they were going on a four day hike. If I ever found myself in the area again I would not hesitate to stay a night or two in South Fork, CO. You can read all about South Fork on their website here if you'd like. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Independence Pass

Sorry for the slow updates on the wild west trip but this leg of the adventure needed to be told via pictures. I had about 2,000 pictures to go through. I know, that's a ridiculous amount but I had two cameras and my phone to go through. As much as I'd rather be shooting film I was ever so grateful for digital cameras for this trip. After we left Glenwood Springs, CO we headed southeast towards South Fork, CO.  Amber was feeling adventurous and decided to take Colorado State Highway 82.  When she suggested it I thought, sure whatever, a highway is a highway, right? NO! I'm glad she thought of it and glad we did it so I don't ever have to do it again. I've been on mountain roads before but this one was, we'll just say exhilarating. From nowhere to go but down to snow on the ground, it was quite the ride.
I was the passenger on this scenic highway and I was too busy looking at what was in front of me to notice that it was a long way down and no shoulder. Amber quickly pointed out by shouting, OH MY GOD DON'T LOOK DOWN. Well of course that's exactly what I did. I had no idea we had been driving up a mountain. From this picture you can see we're up higher than the trees and the utility poles.
The mountains don't seem so tall when you're practically on top of one. This highway took us through some small scenic towns and the destination of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, Aspen.  Unfortunately we didn't find Mary Swanson or Samsonite but we did see a ridiculous amount of private jets. Way to leave your carbon footprint all over Colorado you private jet owning a-holes.
Right about the time this picture was taken I thought, this isn't so bad. We're pretty high up but it could be worse, we could be all the way up there. Then I noticed some cars way up there. I pointed up and said, look at those cars up there, surely we're not going up there are we? Yes, that's exactly where we were going.
Zooming in and cropping to help illustrate just how far and high up that tiny two lane highway was. Highway 82 crosses the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. The Great Divide, or the Continental Divide, is where the continent is divided by mountains and water. It begins in Alaska, goes through Canada, back through the US, down to Mexico and eventually ends in Nicaragua. I've crossed this in Mexico on what used to be the Mexican Federal Highway 40 (Carratera Interoceánica) a two lane undivided road that used to take 8 hours from Durango to Mazatlan, now it's been updated and only takes 3 hours. If I had to say which was better or worse I can't really say since I never driven through them, I was the passenger in both instances, but I can only imagine I'd have white knuckles for weeks.

That little line towards the bottom fourth of the picture is the road where we were when I took the previous photo. Independence Pass is in between Aspen and Twin Lakes. The elevation is 12,095 feet. It's the highest elevation of paved highway in the state of Colorado. There are gates that close off this portion of the highway during the winter. That's something I was seriously concerned about.  We normally drive through snow like nothing but where I live there are shoulders along the road for you to pull over if you need to. Forget about getting a flat tire on this highway or running out of gas, or having any kind of swerve room for slick road conditions. There's nowhere to go, it's either down or drive into the the mountain.
 You can see here, this itty bitty guard rail may not have seemed like much but it clearly served its purpose. I didn't want to mention to Amber how beat up the guard rail was as I didn't want to scare her and end up testing the full strength of it. When I later said something she said she did notice but didn't want to say anything either.
Again, the mountains don't seem so tall when you're on top of them. The clouds didn't seem so far away either.
I was excited to see snow. Not sure why, but yay! When we saw the snow we realised how far up we actually were. It also made sense that we were actually kinda cold while up there. It was close to a 15 degree temperature difference from when we started.
Once we went through the snow and said goodbye to Independence Pass we thought the insanity was over. Not even close! You can see the road in the lower right corner.  Up and down and around the mountain we kept going.
At the point when I took this picture I said, surely this is the end, that road down there is where we'll end up and we'll be "on the ground" again.
As we went around the corner and looked up, that line going through the side of the mountain is where we were. We were literally driving on the side of a mountain. This section of the highway was different from the rest. You could smell the water running through the rocks and when traffic slowed way down you could hear and sometimes see it it.  At this point I thought, what kind of crazy person would choose to drive through here? Mother Nature is still cutting her way down through this mountain, at any moment a big chunk of this mountain could decide to sled down itself.  Looking at it again from this picture it seems like no big deal.
From here we can see the water that was trickling down the side of the mountain.
Finally we made it to the end.  All along the highway there were people pulled over, where they could, to go swimming, tubing and whatever else there was available to do in the middle of nowhere. Every now and then we could see cabins/homes. We couldn't believe that someone would choose to live there and have to drive that highway to go into town to get stuff. As much as I'd love to be a hermit and live on a deserted island I'm still realistic in that I know I have to get toothpaste and potato chips from the store.
Up next, South Fork, CO, the Shady Burro and a grocery store that closed before it was dark. Seriously, are there vampires in South Fork?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hanging Lake

If you need to catch up on the first part of the adventure in Glenwood Springs, CO start here then come back and read this. If you don't care about caves and cheeseburgers you should probably just stay here.
After our adventure at the caves, taking a wrong turn and eating the best cheeseburger ever we woke up the next day ready to explore. My friend went to the hot springs. She chose the Iron Mountain Hot Springs over another place because everyone told her the other one was more of a water park.  She had nothing but good things to say about her experience. She merely mentioned the one guy in his budgie smugglers.
My morning was planned for Hanging Lake.  The woman at the hotel warned us to get to the park early as parking is difficult. She recommended 6AM and told me the hike would take 3 hours round trip.  Since my friend was dropping me off parking wasn't going to be an issue for me, but a 3 hour hike!?  What was I getting myself in to? A 3 hour hike at high altitude and it was too late for me to weenie out of it so I promised myself I'd go at least half way.
When my friend dropped me off there was a huge line of cars waiting to park.  Basically what happens is as soon as one car leaves the first in line gets to go park.  You simply have to drive around looking for that one empty spot. There are park employees directing cars the entire time. As soon as I got out of the car I set off down the path that takes you to the trail. It was paved and nice and I thought to myself, this is going to be a piece of cake, it's so nice and paved and well maintained. Uh, NOPE! The first quarter mile kicked my butt, mostly because it was going up and on some pretty rugged terrain and uneven surfaces. Oh and rocks, lots and lots of rocks. Along the way I caught up with a woman who told me she drove for four hours to get there and waited 45 minutes for a parking spot. They initially told her the wait time would be two hours but she really wanted to hike this trail so she waited. That's when I told myself to get to the top no matter what. The tough thing for me was that my friend was picking me back up at a certain time and there's zero phone reception on the trail so time was also a factor for me. After I reached the marker that said I was officially half way there the trail wasn't so bad, but that was me just getting my hopes up that it would be cake the rest of the way. The last quarter mile was what separates the mice from the men or so the saying goes. I'm no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rocks you have to climb are steep. I had to hoist myself up on them to get up over some of them.  There was a short amount of guardrail that gave little sense of security. The highest point is 7,040 feet which makes for a long way to tumble back down the trail. The nice thing was there was a great sense of comradery amongst the hikers. Those who were already on their way down were encouraging those of us who were on our way up. They kept assuring us that it would be worth it when we got to the top. You know, it better be. I wasn't going to let this hike be my Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone's secret vault. There better be something worth it up there. Once I got to the top I was glad that there was in fact something to see and benches so I could sit down and eat my apple and box of raisins. Never did such a lame snack feel so rewarding. Once you got to the lake you could go even further up to Spouting Rock. That path seemed a little more man made and easier to navigate.  The descent down the trail was almost tougher. You would think that going down would be easier but it was pretty steep so you spent the whole way down trying to control your speed.  One kid was going too fast and went face first into a rather large rock. He was fine, a little shook up but he learned his lesson. Once I got to the bottom I looked up and realised what a crazy fun thing I had just done. I was glad I went more than halfway.  It only took me 30 minutes to get to the top.  With a 15 minute rest at the lake the entire hike was just a little over an hour. Not sure where the three hour time was coming from but I read that in several places.  It also said that the hike was the equivalent of climbing 80 flights of stairs. I can't imagine it would take 3 hours to go that far but for some people it might. I also have to mention how shocked I was to see how many people were so ill prepared for such a hike. An older woman in sandals, people with no water and girls in short short shorts. Seriously, if you fall down and scrape your butt it's your own damn fault for not wearing something over it. Unfortunately bad hikers are not a rare breed. If you like hiking check out this short story about a guy who lost his job and took a hike.
After I made it back to the well maintained, flat trail I had time to kill so I painted until my ride came to get me. Once I was in the car we both declared it was time for food. We headed back to the downtown area and ended up at Doc Holliday's Saloon and Restaurant. The food was good, the atmosphere was really cool and the wait staff were really knowledgeable about the history of the building and Doc Holliday.
Up next is our crazy ride up and down the mountainside on our way to South Fork.