Monthly Archives: October 2021

Mountain Mamas!!

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman 

The path of destruction created by COVID-19 is well-known: disrupted lives, cancelled events, shuttered businesses, on-line learning, short and long term illness, and, most tragically, over 700,000 deaths in the United States alone. But one of the positives I have seen again and again is what is known in Judaism as a kehillah kadoshah, a time when a community “circles the wagons” in order to support each other during a time of great need. I found this holy expression of compassion and caring exemplified seen in the story of a unique gift shop located in a small town in the Rockies.

On one of our FaceTime calls early in the pandemic, I commented to my daughter Julie that I loved her sweatshirt, a slate grey hoodie with a bright psychedelic mountain design and the words “Mountain Mama”emblazoned on it. When I asked where she got it, she told me Sunny Side Up, a popular local business, was selling them online as a way to stay afloat during the government-mandated shutdown. I ordered one for myself the next day. I enjoyed wearing my new top with leggings or yoga pants during Florida’s winter and felt good about supporting one of my favorite shops in Julie’s ‘Rocky Mountain 9100 Feet High’ community two hours west of Denver. Eighteen months later, Larry and I were finally able to fly out to Frisco to a summer rental. On my second day there, I donned my“Mountain Mama,” sweatshirt and headed down to Sunny Side Up to meet the owner in person and learn more about the story of “The Little Sweatshirt That Could.”

Ashlie Barclay Weisel was born and raised in Crown Point, Indiana, a small town 50 miles southeast of Chicago. She and Dan Weisel, high school sweethearts, were married in 2009. After graduation, Dan enlisted in the Air Force. They spent their next four years in Germany, where Ash was smitten by the mountains, the small picturesque towns and the quaint architecture. Ash also loved the opportunity and freedom their time overseas offered to her. “I could pull out my sketch book and create free-flowing fun designs wherever I was,” said Ash, “whether it be besides a flowing stream or on an airplane.”

When they returned to the States, Dan enrolled in University of Colorado at Boulder. Ash continued doing free lance illustration and setting up her happy art around art festivals in Colorado. She loved and followed the brand, Be Hippy, and started designing for them after meeting them at a festival in Keystone.

Two years later, confidence boosted by her success in with the Denver-based store, Ash decided to venture out on her own. On an anniversary trip , Ash and Dan stopped in Frisco, Colorado, and Ash immediately was reminded of towns they had visited in Germany. Ash split her time between Summit County and their home near Denver. Soon after, Dan, who now is employed as a state patrol officer, had a job transfer to Frisco. Ash began working for the art district in Breckenridge .

When space for a store opened up in 2018, Ash and Dan jumped at the chance to open her own business. As Ash’s personal art studio in Germany was on the second floor with a sunny terrace attached, Ash named her business Sunny Side Up. She had found a home for her art and her positive outlook on life, where she could “sell happiness.”

A bright, breezy space with a definite ‘hippy’ vibe, the store displayed Ash’s own original art work and offered tables for people to relax and create their own art projects supplemented by store’s supplies and inspiration. By summer of 2019 the business had been successful enough for Ash and Dan to open up a second location in nearby Breckinridge. 

Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 struck. Governor Jared Polis announced that all non-essential businesses were to close. Ash was forced to give up the Breckinridge store. Meanwhile, Ash and Dan had to find a way operate a business that had no customers.

Initially, Ash established an “honesty shop,” where she set up her tee-shirts, mugs, and affirmation posters in front of the store. She provided envelopes so people could slip the money for the purchases under the door.

Just before the pandemic, Ash had designed a sweatshirt that she felt captured the spirit of women who lived in the Rockies. Her Mountain Mama had “a different grit about her,” Ash later wrote. “She is raw and authentic and her soul is complete with mountains.” 

With hundreds sitting unsold because of the shutdown, she decided to cut the price and sell them on line to keep her store afloat. Cayla, her co-worker, along with friends, hand delivered the orders to local customers. Through word of mouth and Mountain Mama sightings, sales grew as more and more women, stuck at home, donned Ash’s creation over their sweatpants. Before she knew it, Ash had sold 200 of her tops. 

“Everyone just flocked to them,” said Ash. “The sweatshirt really became a symbol of hope and unity in our little mountain town.”

Women began posting pictures on social media of themselves in tops as a statement of solidarity in tough times. Shannon Bosgraaf, a local realtor, met Ash when she picked up her purchase on the business woman’s front porch. She photo shopped dozens of the individual pictures into one huge poster with the logo ‘Mountain Mamas: Stronger Together!’

“The community of women became super excited to show off their support, and it gave us all a focus on something bigger than ourselves,” said Shannon. 

In April 2020, Denver’s 9News picked up the story, and sales went through the roof.  “A lot of people are calling it their quarantine uniform,” Ash said in the televised interview. “The demand is so high we have had people all over the nation say they want them.”

To date, Ash has sold over 2000 Mountain Mama and its Mountain Chick spinoff sweatshirts. Ash replicated the design on tee-shirts and hats, which were sold in the store once the pandemic shutdown ended. When I visited the store this past summer, the place was buzzing with people purchasing Ash’s designs, including several variations of the Mountain Mama theme.

Ash is now moving Sunny Side Up in a new direction. She is closing the working studio section of her store and using the space to sell more of her own creations in clothing and accessories. Although the original Mountain Mama trademark design, Ash is working on a new design. The legend of “The Little Sweatshirt That Could,” however, lives on.

“When I see someone today with the sweatshirt, it reminds me of that pure joy that we together as a community did that,” Bosgraaf said. “Ash’s s amazing inspiration and art will continue.”

Ash Weisel and her daughter Rhein, her “greatest inspiration to continue creating, “in front of her studio in Frisco, Colorado

Bye bye Boomer? Who shall live and who shall die?

Was it time for us to retire Boomer to that Stuffed Bear Den in the Sky?

A couple of days after our son was born, my husband Larry came to the hospital with a huge brown teddy bear, his first gift to Adam. We named the stuffy “Boomer,” the moniker we had given to my ever expanding stomach during my pregnancy as well as a salute to our Baby Boomer status. 

Boomer occupied a place in Adam’s room in our family home through nursery school and beyond When the shiny nose fell off, I sewed on another one with black yarn. When the paws got torn up after too many rides on Adam’s Big Wheels, I covered up the bear’s bare spots with yellow felt patches. On Adam’s first day of kindergarten, we took a picture of Adam holding on to his bear before boarding the school bus.

By his bar mitzvah, Adam relegated Boomer to the top shelf in his bedroom. When Adam headed off to the University of Rochester in 1996, he left his companion behind. [Three years later, our daughter Julie brought her lovey Rerun with her to college. It now has a place of honor on her daughter’s bed.]. We put the brown bear on the pillow on Adam’s bed in the quiet, empty, amazingly clean room. Boomer waited patiently through Adam’s grad school and first jobs and trips across country and to Israel and Belize and law school. Alas, Adam never sent for him. 

When we packed up to move to Florida, I sent texts to our children with pictures of the things they left behind with the simple request: “Toss or send to you?” Adam claimed his Star Wars action figures, Zayde Ernie’s World War II helmet, and a couple of framed pictures. Boomer got a thumbs down.

In the end, Larry and I loved Boomer more than Adam did. Larry and I didn’t have the heart to throw Boomer in the trash. After some discussion, we carted him to Kissimmee, where he earned a spot on a bookshelf with our other cherished tchotchkes: Larry’s Otto the Orange mascot, a plush toy I had given him one Chanukah that played the Syracuse University’s marching song when we squeezed his hand. My two 7 inch high dolls in Mexican attire my father had purchased for me at a gift shop in Montreal’s Chinatown after wontons and fortune cookies at the Nan King restaurant; Julie’s doll with the green dress and matching bonnet that had prompted our then-fourteen month old daughter’s first complete sentence on the way back from a shopping trip to buy her a bed: “Oh-oh! Left Baby Bobbie on mattress at Macy’s,” she cried behind me from her car seat. “Go Back!”

I thought Boomer would find his way back home to Adam when our son’s wife Sarah delivered their own little Boomer in 2020. My hopes that I could pack him up in a box and ship him to California were quickly dashed. “I really don’t want it,” Adam told me. “And after 42 years, goodness knows what germs live in that toy! Toss it!”

Taking a good look at Boomer, I almost had to agree with Adam. I took pride in the fact that the black nose and yellow felt paws and feet I had sewn on over forty years ago were still intact. After too many years dealing with Florida humidity, however, the poor stuffed animal was definitely worse for wear.His now graying stuffing was peeking out of his right leg and exploding out of a side seam. His head wobbled, held onto the body with unraveling brown thread. His “fur” had begun to resemble that of a mangy dog. Still, we put him back on the shelf.

Eighteen months later, Boomer’s future was again jeopardy. Larry and I had managed to fit all that was needed for a seven week trip to visit our children in California and Colorado in two medium sized suitcases. If we had survived all summer with so little, why were our closets and drawers still packed with all the clothes we hadn’t bothered to bring?

It wasn’t just the clothes. Despite our purge when we made the move to Florida from Upstate New York in 2015, we (especially me) had somehow again acquired too much stuff. A kitchen full of housewares. Closets filled with unworn clothing. Old books that I was finally going to read while sheltering in place. A two-foot stack of nearly untouched New Yorker magazines. I was ready for a “pandemic purge.” The day before Rosh HaShanah, while looking in my closet to find an outfit for services, I found two dresses that I had not worn in three years. I threw them onto the guest bed. I followed them up with more items to recycle—clothes, linens, books, heavy sweaters I had saved “just in case.” By Yom Kippur, the pile covered the entire double bed. It was a new year, a new start.

But some things were non-recyclable, including a tattered teddy. “Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to Boomer,” I said to Larry. 

“No way!” he cried. “Besides, we need to keep him at least until our grandson is able to come to Florida to visit. He has to meet Boomer.”

Larry was right. The idea of putting Boomer into the trash broke both our hearts. I took out my sewing kit, pushed the stuffing back into worn cloth, and stitched him up. We called Adam and Sarah and asked them to mail us a couple of our grandson’s outgrown tee-shirts to cover up all the stitches. And then  Boomer will resume his special place on our shelf. Yes, in the end, we couldn’t—forgive the pun—bear to part with him. 

Boomer at 43.