Tag Archives: #covid19 #pandemic #Colorado #mountainmama

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

Into the Woods—a place for contemplation and renewal

The mountains are calling, and I must go. John Muir

Across the street and behind the houses on the other side of my Upstate New York home was a wooded area. I remember it as a mountain . I am sure it would not look so imposing  if I viewed it now from my adult eyes 

On many a summer day I would take a path to the right of the Douglass’s home and head into the oaks and maples. I would sit on logs and imagine myself as Heidi or Lcittle Red Riding Hood.

This was a lone adventure. Although we were perfectly situated between the shores of Lake Champlain and Adirondack Mountains, our family never headed for the woods. 

When my parents purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay, I replaced the trips to the woods with walks to The Point, an area about a quarter of a mile from our cottage that offered views of Lake Champlain and Burlington, Vermont. It was my get-away, my place to sit and think and deal with teenage angst.Even as a adult, I viewed The Point as one of my favorite places. I shared it with friends and, of course, Larry the first time he visited me in the summer of 1973. 

And then I finished college and married and started a family. Larry and I purchased a home with a private, wooded backyard. We biked along quiet country roads in Saratoga County. We took occasional short hikes into  the woods in Lake George or Vermont or Williamstown in the fall. But I felt that I had lost touch with the woods, with the mountains.

That all changed in 2003. Our daughter Julie moved out to Colorado after graduation  from college She took a “one-year” job as an environmental education teacher two hours west of Denver and in the middle of the Rockies. 

Julie soon fell in love with Colorado, the mountains, and Sam, not necessarily in that order. On our first visit in June 2004, she took us on easy hikes in Eagle and Summit Counties. By the following summer, Sam and she were trusting us to accompany them on longer, more challenging heights.

As our hikes became longer, so did the length and frequency of our visits to the mountains. Julie and Sam completed grad school degrees, got married, found jobs, and bought a house in Frisco, elevation 9096 or 9097 feet above sea level, depending on which tee shirt you purchased. In anticipation of the birth of our granddaughter in the summer 2015, we rented a place for several weeks, a tradition we have continued every year.

Frisco, located in Summit County, is amazing in the summer—once it stops snowing! This year a long hard winter gratefully came to an end June 21.Even my then three-year-old granddaughter had had enough. “I’m so over winter,” she said. “I am ready for summer and my birthday!”

When we arrived June 30, the still-snow topped mountains had already exploded in shades of green Our first hike was to Rainbow Lake, only a mile up an easy trail near Julie’s home. As we got more acclimated to the altitude, we hiked such colorfully named trails as Lily Pad Lake, Shrine Pass, McCulloughs’ Gulch, and Cataract Lake.  Creeks churned through meadows and fields. Columbines and wild roses and cone flowers peaked out between fallen logs and rocks on trails that led to waterfalls and lakes and vistas that took my breath away.

We often share the trails with both locals and others who have found, like us, that it doesn’t get much better than a beautiful summer’s day in the Rockies. We pack water and a snack and find a spot in the middle of the hike just to sit and take in our surroundings. 

Larry has found a pickleball league in Summit County (“We Play with an Altitude!”), and several days a week he heads out the courts. On those days, I get ready for my alone time to Rainbow Lake. 

I apply the only “make-up” I need, liberal amounts of sun screen. I put on my hiking clothes and lace up my boots, fill a small backpack with water, bug spray, dog treats and poop bags. I then pick up our granddog Neva, and we head up a trail to Rainbow Lake. Neva pauses frequently to sniff at her “pee mail” and to check out a squirrel or magpie. I savor the beauty surrounding me—the columbine growing from a dead trunk, the sunlight reflecting through the aspens, logs stretching over a small stream.

Once we get to Rainbow Lake, I let Neva off her leash and toss a stick into the lake. After a few dog paddles into the chilly water, Neva settles down next to me on my favorite rock. A beaver paddles away from its lodge and few ducks swim across the still water with its reflection of trees and mountains. A woodpecker hammers away on the bark of a pine tree. 

Images of Heidi have been replaced with images of Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Ridge Trail or Bill Bryson on the Appalachian Trail. It is my time. I am grateful to G-d for the opportunities open to me in the mountains and for the health to enjoy it. I am at peace. I am back to my Adirondack roots.

Marilyn and Neva at Rainbow Lake July 2019

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the July 25, 2019, issue.