Tag Archives: #RockyMountains

Hat Tricks, or All’s Well That Ends Well

“I’m organized. I just can’t find anything.” Saying on CJ Bella Co. Tea Towel

Spending a good part of last summer in Colorado with our six-year-old granddaughter reaped incredibly wonderful moments for my husband Larry and me. The first hugs after a year of seeing her only on Zoom because of the pandemic. Reading her books and playing Candy Land and War and Pete’s Birthday Party. Having her knock on the door of our rental at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning with a newspaper in her hand and her announcement, “I am here for breakfast.” Extending my stay so I was able to join my daughter Julie and son-in-law Sam in walking her to her first day of first grade. I made enough memories to almost sustain me until we can see her again.

What was not incredibly wonderful was keeping track of all the items our six-year-old dynamo left behind. Larry and I had rescued her baseball butterfly hat from the local recreational center’s lost and found. Julie found her lost raincoat at her Fun Club two weeks after my granddaughter had left it there. In the meantime, Julie had to buy another one in a larger size. It was a little big, but Summit County was getting above average rain in July, and there was no choice.

Both Julie and Sam dealt with the lost-and-found-problem quite calmly to a point. But when Julie realized that their daughter’s favorite hat was missing the day before they were to leave for their planned one-week rafting trip, well, Julie lost it—her cool that is!

The first we heard about the missing hat was on the Sunday morning before their trip.

“Come over for pancakes,” Julie’s text read. “And can you check your condo to see if you have the butterfly hat?” 

Yes, our granddaughter was wearing a hat on Friday. She had it in the car when we drove down to Main Street for some bubble tea at the Next Page Book Store. In the picture I had taken of her sitting on Zayde’s lap listening to a story in the town promenade, she was hatless. But I vaguely remember taking the floppy hat festooned with butterflies and dragon flies from her outstretched hand before she hung upside down from the ropes at the playground in Walter Byron Park. I thought I had stuffed it in my pocket and returned it safely when we drove her home.

But it wasn’t in their house. And it did not appear to be in our condo. Or in our car. Or at the condo’s pool area. When we arrived at their house that morning, Julie was flipping her oatmeal pancakes with obvious annoyance.

“I can’t believe that people don’t keep track of her things when they are responsible for watching her,” she said, digging her barbs into both her parents and poor Sam. “First one hat; then a raincoat, now another hat!.Doesn’t anyone ever check to see if she has left anything behind?”

Even though I was thinking, “Maybe the child needs to be responsible!” I kept my mouth closed. Besides, Julie’s guilt trip was working. After breakfast, I walked the two minutes back to our rental and did a second, more thorough search. I checked pockets and backpacks and drawers. I checked under the bed and under the couch and under the seats of our car. It was nowhere to be found. 

By the time I got back to their house, Julie and Sam were fully engaged in getting ready for their seven day trip. Having to limit myself to under fifty pounds of stuff for our nine weeks Out West, it actually looked easier than gathering everything they needed for camping and rafting. Larry and I entertained our granddaughter with books, puzzles, and games, trying to stay out of the way of the oars, coolers, rucksacks stuffed with clothing and towels, bottles of suntan lotion and bug spray, sleeping bags, a paddle board, and enough food and drink for a small army.

By the time we finished lunch, I needed a break and a possible chance at redemption. 

“I’m walking downtown to see if I can find the lost hat,” I said. “If that fails, I will see if I can find a replacement.”

I first checked the bookstore’s lost and found. Lots of sunglasses a set of keys, but no hat. I then walked through Walter Byron Park, Someone had hung up a slightly worn “Get high in Colorado” teeshirt on the park sign, but no hat. I then walked back to Main Street and began checking out the hat racks that were set up in front of many of the stores, another exercise in futility. Too big. Too small. Wrong print. Wrong color. I stuck on my mask and began checking out inside inventories. I finally saw a possibility. Right size. Pink (Her favorite color). No butterflies, but lots of bright flowers. I snapped a picture, texted it to Julie, and then followed it up with a phone call.

“The hat wasn’t in the bookstore or the park, so I decided to check the stores,” I said. “Look at the picture on your text. I think you will love it.”

“Mom,” Julie replied a few seconds later. “ The hat is adorable, but we are not missing the floppy dragonfly hat.We are missing the baseball butterfly cap!”

“She wasn’t wearing her baseball butterfly cap on Friday,” I said testily. “She was wearing her floppy butterfly hat.”

“That’s her dragonfly hat as it has dragonflies and butterflies,” Julie said. “We have that one!”Then she added sheepishly. “I guess you and Dad didn’t lose it after all.” Long pause. “Hey, at least you got your exercise in!”

She was right. By the time I got home, I had walked over three miles looking for a hat that we had never lost in the first place.

I also realized that we had seen a girl’s butterfly baseball cap the day before at the REI in the next town over. I called the outdoor retailer and asked the clerk to put it aside for my daughter. No longer feeling magnanimous or generous, I made no move to pick up either the hat or the cost. After realizing the Fun Club lost and found box was locked up because of a field trip, Julie drove over to Silverthorne and bought it herself.

The following Sunday night, Julie, Sam, and my granddaughter returned from their camping trip, First thing Monday morning, Mother and Daughter walked over to Fun Club, where the missing hat was waiting in the lost and found box. 

“This warrants a story, you realize,” I told her the next day while sitting at her kitchen table on my computer. Julie just shrugged. And I started typing away.

Close Encounters of the Moose Kind

As 2021 comes to a close, I have much for which to be thankful. The armadillo that took up residency under our house decided that we charged too much rent and moved out on its own before we had to call in an exterminator. Despite inflation pushing up the cost 25%, I still had the means to buy a 23 pound turkey for Thanksgiving at the supermarket, not necessitating my shooting one of the wild ones that wander our yard. And I am grateful that our close encounters of the wild kind have ended well for both us and the animals.

As Upstate New Yorkers, Larry and I rarely encountered threatening animals. Yes, we watched out for rattlesnakes while hiking the eponymous trail in Lake George. And, yes, our cats’ frequent skirmishes with skunks showed us the stinky scent of nature. But the closest I had come for most of my life to seeing “animals gone wild” was when we woke up to the sight of a herd of cows that had somehow escaped from a nearby farm grazing on the lawn of my parents’ cottage on Lake Champlain. When we opened the door to take a closer look, our Irish setter ran out and started barking at them, triggering a mini-stampede. At that very moment, our neighbor opened up her drapes to see a bunch of berserk bovines charging towards her sliding glass door. Local lore is that her screams still can be heard echoing throughout Willsboro Bay.

My first encounter with more dangerous beasts came in a 2012 trip to Florida. While Larry and I were waiting for the guided tour tram to take us through the Shark River section of the Everglades, I spotted a huge alligator less than 10 feet away. Naive—make that stupid!—me insisted Larry take my picture while I was kneeling near its tail. When I proudly showed the picture to one of the guides a short time later, she warned me against a repeat performance. “Alligators may look slow, but they can move quickly,” she said. “You were lucky you weren’t bitten.” 

After that encounter combined with research and “alligators in the news” stories, I now have a much deeper appreciation of these ancient reptiles. We usually have at least one alligator in the pond in our backyard, either sunning itself on its bank or floating just below the surface. It is not unusual to see one crossing the road or even lounging in a doorway or an open garage. Just this morning, a neighbor posted on our Next “Please be careful. There is a large gator is crossing the road on its way to Glendora Lakes.” We have learned to live by side with them by maintaining a healthy distance when walking near water and encouraging our guests to do the same.

Ever since her move to Colorado in 2003, our daughter Julie has shared with us her frequent close encounters with Rocky Mountain wildlife. In her first month there, she had to detour to avoid a brown bear who was helping itself to an unlatched garbage bin. Stories of other unexpected meet-ups with more bears, as well as elk, moose, fox, and coyotes, have always been part of our conversations with our daughter, her husband Sam, and since she could talk, our granddaughter. 

Julie and her Sam are both experienced backpackers and outdoors people. When they are hiking, they can recognize the presence of animals by their hoof prints as well as their scat (poop).They also know what to do when they encounter an animal, whether it be on the trail or in their backyard. Like alligators, the best approach is to distance oneself from any wild animal to avoid a confrontation. And they are sharing that knowledge with their daughter. 

Despite all their experiences, Larry and I had only seen wildlife from a safe distance. That changed this summer. We hiked up a popular trail and made our usual left turn only to find a huge moose less than 25 feet away. We quickly and quietly turned around and headed down the same trail. 

I shared the news with several friends on social media, many whose first question was, “Did you get a picture?”

“No,” I responded. “We just got the hell out of there!”

After waiting 18 years for our “Close Encounter of the Wild Kind,” I was not expecting to see another moose until 2039. However, less than three months later, on an early November before-the-snow-falls trip, my granddog Neva and I took a hike up to Rainbow Lake, my favorite spot in the world. On the way down, with only a slight pull on Neva’s leash as a warning, I caught sight of the back end of a moose in the trees about 10 yards in front of us. Now the seasoned moose-avoider, I quickly got us “the hell out of there.”

 While winding our way down a longer but hopefully safer trail, Neva pulled hard on the leash, straining to run after something. “Oh no!” I thought. “not another moose!” No, it was just a squirrel, which our granddog obviously rated higher on the “wildlife-of-interest” scale than a unpredictable half ton mammal. So much for feeling safer when hiking with my granddog!

Moose sitings continued. Later that day, when Larry and I avoided stepping in the piles of moose scat that adorned awns and sidewalks in the neighborhood. We learned later that soon after trick or treaters had headed home with their junk food stash, the moose had moved in and devoured all the Halloween pumpkins. 

The next morning, we were woken up to the sounds of our granddaughter clambering down the steps to the guest bedroom and her yelling, “Moose alert! Moose alert! A mommy and her two calves are in our front yard!”

Larry and I are now back in Florida, but we need to remain on the lookout. Oh well. At least alligators don’t leave scat. 

The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls

On a beautiful morning in theRockies, I weave my way up the two mile Mount Royal Trail. Geared up in hiking boots, pants, and my new “Mountain Mama” teeshirt, I enjoy the solitude, the sounds of mountain streams and chirping birds, and the sight of butterflies that lead me up the path. Small wooden bridges span the occasional creeks. Arriving on the bank of Rainbow Lake, I take in the beauty surrounding me before starting the trip down the Aspen Trail. 

Despite my pure joy of being in my “happy place,” I know my family worries about my frequent solo hikes. It would be generous to say their fear emanates from possible encounters with moose, elk, or bear. Unfortunately, it actually comes from encounters with rocks and roots. No, they don’t fear my being eaten by a forest denizen. They fear I might trip on the gnarled tree roots, the patches of loose stone, or the small boulders that are a part of the hiking experience. 

Not that their concerns are unfounded. Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has not felled me. It has been my own stupid feet.

My first trip down free fall lane came early in the pandemic.” With pools and exercise classes in our 55+ active community shuttered, my husband and I were taking one of our long morning walks. It was hot, as usual. It was humid, as usual. What wasn’t usual was the dead snake lying on the sidewalk in front of us a mile into our walk.

“Watch out!” I yelled to Larry. He crossed his right leg in front of me to avoid the snake, and I I fell fast. And hard. And as I slammed face first onto the pavement, all I could think was “Damn that snake!”

I felt incredible pain and tasted the blood that was pooling in front of me. For one of the few times in my life, I was grateful my nose was more Barbra Streisand that Amy Adams, as it appeared to have taken most of the hit.

When I gingerly stood up, Larry and I assessed the damage. Scraped elbows and knees that did not require stitches? Check. Bones intact? Check. Teeth whole and still in mouth? Check. Ability to walk home. With the help of an ice pack wrapped in a towel provided by a Good Samaritan who had witnessed the accident from her front porch, also CHECK!.

Fortunately, outside of two black eyes and multiple minor scrapes, I had avoided major injuries and a trip to the emergency room.

My second adventure in face plants occurred twelve months later when the world was finally opening up. Larry and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Sarasota, Florida, our first time we had been able to connect with family since COVID hit. On the second day of our visit, the four of us took a trip to Spanish Point, a 30-acre outdoor museum site. We were weaving through a section which was being set up for an evening concert. As I was wearing the required face mask, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat, I didn’t see that the sound bar the sound technician had placed between the bottom rungs of two of the chairs. My foot caught on the pole, and I did a hard splat in the grass. It was a second lucky “break” in that I walked away with a scraped up face, another set of black eyes, and no ER visit. 

Three months later, my luck ran out. Larry and I were in San Francisco visiting our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson. On a Saturday morning, we took an easy, scenic three mile round trip hike on the Tennessee Valley Trail in nearby Marin County. We were off the trail and walking over to our parked car when I tripped over a stupid rock—or is it that stupid me tripped over an innocent rock? Fortunately, I fell right in front of a doctor and his family who were about to begin their hike. He bandaged me up with the diagnosis that nothing appeared to be broken but the cut on my forearm was deep and required stitches.

After striking out at our attempts to get help at two urgent cares (One was closed; the second “didn’t do sutures.” ) our son dropped Larry and me off at University of California San Francisco’s emergency room. At first, judging from the number of people in the waiting area, I thought that I would get in and out quickly. Four and a half hours later, however, the ER manager announced that, along with those of us cooling our heels in the waiting room, there were at least 25 ambulances lined up outside with people in worse shape than us low priority patients with mere ear infections, head bumps, and cut forearms. We should expect a possible ten hour wait.

I was about to ask for a sewing kit and a prescription for antibiotics and call it a day when—thank goodness—I was taken into a room to get patched up. Six stitches and a tetanus shot later, I was good to go. Thankfully,I have had no lingering effects from Pratfall #3.

Initially I was worried that maybe I was having balance issues. In the days and weeks that followed, others of all ages have told me of similar situations that resulted in much worse endings—broken elbows, wrists, and legs. Yes, I consider myself lucky.

As I was getting ready for my first solo hike in Colorado, my daughter encouraged me to wait for her so that she could watch over me and make sure I didn’t fall. I said no, insisting that this almost-71-year-old body was still more than capable of hiking up and down trails, thank you very much. She did meet me halfway and showed me a longer but less steep trail that I have taken on my own as well as others with Larry and my granddog.Larry and I have also tackled longer, more difficult hikes without a scratch—or splat—between us.

Our most memorable Colorado hike this summer was the one Larry and I took with my granddaughter. When we reached the Rainbow Lake area, she insisted we ford a small stream by scrambling across the logs that spanned the water. Larry questioned whether she should attempt the crossing. “Don’t worry, Zayde!” she said. “I’m a Mountain Girl I got this..” Taking my cue from her, I successfully made my way across the logs, albeit slower, more cautiously, and certainly more awkwardly. But I did it. After all, as my new teeshirt proclaims, I am a Mountain Mama. I got this!

Epilogue: Soon after sharing this story with my writing group, Larry and I spend the afternoon exploring Vail Village. In one of the stores, I decided to try on a shirt that had caught my eye. As the salesperson led me to the changing rooms. he said, “Take the room on the left,There is a lip on one on the right, and I won’t want you to trip.” 

“Do I LOOK like someone who would trip?”I bristled. He quickly backtracked, “Well, even sixteen-year-olds have tripped over it.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy the shirt. Before I left the store, however, I sought out the salesperson and gave him my business card with my blog address. “My next article will be The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls,” I said.”Your comment will be in it!” 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World August 5, 2021

Bubbe Butt Paste and Other Love Stories

Soon after my daughter Julie and my son-in-law Sam told us they were expecting our first grandchild, my husband Larry and I discussed what grandparent name by which we each hoped to be called. 

Larry determined quickly that he would be called Zayde, Yiddish for grandfather. It was a family tradition, he stated. His father’s father was Zayde Max, and his own father was Zayde Ernie to his seven grandchildren. 

Choosing my name didn’t come as easily. My friend Lynn, whose granddaughter lived in Israel, suggested the Hebrew moniker Saftah, but I didn’t think that would work for our future grandchild, who would be living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at 9100 feet above sea level. The paternal grandmother, who had a four-year-old granddaughter, already had dibs on Nana. Additional members of the Grandmother Club told me about their sometimes unusual titles: MeeMaw, GG, G-Ma, CiCi, NayNay, Gemmy, and even (Graham) Cracker. Although Bubbe went well with Zayde, I dismissed it as too old fashioned. I pondered the numerous options over the next few months. 

Larry and I were in Colorado the day Julie went into labor. While waiting for the Big Moment, we took a hike up to Rainbow Lake, a lovely spot a mile up the mountain near Julie and Sam’s home. On the trail, we ran into another couple who, noticing Larry’s Syracuse University hat, told us they were also from Central New York State. After chatting with them about the Orangemen’s basketball team and the amount of snow that fell the past winter, Larry and I told them about our grandchild’s imminent birth. They congratulated us, stating how much they themselves enjoyed being grandparents. 

“What do they call you?” I asked the woman, whose name was— ironically—Julie. 

“Grandma,” she said. “I waited a long time for grandchildren, and I am proud to go by the standard name.” 

That sealed it for me. Meeting a Julie from Syracuse on a hike the day my grandchild was born was b’shert—meant to be. I would stick with the classic “Grandma.” 

Larry and I were introduced to our granddaughter an hour after she was born. When I held her in my arms in the hospital room, I was in heaven. I was finally a grandma! I enjoyed every moment of that summer and the three visits over the next year. 

By the time we returned to a rented condo for another Rocky Mountain summer just before her first birthday, our granddaughter was talking. We secretly hoped that, along with her rapidly expanding vocabulary— Dada, Mama, dog, bear, boo (blueberries), yesh, and dough (no)—she would learn and say our names before we went back to Florida. 

Happily, over the next six weeks, we spent many hours with her, not only with her parents but also without them as exceptionally willing babysitters. As she sat in her high chair eating her meals and snacks, I determinedly coached her. 

“Dog,” I said, pointing to Neva, who was waiting patiently with her tail thumping for the next dropped morsel. “Grandma!” I said, pointing to my chest. My granddaughter would smile and laugh and offer me her smashed banana or mushed piece of challah. Nothing in her babbling, however, even came close to “Grandma.” 

Four days before we were to return to Florida, Larry and our granddaughter were playing on the floor with her blocks. “Zayde!” she suddenly stated emphatically. Larry’s face lit up like the Syracuse University scoreboard. She said it again—and again. From that moment, Zayde became her favorite word. She called out “Zayde!” the minute Larry walked into the room, and she yelled it out if he disappeared behind a closed door. Talk about melting a grandfather’s heart! 

As happy as I was for Zayde Larry, I was a little—well—make that extremely jealous. My efforts to hear Grandma—any version— intensified. “Grandma!” I said every chance I got. As the hour of our departure got closer, I became desperate and switched tactics. “Bubbe,” I tried, deciding an old sounding name was better than no name at all. 

The morning before we were to fly back to Florida, I babysat my granddaughter while Julie and Sam were at work and Larry was returning the rental car. After her morning nap, I lay my granddaughter on the dressing table to change her diaper. She looked into my eyes and clearly said, “Bubbe!” “Yes! Bubbe!” I cried. My granddaughter had spoken, and I was going to be Bubbe! I was over the moon! I immediately shared the news with Larry. Our granddaughter said the magic word again after lunch and after her afternoon nap. When Sam returned home from work that evening, this 

Bubbe was bursting with joy.
“And she repeated this every time you changed her diaper?” Sam asked somewhat hesitantly.
“Every time!” I said. “She clearly said Bubbe!”
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Marilyn,” Sam said. “But she wasn’t actually calling you Bubbe. It’s her world for butt paste. She has had some diaper rash this past week, and—well—she likes to hold the closed tube after we finish applying it.” 

“Butt Paste!” Larry chortled. “She is calling you Butt Paste.” 

The day after we returned to Florida, our Colorado family FaceTimed with us. The minute our granddaughter saw our faces on the computer screen, she yelled out, “Zayde!” 

“And look who is with me!” said Larry. “It’s Bubbe Butt Paste!” 

Sigh! 

It took another two months to realize that our now sixteen month old granddaughter  could not say the “gr” sound. “How about you call me ‘Gammy?’” I asked her.  She smiled broadly and said  “‘Gammy!’”

Six years and more grandchildren later, I am now a confirmed Gammy. But I will be happy to receive their smiles, their laughs, their hugs, and their unconditional love—no matter what I am called.

First published in The Jewish World, September 1, 2016