Overnight Camp

overnight campMy first-born just recently went to Outdoor Lab, the sixth grade’s week-long, overnight camp in the great outdoors. He went to Windy Peak, 9 miles outside of Bailey, to learn about earth science, astronomy, wildlife and forestry. He also got to learn about teamwork and bit about himself. This is one of the perks of growing up in Colorado. No such thing exists in Katy, Texas or Lawrence, Kansas–or so my friends and family who live there say.

I got to go to Wild Basin (just north of Allenspark) when I was in sixth grade. I still remember the night hike I took with a bunch of school boys. It was drizzling, and we had to construct a shelter out of leaf bags. Whoever built the best shelter would win a candy bar. I paired up with a classmate and flimsily stretched black plastic between two mountain shrubs. Others smartly constructed a strong lean-to. A gust took ours apart in two seconds flat. Luckily, I snatched it from the wind in time, and my partner and I fashioned it into an umbrella without a cane and sat side-by-side beneath it. We did not win the candy bar.

I also remember borrowing my best friend’s “too grown up” clothes and her eye makeup for five days–a definite no-no as far as my mother was concerned. But my mom wasn’t there, so I snuck it. Unfortunately for me, they took pictures of the trip and presented our parents with a slide show at the end of the year. My mother gave me the stink-eye every time a mountain “glamour girl” shot of me popped up. I thought I looked beautiful in blue eyeliner. My mother did not.

Now I’m the mom with my own concerns–quite different from my mother’s, mind you. While we were (I was) packing for my son’s trip, I was very concerned about my son’s ability to keep track of 53 odd pieces of gear and use the right toiletries. You don’t really know if there’s a deficit of knowledge until you have to send your kid out into the big unknown. Could my son bring back all of his belongings? He loses a single glove once a ski season, a water bottle once a month, and a jacket every two weeks. This was especially important to me because he was borrowing a few of my things. Would I ever see my hiking boots again? Not to mention, we bought a boat load of essentials that apparently we did not possess (“cool” sunglasses, a “reading” flashlight, “acceptable” rain gear, and non-embarrassing long underwear). I labeled everything with his name just in case I’d have to call “Lost and Found.”

I put his toiletries in his father’s toiletry bag. I marveled at my packing ability; they all fit. But I couldn’t rest on my laurels for long: I suddenly worried my son would not know where I “hid” them. Was he privy to toiletry bags? When we travel, I always pack and unload the toiletries; he could have easily overlooked this detail. Then the toiletries themselves put me in a tizzy. Most of them were in miniature and brands he’d never seen before. If he didn’t actually read the labels, he might shampoo with lotion or wash with toothpaste. I felt compelled to give him a bit of direction: “This is a toiletry bag, so it has all your stuff you need to wash yourself. I’d just take the bag with you into the bathroom, so you don’t forget anything. This is your lotion and this is your shampoo…” He rolled his eyes. Fine. Good. He had been paying attention to the minutia after all.

When the day arrived, I drove him to the school. He carried his bag with great optimism and difficulty–it was probably 50 pounds–but his teacher told the students that they had to be able to do this alone on the trip, so he proved he could in the parking lot. In the gymnasium, he lugged his bag to the drop-off point and gave me a hug. I welled up when I saw his watery blues looking at me. I made a quick exit so that neither of us had a chance to make a scene.

It’s funny; I don’t recall a teary goodbye or a worried mom hug when I went on my sixth grade trip. I just got on the bus with the stuff I rummaged from home the night before and…went. Maybe my mother was more like the adult me with her first born too. I was the third of four children, after all. Such excursions were old hat for my mother and perhaps that attitude served to make me rather independent. Maybe I wasn’t too choked up because I couldn’t wait to wear makeup. No matter.

He returned from his adventure happy, wiser and unscathed. He even managed to bring everything home. He also had a funny story. The students were allowed only three-minute showers. In his frenzy to shampoo, he grabbed a bottle from his toiletry bag and squirted to no avail. He soon realized it was sealed because it was new (thanks, Mom), so he had to unscrew the lid and peel off the protective foil. This took great effort and time. But finally, he was able to squirt a generous portion into his hand. Just as he was about to lather up, he noticed his folly: it was not shampoo; it was lotion. “One minute warning!” he heard.

With the clock ticking, he flung the lotion off his hand and grabbed the next bottle he could find, then squirted to no avail (thanks, Mom, again). He ripped off the foil and lathered his head with…body wash. He barely made it out of the shower without suds. Although I wanted to roll my eyes when he told me the story (like he did when I gave him a tutorial on reading labels), I just laughed (and plotted to write this article).

After hearing his story, I feel my worrying was a little justified. But worrying made not one bit of difference. No matter what I say, he’s going to have to figure things out on his own. Just like I did.

I look forward to seeing the overnight camp slide show at the end of the year. I feel pretty confident that he won’t be wearing blue eyeliner, but you never know… If you don’t read labels, strange things can happen.

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Making a Mother-Son Connection

making the mother-son connectionI’ve been noticing a lot of Daddy Daughter Dance pictures on Facebook — the little girls’ faces sparkling like champagne electric fizz. The dads are all cheeks — blushing from flattery. I never attended such a dance with my dad; no host. And for the same reason, I’ve never attended a Mommy Son Dance. Making a mother-son connection was up to me. Luckily, I had a good example.

I went on a date with my dad when I was six, and from the way my mom fussed over my appearance, you would have thought I was going to Homecoming. She coaxed my yellow locks into ringlets and put me in one of those incredibly short brown dresses popular in the 70s. My look was no doubt a nod to Shirley Temple–an irresistible Boomer icon. But instead of singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” I snuck into my brothers’ room and grabbed Monopoly. I stuffed a couple blue fifties in my leather and burlap purse, and made my dramatic descent down the staircase to my dad. After an effervescent, rosy pose for the Polaroid, my dad and I headed for Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips. Note that I was living in Illinois then. For you Colorado folk, Arthur Treacher’s is Long John Silver’s doppelgänger. And for those who’d like a little factoid I stumbled upon while writing this: Mr. Treacher, before he went into the restaurant biz, was a character actor who appeared as Jeeves, “the perfect butler,” in several…wait for it…Shirley Temple movies. Freaky.

At any rate, my dad opened doors for me and pulled out my chair — all the things I’d seen him do to woo my mother. I felt special. I was one of four children after all, so getting a date with dad was like getting a meeting with a movie producer. Well, maybe not that tough, but you get the point. He ordered the Seafood Platter and I ordered the Shrimp Boat — a gluten gala at the chip shop. Then I slipped him a blue fifty and told him I was paying. (Such a feminist!) He, being a man of mathematics, was calculating how to tell me that my currency would buy us a ticket to washing dishes (or to a mental hospital), but he put aside his reasoning and patted my back instead — told me it was his treat. I was relieved, actually. I wanted to buy some cool tee-shirts at K-mart.

Flash forward a bit (okay, a lot): I was inspired by the Facebook pictures and my dad, but in reverse; the mother-son connection. It was time to take my nine-year-old son out on a date. We needed it. I had been starring in the role of The Nag and he in the role of The Defense Attorney. We needed to get back to the roles of Loving Mother and Son.

The first time we went on a date was when he was six. Lunch and a matinee. Back then, he wondered why we were doing it. I told him that it was just nice to get some quality time (without the bonus of his two-year-old brother wrapping his body around my face), and I added that it was “dating practice.” His six-year-old mind was mildly curious about this ritual. I gave him a few pointers: look nice, be polite, open doors, compliment. Nothing too mind-blowing. I was really just making polite conversation. I wasn’t entirely sure if he was absorbing it.

Back to present: The Zombie Date. After a lazy Sunday morning, I announced it was time to part with our pajamas if we were going to get lunch and hit a zombie movie. I disappeared into my bedroom and emerged dapper. To my delight, so did he. He was dressed as if were picture day: nice pinstriped shirt and khakis without knee holes. He even styled his hair. Before I could tell him that he looked handsome, he told me that I looked “pretty cool.” Smooth.

We were a little pressed for time, so we went to Whole Foods to grab some deli food (and a bunch of other provisions as it turned out — you gotta multitask when you live in the mountains). He insisted on carrying my basket, which weighed half his weight. He gave me no choice but to let him stagger around with it; it was his gift to me. He got sushi, and I got a gluten free sandwich. (Oh, how things have changed since I was a kid…) He picked out a table, and just as I was about to sit, he pulled out my chair for me. I stifled the urge to gush, and quietly thanked him. But a woman at a nearby table witnessed the whole thing and gushed for me, “That was so nice! You are such a wonderful boy! I wish someone would do that for me!” He gave her a shy “thanks” and popped a spicy tuna roll in his mouth.

I must have lit up the room with motherly pride. I asked where he learned that. He swallowed and matter-of-factly said, “TV. You want some of my sushi?”

The zombie movie was surprisingly good–little funny, little scary, smart. After it was over, we were supposed to go home. Chores, homework and minutiae awaited us. But we wanted to extend the date. We got coffee (decaf for him—so not to stunt his growth) and a chocolate torte (flourless for me—so not to offend my delicate constitution). He perused a magazine about the Civil War while I got the goods. He put it down when I arrived and gave his attention to me. We chatted about the film. He liked the gore and the zombie invasion. I liked the message: All you need is love. Something for everyone. It was a lovely date.

So thanks dad (and Facebookers) for reminding me to reconnect with my son. And to all you gals who are gonna date my amazing son: You’re welcome. Love is all you need.

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Ode to April

Ode to April, hollylancasterblog.comI’ve had a love affair with April since I was a teenager. I know—that sounds scandalous—I’m a married woman. Of course, I’m talking about the month of April…not the person…I don’t know April…but I’m sure she’s lovely. Let me try that again: I’ve been writing love poems to April since my adolescence. Um…yeah…that still sounds…wow. Well, frankly I don’t care. April’s an alluring beauty, and I just want to howl it from the high footpaths she hangs out to dry! Here is my ode to our Colorado April.

April is a trickster. She wages a blizzard upon us while we’re driving, shopping, or doing taxes. Then she cuts off the electricity. Candlelit receipt computations are not romantic. You might also find her luring us to dine on the deck under the guise of warm weather. But just as we take a bite, she snaps her icy fingers and we’re eating sleet in lightning. She delights at our plight.

April is a mother. She gives birth to green and admonishes the March hay grasses for overstaying their welcome. She fills the bellies of her woolen babes before each new trek with the herd. She sings meadowlark melodies and leaf-breeze airs to lull us to day dozes. She launches her skateboard-clad children into the air and catches them on her back. She tucks us in after nightfall with starry Leo guarding overhead.

April has a sense of humor. She’ll tell us she just bought tickets to a concert—front row seats to our favorite band. We’ll shriek in utter ecstasy and yelp, “No way!”

Then she’ll say, “April Fools.”

And we’ll ask, “No front row?”

And she’ll say, “Um…no concert…Good one, huh?”

April is a tease. She is the bringer of hand-in-hand walks, bike rides to highland pubs, and bouncing ball-play on the cul-de-sacs. Then she whispers goodnight too early with her cold breath. Kites pop off their strings. And she doesn’t call us for days because the lines are down from the white wet weight of her rejection. Just when we’ve decided to write her off, she nuzzles our cheeks in sunlight and freckles our shoulders with her kisses.

April is a fever. She’s hot. She’s cold. She’s hot. She’s cold. We wear shorts with parkas, Tee-shirts with mittens, and capris with Sorels. She marvels at fashion innovation (and disasters).

April is a temptress. She’ll show some leg during Algebra 2 and pull young poets away from graphing parabolas. How? Because the air smells like lilac. Because a tan, handsome man in garden gloves is mowing the soccer field. Because Tess is wearing an eyelet dress. ‘Cause Gabe is wearing aftershave.

Consequently, that’s what April did to me. She made me write a poem in math class. I had no choice—it wasn’t logical; it was biological. In honor of this, I resurrected it with all its teen angst and hormonal fits:


My April
She sweats over night
Leaving her beads
Upon a naked bed of grass
Tiny pink feet
Risking a tumble
Skip over the blades
Who decorate two legs
Like tribal adornments

My April
She shouts over the fields
Into the hearts
Clothed by the winter
And bathes them
In pools of harmony
With buds ready to
Into a new face
So painfully

What a weird window into my sixteen-year-old mind. What are ‘pools of harmony’ exactly? Is it water that makes music—like rubbing the lips of goblets filled with varying heights of liquid to make different tones? Is it music that sounds like raindrop puddles from an 80’s synthesizer sample? No, I’m guessing I incorporated music into the poem as a nod to a musician I was madly in love with, and who, of course, smashed my heart into a million pieces like Hendrix’s guitar. (The musician’s my husband now).

Granted, the poem’s not E.E. Cummings, but it came from the same muse he channeled. One thing’s for certain: the poet loves April. But as the twist at the end suggests, it’s a bittersweet kind of love—April is a flirt; April is a dance; April is a journey; May is the destination. Freud would have had a laugh analyzing the poet.

Clearly, not much has changed about how I feel about April. I’m still romanced by her. I’m still beguiled. I’m still in love.

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Fondue Party

Fondue PartyI like a good fondue party. Fondue is so chic with its tiny blue flame and color-coded pokers. Guests light up as they dip a cube of French bread or green apple into the bubbling cheese/wine concoction. But for years at my house, the little cauldron would be forgotten among the other fare and festivities and the flame would weld the cheese to the bottom of the pot. The waft and whisper of “something burning” would wake me from my entertainer’s daze. I’d try to furtively extract the pot before guests could catch a glimpse of amateur hour. But the hissing steam from my great room sink betrayed me every time: guests would applaud, and I’d embrace my folly, “Thank you! Yes…I almost set the house on fire. I rule!”

Every year I sentenced the fondue pot to the back of the cabinet for committing near-arson. My husband was a fine warden—he was happy to lock up the “Cheese Killer” and throw away the key. When I found out that the couple who gave it to me were actually getting rid of it because they had received a far superior one, I started to connect the dots: My stainless steal hand-me-down with a plastic handle sucked. And it didn’t help that I’d go to various fondue joints around Denver and they were doing fondue so expertly, that I knew there was little chance of doing it right. Each table had their own electric burner, cheese-watching servers and heavy-duty pots.

As I said, my pot had been doing hard time in the culinary clink, so I wasn’t thinking about it—much less allowing it to cause conflagrations at parties. But then I saw a beautiful French cast iron crock coated with cream and red enamel for a reasonable price. Plus, I had one of those scratch-and-reveal-your-percentage-off coupons. I scratched off a whopping 35 percent! So naturally, Christmas present for my husband!

He was skeptical, but squeaked out a “thanks.” It took until spring, but we finally fired her up. Again, fondue appetizer, party people with mini pitch forks, cheese galore, and then “Holy shit! Get the fire extinguisher!”

Okay. It wasn’t that bad. It actually took quite a while before it started to burn, and it burned mainly because there was barely enough cheese left to butter a slice of bread. So there was something to getting a good pot. But nevertheless, I sentenced it to a few months in the cabinet for the 20 minutes of my life it took away from me as I coaxed the scorched gruyere off its bottom. It would take some time for me to forget about that.

In July, I went to a fondue restaurant in Breckenridge with my husband and some good friends. Although the restaurant called itself Swiss-style, I thought it was going to be like the Americanized fondue restaurants in Denver. But I was pleasantly surprised. There were no table side electric burners. They actually had the same fondue set I had—same crock, same gel fuel metal burner, same forks! Like the other fondue places that I’d been to before, you could do cheese fondue, meat and vegetables fondue (to cook in broth), and chocolate fondue.

Amid the chitchat and pleasantries, I was taking mental notes. I noticed right away that the cheese didn’t burn. Our server had given the small burner a twist to lower the flame. Whoa. No one told me you could do that! For the meat and vegetables, he adjusted the burner again to keep the broth—a beef and sherry bouillon—at a steady simmer. We cooked our own filet mignon, broccoli, and mushrooms, and dipped pre-cooked carrot and potato into the broth to reheat and season them. The meat took only about minute to boil to a crimson medium-rare. We were also given dipping sauces—curry, garlic and chive, horseradish and Dijon mustard—to spice up the meat and vegetables. For dessert, fruits, marshmallows and angel food cake waited to be bathed in dark Swiss chocolate. As I skipped the last strawberry across the chocolate pool a thought consumed me: I would recreate this dinner in my dining room.

It just so happened that I was expecting houseguests about a week later. So with the menu fresh in our minds, my husband and I dreamed up a three course fondue meal for our friends. We decided to experiment with a few different ingredients—we added onions and zucchini. We bought tenderloin instead of filet mignon. Along with fruit, we dipped brownies instead of marshmallows and angle food cake. Last, we decided two dipping sauces—horseradish and Dijon—were sufficient instead of four.

Apart from the chopping, it was a relatively easy meal to make. We preheated a ready-made cheese fondue on the stove (in the fondue pot), then popped it on the fondue burner (making sure to turn down the heat). We also prepared a broth using red wine, consumé, and a bouquet garni (fresh herbs bundled together with string for easy extraction after the broth is finished). And we made our own chocolate fondue with heavy cream and 85 percent dark chocolate.

It was a long lovely fondue party. Our edits to the menu paid off. I became a believer of the cast iron, enameled fondue pot. Such a pot when used correctly evenly heats its contents and nicely retains its temperature. And I’m proud to say that the bottom of our pot contained just melted cheese. My only criticism for the evening was having only one pot—even though we had two—the cheap one. But we couldn’t trust that one. Besides, it had since been sentenced to serve as a bedside sick bucket for the kids—I know TMI. So in the absence of another pot, I had to quickly clean the fondue pot in between courses. This was good for digestion, but bad for conversation. (I couldn’t hear over the running water and the scrubbing.) But hey, Christmas is right around the corner. “Oh Holly! You shouldn’t have…I mean, literally. You shouldn’t have…”

He’ll get over it. I rule!

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Things to Do in March

things to do in marchDepending on the year, things to do in March can be a mixed bag of events. What do we have…Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, The Ides of March, Daylight Saving, St. Patrick’s Day and the vernal equinox. In other words, crawfish and Cajun Mary’s day, you got a little something on your forehead day, you’re not going to eat chocolate for how many days? day, Et tu, Brute? day, my kid is going to be tricked into waking up at 8:00 instead of 7:00 day, and whoopdeedo it’s spring (but not if you live in the mountains) day. And my favorite? Let me do a process of elimination…

I’m not catholic or protestant, so that should exclude three—although I do “celebrate” Mardi Gras, which means watch my husband and brother eat “mud bugs” and slam Blackened Voodoo Lager. It’s not a pretty sight. They tear off the tails of crawfish and suck out the animal’s innards. Their fingers and lips turn orange from the “juice.” Sometimes this crustacean carcass juice squirts across the table. And my brother has this strange habit of exclaiming a high-pitched “Boooo!” when the fire of the Cajun spices apparently inspires him to do so. (I think he’s trying to imitate the late Cajun chef, Justin Wilson.) My sister-in-law and I do our best to ignore them. The spicy Bloody Marys help. This is kind of fun, but probably not my fave.

The anniversary of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC could be a fun excuse to throw a toga party. But I find that most people forget or just don’t know about this day. Calendars are no help; I haven’t seen it listed for years. When I remember it, as I tend to do while purchasing groceries for some reason, and I say, “Ooh, it’s the Ides of March…” raising my eyebrows and voice in eerie insinuation, I typically get a blank stare. Whatever. TOGA! TOGA! TOGA! (Thanks, John Belushi.) Although the blank stare is a delight, it wouldn’t be right to call this a favorite. Until I throw my first toga party, this one will have to be on the nothin’ spesh list. Onward.

Daylight Saving Time (DST). We lose an hour of sleep, but can finally go on a sunlit evening run before the mountain-lion gloaming. And as I mentioned earlier, my preschooler will be tricked into sleeping later for a morning. BUT it will ruin bedtime—among other things. Let me explain (aka, make this as confusing as possible). 8:00 PM is really 7:00 PM, and he’s just not tired at 7:00. Until he adjusts, he will also squeak in a couple 6:00 AM-wakeups, because no doubt, I, needing adult time, will hopefully (foolishly) make him go to bed at 8:00 PM (7:00 PM) after a day or two of 9:00 PM (8:00 PM) bedtimes. And of course 6:00 AM will still feel like 5:00 AM to me. After I drag my feet the entire day, then behold the new evening light illuminating my running path, I’ll be waaaaay too tired to run. In short, daylight savings steals two hours of sleep and two cardios from me for two days. Big thumbs down until I adjust—then it’s PST–Prey-free Sprinting Time.

There are three types of St. Patrick’s Days for me: The family St. Pat’s—sans Dad who is a bagpiper, the adult (acting like a college student) St. Pat’s, and the piper’s wife St. Pat’s. With the kids and me it goes something like this: Go to a festival in hopes that I won’t lose anybody, come home and make dinner because the “Irish” bouncy castle was far more interesting than the Irish fare, help my kids fashion some sort of bazaar leprechaun trap to imprison the wee magical creature so that he’ll spill it about his pot of gold, put kids to bed, mess up the trap, take the bait, and wake up to the late-night sound of my husband’s ghillie brogues clomping on the hardwoods after a long day of bagpiping. Or I get a sitter, let her deal with the trap, and I go to an overpopulated Irish pub with some friends (if we wait long enough to get in). And when we do get in, the music will be too loud to hear shouting and we will be forced to wait in line for the only available food they are serving: corned beef and cabbage or fish and chips. Inevitably one dish will get sold out so we will be stuck with whichever one we really didn’t want and pay 15 bucks for it. We will also be coaxed into drinking rot-gut green beer or headache-city ciders and wish that we hadn’t the next day. Or again, I get a sitter, and meet up with my husband at a pub somewhere on the trail of his umpteenth bagpipe gig, get a free whiskey, listen to him shred some wicked birls (uh…play grace notes), hear a few jokes in his Scottish brogue, and watch him get accosted by drunkards wanting to know what’s under his kilt. (His shoes, duh.) He will be, of course, the main attraction and spread thinly, so I will keep my distance. Before I know it, he will give me a kiss, and then be off like Rob Roy’s kilt. Of the three, my favorite is…March 18. That’s when we’re all back together, eating a slow-baked, herb-encrusted corned beef with cabbage and mashed potatoes and listening to tales of big tippers and stealthy leprechauns.

Last, the vernal equinox. When you live in the mountains, this means six to eight more weeks of winter, which is just depressing. Whoohoo! Spring is here. Well, not really. But I will say that I still get inspired. It’s as if I can feel the life force churning—getting ready to turn the grass green and put vivacious buds on the skeleton trees. Even though nothing is going to sprout until May, I get jazzed just imagining Mother Nature thinking about it. Hope springs eternal… And that is probably why this is my favorite day of March. And what do I do to celebrate it? I smile.

So there you have it. Things to do in March. I know, it took me long enough. But I had to think it through. Actually, each day has its own merit, and I’m thankful for every one of them—except DST—just kidding. Happy March!

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