Sunday, October 23, 2011

Born to Play

The tiny homecoming parade was over, so Jeff and I wandered the short strip of stores that line the downtown stretch of Evergreen Colorado. We found stores full of nuts, pastries, original art, and funky clothes. I made several mental notes, ideas for holiday gift purchases next month.

Then we headed back up the uneven wooden walkway that constitutes a sidewalk in our town. Out of habit we popped our heads in the open doorway of a magical place called Little Bear. It’s a two story wooden structure, that shows the wear and tear of decades of lively nights and raucous fun. From the outside it looks like an old fashioned tavern from the wild, wild west. But inside it’s very obviously not a place set up as a cheesy tourist trap.

This place is authentic tavern. It’s a genuine bar, the kind that never seems out of style because it’s just there. It’s there and it’s been there, for more years than I’ve been alive. The stairs that lead up to the pool hall room and upper outdoor balcony are wooden, and literally have dips in the centers of them, where hundreds of thousands of feet have made their mark.

Little Bear is special to us because we stopped here one day, when we were house hunting in the area last spring. We had no idea where we’d be living, when autumn rolled around, and at the time it was just a unique place to grab some lunch.

We cruised through house listings on our phones as we munched on burgers and fries. The kids loved scouting the old battered license plates that lined the walls, looking for places we’ve lived. We all got a laugh out of the wild assortment of women’s bras that hung haphazardly from the ceiling over the small wooden stage.

We were told by the lone waiter/bartender/cook that Little Bear had basically been there forever. Their easy, relaxed atmosphere, and guaranteed live music on many days of the week, meant they were rarely empty in the evenings. We agreed that we’d be back, and moved on with our search for a place to call home.

And sure enough, we ended up in a condo just two miles down the road from Little Bear. And last night we found ourselves once again pulled up to a table. But this time it was a different atmosphere. The quietness of lunch time had given way to a small, but lively crowd, who were all bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the music of the live band that graced the stage.

We sat down at a table and ordered drinks. It didn’t take long to realize that we’d be staying a bit, as the band was really and truly entertaining, so we ordered a small pizza. Then we sat back and soaked it in.

The guys on stage were a hodge podge of ages, mostly my age or older. But they knew how to play. There was no doubt about that. I’m not a musician, but I’m mesmerized by people who are. It’s a skill I respect because I can’t do it. As the guys rocked out to classic songs from the 60s and 70s I took turns watching each musician individually.

And they were all good. Really good. On their own. It amazed me. The keyboard guy’s fingers danced over the keys with perfect precision and amazing creativity. The drummer seemed to be in his own world, beating out the exact right rhythms that each song needed. The bass player and guitarist also seemed to have magical fingers, moving up and down the necks of their instruments with perfect accuracy.

And the lead singer. Let me tell you, this guy loved being on stage, loved being surrounded by these guys he genuinely seemed to care about, and loved putting everything he had into every song they did. From rock and roll to the blues, he swayed, danced, sang and grinned. They were all, as a unit, a joy to watch.

It reminded me of a song the Bacon Brothers Band wrote, called Not Born to Beauty -

Maybe they got day jobs
To support this rockin' jones
But the rhythm fits them like a skin
And the blues is in their bones

Turn on your MTV
And you won't find them there
You can read that Rolling Stone cover to cover
You won't find them anywhere
But in basements and garages
Hotel lounges, roadside bars
Close your eyes and hear the tunes
And you'll be seeing stars
They were born to do it
They were born to play

Not that these guys were ugly. Quite the contrary. But these guys were good. Playing in a small tavern, in front of just a dozen people, on a stage lined with bras, they gave us more for our money than some bands who actually charge for their shows, in stadiums that hold thousands.

Jeff texted our teenager at home, who loves playing his guitar and fits right in at this place, with his shaggy rebellious hair, and told him to ride his bike down to join us. Within minutes he was munching on our pizza, sharing my soda, and soaking in the great music with us.

I looked at all the empty chairs around us and wished they were filled with the people I love. I kept thinking, ‘I’d love to bring Kurt and Terry here…’ and ‘I’d love to bring Matt and Julie here…’. A few of my siblings, and my in laws, would all love the magic that we found last night.

It was one of those nights you never want to end. Once the pizza was gone, the sodas and beer refilled too many times, it was time to call it a night. When the band took their second break and came off stage to join their wives and girlfriends in the audience, we knew it was time to go. We got up, gathered our stuff, and headed for the door, passing by the table filled with band members.

I was captivated by the average-ness of these guys who made such magic onstage. If I saw them in the grocery store, I’d never dream they could be a part of one of my best nights so far in my new home town. I found one of them outside on the front porch, as we made our way to the car, and expressed my gratitude to him, for such an entertaining show. He was humble and appreciative, and thanked my family and me for showing up. The gratitude seemed backward.

We’ll be back. And I hope when we do get a chance to drag our visiting family to that old worn out bar, there is a band onstage even half as good as the guys we saw last night. In the chaos of life I sometimes forget just how relaxing a loud, rocking night, tucked in an ancient tavern with some people I love, can actually be.

I hope those guys, who maybe saw last night as ‘ just another gig’, realize how much they were appreciated by this middle aged mom. Their talent was impressive. Their love of music was palatable.

There is no doubt - they were definitely born to do it. They were born to play.

New Home Homecoming

Yesterday we went downtown to see the high school homecoming parade. We live in a small mountain town, and our downtown strip is about twenty stores long. It’s actually what we love about this place, the quaintness you seek out on a vacation trip, that we have on a daily basis.

We were alone. Both boys found other activities that interested them more. Even our high schooler decided he didn’t want to be bored to death by a small town parade. He’s still figuring out his place here, so we gave him the room to refuse this obviously high school event. He’s a pretty friendly kid and I predict he will be in the parade next year. But for this year, it was just me and Jeff.

We gave up our folding chairs to a mother and daughter who had come unprepared, and we headed up to the top deck of Little Bear, the old wooden tavern in the middle of town. With no little children in our care there was no need for being close to the potential candy throwing action.

Soon the police cars stopped all traffic and the parade began. The town fire truck came inching down the street, sirens blaring. Little children below us lined up with their newly unpacked Halloween bags, and anxiously waited for the first signs of brightly colored wrappers flying through the air.

They didn’t have to wait long. The parade basically consisted of the school’s marching band, and then a long line of decorated pick up trucks, full of high school kids throwing candy. Every club and team was represented, and each of them came fully loaded with candy. For a half an hour we watched excited little people frantically scurrying around under our second story perch, scooping up handfuls of treats. The funny thing was, the big kids in the parade seemed to be having just as much fun as the little kids on the street. Every handful that flew through the air brought a new round of squeals and delight.

A few times Jeff convinced some of the young men in the truck beds to huck a few treats up our way. He didn’t want the candy. He just wanted to give them a challenge, and most of them accepted it. More than once our group, that lined the top deck rail, got pelted with sugary bullets.

Then it was over. Little kids scooped up the last of their prizes and turned to compare their loot with their siblings and friends. Moms and dads said goodbye to friends they’d found in the crowds and headed back to their cars, arms heavy with lawn chairs.

We’re new in town, so we quietly watched the magic of our small town - friends and neighbors gathering on a sunny day to watch their own, and their friends’ high school kids ride a half a mile down main street, throwing candy to younger siblings and friends.

Everyone went home happy. And Jeff and I wandered off to explore the shops in our new home town.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Letting Loose

It’s been easy to justify not coming to this place. There are lists of things to do, as I’m still setting up insurance and doctors for all six of us, in three different states. There are new deductibles to figure out and paperwork to file. Open Season is on the horizon and, as new folks in this state, there’s even more incentive to review each plan carefully. There’s never an end to the things I could do in a day.

But I had a chance meeting with a blogging mom I’ve never met and her blog inspired me to get back to it. They are in the process of moving too, but she’s been much better about documenting the changes their family is going through. It reminded me of the original point of my blog.

I started my blog as a way to document our life. The adventures we took, the places we discovered, the challenges we met along the way. I also wanted to write down what it’s like, being a mom with a bionic leg. I kept up with this blog for a long time.

Then I started writing the parenting column for the newspaper. It was a ‘real’ deadline, due every Monday. It forced me to think about what was going on in our household, and explain it in an interesting way, in 900 words or less. I started to get lazy, and just relied on the column to be my consistent blog post.

I missed out on writing about a lot of little stuff, stuff that didn’t make it to the paper. I suddenly felt like everything I put on the blog had to be refined and polished. I put off coming here because I felt like I didn’t have time to meet that criteria.

But my new blogging mommy friend reminded me that this is not a formal setting. This is not a column I get paid for. I can write here every day, six times a day, if I want. It can be thoughts off the top of my head, or just an interesting picture. It’s my forum, not a bosses.

So here we go. Back to the original purpose. Today I’m going to write about….hmmmm…..what should I write about?

How about a simple moment that happened last night, in a quiet corner of my son’s bedroom? Sam and I have been reading a book called “Cracker”. It’s about a service dog from the Vietnam War, the kind that were trained to sniff out danger.

Sam picked it from the school library because it had a German Shepherd on the front cover. Oh, and some war scenes. What could be better than dogs and war?

He had saved it for my arrival in Colorado. The first night I was here, back with ‘my boys’, we dove in. It’s a long book, so we’ve been chipping away, chapter by chapter. It’s a wonderful story about a boy who gives his dog to the Army, to be trained as a service dog, and the young soldier who becomes his master. There were many good life lessons in its chapters, as well as history lessons.

The most striking was in the last chapters, that we read last night. The soldier is returning home from war, after almost losing his life in a rice paddy, and the pilot of the plane acknowledges him and his fellow soldiers over the loudspeaker. Then he advises them to change into civilian clothes, before they leave the plane, so as not to stir up conflict.

This was a hard concept for my 10 year old patriotic boy to handle. He lives in a world where people understand that soldiers don’t start the wars, they fight them. His view of the world includes people clapping for men in uniform as they get off planes from far away countries. It was hard for me, emotionally, to read the parts about the reality of a very different time in America. But it was an important thing for my boy to hear about.

During the last battle he had to fight, the young soldier loses his dog in the chaos. He has to live through recovery and rehab, not knowing if his dog survived. It becomes his mission to find him and bring him home.

(Spoiler Alert…) In the last chapters of the book, the dog is found, by a fellow dog handler, and eventually reunited with his own soldier handler. It’s an understatement to say it was an emotional ending.

I generally don’t like to ‘go there’. After my mom died, and I really felt out of control with my emotions, I have held a tighter reign on them. I cry. But not often and rarely in front of my boys. If I let myself analyze it further, it might have something to do with not wanting to start, not knowing how deep the tears might go.

But in recent years I’ve noticed that it’s not just me, and my raw emotions. Most moms are sappy and cry at silly things like book endings and movies. It doesn’t make me out of control. It makes me sensitive and real.

So I plunged on in Sam’s book. I’m embarrassed to say I almost let his dad read him the last few chapters, knowing I could avoid the tears altogether. But dad was helping Sam’s big brother with a biology assignment and the sciences are not my strength.

Within a few pages we were deep in the emotional stuff. But I just took a deep breath and moved on. Then my voice cracked. Sam could see I was feeling the emotions and he was wiping tears from his own eyes. I looked at him and we both broke into laughter, at our weepy selves.

Then we dug through the rest, short chapter after short chapter. I paused when it got hairy and sad, we giggled some at the shared emotions, then we moved on. And we did it. We got to the end and snapped the book closed feeling very satisfied indeed.

I love sharing a deeper book with my boy. There’s a place for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but sharing a story with fleshed out characters is a real joy. He learned a lot about a part of history he’d never heard about before, a whole legion of dogs who went to the Vietnam War and saved a lot of lives.

And his mama learned to let her hair down a bit, and not be afraid of the tears.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Simple Life

It’s time. I’m back. I have thought about this blog, and how I’ve neglected it, on just about every day that I have ignored it. It’s time to jump back in.

Colorado is wonderful. Just as we knew it would be. The climate. The mountain scenery that greets me when I drive to the small town grocery store. The elk herds that seem to enjoy the grass that grows just outside our back window. The endless list of outdoor activities. The droves of young families I see on trails and in the grocery store, all decked out in Patagonia gear. The high concentration of Jeeps and Subarus, each seeming to be stocked with a token Golden Retriever, Lab, or mix of the two.

My big girl is still back in New York, working two jobs and getting ready to dive back into school. Her brother, my college freshman, is working hard in Utah, loving his aviation program at Westminster College.

So that leaves us with only two kids at home. A fifteen year old who is thrilled that he can get a permit to drive in Colorado, when he would have had to wait until his 16th birthday in New York, and his 10 year old brother, who is counting down the days until he turns 11 next week.

The NY house is still on the market. After almost six months of deep price cuts, we are now over ten grand below what we paid for it. The New York market has tanked, and taken our house with it.

This means we are indefinitely residing in a small temporary condo. It has 800 square feet. Two small bedrooms, a galley kitchen, and a small living/dining area. The boys are surviving in such close quarters because they are seldom home. For hours after school they ride their bikes up the mountain trails nearby, or play with friends from the condo unit. On weekends we explore the Denver area and discover new places to play.

I’ve always said that I’d rather live in a cardboard box with my family near me, than to live in a mansion alone, and I guess I’m being challenged on that proclamation.

And I still say it’s true. I’m practically living it, and it’s true.

All our stuff is still in New York. We are surrounded by only what fit in the minivan on the drive out. Photo boxes, personal files, ski equipment and bikes had to be priority, so that left little room for extras.

Once we got here we bought a lovely, large kitchen table with six chairs at the thrift store. Its top is scratched up (Jeff wisely suggested it had been someone’s craft table) but it does the job. Our home computer is set up on one end of it, we eat dinner and do homework on the other. Best hundred bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

Otherwise, we’re pretty sparse on furniture. We sleep on three mattresses on the floor, and use boxes stacked sideways for a ‘dresser’. The last tenants left an old desk, which works out great for holding the $25 thrift store TV and leaves enough room for Lego building. We found a TV stand by the side of the road and it does the job of a bedside table, separating the boys beds. A small shelving unit, found sitting next to the dumpster, keeps all the kids’ school papers in order.

That’s it. The place is pretty empty, beyond the basic clothes, shoes and little bit of personal effects the boys brought with them. But it’s kind of nice. I have to say, I don’t really miss the stuff yet.

Life is very streamlined. It takes 15 minutes to ‘pick up the house’. The whole house. Vacuuming is finished in 7 minutes. There is virtually no dusting to be done. I have no bookcases full of books, or shelves with knick knacks. Everything in this house is here deliberately. It’s needed and used on a regular basis, or it wouldn’t have made the cut.

I have the luxury of knowing all that junk I care about is still out there. The tub with my mom’s personal effects, that I’ve moved around the country with me since she died. The box of journals from my childhood. The brass musical statues I adore, that have their place on a specific bookshelf. My dozens (hundreds?) of ‘favorite’ books. It all still exists and will be reunited with us some day.

But for now life is really simple. Peacefully and wonderfully simple. To keep the bills low, while we support two house payments, we’ve only signed up for internet service. No land line. No cable. The TV is used for occasional video games and our Friday night Red Box movies (when we stack the two single mattresses against the wall, line it with pillows, and pretend it’s our couch). Hulu gives us occasional episodes of favorite TV shows.

Have I mentioned that despite the temporary-ness of our situation, we’re all really content?

The boys have their basic needs met. Now that mom is back in their time zone, they have regular hot meals and clean laundry continues to show up in their cardboard box dressers. They get lots of fresh air, lots of exercise, lots of new experiences with new friends. There is no lawn to mow, leaves to rake or household chores to take up their free time.

Hubby loves his job. Now that he’s not worried about being the sole parent to two boys adjusting to a new life in a new state, he gets to ‘just’ do his job well. He is making his mark in his new office and seems relaxed when he shares stories of the adventures of his days. It’s really, really good to see.

And me. I have not shaken the feeling that we’re on a perpetual vacation. The slim living conditions remind me of the months we’ve spent living at a Residence Inn, on other cross country moves. Life was always pretty streamlined in those months too. A lot of my ‘mom’ responsibilities were condensed. If it weren’t for the fact the cleaning staff doesn’t show up every morning, I’d almost believe we were back at the Residence Inn.

And how can you not feel like you’re on vacation, when you live in a place where many people do spend their holiday hours and money? Just about every time I’ve driven home from the grocery store, and come over one certain rise in the road, where the valley is laid out beneath you and the mountains rise up in a different majestic fashion depending on the day’s cloud patterns and sunshine, I suck in my breath and think, ‘And I live here…’.

We’ve found amazing bike parks and endless bike paths in several parts of Denver and the surrounding area. We’ve driven mountain roads, pausing for wildlife to slowly cross, in their own time. We’ve laughed a lot, as we’ve had time to be with each other a lot, and share our family sense of humor. We’re moving quickly into ski season, where we hope to get season passes to the small mountain just 30 minutes up the road, and maybe sneak in a few hours on the slope before dinner some weeknights. The list is long, of other areas we want to explore and friends we want to visit all over the state.

Someday we’ll have a house. Someday we’ll have our flat screen TV back on the wall, with football games roaring out of it every Sunday afternoon (boy, do I miss that!) Someday we will all have room to spread out, and be surrounded by the things that we love. But in the meantime, we’re not suffering.

We’re doing everyday life things. Going to school. Going to work. Attending teacher conferences. Buying groceries. Making dinner. Doing laundry.

But it’s all streamlined. It all feels much more simple. I have to admit - I’m really liking this vacation lifestyle.