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Last Friday, the final day of our stay in Colorado, Tom and I decided to do a bit more sightseeing up in the mountains. Specifically, we wanted to go back into Rocky Mountain National Park and hike around the Alluvial Fan. Just briefly, for those who might not be familiar with it, the Alluvial Fan was formed in the early 80s when the dam of a lake sitting high up in the mountains failed. The rupture sent more than 29 million gallons of water, slit, rocks, trees, and SUV-size boulders cascading down the mountainside and onto the floor of the valley below. The devastation to the surrounding landscape was mind-boggling. Even worse, three people in its path were killed. Tom, the kids, and I visited the site a few years after the disaster when the area still looked raw and broken. It was a sobering experience.

Now, nearly 30 years later, neither the mountainside nor the valley floor looks like a war zone. The entire area is covered with trees, bushes, and other vegetation, and little ground squirrels scamper everywhere. If the gigantic boulders weren’t scattered around like old cars in a junkyard, you might not even give that section of the park special notice. We were amazed–and heartened–by Mother Nature’s power to reclaim her own.

Looking back up the mountains where the water came down through
Looking back up the mountains where the water came down
Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

We had also decided that day that it would be fun to stop at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park for breakfast before going up to hike the Fan. This created a conundrum. Should we dress in appropriate hiking attire–a.k.a. t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes–or should we kick it up a notch to avoid looking like a couple of rubes schlepping through The Stanley? What a silly question. We were on vacation. We schlepped.

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel is really quite lovely, sitting on the mountainside overlooking Estes Park. The entryway leading to the main building makes a sweeping arc around the expansive lawn, leads you past a field of grazing elk, and deposits you next to a little white guard house from which Barney Fife pops out to extract a parking fee from you. The interesting thing–in hindsight–about Barney and the parking fee was we realized there were no signs posted mentioning anything about parking fees. Sharp tack that he was, ol’ Barney saw us coming. Heck fire, we were from out of state. We were driving a late model car. Surely we were good for a little extra pocket change…which is exactly where he put the money I idiotically gave him…into his pocket. No receipt to display in our window. No cash register in his little guard house in which to deposit the bills. No “Thank ya, ma’am.” No “Kiss my arse.” The money went straight into his pocket with a smile. Forehead smack. I bet he got that cheap-ass badge he was wearing off the internet!

Once we got parked and had finished debating the legitimacy of Barney and his fee collection, we headed into the hotel. Whereas I had earlier dismissed our casual clothing with the excuse that we were on vacation, my tune did a 180 when we entered the lobby…which was elegant…and full of business professionals at some sort of a business conference…in business attire. Groan. We wandered around–as inconspicuously as possible–for several minutes, looking for the restaurant without luck before I finally resorted to asking for help at the front desk. It was a beautiful day, and the hotel staff had all the doors and windows wide open to let the fabulous mountain breeze to blow through. As I stood speaking to the desk clerk, I could feel the breeze, but I could also feel something else. Something strange. Something that felt like a sail waving back and forth on the top of my head. I patted the top of my head and continued speaking with the clerk until I had the information I needed, and then I turned to Tom and bleated, “Do I have a sticky-out pointy-thing on my head?”

“Well, yes,” he said hesitantly. “Your hair is kinda sticking up.”

Here, I must backtrack. When we got ready that morning, the only water coming out of the showerhead in our cottage was scalding hot, so grooming had been a bit dicey. I’ve got my own hormonal heat source going full blast right now, so the hot shower gave me no alternative but to retreat from the steamy bathroom as quickly as possible. Before leaving, however, I did attempt (admittedly a half-hearted attempt) to blow dry my hair. I didn’t even consider putting on makeup. I figured I’d sit in the other room to read and cool off while Tom showered, and then I’d go back in and do my makeup. Brilliant. Well…fast-forward back to the hotel.

“What do you mean my hair is ‘kinda sticking up’?” I hissed, and then I noticed Tom’s hair. He’d taken his ball cap off and his bangs (do men have bangs?) were standing straight up like…well, like…you remember in Something About Mary when Cameron Diaz uses “gel” to fix her bangs? Yeah, his bangs looked like that, so off we went to the bathrooms.

My attempts to get my hair under control were futile, and, in the process, I saw that I have forgotten to return to the bathroom at the cottage to apply makeup. I was a pointy-haired, mottled-skinned, lip-less, eye-less, brow-less freak. Tom came out of the bathroom with his hair all slicked down looking like a grease monkey.

“Shall we?”

“Yes, let’s.” And we headed upstairs to the restaurant.

When we arrived at the entrance to the restaurant, we discovered that we were 20 minutes too late for breakfast and 10 minutes too early for lunch, as were several other guests who had congregated around the door. Not wanting to waste any more time looking for another restaurant, we decided to see the thing through and stood trying to blend into our surroundings. As we waited, Tom began fumbling around with his hat which sent his sunglasses clattering to the hardwood floor. He stepped back in an attempt to avoid stepping on them, but instead…CRACK…and a lense went skittering across the floor. “Man,” he muttered. “That was close.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “No,” I thought. “You got those sons-o’-bitches dead on” and then burst into laughter…uncontrollable laughter…laughter that sent me staggering around where I stood. I’m guessing at that point we were no longer inconspicuous.

I was still snickering 10 minutes later when the hostess seated us and even later still when our waiter, “Guido,” finally came over to look down his nose, give us the squonk eye, and take our order. Fair enough.

But just so you, my faithful readers, know…the food at The Stanley is NOT worth the effort…or the parking fee.

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One of our all-time favorite scenic car rides in Colorado is the 20-mile long drive west out of Boulder on County Road 119 that winds its way up through Boulder Creek Canyon, through Nederland, CO, and up to the Eldora Ski Area. We had a gorgeous day to make the trek. The sky was crystal clear, the temperature hovered in the low 70s, and the aspens–at least in the higher elevations–were just starting to turn.

Here are a few pictures, so you can enjoy the drive, too.

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Tom and I have had the good fortune to eat in some stellar restaurants over the years, but none better than Q’s Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder. I kid you not, Q’s is amazing. My struggle is going to be telling you about it without lapsing into hyperbole. It’s that good. Really. After enjoying the chef’s three-course tasting menu at lunch one afternoon, every tastebud in my mouth–every tastebud–was doing a happy dance and giving high-fives to the tastebuds around it. Our lunch was so flavorful, so well presented and served, and so much fun, Tom and I couldn’t make dinner reservations fast enough for the following evening.

Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

The Historic Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado

John Platt, the executive chef and co-owner, bought Q’s back in 1993 with his wife, Sabrina, and–based on what I’ve learned from from reading up on them (don’t you just love Google?)–they’ve been doing amazing things there ever since. John’s self-described “chef crafted” cuisine relies heavily on seasonal, locally grown, organic ingredients, many of which come from his own garden. In that regard, what he’s doing isn’t all that unusual, I suppose–especially in Boulder–but what is unusual…or unique…or absolutely taste-bud-blowingly amazing is the way he creatively marries those ingredients together in just the right proportions to make them not only play nicely together in your mouth, but to create flavors you’re not expecting. Most well-prepared dishes make at least one part of your mouth happy; John’s dishes make every square millimeter of your mouth stand up and salute.

Moreover, his fabulous food is served by an extremely friendly, well-trained staff who seem to know what you need before you even know you need it, all in the charming elegance of the historic Hotel Boulderado. Perfect.

And now, our meals. Enjoy!

Lunch: The Appetizer
Colorado Peaches
Mixed Greens, Bleu Cheese, Crisp Pancetta
Citrus Vinaigrette

Colorado Peaches

Lunch: The Entree
Blackened Salmon
Summer Melon Relish, Black Bean Cake
Chipotle BBQ Broth

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Lunch: The Dessert
Raspberry Semifreddo
Raspberry Cake, Candied Lemon

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Lunch was served with a Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc which complimented all three courses beautifully. If I had to pick a favorite course of the three–not an easy task–I’d have to go with the blackened salmon. I generally don’t like my food spicy hot, but the spiciness of the black bean cake and the Chipotle BBQ broth was balanced perfectly with the cool fruitiness of the summer melon relish. Yum!

For dinner the following evening, we self-selected a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to accompany our meal. In hindsight, we should have asked the Cellarmaster for his recommendation. Oh well, even a poorly selected wine couldn’t ruin the meal we were about to enjoy, a meal that started with a summer melon and hot chili amuse bouche the chef sent out for us try.

Dinner: Tom’s Starter
Panseared Dungeness Crabcake
Red Pepper Romesco, Fennel Orange Slaw

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Dinner: My Starter
“Caprese”
House-made Mozzarella, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Prosciutto, Basil, Balsamic, Pumpkinseeds
(I also requested–and received–freshly sliced tomatoes from John’s garden in my Caprese)

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Dinner: Tom’s Salad
Organic Mixed Green Salad
Lemon Champagne Vinaigrette, Fennel, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Lemon Fried Potatoes

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Dinner: My Soup
Sweet Corn Soup
Lobster Hushpuppies

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Dinner: Tom’s Entree
The Chef’s Special – Monk Fish
(I was so busy slobbering over my entree, I forgot to take adequate notes about Tom’s. Whoops!)

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Dinner: My Entree
Smoked Berkshire Pork Tenderloin
Corn and Green Chili Relish, Red Chili Honey, Refried Beans, Grilled Zucchini, Pumpkinseeds

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Our Shared Dessert
Colorado Peach Crisp
Home Spun Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Peach Sauce

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Like our lunch the previous day, every dish was full of fresh flavors and clever combinations that were not only satisfying, but culinarily engaging. Our mouths were happy, our brains were strained, and our bellies were pleasantly stuffed as we left the Boulderado to do a few laps around the Pearl Street Mall before turning in for the night.

We thank John; Deluxe Chef  de Cuisine, Ian Rubenoff; Sous Chef, Cruz Silva; the friendly and attentive wait staff; and Sabrina, who was a fabulous and welcoming hostess for an amazing experience. We will look forward to dining at Q’s again very soon. Until then, I’ll be following the happenings at Q’s on their Facebook page.

In closing, let me say this to you, my readers, if you go to Boulder and don’t go to Q’s, you should…well, you should…dang…this is where I’m really struggling with hyperbole. “Be shot” sounds a bit drastic.

The historic town of Lyons, Colorado, (incorporated in 1891) sits nestled on the backside of the Front Range roughly halfway between Boulder and Estes Park on Highway 36. The actual population of the town is just under 2,000 people, but the amenities available there make it feel much bigger: a museum, two art galleries, two bike shops, a motorcycle shop, three car repair places, a furniture store, an antique shop, a quilting shop, a veterinary clinic, a medical clinic, a library, two newspapers, a fitness center, a liquor store, a produce market, a store selling all things related to honey, a fabulous little grocery store, an ice cream shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain, eight restaurants, a winery, and…whew, take a breath…Oskar Blues, Lyons’ very own microbrewery. (I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!)

Oskar’s, which sits in a strip mall that is wedged between westbound Highway 36 (Main Street) and eastbound Highway 36 (Broadway), is hard to miss. At least from what we could tell, it’s always surrounded by cars. From Main Street, you see the packed parking lot. From Broadway, you see the overflowing outdoor seating space and hear the musical performers who entertain diners nearly every night–weekdays or weekends.

Oskar Blue's - Lyons, CO

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Tom and I got there early one evening and managed to snag a table out on the balcony where we could hear the band playing bluegrass down below in the parking lot and see the sun setting over the mountains to the west. Unfortunately, neither my pictures of the musicians nor of the sunset came out very well, so you’ll have to conjure your own mental images of both. (I need to practice using my camera…sorry.)

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blue's

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blues

Oskar Blues’ claim to fame, of course, is its beers, and they’ve got plenty to choose from. On the night we stopped in, there were eight choices, including Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Deviant Dave’s, One-Nut Brown Ale, and Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. Clever. Tom chose Dale’s Pale Ale and gave it a thumbs-up. Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up beer because of the whole gluten thing…buuuummer…so you’ll have to settle for Tom’s hearty endorsement.

Dave's Pale Ale

Dave's Pale Ale

Oskar’s menu, which features the “Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort food that reflect [the] founder’s southern upbringing,” includes New Orleans-style gumbo and fried catfish along with the standard fare found on most bar/brewery menus: pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican entrees. Whatever you choose, I’m betting you won’t walk away unsatisfied. Tom had the Smoked BBQ Sandwich–a pulled pork sandwich smothered in homemade Bourbon BBQ sauce–with a side of homemade black bean salad (yuuuummmmy), and I had the “bodacious” B.B. King Burger with a side order of sweet potato fries. Brownie points to our waitress, I didn’t get the squonk eye when I asked if they would hold the bacon and add grilled onions to my burger.  Ultimately, the burger was a burger, but the sweet potato fries were gooo…ooood. Sweet, crunchy, and salty all in one bite. Does it get much better?

BBQ Beef Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Smoked BBQ Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

After eating at Oskar Blues, Tom and I understood why it’s so popular and why–we assume–it draws diners from beyond Lyons’ city limits…although, I suppose we could be wrong… maybe everyone who lives in Lyons eats at Oskar’s every night…it is lots of fun…but then, who’s eating at the eight other restaurants in Lyons?

I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!

Several years ago, when we were in Boulder visiting Tom’s sister, she took us to Tom’s Tavern on the corner of 11th and Pearl for beer and burgers. Quite tasty. So when we were debating our options for dinner on Tuesday night and spied Tom’s, we didn’t hesitate. We headed straight across the street, up the stairs, and presented ourselves at the hostess stand. That should have been our first clue. Tom’s didn’t have a hostess stand.

We were seated immediately near the front of the restaurant and were handed menus…menus that failed to have the words “Tom’s Tavern” printed anywhere on them. Instead, blazoned across the top at a jaunty angle: “SALT.” Hmmmm. We looked around. Sure enough, the room was different. Dramatically different. Tom’s beat-up bar furnishings had been replaced with sleek contemporary tables, chairs, lighting, and artwork. People were dressed up (by Boulder standards). There weren’t beer signs everywhere, and the silverware was real. Ahhhh…you don’t have to draw us a picture. Clearly, we weren’t in Tom’s. Okay, okay. We got it…finally. Actually, we weren’t in anything remotely like Tom’s. We were, in fact, in a brand new restaurant which we learned later had only been opened a few days before.

Our initial disappointment didn’t last long.

For starters, SALT serves brews from local microbreweries and drinks they call Pre-Prohibition Spirituals. Tom ordered a Steamworks Kolsch Ale (Steamworks Brewery is in Durango, CO), and I ordered a Pre-Prohibition Spiritual called Saturn Returns, a drink I can only describe as a peach Bellini with a dark soul. Yummy. I wish I’d taken notes about the whole Pre-Prohibition business at the time so I could tell you about it. Really. I did read about it, but I was having too much fun drinking the darn thing to take good notes then, and now I can’t remember what I read. Sorry.

Libations

Libations

As for the food, the meat and produce served at SALT come from local farms and ranches. In a blurb about SALT, the Downtown Boulder website uses descriptors like “savory slow food,” “fresh local,” and “loving preparation.” I can’t disagree.  Everything we ate was fresh and flavorful. The chef is clearly doing something right with his ingredients. Tom had the Tavern Burger featuring grass-fed beef, and I had the Summer Vegetable Penne. Delish…although I paid for eating pasta the next day. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was worth it. Big grin.

The Tavern Burger

The Tavern Burger

Summer Vegetable Penne
Summer Vegetable Penne
For dessert–of course there was dessert; we were on vacation!–we shared the Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The peaches are in season in Colorado, so we had no other option. Really big grin!
Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I’ll close this post with a picture showing the restaurant from the view we had of it pre-dinner. You can decide if we’re crazy for thinking it was still Tom’s Tavern (the word “Tavern” is behind the tree). Of course, the picture also clearly shows the name “SALT” above the door. Groan.
SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

The Boulder Book Store is one of six independent bookstores on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, and with its exposed brick walls, creaky wooden floors, well-stocked oak bookshelves, tin ceilings, and tall windows, it’s a beaut! The only thing missing is a big, ol’ yellow tom cat roaming around.

The Boulder Book Store and the BookEnds Cafe

The Boulder Book Store and the BookEnds Cafe

Located at the west end of the mall, the Boulder Book Store boasts three floors filled with more than 150,000 glorious new and used books. Even better, everywhere you turn you find knowledgeable, helpful staff. Right next door, with easy access from the Book Store, a cafe called BookEnds offers tasty pastries, coffees, teas, and lots of outdoor seating on the mall.  A reader’s Shangri-la. I could have spent hours there. Well…actually, I did.

Doesn't it look inviting?

Doesn't it look inviting?

The Boulder Book Store

The Boulder Book Store

The "Grand Ballroom" on the Third Level

The "Grand Ballroom" on the Third Level

The Book Store also offers writing workshops and author events. While I wasn’t able to attend a writing workshop, Tom and I did get to attend a very informative presentation by local author, Elana Amsterdam. Amsterdam has written a marvelous, recently published cookbook titled The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook of which I now own a signed copy. Self-satisfied smile. She also has a terrific website called Elana’s Pantry with hundreds of gluten-free recipes. Be nice to me, and I might even let you sample some of the goodies I’ll be making from her cookbook and website—that is, once the almond flour arrives from the supplier. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about my gluten-free baking and cooking adventures soon in my other blog, Mary’d With Children. Amsterdam has some truly inspired ideas. I can’t wait to get started!

Amsterdam's New Cookbook

Amsterdam's New Cookbook

I realize that not everyone in this country shops for groceries in a giant, stocked-to-the-rafters grocery chain, but many of us do. I do, so it was a real treat to walk through the front doors of the old-timey St. Vrain Market in Lyons, Colorado. Instead of being greeted by fancy floral arrangements, huge rolling bins of watermelons, and drippy Muzak music, we were greeted with a warm smile from Connie, one of the owners.
The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Shopping for the items on our list took us less than 15 minutes–the St. Vrain Market would fit into half the produce section of my local grocery store–but we found everything we needed and were amazed to find many things we never expected to see. Moreover, I was reminded that shopping, when I’m given only a few options to choose from, can be a rather pleasant, stress-free experience. Seriously, why do we need 253 different cereal choices?

The St. Vrain Market

The St. Vrain Market

Connie and her husband, Neil, recently purchased the St. Vrain Market and have big plans for it in the near future, including expanding the meat and deli counter, adding a bakery, and introducing new products that will help their customers “enjoy a delicious, healthy, and balanced diet” (yes, the two of them are incredibly physically fit and appear to be health nuts like everyone else in Colorado, but we’ll not hold that against them). Fortunately, they truly seem to appreciate the rarity of their wonderful little store and plan to maintain “the nostalgia of [their] hometown market.” I hope so. I wish them great success and can’t wait to go back. Visit their website to learn more.

Yummy Produce!

Yummy Produce!

At the moment, Tom and I are sitting at the sidewalk tables in front of the BookEnd Café in Boulder, Colorado, soaking up the atmosphere and a large glass of iced black tea. Okay, okay. I also nibbled on a cookie, but I’m on vacation, so it doesn’t count. Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here in Boulder, and it was a beautiful morning at our cottage up in St. Vrain Canyon just outside of Lyons, Colorado.

We arrived at the cottage early yesterday afternoon after spending Sunday night with some good friends in Denver. We had a wonderful time in Denver, and hope—with any luck—to spend another evening with our friends before heading back home, maybe a dinner here in Boulder with them. I’ll let you know.

Meantime, we’re doing as much NOTHING as possible. This morning, doing nothing meant hanging out in the cottage. Yes, the cottage of Shelly’s Cottages fame, the same cottage I wrote about earlier. If you read my post on P.S., it will not surprise you at all that being a guest at Shelly’s involves RULES. Even more rules than we were given when we first made the reservation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We headed up to the cottage from Denver mid-morning yesterday. According to the official-looking letter we received from Shelly’s prior to our departure from home, check-in time at the cottages is 3 p.m. Considering the no-nonsense tone of the phone conversation with Kim, the owner, when I initially made the reservation and the equally strident tone of the letter, we were a bit nervous about arriving any earlier than we were “allowed,” so we pit-stopped in Boulder to eat a late breakfast and to kill some time. There aren’t many places on the planet more entertaining to hang out and watch the world go by than the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder—which partially explains why we came back this afternoon—but after leisurely morning meal and a slow stroll up and down the mall yesterday, we were tired and ready to get unpacked and settled. We took a deep breath and called Kim to inquire about an early check-in.

Kim was perfectly pleasant. Our cottage wasn’t ready just yet, but if we could wait an hour, she’d finish cleaning it and have it waiting for us. Sweet! An hour was just enough time to grab a few groceries and drive the 20-or-so miles up there. We headed back to the car, found a Whole Foods a few blocks away (imagine finding a Whole Foods in Boulder), and grabbed a grocery cart. The cottage has a full kitchen, so we figured it would be a good idea to bring in breakfast- and lunch-type goodies, making it easier to sloth around until such time we feel compelled to tidy up and leave the cottage this week. As an aside–and in our defense–our lives have been pretty nutty lately, so—at this point—our idea of the perfect vacation is one that involves no dress clothes, no early mornings, and no schedule of any kind. Sweats and flannel pants are required.

Anyway, Whole Foods was packed, so shopping took longer than we expected. Since we were ready to crash for the day, we decided to grab salads at the salad bar at the grocery store to eliminate the need for another stop on our way to the cottage or the need to go scavenging for lunch after getting settled. Elbows out, we navigated our way down each side of the salad bar, filling our re-cycled, totally organic, flimsy-ass paper salad containers, and headed to the front of the store to check out. Thank goodness, I’d had the presence of mind to grab my re-usable grocery bags from the car before entering the store. I would not want to be the lone schmuck standing in line at the Whole Foods in Boulder, CO, the birthplace of all things green and the home of the largest contingent of Green Peace volunteers I’ve ever been accosted by, having to ask to have my groceries sacked in paper or plastic.

After a long wait at the checkout, the two of us and our re-usable grocery bags full of healthy, over-priced chow were headed for the car. Because we hadn’t been to the cottages yet, the trunk was still full of luggage, so we loaded the groceries in the backseat of my car and took off for Lyons (In the wrong direction, but that’s another post. Stupid googlemaps.). Within minutes of leaving the grocery store, I could smell the balsamic vinaigrette on Tom’s salad. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself, but because I was driving, I had to concentrate on going the wrong way out of Boulder. We’d have to deal with the smell later.

Once we were out of the circus that is Boulder traffic, I said aloud, “Man, I can really smell the dressing on your salad.” Apparently, Tom had been thinking the same thing. Without a word, he whirled around in his seat and lifted the offending bag. “Shit,” he mumbled.

Salad dressing was everywhere, including on the leather seat of the car, so we pulled over in a little town outside of Boulder (Niwot for those of you who know the area) to assess the damage and attempt a clean-up with the only thing I had in the glovebox: Windex wipes. Dried-out, nappy Windex wipes. Ugh. Needless to say, it was a feeble clean-up attempt.

So, still going the wrong way (actually, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong way, it was just the loooooong way—I repeat, stupid googlemaps), we got back out on the road, more desperate than ever to reach our destination. As we drove, Tom clung to the dripping salad container (around which the helpful checkout clerk had placed a large, worthless rubber band), grumbling and cursing, periodically threatening to throw the whole mess out the window. After 5 miles or so, we couldn’t take the smell any longer and rolled the windows down. It was about then I got the giggles, then the guffaws. Then we hit road construction.

Thirty long minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of Shelly’s Cottages and leapt from the car, gasping for fresh air. Before we could do anything meaningful about the salad dressing mess, we had to get checked in, so we headed to the office where we were met by a smiling, cheerful Kim who robotically ran through all of the additional rules for staying at Shelly’s that had not already been posted for our viewing pleasure on the website. She concluded her spiel by saying, “ Also, you need to know there are black bears in the area.  In fact, there are often black bears on the property, so NEVER leave any food outside and be sure to place all your trash in the receptacles behind the cottage. Oh! And don’t leave any food in your car.”

“Are you kidding,” I shrieked in my head. “My leather seats are currently marinating in balsamic vinaigrette. My car’s an Italian-panini-sandwich-lover’s dream! Total bear food!” Groan.

Luckily, I was exhausted when we went to bed last night, so I didn’t lie there worrying about a bear eating my car, but I sure as heck checked on it when I finally crawled out of bed about 9:30 this morning.

We drove to Boulder with the car windows down this afternoon, so, with any luck, my car won’t smell like an Italian deli when we get back in it.

The Meandering Matriarch recently posted a lament about the proliferation of black in the working woman’s wardrobe. As one of those “penguins”–or at least a former penguin (you can hardly call what I’ve been doing lately “work”)–I feel compelled to respond.

I wore black because it made getting dressed in the morning sooooo easy. No brain cells required. On any typical morning, before I could get myself out the door, I had to get my husband and children up and on their way, take care of the animals, throw a load of laundry in, think about what I was going to serve for dinner and maybe even start dinner, check my email one last time before leaving the house, gather up my own crap, and get myself ready. And that was a typical morning. Heaven forbid, I’d have to get one of the animals to the vet’s or run by the post office before going into work. If I wore black, I reduced my stress load tremendously.

A basic black wardrobe requires a few pairs of black pants, a black skirt or two, a black purse, a pair of black pumps, a pair of black flats, a couple of black jackets, and a few colorful tops with coordinating jewelry. If you live in a cold climate, you have a short black coat, a long, black wool coat with a brightly colored scarf and gloves, and black dress boots. Simple. It all coordinates, so you can’t screw any of it up. If your gray matter is scrambled with everything else you have to think about while you’re getting ready, wearing black dramatically reduces your chances of winding up at work with two different color shoes or a hideously mismatched ensemble. Brainless. Totally brainless.

Plus, black is the hands-down champion at hiding–or at least camouflaging–figure flaws.

I worked with a woman once who, years ago when she entered the work force, repainted her fingernails every night to match the outfit she’d laid out to wear the next day. I have no idea HOW or WHY she did it–and she laughs about it now–but I can tell you one thing for certain, based on the women I know, those days are long gone. Most working women are stretched to the limit. I can’t speak for them all, but I can tell you that there were days when I was just grateful I’d managed to make it to work with my teeth brushed, my bra on, and shoes on my feet. Who cares what color my clothes were. I suspect there are others who feel the same way.

My dad sent me an email note last week telling me he’d been selected for jury duty. For a moment, I was jealous. I’ve been called for jury duty three times and selected once. The one trial I was selected for was nearly twenty years ago, but it was so entertaining, I’ve looked forward to doing it again ever since. Dad wasn’t so lucky. His services were required for a civil trial between a flatwork contractor and a wealthy homeowner in the Tucson foothills who didn’t want to pay for the 2,700 square feet of concrete the contractor had poured…probably because the homeowner had over-extended himself building a multi-million dollar shrine to himself…but that’s just a guess. In any case, the jury deliberated less than five minutes before ordering the homeowner to pay up. Borrrring.

The civil trial that I served as a juror for involved a car full of lawyers from a prominent Midwestern law firm, a moon-less night, a hilly two-lane county road in the middle of the Flint Hills (cattle country, for those of y’all who ain’t from these parts), and a lone black bull standing smack in the middle of that dark, deserted road.

In all honesty, I don’t recall the specifics of why the big-city lawyers were out in the middle of the Flint Hills in the dead of night, but it’s ultimately unimportant. The fact was that they were…and so was the bull. All the lawyers in the car–as I recall, there were four–claimed the driver was going the speed limit when they crested a hill that night and found an enormous black bull staring back at them in their headlights, a claim that would be debated hotly during the trial. Anyway, the driver swerved to miss the huge animal, careened through a ditch, and came to rest against a fence.

Fortunately, the bull escaped unscathed, but the lawyers weren’t so lucky. Three of them had minor injuries requiring a visit to the local emergency room, but one guy was hurt badly enough that he had to be brought back to Kansas City in an ambulance. Please note, this is the one part of the story that I do not think is funny. But he recovered, so…

Because the injured were lawyers, it would naturally follow that there would be a lawsuit. And there was. Specifically a lawsuit against the rancher who owned the bull. The lawyers claimed the rancher was negligent for “allowing” the bull out onto the road, so they were suing for the pain and suffering, blah, blah, blah caused by the accident resulting from said bull in the road. Sigh.

For one whole day and part of the next, we listened to repetitive testimony from local law enforcement officials, the rancher, and even experts hired by the prosecution to prove the rancher’s negligence, none of whom ever managed to find any breaks or weak spots in the fence surrounding the pen where the bull was kept. Moreover, none of them could provide a rational explanation as to why the other six or seven bulls kept in the same pen were still there at the time of the accident. Points to the defense.

For another day and a half, we listened to expert testimony about the particulars of the accident itself. First from a former highway patrolman who, at the time of the trial, was making his living by recreating accidents and providing details for whomever needed the information. In this case, the information was incredibly interesting. The facts, in a nutshell, presented via nifty charts, pictures, and drawings: one, the car left the road and traveled sideways (called yawing, I learned) for nearly 200 yards through an unmown ditch before slamming into the fence; two, the ditch was full of tall weeds, sizable seedlings, large rocks, and ruts.

The highway patrolman’s conclusion: the car was traveling between 85 and 90 mph when it left the road. Ooooo. Well over the posted speed limit and way beyond what any reasonable driver with gray matter between his ears would attempt under similar conditions.

But hold on. The prosecution had an expert witness, a rumpled college physics professor, who was supposed to take the stand and refute the facts and the patrolman’s conclusion.  Not too surprisingly, the poor guy was smart enough not to attempt refuting the facts, but he gamely and vehemently argued against the conclusion. He didn’t present any evidence to support his argument, but he argued nonetheless. It was all very dramatic, very Perry Mason-ish. But very lame. Again, points to the defense.

Now, the best part of the trial, the part that made it worth sitting through nearly four days of testimony about fences, bovine behavior, tire tracks, yawing, and culpability…oh, this is sooo good…after a long break on the afternoon of the fourth day, the judge turned to the jury, removed his glasses, wiped his forehead, and informed us wearily that a new wrinkle had been added to the case. Apparently, the wife of the lawyer who was brought back to the city by ambulance–the lawyer I will now refer to as Tiny Johnson because I don’t remember his real name–wanted to add one more claim to the suit. She wanted to sue the rancher for a quarter of  million dollars for loss of conjugal relations for the eighteen months since the accident. I suppressed an audible snort. There was noooooo way ol’ Tiny was worth that kind of loot, and everyone in the courtroom knew it. It took every ounce of self-control to suppress the laughter that was struggling to erupt. But I managed it, and I mentally patted myself on the back for being such a grown up.

Well apparently, I congratulated myself too soon. After we came back with a verdict of “not guilty” (for any of it) and the judge had thanked and then dismissed us, the court reporter came up to me and asked, “Do you play poker?”

Startled, I mumbled, “Ummm, no.”

“Good. You’d be a lousy poker player,” she smiled. “Your face gave away everything you were thinking. Thanks for making this trial so much fun.” And she walked away before I could say anything else.

“Good to know,” I thought to myself, but, “Ye, gods, how embarrassing.” Then I thought about Tiny, his cronies, and the Mrs. Now that’s embarrassing.