Spring has sprung in Denver (and so has my suffering)

As school winds down, life is at a frenetic pace and the last four weeks have kicked my butt. If I haven’t been sick, I’ve been down-and-out with allergies. Is anyone else having the worst pollen-infested spring ever?

Regardless, life must go on and we have been busy, busy, busy.

We rarely/never get visitors and I just don’t understand. Is Colorado not one of the coolest places on earth? So, I was thrilled when my sister-in-law’s little sister Esther pinged me that she and her husband were coming to town for a wedding. Jane comes from a family of 9? 10? kids and I haven’t seen Esther since she was Hadley’s age when my brother got married. I was thrilled to take her and her wonderful hubby who just graduated from medical school to some of my favorite haunts that included Evergreen Lake.

And, of course, the best breakfast in Colorado: Country Road Cafe (just check-out all that food and the pancake!) I have to give Esther credit. She ordered something I never would have tried in a gazillion years and it was out of this world: The Wildwood’s potato pancakes topped with roasted pork, eggs, cheddar, hollandaise, crispy onions and jalapeno jam.

If you come visit me, I’ll take you and let you buy it for me because I’m nice like that.

My friend Tina’s kids Nolan and Rowan are our long-time friends who were born almost exactly a year apart. For their birthday, Tina goes ALL OUT and this year, it was a Despicable Me party on an outdoor movie screen.


As always, I was  happy to mooch off a friend for a super fun evening.

We also played hard on Nolan’s birthday.

Except for Bode. He looks a bit worried. And who can blame him?

We later went for Mongolian BBQ and it would appear Rowan is doing something shocking like eating her vegetables.

One fine spring morning, we popped over to Hadley’s Waldorf school for a lovely May Faire. Admittedly, there are some cultural idiosyncrasies that endlessly frustrate me i.e. there is a zero waste policy so, though they served fresh-squeezed lemonade, unless you brought your own non-disposable cup you were out of luck. And yes, we forgot because we generally don’t transport our own beverage containers.

On the plus side, we had a great time watching the kids do the Maypole dance, a ceremonial folk dance performed around a tall pole garlanded with greenery or flowers and often hung with ribbons that are woven into complex patterns. Hadley and I made flower wreaths for our hair and didn’t they turn out beautiful?
Revealing sidenote: My wreath lasted five minutes before I had an allergic reaction to the flowers. I have more issues than even I could have imagined.

Despite my love hate-hate relationship with allergies, it’s tough to complain too much with views like these. During a bike ride, I was blown away by one of our favorite summer swimming holes.

Friday bootcamp at Rocks Rocks=not ugly

White Ranch Park Open Space

On top of the world at White Ranch

One evening, we were thrilled to attend Elitch Gardens’ VIP Preview night of their new ride, the Brain Drain. I couldn’t convince Jamie or the kids to go with me so latched onto some of my awesome blogging friends and besides hanging upside down midair. And going backwards. And huge loops at warp speed. It was a blast!

The kids had plenty of fun, too. Despite the fact the park was still closed for the season, Elitch opened up a bunch of rides, which we proceeded to ride over and over again. There was also a never-ending supply of food. Upon being approached by a waiter who offered him an unlimited supply of corn dogs at no cost, Bode sighed and pronounced, “This is what it’s like to be a king!”

Sorry, dude. In my world it would’ve been steak and an allergy-free spring.

A Frightfully Fun Hotel Stay at Nightmare on Curtis Street

After a while, Halloween memories start to blur together. Dress up, trick-or-treat, gorge on candy. Lather, rinse, repeat. But last weekend, my family experienced a Halloween event we will never forget. We attended the Nightmare on Curtis Street at the Curtis – A DoubleTree by Hilton. Each year during the month of October, the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver, Colorado transforms its 13th floor into a haunted house for a most memorable Halloween.

The Curtis – A Doubletree Hotel

This family-friendly, pop-culture hotel is dedicated to all things quirky. Case in point: last summer’s pop-up, inflatable room that rose 22 feet in the air.

The hallway of each of the 16 floors boasts a different theme, like One-hit Wonders, Big Hair, and Dance. The playful lobby hosts impromptu hula hoop contests and offers board games for check-out as well as a small book-filled library.

The 13th floor’s theme is Horror. I’m not the ghost-hunting type and at ages 7 and 9, neither are my kids. I’d think twice about staying somewhere that claimed to be legitimately haunted but I took a gamble that my family would love Nightmare on Curtis Street.

Click to keep reading our fun experiences and why my children may have clown issues after this.

Ultimate Denver Date Night: Sullivan’s Steakhouse and Cirque du Soleil

Despite an awesome summer, Jamie and I haven’t been on a date night since May so when we were offered tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna, we were all-in. Jamie’s sister Lisa generously invited the kiddos for a sleepover, giving us the freedom to do whatever the heck we wanted for however long. So, what did we do?

We ate. And ate. And ate.  We tried out Sullivan’s Steakhouse for the first time in downtown Denver and it won’t be our last. In addition to awesome filet mignon (and a roasted red pepper truffle butter I’m still dreaming about)….

….we inhaled Sullivan’s seasonal chilled seafood sampler for two with cracked lobster claws, huuuge cocktail shrimp, oysters in a half shell, jumbo lunch crabmeat and an avocado habanero salsa.

Oh, and I won’t mention the coconut cream pie with white chocolate shavings or the warm cast iron wild berry crumble we had for dessert. Let’s just say it was a good thing I did boot camp at Red Rocks that morning.

Then, it was off to Cirque du Soleil. I believe this is my fourth Cirque production and if you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend it (this, coming from non-artsy folks).

Amaluna was whimsical, thrilling, artistic and oh-so beautifully set on a  mysterious island governed by Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. The stunts and choreography were enthralling and it was the perfect place to reconnect as a couple.

As were the bathrooms. The unisex stalls were set outside so as I was doing my business, Jamie reached under and grabbed my leg, nearly giving me a heart attack.

I learned the reason why men and women’s bathrooms are usually separate.

Another thing we loved about Cirque was how interactive it was. At one point, one of the performers walked up to Jamie (who was sitting on an aisle seat), cuddled up to him and purred, “Daddy.”

And with a look like that, who could blame him.

Getting wired on 9News’ back-to-school fashion segment

I’ve fallen into a routine of appearing on 9News every month, usually around the time my column in the Denver Post is published. Though the experience still has a measure of stress, I’ve filed it under the “this is good for you to get out of your comfort zone so suck it up” file.

What I was not expecting when my kids appeared in last year’s 9News fashion show is how much they would love it. In fact, all year long whenever I filmed a segment, they would get all huffy with me. “Why aren’t we doing it with you?”–like the show couldn’t possibly go on without them.

So when back-to-school rolled around again, I figured I’d get them off my back and do the segment again, though it is a colossal undertaking to work with the clothing stores, figure out the styles and then present it all like I’m some sort of fashion aficionado. One thing I had going for me was my models from last year were all game for Round 2: my kids and two great teens from church, Stephanie and Bennett.

My kids had a blast getting outfitted at The Children’s Place. OK, Hadley has a blast; Bode was appeased when I told him he could pick one of their Angry Birds shirts as a reward.We did a few dry runs prior to The Big Day while I told Stage Dad Jamie to watch Tom Hanks’ eloquent performance in the spoof Toddlers & Tiaras for inspiration.

Our segment went live at 8:40 a.m. and we had to be at the studio by 8:20 a.m. so I told the teens to be at my house by 7:20 a.m. Bennett planned to follow us there in his car while Stephanie asked if her mom could drop her off at 7 a.m. on the way to work.

Unlike last year’s chaos with sick Hadley throwing up in the parking lot, I just knew this would would be different. The day dawned bright, beautiful and early. When 7 a.m. rolled around, I waited for Stephanie. Then 7:05 a.m. No problem. They were running a bit late. By 7:15 a.m. I started to panic. She’s a responsible kid and maybe something had happened. When Bennett rang the doorbell at 7:20 a.m., I was in full panic mode as I texted and called Stephanie. No response. By some stroke of luck, she had left her mom’s cell phone number on her voice mail so I called immediately.

“Where is Stephanie?” I choked out.
“Who is this?” she asked.
“Amber. She’s supposed to be here. We need to leave right now for the fashion show.”
“No, it’s not until Thursday.”
“Nope, it’s today.” Today being Monday.

Then it was her mom’s turn to freak out. “She’s at home sleeping. She thinks it’s Thursday. Don’t worry. WE WILL BE THERE.”

I didn’t know how. Her mom was at work and she’d have to race home, drag her teen out of bed and be at the studio in less than an hour but I didn’t question it.

I white-knuckled the 30-minute drive, at one point telling the kids, “why don’t you sing me a nice song to alleviate my stress?” upon which Hadley belted out, “Make it… Stephanie. You will make it!”

Not exactly the distraction I was hoping for.

We arrived at the studio shortly after 8 a.m. and much to my shock, Stephanie arrived a few minutes later with her mom apologizing profusely. My blood pressure levels started to go back down until, at 8:15 a.m., 9News’ sports reporter Suzie Wargin spotted us and said, “You’re late. We’re going live in five minutes.” And then those stress levels shot up yet again. Late? Late for what and why was she the one doing the interview?

She quickly realized she wasn’t looking for us (whew!) so we hung out in the Pit (newsroom) until it was our turn. Jamie had arrived by that time and we were soon ushered in. Kyle, one of my favorite reporters, was to do the segment with us and I got wired. With a microphone, that is. Believe me, my adrenaline levels were plenty wired on their own.

We hoped to do a quick run-through so the kids could see where they needed to stand when Kyle suddenly learned over to me and whispered, “we’re up next.” Problem was the cameras were suddenly on me and I had no way of telling Stage Dad Jamie we were live and not just practicing. Good thing the kiddos performed like champs, eventually figuring out this was no rehearsal. (See the segment here).

As for me? Good thing I have a year to recover before the next back-to-school fashion segment drama.

When your family is a bloody mess (literally!)

They say blood is thicker than water in reference to the bonds of family. However, after seeing this picture of Jamie’s brother and sister at Denver’s 2012 Zombie Crawl last weekend, I beg to differ.

And I am more than just a little big glad we’re not blood related. :-)

P.S. Bode is still traumatized from seeing them.

The Horrors of Biking Bear Creek (Literally)

Last month, I finally kicked my 10+-year-old mountain bike to the curb (or rather, Craigslist) and purchased the coolest new trend in mountain bikes: a 29er. I don’t know what it is about those 29-inch wheels but I feel invincible on my bike.

Problematic when you are indisputably mortal.

During the overheated summer months, I would hike or bike at dawn out of sheer survival.  With the glorious drop in temperatures, I’ve been reconfiguring my day and it has forced me to become more disciplined. Now, I dangle my playtime in the mountains as a motivator for meeting deadlines.

On Monday, I cranked out my Denver Post column and Travel Mamas article (both a week before deadline, ThankYouVeryMuch) as well as put the finishing touches on my PowerPoint presentation for the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference I’m speaking at this week in Steamboat Springs (more on that later).

I rewarded myself for my productive morning with a two-hour ride. A few weeks ago, I took my road bike for a 30-mile ride from Morrison to Denver along the Bear Creek Trail. I’d noticed a dirt trail “Stone House”and resolved to bring my new 29er back to attempt it. Monday was that day.

The first part of the ride through Bear Creek Lake Park was a bluebird-flaxen roller-coaster ride.

I had summited and descended a steep hill when I came upon the start of the Stone House Trail with a rather unwelcome sign:

Three river crossings? A wise person would have turned back but not me. I was on my 29er! I could do it! I was delusional! And those river crossings were referring to Bear Creek. How daunting could a little ‘ol creek be? Turns out, plenty.

I was quickly grounded when I reached my first river crossing which was, indeed a river. I calculated the water to be between 1.5-2 feet deep. I looked upstream and saw a more shallow crossing with an obstacle course of rocks and a fallen log. I dismounted and slogged my bike through the water as I skipped from rock-to-rock.

River crossing No. 1: Tackled.

What I didn’t have the foresight to anticipate: River crossing No. 2 and the fact I was now trapped between them. As I approached the second one, there were no shallow areas so I picked up speed, surged into the water and despite the fact I was slipping, slipping, slipping, my 29er’s wheels forged on.

Until about three-quarters of the way across when those slippery rocks proved uncrossable. You know those movies that use slow motion for dramatic effect? Thus describes what happened next. I started slipping, I set my foot down to stabilize myself as water shot up my leg. Before I knew it, I completely lost my balance and fell, right-side first into the drink.

That part was fast-motion.

I slogged my way to shore, ringed myself out and dragged myself to river crossing No. 3.

There were no obstacle or traversing attempts. I simply dismounted and walked straight through, cursing the city of Lakewood for being too lazy to build bridges. Following that third crossing, the dirt trail reconnected with the paved one but I was determined! I was going to stay on my dirt path all the way to the Stone House!

Then came the thorn bush.

I took the paved trail back.

I later limped into the house, bellowed to Jamie, “I FELL INTO THE RIVER!” for which he raced up to hear me download the day’s events. I went into the kitchen for a snack and saw the note I’d hastily left him to know where I’d gone:

I didn’t write, “Biking AT Bear Creek” or “Biking Bear Creek trail.” Just simply “Biking Bear Creek.” It was rueful foreshadowing for would I would literally do that day.

And make me realize semantics are everything.

The Perils of Colorado Hiking Moms

I’ve fallen into a pretty great routine with the kids back in school and I can’t believe how fortunate I am. I mean, I actually have time to write! I filed my column early! I’m picking up freelance assignments! I have time to respond to emails! My house is clean! I’m starting to travel this week!

I would’ve written that above paragraph in all-caps but figured exclamation marks were less annoying. #Fail

My day always starts with work before dawn and then once the kiddos are nestled away in school, I play for a bit. Thursdays are my hiking days with a few of my besties. It had rained a lot the day prior so I worried the trails would be mucky. I gave them two choices: Hike up up up up the Apex Parkor head down a paved valley.

Without hesitation, my friend Jenn pointed up and up up up we went for a pretty rigorous hike but with stunning views.

Those are my kind of friends.

And believe me, I have great ones. Last Monday, I asked my friend Tina to hike a new-to-me trail on the lower part of White Ranch Park. I’d hiked the Belcher Hill trail several times but had never attempted a neighboring trail, the Longhorn.

I do a lot of hiking by myself but try to stick to areas I know will have at least some foot traffic, just in case something should happen to me.

Which is very, very likely.

And there was something about the Longhorn that made me hold off until I had a buddy to do it with. For once, listening to my gut paid off.

I love Tina. We’ve been hiking friends since Hadley and her son Nolan were babies and she did the HealthOne Red Rocks Fitness Challenge for three months with me last summer.

That basically means she knows what she’s getting into by hanging out with me.

But we were not prepared for the Longhorn. Not only was weather REALLY hot (hopefully our last 90-degree day) with zero shade but it was steep. Really steep. As in this-is-never-gonna-end-steep. After a long while, we started to wonder if we’d missed our turn but it seemed unlikely–we were going at a snail’s pace.

See those smiles? We’re faking

After what seemed like eons, I skipped ahead a bit and saw it: a sign, just as the trail started mercifully leveling out. And you know what that sign said?

No, it was not a trail marker but rather, a testament to the journey we’d just endured:

I anticipated our loop would take us between 1-1.5 hours (the standard length of my hikes).

It took us three hours.

Forget my worries about Tina not speaking to me after that little adventure.

I wasn’t speaking to me.

Summer 2012: It’s a WRAP!

We’re currently in back-to-school mode but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post about some forgotten moments of summer.

Or rather, soon-to-be forgotten because I have the worst memory ever.

Of course, there was our trip to Calgary to visit my family, whom I’m missing like crazy. From My Favorite Ice Cream Shoppe.

Cute cousins
Attacking my bro Pat
Disturbing family pic w/ niece Emily, SIL Jane & creeper Pat
Overlooking downtown Calgary

To my almost-daily bike rides with Dad all over the city. Dude is in his 70s and still cranking out 20 miles/ride.

Not to be forgotten is our better-than epic trip to Disneyland to witness the opening of Cars Land.

‘Twas definitely in the Top 3 Vacations Ever.

And that means a lot because we’ve been on some killer trips.

Like this one to YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park.

We also had plenty of local adventures such as Heritage Square. I did a write-up at Mile High Mamas about it and between the alpine slide, amusement park and new Miner’s Maze Adventure, the kids had a blast.

Water Walkerz a.k.a. “hamster balls” were a hit

The claustrophobic need not attempt.

And then there were plenty of activities with the youth from our church. Every Tuesday night, they congregate for fun or service and my kids are always delighted when I let them tag along.

Like this boating adventure at Chatfield State Park.

Haddie tubing behind the boat w/ her two babysitters
Stomp rocket fun; minor nailing of geese involved

The weather turned really blustery and we were delighted our group of 30 had the beach to ourselves.

Fair-weather wussies.

On another youth activity, we hit Bear Creek Lake State Park for some good ol’ fashioned crawdad fishing, swimming and playing.

Building the crawdad swimming hole

And the scariest of the youth activities: tubing down Clear Creek. The Adventure Kids had a blast navigating the rapids.

Until they rode with me and we flipped backward and capsized. Want to talk about scary mom moments as I tried to swim upstream to collect them? I prefer not to. Big-time #MomFail.

But I made up for it on our final getaway before school at the Omni Interloken Resort in Broomfield where we endlessly played in the pool, fine-dined and scavenger-hunted with their Camp Omni program.

Poolside with the Honey
Snowcones at H2O Pool Bar

And, of course, we have to end with Hadley and Bode’s television debuton 9News.

Dear Denver Summer 2012: You about killed me with your record-breaking streak of 100-degree days in June and July.

But you’re definitely a summer we’ll never forget.

How Omni Hotels’ Appetizer Changed My Life

During our fun staycation at Omni Hotel Interloken, we were thrilled to have breakfast and dinner at Meritage, their signature resort restaurant.

We ate a lot. Jamie had the Land and Sea with lobster and buffalo tenderloin while I opted for the 16-spice Chicken with blackberry licorice reduction, green onion mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.

It was every bit as unique and tasty as it sounded.

The kid’s menu had a great variety of food, including Captain Nemo’s Fish Plate (Hadley), Little Paisan Pasta and Red Sauce (Bode) and Yosemite Sam Sliders.

Following the meal, Bode groaned he couldn’t eat another bite but I secretly ordered them a worms in dirt dessert (cookies smashed in chocolate pudding with gummy worms). When our server brought them to the table, Bode perked up and I interjected, “Oh no! But you’re too full to eat this!”

“That’s OK,” he bravely countered. “I CAN MAKE IT!”

What a trooper.

But the appetizer we ordered? I’ve been dreaming about it ever since and the best news of all: the hotel is a mere 15 minutes from my house so I envision many date nights there. The glorious appetizer was Grilled Flatbread Portobello with tomatoes, Haystack Mountain goat cheese, portobello mushrooms, onions and artichokes.

I’m not kidding when I say it was so good it almost reduced me to tears (foodies will understand that rare time when you find a dish that so perfectly matches your palate).

“Jamie, I’m not kidding when I say this is the best appetizer I’ve ever had.”
“No, I’m serious. Can you think of anything we’ve eaten that is better?”
“Yes I can. The Blooming Onion at Outback Steakhouse.”

At least one of us has taste.

Denver’s family-friendly hotel: Omni Interloken Resort and the local conspiracy

I’ve lost track of how many times out-of-state strangers have emailed me and asked for advice on vacationing in Denver. Though I can keep ‘em busy for weeks with local activities, I always draw a blank when they’re looking for hotel recommendations.

So when Omni Hotels contacted me a couple of weeks ago and invited my family to stay at the Omni Interloken Resort in Broomfield to check-out their new Camp Omni program for kids, I jumped at the chance. The timing was perfect to have a final summer getaway and we prefaced our stay with back-to-school shopping at nearby FlatIron Crossing.

The Local Omni Conspiracy

There’s a conspiracy at Omni and the worst part about it is I was left out.

I’ve driven past this four-diamond, 290-room resort a number of times but with its 27-hole golf course overlooking stunning panoramas of the mountains, I figured it was a hotel that catered to the conference-center crowd.

Oh, how wrong I was.

First, there is Camp Omni (stay tuned for details on that). Second, there are oodles of kid-friendly amenities. When we arrived, their two luxurious outdoor pools were bustling with families as kick-back parents ordered poolside service from H2O or skipped off to Mokara Spa.

I was curious where they were from. Though Broomfield is conveniently located a stone’s throw between Denver and Boulder off Highway 36, it’s not exactly an in-demand destination.

The responses shocked me: “I’m from Erie.” ” Louisville.” “Denver.” “Littleton.” I’m sure there were families from out-of-state there but everyone I talked to was local. One very pregnant mom even opted to skip their annual vacation to Vail so they have a staycation close to home.

“It’s great,” she said. “We feel like we’re a million miles away with the kids and yet we can race home and let the dogs out without springing for a dog sitter.”

Now, that is a vacation.

Camp Omni

First things first, Camp Omni isn’t exactly a camp but rather, a fun promotion designed for families. Upon check-in, each child received a welcome backpacking with s’mores-flavored marshmallows, collapsible water bottle and a lanyard kit.

We were also given a well-planned and easy scavenger hunt, which helped the kids discover the hotel as they raced from clue to clue. The kids had a blast and this is what was included:

  • 15% discount on deluxe accommodations (minimum two-night stay)
  • Complimentary breakfast for kids 12 and under from the buffet or children’s menu
  • $10 gift card for kids to use anywhere in the hotel
  • Camp newsletter with scavenger hunt that is redeemable for a merit badge and ‘dirt & worms’ dessert upon completion
  • Pre-call from camp counselor (concierge)
Scavenger Hunt

Pricing is from $155 per night (based on two kids per room) and the promotion runs until September 16, 2012. Here’s for hoping they’ll plan to do it again in 2013.

Other Family-friendly Fun
Between the pool and scavenger hunt, the kids were plenty entertained during our one-night stay but that wasn’t all. Every Friday and Saturday night during the summer, they have a “Dive-in” Movie at sundown complete with popcorn.
But there is more. The Omni also hosts the Butterfly Pavilion on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. through September 16, 2012. Kids crowded around the rock-star staffer who brought invertebrate friends to see and touch. They were fascinated by this interactive science education and the highlight was everyone got to take a turn holding Rosie, the Butterfly Pavilion’s famous tarantula.
“Everyone” meaning brave kids. I chose to cower in the background with the other moms. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Omni’s fine dining and the appetizer that changed my life.

And no, I’m not exaggerating. 

A special thanks to Omni Resorts for hosting my family!