Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Monday, 24 October 2011

All About American Culture

Dear Family,

After nearly 4 months away from you all, missing the familiar things in life, we are slowly adjusting to American life.  Tristan finally convinced me that our study needed to be unpacked (there was a red couch in there - who knew?), the basement is becoming more man cave like every time I sneak a peak (he has set up the stereo, tv and other man contraptions that assist with man-nesting), and next weekend we will get to "celebrate" our first Halloween.  Yes, life here is falling into place and American-isms are slowly invading our life.

A very important part of American culture is the national love affair with corn.  This weekend Tristan and I submerged ourselves in corn - somewhat literally.

At home corn is a simple idea.  It's a vegetable, usually yellow in colour, often bought frozen, and in our house, served frequently with peas and carrots.  In America, corn is much much more complex.  There is corn that you buy as a vegetable, though it is usually white, and is seemingly exclusively served as a BBQ food.  There is corn that is better known as high fructose corn syrup that is used in EVERYTHING as a sweetener in lieu of sugar cane.  Then there are the "foods" made of corn: corn bread, and candy corn. And lets not forget ethanol, corn flour, corn oil and corn starch. I've even drunk out of a plastic bottle made from corn by-products.  And my personal favourite corn-ism - it is even in local toothpastes (not mine).  Yes, corn is very important in America.

In America, once the mega machines have collected in finest corn harvest (and then collected the dregs for the first round of by-products), some enterprising farming individuals get creative and create mazes in their corn fields.  Imagine enormous corn fields, 10 foot tall, being cut into patriotic pictures for the city folk to play in during October.  Sounds like fun? You bet!

So a car full of Aussies piled into someone's big blue car (we all seem to own them) and drove for an hour or so, into the country to play in the corn maze. For the bargain price of $10 we got to play in two corn mazes, and as a bonus we could play in the corn pit (think sand pit, but filled with dried corn husks), the giant slide, go to the petting zoo, and catch the mini train-a-go-round.  And to top it all off, there was a pumpkin patch so you could go with your family to choose your Halloween pumpkins. It was the family fun day paradise.  Families seemingly came in with a picnic for the day and spent a quality day together.  It was like a happy snap from a television movie - except that it was real! And fun. 

We ran into the maze, split up, and raced each other for the end of each maze.  It was a very dry season, so the corn stalks were mostly brown.  Mixed with the dust of the field and the piecing blue of the sky, it was easy to get turned around. Lucky for us, there were clues spread around where you had to decipher very complex questions (how many time do you sing the word "happy" in Happy Birthday, and what is the last body part you touch when dancing to Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) to be given the correct direction.  It was such innocent fun, you couldn't help but smile.  For the record, we won the second maze ;-)

Following the maze and an adventure in the pumpkin patch, we piled back into a big blue car to explore another American culture classic - one that Aussies pay pilgrimage to as well: BEER.  Colorado is famous for it's micro-breweries.  As luck had it, within 20 minutes drive of the family fun corn maze there were two micro-breweries for "us" to sample.  One of the great things about the breweries is that they offer "tasting" plates.  The boys, with their highly developed pallets, sampled selectively from the tasting plates and concluded the same thing: Aussie beer has more flavour.

After the boys enjoyed a plate plus a pint each at the first brewery, we moved onto the second brewery where we also got to indulge in the American cultural love of overloading a plate of food.  I have learnt that all good meals should be served on a plate big enough for a lion to eat from - and come with a side of fries. At least it was tasty.  Here the boys sampled some watermelon flavoured beer... and apparently it tasted good... maybe they sampled a little bit too much...

Yes, we sampled high American culture this weekend. While I'm sure Australia is guilty of all the same corn crimes, it sure is more in-your-face (and highly entertaining) here in the US. And while I have become a label demon, determined to avoid fructose, I do have to admit that playing in the corn was a lot of fun. As was the beer - or so I'm told.

Much love

Penni and Tristan

Friday, 14 October 2011

The big blue car

Dear RJ,

When you were still a peanut in my tummy, Mummy and Daddy bought a second "family car" for our wild adventures in America.  Some called it a Ford Expedition; a huge near 3 ton V8 with leather interior, sun roof and a bunch of other modern conveniences that your Dad loves (!) - I called it the big blue car.

For our very first long weekend together as a family in Denver, we decided to go on a road trip with the big blue car.  We took off on Friday afternoon with hope of making Canon City - about 180km down the road.  Lucky for me, we HAD to drive passed the outlet shopping centre, so we picked up a few "supplies" on the way. We also took the opportunity to drive through the Garden of the Gods national park in Colorado Springs - unusual enormous red rock formations in the middle of the rocky mountains - it looked like the outback had moved across the world. The big blue car took the opportunity to test its breaks when a few deer bounced out in front of the car and we drove on to be geeky and check out the US Air Force Academy.  There were so many professional sporting fields on the campus, you felt like you were driving through an Olympic village.  While an impressive campus.... well, at least your Dad got to take some photos of aircraft.   The big blue car drove on and made it to Canon City just on dark.

The next morning, we woke up early and caught a train along the length of the Royal Gorge.  We were in the Executive carriage, so we had a glass roof to look out of to see the spectacular views of the gorge.  Your Dad braved the freezing morning to ride in the open air carriage a few times to take some photos, but I stayed huddled up inside.  After the train, we drove the big blue car to the Royal Gorge Bridge.  There was patchy snow along the side on the mountains which was very pretty.  After wondering around the park for a little while, the big blue car drove over the bridge, and we made our way through the mountains on our way west.

The further we drove west, the more snow that appeared.  We drove around, through and near over a few of Colorado's 14,000 ft mountains.  Having never seen snow piled up on the sides of mountains, trees crying icicles, and the world layered in white before, I thought it was beautiful.  Your Dad enjoyed being able to put the car into all-wheel-drive to drive along some the of the more slippery portions of the road, and winding down his window to take photos of the spectacular scenery.  We actually got to drive past one of the premiere snow fields in the state, Wolf Creek.  Famous for its seemingly endless supply of powder,  the park received 3 ft of snow that weekend and was the first field to open.  Finally, after hours of driving (with no bathroom stops!!) we arrived in Durango.

The next morning, we had another early start as we left the big blue car to rest in the hotel car park and took
a bus to the historic village of Silverton.  The bus ride was as fantastic as the car drive the day before.  Up over 10,000 ft passes, down through sleepy valleys, and past more and more (and more) snow, with the occasional hint of autumn colours on the side.  We arrived just before the old steam train chugged into town.  Seeing it arrive, you could really get a sense of how the old miners of yore trundled into town from the "city" for supplies before setting out to seek their fortunes.  We had lunch in a local brewery, in which your Dad sampled widely, and wondered in the dirt street of this little village.  While none of the shops were particularly appealing, it was barely 2C outside, and despite wearing our winter coats, it was much too cold to dally outside for too long.  I believe that it was the very first time I had EVER heard your Dad say that he wished he had some gloves!

After a few hours wondering around like homeless vagabonds, we climbed aboard the steam train for our adventure back to Durango.  While this sounded like a romantic trip, it was actually 3.5 hours of freezing cold on hard seats.  Nursing a hot chocolate, I'm not sure that I moved that entire time - but I did get the occasional nap in along the way home.  Similar to the Royal Gorge trip, we followed beside a meandering stream for the duration of the ride.  There were some spectacular near frozen waterfalls, a drop off where the train only narrowly fit on the track beside a sheer cliff, and scenery that felt out of this world.  But it was so terribly cold (!) and such a long trip (!) that I'm not sure that I made the most of it.  Your Dad even got bored of taking photos and I suspect had a little nap on the way back.

That night we had a lovely three course meal at one of the local restaurants in Durango (best meal to date in the US), and went to bed early as we needed to track back over 650km to make it home the next day.

We did a bit of back tracking in the big blue car the next day, passing Wolf Creek and the spectacular mountains that reached the sky, but did get to visit a few more little towns along the San Louis Valley.  While it was still very cold that morning, the heated seats of the big blue car made it very toasty.

In the top north east corner of the valley was the strangest natural phenomenon that you could imagine - sand dunes piled high beside the snow capped peaks of the rocky mountain.  These are the tallest dunes in Northern America, and can reach up to 10,000 ft. Because of the winter like conditions, there was snow along the peaks of the dunes - it was like looking at something off a science fiction movie.  Your Dad and I started to climb to make it to the top of the tallest peak together, but the altitude, my general lack of fitness, (and you!) meant that I sat down half way as your Dad sprinted up the tall sloops like a rabbit.  As I sat, I saw families playing with their pets, riding sleds down the sides of the dunes, and children rolling down the sand without a care in the world.  It was like time was in a happy bubble in this place, where only laughter and happiness existed.  It was very peaceful.  After 20 minutes or so, your Dad bounded back down the dunes, and held my hand as I made the slippery decent.

Then the big blue car drove us home.  After a bit of dinner, and some bad tv it was time for bed. 

And that is the story of the big blue car's first road trip.

Sweet dreams

Love Mum and Dad

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Getting back into the swing of things

Now that Tristan is back, life is slowly swinging into a pace of normality... kind of....

After Tristan got home we HAD to go buy new kitchenware. Apparently we needed grown up cups and plates so we could have people over for dinner.  And of course he needed a new coffee machine so he can avoid drinking that dirty water the locals call brew at least once a day. There were several things that I NEEDED too: maternity jeans, clothes for baby, and chocolate... there seems an imbalance somewhere.... must be pregnancy hormones...

There is still plenty of things to be done in the house.  One of these days we may sort out the study so it resembles somewhere that you could spend time without being buried under a mountain of paper.  The basement is still pretty bare.  I imagine that will be corrected in time. And of course, we still need to put some sort of window covering in the bathroom down stairs so you can spend some alone time without the fear that someone is looking (it's 3 metres off the ground, and at a different height to the neighbours windows, but still...)

A daily routine is slowly beginning to emerge which includes me getting up at 8 so I can make water aerobics at 9, Tristan going for a run about the same time, him disappearing to work for a few hours while I bake bread and attempt to think of something exotic for dinner, I then watch way too much bad tv while I continue my sewing.  At 7 we eat, and due to RJ exhausting me I go to bed around 9.  All in all, I think people forgot to mention that domestic bliss often equals monotony.

Last week, we had the joy of seeing little RJ on the big screen.  While he still hasn't moved enough for us to feel it, on the ultrasound he was wiggling all around, full of energy and spirit.  Hopefully that means he is getting it out of his system early so he will sleep through the night from day one.  Wishful thinking perhaps...

There is another pregnant lady from the UK who I have met, and she has been helping me find all the little bits and pieces necessary to complete our preparations for RJ's arrival next year.  He finally has a few clothes to wear, but as February is one of the colder months in Colorado, we need some extra heavy duty winter gear.  Lucky for me the clothing store that was pointed out had lots of Disney one-piece near snow suits for brand new out of the oven baby Apperley's. It seems that poor RJ will be showered in Disney themed gear from his Mum, planes, trains and cars from his Dad, and fishing gear from his grandfather.  All in all, I think it is safe to say he will be spoiled with love.

We are told that the beautiful weather will soon turn cold, so we are enjoying as much time in the great outdoors before the snow flies.  This weekend we adventured into the mountains to go leaf chasing.  We went on a lovely 2 hour drive on some back roads in the middle of woop woop to see the colours of autumn.  However, I think we picked the wrong road for that occasion and all we found was a lovely steam, trickling its way beside the road.  There were so many men in their waders, with their fly fishing gear, trying to catch that elusive trout that is trying to make it up river to spawn.  All I could think was how great it would be to sit on the bank with a good book and watch time dribble away to the music of the river over the rocks.

At the end of our drive, we decided to detour as drive up Pikes Peak.  While this was the second time RJ and I had made the adventure up the mountain, it was the first time Tristan had driven up, and the first time we had all made it to the top.  On the mountain we got to see the colours of the season - it was beautiful! Sigh! And the top! Wow! As we drove up, a huge Hercules was trying to fly up over the mountain at the same time. I'm not sure it made it over - I think he had to go around.... It was one of the many times that we wished we could take a photo from a memory as we just couldn't get to the camera in time.

On the top of the mountain, it was a bit cooler, but we were still in t-shirts and shorts.  And then it started to snow! Tristan was like a kid a Christmas! It was so special to be standing on the top of a mountain with our growing little family together.  I think it is going to be a very special festive season this year!

As we settle in, we are definitely missing you all from home.  There are so many special moments that we wish we could share with you more intimately, but alas, all we have is this blog.  We hope that you are all well.

Lots of love