Monday, November 28, 2011

Westward American Road Diary: The Road to Telluride, Colorado

I can't imagine why I'm having recurring dreams I'm still on vacation and not back to congested northern New Jersey and New York City. I think I left a piece of my soul in these lands, here traveling from Silverton to Telluride.

Colorado reminded me a lot of Switzerland, where I spent some summer vacations as a child since my parents are both from there. Ouray actually calls itself the Switzerland of Colorado.

Like so many others, Ouray has a name of American Indian origin. Lydia Huntley Sigourney's reminder of this in her poem "Indian Names" comes to mind.

Sometimes you want a fancy meal at a restaurant. Other times, a cheese sandwich from the general store on the road to Telluride sounds just about fine.

Downtown Telluride was sleepy when we got there, a welcome change from the daily weekday life in New York City. Oh those mountain views.

The Coffee Cowboy stand in Telluride was my kind of place. A variety of non-dairy milks, real spoons instead of plastic, yummy coffee drinks with names like the "Lone Ranger."

My Annie Oakley latte with cinnamon and caramel made with soy milk.

This unassuming building...

the sight of the first bank robbery of Butch Cassidy. I left Telluride and much of the West wanting to learn more about the legendary figures of the region, which I know too little about.

My favorite thing in Telluride: its Free Box, which was started in the mid-1970s. This is so me! I think every community should have a space for free items to keep things out of the landfill and empower residents financially. It's not just items - wealth is being thrown away.

I took a cute pink calico-print cotton top for my mom. She loves secondhand items too. The bonus of secondhand: I get to take great vacations with my savings.

Puppy parking: cute!

Sharing a pizza at Riverfront Pizza and Suds in Dolores, Colorado. Good but nothing like the pizza you get in New York City.

Up next, I pay $3 to stand on a plaque. No really. But Navajo tacos are involved. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 25, 2011

No Mall for Me Today: A Black Friday Message

Today is Friday, and it's simply the Friday after Thanksgiving to me. A cherished day off from work, time to sleep in, take the dog to the park, walk off that second helping of green bean casserole and corn pudding, read my book from a thrift shop, and watch a library DVD on an old television set. No doorbusters for me. Besides, I like the saying, "It's not a bargain if you don't need it." Fred and Ginger look just fine on that set, the money in my savings account from not buying a new one I don't need - even finer.

I consider if Lucy on A Charlie Brown Christmas was right after all - is Christmas run by a big eastern syndicate? She told Charlie Brown it was. His soul was dispirited by how commercial Christmas has become. Mine is too. Just another mall holiday?

"We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy," The Chicago Tribune lamented on Christmas Eve 1986. Looking at the cover page of the Thanksgiving edition of The New York Times in 2011 - the lead photo was people camped out in tents waiting for $200 television sets at a Best Buy in Texas, I'd say that statement feels accurate as ever. Amid the worst economy since the Depression, shopping is still a national sport and such a priority?

Angela Barton pens one of my favorite blogs, My Year Without Spending, and featured in "This is How Non-Consumers Shop" a poster: "WANTED: People to Take Control of their Money This Christmas." The poster urges us to take cash out of the banks and use that instead of credit cards, support independent shops and services, spend time instead of money. I wholeheartedly agree with all those things. I pay cash for almost everything and am not chained to a credit card company who controls my life. I'm in control of my own life. If economic hardships fall, do all those people camped out for televisions have money to get them through it?

Another favorite blog of mine (and maybe favorite title of a blog ever) is Consciously Frugal. "Frugal" - but with a conscience. Not just I want it cheap and I don't care about the impact on our fellow man, animals or the planet. In the documentary the 11th Hour, I loved this definition of frugality,

"I think we have to reintroduce an old term before the industrial revolution: frugality. Frugality does not mean poverty. Frugality means the wise use of resources. The meaning of the industrial revolution was that nature was turned into a resource that was endlessly abundant. It's not true."

Like nature, our banks accounts are not endlessly abundant. Frugality should not have a stigma. Say it with pride, not shame, "I am frugal." I do.

I resent the constant media drum that our economic good times are tied to people going to a chain store for some Chinese made television set or sweater made in a country most Americans couldn't find on a map. Someone interviewed on Fox News about a month ago had the gall to say what a good thing sweatshops are and if they didn't exist the women in them would have jobs as prostitutes. So see aren't they lucky slaving away to make the American cheap fast fashion?

I save, but when I spend, I as much as possible support independent and mom and pop shops and restaurants, main streets, charity thrift shops, farms, the arts and such. I've been making an effort to seek out American made goods when I need to buy something new. That is my declaration of consumer patriotism. I'm not a perfect consumer, and don't make the ideal choice all the time, but I am a retailer's worst nightmare: a consumer that asks questions. Consumers stopped asking or caring why things aren't made in the United States and about the conditions of the people who make them, which is why you rarely see a made in the U.S.A. label on what all those Black Friday shoppers are purchasing, and have to look for a vintage clothing item for a union label.

Ben Stein gave a commentary a few years back about what makes for a "good" holiday season and he creates clarity on what really matters most. I'd like to see headlines like "Record Donations to Food Banks" instead of one about record demand, or "Animal Shelter Adoptions Up" instead of how many people are disposing of their pets. That would be a pretty good Christmas to me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Traditions: Macy's Balloon Viewing and More

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you and your family are enjoying your cherished traditions today. Here are some of my favorites of the season.

I've lived in New Jersey not far from New York City my entire life, but have always watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade from the comfort of my couch. The past few years I've attended the Thanksgiving Eve balloon viewing event, where you can see the famous balloons being inflated around the American Museum of Natural History across the street from Central Park. I love this event. Everyone's eyes are filled with wonder and a smile is on just about every face. We need that more!

Balloon super stars!

Saturday morning happiness for me as a child: a bowl of cinnamon Life cereal and The Smurfs.

The Energizer Bunny was one of the few balloons fully up.

I can't believe I missed A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving this year. I love when Peppermint Patty invites herself and the gang over and Snoopy and Woodstock make a feast of popcorn and buttered toast and they're all disgruntled.

I admit it: I can't wait to see The Muppets movie.

Tim Burton has a new balloon in the parade this year. It wasn't inflated at all, so we'll have to picture it.

A rainbow of balloons lined the railing and were handed out by Girl Scouts.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I had a bite at one of my favorite vegan eateries in the city, Cafe Blossom. A cup of fennel puree soup, $4, and black eyed pea cakes (yukon potato, red pepper coulis, chipotle aioli), $8. I love fennel but never think to make a soup with it.

More balloons were inflated after my meal.

I don't know who was more excited, the parents or the kids.

Every year for my November birthday, my family sponsors a turkey from Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-A-Turkey project for me. I've visited their shelter in Watkins Glen, New York and know the excellent work they do to provide a refuge for animals who escape factory farms, and their efforts to end cruel confinement systems like battery cages for egg-laying hens.

My turkey, Elizabeth, who was rescued from severe neglect in 2010, declares, "This Thanksgiving, give a turkey the royal treatment!"

On Sunday I attended a "Gentle Thanksgiving" event in Wayne, New Jersey, where vegetarians, vegans and even many a meat-eater enjoyed a completely vegan meal. The God's Creatures Ministry event was $30 a person and the proceeds go mostly to help people pay for veterinary bills. In these hard economic times, something that many might struggle doing. Tofurkey and all the trimmings...

Vegan pumpkin pie and apple crisp.

I've visited the Bergen County Historical Society's events often in person and shared them on this blog. Here is a video of a recreation of the First Thanksgiving feast. I'd love to sample the corn grits and stewed pumpkin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Westward American Road Diary: Durango and Silverton, Colorado

I'm even not sure what state I was in - New Mexico or Colorado, when I had this plate of biscuits and scrambled eggs with coffee. All I know is after being in the desert, we found ourselves driving through snow on the road to Durango, Colorado, bathrooms and food were scarce, I was grateful to see the glow of a restaurant and an "Open" sign. We chatted with the owner about everything from hunting (not my cup of tea, of course) to why there are no toll roads when they are everywhere in the New Jersey-New York area. Want to go across the George Washington Bridge, that will be $12.

I was so sad to say goodbye to Santa Fe, and wished we had more time in New Mexico, but I loved our next stop just as much: Colorado.

Upon the recommendation of a coworker, we stayed at the charming Apple Orchard Inn, a bed and breakfast 15 minutes from Durango's downtown and about an hour away from one of the area's main attractions, Mesa Verde. The cheerful Granny Smith room was $90 a night (the off season rate) and the second night was half off since the hostess was running a special Monday-Friday. I just love a bargain.

And I adore a house with a porch, do you?

What a treat: Eggs Benedict! Mine had no ham of course. Served with fresh baked goodies and before this a yogurt parfait to start.

The charming patio.

Onto Mesa Verde, exploring abandoned cliff dwellings.

Imagine living here.

Observing the reflection of the mountain in the lake as we drove along, I thought of Forrest Gump's words when he ran cross country and remarked of the landscape it was hard to tell where the Earth ended, and heaven began.

Our hostess Kathy recommended Ken and Sue's in town for dinner, and it was a great choice. After sharing an iceberg lettuce wedge with tomatoes and blue cheese dressing, I had the butternut squash manicotti with arugula and red onions, $20, off of the night's specials. Ended with a hot spiced cider which warmed body and soul on a very cold night.

There's a famous train you can take between Durango and Silverton, the latter an old mining town, but there were only full day excursions running and the tickets would have been $80+ each, so we opted to drive instead. Besides, we didn't want to miss breakfast! A veggie scramble and a homemade cherry scone.

Landscapes shifted constantly on this trip. From deserts to trees painted in gold...

to a winter feel emerging.

Walking through Silverton, we met a woman visiting a friend who lives in town. She said you have to be very comfortable with "self." I'll be honest: lately I've been dreaming of hibernating for the winter surrounded by books, candles, fireplaces (too bad I don't have a fireplace!) and large pots of soup. True hibernation. Maybe the bears are onto something. I didn't realize how burned out from harried life I've become until this vacation.

What events has this old building witnessed? If it could talk...

We were so full from breakfast still, but chilled from the morning, so I was called into the Brown Bear Cafe for a little something.

Sitting at the bar, enjoying a hot chocolate.

The historic Durango Silverton railroad pulled in, as we pull out to our next stop: Telluride.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Westward American Road Diary: The High Road to Taos, New Mexico

After breakfast quesadillas, it was off to take the "High Road to Taos," stopping along little villages before reaching the Taos Pueblo.

El Santuario de Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas (the Shrine of Our Lord Esquipulas), known as "El Santuario de Chimayo." Thousands of pilgrims have come here since its construction between 1814-1816. The earth in the anteroom beside the alter is said to have healing powers, and for $2, a small container is yours. Crutches line the exit, and stories of people who have been healed. Believe what you will about the soil, one wonders about the role the mind has over body in healing and the power of prayer.

A cross of pinecone in the courtyard.

The three cultures statue.

A friendly horse. See the crosses along the fence?

I couldn't help be saddened by the fact our country was founded on principles of freedom of religion which our pilgrims sailed across an ocean for, yet a faith was imposed upon others. Just like other basic principles we consider now universal rights (voting and land ownership), it was freedom of religion - for some.

Lunch at Rancho de Chimayo Restaurante, highly recommended in Frommer's. A little touristy but good. The vegetarian plate with a soy cheese enchilada and black bean taco, with sopapillas (recipe here) with honey, and a frozen prickly pear lemonade.

Natillas, a vanilla milk custard pudding with whipped cream and cinnamon. Think rice pudding without the rice.

Admiring the weaving Chimayo is known for. Here a stunning image of the Tree of Life.

The landscape here had a hushed feeling.

Horses enjoying a moment we humans know too little of - peace and quiet.

The small village of Cordova is famed for its wood carvings. We stopped in a little shop of Sabinita Lopez Ortiz admiring these wood carvings. These larger pieces were more than I could afford, so I left with some very small individual birds.

We spent so much time enjoying our leisurely pace, we were short for time and rain soaked at the Taos Pueblo, a community with no electricity or running water. Admission was $10 and I paid the $8 fee to take photos. Some, maybe even most, would consider life here primitive, but there's a beauty too.

Hardly a soul was about, and I'll never forget a woman who waved me and Steve into her home inviting us to take off our rain-drenched coats and warm ourselves by her fire. I could have just about stayed by that cozy fire forever. We saw the kitchen and her living room and it was small but just as fine as a home as I'd ever been in. I think of most American homes (and I include my own in this) and how much stuff we have and how lost we all are without electricity for a few days.

Off to cross the border for more American exploration. Colorado, here we come.