Thursday, July 23, 2020

Mid-Summer surprise and a pleasant one at that!

Surprises come in all forms. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of the surprise while at other times, it’s the timing. An unexpected surprise is always a welcome distraction from the daily routines.  Just a few days ago Margo and I got to experience a very pleasant surprise and as for possible disruptions to our normal routines, well, we would just have to make do. No surprises here, as there really isn’t anything normal in this time of a global pandemic.

It was a Thursday afternoon when we texted our good friends Brian and Jan Kenny. They live in Simi Valley, down in southern California. I cannot recall the exact text that was sent but I suspect it had something to do with the arrival of our low platform bed. Moments later they responded with how they would like to see what we had just installed and without a second thought I suggested they come on by to see for themselves. Within seconds, they said OK!

Brian and Jan just love to fly and even though they had flown into Windsor once before it seemed to Margo and me that it had been ages ago. In the blink of an eye the response came back – surprise, surprise! How about we fly out to your place, tomorrow! And then the phone calls began in earnest. In business, there are many times where you do have to let your instincts take over and where you have to go with a program even if there is little data available supporting the program. And so it is maintaining friendships when all that is being talked about is social distancing.

The only real consideration that they had to give to this sudden development was the weather. On the previous occasion, they had flown south and well below any of Colorado’s 14ers. It would be this route they would take once again – over Phoenix, Gallup and around Santa Fe. However, the afternoons in the weeks’ leading up to this surprise had proved stormy and even as we talked on the phone, a quick look outside saw yet another storm cell developing.

Fortunately, the systems stabilized and we had an almost perfect three day weekend and watching as Brian landed his Cessna 182 at our local airport, we were still pinching ourselves over just how quickly this little endeavor had come about. Then again, the Kennys like the Buckles are never shy about making quick decisions. Recent experience in business left no room for dillydallying (yes, we have flights booked for a trip to Germany even if the likelihood of the event being held is in jeopardy), but there are times when you just have to make up your mind. And quickly: Spontaneity rules, OK!   

If the true purpose of the trip was to check out our new bar, then the trip had to be a success as we welcomed Jan and her Margaritas. We don’t have a swimming pool and we don’t have a hot tub but all the same, with or without paper umbrellas, the drinks Jan made certainly contributed to getting the day off to a good start despite the lateness of the hour. Somewhere, along some longitude, it was five o’clock somewhere.

Naturally enough, we had the neon in place that when lit, said exactly that. You may have missed reading the previous post so here it is again but this time, from a slightly different angle. And wait: We are now looking for neon that says something like the Bar / Pub Down Under as this is our downstairs outside summer-only gathering place. There is a custom neon vendor just down the road so a visit is now definitely in order. 

For some time now we have had house guests. When others may have been tempted to pull up the drawbridge and flood the moat, we had already extended a welcome to our dear friends Jim and Dale Miller. Jim and I had first met in the late 1980s when both of us were working at Tandem Computers. We attended the same introduction to Tandem courses for sales and marketing folks and while in Cupertino, California, Jim had arranged for a couple of rounds of golf on popular courses including Castlewood and Pasatiempo.
It had been Jim and Dale’s hospitality back in 2016 that first exposed Margo and me to the city of Windsor and following the sale of our Niwot, Colorado, home in 2017, we bought a home, then under construction, that was on the same fairway and not far from where they lived. They were adjacent to the tee box whereas we were adjacent to the green. No sooner had our home been finished and we had moved in, the Millers sold their home and moved to Arizona. However, with their families deeply ensconced in Colorado, spending summer in Colorado seemed natural enough when you consider how seriously hot Arizona can get at this time of year.

Having two families staying with us in the middle of the global pandemic might not appeal to everyone, but as it happened, both the Buckles and the Millers had been tested the week before and were given the all clear. A few days earlier, likewise the Kennys we given the all clear. You cannot say enough in these times about the sheer joy of having shared social interaction and watching the girls enjoying adult beverages masterfully mixed by Jan was not just a surprise but a circumstance that warmed our hearts. You just have to wonder though – and this is as much editorial as I care to provide – whether this nasty virus will be with us for a lot longer than presently thought and that any future social interaction involving friends and family are all going to require a doctor’s note before any festivities can begin.

Kind of reminds us of our childhood when heading off to school for the first time. On the other hand, here in northern Colorado you really have to look hard to find evidence that there was a global pandemic under way. For Margo and me very little has changed in terms of our daily routines. We still shop for food, visit the post office regularly and dine out occasionally. Yes, there is the presence of the ubiquitous face mask but even so, once in a restaurant, they are quickly put to one side. Pulling up to the gas pumps at our local Costco there is no requirement to wear masks at all as the distance between cars at the pumps is already well beyond six feet.  

No visit by the Kennys to our Windsor home would be complete without a roadtrip. Once again, it was a drive up to Estes Park this time, via an alternate, lesser used road. As Estes Park was absolutely packed, we decided not to hang around for too long, but rather look for scenic spots where we could pull in to enjoy the view. Of course, one regular stop for us whenever we have the Kennys here is the old church along the peak-to-peak highway. On this occasion we elected to drive the BMWs and they looked right at home in the church’s parking lot.

The Kennys have never driven the same car twice whenever they visit us. It’s a standing joke amongst the families that there will always be a surprise awaiting them once they step into the garage. While they had heard about our BMW i8 Roadster, this trip gave them a chance to put a lot of miles on the clock and predictably enough, over dinner that night, talk was centered on just how and when the Kennys might be tempted into acquiring one for themselves. It always happens. Cars were what started the friendship and it was our collective fondness for cars that fueled our interest in track days as well as long trips on different continents.

While we entertained the Kennys, grandson Colton Herta was hard at work piloting his Indy car around Road America. Coming away with a 4th and a 5th place finish over a double header weekend earned him the nickname of Mr. Consistency. With four rounds completed he was the only Indy driver to have four top 10 finishes including 3 top 5. This was enough for him to be in second place overall, but unfortunately, after the Kennys returned home, the following double header weekend in Iowa was eventful in other ways that ended up costing him a couple of places in the championship standings. There will be more on this in a subsequent post so look for a more complete update shortly.

 Food is a constant whenever we entertain the Kennys and this weekend was no exception. Lots of grilling took place even as we squeezed in a return trip to the 801 Chop House in Cherry Creek, just south of Denver proper.  Our new outside bar may have been the center for all social interaction over the weekend but there was just as much time spent hanging around the grill. A little bit of history was created this time around, as we grilled on our trusty Coleman propane grill for possibly the very last time. As much as this had been our mainstay grill while camping out in our RV, after three years it was time to move on to something a little more permanent.

We had hoped that our new Weber Genesis II four-burner grill would have arrived before the Kennys flew in, but it wasn’t to be – it arrived just after they left. This is a grill and the pictures may not do it justice, but this bad boy is 65” wide (1.651 meters for those who are metric challenged). During the construction phase of our home, we had made sure the builder ran gas lines to both upstairs and downstairs patios but the decision has now been made to install the Weber upstairs. By the time you read this hopefully the plumber will have been around to connect it to the mains natural gas supply. It really didn’t look right sitting inside the garage!

A good surprise is always something that you enjoy. Participating in such a complete surprise, as was the case with the unexpected arrival of the Kennys, is even better. Having other friends on hand as was the case of our current guests, the Millers, simply added more spice to the occasion. It was a fun weekend and one where business and the crisis in healthcare were put to one side, albeit for just a couple of days. But the biggest surprise of all was possibly the simple fact that even in times of a global pandemic, good friends can spend time safely socializing when steps were taken to test for the virus. And be clear of any presence of nasties.

One thing that needs to be said, however, as a surprise it provided a wonderful distraction even as we were neither careless nor unaware of our surroundings. Sensibly conducted, it’s good to know we can still have a little fun even as we know we can still enjoy each other’s company. Mid-summer surprises just have to be the best! Spontaneity has always been both family’s strong points and being able to respond just as important. When it comes to entertaining good friends, it’s good to see that the wings of spontaneity haven’t been clipped. It was only a few nights ago that we had our outside party lights installed and suddenly, our new bar was transformed into a Tiki Bar – one that we know for sure, the Kennys just have to fly back to fully enjoy. Yes “the Tiki Bar is open; come on in and open up your mind!” 

Friday, July 10, 2020

When you are in a hole and need to get out, stop digging!

Anyone care to guess who is in the hole? I am grateful to my sister Judy for finding and then emailing me this photo along with a couple of other photos that truly were a blast from the past. Given the nature of some of the other photos that accompanied this particular picture I can pretty much tell where it was taken and when. It was during an annual vacation the family took to Avoca Beach, on New South Wales’ central coast just north of Sydney and it had to be around 1958. I would like to say that my family should have always dug a hole for me, set me down in it and then came back for me later in the day just to make sure I didn’t get into any untoward mischief.

The arrival of this photo was appropriate for the times. Living far from any beach and tucked up alongside mountains any opportunity to just leave the house and meander wherever, until we came across sand seems rather at odds with our circumstance. While the news about the global pandemic streams into our home each night, the reality is that life has changed and I have serious doubts as to whether it will ever be the same. Short trips up the mountain are OK but more adventurous outings appear to be more challenging. Then again, I looked to be safe down in that hole and without a care in the world.

It was without thinking too much about the circumstances of our time that Margo and I headed to our Chase bank’s local branch office. The bag Margo was carrying courtesy of HPE wasn’t to hold misbegotten funds seized during a raid. We were not there to cause mischief but rather to conduct normal business routines. However, the very fact that we, along with several other patrons, all showed up wearing masks wasn’t something we could simply ignore. The photo opportunity just spoke to us and that brief period of levity was enough to ensure we really weren’t stuck down a hole.

Here in Northern Colorado, businesses are all going a little overboard with the way they are interacting with their customers. While Margo and I understand the new normal we are living in these days, we aren’t too sure that it’s helping our mental state all that much. Take for example the steps some vendors are going to as a demonstration of their concern over our wellbeing including doing everything they can to help us. Pulling into a gas station I couldn’t help but notice that if I called the garage while pump-side, someone would rush out and fill my tank. And yes, this could be seen happening at a pump a few aisles down.

With the cars we now have and gas readily available and still a lot cheaper than we have seen for many years, the temptation to take to the hills proves irresistible of course practicing social distancing (except when passing other cars). We tend to avoid weekend road trips preferring instead the relative calmness of weekday travel, but nevertheless, Colorado’s popular tourist attractions continue to draw a crowd. It’s always busy up at Estes Park for instance and the drive to Walden along the Poudre River, continues to attract the fishing crowd with barely a trickle of water left untouched by lines and lures.

What has also picked up are the many impromptu car shows for which Colorado is also famous. On our last outing, the Top of the Rockies Corvette club showed up and lined up in a parking lot adjacent to the Estes Park Police Station, they were hard to miss. No C8s for those interested in seeing the latest iteration of Corvette, but plenty from this millennium. Of course, Margo and I had to walk the length of the lot even as more Corvettes began arriving. For Indy 500 fans there were two Indy Pace Cars from different decades.

It all seems rather surreal to be walking the streets of Estes Park with our facemasks as we practiced social distancing. However, while everyone seemed to be consciously watching out for everyone else, all bets were off when lines formed at the lights controlling sidewalk crossings. Oh well, at least they got it half right, but all the same, it was a little off-putting so we didn’t stick around for that long. It seemed that there were many others prepared to dig holes for themselves and for Margo and me well, that was OK. 
The good news was that Claire’s Restaurant looked to be open serving patrons seated outside on their deck. For those who may not be familiar with Estes Park this is a popular destination if you’re looking to relax over a weekend brunch and on the many occasions we have made this our destination Claire’s has been serving two-for-one mimosas. On this latest drive into the town, we skipped brunch preferring instead to complete the highways 34 and 36 loop. Starting in Loveland and finishing in Boulder, the route never fails to deliver something of interest and the last time we drove it, we encountered big horn sheep. But not this time …

Part way up highway 34 there is a cherry pies store that sells everything from cherry pies and cherry strudels to cherry jam and more. On this most recent outing, we came across an impromptu gathering of Can-Am Spyder trikes or three-wheel vehicles or whatever. They are still hard to categorize but as the biker demographic continues to age, there is now a wind-in-your-face option for everyone! I know for a fact that Margo gets very nervous each time I encounter these groups as this looks to me like the solution to a question I am not sure I am even allowed to ask. Having sold our last motorcycle, what do we ride next?

The bad news here is that there are many options with vehicles like the Slingshot and the Vanderhall entering the market, but as tempting as each of these offerings may be, the circumstance isn’t quite right to begin eyeing the helmet, jacket and boots sill sitting in the garage. There have been other projects keeping us busy on the home front so perhaps Margo has a point in redirecting my attention away from the road. On the other hand I am sure I can find a sympathetic audience to my cause – if I am to stop digging and leave my hole I cannot think of any better mode of transportation bringing more fun to the equation than one of these cherry-colored trikes.

This past week we added a fourth bar to our home. We have arguably three bedrooms and four bars which raised more than an eyebrow among my family members back home in Australia. Despite my explanations I am not sure I effectively conveyed the right message but it’s simple really. On our main floor we have a small butler pantry and wet bar combination in the passageway between the kitchen and the dining room. And yes, we had a similar set up in our former home in Niwot so no real problems here, I suspect.

Also on the main floor we have an outside dining room where we eat meals during the summer months and there you will find a Tommy Bahamas’ rolling wooden party cooler that also serves as a plating area when cooking at the grill. Fill it with ice and it is the perfect place to store beverages and to keep meats chilled. On the lower level we have a proper bar that we use all year around and then there’s the recent addition of another serving bar on the downstairs patio that is again, for summer use only.

Even with this explanation and the comparisons made to our former home I am bound to get more questions so I will just stop digging, once again!

Practicing social distancing, quarantined in our home as it were doesn’t mean we cannot continue to grill. Fortunately we have ready access to superior prime beef in Colorado and so prime tenderloin regularly makes it onto the menu. Nothing like a tall filet mignon at day’s end! On the other hand, there are now plenty of real world sports returning to television. Watching the Indy Cars run around the Texas Speedway and then, just his past weekend, around the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit, I have to say it is so much better to see real cars again than those virtual cars of the previous months. Although, I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to see Kiwi V8 SuperCar champ Scott McLaughlin do as well as he did – two wins, as I recall.

Of course, our friends Brian and Jan Kenny have grandson Colton Herta back on track and after two events, he lies fourth in the championship. Here’s to an even better year than 2019 when he won three poles and two races as a 19 year old. While twitter is alight with references to HertaMania 2.0 – a reference to former times when his father, Bryan Herta, raced Indy Cars – it’s for good reason. No one expected such great results from the youngster as quickly as they have happened. But it is one picture of Colton that I really like and it wasn’t too long ago that I lobbied for its return – Colton’s Mohawk!

Yes, that’s Colton and I am not all that sure how I came across this photo. From the very first time Margo and I met Colton his grandmother cautioned us that he was very much a free spirit and coloring his hair and cropping it had become routine.  There is another reason for me to include this photo of Colton and it has nothing to do with racing or vacations or trips to the mountains. Reflecting on the direct impact of the coronavirus on us all and of the changes it has made to our everyday lives (to where we are gradually if not grudgingly accepting as our new normal), finding humor in anything at all is difficult.

By the time you read this post, Colton will be back on track this weekend at Road America where he will be competing in a double-header event and where last year, at this circuit, he secured the pole. Our best wishes go out to him for a successful and safe weekend.

It’s proving hard to simply pick out anything without risking offending someone – when did we get so polarized in the comments we make? The simple reason for me to look at this photo of young Colton, as I have done this week, is as a result of my sister also including one other photo in her email. You can say, it struck a chord. Yes, Colton; back in the very early 1950s I was photographed sporting one of the earliest renditions of a Mohawk! Check out, too, the attitude of one so young even as my paternal grandmother looks as pleased as can be. And with that, I will return to my hole as I am now ceasing all further digging!