Monday, July 30, 2018

A Dream Come True

Take a gander at this picture. At first glance it likely doesn't look as though there's anything off about it, right? Just looks like a tractor in a yard somewhere on a farm, right? Well, mostly, yes, you are right. You see, this picture was taken on a momentous day for my family. This was the first time Cody was able to work in Dad's field on the tractor. This was a day he has dreamed of for a long time. I was happy to be in Oklahoma at the time, so I could take part in witnessing this big day.

From the time he was a baby, Cody has always had an innate desire to be a farmer and work with his hands. I remember him being a baby and being contented by holding actual tools, not plastic pretend tools. He was always tinkering around and "fixing" things. When he was old enough, he loved riding with my dad or Scotty in tractors, combines, or any piece of farm equipment anyone would let him ride on/in. 

As a small child, Cody obsessively tracked the whereabouts of the farm implements, often giving my dad the third degree as to why he moved something around in the yard while he was gone to daycare or school. He was always close at hand when Dad fixed anything, happily learning how to operate the air compressor, how to check tire pressure, how to operate the grease gun, greasing implements so my dad could go in the field. As he grew older, he learned how to check oil, how to refuel the implements (with lots of help/supervision), how to cut the twine on haybales, how to feed cattle, how to operate the bale stingers on the feeding pickups. Then he learned how to drive the feeding pickups through the pasture, he learned how to operate my dad's old white pickup (the one with the standard transmission that was the bane of my sisters and my existence), and he got small lessons on how to drive the tractors from the house to pasture, to help my dad move machinery around. 

Now, this small child is a young man. He's on the cusp of 14 years old, and is well over 6 foot tall. He is strong and able-bodied. He is half-grown. While he is still a teenager at heart, he possesses a maturity that few of his peers can match. He is an old soul, yearning to be an adult, but still hanging on to the fun, carefree times of his youth. He reminds me so much of Scotty, his dad, with his playful spirit matched by his dutiful, helpful nature. 


For those of you who didn't have the privilege of growing up on a farm, I should stop and explain a little piece of how farm life works, especially in the life of a young person. There is always work to be done, whether it's in the field, feeding livestock, maintaining equipment or work buildings, so on and so on. It is a wheel that constantly turns. Getting backlogged in work can be costly and inefficient. If something isn't ready by a certain point and the weather turns, you could have to wait days, if not weeks, to resume the work. In that time, market prices can change, availability of certain goods could be affected, or the work could simply become much more difficult than originally anticipated. All of these things can be costly and detrimental to any good operation, no matter how big or small it is. Since there is always work to be done, that means that it requires all hands on deck at all times to assist in this. Work doesn't discriminate among age or gender. As soon as you're old enough and mature enough to be of good use, you will be employed to help. Typical notions of waiting until you're of legal age go by the wayside (within reason), based more upon maturity and timing than anything. Everyone helps somehow, or nothing gets done, and that's simply not acceptable on a farm. That means that it's okay for children to help feed a herd of cattle. It's good for kids to have a working knowledge of tools and the machinery used, especially in case of an emergency that could disable the adults in the situation. Help can be direct (by helping in the midst of the operations) or indirect (by helping to make sure everyone is fed, well-hydrated, and that other necessary household chores get completed). No matter how it looks, everyone helps. Furthermore, nothing fun or relaxing can happen until you reach a certain point in the work, which can further incentivize helping with the work. Hopefully this will help you to understand the story I'm building up to a little better!

One day, there was some field work that needed to be done. My dad made the suggestion that Cody do it. He's made the suggestion for a couple of years now, but it wasn't as easily dismissed this time. My mom and Emily (probably Scotty to a certain extent, also) were nervous at the idea, but everyone tentatively agreed. Cody was dispatched to the field to sit with Jeremy, who was making the opening rounds, to learn specifics. He spent the evening on the tractor, soaking it all in. It was decided that he'd make his solo run the next morning, finishing up what Jeremy had started. 

The morning came, and Cody came over, donning his Wranglers, work boots, ball cap, and blood institute t-shirt (my dad's unofficial farm work uniform) and was ready to begin. We talked for a while before his antsiness spilled over into a plea to go out and prep the tractor with my mom's help. Out they went, to refuel and check oil. My mom drove him out to the field to give him a better roadmap of where to go and to answer his last-minute questions. We peppered him with the battery of reminders..."Be confident, but have a healthy amount of fear/respect for the machinery," "Don't be in a hurry and make careless mistakes," "Watch what you're doing," "Don't be afraid to stop and call someone if you need help," "Take your time," "Don't turn too sharp," "Watch the fencelines," "Keep track of how long you're out there so you don't run out of fuel," "Keep an eye on the temperature gauges," so on and so on...until we got to the point that he finished our sentences for us, assuring us that he would be conscientious at all times and would consult when in doubt. Meanwhile, Emily checked in with Mom and me to ensure Cody's safety while not letting him know of her concerns (so he wouldn't get too nervous, I'm sure). 

Off he went to the field, making lazy circles in the terraces, doing his part to continue the cycle of farming that has taken places for years, becoming another generation to carry on the work of his ancestors. Before long, he completed the first field and took a short lunch break. 

After lunch, it was time for him to move to the next field. He was confident that he could start it, but equally happy when my mom offered to go out and help him open it up. It was good that she did, as the ground was a little tough at one point, and probably would've been a little more than he was equipped to handle on his own. (My dad may have gone out there to help at one point also, I can't quite remember.) Through the afternoon, he came in for fuel and to rest for a few moments. He didn't linger for too long though, as he likely wanted to return before someone else offered to take over. We just knew he wanted the "bragging rights" of being able to know he did the work all by himself. By late afternoon, Scotty and Emily came home from work and marveled at seeing their "little boy" living his dream. I could feel their pride (and residual nervousness) pouring from them, as well as my parents. Eventually, Cody was beckoned back to the house for the evening. The fieldwork would have to be finished the next day, which he was promised he could do. 

Everyone had a subdued sense of pride, awe, and sentimentality that day. We knew the next chapter had officially begun. We knew that Cody was fulfilling a goal he had since he was a little kid. It was a great day to be on the farm, and I'm glad I was able to witness it. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Rest of Our Summer

It seems like we were just setting out for our trip to Colorado after school was finished. Now, here we are, and school is right around the corner. Believe it or not, I've had plans of talking about our summer adventures for a solid month or so now, but time has escaped me as I was trying to soak up every last bit of summer. Now, I return for inservice next week, have a long list of to-dos that I should be doing, and I'm sitting down to write instead of focusing on any of those...go figure!

Upon our return from Colorado, we had about a day or so to unwind and unpack before we spent the following week at Steve and Diana's house dog/housesitting while they spent a week in Colorado. It was weird not staying at our apartment for about half the month of June. Nonetheless, it was also nice to be at their house, since it's just like home. As we settled into being back in town, I also picked up tutoring again. As easy as it was to do my tutoring work, it was also a little demoralizing to keep teaching after I had been on vacation for a week. I think the girls were also antsy to finish so they could get on with their summer also. When Steve, Diana, and Elizabeth returned from their trip later that week, we all regaled our travel stories to one another. It was nice to have everyone back together again.

Zoe is doing well, in case you were wondering.
She and I have bonded some after all these years!
Somewhere in there, Thomas and I made a quick overnight trip out to Quitman to check on everything out there and retreat from the city. Also, Thomas was antsy to see the tractor Steve bought to maintain the property. Thomas accompanied Steve when he bought it, but we were in Amarillo (at the start of our trip) when it was delivered. I have to admit that it's nice having a little piece of farm living out at Quitman. I've said it before, but it's still true: having Quitman makes me a little less homesick on the weekends we can't get up to Oklahoma. It's no replacement, but it's still nice. I'm also happy that our future children will get to experience those places (my parents' farm and Quitman) as they grow up, so they can have a better understanding/appreciation of the world and nature. I'm happy they'll be able to learn about raising wheat, cattle, and (soon) bees!

View from the great room at Quitman.
I never tire of this view!
Let's see, what else did we do?

We attended a Chris Stapleton and Eagles concert. That was pretty awesome, even if we had nosebleed tickets, I had horrendous blisters on my feet due to poor footwear choices (and a long walk to the stadium from our parking lot), and a loud drunken woman behind us who constantly professed her undying love for Don Henley! It was interesting at the concert, as Don Henley initially started off by inviting everyone to shut off their phones and enjoy the evening. I'm sure this was so they could ford off people recording it for copyright reasons, but it led me to make an interesting realization about society. You wouldn't believe the number of people surrounding us who spent the better part of the concert buried in their phones and/or on social media. It was a little frustrating to try to watch the concert in the dark arena while we saw the glow of cell phones surrounding us. Nonetheless, Thomas and I had an amazing night soaking in all of their amazing music. (Disclaimer: All the pictures I took at the concert were at the very beginning or the very end.)

Chris Stapleton--what talent!

What a great performance from the Eagles!
A few days after the concert, we were able to have our good friends Alex and Haley over for dinner. It's funny how life works. Haley and I first met back in the spring of 2014. I got in touch with her via a contact card she filled out after Ash Wednesday Mass at St. John's, stating that she'd be interested in joining a lenten bible study. It so happened that she was also an education major and one of the kindest people I'd met. She was one of the most faithful attendees of my bible study. Now, she and her (now) husband live about 20 minutes away from Thomas and me! What are the odds? I'm so grateful for friendships like these, especially since Thomas and Alex get along so well. It makes getting together such a treat, even if we don't get to do it very often. Haley and Alex got married a few weeks ago, but their wedding was in Missouri and the same weekend as another wedding we were invited to, so we decided that if we couldn't be at their wedding, we'd have them over for dinner! It was such a lovely evening full of laughs, great food, and lots of wine!

The following weekend was the annual women's group retreat with my church group. One of our group members, Eleanor, was gracious enough to offer up her family's ranch near Paris, TX, for the weekend. It was the perfect accommodation for all of us. The ranch was fairly extensive, I believe almost 1500 acres, and had lots of cattle and horses. We drove out that Friday evening and began our Saturday with a walk through the pasture. Thankfully we set out early, as it grew to be increasingly hot and humid from there. We had a few reflections (including one that I gave) before we spent some time in recreation. During our rec time, we drove around on their fleet of 4-wheelers, which was a lot more terrifying to me since my wreck. I remember having a 4-wheeler as a child and not being scared of it, but for whatever reason, I just wasn't feeling it that weekend. It was a really good thing that they also had a larger ATV (like my parents' Kubota RTV) that I could also ride on, as we planned on 4-wheeling out to the edge of their property that was along the Red River, where we swam. All of my farm kid instincts kicked in as we drove through the winding pastures to get to the river, as it entailed opening/closing a variety of gates. (I also had to explain gate code to my city-slicker friends...i.e. the passenger is always the one to open the gate, NEVER the driver.) We ended the retreat with attending Mass in nearby Paris, where the parishioners were baffled by the sudden influx of women! I think they all thought we were in some sort of a religious order, which would've been plausible had we not had two women in our group who were visibly pregnant! All in all, it was a great weekend of fellowship.

View from the back porch!

Obsessed with this beautiful wrap-around porch!

The "Eiffel Tower"
Meanwhile, Thomas was not having as much of a relaxing weekend. He made a quick trip up to OK to accomplish a few tasks. My parents just had a couple of steers from our herd slaughtered for our annual beef supply. Now that Thomas and I are married, they entitled us to half of one steer. They also gifted us with a belated wedding present of a deep freezer. Thomas also wanted to have the hide of one of the steers tanned. All of this together spelled out one big debacle for Thomas. After lots of planning and trying to find the most efficient route of accomplishing this, we settled on the following plan: Thomas would go to Oklahoma, leave his car there, borrow one of my parents' pickups for the week, and bring back the freezer, our beef, and the hide, which we would later take to a nearby tannery. To help him accomplish this feat, we opted to also borrow Cody. In a story that I'll likely hear about from the two men involved for the rest of my life, apparently it took them about 2 hours to get everything unloaded and up the 3 flights of stairs. All in the sweltering Texas heat and humidity we all know and love. They were not thrilled, but were sweet enough to take care of all of that. Now we have a deep freezer (which I love!) and a plethora of beef! Woohoo!

The upside to this was that Cody would end up spending a good deal of time with us until we could get back up to Oklahoma! I was so happy to see him, as I hadn't seen any of my family since early May. Cody had grown even more than the last time I saw him. Now, he's easily the same size and build as Thomas! I miss my little guy, but I'm so proud of the young man he's growing up to be. Cody and I went on lots of adventures together during the week, including a couple of trips to Sam's, where we befriended a sample guy named Al. He (and Thomas) also was called in for extra help moving some things for Thomas' aunt Jean. In exciting news, his visit coincided with the 4th of July, so we got to celebrate the day together! It was great having him here and getting to hang out with just him. I know that his life is only going to become more busy as the years go on, so I'm glad I got to snag him this summer! During Cody's week here, I also FINALLY finished my tutoring gig. It was bittersweet to finish up, but I was happy to get my summer back.

Cody, basking in the enjoyment of some fried alligator.

We snagged a picture with the lobster tank Cody was eyeing during supper!
(See what I mean by how much he's grown!!!)

He's not one much for smiling in pictures, but he'll still take pictures with
Aunt Amanda, so I'll take it! :)

Who's who? Thomas or Cody? See what I mean by my confusion!
(Cody on left, Thomas on right)

Cody and I baked some PB/banana blondies! Yum!
(He plated this awesome is that!)

So excited to visit Cabela's
(If he had facial hair, he could almost be Thomas' twin!)

Nothing like a boy browsing through fishing lures!

4th of July selfie!
Love my crew!

On our way to a 4th of July pool party!

Cody LOVED the pool!

It's a good thing I was able to finish up tutoring, as the last part of the great freezer move hinged upon that. You see, the tail end of the plan was for me to take Cody home the following Thursday. The next day (Friday) was the rehearsal for our friends John and Amanda. Thomas was a lector in their wedding, so we were asked to attend the rehearsal, which was in Edmond. Thomas drove up to Edmond (in my parents' pickup) Friday afternoon. I, in turn, met him at the church in Edmond and we came back to my parents' house that night. We had both of our cars up in Oklahoma, which led to me being able to have an extended stay with my family after the wedding festivities were done. Whew! Lots of moving pieces, but we made it work! It was great to be reunited with my family after a couple months away. I missed all of them so incredibly much.  We spent lots of time enjoying the shed room with lots of girl talk among my sisters, mom, and me. I loved not having to worry about making every last second of an already short weekend count. It was nice to just "be" with everyone with no big agenda.

I'm a little out of order, but I'm tossing in my OK pictures also!
Cole and Andy
(and obligatory bunny ears!) 
Jakub, happy getting to love on Uncle Thomas and steal his hat!

Wyatt's awesome garden!
Proud of the initiative he took in getting it started!

Goofy little boy smiles like this one melt this aunt's heart!

Photographic evidence that Wyatt and Jakub are basically twins!
(All the funnier, considering how much Gina and I resemble one another!)

Jakub swiped Wyatt's glasses, and further proved my theory that they're twins!

Me with Cole! Love this sweet smile!

All of my favorite women in one picture!
Loved our time together, and miss them every day!
John and Amanda's wedding was an absolutely wonderful celebration. They also met through St. John's, so their wedding was a mini reunion among lots of our friends. One of the best parts for me was getting to see Rebecca, who was one of Amanda's bridesmaids. It turns out that Rebecca will be joining the convent up in Michigan next week, so the wedding was really one of the last opportunities that I had to get to see her for the foreseeable future. I didn't expect this to happen, but we both ended up getting pretty emotional as we said our goodbyes that night. I never really get that emotional with my best friends (shocking, right?) , because we always have an understanding that we'll see each other soon. That, and we always stay in touch pretty well. Not the case this time. Since Rebecca is joining the convent, she'll be giving up a lot of her material possessions, including her cell phone for the foreseeable future. Our main form of communication will be letters, but I have no idea when that'll come. I also don't know her mailing address, so I can't really make that happen yet. And she'll be in Michigan. Ugh. I'm so happy for her finding her life's calling, but I'm also sad that she's gone. It's a good thing God can handle me being frustrated with Him, because I've been all over the board with this situation.

Gorgeous centerpieces! 
Some of our St. John's crew!
Front (L-R): Kevin, me, Thomas
Back (L-R): Fr. Stuart, Rebecca, Maria, Sierra

Love this man!

The happy couple and new St. John's newlyweds!!!
Love these two!

Thank goodness there was shadowing around our faces, that way you couldn't tell
we had been crying our eyes out for five minutes before this! Love her and our friendship.
Praise God for great friends like her and finding our vocations!
When I returned from Oklahoma, Thomas and I were on the verge of our first wedding anniversary! We had a fun weekend! It was kicked off by us getting massages, followed by a lovely fondue dinner. I'd never had fondue before then, so it was a great experience for me, albeit very time-consuming. I'm told it's all part of the experience, so there we go. On our actual anniversary, we went to church. On our way to church, we just so happened to turn on the radio to hear our first dance song playing. Mind you, our first dance song is a somewhat obscure older song ("Swaying to the Music" by Johnny Rivers), so this was quite the surprise! One of the reasons I love having an XM radio! (We heard it on The Bridge--channel 32 for subscribers!) After Mass, we had our priest say an anniversary blessing over us. That night was a nice dinner in, consisting of steaks, a pan sauce that stole the show, and a summer vegetable medley, straight from Wyatt's squash garden and Ada's tomato garden. Of course, we capped it off with our cake topper, which still tasted great! Funny enough, we had spent the better part of the year lamenting how much space it took up in our refrigerator freezer, wishing we could just get it out of there already. When we finally got the space back, it didn't matter, as we now have a deep freezer with tons of space. Go figure...

Our cake!
Since our anniversary, we've been able to spend a good deal of time hanging out with Thomas' parents and sister. We had them over for dinner one night, admittedly to help us eat a roast and our cake, but also to celebrate our anniversary! We're trying our best to make the most of our family time, as Elizabeth will be studying abroad in Madrid this fall. After Christmas, she'll return to STL, where she'll start into more of her advanced physical therapy classes for the spring semester. Next summer, she'll also have to stay in STL to take some required classes, so we won't get to see her as often in the coming year. It's tough to think about, but also exciting for her as she progresses in her studies!

One of the more recent exciting things for us is that our dear friend from St. John's, Bertels, came to visit us. Okay, Bertels is actually his last name, but no one ever calls him by his first name, so there we go. He happened to be in town to attend a Rangers game with another friend of his and decided to come visit for an afternoon while he was here! It was great to see him and catch up. There is such great power in community, especially as you grow older. It's great to remember that no matter where life takes everyone, you'll always have the bonds of friendship to sustain you!

I've also been involved with a couple of professional development seminars. One was an online webinar sponsored by Texas Instruments, in which I learned how to better utilize their graphing calculator technology in my classroom. Another was to learn how to integrate Google Classroom. The Classroom seminar wasn't as informative as I'd hoped, but I still gleaned some good stuff from it. I also had to do some training on dyslexia and learning differences as part of my "new" staff training that I'm a part of. It was very intense, requiring lots of reading and online training modules, but I finally finished that this week. It felt good to check those things off my list, and even better to be better equipped to teach my students who all have these learning differences.

Lastly, Thomas and I have been trying to make it through the heatwave. Having a third floor apartment hasn't been great during this time, but we've made it work. I'm not sure why it took us this long to pursue this avenue, but this week, we FINALLY broke down and invested in some blackout curtains. We have lots of large windows in our apartment that probably aren't the most energy efficient, so we went out on a limb to try this. It turns out that they really have helped to keep our apartment a good 5-10 degrees cooler than before, so we're counting this as a huge win!

I think that just about sums up our summer. Here's to me being optimistic and hoping that I'll update sooner next time. I likely won't, but it's worth a shot. I always come back, so have no fear! Can you believe I've been writing on here for almost 8 years now?! Go me!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Colorado Honeymoon (Part 3)

Wednesday (6/6/18)
The biggest highlight of Wednesday was our long-awaited ziplining trip. This was the only thing we really wanted to accomplish from this trip, so we were pretty pumped to make this happen. As I mentioned back in part one, I found a Groupon for our excursion, which was a nice bright spot! The course was located a couple of miles away from Royal Gorge, which made it about an hour away from Colorado Springs. During our drive out there, we saw lots of beautiful scenery (though that's arguably the case for most of Colorado) and the town of Cañon City that contained a shocking number of prisons.

All in all, we had a lot of fun out on our ziplining course. Our guides/instructors were top-notch and loads of fun! Despite my initial trepidation, I had a blast on the course. That is, until I wiped out on one of the lines. In short, the line I was on was not covered by plastic tubing like the other lines were, so you built up a lot more speed. I never quite got the gist of how to properly brake, and, unlike the other lines, it was not set up in a way that could compensate for that. Thankfully, it was equipped with an emergency brake, which engaged as I came (literally) crashing into the landing platform. Thankfully, the only injuries I incurred were a massive bruise on the top of my left calf and a damaged ego. I was a little bummed that that happened right before the last line, which was a two-person race in which I knew I would have beat Thomas. On the last line, I did everything I could to summon the courage to make it across without falling into total panic.

As a side note, I should mention that Thomas purchased a GoPro specifically for this excursion, and he managed to get most of my wreck on camera until he realized what was happening and he went back into husband mode. I still can't watch it without cringing!

Once we returned to the base, we decided to purchase the stupidly expensive pictures only since it was our honeymoon, there were a lot of good pictures of us from the course, and we weren't able to take any other photos while out there. (I don't have them downloaded to this computer, so none of those pictures, unfortunately!)

Afterwards, we were ready to devour our picnic lunch at nearby Royal Gorge. I'm glad I took the time to look into it a little bit before we went, as we found out that regular admission was $27/person!  ($25/person if you bought tickets online) In the grand scheme of things, it's probably not that expensive, and it did include a few things with it. However, by that point, we were done with the racket of paying admission fees, so we opted to pass on it. We still decided to drive in as far as we could to see what we could see. This ended up being a good decision, as we ended up finding a nice covered picnic area. No more than 100 feet from the picnic area was a scenic overlook in which we could see the gorge! It was a million-dollar view for free! No, we didn't see the bridge, but who cares! After lunch and grabbing some pictures of the gorge, we stopped at a trading post area to see if there were any souvenirs we couldn't live without.

On our way back to town, we stopped in at Holy Cross Abbey Winery, which was an old Benedictine monastery turned winery/vineyard/wedding venue. It was well worth our time of visiting! They offered upwards of 20 wines for sampling. All, except a few reserve wines, were free to sample. The reserve wines only cost $1/sample, which was pretty reasonable. We sampled most of the regular wines and one of the reserve wines. We ended up leaving the winery with a case of wine! (If you knew either Thomas' dad or my dad this would not be shocking news in the least...just saying!) They offered a bulk discount, which was a big deciding factor for us, along with our desire to buy a few bottles for our families. We also found out that they will ship to Texas, so we're making note of our favorites and planning on reordering in the future!

The vineyard
After visiting the winery, we needed a little bit of time to recoup from all of our samples (or I did, at least) so we popped into the old abbey to look around. We were about 5 minutes too late to visit their gift shop (darn!) and potentially get a guided tour, but a staff member was still there and allowed us to walk around and look at everything. It was a little depressing to see it not serving its original purpose, but it was still comforting to know that the new owners kept a lot of the monastic identity. (Pray for vocations, y'all!)

Former sleeping quarters turned memorabilia room


The chapel, which was the most Catholic non-Catholic chapel I've ever seen in my life!

Gorgeous stained glass behind the altar!

What the chapel used to look like

The perfectly preserved sacristy

This painting made me chuckle

Staircase to the cloistered area

The front of the beautiful!
After perusing the monastery, we headed back to the hotel to clean up and so that I could ice my leg, which was seriously bruised at that point. Dinner that night was at N3 Taphouse, which was basically a casual beer/burger place in an old firehouse. We were excited to go there, but we were a little disappointed initially, as there was NO parking available. After circling the lot a couple of times, someone pulled out and we were able to grab a spot. It was nice enough outside that we opted for outdoor seating. They had a great atmosphere with good food and craft beers!

Firefighters can sign the Maltese cross on the door!
The night ended with us going back to the hotel so that I could ice my leg (again) and rest.
My bruise, in all of its glory. 

Thursday (6/7/18)
Of all the "adventure" days of our trip, Thursday was the least planned. We slept in quite a bit for the first time that week, as we had no firm plans for the day. Our general plan was to go to Denver to see some breweries, and possibly tour the coin mint. We ended up touring the Coors brewery in Golden. Neither of us are particularly fond of Coors beer, but it being a free tour was enough to entice us. We started at the parking lot, where we waited for a shuttle bus to take us to the factory. I think it was their way of keeping tour traffic separate from employee/truck traffic since it's a functional factory. Also, it allowed them to slowly filter people in and out of the facility without being totally bombarded.

The tour itself was self-guided and largely anticlimactic, which, for it being a free tour, wasn't that big of a deal to us. Seeing aspects of the factory was fascinating to both of us, especially the bottling room. As a child I always loved watching shows that showed how factories worked (especially the crayon factory segment on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood), so I enjoyed that a lot! The real highlight of the tour was the sampling room, in which each person who was of age was allotted 3-8 oz. samples of beers brewed by the Coors company. So, even if you couldn't stand Coors, there were 5 other options that were appealing. They also offered water and soda for those who didn't want to drink beer or who weren't of age to do so, making it a family-friendly tour. Thomas and I really weren't able to finish anything past our second sample, as it was barely lunchtime, so we headed over to the gift shop to get some novelty glassware to take home to family. Shortly thereafter, we left on the outbound shuttle bus and headed to Denver to visit the Blue Moon brewery.

Outside of the brewery

Tap wall showing everything they brew at that brewery

We didn't realize just how close we were to Denver, as the trip took no more than 20 minutes. Upon finding the brewery, we were happy to know that they had a full restaurant. It's actually a good thing that they did, as the brewery portion was very lackluster. The "tour" was basically walking through a back hallway where you could see the brewing equipment and a few wooden casks that were aging some seasonal brews. The food alone made it worth our time of going, so it wasn't a total loss!

When in Rome...
After that, we were both too exhausted to even think about going anywhere else besides the hotel, and generally over the idea of consuming any more beer. We wanted to do more in Denver, but both decided that it was almost big enough to warrant its own trip or at least a couple of days, so we made a resolution to return one day in the future. We were glad we left when we did, as the traffic going back to CO Springs was atrocious, even by Dallas standards! It took everything I had not to fall asleep while navigating for Thomas. I knew he felt the same way, so I didn't want to make it any more difficult than necessary for him. To make matters more challenging, it also started pouring during that drive, so traffic slowed even more than before. We made it back to the hotel with just enough time to freshen up and relax before our dinner reservation for that night.

We ate dinner at renowned authentic German restaurant, Edelweiss. They had a lovely atmosphere with HUGE portions. I felt terrible that I had barely eaten anything when I felt full, so I had a healthy to-go box to take back with us! We also opted to get a slice of german chocolate cake to go. On our way back that night, we drove through the nearby University of Colorado-Colorado Springs campus. It was a nice, sprawling campus. I'm sure people who saw us thought we were weirdos, but there's something interesting to both of us about seeing different campuses. Upon our return to the hotel, we packed up, relaxed, and I iced my leg even more! We also ate our slice of cake, which was probably one of the best cakes we've tasted in quite some time!

Friday (6/8/18)
Just as quickly as it had begun, our trip was over! We had our earliest morning yet, as we planned on leaving by 7 AM (MST). It turns out that we brought a lot of things and had amassed a decent collection of souvenirs, so we didn't get packed up, loaded, checked out, and on the road until 7:30, which still wasn't bad at all. We took a short pitstop somewhere in New Mexico, where I took over driving for a little bit. We continued all the way to Dumas, Texas, where we stopped around 1:30 (CST) to refuel and eat some leftover pizza for lunch. Thomas took the helm once again, and we set out with the sole goal of getting home. Breaking up the trip on the way up there was a good call, because we were both very stir crazy in the car on the long drive home. We had to make our own fun to keep from going crazy, so this is what we did:

  • played the license plate game (which we decided we should have done at the beginning of the trip, as we could have found a lot more at the tourist sites)
  • listened to the complete Jennifer Fulwiler show (a first for Thomas)
  • watched for Steve, Diana, and Elizabeth, who were on their way to Estes Park 
  • decided what we wanted to eat when we finally made it home
  • read an article detailing the name origins of 50 Texas town
  • regaled favorite parts of the trip, and pointed out funny things we saw that we also saw on the way up there
Our list at the end of the trip...not too bad for only driving through 3 states!

After a stop in Wichita Falls for fuel (yet again), we FINALLY made it home around 8:15 that night and decided to stop at a Braum's drive-thru, as neither of us could summon the energy to cook anything. As with any trip, it's great to go, but even better to come home!

General thoughts/themes from our trip:
-It was a huge culture shock for me to see the bustling marijuana industry in Colorado. In Colorado Springs, there were dispensaries on (what seemed like) every corner. We made a game out of finding the dispensary with the funniest/most clever name. No, we did not partake. Yes, it was weird to see it all. In general, Colorado has a different culture than most places I'm used to. (Then again, I've spent my life in über-conservative Oklahoma and Texas, so many places have to seem like culture shock to anyone coming from that worldview.) Colorado is very relaxed, and people seem to have a general love of the outdoors and recreation. I think it would be fun to grow up with awesome hiking and outdoor adventure all around, but then again, the mountain roads freak me out, so that's a hard no from me.

-Kitchenette hotel rooms are largely underrated, especially on long trips. Thomas and I cooked dinner a couple of nights and packed a lunch each day of the trip (except Thursday), and we couldn't have done that in any other hotel room. Also, I love that house rentals are becoming more of a norm on vacations. Not that we used them this trip, but we heard a LOT about people doing so. We're definitely thinking we'll have to try that in the future, especially if we ever decide to do a big vacation with all of my family!

-I actually enjoy beer, but I have the weirdest taste. I either like fruity ciders or heavy stouts. Nothing in between really appeals to me. Go figure.

-Adaptability has been a huge theme in my and Thomas' relationship and in this vacation in general. Also, Thomas is my opposite in all the aspects when it really counts. We came back just as in love as we did before, so that has to count for something.

Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2