steamboat springs (the aspen show)

When I was growing up, my favorite tree was a Japanese Maple in my parents’ backyard. Every September the tree put on a show and its leaves would turn the most brilliant shade of red before they fell to the ground. Some people lament the end of summer and view fall as a harbinger of the cold winter to come. But I love the cycle of the seasons and see September and October as a time for renewal and introspection, which might not be such a coincidence since I grew up in a household that took Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur (the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) very seriously.

In Denver, the day time temperatures have been really warm (maybe even a bit unseasonal) but the nights have already turned cool. It’s sit-on-the-porch-and-watch-the-stars-while-drinking-a-glass-of-red-wine sort of weather. And as much as I love fall in the city, it’s up in the mountains where the season really shines. Groves of Quaking Aspens have started to turn their bright yellow, gold and orange hues. The colonies look like streaks going down the mountain and lend a shock of color to an otherwise green pine backdrop… basically, it’s an arborist's dream.

Last weekend, while my husband was celebrating his 40th birthday out-of-town with a group of childhood friends (all of whom are reaching the milestone this year), I took the boys on what I hope will become an annual pilgrimage to Steamboat Springs. I’ve been feeling more intrepid, adventurous and confident as a mother, so I didn’t think twice about taking this solo-parenting vacation. Severe temper tantrums are becoming a thing of the past, which means my nerves are less shot and I’m better able to deal with minor behavior issues. On this trip, thankfully, there were none.

We hiked for hours around Fish Creek Falls, drove down the most bucolic country roads, soaked in the hot mineral springs at Strawberry Park ($10 adult/ $5 kids) and even dined out...

A friend of mine calls this phase—one where your children are no longer babies, no longer depend on you for every function and are able to keep their emotions in check—as being “out of the woods.” And I truly feel like we’ve overcome some of the hardest challenges of raising children for the past few years.

The trip to the mountains was restorative. 

I found myself thinking about the Japanese Maple tree in the yard of my childhood home, and within a few minutes of hiking through the Aspens, Otis turned to me and said, “I think we should plant a few of these in our front yard.” I totally agreed.

Wishing you wonderful autumn adventures,

maroon bells, aspen (the good, the bad, and the ugly)

For months I had been looking forward to our Aspen trip. It had been two years since we last visited and this vacation was going to be epic. We, the Bermans, were going to take Aspen by storm! I had grand plans for our mountain getaway: we would eat fabulous food, pick up fresh pastries and fruits at the Saturday market, hike through Maroon Bells for hours, browse the shops, and spend quality time inside the new Aspen Art Museum (which happens to be designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the Pritzker Prize winner and also one of my favorite dwelling builders). Yup, like I said, it was gonna be epic!

The drive up to Aspen went well. We made it in good time (under 4 hours with minimal traffic on I-70), and a pit stop in Vail for dinner helped break up the ride. By the time we got to the hotel both kids were asleep and the transfer from car to hotel room went smoothly…

And then, in the morning, things took a turn for the worse. 
Medium-intensity meltdowns during breakfast ballooned into full-blown tantrums by lunchtime. But I was undeterred. We were going hiking! It was gonna be epic! So we boarded a bus and everything was calm, that is, until we disembarked. By the time we got to the lake—that famous one right in front of Maroon Bells — it seemed like no one wanted to listen to instructions. Both kids kept putting their shoes in the water despite our pleas (I didn’t have replacements) and then the fighting began. Trying to distract them I said, “Look at the mountains! Look at the lake!” But nothing was working

After some deep breathing everyone was calm again and we set out for Crater Lake, a hike that is just under 4 miles round-trip. We were only about ¼ of the way into the trail when it became clear to everyone (at least to Matt and me) that this just wasn’t going to work the way we (I) planned. My seasoned, veteran hikers had other plans.
After another tantrum, and a few frustrated utterances by me, Matt decided to lead the boys back down the mountain and bring them back to the hotel. It was really nice of him to do, but my guess is that he probably felt he “owed me one” since he was going to San Francisco and then to Reno for a job related convention that would leave me with the kids for 5 days by myself, without backup. This was going to be my only chance at a break for a little bit, so I took it…

I climbed – alone –  for about 2 hours until I was joined by a group of chipmunks (my granola was leaking from my backpack). The leaves were gorgeous and the hike was spectacular. When I got back to the hotel, we all went swimming and then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. Instead of a fancy Aspen dinner we went to a restaurant where we ate relatively decent enchiladas and burritos. We then leisurely walked around the historic parts of town, and went to the playground. It was simple and unambitious; the kids loved it.

I mention all this because from the photos I have of our trip you’d never know there were, ahem, issues. I think it's important to be honest, especially in this forum. All too often things look picture-perfect, and more often than not they aren't. I also bring up our tribulations because I feel like I learned a valuable lesson. I, as a parent, have to adjust my expectations. I sometimes demand a lot from my kids—that’s fine and I hope in the long run it’s good for them. But mixed in with all the expectation there has to be the realization and the admission that I must not push them too hard. They need down time and a lot of rest. They can’t always be on the go, sit still for long meals, or hike for hours. I need to roll with the punches a little bit more. It’s really not fair to treat them as adults, because they aren’t—they are only 5 and 3 years old.

That said, we will continue to expose them to things we deem “adultish”- like this State’s beauty and great hiking. We will continue to take them to museums and foster their creativity. We will bring them to rallies and try to explain why it’s important to be engaged. And we will keep taking them on trips that have less ambitious itineraries. No, Aspen didn’t turn out to be the picture perfect vacation I thought it would be. But looking back it was still wonderful, especially after I adjusted my expectations…

My favorite photo from the trip? This one of Theodore sitting at a table in a Himalayan/Indian/Nepalese restaurant in Silverthorne, Colorado. Taken by his brother Otis. 

hiking mondays: aspen

I was around 14 years old when I heard someone mention Aspen for the first time. Some of my high school classmates vacationed and skied there annually over winter break, so I pretty much lumped Aspen, Vail and Telluride together as ski-towns on the other side of the country (I know, what a typical east coaster). I was never really that into winter sports, but on the rare occasion that my parents did take us skiing we went to the Catskills and usually Hunter mountain- which, as it turns out, is also where my great-grandparents vacationed during the summer months. 

It wasn't until a few years ago that Aspen starting coming up in conversation...basically me telling my husband, "When we move to Colorado we should *totally* go to the Food & Wine classic in Aspen." He nodded in agreement and we both though it sounded like a good idea. But after we moved here and I started doing a bit of investigative work, I discovered that the tickets were about $1200 per person, not including hotel. So we decided to shelve that idea for the time being...

Then I saw photos of Maroon Bells, a spectacular glacial valley in Aspen that is flanked by two 14,000 foot peaks and known for its magnificent scenery and wildlife. I knew we had to go. And so we went...
On the way to the trailhead we saw a grouse and a few beavers.  We heard a rumor that there was a moose and her young calf eating somewhere along the river, but we didn't meet their acquaintance. We did, however, stumble upon a black bear who made my heart pound a bit faster as I prefer viewing wildlife from a (far) distance. There were beaver dams, aspen groves and wildflowers galore. The lake's colors shifted constantly but it was always pristine and clear. I really can not wait to go back in the fall...
We left Aspen and decided to travel back to Denver via the Independence Pass, which is opened seasonally for about 2-3 months out of the year. On the way up to the continental divide we passed a ghost town, a relic from the time when silver mining ruled the area.

Not everyone liked the whipping winds over the continental divide (look closely, you can also see where the tree line ends).

This and That
Getting there: I-70 through the canyons, then follow directions from Glenwood Springs.
Going back: Independence Pass. The drive is gorgeous but note that the road is only open a few months out of the year and will closed once the first snow arrives. You go high above the tree line (and some times the cloud line) as you pass over the continental divide. 
To Maroon Bells: We caught the Castle/Bells bus (free) at the depot on Durant Avenue. It goes to Aspen Highlands and from there you take a designated shuttle to  Maroon Bells ($6 adults, children free). You can't drive your car into Maroon Bells after 9 a.m. or before 5 p.m. due to conservation/environmental efforts. The shuttle includes a guided tour that is incredibly informative and covers the region's history, development and wildlife.
Difficulty: Easy around the lake. Would love to hike to Crater Lake, but that is further out...
Eats: We had brunch at Poppycocks Cafe. The macadamia pancakes were delicious. Other recommendations include the oatmeal pancake. 
Overnight Accommodations: We Pricelined a hotel in Snowmass and got a great deal for the Wildwood hotel. 
An Aspen Guide you might find helpful.