Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Old Hundred

Have you ever been inside an underground mine? We had the opportunity to do this last month on our vacation in Colorado. The Old Hundred Gold Mine is located near Silverton, a Victorian mining town in the southwestern part of the state. If you ever have the chance to visit, I think you would enjoy it a lot. Old Hundred, supposedly named for a German hymn, once contained a thick vein of gold within Galena Mountain. Founded in 1872 by three brothers from Germany, the Neigolds, the mine was very productive for decades and made the Neigolds rich. Silverton was a bustling little mining community for quite a while.

At the mine site, located at the end of a long gravel road (the pavement ends about two miles before the mine), there is now a small building where the tour starts, with a real mine train car out back, for entering the mine. Everyone puts on a yellow rain slicker and a hard hat for protection inside the mine. It's cold down there, about 48 degrees all the time, and very damp, so a sweater is a good idea too. You pay the admission price, then you board the mine train, driven by your tour guide (all are retired miners), and it heads into the mountain on the original old track. It's dark as night in the mine, as you might expect, with light bulbs strung up here and there. Water runs down the rocks, leaving colorful mineral deposits. Copper, silver and lead were mined here in addition to gold.

When you're inside the mine, you're actually standing where the vein of gold used to be - they mined every last bit of it, leaving behind a winding tunnel. You have to watch your step to avoid the water flowing across the floor and along the sides of the footpath. Almost immediately, you'll feel grateful for the slicker and the hard hat. Everything about the tour is intriguing. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and experienced; he had many interesting stories to tell and he demonstrated the use of several different kinds of mining equipment. The small Bears were able to try a few things, like pushing down the plunger on an old dynamite detonator. I especially enjoyed seeing the elevator and emergency equipment, as well as the artifacts of mining life - lanterns, lunchboxes, discarded bottles and tins. In our tour group, there were some people who knew a lot about mining and the discussions were fascinating.

The tour lasts about 45 minutes before the group boards the train and it zips back out again. Then you're on your own, to pan for gold or to walk around the site. We chose the latter, walking out behind the building to look up at Galena Mountain, where you can still see the miners' boardinghouse, located 2,000 feet up the side of the mountain face (the men rode a tram to get up and down). There's an old mine train out there, which you're free to climb on. The site overlooks a ravine with a rushing creek at the bottom. There is nothing but mountains and trees as far as you can see, green and more green. It's a bit sad - the gold ran out, dreams died - but people once flocked here and some saw their fortunes made. It's hard to imagine the industry of it all now, but the abandoned boardinghouse is a good reminder. When you drive back down to Silverton, along the gravel road lined with clutches of columbine, you feel like you've experienced a secret slice of history.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our seventh week of summer break.

The heat has been brutal for the past two weeks, but it seems as if relief is in sight for the coming week. We will finally be seeing some more monsoon activity. This has been an unusually hot and dry summer so far. Everyone is feeling fed up with it. Unfortunately, our break from the heat will contribute to a scary-sounding "heat dome" situation for the Midwest. I hope it doesn't get too bad for people there.

We're eating a lot of cold foods nowadays, just trying to keep the house and our bodies cool. Our tomatoes are plentiful enough to have a few almost every day, though I still buy them at the store too. I make green salads or tomato-cucumber-basil salads most nights for dinner.

We did bake this past week, partly to keep busy but also because we felt like cookies. We made jam thumbprint cookies with our own homemade raspberry jam. It was just a small batch (this is my favorite recipe for thumbprint cookies) and they were delicious. I refrigerated them to keep them fresh and the jam drops got nice and firm, like soft jellybeans.

During the week, I really enjoyed this post about vacationing in Beirut in the 1960's, before the city was devastated by war. It's of particular interest to me because my mother's family, who are Syrian American, often vacationed in Beirut in that era and I've always tried to imagine it as the glamorous place it once was. That's a really neat blog, by the way, lots to see and learn.

The kids went back for another session of swimming lessons. We'll be there this week as well. This session is quite sparsely attended and I've got the shady knoll pretty much all to myself. It's thirty-five minutes of cool, breezy bliss.

We attended the final week of the library's summer reading program. There are still three-plus weeks until school starts and I wish they had more activities to help pass the time, but library budgets are not exactly fat these days. I understand, but still...summer break is long. We'll go to the library anyway, activities or not. The kids have both been reading a lot this summer, especially the GB - her nose is almost always in a book. It's wonderful to see.

My pirate ship cross-stitch is so close to being finished. I'm just adding the final bits of "water" detail under the ship now. I hope to have a finished, framed project soon. There's birthday-gift work to get started on.

The GB found a large clutch of empty snail shells under a wild grapevine in the arroyo. She was picking them up by the handful to save in a bag. They're really interesting; no two are alike.

I'm really enjoying these quiet summer weeks, spent mostly at home in swamp-cooled air, with short trips out for groceries, library books, swims and occasional coffees. My kids are getting older and are better at occupying themselves during the long days, which has been good for my relaxation. I'm feeling so anxious and ill-at-ease with the news and everything going on right now. I'd like to shut off and ignore it all, but I don't think that's realistic. I do my best; I tend to listen to the radio more than I watch TV, which helps. It's all just nuts - the elections, the violence, the political unrest here and abroad. Just in the time since I began writing this post (I stopped for a trip to Costco), there was another mass shooting of police officers. I just don't know what to say about that. I will say again that I'm trying to use the computer less, because it's tempting to click over to the news or - at the very least - the weather (I can torment myself with bad news in any number of ways, just try me), so if I'm scarce, you'll know why.

I hope you're having a good weekend. We're staying home the rest of the day, having gotten the Costco chore out of the way. I'm going to make iced tea now. We're grilling some pork chops and asparagus for dinner and looking forward to our Sunday night PBS watching party for two. I'm really enjoying this show Dancing on the Edge. Have you watched it? It's very good; the Bear is quite possibly the most avid John Goodman fan alive, and as usual, I'm in love with the period costumes.

I leave you with two summer songs from my adolescence, just because I've felt like listening to them lately: this one because it's about, well, summer. And this one because I once heard a radio DJ announce it as "the ANTHEM of the summer of 1995," so obviously it's of major cultural importance.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Family camp

Last weekend, we had a family camping adventure. We camped at Black Canyon, in the Santa Fe National Forest, just a few miles north of Santa Fe and an easy one-hour drive from Albuquerque. If you're ever looking for a campground in the area, I recommend Black Canyon highly. It was high up in the forest, shaded, cool and unexpectedly quiet. I appreciated the amenities offered, such as drinking water via spigot (we brought our own 20-gallon water jug to fill), and vault toilets in a clean little building. I enjoy camping very much, but would prefer not to go totally primitive if I can help it. Our campsite was really nice too - there was a paved area with fire pit and curved rock wall for sitting around the fire, and a gravel tent-pitching area.

Do you enjoy camping? It's a fair amount of work, but I think it's worth it. There's a lot to be said for the outdoor life. The fresh air in your lungs, the wind whispering through towering, ancient pines. Yes, there are downsides too, like bugs and dirt and snoring, flailing bedfellows, but I can overlook most of the negatives because it feels good to get away and do something different together. We did the standard camping things: made Jiffy Pop popcorn on our Coleman stove, built a fire in the pit, grilled hot dogs and made s'mores at night, sat around with guitars, books and crafty projects, traipsed back and forth with a child to the toilet hut about a million times.

One of my favorite things about being in the woods during high summer is the plants. There were a few wildflowers and a lot of berries around our campsite. I really liked that they left things growing. As nicely maintained as the campground is, you're still in the forest. Birds and insects are everywhere, there are lichens and mosses on most of the trees. A dry creek-bed meandered past our campsite, detritus from countless springtime runoffs resting at its bottom. There was a lot to see and we all have the bug bites, scrapes and bruises to prove it. But we also had: singing, scary stories, hatchet lessons, endless cups of cocoa, new friends (with a cool hammock) three campsites over and the chance to be vaguely, giddily concerned about bears (the woodsy kind). 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Color and collaboration

For about two and a half years, I was fortunate to be a member of the Color Collaborative, a group of bloggers, organized by Annie Cholewa, who wrote monthly posts on various themes, all of which were tied together by color as a common thread. Mainly due to the natural winding-down that so often comes with a long-term project, the Color Collaborative has decided to call it a day. I debated about whether to write this post; I wasn't sure how exactly how I wanted to let go of the experience. In the end, I have decided to share my thoughts about what was, for me, a really formative and interesting experience. I have to tell you that I'm quite sad about this ending, though I know the time was right. It was a great experience. I felt honored to be a member of the group, which included some of the best bloggers I know of, and I will very much miss our monthly collaborations.

My first post with the group was as a guest poster, in February 2014. The theme was Storm, and I was eager to write about this topic because of my love affair with the mountain just a few miles from my home. I immediately thought about the topic in terms of the changing mountain vista in my backyard. The mountain is one of my best indicators of the weather and it never ceases to fascinate me. I think my post went over well; I was asked to become a permanent member of the Color Collaborative the following month.

My first post as a full-fledged member was in March 2014, on the theme of Bud. Again, I was really happy to have a topic to write on that I already loved and enjoyed explicating. The topics would become more challenging at times, such as when we wrote on the subject of Childhood (I ended up writing about my Brownie and Girl Scout uniforms, as I wasn't sure what to write about. It went well and scouting was a key aspect of my childhood. In hindsight, though, I wish I'd written about books, by far the most important part of my childhood). Other topics, such as Dress and Metal, made me feel a bit stretched, as I tried to think about these topics in terms of their importance, or interest, to me. I'm not really a clothes or jewelry person (some of my fellow Collaborative members seemed to have a lot more fun with topics like these than I ever did). But the chance to write on a theme, with color as sort of an overarching construct, really did help me think about color in different ways.

I never bought anything, or made a special trip, in order to write a Collaborative post. As a blogger, this is often tempting even when not involved with a prompt-based collaboration. I tried to look for items and experiences I already owned, that made a difference to my life, or at least things which exist in the community or landscape around me.

I often wrote about special family customs, like dyeing Easter eggs in the post themed Tradition. I also wrote about special family items sometimes, like in the aforementioned Dress post, as well as in Precious, where I shared a tiny family Bible passed down through the generations in the Bear's family (my son is the current owner of this heirloom and I am its safe-keeper). I also wrote, gleefully, about one of our favorite family traditions, the celebration of Halloween. We are total Halloween fanatics and it was a thrill to share our joy in that holiday.

One of my favorite posts to write was Collection, in which I shared a Hellmann's mayonnaise jar full of small trinkets and found objects collected and given to me by my father. Like me, he is a bit of a scavenger and loves to pick up weird, old things wherever he goes. He started filling the jar when he was a teenager in the early 1960's; some of the items have a definite of-their-time quality, which I think is really cool. I rarely stage my photos, preferring to keep things natural and rely on the cropping tool if any at all, but for this post I wanted the photos to do a lot of the talking, so I arranged items from the jar by their color, and used an editing filter in Picasa called Cinemascope. I wanted the photos to have an old-school look, like they were shot on film and put away for decades. I like the effect and it was a fun yet personal post for me to write.

I would say that Home was the most popular post among my readers. People said it was my best one, which may be true. I certainly enjoyed writing it. It was a subject that spoke to the true heart of me.

I tried, whenever possible, to bring the reader along with me, to see sights I saw in traveling or here at home in my community. Hence, posts such as Sail, in which I shared a visit by me and the Bear to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California. The topic was a challenging one for me since I haven't sailed much myself, but I did have the chance to spend a day among the sailboats in one of America's most renowned harbors, so it was interesting to translate the experience into a Color Collaborative post. I've also written about attractions closer to home, such as our local growers' market, which I wrote about in Market. One of the most important things I feel I can do as a blogger is to share the immediate world in which I live, work and play; I can't have you all over for a tour of my city and dinner back at my place, but I can photograph and write about my favorite parts of life here and share it with readers around the world, who share theirs with me too. That's a miracle in my book, a sure marvel of modern times.

The Color Collaborative often gave me a chance to explore one of my passions, cultural history. In posts such as Spice, where I discussed the origins of pumpkin pie, and Blue, about the custom of blue-painted doors and trimwork on New Mexican houses, I had the chance to do real research and fact-gathering, which I translated into blog posts about topics that interest and inspire me. I love to cook and I love home decor and taking it upon myself to learn some of the history behind these topics was exciting.

I learned some new technical tricks during my time in the Color Collaborative. I'd always admired other bloggers' collages comprised of photographs alongside complimentary solid cells. I started making these myself, using the online tools at PicMonkey, when I wrote my post on the prompt Birthday, which I wrote on the subject of my own birthday time of year, late November. Later, I also used similar collages in the posts Metal, Bird and Seedling, giving these posts a simpler look than some of my others which incorporate lots of individual photos. I loved learning something new and it was fun to create colorful collages that expanded on my words in their own ways.

Being part of the Color Collaborative was a positive and edifying experience. It brought me closer to some of my fellow bloggers. It gave me much to think about and aspire to, as I sought to give my posts a personal flair that only I could bring. As such, I often returned to the same topics (the mountain figured often, as seen above, again, in Photograph; fittingly, the mountain was my first subject as well as my last), but this is only because they mean so much to me, and because they can be examined and understood from so many different angles. As a blogger, I aim to bring my world sharply into focus whenever I write, both to allow me to appreciate it more and to give readers a clear view of what I see. As the only American member of the Color Collaborative, I felt that I had a special perspective at times, and a unique opportunity to share my own little world. Thank you to my fellow Collaborators; you have made blogging even more of a pleasure and I am thankful for the chance to create with you. Thank you, readers, for supporting and following along with us.
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