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Estes Park is both busier and slower than I remember. As a kid, I was always in school during the day, so I never knew how slow things could truly be during the winter season. Grown up and returned after 22 years, working in a local shop downtown, I can see just how much the closure of Highway 34 impacts the winter months. Yet, in summer the traffic is insane. Luckily, I missed most of it only coming into town for evening shifts, my first summer back. I am grateful to have returned to Estes Park, Colorado.

Seeing my hometown as an adult, living here and experiencing it through adult eyes, I can understand why many people have chosen it as their permanent and part-time home. Several unusual things occurred in my first year being back.

I have experienced more wildlife sightings in this past year than I did as a kid. The most amazing thing as a child was seeing two lion mountain cubs dragging their catch of the night, a deer, across the road.

Since I have been back, I have seen two female moose, or even more likely the same moose, just in two different spots– one near my home and the second at Lily Lake.

I’ve seen a coyote that was beautiful and gray, larger than the coyotes I saw as a child, as well as two coyotes that seem to frequent the area around my place of residence and hang out together.

If the coyotes are not enough, then the two bobcats that consistently pop-up around here will only add to the reasons I love being back here.

Last March, nearly a year ago now, a young bear woke up a little early and decided to visit us. The locks on our doors are different from any lock I had encountered in all the years I helped my parents on construction sites. Even though I was given a tutorial in how the lock worked, I still did not get the door off the kitchen properly secured. It was this that allowed a 300 to 400-pound black bear into our house that night.

Imagine lying in bed, suddenly hearing a crash over your head and wondering just what it could be. You might think “oh, the dog is chasing the cats,” because of the nails on the hardwood floor. Then, you might think “maybe the other adult in the home is up and walking over your head.” But, you would be wrong.

The savvy bear entered through the door, scared itself because of the door bouncing closed, and started walking around the living room trying to find a way out. It put its paws on the front door, ripped two screens from the windows, and then headed down to the master bedroom.

I came face to face with that bear as my brother called out, “there is a bear in the house.” It takes a moment to process just what that phrase means until you are standing eight feet from the bear, who is climbing a rock wall water fountain from the master bedroom up to the main living floor. I saw its head starting to peak over the railing by the water fountain before my brother distracted it so I could open the front door and hide.

The bear never stood on its hind legs, never growled or acted aggressively. It only tried to find a way out. I can believe the phrase, “bears are just as afraid of you as you are of them” because of this encounter. The bear returned once more at the end of the summer, but did not get back into the house.

It has also been back, now that a second summer is upon us.

Brown Bear Picture May 6 2017

My family had also had the pleasure of seeing two different male juvenile moose, one hanging around Lily Lake and the other near Carriage Hills a few months ago.

If anyone told me as a kid that I would be back here, happy, and living with a menagerie of animals, as well as seeing numerous wild animals, I would not have believed them. Who knew I’d be helping take care of a Dutch Shepherd, six cats, and five chickens. But, I love it.

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Source: Jasmine’s Case Files: #062317 Uccello Available Now

Relaxation is hard to come by. Busy lives equal on the go. The English Cottage Tea House in Grand Rapids, Michigan offers a chance for anyone to slow down, take in an hour or three of fun, and just enjoy life again. The proprietors are husband and wife, offering their home as part business for their tea tastings, themed teas, and private tea parties. Each year there are new events sometimes based on popular books and others on holidays such as the Mother’s Day Tea in May.

I have enjoyed two visits to the tea house and plan on a return trip for celebrating Mother’s Day. The first tea was at Christmas 2013 for one of their themed tea events. We were provided multiple teas such as Almond Cookie, Sugar Cookies, and Maple Praline. The second visit was last weekend for a tea tasting. On this trip we learned about the process of making tea, from the farms to how to brew and store the tea leaves, all while we sampled various teas starting with a white tea and moving up to a Rooibos. At the end of the second visit we were given little sandwiches and a small dessert.

The themed parties are more elaborate as a true afternoon English tea. These parties are three courses with soup, sandwiches and desserts intermingled with the teas. Coming events include a Jane Austen Tea Party with the discussion and event based on Mansfield Park. They also do a Spa Tea.

If you have a few hours to spare on a weekend it is definitely worth coming to a tea or simply book your own. Our second trip lasted almost 3 hours we were so relaxed and having such a great time.

All teas offered are for sale at 2 ounces for $6.00. Tea pots, cozies, and other gifts are also on sale. So far we have picked up Maple Praline, Mango, and Chocolate Lover’s, with plenty of others that we hope to add to our home collection. Whether you buy into the hype that tea is exceptional for your health, a way to help you lose weight by drinking no calories and antioxidants, or simply because of the taste, going to the English Cottage Tea House definitely helps you let go for a few hours.

Rogue River Nature Trail

Rogue River Nature Trail

Rockford, Michigan is a beautiful town just outside of Grand Rapids. It is a quaint location where spring and summer make the town come alive. On the drive up from Grand Rapids and Comstock Park it is just 15 minutes to the middle of town, which is beautiful with a dam, river, and many interesting buildings. It is clear that the last century has left its mark in the housing and brick buildings that surround the downtown park.

Rogue River Nature Trail is just a portion of the downtown section. To get to the trail there is parking around the park and shops, just off the dam. The dam offers a bridge from one side of the river to the other, with landscaping all around, benches, and plenty of opportunity to soak in a little sun. Often people come to fish the river just off the dam or just above the dam. In warmer months, when the water has warmed up families and friends gather to inner tube, canoe, or kayak along the upper portion of the river.

For those who prefer to walk, there is Rogue River Nature Trail. It is less than a mile in length running below a residential section. The trail is on the opposite bank of all the shops and main park area. It is all wood planking, with a high railing and two overlooks. Visitors on the trail are surrounded by natural growing trees and plants including acorns. Birds, squirrels, swans, and ducks are some of the wildlife that can be spotted along the trail. There is an old dirt path that can still be seen, although the vegetation is starting to grow back. At the end of the pathway is an old boat launch and the residential entrance.

For those looking to enjoy a slow walk that meanders along a river, Rogue River Nature Trail is perfect. It does not require endurance, but more of a relaxation requirement. Consider stopping by the ice cream parlor before heading out or on your way back to the car!

Estes Park an overview of a great mountain town for year round outdoor activities. Part one describes a portion of what there is to do here, with a few specifics to entice you to check it out for yourself.

Estes Park, Colorado is what anyone would consider a small town in USA. This beautiful mountain town is surrounded by National Forest Land limiting the amount of land one can build homes, shops, and other buildings on. These restrictions help keep Estes Park a small town. In winter the town is filled with residents enjoying mountain life. In summer it is filled with tourists traveling to CO for a mountain adventure. Rocky Mountain National Park tends to draw millions of visitors each year for its wildlife, hiking trails, and old cottage buildings.

I lived in Estes Park for a few years, so it is close to my heart and a place I know rather well. In terms of inexpensive entertainment and activities it offers quite a few. It is also unlike other towns in the mountains such as Vail because it does not have downhill skiing or ski resorts. In the 80s there was a small ski area, but it was usually icy and certainly not the luxury set up of Breckenridge or Vail. It was located inside the national park. While there is no downhill skiing in winter, you can certainly enjoy cross county skiing and snow shoeing. You can bring your own ski’s or rent then from the outdoor store in town. The trails are never groomed, which can add to the exceptional fun cross county skiing can offer. Some of the trails are more popular so after a few days of fresh snow the trails can be tamped down.

These same trails for skiing can be for hiking in other months. One of the most delightful hikes you can work up to is one locals call over the top. You start in Estes Park, travel 18 miles over the top of the mountains in a near straight path to Grand Lake. It is a hike you must prepare for because even in the height of summer there can be snow at the top in the Alpine zone. Furthermore, much of the path is uphill before you hit the top. There are several shorter hikes throughout the National Park and around Estes Park. A few miles hike up Twin Owls is an example. You also have Longs Peak for another challenging hike.

Entry into the National Park is either by a day pass which is good for seven days or by membership pass. It is best to check current rates as these have changed over the years. There are two entrances into the park from the Estes Park side. Fall River Road is a nice path to take. There are quite a few waterfalls throughout the park too, some larger than others. It is a photography haven for landscape images and the occasional wildlife. Elk and deer are most often seen though you might catch a herd of mountain sheep, beaver, birds, moose or even bear. It just depends on your luck and the trails you hike.

Estes Park has a six-plex movie theater with a pizza shop below. Safeway is the main grocery store. MacDonald’s Bookstore and a Card shop are available for those who need new reading material or interesting stationary. Many of the shops downtown are from before 1900s though they have been restored. A few are newer structures. Estes Park as a tourist town has plenty of specialty shops for souvenirs, tee shirts, hobbies, and locally made items. There are leather shops, glass making facilities, and plenty of wood carvers in town.

It is hard to mention everything that Estes Park has all in one article. So please look forward to more about this wonderful mountain town and others that Colorado has to offer.

Okay here is how I know a place has great food. I’m starving, the food is served, and moments later the plate is clean and I’m saying to my companions “oh I forgot to take a pic for my blog!” Honestly, we have been to R and R Coffeehouse and Cafe in Comstock Park, MI 3 times for food now and I may regret it is so close to my new home.

This wonderful coffee shop is located in a small retail space that reminds you of family and friends every time you go in. It is cozy, with two leather chairs in front of the flat screen TV, about 4 regular tables and two bar high style tables. You have a view of West River Drive, which goes through downtown Comstock Park, the Post Office, and a nice looking park. Parking is around back, with a back entrance door or you can always come in from the sidewalk.

The first visit was around lunch time and planned based on a local’s recommendation. I ordered my usual Ham and Swiss and opted for the sourdough bread. I was not disappointed at all. My companions decided to split a roast beef and cheddar on sourdough. They too were very happy.

The second visit was for breakfast. They offer up a skillet with ham, cheese, onions, and peppers complimented with toast and jelly. Two of us tried this skillet, while the third opted for ham and cheese skillet. The price was very reasonable on both visits. With St. Paddy’s Day looming I decided to be adventurous with my latte ordering a festive Irish Cream and Hazelnut Latte. The hot chocolate is amazing too.

I am seriously envious of their syrup choices, which puts Starbucks to shame, as do their lattes. Each visit I have had a different latte like the last time when I chose toffee nut for my latte, while ordering lunch sandwiches to go. They have more than 30 choices in syrups, although they do not have macadamia nut, but after discussing my all time favorite concoction created while working as a student manager of a cafe in college they said they would order it.

R&R is owned and operated by family. Two sisters joined together to open this little shop, which is a can’t miss if you visit Grand Rapids/Comstock Park area or live nearby I give this a 10 out of 10 because they are friendly, awesome baristas, and amazing chefs.

You might not think it is hard to create a sandwich or even a skillet of scrambled eggs, but from experience with my mothers cooking- you can definitely ruin even the simplest things. Based on other places I’ve had breakfast and sandwiches they definitely earn a 10. It is also about consistency. I have been to restaurants which can be good or bad depending on the day you go, the time you go, or for some reason it was just not to the typical standard. Perhaps three times is not enough of a test, but I’m not a professional critic and I’m fairly certain professional critics visit a place once and write reviews.

Main Street Southlands Outdoor Mall

Southlands Outdoor Shopping Mall offers a wonderful place to relax, dine, and shop. Any mall does not have to involve shopping. Rather you could go to enjoy the atmosphere and window shop. It can make for inexpensive entertainment. Of course, when you are in the mood to shop you definitely want a place you can enjoy and find the clothing you are looking for. During the summer months it is great to walk around an outdoor mall instead of someplace like Park Meadows Mall. You get to enjoy the sunshine, while still finding the same stores you like to shop at.

Main Street is where most of the clothing stores and specialty shops are located. Along this stripe you will discover Coldwater Creek, Victoria Secrets, Bath and Body Works, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and Babies R Us. The front entrance to Barnes and Nobles can also be accessed from Main Street. Barnes and Nobles offers a place to use free Wi-Fi, get a cup of Starbucks coffee, and read.

Southlands Outdoor Mall has AMC Southlands 16 as one anchor store. The view in the image above shows Main Street, where AMC is right behind. It also shows the square, which is highly important to Southlands entertainment. In summer this square is used for live music every Friday night. In winter a man-made lake is set up for ice skating. There are rock seats and sculptures in this square, as the next image indicates.

Entertainment Square at Southlands

Southlands is much more than just a place to shop for specialty goods. Wells Fargo Bank, Massage Envy, and European Wax Center are other services provided at this outdoor mall. Wal-Mart and Sams Club, with the Sams Club Gas Station also anchor Southlands Mall. A few other large stores include Michaels, JC Penney, Bed Bath and Beyond, and World Market.

For me World Market is one of the highlights of Southlands. They are one of the only stores that sells syrups for coffee and hot drinks. They are certainly one of the more affordable in terms of size. They also offer teas from around the world in leaves and tea bags. It is a store with products from all over the world such as dishes, furniture, and paintings.

Restaurants vary as much as the shopping at Southlands Mall. Tokyo Joes, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Chipotle, and PF Changes are a few of the restaurants. The range of cuisine is worldly, so whether you are in the mood for Italian, Asian, French, or American you can find it here. If you love barbecue Jim N Nicks is a great place for beef brisket, pulled pork or chicken. McCabe’s Bistro and Pub offers a variety of alcoholic drinks, and bingo on certain days.

The next time you want to go to a mall, get a bit of fresh air and enjoy great restaurants consider driving to Southlands Mall. It is located off of Smokey Hill and Aurora Parkway. E470 has an exit at this mall. It is further south, but still located in Aurora, Colorado. It is also near Centennial, CO. Arapahoe is another major street nearby Southlands Mall, which runs parallel to Smokey Hill. At Aurora Parkway and Arapahoe is the fire department, police, and library. Furthermore, around Southlands Mall is Home Depot, Lowes, Chick-fil-a, Dairy Queen, and more restaurants.

Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch

Reading is one of my hobbies and I know there are many out there like me. For those who enjoy reading there are some wonderful options to learn about new authors, as well as, meet their favorite authors. The Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch is one of three Tattered Cover locations in Colorado. Every year they host numerous book signing events where you can meet the authors. On Wednesday, July 18 2012, James Rollins was at the Highlands Ranch location highlighting his new book in the Sigma Series, Bloodline. The other two Tattered Cover Bookstores are at Lodo and Colfax. The Lodo location is downtown close Union Station. Tattered Cover Colfax is close to Colorado Boulevard. There used to be one at Cherry Creek Mall; however that location was closed down a few years ago. Depending on which location you go to this night out can be inexpensive or no cost.

Some Pointers for Book Signings at the Tattered Cover Locations:

Highlands Ranch: The best access for this store is by C470 unless you already live in the area. Simply hop on C470 take the Broadway Exit, head over to Highlands Ranch Parkway, and then find Town Centre Drive. If you come from the North heading south on I25, then West on C470 it would be a left turn on Broadway, right on Highlands Ranch Pkwy, and left on Town Centre Drive. Parking is free at this location. It is essentially an outdoor mall with Tattered Cover as the main anchor stores. The book signings start at different times depending on the day, so check the Tattered Cover page for times and locations. The only costs you may incur to attend a book signing at this location are buying the book and a coffee to go with it. James Rollins was the most recent author I went to see and obtained a personalized autograph. I arrived around 7pm, for the 7:30pm book signing, to find the seats upfront mostly filled. If you want to be one of the first to get an autograph and see the author it is best to arrive early.

Lodo: Lodo is located in the Bonfils-Lowenstein Historic Theater. As a historic location it is definitely worth a visit. The downside, which is minimal, is the parking fee. There is a garage across from Union Station or a few other parking lots to choose from. You can also park along 16th Street Mall and hop the tram down as far as it will take you. You will have to walk the rest of the way, which is only a couple of blocks.  My mother and I visited this location to see Kathy Reichs. We arrived plenty early securing a front row seat. Before the meet and greet we did take a step up the block for dinner. When you are downtown you can certainly make it an evening event. You have plenty of restaurants to choose from, so it does pay to be early enough to enjoy it all.

Colfax: We have been to this location more than once. One time we were able to see Michael Connelly, this was before the Lincoln Lawyer in theaters, but just after he knew Matthew McConaughey would play the lead role. The Colfax Avenue location can be reached by several different ways. Since it is close to Colorado Boulevard you can simply take that road to Colfax and drive down till you see it. This location has a parking garage that is free. There is also on street parking. Tattered Cover Colfax is part of a group of buildings, with a restaurant in the same complex. There again book signings here can be no cost.

Before the Cherry Creek location was demolished we were able to see Carol Higgins Clark. This was an interesting book signing because Mary Higgins Clark was also meant to be there and unfortunately do to an accident she was unable to make it. She did phone in and host an interview. The best thing about book signings is you never know what might go on. While you might have insight into how an author thinks or what the talk might be, until you attend a book signing you really won’t know. James Rollins is definitely a humorous man. Kathy Reichs, while enjoyable was definitely a scientist. Connelly was interesting because of his history as a reporter.

Conclusion:
So, the next time you are looking for some entertainment, at no cost or low cost, and a learning experience, consider a book signing. You never know when you might find a new author just by going. In the summer, Tattered Cover tends to have more book signings, meaning you could go every week. You can choose a location that is closer to you or visit the one that has one of your favorite authors.

My thoughts and prayers:

I wanted to post and say that my thoughts are with those who were harmed or killed during this unfortunate tragedy at the Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora, CO. My parents live less than two miles from the Century 16 Movie Theater and Town Center of Aurora. I also work at a local movie theater part time down off of Arapahoe and Parker. I spoke with my mother this morning before seeing the news, and when she started to say a movie theater had been involved in a mass shooting I instantly thought of all of my coworkers who worked the midnight showing at my part time job. I am thankful it was not the theater I work at and my coworkers are safe.

My heart is with those who had to work at the theater affected. We recently had a mid-year meeting in June talking about what to do with this type of shooter, how it differs from a robber who just wants the cash. Our team leader providing this part of our discussion wanted to reassure us that it does happen, but luckily not often and never in CO. This issue has brought that discussion back to my mind because we didn’t discuss what to do if the shooter comes through an exit door rather than the front door. We only talked about what to do if the person walks in the front and starts shooting. This failure to talk about other ways a shooting or robbing can happen does not escape me either given my full time job as a freelance writer includes daily articles on health and safety including the importance of risk management. We failed to account for all ways a shooting like this could start.

I am also reminded of the employee showing I was able to see yesterday. Many of the employees who were in the theater with me worked the midnight showing. Like those who arrived last night at Century 16, we were all very excited to see the new Batman it is a shame that others could not keep that excitement and happiness because of this shooter. We enjoyed the movie, laughed together, and went about our day. None of us probably thought that we would wake up or hear about a theater being attacked during the overnight shift.

These are just some of the thoughts that have gone through my mind as soon as I heard about the incident. What weighs most on my heart is that this incident could happen, it happened close to my parents, and there are at least 12 people that we know of right now who will not be going home. Others will be affected for the rest of their life whether they were hurt or just involved in the incident. I hope those who were involved  and hurt will be able to recover. My thoughts are with those as I wish for their full recovery both physically and emotionally. My thoughts are also with the families of those who were at the theater. I want to thank those who are also keeping everyone in their thoughts and prayers because it shows that we still have humanity, we can still care whether it affects us immediately or at a distance.

Please be safe everyone…

Adventure Miniature Golf Gets Exciting with Gators

Excitement is the name of the game at Hyland Hills Adventure Golf and Raceway. If you have sensitive nerves prepare yourself  for the active volcano, pirates ship, and haunted house- all of which are meant to rev up your enthusiasm . Whether it is the water side attractions, like the alligators in the picture or fire effects with volcanoes you won’t be disappointed. The main feature of this park are the three miniature golf courses totaling an astonishing 54 holes. It is a modest sized park with a Go Kart raceway and Bumper Cars for those who want a break from golfing. The ticket building is located right inside the gate to make it easy and quick to get into your games. On the back side of the building is the restaurant with your typical amusement park fare.

Location, Hours and Fees:

Westminster, Colorado: 9650 Sheridan Blvd. 80031

Fall Hours: Mon-Thurs 12pm-9pm, bumper cars and go karts open at 4pm

Friday 12pm-10pm, bumper cars and go karts open at 4pm

Saturday 10am-10pm, Sunday 10am-9pm

Summer Hours: Sun-Thurs 10am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 10-11

Admission:

Miniature Golf: Children- $5.95, Adults-$7.95, Seniors (60+)- $6.45; second additional round $3, third additional round $2

Go Karts: All Drivers-$5.75, Passengers-$1.50

Bumper Cars: All- $5.75

Adventure Packs: One Additional Attraction-$13.95, Two Additional Attractions-$16.95, Unlimited Pack-$29.95 (includes bumper cars and go karts)

Miniature Golf includes 3 Amazing Courses:

Beware you might get wet!

Lost Continent: this 18-hole course is the closest to the ticket booth with the volcano, alligator pond, downed plane, and plenty of adventurous holes. At some points you might be required to shoot as straight as possible up a ramp and through a Lost Continent Aztec style face only to reach the lower level below. On this course there are at least two holes with a double level. Beware of the 18th and final hole on this round unless you need to be cooled off by the final challenge. If you miss the hole in one, you will certainly get wet since the two faces on the side of the ruins are quite devious.

Buccaneer Bay: it might seem like an easy course on the first hole, but as you delve further into the middle golf course you will be met with pirates! As you wend your way through the course you will encounter a castle complete with a dragon.  The castle will emit bubbles if you make it through the castle to the lower level. If you miss you won’t get the bubbles, but it is still fun. You will come to a pond where a pirate ship is just waiting to get a lucky shot off. One of the most challenging holes is 13, with a long pipe hanging down over the hole. It is nearly impossible to get a hole in one on this one. The 18th hole is shared with Adventure Cove, where you have two sides to the Egyptian Pyramid: one is for Buccaneer Bay and the other for Adventure Cove.

Adventure Cove: the final course of Hyland Hills Adventure Golf and Raceway and the furthest from the ticket office. On this course you will find a Haunted House with bubbles if you make it up the ramp and through the house. It also has an old wheel house where you  end up on the lower level hopefully with a hole in one. Like Buccaneer Bay there is a challenging hole with a pipe hanging down, which is located on the 17th fairway.

My Personal Review:

You have the facts, with a few descriptions to help you get an idea of this park, but what did I experience on my two visits? The first is the challenge of finding the park. The directions are not difficult, but the sign is rather small on the right hand side of the road. Before you see the sign you are almost past the turn off. Luckily both times we were able to do a quick U-Turn just down the road and get on to the adventure of the day.

My first visit to this inexpensive golf and raceway was over a year ago, where my family and I played all three courses. A few weeks ago I took my college friend, who was visiting to the adventure park. Both times was absolutely phenomenal in the fun we had. The greatest benefit to this park in my estimation is that while it has a steady stream of visitors, your wait time is short between holes. Sure you might get a line of players as you play through the holes, but typically once you have your turn you have less than a minute wait to the next hole. If you arrive right when they open, it is even better cause you can sail through with little interruption. The second visit, in June 2012, was filled with little day camp attendees, but honestly with three courses to choose from we were able to avoid them and play two games, the first on Lost Continent and the second on Buccaneer Bay.

We stopped between the two rounds, so the second experience was a steady line in front and behind us, yet the wait was a few minutes at most for the team ahead to move through. The restaurant has your typical park food choices from hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, nachos, to chicken tenders. Soda, ice cream, Icee’s, and funnal cakes are provided for dessert. Unless there is a small line ahead of you getting the food in five to 15 minutes is possible based on what you order. The pizza will take a little longer than say a hot dog basket with fries and a drink. The prices are also cheap in terms of the food; especially, in comparison to parks like Six Flags or a movie theater.

Conclusion:

Cost: $12.95 for 54 holes for one adult. On a scale it would rate about $ for highly affordable. A one day ticket to a amusement park like Elitch Gardens is $37.99 per person. Even the unlimited adventure pack is less than a ticket to Elitch Gardens. While it is a different type of attraction because of the rides, if all you want is to get out, enjoy some sunshine, and have fun, miniature golfing at Hyland Hills Adventure Golf and Raceway makes an affordable alternative.

Food: Affordable since you do not have to leave to eat, and passable as a meal. It is not too salty like some restaurants and park eateries.

Waiting Time: Short, even when it is a little busier.

Location: Slightly hidden entrance sign, but very easy direct route from anywhere in CO.