The Ballad of Mrs. Scrooge

I am married to a cranky old geezer.
You might already know him; his name’s Ebenezer.
When the whole world rings with Christmas spirit,
He says, “Bah, humbug!”–he doesn’t want to hear it.

He doesn’t like “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night;”
He sneers when he hears about Rudolph’s brave flight.
He completely abhors “The Twelve Days of Christmas,”
And thinks that the Drummer Boy should jump off an isthmus.

He’s allergic to mistletoe, holly, and pine.
He says decorations are a big waste of time.
He simply loathes fruitcake, chestnuts, and eggnog.
We have central heating, so who needs a Yule log?

He thinks holiday shopping is commercialized trumpery,
And hanging lights only helps the electrical company.
He doesn’t believe in ol’ Santa Claus.
Marley’s ghost gave him up as a hopeless, lost cause.

He won’t be visited by the three Christmas ghosts.
He won’t be invited for warm Christmas toasts.
He gags when he sees It’s a Wonderful Life.
Does he like anything? Well, yes—me, his wife.

For me he will sometimes be happy and pleasant.
He bought me a live tree as a surprise Christmas present.
He won’t decorate, but he’ll get down the boxes.
He doesn’t complain about my “Jingle Bell Rockses,”

Or “Joy to the Worlds” or “Oh Holy Nights.”
He lets me hang up all my big Christmas lights.
And come Christmas morning, under the tree,
There’ll be stacks of wrapped presents that he bought for me.

Though it looks like his heart is three sizes too small,
And he doesn’t have holiday spirit at all,
I’m here to affirm that, inside his crab’s shell,
He actually likes Christmas.

A little.

(Don’t tell).


Adventure #16–Celestial Seasonings Factory

Originally written 8/10/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:


Photo credit: Kevin Dooley,


My dad was in the Air Force, and because of his particular job we moved between Denver and San Antonio a couple times. I went to elementary school in San Antonio, but my sister mostly went to elementary school in Denver, and since you do a lot of field trips when you’re in elementary school, my sister’s been to a bunch of places in Colorado that I haven’t been: the capitol building, for instance, and the Celestial Seasonings factory.

Celestial Seasonings (in case you haven’t heard of them) is a tea company, founded in 1969, and even though they sell millions of boxes of tea every year in multiple countries, they still make all of their tea in one factory in Boulder, Colorado, which I think is amazing. They offer a free tour to anyone who wants to visit. I went for the first time a couple weeks ago when some friends suggested that we go. We were going to be in Boulder anyway (they were taking me out to a belated birthday lunch), so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to cross something else off my adventure list.


The #1 top selling tea from Celestial Seasonings is Sleepytime, and their factory is located on Sleepytime Drive. It’s my goal to be so successful that I can have my house on a street named for me (Adventure Avenue? Blog Boulevard?). The buildings are very homey and charming (not at all like the smoke-producing, industrial horrors conjured up in my imagination by the word “factory”), and there are pretty signs and attractive landscaping everywhere.


Signs direct you to where the tour starts, in a kind of tea shop (where else?). When we got there, a friendly woman took our names and gave us our “tickets”—sample-sized packages of Black Cherry Berry tea that we got to keep as a souvenir. Best tickets ever!


We were early, so the woman handed us each a small porcelain tea cup and said that we were welcome to sample teas until it was time for the tour to start. There was a counter to her right with about eight different tea dispensers: tall silver tubes with spigots on the front like you see as part of breakfast buffets for serving tea and coffee. Each dispenser had a sign next to it telling you what kind of tea it was, what ingredients were in it, and whether it was caffeinated or not (which was useful, because I don’t drink caffeine, and accidentally drinking a cup of black tea would have made me high as a kite for the whole tour).

Past the sample counter was a larger counter where you could order snacks and full cups of any of the teas Celestial Seasonings makes. There was a menu written out on a chalkboard on the wall, and it was huge—dozens and dozens of different kinds of teas, some of which I’d heard of and some of which I hadn’t. To my delight, some of the kinds I hadn’t heard of were available as samples. I love samples, and I love trying new things. Pure heaven!

While we were sipping our Watermelon Lime Zinger tea, we got to walk around the rest of the area, which was outfitted as a miniature museum. There were signs detailing the history of the company, painting-sized versions of the artwork they’d printed on their boxes over the years, and displays of artistic teapots. I don’t know how functional the teapots were, but they sure were beautiful (and, since we weren’t allowed to take photos in the factory itself, you get to see lots of pictures of them!).


The tour seemed very popular, so by the time 11:00 a.m. rolled around, the tea shop was full of people. I was glad we’d gotten there early, because it would have been sad if the tour had sold out (although, since it was free, I guess “sold out” isn’t exactly the right phrase). There was a mix of kids and adults, including a couple in their 70s who walked around the whole factory holding hands. Aww! I want to be like that when I’m 70.


This is one of the fancy teapots. The little bear is the handle, and the tea comes out of the upper left-hand corner of the armchair.

When it was time for the tour to start, all of us were invited into a little film-viewing area lined with benches, where we got to hear an introduction from our wonderful tour guide and see a 15-minute movie about the company. From the introduction and the film, we learned that Celestial Seasonings was founded in 1969 by two friends and their girlfriends. The film started off by saying, “It was the Summer of Love…,” but I’d like to point out, in the interest of historical accuracy, that the Summer of Love was actually 1967 (easy mistake to make, right? Wink wink, nudge nudge). That might or might not cast doubt on the accuracy of the rest of the film’s information, but, since the story they presented was awesome, I’m just going to repeat it as told and you can fact-check on your own.


I don’t know if you’re familiar with Boulder, Colorado at all, but the Celestial Seasonings story is about as Boulder as you can get. The four founders picked the herbs they used in the original blends out in the fields and woods, and they sewed the muslin tea bags together themselves. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford the materials to label the bags at first (the bags were just blank), and they tied the bags shut using wire that had been thrown out by the phone company.

They took these bags to a local health-food store and asked if the store was interested in carrying their “herbal infusions.” The store said no (which, honestly, wasn’t all that surprising). But, undaunted, they went back later and asked if the store wanted to carry their “herbal teas.” I guess “herbal tea” sounded better than “herbal infusion,” because the store agreed.

According to our guide, by the way, the founders actually originated the term “herbal tea,” since technically herbal tea isn’t really tea at all (more on that later).


Apparently, John Lennon drank Celestial Seasonings tea; there’s some on the shelf in the background of this picture.

Even the company’s name is super Bouldery: one of the two founding women had been given the hippie name “Celestial Seasonings” because someone told her that she was as beautiful as a sprinkling of ambrosia from the heavens. !!!

The company definitely isn’t as hippie nowadays as it was in the beginning. In 2000, Celestial Seasonings merged with the Hain Food Group (which produces natural food and health products like JASON, Rudi’s Organic, and MaraNatha) to make the Hain Celestial Group, which netted two million dollars in 2014. The intro movie was pretty clearly a product of this modern corporate identity; it was slickly made and more of an extended commercial than a documentary (with the name of the Hain Celestial Group CEO prominently displayed but no mention of any of the founders’ actual names, for instance).


However, even as a corporation, Celestial Seasonings maintains many of its original values. They support ethical trade, sustainable agriculture, family farms, and recycling, and many of the international farms that supply the company with its botanical ingredients have been doing so for more than 30 years. So that’s good.


This dress was in a display case in a corner of the film room. It’s made entirely of Celestial Seasonings tea bags. It totally reminded me of my mom, who makes duffel bags out of old bags of dry cat food.

After the movie finished, we were all issued with hairnets for our tour: blue mesh caps with elastic all the way around the bottom edge, just like the lunch ladies at my elementary school used to wear. Men with beards or mustaches had to wear a beard net, too. The guide reminded us that no photography was allowed in the factory itself (dang it), but he promised that we would have an opportunity to get what he called “hairnet selfies” at the end, once we’d left the factory. Yay!

Once inside the factory, we were herded into a little area of concrete floor surrounded by a wide yellow line. This was to make sure that we tourists didn’t get in the way of the actual employees, since it is a working factory. I expected the building to be very loud, what with all the machinery, but it turned out that summertime is the slow season for bagging tea, and only a small portion of the machinery was running that day. Fall and winter, the guide told us, are the really busy times (which I guess makes sense, since hot drinks sound a lot more appealing when it’s cold outside).


Once we were safely penned behind the yellow line, the guide, now aided by a microphone, asked us, “What was the first thing you noticed when you walked in here?”

“The smell!” we all said.

And, indeed, the smell of the factory was strong, unforgettable, and glorious, a combination of all the herbs and spices they use to make their wonderful teas. You might think that the scents of all those ingredients would clash, so to speak (like being in a shop that sells scented candles; I can last maybe a minute in one of those shops before I have a headache), but somehow all these herbal scents combined into one harmonious whole. It was like standing by the stove while you brewed the world’s largest cup of tea.


Doesn’t this look like Abu from Aladdin enjoying a cup of tea with Baby Abu?

The guide explained that the softer herbal ingredients—like peppermint and chamomile—had to be chopped up to go into the tea bags, but that the harder spices—like cloves—were milled using a gigantic mechanical grinder. The machines were milling cloves that day, so he passed around two bowls. The first held whole cloves, and the second held ground cloves, so that we could see (and smell) the before-and-after of the process. Oh, I sure do love the smell of cloves.

Through a window, we could see the grinder, but it was too far away to see anything in detail. Too bad. I love watching machines work.

To get a smooth tea, the guide told us, all the ingredients in the bag have to be a similar size, so once everything was chopped or milled, it was passed through a series of seven sieves of progressively finer mesh. At the end of the sifting process, the ingredient was now teabag ready and could be packed into special white plastic bins.


We got to see the bins—and all sorts of other containers—as we walked from the grinder viewing area to our next stop. This area was a big warehouse, with floor-to-ceiling shelves separated into neat, forklift-sized aisles. To make sure that we weren’t in the way of said forklifts, there was also a forklift-sized path on the concrete walkway surrounded by yellow lines that we weren’t supposed to walk on. Smart!

The shelves were stacked high with bins containing tea ingredients, and each of the bins was neatly labeled with what was inside: hibiscus, rosebuds, acai berry*. Each section of shelving gave off its own delicious smell. It was heavenly. I swear, half of what I love about tea (and the only thing I love about coffee) is the smell.

*Speaking of acai berry, I’d only ever seen the word in print before I went on the tour; I’d never heard it pronounced. Mentally, I’d been pronouncing it so that it sounded like “a guy,” but apparently it’s actually pronounced more like you’re spelling out the letters “S-I-E.” Oops. I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened to me over the years. When I was a kid, I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries, and Nancy Drew had red hair that was often described as “titian.” Ask me sometime how I thought THAT word was pronounced.


OK. A bike jersey with a giant buffalo on it would be pretty awesome.

The guide told us that once the different ingredients were chopped and sifted, they were ready to get mixed. Employees, following special recipes, made the different kinds of tea by pouring the right ingredients into a mixer, something like a smallish cement mixer, and letting the ingredients blend together for about 10 minutes. Then the tea mix was emptied into a new bin, ready for bagging.

But first, each batch of tea had to be tested. The blendmaster brews a cup of tea from the mix and tastes it, comparing it to a master blend to make sure that the flavor is right. If it’s not, the batch gets dumped back into the mixer, and the blendmaster tells the employees which ingredients to add to correct the blend.


“How does he know how much to add?” asked a little girl near me.

“He’s got very sensitive, very highly-trained tastebuds,” the guide replied.

“Whoa. What happens when the blendmaster dies?” my friend whispered as we followed the guide through the shelves. “How do they find a new one?”

I’m pretty sure that a company like Celestial Seasonings has multiple tasters on staff for various parts of the process, and that there are programs in place for finding and training tasters, but I’m thinking of writing a story where people on a fantasy world lose their Blendmaster and have to find another one through a mystical process akin to finding the new Dalai Lama. Don’t steal this idea; I had it first.

 334Maybe they could find the Blendmaster with the help of a mystical dowsing teapot.

Our next stop was a separate storage area off the main warehouse. Like the main warehouse, this big, square room was full of shelves loaded with bins.

“This is the Tea Room,” the guide said. “This is where we keep all of our different kinds of tea leaves.”


That’s when he explained that tea only technically comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, an evergreen shrub native to parts of Asia. All the different forms of tea—black tea, green tea, white tea—come from Camellia sinensis. “Teas” like Sleepytime and chamomile are herbal infusions, not really teas at all. In fact, in some countries it’s against the law to call something like Sleepytime “tea.” If you want to call it something fancier than “herbal infusion,” you have to call it “tisane.”

Chinese legend has it that Emperor Shennong first discovered tea 4500 years ago when a leaf from Camellia sinensis fell into his pot of boiling water. It’s now the second-most popular drink in the world (right after water), with more than 4.5 million metric tons produced worldwide in 2010.

That’s a lot of tea.


From the Tea Room, our guide led us into a narrowish corridor with two garage-style rolling doors on one side. “This is the Mint Room,” he said, gesturing toward the first door. “This is where we store all of our peppermint, which we use as an ingredient in many of our teas, like Tension Tamer. We store spearmint in the room next door, but sometimes when we have an overflow we put the extra spearmint in with the peppermint.”

As he spoke, he pressed a button, and the garage door rolled up into the ceiling, revealing a storeroom absolutely stuffed full of bins marked “peppermint.” The room was so full that there was only a small strip of empty concrete in front of the shelves.


“The reason that the mint is in its own room behind this closed door,” the guide went on, “is that the scent of mint overpowers everything. If we stored the peppermint with the other ingredients, every kind of tea we made would taste like mint. We can’t even chop the mint here at the factory. Our growers chop it for us straight from the field, on dedicated machines that only chop mint. Once you use a machine to chop mint, you can’t ever use it to chop any other ingredients. The mint is so strong it would taint anything else processed on the machine, even if you washed the machinery first.”

Good grief.


“We’re going to let you into the Mint Room a few people at a time,” he said. “Please feel free to come out as soon as you need to.”

Need to? That sounded ominous. Especially since the guide was grinning at us in this funny, knowing way.


As soon as I stepped into the Mint Room, I knew why. The smell of mint, which I love coming from the mint plant on my balcony, was absolutely overwhelming inside the enclosed storeroom. It was like my plant times a million. Peppermint fumes bombarded my eyeballs, burned the inside of my nostrils, and whooshed down my throat when I gasped in surprise. Imagine being attacked by mint-flavored tear gas, and you have an idea of what it was like. Death By Mint.

Hey! There’s another story idea!

330Or how about a mint-fume breathing dragon?

After about ten seconds, I turned around and left in a hurry. I wondered if employees had to wear a gas mask when they worked in there. The guide said that sometimes visitors cry because their eyes get so irritated by the fumes, and he has to tell them not to rub their eyes, because that only makes it worse.


There were three kids on the tour who stayed in the Mint Room for the whole 5 minutes we were there. They must have been mutants or something*.

*Hey, that reminds me—have you ever noticed that in the X-Men comics and movies, nobody ever has lame mutant powers like resistance to peppermint or immunity to hiccups?

 323Or the ability to turn fruit into giant dirigibles?

From there, we got to walk around the lines, the areas of machinery where the tea is bagged, boxed, and plastic-wrapped. This area of the factory is two-storied, with most of the machinery on the main floor and a series of hoppers on the mezzanine. Forklifts take the bins of blended tea onto the mezzanine and pour the blend into the hoppers. The tea goes down a chute and is inserted into bags, which the machine separates into pairs of tea bags.

Meanwhile, on a different machine, flat pieces of printed cardboard are rolled into an area where a piece of waxed paper is laid on top of each of them. The machine then folds this cardboard-and-waxed-paper combo until, like origami, it has formed an open box lined with wax paper. Magic!

339For my next trick, I will pull a rabbit out of this teapot.

The open boxes are rolled onward, and the now-filled teabags are deposited into the boxes. Different parts of the machinery fold the waxed paper shut, close the box, and then seal the box inside tamper-proof plastic wrappers so that psychotic jerks can’t poison your tea. The sealed boxes are then rolled over to a robot that loads the tea onto wooden pallets for transportation (so cool! Although the robot doesn’t look like Optimus Prime; it looks more like the arm that holds up the lamp at the dentist).


There are multiple lines in the factory, so that they can produce multiple kinds of tea at once. Sadly, since it was summertime, only one line was running, so we didn’t get to see much of the machinery in action. I was mesmerized by the part we did get to see. It was amazing. And the series of metal rollers that take the boxes around to each machine totally looked like a miniature roller coaster. The tea was going on a fun ride!


My favorite part of the factory floor was a big sign hanging on the wall that said: SAFE-TEA IS OUR PRIORI-TEA.

I love you, Celestial Seasonings!!!


We had come to the end of the tour. Everything had been fun, informative, and well-laid out, with beautiful, whimsically-illustrated signs which I was very sorry that I couldn’t take pictures of. Celestial Seasonings had put a lot of thought and effort into making a good tour.

But the genius part of it? The exit door from the factory LED INTO THE GIFT SHOP.

 316This is the gift shop from the outside. I forgot to take a picture inside.

And what a gift shop! Besides boxes of every kind of tea they make (including a bunch that my grocery store doesn’t carry), they sell tea infusers, mugs, honey, sugar, chocolate, mints, collectible tins, magnets, key chains, t-shirts, stuffed animals, travel pillows, soap, jewelry…..

Seriously, there was nothing they DIDN’T sell, and everything was attractive, reasonably priced, and nicely displayed. Moreover, a lot of the goods were natural and/or made by companies that were locally-owned and/or supporting a worthy cause, and all the clerks were super helpful and friendly.

I could not wait to line up and give them my money.

 318Yes, but have you seen all the great stuff in the gift shop?

Through a Herculean effort, I managed to only spend $20, buying a pair of earrings and two new kinds of tea (including acai mango zinger, since I know how to pronounce it now). But I would definitely love to go back sometime.

Thanks, Celestial Seasonings, for a fun tour! If you’re in Colorado, I recommend trying the tour sometime. Just make sure to bring some money for the gift shop.


Bonus Adventure—Blooming Beets Kitchen


If you’re in Boulder and looking for a Very Boulder Dining Experience, try Blooming Beets Kitchen, where my friends took me for lunch. They don’t use any grains, processed seed oils, or processed sugars in their cooking, and the only dairy product they used is a very limited amount of butter in certain dishes. Their vegetables are mostly organic, and during the summer they work with local farms to supply produce. The meat they use is mostly local and grass-fed.

From 11-2 you can order from a brunch menu, which has both “brunchy” items and “lunchy” items (their description! Ha ha—it’s like I wrote the menu!). The three of us ordered from the lunch menu.

One friend got the Coconut Wrapped Blooming Burrito: “chorizo, sautéed onions and peppers, cauli rice, sweet potato hash.” I was interested to find out what “coconut-wrapped” meant. Basically, the “tortilla” of the burrito was actually more like a crepe, and the crepe was made from coconut meat. You can buy commercially-made, paleo-friendly coconut wraps from some stores, or I found some recipes online for them. Cauli rice, which I’d also never heard of, is cauliflower grated to the size of rice grains and sautéed. It’s another paleo-friendly food.

My other friend and I both got the salad of powergreens and beets, toasted pecans, and pears tossed in orange basalmic dressing with chicken. I love beets, and the beets and greens in the basalmic dressing tasted great. The pears tasted like they’d been coated with some kind of lemon juice mixture, and I didn’t like that as much, but everything else tasted great.


The restaurant was very clean and attractive inside, and the staff was friendly and passionate about what they do. The owner even came out at one point to ask how we liked everything.

The prices ranged from $14 for the burrito to $18 for the salad with chicken, so it’s a little more expensive for lunch than someplace like Chipotle, but you’re paying for fresh, local, and organic ingredients.


I had been tentatively thinking about asking my husband to take me to Blooming Beets for my birthday, but, after eating there, I was glad that I’d gone with my friend instead. My friend is gluten-free and sugar-free, so it’s wonderful for her to be able to eat in a restaurant where she can have everything on the menu. She’s also very open-minded and interested in natural, healthy living.

My husband, on the other hand, is practically the opposite of a vegetarian and is a loud, judgmental skeptic who is only interested in the “green movement” if it involves watching The Hulk smash things in the Avengers movies.

If you and/or your dining companion are like my husband, DO NOT GO to Blooming Beets. It will be best for everyone.

If, on the other hand, you are more like my friend or me, it is definitely worth the trip for a special occasion.


Adventure #15–Boulder Farmers’ Market

Originally written 8/2/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:


Photo credit:

I was supposed to go on a cave tour with my friend Abbey last Saturday (which would have been quite an adventure, since I’m claustrophobic), but we had to cancel: heavy rains in the spring and early summer had flooded the deeper parts of the cave, and the tours had been suspended until further notice.

Abbey suggested that we go to the Boulder Farmers’ Market instead. Since I’d never been to a farmers’ market, I said OK, although I wasn’t sure that I could write it up as an adventure. I mean, it was just going to be people selling vegetables, right? How adventuresome could that be?

So it was eye-opening to actually see the Boulder Farmers’ Market when we got there. The Boulder Farmers’ Market is one of the biggest farmers’ markets in Colorado, taking place every Saturday along the picturesque Boulder Creek from April through November, and adding Wednesday evenings from May through October for good measure. It’s one of the top markets, too, having been named as one of America’s 50 Best Farmers Markets this year by Cooking Light Magazine.

It was huge. I didn’t count the number of tents, but it was dozens and dozens, arranged in the shape of a giant letter F along 13th Street. And yes, the majority of the booths were selling vegetables, but it was much, much more than the expensive hipster fruit stand I had imagined.


For starters, there was a lot more for sale than just produce. We saw, among many other things:

Grassfed meats for sale, including beef, pork, lamb, and goat meat. You could even pre-order whole pigs or sheep, which made me wonder how on earth you would get that to your house (and where would you store it?).


Every kind of bread imaginable, including lots of gluten-free options.


Hot sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa, tapenade, kimchi, jelly, jam, marmalade, and any other kind of sauce or spread you can think of.

Lots of local honey (some of which came home with me).

Cut flowers.

Organic potted plants, including flowers and herbs.

Amazing local goat cheese (some of which also came home with me).

A tea-tasting area in a pagoda.

A booth offering frozen gluten-free vegan meals.

A booth sponsored by the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, which had a stuffed mountain lion on the table.


A booth advertising a swimming school.

A booth selling granola, which made me giggle, because a “granola” is also a Denver word for a Boulder hippie.


A booth where they would sharpen knives for you. I especially loved this booth, because it reminded me strongly of the tinkers of old England and Ireland, who used to travel around repairing pots and sharpening knives for people in rural areas.


There was also a whole section of food trucks, where you could get almost any kind of food you wanted, from mac ‘n cheese with bacon to locally-grown vegetarian fare, from Korean bibimbap to Argentinian empanadas. Once you picked up your food, you sat down with it at a long series of picnic tables under a central tent where every seat was taken and you had to watch your elbows carefully to avoid jostling your neighbor.


A series of bands on a stage at the far end of the food area entertained you while you ate. While we were enjoying lunch, it was a folky duo playing covers of Neil Young and cracking jokes between songs.



That wasn’t the only musical entertainment. There was a man in the middle of the market playing a lap steel guitar, which I’d actually never seen before. Like the sharpening booth, it reminded me very much of old times, since it almost seemed more like a descendant of the dulcimer or hurdy-gurdy than a relative of the modern guitar.


People-watching was excellent at the market, too. Most people were dressed like I was: t-shirts, shorts, tennies or sandals, and hats to keep the hot summer sunshine from burning the backs of their necks. But there were a few people who were dressed up like they were going to a special event. One woman was wearing platform heels and a long-sleeved, gauzy romper that was so short I had to stop myself from going over and tugging it down for her.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was an older gent dressed like a mountain man, complete with a long trenchcoat and beaver hat. Apparently there’s often a guy there known as Earth Man as well who wears a cape decorated like a globe, but we didn’t see him. That’s probably just as well, since I guess he’s given to cornering the unwary and offering to exchange “Earth bucks” with you for actual money.


But the real star of the market was the produce. If it grows in Colorado, it was there, in bags, baskets, and glorious piles of color: arugula, chard, carrots, turnips, potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, basil, beets, plums, apricots, and more. And of course, the famous peaches from Palisade, just finally coming into season and smelling like the ambrosia of the gods.


Some of the booths were from small farms specializing in just one or two kinds of produce. Other booths were huge and diverse, using three or four tents to house all the different goods they offered. Many booths, from the produce vendors to the cheese makers to the hot sauce sellers, offered samples, which was the best marketing technique ever. I think either Abbey or I bought something at every tent where they gave us a sample.


At all the booths, once the beautiful piles were gone, signs would spring up in their place saying “Sold Out.” So if you wanted arugula, for instance, you had to scoop it up before the stock ran out.


I had brought $80 in cash with me, since most of the booths dealt in cash exclusively and I didn’t know exactly how much I was going to buy. I spent every penny of my $80, and I probably could have spent another $80 if I’d been foolish enough to bring more. Luckily, I love vegetables, and I made some delicious recipes with the things I bought. I’ll include the recipes and pictures at the bottom.


The Boulder Farmers’ Market was incredible—the closest thing to a medieval market or middle eastern bazaar that I’ve ever seen in modern America. The food that I got there was a little more expensive than what I get at my local grocery store, but it was amazingly fresh, and the flavors were bright and vibrant in a way that I could hardly believe. And, on top of getting delicious food, I was supporting local small businesses. I am definitely a farmers’ market convert, and I can’t wait to go again.





1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup rice

2 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth

1 bunch chard

2 cups Greek yogurt

1 cup fresh mint leaves

Salt to taste

Rinse the chard leaves and separate the leaves from the stem. Put the leaves aside. Chop the stems into bite-size pieces.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pieces of chard stem and sauté about 1 minute. Then add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated with olive oil.

Add the water or broth and salt to taste and turn the heat up to high. Bring the water to boiling, then cover, and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, cut or tear the chard leaves into small pieces.

When the rice is done, uncover the pan and add the yogurt. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the yogurt to a boil, stirring continuously. Once the yogurt is boiling, add the chard leaves and stir continuously until the chard is wilted, 1-2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: I usually add chicken to my sarnapur, and this time I added mushrooms from the farmers’ market as well. I cook the chicken separately and add it at the end; I washed and chopped the mushrooms and added them at the same time as the chard stems.


Beet, Goat Cheese, and Arugula Salad


Get a mix of regular beets and golden beets for a beautiful, colorful dish!

6 medium beets

4 ounces goat cheese

½ cup walnuts

4 cups arugula (you can use more or less than this depending on how big a salad you want)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar or basalmic vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop off the tops of the beets and put them in a saucepan with some salt and enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and boil the beets for 20 minutes until tender.

Rinse the beets off in cold water and let them cool for a few minutes. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel the skins off with a peeler or paring knife. Then cut the beets into bite-size pieces.

Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the beets and let marinate for 15 minutes to 2 hours.

When the beets are ready, toss the arugula with the beets and then divide among 4 plates. Top with crumbled goat cheese and walnuts.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: you’re actually supposed to toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes, but that’s such a pain in the butt that I usually skip it. I like the walnuts just fine untoasted.

This time, I also added new blue potatoes from the farmers’ market. If you want to add potatoes, you need 1 medium or 2 small potatoes per serving. Put them in a saucepan along with a generous pinch of salt, cover them with water, and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and boil for 15 minutes, until tender. Drain the potatoes, and when they are cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces and marinate along with the beets. I usually leave the skins on potatoes, but, in this case, the skins came off by themselves when I boiled them.

Finally, you can add cooked chicken to the salad if you want some protein. Enjoy!

Adventure #14–Insane Inflatable 5K

Originally written 731/15.

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license:


Photo credit: Stephan Mosel,

When I was in 8th grade, I joined the school track team for a season. I’m sure I had some reason for doing this, but now the reason is completely lost in the mists of time.

For the entire fall, I ran the 800 meters, the 4×200-meter relay, and the 100-meter hurdles (until I tripped over a hurdle one day and completely lost my nerve). I also threw the discus without much success, which wasn’t surprising given that my coach gave me one three-minute lesson in how to throw it and then said, “Go practice.” That was my whole training. Seriously.


Photo credit: Magnus Akselvoll,

This stone guy threw the discus better than me.

Even though I didn’t get much in the way of coaching, I did come away from my lone season of organized school sports having learned a very valuable lesson: I hate running.

I’m not sure why this is. In general, I like physical activity, and I’ve had a lot of fun at various times over the years with gymnastics, swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, hiking, fencing, Crossfit, and, of course, dancing. But running just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve heard people who like running say that they get a high from it, a feeling of intense well-being and joy, but the only joy I’ve ever gotten from running is when I stop.

Part of it is that I get bored after a while. I have a hard time getting my brain to turn off, and when I’m plodding along and my muscles start to get tired, my brain gets fixated on how much everything hurts. Dancing involves thinking about choreography and form, which seems to keep my brain happily occupied, but when I’m running there just isn’t much to distract it from the physical misery.


Photo credit:

Is it time to stop yet?

So I’m not one of those people who has “Run a marathon” written at the top of their bucket list. Yuck. I’m not even interested in running a 5K—not even one of those where they drench you in colored dye or make you run at night or have different rock bands along the way.

No, the only 5Ks that interest me are obstacle courses. Those are races where they have stuff to do every now and then, like crawling through mud pits or scaling walls. THOSE I love. I’ve done the Warrior Dash three times now, and next year I’d like to do the Spartan Sprint or the Tough Mudder. Even with Warrior Dash, though, I tend to walk instead of run between the obstacles. Gotta save my strength for the fun parts, right?

Earlier this year, I was looking at a list of obstacle courses in Colorado when these words caught my eye: INSANE INFLATABLE 5K. It was a 5K obstacle course where are all the obstacles were inflated, like giant bouncy castles.


Photo credit:

This Russian bouncy castle looks both awesome and copyright-infringing.

I could hardly sign up fast enough.

That’s how I found myself in Loveland, Colorado one Saturday afternoon in May. This was before my birthday (I’m posting this adventure out of order), so Ray was with me. He hadn’t hurt his knee yet (

The Insane Inflatable 5K was held at the Larimer County Fairgrounds, where I’d been before for dance competitions. It’s a huge complex that includes an arena for horse shows and events, another barnlike building for dog and animal shows, a big multipurpose building, a venue that can be used for concerts and sports, and many acres of parking lots and grassland.


Photo credit: William Andrus,

This is one of the sporting events you can enjoy at the Budweiser Events Center at Larimer County Fairgrounds. Actually, going to a monster truck event is an adventure I haven’t done yet….

The day that we were there, it seemed like every single part of the fairgrounds was in use. One of the parking attendants told us that they had a horse show, a dog show, the 5K, and two graduation ceremonies all running at the same time, which meant that the parking lots were full to bursting with vehicles of all kinds. It also meant that the people we saw were wearing a wide variety of clothing, from running clothes to cowboy boots to suits and ties.

The obstacle course was being held in the grass on the east side of the complex. As we walked from the parking lot to the entrance, we could see the tops of some of the inflated obstacles peeking over the fence, colored neon green and blue.

Oh, yay!

We walked through the front gate and made our way over to the event. Just like at Warrior Dash, there was a group of tents in front of the starting line where you could check in, pick up your runner’s number, and have your bags stored. Also like Warrior Dash, there were booths where you could get food, beverages (including the adult variety), and merchandise.


You could also enjoy a display of different Kia automobiles, and some advertisements, like this adorably mohawked Volkswagon Beetle, courtesy of Shock Top Ale. Now I want a car with a mohawk!

Unlike Warrior Dash, however, there was a distinctly amateurish feel to this whole area. Part of it was that the Insane Inflatable 5K was a much smaller event. Warrior Dash hosts thousands and thousands of participants, filling up the entire village at the Copper Mountain ski resort with people and booths. There, the check-in tent alone is the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

The booths at the Insane Inflatable obstacle course, on the other hand, were sitting in an area the size of two basketball courts, sort of huddled together in the middle of the field like a flock of white nylon sheep. There were only a couple food booths, one offering hot dogs and hamburgers and one offering funnel cake, and the lone merchandise booth had a small, dispirited display of cheap t-shirts laid out on a bare table. The teenage girl running the merchandise booth looked like a picture illustrating a Wikipedia article on boredom.

Over this scene boomed the amplified voice of the event’s MC, a man dressed in a strange-looking kilt that might have started out life as a woman’s plaid skirt. He had two sidekicks: a larger guy in jeans and a Green Lantern t-shirt, and a short, thin man wearing a Superman t-shirt, a cape, little running shorts over a pair of running tights, and big white sneakers. He had a really broad forehead and a hairline receding into exaggerated widow’s peaks, and something about him made him seem like a character from The Tick.


Photo credit:

Look it up on Wikipedia, kids: Spoon!

The MC and his sidekicks talked the whole time we walked around waiting for our race wave to line up–and we’d gotten there almost two hours early because traffic was lighter than expected. Sometimes they would announce that it was time for the next wave to line up, which was at least useful; sometimes they would gushingly thank the sponsors of the event, which was not. Sometimes they would interview “elite competitors,” who turned out to be people they’d pulled randomly out of the crowd (since there aren’t really elite competitors in inflatable 5K racing).

At first it wasn’t so bad, but, after a while, the thundering volume of the loudspeaker, the jokey used-car-salesman quality of the MC’s voice, and the complete inanity of what he was saying combined to make a background noise only slightly less awful than nails on chalkboard.

They talked for so long, without a pause, that I started to wonder if they were going for some kind of announcing world record (eight hours of talking without taking a single breath!). Ray started to wonder how long a prison sentence he’d get if he beat the MC to death with his own wireless microphone.

I definitely prefer Warrior Dash, where they’ve got live bands playing music instead of people talking.


Speaking of music, would I be dating myself if I said I really wanted to check out this Evening of Totally Awesome 80’s concert featuring Howard Jones, Flock of Seagulls, Information Society, and Katrina and the Waves?

At last, though, it was time for us to line up. We were herded into this little fenced-in area like a sheep pen, where we got to make VERY close friends with all of our neighbors. I was grateful that I’d remembered to put on deodorant. The MCs counted down from ten, and then we were off.


The starting line, with the sheep pen right in front of it

The first obstacle was immediately beyond the sheep pen. It was a big inflated triangle with sets of steep stairs up one side and slides down the other. You scrambled up the squishy stairs using both hands and feet, and then you slid down to the ground on the far side. There were about six sets of stairs and slides so that the whole herd of us could go up at once. As the mass of humanity surged up the bright blue and green nylon of the obstacle, I wondered what the strength rating of a set of bouncy stairs was, exactly, and what the newspaper headline might look like if it collapsed underneath our combined weight so that we all fell to our horrible, squishy deaths.


The mass of humanity from a previous wave in the race.

When we reached the ground, most of the people in the wave took off running, leaving us behind. Neither Ray nor I had done any training for the race (see “hatred of running,” above), so we had decided to walk the course. The obstacles were the fun part for us anyway.

However, since we’d also signed up for the last wave of the day in order to make sure that we could make it in time after my morning dance class, our decision to walk meant that we were basically the very last people on the whole course.

It was a little disheartening.

“That’s OK,” Ray said when I mentioned this to him. “I know I won’t come in last.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“When we get to the finish line, I’ll just push you out of the way, and then you’ll be last.”

Gee, thanks.

After a short walk on the damp, scrubby grass, we came to:

Obstacle #2—Mattress Run


Photo credit:

Official description from the Insane Inflatable website:

“Trust us, you’re not going to want to take this obstacle lightly. Take one wrong step and you’ll be laying down laughing on this mattress! The Mattress Run challenges your balance and agility as you make your way across a huge mattress filled with ankle-loving holes.”

The Mattress Run was a big, inflated square about a foot tall with holes all over its surface like a giant piece of neon green Swiss cheese. The idea was to jump from hole to hole, one foot in each hole, like football players doing a tire drill.

Woo-hoo! Our first real obstacle! I threw myself into it with gusto, springing from one hole to the next with my arms pumping. Yeah! This is what I had signed up for. I glanced over at Ray to see if he was enjoying himself. He was striding from hole to hole nonchalantly, his height and leg length being exactly right to be able to walk comfortably through the obstacle without having to jump.

“Hey!” I shouted, offended. I couldn’t have gotten through the holes without jumping, not with my short little legs. “You’re cheating!”

He shrugged. “I’m not cheating. I’m saving my energy for later.”

Obstacle #3—Big Balls (yes, that really is its name)


Photo credit:

“These big balls are always bouncing, and we guarantee you’ll be smacked, whacked, and knocked down by them. It’s quite possibly the world’s largest ball-pit. Once you crawl under the entrance point, you’re immediately faced with giant flying balls coming directly at you, and that’s just the beginning. Duck, dive, and dodge your way to the other side.”

(“These big balls are always bouncing?” I feel like the creators of the Insane Inflatable need to apologize to ACDC).


The description makes the obstacle sound pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the reality did not live up to the hype. The outside of the obstacle was like a big batting cage made of inflated struts and black netting. Inside on the ground were maybe a dozen oversized beach balls. When we crawled under the strut that formed the entrance, two teenagers inside the cage started throwing and kicking the balls around. They didn’t really throw or kick them at us, though; they just kind of moved them half-heartedly from one side of the enclosure to the other. Maybe earlier in the day they’d been more excited about beaning people with the balls, but the novelty must have worn off. They looked like the only thing they were excited about was hustling us through the exit so they could go home.


A view of the inside of the obstacle and one of the enthusiastic volunteers.

Obstacle #4—Bumpin’ Bumpin’


“There are always going to be speed bumps in the road of life—why not have a little fun with them? Scale a 2.5 story wall and then fly down the slide and make your way over our well-placed fun bumps.”

(“Well-placed fun bumps?”)

This obstacle was awesome. We climbed up a twenty-foot ladder (made of inflated rungs!) on one side of the obstacle and then slid down the other, bouncing over the “fun bumps” at the end before landing on the crash pad. Whee!


By the time we finished this obstacle, we were no longer the very last people. Several groups ahead of us who had started out running had slowed to a walk, and we had passed them. However, our feeling of accomplishment was short-lived. We’d rounded a corner coming up to Obstacle #4, and as we hopped off the crash pad we could see back towards the start of the race. We saw that the event crew had unplugged the second obstacle, the Mattress Run, from the fan that kept it inflated, and they were busy stomping it flat and folding it into a crate.


Photo credit: Jim Reynolds,

It just looks so sad when bouncy castles get deflated…

Wow. We were so slow that the crew was dismantling the whole race behind us.

Good thing we hadn’t decided to do the Zombie Run.

Obstacle #5—Tangled Up


Photo credit:

“Sometimes, getting a little tangled up is more fun than not! Here’s your chance to get lost in one of our most unique obstacles on course. Simply pick a lane, take the leap, and navigate your way through. Don’t let the size intimidate you—trust us, you’ll get out, eventually!”

This was my favorite obstacle of the whole event. You climbed up two inflated rungs to get onto a big crash pad, and then you either jumped over or ducked under squishy, horizontal bars that were placed across the path. What made it super fun was that everything was inflated, including the floor, so you weren’t going to get hurt if you fell; you could hurl yourself over the bars like a stuntman or a ninja.

I definitely would have gone back and done this one again if they’d let me.

Obstacle #6—Levels


Photo credit:

“Life is full of ups and downs, and so is this obstacle. Pick your route, bounce up and down to each level, and try to make it through without missing a beat or getting leveled yourself!”

I really enjoyed this obstacle, too. The floor was made of inflated blocks of different heights and firmness, and you had to walk, run, or bounce from one end to the other. I bounced mostly, and it was fun careening from block to block. Having a good sense of balance from years of dance probably helped.


Ray, who has not had years of dance, did not enjoy this obstacle as much. A couple times he misjudged how high or how firmly inflated a block was and got thrown sideways into the wall. Since I got to the end faster than he did, I got to stand on the ground at the exit and watch him do this. I have to say, there’s not much in life funnier than watching your large, manly husband trying to run through a bouncy castle and falling on his derriere. Hee hee!

Obstacle #7—Wrecking Balls


Photo credit:

“Don’t let these big balls wreck your run. This behemoth at 110 feet long will push you to your limits, but don’t be afraid to push back. Break your way through to the other side, and try not to get demolished along the way.”

For this obstacle, you got to push your way through lines of inflated posts, kind of like punching bags, that were attached to the floor. Then you pushed your way through lines of big blue beach-ball type things hanging from overhead support poles. The floor sloped up and down like two hills over the course of the obstacle, so you had to deal with a change in footing, too.

If we’d been running the race for time, the posts and beach balls would probably have slowed us down, but since we just jogged through for fun, it was pretty easy. I kind of wished it was harder.

After the Wrecking Balls, we had a long section of walking without any obstacles. This part worried me a little, actually, because the sky had been overcast all day, and it began to look particularly dark and ominous as we trudged through the prairie grass between obstacles 7 and 8. I really didn’t want to try to navigate the nylon surfaces of the obstacles in the rain; they looked like they would get really slippery.


Photo credit: Joshua Mayer,

This part of the course was mostly hidden from the starting line by the horse arena and a little hill, so we couldn’t see anything but prairie and a little slice of the highway. What with the gray, threatening clouds overhead, it felt kind of lonely. That might have been why a number of people around us cut across the field to get to the next obstacle instead of following the orange cones of the course.

Hey! Isn’t that cheating? Plus, you paid for this nice 5K walk, so you might as well enjoy it, right?

Obstacle #8—SOS


Photo credit:

“Good thing cell phones now have GPS, as you may need to send out an SOS once you hit this massive obstacle. At 2 ½ stories high, with 3 different slides, it’s very easy to get lost. Choose your escape route wisely.”

This was by far the strangest obstacle: it was shaped like a giant airplane that had crashed and split down the middle. Who the heck designs a bouncy castle to look like a crashed airplane? It looked especially odd sitting in the middle of the grassy field, like a bizarre experimental balloon-airplane hybrid that had suffered a fatal accident on its maiden flight.

When we got to the obstacle, we climbed up stairs through the tail section, and then we emerged onto an open platform at the top. From there, we could either slide through the nose section or down one of the two wings. The slide part was fun (I mean, as an adult, how often do you get to go down slides?), but it still felt a little weird to be sliding through a fake crashed airplane.

Obstacle #9—Pure Misery


Photo credit:

“We took a page from our military’s training handbook and created this goliath that will leave you begging for mercy. The 100-foot long beast will test your strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance as you complete multiple obstacles within the confines of this challenge. As they say, misery loves company.”

This description of the obstacle sounds fantastic. I love pushing myself physically, and something that requires strength and agility really appeals to me. However, like some of the previous obstacles, this one didn’t feel like it required much in the way of athleticism at all.


We climbed up a ladder-like set of steps on one side of an incline, and then climbed down another ladder on the other side. Then we pushed our way through a series of inflated pillars on a flat section before doing another climb-up-climb-down.

Again, if we’d been running for time, seeing how fast we could do it might have been a good challenge, but as it was, it was easy. Does it sound strange if I say I was disappointed not to have the Misery part?


As we dismounted the obstacle, we were finally back where we could see the starting line. The obstacle at the starting line was still standing, but obstacle 2 was completely packed up, obstacle 3 was getting folded into a crate, and obstacle 4 was flat on the ground and having the air bubbles pushed out. Sheesh. Couldn’t you at least wait until we finished?


Photo credit: Randy Robertson, “Too Much Eggnog?”,

It was almost as sad as this deflated Santa.

Obstacle #10—Jump Around


Photo credit:

“This is where the rubber meets insanity. Hands down one of the most insane obstacles you’ll ever experience, Jump Around is the largest inflatable of its kind—over 70 feet of crazy, bouncy, fun! Once you get on it, all you’ll want to do is jump up, jump around, and get down!”

Apologies to House of Pain.

This obstacle wasn’t hard, but it was really fun. It was a bunch of big bumps, like sand dunes or ski moguls, and you got to bounce your way through them. Yay!


Obstacle #11—Finish Line


Photo credit:

“Like all of our obstacles so far? Then you’ll love our finish line! We’ve taken our bouncer’s favorite elements from all of the other obstacles on our course and combined them into one crazy, inflatable. Dodge the Wrecking Balls, make your way past the tipsy towers, climb the rope ladder and slide you way to victory.”

As the description says, the last obstacle was kind of like a rehash of several previous obstacles. We went through a line of oversized, hanging beach balls and then through a section of squishy pillars before climbing up a series of hand-and-footholds (the “rope ladder” of the description) to the top of an incline. Then we got to slide down the far side of the incline to the finish line.


It was fun enough, but if we were going to re-do elements from previous obstacles, I wish we’d gotten to do the one where we bounced over the horizontal bars like ninjas. That was my favorite.

Just past the finish line, volunteers were waiting to give us t-shirts and participation medals. I was very glad they were there, because otherwise it would have been a really, really sad finish. The finishing area (the same place as the starting area) was deserted—and quiet, because the MCs had left (which I guess wasn’t all bad). When we went to the bag check area to reclaim our backpacks, we didn’t have to give the volunteers our claim tags, because our bags were the last two there. Even the food vendors were closed and packing up.

Geez! What if we’d really wanted a hot dog after our grueling race?

On our way home, the gray and threatening skies finally opened up and it poured, dumping so much rain on the highway that everybody had to crawl along at 10 miles an hour. I can’t tell you how glad I was that the rain at least held off until we were done. Nothing would have made that deserted finishing area even sadder than being soaked to the bone and having to run for the car.

About a week later, I got an email saying that photographs of us running the race were available on the event website—FOR FREE! So I went to the site and entered our bib numbers.

There weren’t any pictures of us. The photographer had gone home before we even started.

So, while I had fun at the Inflatable 5K (how could you not have fun as an adult getting to enjoy giant bouncy castles?), I don’t think I’ll do it again. If you’ve got kids who want to do the event, or if you like mild, easy fun where you don’t break a sweat, give it a try! This race would be a GREAT event to enjoy as a family. Just make sure you bring your camera and take your own photos as you go.

For myself, I think I’ll spend my money on doing another mud run next year instead. Maybe I should question my sanity, but there just wasn’t quite enough “Insane” in this 5K for me.


Photo credit:

Now, a giant bouncy Stonehenge? THAT’S insane.