Show Me the Money!

After reserving my ticket 90 minutes in advance, I stopped to wait at a restaurant kitty-corner across the street. The music playing there?

I got a little change in my pocket goin’ jing-a-ling-a-ling…

It was appropriate because I was across the street from the Denver Mint. The massive two-story building that encompasses the the entire block at Colfax and Cherokee began churning out coins in 1906. This month alone, The Denver Mint will fill an order for more than 500 million coins – 319 million pennies, 109 million nickels, 76 million dimes and 76 million quarters.

The fact was, I needed a little more change in my pocket in order to feed the parking meter.

At the gift shop, I was directed to a change machine, and after purchasing my quarters, the clerk told me, “Those quarters were just minted yesterday, and you’re the first person to touch that machine.” In essence, I may have been the first person to have the newest America the Beautiful series featuring Michigan’s Pictured Rock National Park.

On the tour, I watched a portion of today’s 17 million pennies go through various production stages. I was given a sample of a struck and unstruck penny. Tom the Tour Guide assured me the mint wasn’t losing money on the tours. One-cent pieces cost 1.8 cents to make. Nickels cost 6.6 cents. But dimes cost just 3.3 cents to make, and quarters are only 8.3 cents. The U.S. Mint turned a healthy profit last year.

Then, there was the story of Orville Harrington, who once worked at the Denver Mint in its early days. Over a span of a few months, he smuggled 56 gold bars out of the mint. He was caught. He served three and an half years of a 10-year prison sentence, with time off for providing a really good story.


Sneaky Hot Chili Recipe

This week, I won the chili cookoff at my workplace. It’s a minor victory, but I’m a competitive person so winning is better than the alternative. I learned a lot through this experience.

Chili means different things to different people. for some, it’s celery and carrots and vegetables. Others take a very bean-y approach. Some are a tomato concoction, much like the traditional chili my Mom used to make. Years back, the stress of working at a high-powered PR firm gave me the beginnings of an ulcer, and I moved away from eating tomatoes. I found some beef-based chili recipes that packed some heat but didn’t have all the acid. A few weeks ago, I added chorizo to create more of a meat sauce, which led to this Sneaky Hot Chili Recipe.


1 large Sweet Onion, chopped

5 Serrano Peppers, sliced

3 Cloves, chopped Garlic

2 tbs. Fresh Cilantro, chopped

¼ tsp Coriander

2 tsp. Cumin

4 tsp. Oregano

1 tsp. Red Pepper

2 tbs. Brown Sugar

¼ cup Corn Starch

1 tbs. Salt

2 tsp. Black Pepper

30 oz. Beef Broth

1 lb. Steak, top round beef, diced

20 oz. Pork Chorizo

3 cans Chili Beans (or red kidney beans)

Dice the steak. Brown in a skillet, and set aside. Saute the chorizo, and set aside with the beef. Chop the sweet onion. Slice the serrano peppers thinly. Heat skillet to medium high. Brown the onions and peppers. When the onion is translucent, add the garlic. Add cumin, oregano and red pepper. Add cilantro, coriander. Transfer the spice mixture to a crock pot (Setting: High). Add beef and chorizo. In a mixing bowl or measuring cup, stir corn starch into ½ cup of the room temperature beef broth. Stir the remainder of the beef broth in the crock pot. Sprinkle in salt and black pepper, stirring. When the liquid is hot, stir in the brown sugar. Pour in the corn starch mixture. Finally, add the beans with liquid from 2 cans. Drain the third can and add it. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat and continue cooking on low for 2 hours. Season to taste with more red pepper or salt.

Ker & The Bear

Set up: Gorgeous drive and a full day of hiking at the Craggs, Northwest of Pike’s Peak. By 2 pm, I found a campsite south of Lake George, Colo. Nothing like the Lake George in NY, except the name. I set up my tent, explored the neighborhood, cooked a great meal and cleaned up.

The story: The temperature had dipped into the I had a heavy hoodie on. I took off my shoes and climbed into my sleeping bag, zipping it up for the full cocoon effect. My phone was on the tent floor to the right, and a really bright light was hanging overhead, which I turned off once I was settled. In short order, the sandman came to visit.

I was awakened by footsteps on the gravel outside my tent. I listened intently. About five inches from my head, I heard sniffing. I stayed as still as I could. About five seconds later, more sniffing. I assumed it was a bear, although it could have been a raccoon, a stray dog, a killer rabbit or Sasquatch. I thought of all my options. I was laying on my left side, and my phone was on the right. I had a really bright spotlight hanging over my head, but had no guarantee it would have any effect.

I grew confident, because I’m a pretty smart guy, and a bear has a brain about the size of a tennis ball.

I could use my bear spray, if I had any.

I could chop the violator with my ax. Oh, I didn’t have an ax.

I did have a claw hammer. In the car. I was screwed. But, hey, wait! I root for the Bruins!

I lay motionless, giving thanks to the zipper technology that was all then kept me from “it.” My heart beat furiously. I thought it might give out. I prayed, I thought about the friends I care about who may not know how dear they are. I carefully moved my hands up to the head opening on the sleeping bag. I wasn’t going to go without a fight.

After about five minutes I heard the sniffing again.

At this point, the bear, or Jehovah’s Witness, or whatever, was thinking, “I don’t want to eat this. Smells like fresh urine and feces.” And that may or may not have been the truth.

hungry bear
The Hungry Bear Restaurant in Woodland Park, not far from where I almost got eaten.

I waited nearly an hour, and then a made a dash for my car, about 30 yards away. By “dash,” I mean the zipper on my sleeping bag got stuck, I had to put my shoes on, I fumbled with the spotlight and tripped getting out of the tent. Nothing was out there.

Sleep wasn’t in the forecast either. I reclined the passenger seat and waited for daylight, more than four hours away. I’m going to have problems going forward. The bear in the Snuggle commercial now frightens the hell out of me. The Charmin bear family? Forget about it. I’m going to need bear-apy. I did buy some gummy bears to exercise my superiority over the species. But I may never go camping by myself again. This experience was terrifying.

Ron Campbell Cartoon Art

Ron_CampbellToday, I adventured to the Santa Fe Art District in Denver, and the Bitfactory Gallery. Australian artist Ron Campbell exhibited more than five dozen of his creations. If you grew up with a television in your house, or carried a lunchbox to school, you probably have seen his work.

I was drawn to the exhibit – hey, that’s a pun! – by mentions that he was the artist and director for the classic Saturday morning cartoon featuring The Beatles. As Mr. Campbell skillfully drew a custom cartoon for a patron who bought one of his pieces, I took in the vast array of characters that this man created, drew or animated — Scooby Doo and all the gang with the Mystery Machine, The Jetsons, The Rugrats, Big Blue Marble, George of the Jungle, the Smurfs, the Flintstones, Winnie the Pooh and perhaps the most ambitious, The Beatles’ movie, Yellow Submarine.


The man who bought the Jetson’s space car print had a look of sheer delight as Mr. Campbell used a paintbrush and bright blue watercolor to create a miniature Elroy Jetson blasting off with his jet pack.

In the two-room studio, I was blasted off to my childhood, where laying on my belly on the avocado green carpet, I was entertained in half-hour increments by the characters on the wall.

Nostalgia. It’s a powerful evocator.


June 27, 2017 – Hiking Butler Gulch

Butler Gulch is a 4.8-mile trail in Clear Creek County just west of Idaho Springs (and St. Mary’s Glacier). We climbed to a point just below the treeline at 11,400 feet above sea level. We stopped before reaching the top because of adverse hiking conditions. For much of the way up, we scrambled off-trail through rugged terrain.

After, we visited Empire for a memorable lunch, we returned home.

Jeniffer Orda ascends the Butler Gulch trail over snowy terrain.
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The trail was a mix of rocks and mud, mud and snow and trails wiped out by rushing water.
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Snow covered much of the trail
Crystal clear water rushes down from the mountain top.
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The water raced across the trail in many places. Where we couldn’t ford the creek, we “scrambled,” freelancing our way up steep inclines, over fallen trees and across drifted snow.
One of the many beautiful wildflowers.
My beautiful partner in crime, Jeniffer.
Okay, so as we got to the height of our trek, we were greeted by this energetic old golden retriever, hiking well ahead of her mom and dad. Here, the pup seems to be asking her masters, “Are you coming, or what?”
I don’t think she’s taking me seriously.


Empire, CO. Down the street (Rt. 40), you can see The Hard Rock Cafe. Not that Hard Rock Cafe. We walked in, and Jeniffer moved a bus pan of silverware to make room for us at the bar. The bartender, a young man, asked, “Didn’t you read the sign?” He had a sunburned stripe across his forehead and a red semi-circle above that, indicating that he wore his hat backwards for a long period of time. And, he had a bad haircut. Jeniffer: You mean the sign that said not to move the silverware? Barkeep: No, the sign that says you need to wait before being seated. We walked past the two occupied tables and three people at the bar back to the front of the cafe. I checked the sign, and when I turned, Jeniffer was already out the door. We walked across the street to the Dairy King where we enjoyed delicious burgers and I had a freshly made chocolate malt.
Unlike her counterpart across the street, our server, Liza, could not have been more friendly. The food was fresh and delicious. Not surprisingly, Dairy King was doing a much brisker lunch business than the Hard Rock.

May 10, 2017 – Padre Pio Relics

Denver, home to the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, rarely is the first stop on a tour, whether it’s a rock concert or an exhibit with relics of a saint. While I was writing “Warriors at the Gate,” a frightening tale of exorcism and spiritual warfare, I learned entirely by accident that the relics of St. Padre Pio were being exhibited at the cathedral. The revelation came as I was writing about the relics that my very own Fr. Francis Vindicare carried to keep him safe while battling fierce demons.

In my research of relics, I learned that in Catholic lingo, “relics” actually means body parts. So that afternoon, with a slight, drizzling rain falling, I made my way to the cathedral to see body parts of a dead saint. The holy internet told me that the previous year, the Diocese of Boston showed Padre Pio’s heart. Other exhibits from the Vatican reliquary displayed parts of fingers, feet and bones. I was psyched!

Fr. Padre Pio, who died about 15 years ago, led a life filled with torture from demons.  He battled them with his unswerving faith. It his possible that Padre Pio’s relics would be powerful in an exorcism.

On my May 10 visit to the cathedral, there was no heart, organ or bone. Unless it was sliced very thin and placed in a glass orb. My thirst for morbid satisfaction was unresolved. While my visit with the saint was disappointing, the cathedral was quite beautiful.

The undefined relics of Padre Pio. I wondered what is was.
Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.



June 22, 2017 – St. Mary’s Glacier

St. Mary’s Glacier, near Idaho Springs, CO
Base elevation: 10,300 ft.
Vertical Climb: 470 ft. over ¾ of a mile
Geographical coordinates: West of Denver, less than 1 hour from home

God’s finger must have touched Colorado when He created Earth. The mountainous drive to St. Mary’s Glacier will take your breath away. For me, the altitude got me. The steep, hillside parking lot cased me to reach for my asthma inhaler practically before the climb started. The initial ascent is quite steep over large, loose ankle-buster rocks, but I was encouraged by the short length of the hike. In retrospect, the brevity of the hike was perhaps the only disappointing aspect.

Once at the base of the glacier, the view is outstanding. Especially if you are fortunate enough, as I was, to have nine or 10 Indian people from India standing in front of every desirable photo angle. But I, wearning patience as my armor, waited them out. Their reason for lingering was so that they could Skype every person in India to share the moment.

St. Mary’s Glacier is listed as a semi-permanent glacier, and it was not as immense as I thought it might be. I walked on the glacier, and the top layer was slick but soft, like Italian ice. A large rock made a perfect seat for a picnic lunch of beef jerky, Goldfish crackers and water. Before leaving, I did sip water from a glacier stream. It might be the purest water I’ll ever taste.

I didn’t climb all thew way to the summit of the glacier. From the mossy perch below, cold air currents occasionally cursed the warm air on it’s way down the mountainside. Next trip, I’ll make extra time to visit nearby Loch Lomond and Chinn’s Lake.

smg-steep climb
The very Rocky path.
The glacier, feeding into St. Mary’s Lake.
smg-kerry self good
Somebody’s always getting in the way of a good shot.
Wildflowers. These were four kinds of flowering moss.
From the glacier, you can see Mt. Evans and Mt Bierstadt in the distance.
smg-fish swimming
My goldfish went for a swim.
smg-man v mountain
Man vs. Mountain!