Our trip to Colorado Springs for the holidays is one of the year's highlights. Meeting people, western landscapes and grandchildren keep us driving 2,000 miles one way.
We meet all types of people from many different backgrounds, opening up a different perspective on life. At an IHOP in Kansas, we had a very nice conversation with the manager that could be a "life lesson."
Mike, whose name was actually Mohammed, talked with us about spending time with his elders and how much he learned from them. He told us he has teenage children who think he's strange when he asks them to shovel off the sidewalk. He invested money into a business and lost it all, so he was starting over again managing a restaurant.
He is a Muslim, and the local folks like him a lot and call him Mike, wanting to protect him from prejudice. He said he'd immigrated here more than 30 years ago, always held a job and paid his taxes. He loves America.
He shared how a 20-year-old harassed him because of his looks. Mike's response wasn't to harass in return. He simply said, "I have been paying taxes here in this country longer than you have been alive, young man. Come back and see me when you can say the same."
Under it all, we are humans who face the same challenges of love, acceptance and respect.
Headed west again, the landscape is flat as a pancake. Dotting the fields are oil pumps working to pull crude oil from the Kansas fields. How can we have a shortage of oil and gas when there are hundreds of these on our route alone?
Gas prices steadily decreased from New York to Colorado. On the New York State Thruway premium gas cost $3.77 a gallon; in Ohio, $3.37; Effingham, Ill., $3.32; Kansas, $3.24. The farther west we traveled, the cheaper the gas, to a low of $2.69 for regular.
On the way home: Falcon, Colo., 91 octane $3.14 a gallon; North Platte, Neb., $3.29. Something is seriously wrong when the "Empire" state can't regulate fuel prices to the advantage of its residents.
During our visits, I get the grandkids involved in baking. This year it was Grayson's turn. He's 4 and wants his hands in everything, including my homemade bread dough. He wanted to know what it was. I said, "It's bread." He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "That's not bread. That's bread," pointing to a loaf of store-bought bread.
I said, "This is what bread looks like before it gets to the store." Content with that answer, he wanted to help knead it. He pulled and poked like it was Play-Doh. After letting it rise, we both kneaded it again. I decided to make two loaves, a braided loaf and rolls. Watching me shape the rolls, Grayson decided it looked like fun, took a handful of dough and plopped it down.
I let the dough rise again, checking on it's progress. Just before I put it all in the oven, I noticed that the loaves hadn't risen. That's strange, I thought. I just checked them a few minutes ago, and they were ready. On closer look, I discovered little holes poked in the dough, about the size of a 4-year-old's fingers.
When the rolls came out of the oven, I said, "Grayson, here's your little roll." He surveyed them, pointed to the largest one and said, "No, that one's mine." So cute.
Besides Christmas and New Year's celebrations, we were surprised by Carrie and Rick with tickets to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, Colo., and the National Rodeo Stock Show in Denver. Great family times.
Our day to leave for home was bittersweet. After hugs and kisses, we headed out, back country, ready for a new adventure.
I'm always surprised by what I see along country roads. There's an EconoLodge in Calhan, Colo., with a John Deere tractor parked in the driveway; Peyton, Colo., is the home of the Pop-A-Top Saloon. We drove through Last Chance, Colo., saw a sign for Woodlin School, but the dirt road went right over the horizon. One road was posted "No snowplowing from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m."
Our four travel days were sunny with 60 degree temps. We arrived home about 9:30 at night and awoke the next morning to two days of sleet and freezing rain. I have to admit, I slept most of those two days. What else is there to do in such weather? Maybe plan another trip?
One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.
Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.