The beautiful mountains of Aspen, Colorado.
A few years ago, when my friend Nicole and I came up with the storyline for Lost and Found in Aspen, we felt that our beautiful mountain town needed to be the setting, and it would play an important role in the story. Having both grown up in small suburbs, thousands of miles away from Colorado, we landed in Aspen much later in life, proud to call it our home.
My husband and I decided to move to Aspen on a whim. Life was treating us well. We had two small kids, lived in a suburb of northern New Jersey, about thirty miles from New York City, and we had a wonderful group of friends. But we were bored. We wanted to try something new, give ourselves an adventure of sorts, a different experience. Many years ago, after vacationing in Aspen, we planted a seed in our vision for the future: we would move there one day. The seed lay dormant for a long time, until the opportunity presented itself nearly a decade later. And that was it. We put our house on the market and took off in a U-Haul, like pioneers migrating to the west in search of a better life. Once we settled in our new land, we never looked back.
Almost everyone I’ve met in Aspen has a story to tell about how they ended up in our small mountain town. Some people thought they would come for a little while after college, some stopped in on the way to somewhere else. Ski bums came to ski, and some people were looking to escape the rat race. Regardless of what drove each of them to Aspen, there was something that kept everyone planted in the soil for good, along with a willingness to accept the sacrifices that one must make to reside full-time in an expensive vacation destination. With exorbitant real estate prices, proprietors who are dependent on the influx of seasonal tourists face a greater financial burden. In addition, other than the service industry, there are fewer business opportunities compared to major metropolitan areas, unless you can work from home, you’re willing to travel, or you have a large trust fund. Living in Aspen is a tradeoff: residents have given up conveniences at a cost––for a community that values the outdoor lifestyle, embraces nature’s gifts, and appreciates fresh mountain air.
For those of us who have made Aspen our home, we share a little secret. We innately understand that life is more about collecting experiences rather than a race to acquire material possessions. We are aligned with the ebb and flow of the universe. The tourists swell the town, then they go home. Dancing at the sight of the first snowfall in autumn, we look forward to another ski season. And just when we think we won’t have enough snow, it comes. We race for the slopes on a powder day, giggling down runs filled with cloud-like layers.
Winter is long, but then it melts and the flowers bloom. We hike to the top of the peak and relish in the magnificent views. We bike with the breeze blowing through our hair. We welcome and listen to renowned speakers, scholars, authors, politicians, and live concerts. On a sunny day, we sit outside at a restaurant, sipping drinks and watching a colorful array of tourists walk past. In that moment, we’re happy to be alive, elated to be exactly where we’re supposed to be––appreciative and grateful for the blessed wonders that grace and enrich our souls.
Aspen has given me an abundance of gifts, and this was why I wanted it to play a starring role in my debut novel, Lost and Found in Aspen. I wanted to shine a light—for those who’ve never been and for those who have—and celebrate the small town that gives me so much sunshine.
A trip through 80s nostalgia.
I recently came across an old letter I had written to my children a few years ago after a night out at Belly Up to see the Spazmatics. Here it is:
In the next few years you will begin to experience all kinds of exciting firsts: first kiss, first crush, maybe even first love. While you navigate through life, you will try to understand human nature, your peers, and relationships. The memories you make throughout your childhood will be etched in your mind, helping to shape the adults you will one day become.
I was once like you: innocent, curious, and living in the present. As an adult, I sometimes forget how it felt to be young.
A few nights ago, I went to Belly Up to see the Spazmatics, an 80s cover band. The music and energy brought out feelings that have been bottled up since my teen years. I danced to my favorite 80s tunes. A decade of the most popular song lyrics came out of my mouth, loud and out of tune. Yet I didn’t care. I had the time of my life.
When the band launched into “Come on Eileen” I was no longer a forty-one-year-old mother and wife. I was ten, twelve, fifteen, growing up in Sudbury, Massachusetts. I was lying on the pink carpet in my bedroom surrounded by loud, flowered wallpaper, listening to my favorite cassette tapes, daydreaming. I called my friends on my yellow-corded, touch-tone phone and asked them if my latest crush liked me. I danced to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” in front of my wicker mirror, waiting to be called downstairs for dinner. As soon as I finished eating and cleared the table, I ran back to my room and turned up the volume on “Eye of the Tiger” on my Sony boom box.
Hearing other memorable tunes, such as “867-5309/Jenny” and “Summer of ‘69” brought me back to my years at Camp Naticook, secretly praying that a boy would ask me to dance at a social. My heart fluttered when he walked by. I experienced my first kiss at the flagpole and then raced back to my bunk to tell my girlfriends about it.
On Sundays in my childhood home, I listened to Casey Kasem rattle off the hottest songs on American Top 40. Immersed in the music, I sat in the kitchen at our white Formica table eating Doritos and Oreo cookies and squirting globs of Cheese Wiz in my mouth, and then washing it all down with a can of Coke. Vegetables, weight gain, processed food, and sugar content meant nothing to me.
By 11:30 p.m. the four Spazmatic band members, dressed up like 80s nerds, ended the show with “1999.” Still feeling euphoric, I grabbed your dad’s hand and sauntered out of the Belly Up. All that dancing made us hungry. We grabbed a slice from NY Pizza, and then I was back in my college days, munching late-night with the man I would one day marry.
When I got home that night, it was once again 2014. I felt different. Reminiscing made me feel alive and youthful.
The music you listen to during your formative years will be embedded in your hearts, and one day, twenty-five years from now, you will hear those same tunes and be brought back to the age of innocence. Remember––life is a highway––enjoy every moment.
A Strand of Gray Hair
It arrived out of nowhere
One strand of gray hair
Resembling a lone aspen tree
Lost in a forest of evergreens
I will never know
How much time I have left
Aging occurs without consent
I pluck it off my head
Where newborn peach fuzz once grew
And the golden strands of my youth
Now my caramel locks are highlighted
I examine the plucked hair
Nickel-colored, coarse and strong
It reflects light
A sign from the afterlife
The soul remains the same
While I physically transform
This is the first
But it won’t be the last
There’s nothing I can do
To prevent these gray hairs from springing
Instead of lamenting my age
I relish my wisdom
Lost and Found in Aspen.
I am excited to share a glimpse into my debut novel, Lost and Found in Aspen. This is an excerpt from Chapter 19. Here’s the setup:
After a night out on the town, dancing and partying and making out with a stranger, Hope Martin wakes up with a terrible hangover. She decides the perfect remedy would be to ski a few runs on Aspen Mountain. But first Hope stops at a café to fill up her rumbling, hung-over stomach.
I grabbed my pastry and hot brew, took a seat facing the window overlooking the sidewalk, and buried my head in the newspaper to hide from seeing anyone I might know. Images of the night before were haunting me. I never should have mixed the alcohol and the edible on an empty stomach.
Within a few minutes, the server put the piping hot plate of food in front of me. “Wasn’t last night great?” he asked.
I had never seen this man before in my life. I flashed him a bewildered look.
“The Spazmatics,” he said.
“Oh, yeah. It was fun.”
“David is my roommate. He was super bummed that you ran out without saying goodbye.”
Heat rose through my face. “I wasn’t feeling well.”
“It happens to the best of us,” he said before walking away.
I hated myself in that moment, but the hunger pang tugging at my belly, along with the smell of the food, was begging me to eat. I doused Cholula hot sauce all over the meal and cut into the egg, letting the yolk ooze over the plate, saturating the cheese and vegetables. Inhaling the tasty food, I ate every morsel. After I finished the last sip of my coffee, with my belly feeling full, I walked outside into the fresh, snow-filled air, and made my way toward the mountain.
Happy to see that a line hadn’t formed in front of the gondola yet, I took a seat on an empty bench and quickly buckled my ski boots. When I stood up and grabbed my skis from the ski rack, a small rumble of pain pierced through my abdomen, making me feel like I should head to the bathroom. But I was too anxious. The sky was dumping white flour. I had to get up there before the other skiers. Visions of myself floating through the light and creamy snow made me giddy. In that moment, the urge to ski was greater than the urge to relieve myself.
Running toward the gondola, I hopped into an empty car, praying that I could ride solo. Just as the door was about to close, a man wearing a one-piece ski outfit jumped in and sat across from me. Annoyed that he had poached my ride, I could feel my blood pressure rising. I wasn’t in the mood for idle conversation. He smiled at me, showing off his large white teeth that glowed against his bronze-colored skin and scruffy dark facial hair. He looked like a stereotypical ski bum in his late forties, who had moved here after college and never left. Guys like this tried too hard to maintain their youth, particularly by wearing ski clothes intended for young twenty-year-old rippers.
Turning away from him, I looked out the window, trying to decide where I would take my first run of the day. The gondola ride felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace. Midway up the mountain, the cramping in my stomach started tightening again, steadily increasing in intensity and causing tiny beads of sweat to form along my hairline underneath my helmet. The pain was shooting inside of me like it was slicing my belly open. I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t I just go to the bathroom before I got on the gondola? I bent over slightly to push back the achy feeling. It didn’t help. A gas bubble was growing larger by the second, making its way down toward my asshole. I squeezed my sphincter as hard as I could to keep it from coming out, but the force was so great that I had no control. The volcano erupted. A loud, wet fart shot out of my butt. It was more than flatulence—it was a shart, a fart and shit combination. The smell hung in the air like a black cloud. My face turned beet red. I wanted to jump out of the gondola. My poison was sucking all the oxygen out of the tiny space. I wanted to open the window, but I was afraid to move. Instead, I grabbed my phone and pretended to stare at it, ignoring the hot, wet feeling in my underwear.
As soon as the gondola door opened, I pulled my skis off the rack and sprinted to the bathroom in the Sundeck. Once inside the stall, I ripped off my ski pants and long underwear and saw a large shit stain on my panties. When I sat down on the toilet, explosive diarrhea came blasting out of me. The violent pain in my stomach was masking the mortal embarrassment I had just experienced in front of the guy on the gondola. When I finally felt better, I took my lacy underwear off, threw it in the garbage, and realized that today was not my day. I needed to get the hell off the mountain and go home.
After clipping my boots into my bindings, I made my way down the mountain, carving wide ski turns through the heavy layers of waist-deep snow. Tears streamed down my face and wet snot dripped out of my nose. Why couldn’t I get my life together? Living in Aspen was supposed to be better, a chance to start over and get my life on the right track, but I was a disaster.
Find out what happens to Hope next by picking up a copy of Lost and Found in Aspen, available at your favorite online bookstores.
Releasing Dave Gogolak’s Ashes.
My friend Nicole tragically lost her husband, Dave, in an avalanche nine years ago. A piece of her heart died on January 13th, 2008. She was left alone with their two young children.
Nicole and I became friends when our boys were in the same class. Our friendship deepened when we drove together to Denver for a school field trip. We discussed every intimate detail of our lives during the eight-hour, round-trip drive.
When Nicole shared some of her dating woes with me, I looked over and saw that she was wearing her wedding ring. I asked her why she was wearing it after all these years, even though it was obvious that she was still in love with her late husband. She told me that as much as she wants to move on with her life, she can’t seem to part with him. Every January, around the time of Dave’s death, Nicole hides in her home, shedding tears and heartache over missing the love of her life. Read more