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WineInk: Virtual Wines, Facebook, Instagram and McElmo Canyon

Randy Ullom was supposed to be skiing Aspen Mountain this week.

The winemaster for all the Kendall-Jackson Family Wines around the globe had long planned a spring sojourn with his girlfriend that would have included “T2Bs” on Ajax, perhaps a hike up the Bowl and multiple laps on the Big Burn. Those sunny afternoons would have been followed by celebratory evenings in Aspen restaurants like Elina, where he would have toasted the season with a good bottle of wine and his equally good friend Jill Carnevale, Elina’s proprietor.

But these are different days and Randy, like many members of his Sonoma-based wine team, and the California wine industry in general, found himself inside his Healdsburg, California, home on this spring week instead of on the slopes.

So to help connect Randy with wine lovers in these challenging times, Jackson Family Wines has created a special series of videos that they are releasing on their Facebook and Instagram accounts each Sunday at 5 p.m. MT. There, Randy sits in his living room and conducts “Sunday Night Virtual Tastings with K-J Winemaster Randy Ullom!”

“Everything you smell, you can taste in the glass,” he declares in one as he takes a sip of the Vintners Reserve Chardonnay and talks about the origins of the grapes in the wine. In another, he opens three cabernet sauvignon-based K-J wines, including the Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cab from the Alexander Valley region that was the site of last October’s fires, explaining the virtues of mountain-grown fruit. The pieces are short (just 5 to 8 minutes), are delivered extemporaneously, and provide both an education into the wines and insight into their maker.

It is just one example of how vintners are using digital technology to try to keep wine drinkers engaged with their products during this time of lockdown. And most are making offers that include discounts for purchases and shipping. Kendall-Jackson encourages those who want the wines shown in the videos to order via kj.com, use a promo code (KJ20) to receive 20% off at checkout and get free shipping on orders of $75 or more.

The virtual tastings have become a growing part of the marketing efforts at wineries as they navigate the new world of how consumers are buying wine. Go to visitnapavalley.com and there you will find a list of over a dozen and a half wineries that have video tastings in various iterations. They range from an hourlong Zoom-based webinar with Frank Family Vineyards (frankfamilyvineyards.com) winemaker Todd Graff to daily 7 p.m. MT Facebook Live virtual happy hour broadcasts with the ever-charming Jean-Charles Boisset of the Boisset Collection (boissetcollection.com) who opens bottles and takes questions from online viewers.

In Santa Barbara the vintners association has created a page titled “Let Us Take Care of You,” which lists a number of wineries offering discounts and online virtual tours and tastings (sbcountywines.com/let-us-take-care-of-you). And online wine retailer Wineaccess.com launched a series of Facebook interviews this week with winemakers including Helen Keplinger of Carte Blanche and Shannon Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard.

Is this the wave of the future?

While it is too early to tell whether tasting events are drivers or passengers of the exploding online wine sales train, anecdotal evidence suggests that direct sales to consumers from wineries have risen dramatically in the past month. The same is true for major retail wine websites and liquor stores that have been deemed “essential,” even in the hardest hit areas like New York City. Restaurant sales have cratered because of closures, but it seems wineries are still finding ways to get to consumers.

And then there are those who are getting their message out the old-fashioned way. This past week I received a batch email from John Sutcliffe at Sutcliffe Vineyards (sutcliffewines.com) in the McElmo Canyon of southwest Colorado, one of the most remote and unforgiving wine regions on Earth. The Brit with the stiff upper lip who has pioneered and produced some of Colorado’s best wines is known for his magnificently crafted emails that evoke the spirit of his surroundings.

“It seems at such odds with the current gloom that spring is busting into life. Calves and lambs gambling around the farm and the alfalfa and the orchard grass greening up the fields,” he wrote as he extolled the quality of current releases made by his longtime associate and winemaker, Jesus Castillo. “We appreciate and need the support of our already loyal following, now more than ever.”

Sutcliffe is offering 15% off on three or more bottles ordered.

Buy some wine online. It will make a difference for someone like John Sutcliffe.

High Country: The best cannabis books to put in your quarantine queue

As we mentally prepare for a full month of COVID-19 quarantine ahead, cannabis and books are two go-to saviors (best enjoyed together) from social media screen time and the barrage of bad news. Whether you’re an industry insider reeling from conference cancellations, an entrepreneur looking to get into the business, or just want to learn more about legalization, I’ve curated a coronavirus cannabis reading list from my own library for these trying times. From two classics authored by pioneering activists to an Emily Post Institute-approved guide on marijuana manners, here are ten texts to take a casual cannabis consumer to an expert-level enthusiast. 

Note: Books are listed alphabetically, not ranked. Now stay home and stay high. 

Courtesy Harper Wave

‘Brave New Weed’

By Joe Dolce, 2016

Joe Dolce, former editor-in-chief of Details and Star, ventures into the “brave new world” of legal cannabis, traveling the globe to trace its history and plot its future. From Amsterdam and Israel to California and Colorado, Brave New Weed shares outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed “insanity due to marijuana consumption” to groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits and all of the changing attitudes and cultural shifts in between. Since its debut, Dolce has also launched an eponymous podcast with new episodes produced bi-weekly. 

Courtesy Octopus Books

‘The Cannabis Dictionary’

By Alex Halperin, 2020

In this illustrated A-to-Z cannabis compendium, renowned cannabis journalist Alex Halperin guides you through every aspect of the magical marijuana plant. From facts and falsehoods to THC and CBD, hundreds of entries share a practical perspective behind the cannabis revolution and the culture that has unfolded around it. Also the founder and host of WeedWeek, Halperin’s handbook is intelligent, fresh and accessible for both new and experienced cannabis consumers alike.

Courtesy North Atlantic Books

‘The Cannabis Manifesto’

By Steve DeAngelo, 2015

Written by “the father of the legal cannabis industry” — according to the Hon. Willie L Brown, former Speaker of the California Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco — The Cannabis Manifestochronicles the unintended consequences of prohibition while imagining the future of cannabis as a consumer good. As founder and CEO of Harborside, one of the first six licensed dispensaries in the U.S. and now publicly traded, DeAngelo’s account is an essential primer into his life’s work as a warrior for reversing the War on Drugs and an entrepreneur who has shaped the legal cannabis landscape. Plus, he shares his unparalleled knowledge of the cannabis plant itself using science to shed light on its spiritual, biological, and mental effects and benefits.

Courtesy OSU Press

‘Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West’

By Nick Johnson, 2017

Former freelance journalist Nick Johnson traded news for history to uncover the controversial roots of the cannabis plant in the American West. Applying his environmental eye, Johnson looks at past growing practices in the region and how federal prohibition promoted unsustainable farming techniques, which have carried over into the legal era, making cannabis cultivation anything but green. Unregulated outdoor grows pollute ecosystems, high-powered indoor grows create an excessive carbon footprint, and an unprecedented water crisis is ahead. Grass Roots challenges the current cannabis industry to change its course. 

Courtesy Chronicle Books

‘GREEN: A Field Guide to Marijuana’

By Dan Michaels & Erik Christiansen, 2014

This eye-popping coffee-table textbook is required reading for those dedicated to studying cannabis strains and admiring their intricacies through hyper-detailed photography of individual buds. Green: A Field Guide to Marijuana explores the culture of this complex flower, while explaining the botany that makes each varietal unique through descriptions of lineage, flavor, and type of high.

Courtesy Ten Speed Press

‘Higher Etiquette’

By Lizzie Post, 2019

Amid the “post-prohibition” era, the stigma surrounding smoking pot is fading, and the conversation about how and why we get high is changing. In Higher Etiquette, Lizzie Post — great-great granddaughter of the Emily Post and current co-president of the institute bearing her name — celebrates cannabis culture’s long-established norms while exploring exactly what modern marijuana etiquette entails. This party-friendly guide asks and answers questions including: how to bring it to a dinner party or give it as a gift; why eating it is different from inhaling it; how to respectfully use it as a guest; how to be behave at a dispensary and more.

Courtesy Plume

‘How to Smoke Pot (Properly)’

By David Bienenstock, 2016

Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock charts a course from cannabis culture’s transformation from a once demonized to a now celebrated place in society. In How to Smoke Pot (Properly), the author instructs just that with pro-tips from his friends in “high places” paired with historical anecdotes and a lively Q&A section including common queries like: “How can I land a legal pot job”? and “Should I eat a weed cookie before boarding the plane?” This all-encompassing guide to the green life also maps out the marijuana plant’s natural lifecycle from farm to pipe, explores cannabis customs, culture and travel, and shares how to best utilize and appreciate the herbal remedy as a life-changing medicine and a useful industrial crop and renewable energy source.

Courtesy High Times

‘It’s NORML to Smoke Pot’

By Keith Stroup, 2013

Keith Strop has been fighting for marijuana legalization for four decades through NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the pioneering nonprofit organization he founded in 1970. In the first-ever personal account of its tumultuous-turned-victorious history, It’s NORML to Smoke Pot will introduce you to the colorful cast of characters like Hunter S. Thompson and Willie Nelson who helped along the way and give you behind-the-scenes insight into how prohibition shaped political policy today. 

Courtesy Mariner Books

‘Reefer Madness’

By Eric Schlosser, 2003

This is a pre-legalization look at the illicit market in the U.S., which then was much larger than most realized, and how it affected Americans’ lives whether they smoked pot or not. Journalist and author Eric Schlosser takes his award-winning, exacting eye into the underbelly of capitalism and examines the far-reaching influence of marijuana, porn, and immigrants on society. Reefer Madness also draws compelling comparisons between underground and overground: the rise and fall of tycoons and gangsters; how new technology shaped the market, why government intervention reinvigorated illegal activity; and how big business learned — and profited.

Courtesy Quarto Publishing Group

‘The Ultimate Guide to CBD’

By Jamie Evans, 2020

In a sea of misinformation in the evolving CBD wellness space, it’s refreshing to read an in-depth companion compiled by a true expert. Jamie Evans not only has pioneered the intersection of wine, gourmet cuisine, and cannabis, but has also experienced the healing benefits of the plant firsthand. First breaking down the history and science of cannabinoids, The Ultimate Guide to CBD is the perfect introduction to live an all-encompassing CBD lifestyle at every age. It’s also packed with pro tips for self-care along with recipes for infused oils, refreshing drinks, and light bites thanks to her extensive network of industry leaders.

Mountain Mayhem: Virtual Shortsfest

The show must go on and what a show it will be! Adapting to today’s #stayathome restrictions, Aspen Film is offering its annual festival, Shortsfest, online as an alternative to in theater. The virtual rendition is underway through April 5, which means you still have time to turn on, tune in and take a seat in the comfort of your own home (see related story, page 19).

Personally, I’m thrilled the festival is proceeding as such, having long been a Shortsfest-goer. It’s been a spring tradition to see the assortment of stories from all over the world. I’ve also come to love how Shortsfest gives way to connect with the filmmakers, as many travel here to present their work. I first discovered this way back when a friend of mine named Michelle Silver from Los Angeles came to town with the short “Talk to You Later” (2000), which she wrote and starred in, and we spent the week together with her posse who loved the festival and their time in Aspen.

As this element, understandably, won’t be a part of this year’s event, Anderson connected me with a few of the filmmakers over email, whom I would have loved the opportunity to meet in person. He posed several questions, the first one being, “In light of the cancellation of the festival’s physical incarnation, what benefits do you see in still being able to present the film in the virtual version?”

Tom Hardiman, director of “Pitch Black Panacea,” who lives in the UK, replied, “When you lock yourself away to work on something with no real idea if people will wanna watch it, getting selected for Aspen is like a magical thumbs-up. The weeks, months, years were worth it! Especially when you’re from a small place across the pond and anyone watching in any foreign land is obviously extra special. I was over the moon to be selected.”

Animated by Chris Cornwell, who’s based in Los Angeles, “Pitch Black Panacea” is a short film about characters Amy and Carl who both have lazy eyes. In an effort to find a DIY cure, they’ve signed up for an unusual treatment.

“We wish everyone affected by the virus a speedy recovery,” he continued. “There’s a strange kinship between how (our film) was made and how it might now be viewed — as Chris and I worked on the animation for months, communicating across a wide divide with him being an LA resident and me being a Londoner. The virtual world made ‘Pitch Black Panacea’ possible, and its importance to all our lives (and psychological states!) is now being emphasized by this strange moment we’re enduring.”

Ashley Brandon, director of “Día de la Madre,” described her film about a group of young mariachis who journey across Connecticut conducting a covert operation. The mission: awake the neighborhood with a Mexican tradition unpracticed within the U.S. and make their mothers cry.

“I’m so happy that the festival is able to still proceed in some form,” she said. “This isn’t just for the filmmakers’ benefit, but for the audiences.”

For Kaveh Tehrani, who wrote and directed the film “The Manchador,” this will be the U.S. premiere of his short. A feminist, subversive comedy, it tells the story of Mina who is trying to come to terms with the strict rules for female headdress in Iran. One day her husband Saeed invents a chador (a religious garment for women) for men and this turns their lives upside down.

Tehrani is grateful, “thrilled, happy and excited about screening in Aspen and for ‘The Manchador’ to be presented to a US audience.”

He added, of course, “we would love to be there! But the situation not allowing, we are very grateful that the festival is moving forward. Health first!”

Visit www.AspenFilm.org for further details and purchase screening codes online at AspenShowTix.com or by calling 970-920-5770.

Gear review: A Zoom-friendly smartphone cradle

It seemed frivolous, back in December, when I was shopping for a smartphone cradle for hands-free video chats.

But in our current stay-at-home reality — when most of our social, professional, spiritual and home exercise lives rely on Zoom and FaceTime and the like — it’s all but essential.

Back then, I was looking for a stand for my dad to use during our regular FaceTime hangouts (during which, generally, my wife and I chase our daughter around with our phone and dad watches the action from home back east).

After much research, I settled on the Nulaxy T Stand, which is affordable ($12 or so at most online retailers) and has all the features I wanted: it works for iPhone, Android and any smartphone between 4 and 8 inches, can work in portrait or landscape mode, it’s easily adjustable for height and angle, it has a projective silicone pad (so it won’t scratch up your device or table and won’t break anything if, say, your 2-year-old throws it across the room).

Nulaxy makes tons of variations of stands for home and car mounts, some with more bells and whistles like wireless chargers, made for laptops, tablets, smartphones and smart watches. My experience, with the two I’ve tried out, is that adjustable is better and the T model does everything we need it to and well worth the price.

Aspen History: April Fools Day in the 1890s

“Practical jokers and joked have a splendid time,” announced the Aspen Tribune on April 2, 1896. “All Fool’s Day was generally observed in this city and the small boy and practical joker had what is termed a barrel of fun. No one was exempt from their pranks. There were no really new jokes, but the time worn and bewhiskered ones did splendid service. The soap caramel and sawdust chocolate were numerous. Colored water in whiskey bottles fooled many a toper. The heated silver coin was in evidence and the pocket book and string was worked. An inveterate policy player was rich and happy for an hour, the returns having been fixed for him. Then for the remainder of the day he was angry. Constables Combs and Trainor were put in motion by telephone messages announcing that a free-for-all fight was in progress in a certain saloon, and so it went. Everybody had fun, the fooled and the foolers.” This image shows Hyman Avenue and Galena Street, circa 1900.

Food Matters: Best food shows streaming right now

When food first comes to the main character in the austere, abstract film “The Platform” — No. 5 on the Netflix Top Ten as of this writing — his appetite is MIA. And that might be partly the point of this Spanish riddle in which prisoners wait, Godot-style, in a cold, vertical prison for a picked-over smorgasbord to arrive from the floors above.

“It’s a miracle no one touched the snails,” our protagonist wonders aloud to his cellmate later, hungry at last. Eerie violin music punctuated by harsh metallic sounds sets the score.

While “The Platform” isn’t exactly what I envisioned while researching “new food movies,” it certainly intrigues the eye and twists the mind with strange feast montages and a heavy social message. Since we’re all sheltering in place during the coronavirus crisis until at least mid-April, what better time to snack upon streaming food media both freakish and fanciful?

Here are a few more — and far more pleasant, and educational — picks:

“Ugly Delicious” + “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner”

Both hosted by David Chang, who brought us Momofuku, Lucky Peach magazine (RIP), and the first season of “The Mind of a Chef” in 2012, these shows feature his signature snappy style. While “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” (2019) is a cool escape, in which our intrepid guide samples food around the globe with celeb friends in tow, “Ugly Delicious” (2018, 2020) delves into the slightly more serious sociocultural aspects of specific foods. Ever curious, Chang intersperses field trips and expert interviews with mealtime discussions over beloved foods like barbecue, pizza, curry, and tacos. The first series, at just four parts, is easily inhaled. For the latter, begin with Season One Episode 7, “Fried Rice,” a comprehensive yet concise history on Chinese food in America. Netflix.com

“Sam the Cooking Guy”

Super accessible for a dude who boasts 1.62 million YouTube subscribers, “Sam the Cooking Guy” is a one-stop shop for folks who might be a bit freaked out about the prospect of feeding oneself all day, everyday, at home. Find concise how-to videos, including plenty that recreate fast-food favorites, and Q&A sessions that solve universal home-cooking quandaries. His latest videos focus on comfort food, as evidenced by the five-part (and counting) “Quarantine (Lockdown) Munchies.” YouTube.com

“The Chef Show”

Lively banter. Chef-personality guest stars. Stop-motion animation sequences that literally deconstruct each dish prepared. That’s the delicious comibation in this two-season Netflix docuseries by actor-director Jon Favreau and chef buddy Roy Choi, founder of L.A.-based Kogi empire and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Together the duo sets out to make connections, cook food, and have fun—a combo the pair commenced while working on “Chef,” the 2014 feature film in which Favreau starred and directed and Choi advised. Netflix.com

“Gourmet Makes”

Watch this video on The Scene.

Junk food fans who appreciate a DIY ethos will devour these bite-size videos filmed in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen by food editor Claire Saffitz. Each childhood favorite is broken down step-by-step, and made with whole ingredients instead of unpronounceable fillers and preservatives. Pick your fix—Twix, Doritos, Twinkies, Gushers, Cheetos, Kit Kats, Skittles, Oreos, Twizzlers, Pringles, Cheez-Its, Girl Scout Cookies—and fall blissfully down a fudge-lined rabbit hole without the sugar crash. Bonappetit.com/video

“Explained: Why Diets Fail” (Season One) and “The Future of Meat” (Season Two)

This Netflix original series lives up to its name, showing viewers the whys and hows of topics most prevalent in modern society. While every 20-minute installment succeeds in debunking misconceptions and illustrating facts clearly, these two (of 30 total) are dedicated to eating. Bonus: “The Next Pandemic,” narrated by Bill Gates and released in November before coronavirus hit mainstream consciousness, is a must-watch PSA. Netflix.com

“Neat: The Story of Bourbon”

America’s only indigenous spirit enjoys a smooth-sipping documentary (2018) chronicling the history, people, and process of a wholly patriotic product. Undiluted, aged corn whiskey wasn’t always elegant, either. As the intro promises, “This is the story of grains, water, and wood. Of immigrants, farmers, businessmen, and criminals. Cold winters and hot summers. It’s the story of time.” Savor it. Hulu.com

“Restaurants on the Edge”

A fluffy combination of Kitchen Nightmares (sans brutal Gordon Ramsey badgering) and HGTV home makeover, this new Netflix reality transformation series visits the most frustrating of eateries: Those with a killer view paired with lackluster food and ambiance. En route to reviving these restaurants in peril and reigniting lost passion among owners, the chef-designer-restaurateur host trio unveil a universal recipe for success: authentic cultural tribute, comforting design, and local flavor, and offer nuts-and-bolts tips on how to, say, keep food costs down and drum up press. Admittedly, the genre can veer into cheeseball territory, but chapters here always wrap with a satisfying feel-good reveal. Netflix.com

“The Game Changers”

Fans of staying fit and athletes looking to gain a competitive edge will do well to watch this 2018 award-winning documentary produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and James Cameron, showcasing a tidy history of how veganism has risen to the top of the sporting food chain. Narrated by a former professional mixed martial artist and champion fighter who shares his personal journey, the film presents a mountain of evidence in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Netflix.com

“Top Chef”

Bravo’s long-running reality cooking competition is an oldie but goodie, in case you still haven’t explored it. All sixteen seasons (2006-2019) of the James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” franchise are available on Hulu (free, during a 30-day trial). If you already miss the canceled 2020 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, head straight to Season 15, Episode 13, “A Little Place Called Aspen,” filmed outdoors on a bluebird June afternoon at T-Lazy-7 Ranch during the 2018 Classic. I’m there in the background! Hulu.com

“The Food That Built America”

Those who enjoy educational origin stories via easily digestible visuals will dig The History Channel’s “The Food that Built America,” available soon on Hulu (free with trial) or for purchase on Amazon Prime Video. Similar to the fascinating 2014 miniseries “The Men Who Built America,” this three-episode follow-up focuses on the innovations of food industry magnates boasting recognizable last names including Heinz, Hershey, Post, Kellogg, McDonald — “those who used brains, muscle, blood, sweat and tears to get to America’s heart through its stomach.” Rivalries — and delicious drama — ensue. The History Channel, Hulu.com, Amazon Prime

Writing Switch: Master of None Class

Learning and working has diverted to the at-home realm, which means people are finally discovering that we could’ve been doing this all along and societal norms will eventually shift for the better. Sure, some of you weirdos actually like going into an office, but after three weeks of martial law, we still enjoy waking up and thinking “I have nowhere to go today … yes!” (That sort of sounds like we’re roommates or something, which we are not.) It would be morally irresponsible not to teach you our pro-tricks to surviving iso, so this week we fiddled with some PowerPoint slides and developed a couple educational presentations about staying sane inside your own house.


SB: Hello, my name is Sean Beckwith, welcome to Zoom Master Class. I’ve never watched one of these but my guess is they usually start off with some kind of introduction where the host lists off their accreditations and qualifications to reassure you that you are, in fact, listening to an expert.

Well, I’ve only been on Zoom for about two weeks but my lifelong experience with various messaging platforms, chats, texts, FaceTime and whatever else the kids are exchanging sexts on has prepared me for this moment of virtual meetings.

Now, I can understand your apprehension paying money to a person who just admitted to only using the platform for two weeks, but I’m a phenomenal teacher and I don’t think I’m getting paid for this so do me a favor a appreciate the pro bono assistance.

The No. 1 key to using Zoom is to actually use it. Sure, you can be that guy who rifles off emails utilizing the subject line for the entire email or you cannot annoy the shit out of your coworkers. I hate mundane updates as much as the next person so share them on Zoom so the rest of us don’t have to open an email regarding your lunch break and rather can scroll through them like the empty Facebook posts they’re masquerading as.

Think of Zoom chats like a group text where everyone helps Jennifer figure out that check-in is at the Stonebrindge Condos, not the Stoenbridge Inn. It’s a communication program, not just that thing app you use to FaceTime coworkers.

Speaking of which, I know small talk once made possible by office proximity isn’t as easy now that we’re working in PJs but there’s no need to call a meeting for the sake of calling a meeting.

However, if you are so unfortunate to get stuck on a call that Craig was woefully unprepared for, the nice thing about Zoom is it lets you multitask while selectively listening for the 15 to 20% of the meeting that actually concerns you.

A couple caveats to know are you’re still on camera, and mute/unmute your microphone accordingly. Giving everyone a close-up of your pores at 9:30 a.m. is about as pleasant as the sound of you eating.

Now we’ve reached the rapid-fire part of this paid TED Talk:

■ If you’re important enough that a 30-minute break will affect your staff, an email is fine, just don’t milk it

■ The only advantage to wearing “normal” clothes while working from home is the satisfaction of changing into give-ups

■ The “opt not to be on video even though we know you have video capability” move in a group meeting isn’t going to get rid of the creepy vibe you may or may not give off intentionally

■ If you’re extremely backlit, you look like an anonymous source on an episode of “Dateline,” trying to keep your identity hidden from Central American cartel

■ I know you want to look professional hosting the company-wide cutback meeting but use common sense so you’re not literally a talking suit

■ Please don’t Zoom from your bathroom

We’ll forgo the Q&A portion because I have a feeling I’m not going to get my fee. Well, I hope you enjoyed my little presentation. Now you too can utilize Zoom like a millennial sextuple multitasking on 14 different screens. Welcome to 2020.


BW: My favorite confession while playing “Two Truths and a Lie” is that I was homeschooled my whole life, and also because I take satisfaction in people’s befuddlement.

“But you’re so … normal,” they say, catching themselves at the last second before sounding too offensive.

“I’m wearing a boot on my head, see visions of the future and have bumpy arms,” I remind them.

As parents are suddenly tasked with the burden of overseeing their children’s upbringing — or education, at least — many are wondering how to navigate distance learning and multiplication table homework. And now, as someone who went coast to coast, my peers who begat kids, accidentally or otherwise, are asking how I tolerated it.

My advice: Go f— yourself.


Quarantine? I was literally bread for this, and yes I’m using “literally” by the correct definition (and also “bread” … don’t worry about it). You think staying home for a month is tough? Try it for K thru 12 — chained to a radiator.

Everyone thinks self-isolation is fun for the first week, maybe two. But then you start getting cabin fever. You start feeling horny. But not me; If this is armageddon I will definitely survive because for many years the only social interaction I experienced with girls was twice a week while they mocked me mercilessly in Sunday school and confirmation class. I am today years old when I realized it’s because they thought I was hawt.

I especially love it when people try to empathize. “Oh yeah! I was homeschooled for part of fifth grade. I toootally understand how you feel.” No you don’t, shut up.

What’s the hierarchy in the cafeteria? Do you bring your backpacks into class? I always had an irrational fear of being naked in the locker room, despite knowing the feasibility of that situation ever happening was zero. Regardless, I tanked my freshman-year basketball tryout harder than liberal governors tanking the economy to oust Trump. Do kids still shower at school? I feel like there’s a lot of liability there. How necessary can that level of cleanliness be? I work out all the time (cough) without showering and don’t get stanky (cough) — how much more of an olfactory threat can teenagers pose? Anyway, stemming from that trauma, nobody has seen me with my shirt off since 2003. #nevernude

Anti-social distancing bothering you? The most contact I had with other humans during childhood was when my sister used a couch cushion to bodyslam me into our great-grandma’s antique china cabinet. I was 7 years old and grounded for what would turn out to be the longest week of my life. Who’d guess 20-some years later that specific incident would propel me through the apocalypse?

I was basically Butters from “South Park,” constantly living in fear of being grounded, and also not really understanding what the hell is going on. Other kids were able to lash out at authority because even if they were punished, they still were legally obligated to attend school and see their friends. If I ever “didn’t practice piano long enough” or “rolled my eyes,” it was back to the radiator, young man. Consequently, I graduated college with eyebrow piercings, dyed hair and a degree in journalism because I so much wanted to experience the My Chemical Romance phase glorified by MySpace way too long ago.

You have to pay attention to the curriculum that you’re shoving down your kids’ throats. Sometimes I still catch myself about to say something stupid out loud, like “Actually, they found a live dinosaur a few years ago, which proves evolution isn’t true,” until Grown-Up Ben realizes that fact came from a Young Earth propaganda magazine hidden in the “Parables of Jesus” cursive handwriting workbook.

There’s a difference between parents who make the conscious decision to homeschool their children and those who are suddenly like “Oh shit, the ‘Fortnight’ servers are down?”

But fear not; students today can learn math and reproduction on the internet from people who are way smarter than you. They have graphics and roleplays, which makes it easier for the child to understand, being that they’re in the generation addicted to screens since birth.

Then again, I have no idea what goes on in actual classrooms; “Public school” was as disgusting of a phrase as “Oh crap” growing up, and I’ve stepped foot in a real-ass high school only three times in my life.

Once it was for a production of “Three Musketeers.” Another was to buy a quarter of sarsaparilla. Third time was an alien abduction. Which is the lie?

bwelch@aspentimes.com, @bwelch1990 sbeckwith@aspentimes.com, @seanbeckwith

Aspen area J-1 visa holders struggle to return to home countries amid coronavirus pandemic

After a few months living and working in Snowmass Village, Karla Perdomo, 22, and two of her friends were set to head back home to Peru.

The three young women packed their things, said goodbye to their managers and coworkers and headed to Denver on March 15 for their flight. But just as they were arriving in Denver, Perdomo’s parents called and said the Peruvian borders had been closed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It was like what, we are about to take the plane and you say our frontiers are closed?” Perdomo recalled. “So we went to the airport and tried to change our flight but it wasn’t possible because all the flights were canceled. Can you imagine in that moment how we feel? We want to come back to our country, but what can we do?”

Luckily, Perdomo and her friends were able to return to Snowmass, pick up their seasonal jobs at Clark’s Market and move back into their housing until the Peruvian lockdown is lifted and they can catch a flight home.

But the three Peruvians’ story is not unique — many Aspen-Snowmass area J-1 visa holders are in the same situation, staying where they are if they can or going to major airport destinations to try and figure out how to get back home during a pandemic that has no clear end in sight.

“I’m so glad I’m here because I have housing, I have work and I’m really happy because of that,” Perdomo said.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program allows roughly 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories to experience U.S. culture and society each year, according to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) program website.

Through short-term summer vacation work and travel experiences, to long-term internships and training, international candidates from high school age to adults can apply for one of 15 different programs linked to the J-1 visa.

In Colorado, there are over 200 sponsor organizations that place more than 11,000 exchange participants across the state through each of the 15 J-1 programs, according to 2019 ECA data.

In Aspen, there are currently 322 exchange participants with an additional 229 participants total in Snowmass Village, Woody Creek, Basalt, Meredith, Crested Butte, Twin Lakes and Eagle.

On March 12, the ECA “temporarily paused” its programs in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and countries all around the world have closed their borders — most over the past month — to mitigate the virus spread, leaving many J-1 visa holders in a sort of limbo.

Aspen Skiing Co. is one of the largest local employers of J-1 visa holders, hiring 250 exchange participants for its 2019-20 winter season.

Since the company’s four valley ski areas were closed by state order March 15 to help slow the spread of coronavirus, 150 of Skico’s J-1 employees have made it back to their home countries, according to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications.

Another 50 are stuck in the Aspen-Snowmass area and Skico officials were working to track down the whereabouts of the last 50 as of March 27.

“We’re just trying to stay in touch with everybody. Our senior management has been making phone calls several times a week to see if there is anyone in need,” Hanle said, noting that Skico is waiving April rent fees for the J-1 employees still in the company’s Aspen-Snowmass area housing.

“We’ll keep an eye out to see if anything else comes up and how else we can help.”


Although Skico is one of the largest J-1 exchange participant employers in the Aspen area, it isn’t the only company ensuring its international employees have a place to stay until they can return home.

On a recent afternoon at the Westin Snowmass Resort and Wildwood Lodge complex in Snowmass, most everything was shuttered and dark.

No one sat in the hotel lobbies. The outdoor pool covers were in place. The conference center and restaurants were empty.

However, 27 J-1 visa holders were still calling the complex home, staying in their hotel employee housing free of charge and eating two provided meals each day after being laid off due to COVID-19.

“I think the Westin management has been very helpful in keeping us calm, keeping us updated and checking in, wondering how we are,” said Nadiné Engelbrecht, a 20-year-old woman from South Africa.

“They’re very supportive and that’s the most important thing right now, especially for us who are so far away from home.”

Both Engelbrecht, who has worked at the Westin as a line cook since November, and Brenda Kambari, a 33-year-old woman from Zimbabwe who has worked as a front desk agent since December, were hired at the Westin/Wildwood complex on J-1 visas for a full year.

The women said they were drawn to the village resort location because of the mountains and the snow, which they’d never really experienced before.

“When I landed at Aspen airport I almost kissed the snow because it was the first time I saw the snow,” Kambari recalled, smiling. “I was so happy to see it and so happy to see all of the beautiful buildings and everything here.”

In early March when the numbers of COVID-19 cases began increasing in the U.S. and in Colorado, both Engelbrecht’s and Kambari’s initial inclinations were to get back to their home countries as soon as possible.

But after learning that their country’s borders were closed and thinking about how risky up to three full days of international travel would be to get there, Engelbrecht and Kambari decided to wait things out at the Westin/Wildwood complex, dipping into their savings a bit but staying positive about starting work again in May.

“When it got a bit worse, I then wanted to just book a ticket back home — you know you’d rather be with your family in this time,” Engelbrecht said.

“But I’ve read that young people can be carriers for COVID-19. I have a little sister, I have grandparents and I have parents that I live with. What’s not to say if I did go home I would have maybe infected them? I think this whole situation has helped me get a little more of that adult method of thinking.”

As some of the Westin/Wildwood J-1s wait for their home country’s borders to reopen so they can travel and others choose to stay at the complex until work resumes, general manager Jeffery Burrell said the resort is dedicated to supporting its international employees.

Through free accommodations, the free meals while food supplies last, and daily check-ins, Burrell said staff hope to support the J-1s in any way they can and help the ones who wish to return home when it is safe to do so.

Until the Westin and Wildwood resorts reopen, Engelbrecht will continue to help prepare daily meals for the complex’s J-1s, talk with her family at least three hours each day and color in an adult coloring book while Kambari said she will watch TV, gain support from her family and husband and meditate to keep calm and stay sane.

“This isn’t just something you can buy (your way out of), it’s a global thing. I think everyone has an idea of what’s going on because we’re all in this together,” Engelbrecht said. “I just think people need to take this more seriously and I know it’s a difficult situation, but don’t take your family time for granted. … Those who are quarantined with their families are very lucky.”

Natalka Melova, a 17-year-old Rotary Youth Exchange program student from Slovakia visiting Aspen on a J-1 visa expressed similar thoughts to Engelbrecht and Kambari.

Melova — who has been living and going to school in Aspen since August and is supposed to stay in town until June — said while she hasn’t felt too homesick or stressed over the coronavirus pandemic, she thinks it’s important for people to understand what it would feel like to be on their own, away from their families and in a different country during the global crisis.

“People have to understand how it is to be somewhere, 17 years old with all of this stuff going on,” Melova said.

“You sometimes feel very homesick but I don’t really because I have an amazing family and I set my mind to be happy, … but people should think about what it would be like to be in another country without the chance to go home right now.”

For Melova, the Aspen experience has been great so far. She’s lived with three different host families, rediscovered her love for skiing and met a lot of new and interesting people.

When the COVID-19 outbreak started to ramp up in the U.S. and Colorado, Melova said she didn’t think about leaving early at first. But now that the last leg of her U.S. trip (a whirlwind visit to 25 states in 28 days) has been canceled and her Rotary sponsors are encouraging her and the other exchange students still in Colorado to return home, Melova feels that is the best thing to do.

“I feel like I should go home for my health,” Melova said. “But I do think this whole thing makes me feel stronger and helps me to have more responsibility for my life. I had to decide if I want to stay here or not, I really had to think about it … so I’m glad that I’m growing (more mature) in this way.”


But while J-1 visa holders like Melova have decided it’s best to go home early, many don’t know how early that may be.

In Melova’s case, Slovakia’s borders are shut down and she must wait for an evacuation flight into the country before she can leave the U.S. She plans to be home this week.

In Claudio Mendieta Canessa’s case, he’s stuck in Miami with little to no idea of when he’ll be able to catch a flight back to Peru.

“There are no plans about flights to get us back, or at least that we’ve been informed of,” Mendieta Canessa said via email. “We are not getting any kind of information on how Peru is going to handle our situation, when we are going to be allowed to go back or how.”

Mendieta Canessa, a 24-year-old Peruvian who worked at Snowmass Sports this winter season, took a chance by flying to Miami with another J-1 visa holder on March 25, knowing there were no direct flights from Denver to Lima, Peru, and not knowing how the pandemic would continue to evolve.

When the men arrived in Miami, they stayed in the airport about nine hours waiting for a flight. Mendieta Canessa said none showed up and that he hasn’t been able to reach anyone from the Peruvian consulate’s office since.

He said while he understands the pandemic isn’t an easy situation for anyone to manage, Mendieta Canessa never thought Peruvian authorities would make it this hard for its citizens to return home.

“I feel confident that I’ll be able to manage whatever situation comes my way. That being said, I am fortunate and grateful there’s people watching over me, friends and family,” Mendieta Canessa said. He’s staying with a cousin in Miami until he can get a flight back home and said he’s thankful his manager from Snowmass Sports, Cameron Wenzel, continues to check in on him.

“But not everyone can say the same; a great amount of J-1s are stuck here or somewhere else by themselves without resources and/or help to stay indefinitely.”

This uncertainty and potential danger of being stranded on the route back home is exactly why Trevor Moodie, store director at Clark’s Market in Snowmass Village, is encouraging his J-1 employees to stay in town until they have a definite way back to their countries.

Moodie, who is from New Zealand originally, says he understands how it can be scary to be away from home without your family during a time like this, but that he feels the safety and security of his J-1 employees is what’s most important.

“The navigation part can be so difficult because there are limited options for them to get home,” Moodie said. “Here, they have a place to stay, a job, money coming in… it’s a safe place to ride out until there are more flights available.”

Of course, every J-1 visa holder in the Aspen-Snowmass area and across the U.S. has their own experiences, opinions on whether to stay or go home, and connections to help them navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.

But for people like Perdomo, having a place to call home for the time being and a support system of other J-1 visa holders makes the difficult situation that much easier to work through.

“There is a percentage of J-1s that have jobs like us because we work in a store, but I know the hotels and restaurants and ski areas are shut down. Some of us are not in good situations and some of us are, but we all just want to come back to our countries,” Perdomo said.

“But J-1s are together, we’re like a family, so that’s a good way to be here. You’re not alone… I just really hope that all of us come back to our countries in a good and safe way.”


Aspen Shortsfest 2020: Ed Asner and local filmmaker educate kids about the Holocaust

Aspen-based visual artist Marc Bennett’s debut film will screen at 2020 Aspen Shortsfest.

Bennett’s animated short adaptation of the children’s book “The Tattooed Torah” is in the family-friendly Program Nine of the Oscar-qualifying festival, which has gone virtual this year as the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered public spaces including the Wheeler Opera House, where Shortsfest had been scheduled to run March 31 to April 5.

The film is available for screening now through the Festival Focus streaming platform (see sidebar for details on tickets and access).

Bennett has been based in the Aspen area since 2007. His “History of the Star of David” collage for the Chabad Jewish Center on Main Street has become an international teaching tool for Jewish history and led him, unexpectedly, into filmmaking. He found himself directing “The Tattooed Torah” quite by accident as his educational mission has broadened in recent years.

Bennett was showing one of the many iterations of his Star of David work at a juried art show in Chicago, where he met Marvell Ginsburg, the author of the enduring 1983 children’s book “The Tattooted Torah,” which tells the story of restoring a Torah from Czechoslovakia and introduces the history of the Holocaust to a young audience.

“She was looking to make the book into an animated movie,” Bennett recalled. “I looked at it and right away I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ I was blown away by the message and the importance of it.”

Bennett’s Star of David collages, which trace the symbol’s nearly 2,000 years of history, have given him an unexpected platform as an educator, partnering with institutions like Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation and the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

So using animated film seemed a natural next step, he said.

Bennett went to work on finding animators to bring Martin Lemelman’s original illustrations to life and actors to voice it.

Ed Asner — the Hollywood legend and “Mary Tyler Moore Show” star, now age 90 — came on board to narrate.

“He is very philanthropic and was excited about helping to reach a broader audience of children with the film,” Bennett said.

“This is how we never forget what happened,” Asner says in the film, “how we lost everything, but endured and overcame and never gave up hope. This little Torah is the history of our people, tattoos and all.”

Along with Bennett directing, the Aspen-based creative team includes executive producers Melinda Goldrich and supporters Brad and Kimberly Schlosser and Judi and Alan Altman. Part-time Aspenite and Mexican telenovela star Fernando Allende has voiced the Asner character for a Spanish language version.

Though the COVID-19 disruptions have delayed the international rollout of “The Tattooed Torah,” it is still expected to make a run at film festivals this year and to go into schools around the world with an educational curriculum on Holocaust history. Bennett was also hopeful it would find a home on broadcast television. It had its premiere in early March at the Chicago Jewish Film Festival.

The animated project led Bennett to another filmmaking undertaking — a documentary inspired by an annual community bike ride from the Auschwitz concentration camp to Krakow, which retraces the steps of survivor Marcel Zielinks.

The film is one of seven animated shorts in the family- and kid-friendly Program Nine (recommended for age 6 and up). While “The Tattooed Torah” is an educationally minded film, the lineup includes sillier fare about kid superheroes and cute animals, as well.


5 Inspiring Adventure Films to Watch Now

From desert survival to superhuman climbing, these true-life adventure films and docs will inspire you to persevere, stay positive, and never give up. Grab the popcorn and get ready for an action-packed, inspiration-filled movie night. They are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services.

‘180 South‘

Inspired by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s 1968 trip to South America, a young adventurer goes on a quest to follow the route. Signing on with a small boat headed to Chile, he experiences delays, setbacks and the adventure of a lifetime.


Follow along as 14-year-old Laura Dekker sets out to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Following a yearlong fight with Dutch authorities, she takes to the sea in search of adventure and the opportunity to make history.

‘127 Hours‘

This movie tells the incredible true story of Aspen outdoorsman Aron Ralston (played by James Franco). Trapped alone in a desolate slot canyon, Ralston goes to extreme measures to escape alive.

‘Free Solo‘

There’s good reason this documentary won an Oscar. Not only is the cinematography stunning, but the story is downright gripping. Follow along as renowned climber Alex Honnold defies gravity and makes history with a free-solo climb of Yosemite’s famous El Capitan.

‘Touching the Void‘

This 2003 drama will have you on edge of your seat. It follows two men on what turns out to be a disastrous climb in Peru. Between a broken leg and a raging storm, survival seems impossible. But with no way out but down, they continue on in a harrowing tale of perseverance and human potential.

Read the full list of 10 inspiring adventure films at gearjunkie.com

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.