Mucking with Movies: ‘Napoleon’

I believe there should be a law that when provoked by human indecency I, or any good Samaritan, should be allowed to plunk the offender with a 77-mile-per-hour fastball to the side.

Seattle has the law of mutual combat still in effect from its brawling lumberjack days, and I believe this to be a modern compromise for the rest of our nation. Examples of such infractions are henceforth listed but are not limited to: not racking your skis, ignoring people on public transit who need your seat more than you, and one for the middle-aged pedestrian who saw the excited girls who had come to the movies after school to “see the Hunger Games, please” and butted in to say “of course you are” as he rolled his eyes.

Kids don’t go to the movies anymore because of gatekeeping boomers. Maybe a little because of TikTok, but that is more due to being a safe place where nobody reprimands them for what they should be watching. Let kids have fun and the teenagers see the movies that make them happy.

Anyway never mind the bullocks; here’s “Napoleon.”

I haven’t been this undecided on a movie in a while. I have a long list of notes that range from stark praise to infuriated befuddlement. The fact that it is taking me this long to ponder is noteworthy, but I don’t know if that makes the movie extraordinary. We see a film trying to decipher the duality of mankind, our greatest mystery.

Using one of history’s most power-hungry characters, we see this battle taking stage on a global scale as Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) grapples with intense hubris and a humbling insecurity. The premise is basic: “Who amongst us hasn’t been a sucker for beauty?” It is a trope that has been trodded out numerous times in all types of art to humanize a grandiose figure. It’s an easy thing we can all relate to; that very night, I was nervous to take my phone off airplane mode after the film because I wasn’t sure if the girl I had been infatuated with since last winter had texted me back. We all have our shortcomings after all.

Then, at times, the film rises above these cliché trapping to achieve a status that could only be described as epic. The battle scenes are captivating, removing me from my surroundings and placing the viewer inside the combat where the war of one man’s uncapped ambition rages on. It is here the best work is done, with Napoleon far apart from antagonist and wife Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). The absence from each others’ lives stretches tensions taut. Napoleon’s desperate desire to return home and his belief that if he were to return home with anything but glorious victory he would be unworthy of love and at odds with each other. As an audience member, that romantic inkling in your heart yearns for them to be back together. But then they reunite to share the screen,, and the film skids to an abrupt splatter.

So scattered in direction are the exposition and exploratory moments that, at times, back-to-back scenes explicitly contradict one another. It could be argued this is a directorial decision to display the internal struggle between characters, but that’s bunk when it is executed so poorly. When this conflicting duality is presented together in such rapid succession, Kirby and Phoenix fail as they seem unsure of how to handle the juxtaposition. The pair mill around with inconsistent chemistry, uncertain of how to plod through the smushed script that is creating such a displaced pace. They seem lost during the second act, trying to make character decisions in an under-directed mess.

The frustration is that there was a great movie to be had here, but too much dithering got in the way. Perhaps afraid to duplicate their last team-up “Gladiator,” both Scott and Phoenix run away from the obvious parallels that are there. In Scott’s case, a period piece ripe with exciting action, and in Phoenix’s, an opportunity to play a legendary tyrant with bewildering eccentricities. They combine to deliver efforts that are somehow both overwrought and under-explained.

Personal speculation leads me to believe that during the editing process, Scott realized he had made two movies. One gruesome and wonderfully explicit in all manners, and the other a neurotic romance that empowered a relentless lunatic. He chose the latter, and it was the wrong choice.

Critic Score: 6.9/10

Lead with Love: A total eclipse of the sun

When we went to Wyoming in 2017 to see the last total eclipse of the sun in the U.S., I was reluctant. Why leave my home for just a few days to witness something that I had seen multiple times before? Of course, I was confused by the fact that while I had seen a solar eclipse, I had never seen a total solar eclipse.

Wow, what a difference “total” makes on the profundity of the experience. I was amazed, God-smacked, silenced, awed. It was so other-worldly, surreal, and spectacular to witness this total eclipse out in the middle of a cow pasture in Wyoming with the Grand Tetons in the distance. 

There were two things that struck me and surprised me most about this experience.

First, silence. We were camping with a very large group of people; as the moment of totality approached, not only they, but all of the little creatures around us that usually make sounds were absolutely silent. It was mesmerizing.

Secondly, there are the few seconds before a total eclipse where just this tiny bit of light is shining out behind the shadow of the moon. Scientists call this the diamond ring effect because the tiny bit of light looks like a sparkling diamond on a ring. The amount of light that came from the sun even when it was 99.9999999% blocked was astounding. It was still so bright… until it wasn’t. Exhale. Darkness. Quiet. Connection to something beyond myself. 

I am currently making plans to go somewhere to witness the total solar eclipse that will be visible from multiple locations in the U.S. in April of 2024. As I was planning, I started to think: We are these beings of incredible, luminous light, and yet, we are blocked by this darkness, this shadow. The shadow is judgment and shame and blame and, in the most extreme cases, war, brutal violence, oppression, exploitation, murder, and destruction of the environment. As a species, it feels like we are in a total eclipse. Our light is blocked by a shadow. 

As in a solar eclipse, even the tiniest bit of light beaming out from behind the shadow creates a powerful effect where we are not in darkness. I witnessed this, and I think truly there is a lot of light in this world; we just don’t see or hear about it as much. Living in the digital age and metabolizing photos and information of terrible, inhumane, and unbelievable things makes it hard to remember at times that there is also so much beauty, kindness, and caring happening, too. 

My heart has been so heavy with the news of multiple wars, refugee crises, growing anti-everythingism, and environmental destruction. With so many huge problems, we need to be working together, and instead, we are fighting and bickering like 4-year-olds on the playground. From a “spiritual” perspective, we know it’s all good. We are learning lessons, and one day, we will wake up. Or we won’t. But we know fighting with reality or adding more judgment and rage isn’t going to fix the problems. 

The answer, as frustratingly small as it feels, is to be the light. The only way to overcome darkness is with light. So, where in your body, mind, or relationships is there war? Oppression? Opposition and righteousness? We have to clean this up. We have to turn off the TV and internet and turn on our intuition, inner guidance, and open-heartedness. We can continue to stand for the rights of those who are exploited and murdered and for things we feel need to be defended like children, women, animals, Earth, and we can do it from a place of light. Standing FOR versus fighting against. 

I am excited to witness another total eclipse of the sun on April 8, and I am ever hopeful that it doesn’t continue to feel like we are in an eclipse of the heart of humanity. I know that no matter what, I can continue to shine my light as a beacon of hope from beyond the darkness. And when I forget, I can remember what the beautiful poet Amanda Gorman shared with us on President Biden’s Inauguration Day: “There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Bar Talk: Barraquito

If you’re drinking a coffee liqueur drink in Aspen, it’s probably, more than likely, an espresso martini.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a nice mix between an after-dinner digestif and the boost needed to push through into the evening, or maybe it’s just that they taste better (in my opinion) than a vodka Red Bull. But whatever the truth may be, these creamy spiked doses of caffeine have Aspenites and visitors in their thrall.

And while there is nothing wrong with that, on a recent trip to Spain, I discovered something that I believe tops the espresso martini. It’s called a barraquito.

With origins in the Canary Island of Tenerife, a barraquito is a multi-layered, alcoholic coffee drink typically enjoyed after dinner.

My travel companions and I tried this traditional drink for the first time halfway through our trip. And after one sip, we promptly started ordering it after every subsequent dinner until we left.

Always served in a clear glass to showcase the four layers, this libation is the perfect balance of sweet, spiced, and acidic.

The bottom layer is sweetened condensed milk; next comes the golden Licor 43, a Spanish liqueur made with a top-secret combination of 43 herbs and spices; then the espresso for the third; and frothed milk for the fourth – topped with cinnamon and lemon zest or peel.

It’s an impressive balancing act to get all the layers in place and then moved without blending, specifically the espresso and the milk, from the bar to the table – even though, in the end, they are all stirred together to create the perfect creamy sip. 

Compared to an espresso martini, the barraquito is smoother with a bolder, well-balanced flavor. The espresso notes are still prominent, but Licor 43 adds the taste of vanilla, warming spices, and citrus that is enhanced by the cinnamon and lemon on top. In fact, when we first tasted the drink, we thought there was actual lemon juice in it. Despite the full layer of sweetened condensed milk, it’s not wildly sweet, unless you hate having sugar in your coffee in which case you’re probably not drinking an alcoholic coffee cocktail, and instead, the condensed milk gives a rich, creamy texture.

While I haven’t come across a barraquito on a menu in Aspen yet, the good news is all the ingredients can be found in our mountain town to make one at home.  

To prepare a proper one, you’ll need a way to make espresso at home and something to froth milk with, but otherwise, it’s straightforward.

My friends and I have all given it a try since returning from Spain, but so far, none of us have been able to get more than three layers, so if you can get up to four, please share your method and invite me over for an apres-ski barraquito. Salud!

How to make a barraquito:

2T sweetened condensed milk

1 shot Licor 43 (I found this tucked away on a tip shelf at Of Grape & Grain)

1 shot of espresso

Frothed milk of choice


Lemon zest or lemon peel (or both!)

In a clear glass, start with a layer of condensed milk. Add the Licor 43 carefully; it helps to pour it over the back of a spoon to distribute it. Add the hot espresso, again pouring over the back of a spoon, then spoon the frothed milk over top, and sprinkle a generous amount of cinnamon and lemon zest or peel overtop. Admire your layers, then stir and enjoy.

Asher on Aspen: A whirlwind romance with Florence

As I bid arrivederci to Rome and hopped a northbound train to Florence, I felt slightly nervous, yet eager, for this next phase of my solo Europe trip. Florence, the center of Renaissance art and architecture, awaited with the promise of a memorable 48 hours that I intended to savor like a rich, aged wine.

Given that my accommodation was only an 11-minute walk from the train station, I decided to make the trek down the road with my luggage in tow. It was raining heavily, and the cobblestone streets weren’t playing nice with my rollaway. After braving the rain, I rolled into Palazzo Tolomei, my home for this speedy 48-hour fling in Florence. There I sat, on cold ceramic tile in the courtyard lobby, while I waited for someone to return from lunch to check me in. Despite the thrill of being in a new city, I was cold, tired, and annoyed that I couldn’t check in right at that moment.

This all changed, however, about 40 minutes later when an elderly Italian woman greeted me with welcome arms. She had the sweetest smile, a face full of wrinkles, and the most charismatic eyes. The kind of eyes that were inexplicably kind. With broken English, she offered suggestions for my time in Florence and even gave me a full history tour.

This wasn’t just your typical B&B; this was a time capsule wrapped in Renaissance charm. The palace stood regal and steeped with history. My stay felt like time travel, with a dash of royalty, and at the same time, I was thoroughly convinced that the palace was haunted. But hey, who doesn’t love a good paranormal activity story to round out your trip?

Osteria de Leoni Restaurant.
Shannon Asher/Courtesy photo

My first encounter with Florence’s culinary scene happened at Osteria de Leoni. The waiter, steering me away from the standard spaghetti, nudged me toward a truffle-infused Ravioli from Norcia. That first bite felt like a love letter to my taste buds, and I was head over heels for pasta in Florence. The same waiter, playing sommelier, suggested a delightful cabernet to accompany the pasta. Call it my “Eat, Pray, Love” moment because, for a minute, I might as well have been Julia Roberts, savoring Florence’s pasta with a big ole’ smile slapped across my face.

The Duomo Cathedral, Florence’s towering masterpiece, loomed above, a beacon for culture-seekers like me. Strolling by, I marveled at its red dome that seemed to embrace the city. The joy of people-watching in its shadow added a lively soundtrack to my exploration.

Leather shops beckoned from every corner, and who could resist the allure of Italian leather? A friendly shopkeeper wooed me in with compliments that transcended language barriers. “Killer eyes,” he exclaimed while showing me everything that his shop had to offer. After trying on several jackets, I settled on a stunning cognac color. To celebrate my purchase, he offered me a cappuccino, and we sat outside while conversing and sipping espresso. It wasn’t just a purchase; it was an authentic moment spent with a true Italian.

Then came the highlight: Michelangelo’s David at the Academia. Standing in awe, I gawked at the colossal slab of marble transformed into a muscle-bound statue. It wasn’t just about the sheer size; it was the intricate details that grabbed me. His veins looked ready to pop – and his gaze, oh, that steely gaze. It was as if he knew the secrets of the universe or, at the very least, where to find the best espresso in Florence. The whole place hummed with this vibe of reverence and wonder, and rightly so.

Streets of Florence.
Shannon Asher/Courtesy photo

Oh, and remember that kind, elderly woman I mentioned earlier? Well, when I asked for a late check-out, she informed me about a local holiday in Florence and explained that accommodating my request wouldn’t be possible. However, upon further reflection, she empathized with my situation and spontaneously handed over the complete set of keys without hesitation. This woman weirdly entrusted me with the keys to this historic palace from the 1700’s. Slightly confused and taken aback, I tossed the keys in my purse, and she promptly turned to leave. “Cool,” I thought, savoring the significance and humor of the moment.

What struck me most about Florence was its unhurried rhythm. In a city where time flows gracefully, people walk with purpose but not haste. No one is tethered to their phones; instead, eyes gaze ahead, embracing the beauty that surrounds them. This was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of my NYC escapade last spring.

As the clock ticked down on my 48-hour venture, I reluctantly bid Florence farewell. But I knew I’d be back – sooner rather than later. Florence, with its pasta, art, and killer eyes, had etched itself into my travel love story, longing for the next chapter. Here’s to the unwritten chapters and the promise of a swift reunion.

Vagneur: The harbinger of Ol’ Man Winter

It’s starting to happen – segments of the skiing population having mild paroxysms, inching up on the edge of agitation, a clear, developing symptom of early panic. You’d think it had never happened before, according to some. And as I write this, it’s not even the weekend, which may change our luck.

My horses are a little upset, giving me a quizzical look like, “When’s winter coming? We grew these coats out in preparation.”

When I was a kid, opening day, traditionally Thanksgiving, was then looked forward to starting the day after Halloween, the harbinger of Ol’ Man Winter. All through November, we tuned our skis¸ checked our boots for condition and fit went to the Ski Swap, and if we could, hitched a ride to the top of Independence Pass to make a few runs on Heart Attack Hill. Generally, no one had to plow the road for us to get up there.

But, always in the back of our minds was the wonder about what the snowpack was going to be like, if and when Aspen Mountain opened. All that work on tuning our skis could be destroyed in one day.

There are cries about how climate change is having such a delimiting effect on our snowfall, but hey, no one said skiing came with a guarantee, even though SkiCo tries. Thinking back – and trust me on this – we’ve beaten the “scarce snow” winter of 1976-77 to death, ’cause the lifts didn’t open until January. With the exception of Whip’s Half-Inch beginner’s lift at Highlands.

Speaking of Independence Pass, my grandfather and his family were photographed at the top of the Pass on March 1, 1935, standing around the sign marking the Continental Divide. They’d managed to get there on mostly dry roads in a two-wheel-drive automobile.

And who could forget the couple of early 2000s winters when the only lifts open in early December were Little Nell and Bell Mountain. We skied the “ribbon of death” down Deer Park and Spar to the bottom. Today, top of the mountain snow-making is a game-changer.

In memory, the year is a little foggy, but it was around 2001 or 2002, Don Stapleton and I had a heli-ski trip planned to Canada for the first week of January. Our intention was to ski the hell out of the mountain during December, getting our legs in shape for the delights up north. Oops, no snow for November and very little in December. Finally, Little Nell opened, allowing us to make as many laps as possible in a day. At best, we had one or two weeks of that before our Canada trip. Let me tell you – after about 6 laps in a day on nothing but Little Nell, it’s quit or go insane. Canada had plenty of snow.

But there have been other years when the snow has been plentiful, sometimes more than enough. Take 1983-84. By Thanksgiving that winter, most alleys were impassable, the city was working almost 24-hours a day to keep the streets plowed, and there were more than a few days when the mountain was forced to open very late because there was more avalanche control and bomb throwing needed than could be done during the usual morning details.

The fall of 2010 brought us a couple of big storms, and Aspen Mountain opened a day early to Aspen Ski and Snowboard Club members. Oh, the joy. Even my favorite, Summit, was deep in powder, and no one was skiing it. My buddy Bob and I were making laps as fast as we could. As usual, I was catching some air off the cliff at the bottom, frustrated that I wasn’t getting as much as I wanted. After about 3 tries, I hit it with more than enough speed, landing just past the transition in soft, unpacked snow.

It’s important to remember I was coming off a broken neck sustained in the spring of 2010. The doc said I’d probably be OK in a crash if I didn’t hit a tree or something, so catching air wasn’t a concern. Until, upon landing, my skis stopped dead, and my head slammed into my ski tips. The loud crack let me know that I had likely destroyed my cervical fusion all to hell with that maneuver and, with the resignation of one who knows he has totally screwed up, figured I’d asked for it. But wait a minute – that was my helmet hitting the skis that made the big sound, not my neck. Whew.

After digging myself out, which wasn’t easy, Bob and I headed over to the Face of Bell to snorkel through tons of untracked snow. Some days, not enough; other days, plenty. That’s ski seasons in Aspen. As far as the weather goes, we get one day at a time. Take a breath, and make the most of it. And let’s see what this weekend brings.

WineInk: Back to basics

When you write a weekly wine column, it is easy to get in the weeds dealing with the small things and minutia of the subject. Writing about individual regions, wine styles, grape varieties, and producers is the heart and soul of each column. But every once in a while, it is good to take a step back and look at the big picture.

This is that every once in a while.

In wine, the basics are in the production process. So, this week, let’s slow down a bit and consider how wine is made from the field to the bottle. Welcome to Winemaking 101, if you will.

We all know that we just went through harvest season here in the northern hemisphere. And, though it was a bit of a later harvest than in recent years on the West Coast,  the expectations are that it will be a good and, potentially, a great vintage. Word from California, Oregon, and Washington is that it has been a largely uneventful year. The 2023 vintage will not have the drama of fires and smoke and enjoyed relatively good weather for the most part. Which allowed the grapes to hang a little longer on the vines.

In vineyards throughout the northern hemisphere, workers have already cut and removed the clusters of grapes, either by hand or by machine, from the vines, filling large bins with fruit before racing to get them to the wineries. There is a romance and excitement to this time of year and, for most people, the perception of harvest season is that all the action happens out there, amongst the rows of vines.

The source of all wine: grape vines.

But for winemakers, getting the grapes from the vineyards to the crush pad is just the first step in the process. While it is true that the “call to pick” – the moment when a winemaker deems his grapes ready for harvest – is perhaps the most critical decision to be made in making great wine, once at the winery, an entire level of labor begins anew. There, the steps of winemaking, which include de-stemming, crushing, fermenting or macerating, clarifying, aging, and bottling, are implemented.

Let’s start by saying that wine, technically, can make itself. Crush a few grapes and leave them be for a while, and nature will take its course. Fermentation will take place as the sugars turn to alcohol, and eventually – voilà – you’ll have wine. That is how the first wines were created. But today, there is a wide of range of techniques used to create different wines. Modern winemakers have tools available to them that allow them to make wines ranging from natural wines, which receive minimal intervention, to fully crafted wines that fit a style and vary little from vintage to vintage.

The first thing that happens in the winery, once the clusters arrive, is that they are sorted to get rid of impurities and bogus grapes. Some wineries still use the human eye to pick out grapes that are deemed not worthy; but at many wineries, computer-operated optical sorting machines view each grape individually on a conveyor belt and toss out the rejects. After they have been sorted, the grapes will go through the crusher/de-stemmer, rolling through a machine that pops the grapes and allows the juice to run free from the grapes.

For white wines, the juice is then “pressed,” separating the wine from the seeds and the skins before fermentation. Often a bladder press, a device that uses an air-filled bag that inflates and presses the grapes in a cylindrical tube, is used, gently releasing the juice before it is moved to a fermentation tank.

Red wines and some Rosé wines, however, rely on contact with the skins to absorb color, flavors, and tannins. The juices will sit together with the skins allowing the juice to absorb those properties during fermentation. The must, the juice, and skins are transferred to either steel tanks or wood vats or occasionally concrete vats for fermenting. There the sugars in the grapes will naturally convert to carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Wood,concrete and steel tanks are all used in winemaking.
Kelly J. Hayes/Courtesy photo

Winemakers make a whole host of decisions during the fermentation process that will affect the wines they hope to produce. These include things like determining what types of yeast they might introduce to stimulate the fermentation process. Yeast management is a science within itself. For red wines, cap management is a critical element as winemakers choose to either “punch down” the cap of sediment that rises to the top of the tanks each day or “pump over” wine from the bottom of the tank to defuse the cap. They will also make decisions on how long to let the process continue.

Once fermentation has reached the desired point, the red wines will be pressed and racked, removing the solid products like seeds and skins, to clarify the juices before aging, or élevage – a term that defines the period of time before fermentation and bottling.

Aging brings another set of questions for winemakers. If the wine is to be barrel-aged, then decisions about what kind of oak to use and its origins come into play. Will the wine be better if aged in new or old oak? How about American or French-derived oak? How about Slovenian? Should the barrels be neutral or will the wines respond better in a “toasted” barrel? Maybe the choice with a white wine is to use no oak at all and simply let it age within the more neutral confines of a steel tank. Then there are decisions about blending wines that have been aged using a different method or barrel regimen.

Wood, concrete, and steel tanks are all used in winemaking.
Kelly J. Hayes/Courtesy photo

Finally, there comes a time when the wine is ready to be put into the bottle. For some wines, say a fresh Sauvignon Blanc, that may be just a few months after the grapes are harvested. For others, like an Italian Barolo Riserva, the wine may sit in a barrel for up to five years … and then in a bottle for another 24 months or more before it is ready to buy and enjoy.

When we buy a bottle of wine, we are deciding what it is that we want to drink. But it is unlikely that we take the time to consider all of the decisions that came before to put that wine into the bottle we are about to purchase. Ours is simply the last of those many decisions.

Pick. Crush. Ferment. Press. Age. Bottle. That’s the process to get wine to your glass.


Crú Food & Wine Bar

Usually in this space, I recommend a wine. But as we are in the holiday travel season, I wanted to remind those going through Denver International Airport that there is a port in a storm when your flights are delayed or canceled as is occasionally (often??) the case. That port is the Crú Food & Wine Bar, conveniently located in Terminal B between Gates 51 and 53. A quiet hideaway, it can change the entire aura of your delay if you can settle in for a glass, or even a flight, of wine. Get the pun? My personal fave is Flight No.7, Truth Serum they call it, which for $17 offers tastes of Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah, a William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend from Paso Robles, Pessimist by DAOU. It’s enough to put an optimistic spin on your flight delay.

Kelly J. Hayes/Courtesy photo

Mountain Mayhem: The giving season

As we head into the holidays, I’ve pulled together a few recommendations for giving this season – from immersive experiences to a literary series pass to valley nonprofit memberships to souvenirs that center on Aspen makers and more.

Bundles Gift Co. – This clever gifting company based in Aspen pulls together presents in a pinch. They have customized bundles, as well as à la carte items that can be found in their store or online. I first learned about Bundles a few years ago from seeing their gift bags at Aspen weddings, and I immediately loved their aesthetic, authenticity, and style. As a small business, they also value working with other small businesses and seek out those who use compostable packaging, focus on renewable resources, and more. They have a brand new storefront titled The Gift Box by Bundles at their shop at 465 N. Mill St., Ste. 18 – right by Velo Bikes down by the post office.

Aspen Animal Shelter’s Pet Calendar – This annual tradition has continued to grow in popularity over the years, and the 2024 edition is ready. More than a diary, but more of a coffee table book, this cheerful and visually stimulating tome features a collection of photos and tributes to pets. All proceeds benefit the spay/neuter and rescue programs at the shelter.

Aspen Animal Shelter’s Pet Calendar – this annual tradition has continued to grow in popularity over the years and the 2024 edition is ready.
Courtesy photo

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) – Give the gift of nature this season with a gift membership to this special organization for a loved one. Your support ensures environmental education and immersive programming for all ages goes further. ACES will send a card commemorating your donation to your gift recipient who will enjoy membership benefits throughout the year such as early access and discounts to events, programs, classes, and more.

Give the gift of nature this season with a gift membership to Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
May Selby/Courtesy photo

Pickleball paddles – The fastest-growing sport in America combines strategy and coordination with elements of racquet sports, making it a catchy activity that appeals to a range of ages. Making it even more fun is the Recess x Gray Malin collection of pickleball paddles released this year. Featuring images from Malin’s iconic ski and beach images, these make for great gifts that transport you to a vacation mindset directly from the courts with the same design on both sides of the paddles.

A fun gift idea: the Bondi pickleball paddle and the Waikiki pickleball paddle by Recess x Gray Malin – two limited-edition designs based on some of the artist’s best-selling photos.
May Selby/Courtesy photo

Alpina Season Kick-Off – On Dec. 15, head over to Alpina at 614 East Cooper Avenue for a holiday party with dancing, drinks, light bites, and a toy drive in support of Shining Stars. The next week on Dec. 23, return to Here House next door for a Holiday Bazaar to find unique gifts from a dozen or so Aspen designers, artists, makers, and creators, from Aspen Jewel Box to Antedotum Skincare to Laura Moretz tarot and astrology readings and art. Food and cocktails, gift wrapping, music, and more round out this experience, which is open to all.

Colton Black, Alpina’s food and beverage director, invites one and all to a holiday event on Dec. 15. The following week, return to Here House next door for a holiday bazaar on Dec. 23.
Courtesy photo

Anderson Ranch Holiday Open House & Fundraising Dinner – On Dec. 19, visit Snowmass Village’s arts center for an evening of inspiration and connection. Follow candlelit paths through campus as you tour the studios and partake in kids’ craft-making with fireside s’mores and mini donuts offered. Shop for original artwork and unique gifts in the ArtWorks store with complimentary gift wrapping on all purchases. For an add-on, book a seat at the fundraising dinner afterward featuring a lively auction with carefully curated Ranch experiences.

On Dec. 19, visit Anderson Ranch Arts Center for their Holiday Open House and fundraising Dinner.
Courtesy photo

Winter Words 2024 – Passes are now available for the 27th season lineup includes New York Times’ bestselling authors Abraham Verghese, Ann Patchett in conversation with Elizabeth McCracken, poet and memoirist Safiya Sinclair, and gold medal-winning rock climber Sasha DiGiulian. Events will take place from Jan. 11-March 14, 2024, at both Paepcke Auditorium in Aspen and TACAW in Basalt.

Littlejohn: 8 steps to take in the wake of a windfall

In a world where financial windfalls are often deemed a stroke of luck, many individuals find themselves facing unexpected challenges when managing newfound wealth. Whether it’s an inheritance, a legal settlement, or the sale of a house, the excitement of a financial windfall can sometimes cloud judgment, leading to decisions that may have negative long-term repercussions. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a large sum of money for whatever reason, consider taking the following steps:

1. Set the funds aside for a few months

Though you may be anxious to put your new wealth to work, the best first step after receiving a windfall is often to do nothing at all. This is especially important if the windfall substantially changes your net worth. It may take a while to get comfortable with your new situation.

2. Seek professional advice

When you’re ready, be sure to enlist the help of experienced professionals in the fields where you need it. Many windfall recipients believe they can handle their newfound wealth without assistance – only to discover later that they’ve made mistakes. Seeking advice early on from certified financial planners, tax pros, and registered investment advisors can provide valuable insights tailored to your specific circumstances, ensuring a secure financial future.

3. Determine the tax consequences

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” If you come into a substantial sum of money, it’s important to understand the potential tax consequences before making any big (and often irrevocable) decisions.

A tax pro can help you determine your potential tax liability. In addition, they can often recommend strategies to minimize the taxes you will owe.

4. Check your emergency fund

No matter what your net worth is, it’s important to have cash set aside for unexpected expenses and potential setbacks. Tying your wealth up in investments and illiquid assets can create difficulties if you need cash quickly.

Though most personal finance experts recommend having six months of living expenses in emergency savings, this is a broad rule of thumb. Consult with a certified financial planner to determine how much savings makes sense for you.

5. Eliminate high-interest debt

Once you’ve taken a look at the tax consequences and your emergency fund, you can focus on setting financial goals and developing a plan. Oftentimes, a prudent first step is to eliminate any high-interest debt.

If you have so-called “bad debt” like credit card or other high-interest loans, paying it off sooner rather than later can reduce financial stress and save you money over time. Additionally, if you have student loans you’ve been carrying for a while, now may be a good time to pay those off once and for all.

Having too much debt can create a variety of financial challenges. However, that doesn’t mean you need to eliminate all debt. For example, if you’ve locked in a low interest rate on your mortgage, you may want to focus on other financial priorities before paying off your home.

6. Update your estate plan

A windfall should prompt a re-assessment of your existing estate plan. Failing to update or create an estate plan can result in unintended consequences for your heirs and beneficiaries. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure your wishes are clearly documented, and your assets are distributed according to your preferences, safeguarding your legacy.

7. Invest in accordance with your goals

Start by creating a list of goals that require money to achieve. For example, do you have young children you’d like to send to college? Do you want to stop working altogether or buy your dream vacation home?

Then, work with an investment advisor to develop an investment plan that helps you accomplish these goals without taking on unnecessary risk. This approach may not be nearly as exciting as investing in a friend’s startup venture. However, you’re more likely to be able to preserve and grow your wealth by following a disciplined investment plan.

8. Treat yourself

Having a plan for your wealth is important. However, the money should also be enjoyed if possible. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but money has been an obstacle, now may be the time to make those dreams come true.

Perhaps you can finally take that exotic vacation you’ve been thinking about. Or maybe your dream car is now within reach. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. Just make sure you do so in moderation while keeping an eye on your long-term game plan.

Final thoughts

Receiving a windfall is a unique and potentially life-changing experience, but it comes with its own set of challenges. By taking a measured and thoughtful approach, windfall recipients can turn the money into a lasting financial legacy. Remember, financial success is not just about accumulating wealth; it’s about preserving and growing it for the benefit of yourself and future generations.

Brian R. Littlejohn, MBA, CFP®, CFA is the founder of Sherwood Wealth Management, an independent, registered investment advisor (RIA) firm that specializes in inherited wealth. He lives in Aspen and works with clients in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

High Points: Homecoming

We’re between the two major holidays of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and many of us are either making travel plans or just getting back from a big trip. As I write this, propped happily on my own pillows in my own comfortable bed, I am amongst the latter, having just returned from a Thanksgiving gathering in a major city far, far away. That would be New York.

And it was wonderful as the city can often be.

While I love to travel, it seems that more and more the best part of any trip I take these days is the part where I come home. Yes, homecoming is as much a highlight as the sojourn itself. While I usually have a fine time and new experiences on a trip out ‘yonder, there is just something about the familiarity and routine of life in the mountains that trumps most places.

You know exactly what I am talking about. While we lot of Aspenites are world travelers and adventure seekers, constantly making plans to visit exotic and distinct locales, we are also pretty darned happy with our lot here in the Roaring Fork Valley.

I fly – a lot – in and out of Sardy Field, and on just about every commercial flight out, I see people I know, flush with anticipation as they depart to exciting destinations. European capitals (Did you have fun in Rome, Klug family?), African safaris (How was Namibia, Pauly?), global golf trips (How many courses did you play in Scotland, James?), or Hawaiian sojourns (Hope you enjoyed Maui, Mike!).

But on the return flights, there is a different vibe from those on their way back. Sure, they loved the waves in Costa Rica, the clubs in Berlin, or the fine dining in Copenhagen, but they are also looking forward to getting back to the Roaring Fork Valley. I’m not sure it’s that way in other places. Maybe the mountain lair we inhabit is just so special that our return trips are – dare I say it – better than the trips we actually take out into the rest of the world. There is a saying, “My life is better than your vacation,” and maybe, just maybe, it is true for those of us who live here.

Take this beautiful morning. The snow from our recent storm still sparkles in the morning light as day dawns. The sky morphs from a dramatic orange at sunrise into blueness for which there are no words to describe. There are deer roaming the backyard out my window, and my dog is fast asleep at the foot of my bed, thrilled to be back home after her trip to the Barnyard.


For those fortunate enough to have dogs, there is something extra special about the homecoming. Whether they have been happily kenneled, have visited friends, or were just lucky enough to have stayed at home with a dog sitter, they still go bonkers once you arrive. I always wonder when I’m gone whether my dog is happier with her canine friends than with me. But once I see the wiggle and the sparkle in her eye, I know she is thrilled to have me back.

As I say, I love to travel, but lately, it’s coming home that excites me.

On the Fly: Use the winter downtime to get organized

I ran into a customer at the grocery store yesterday who told me once it gets this cold, he’s just not interested in fishing.  I know how he feels and tend to agree with him (somewhat), but there are things we can all do to fuel our fishing addictions when frigid temperatures arrive.

The first thing that comes to mind is organization and preparation. Even the most fastidious fisher could organize their flies, for example. If you have the space, laying all of your boxes out and putting things back in order can be quite a task, and there’s no better time than now. 

Some people organize their flies by river, others by “family.” For those who like to organize by family, think about boxes dedicated to midges, streamers, green drakes, pale morning duns, blue winged olives, caddis, stoneflies, craneflies, sallies, terrestrials, and lake flies. For those who like to organize by river, your Fryingpan box should consist of your mysis patterns, slim and beadless nymphs, plus midges and BWOs. Your Roaring Fork and Colorado boxes should house your beaded nymphs, stoneflies, and yellow sallies. Lake boxes should hold your damselflies, ants, leeches, and small streamers. 

Personally, I like to house my bugs that hatch on all rivers in boxes dedicated solely to PMDs, drakes and, caddis by themselves. You can go further down the rabbit hole and house your larger, hi-vis patterns in one box and your smaller and subtler match-the-hatch patterns in others. Everyone needs a “meat locker,” loaded with all colors and sizes of streamers. What I personally employ is one big box that I borrow from, a few at a time, into a smaller fly box.

If your flies are already organized, perhaps it’s time to fix your leaky waders, add new studs to your wading boots, send your broken rods in for repair, or make a list of flies you need to tie. Happy (almost) winter to all, and keep an eye out for those warm days we get once in a while. Fish have to eat every day!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or