Aspen Princess: 5-star Food & Wine luxury or camping under the stars, we’re in a good spot |

Aspen Princess: 5-star Food & Wine luxury or camping under the stars, we’re in a good spot

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

Ryan walked in the door the other night with a stack of boxes demarcated with the unmistakable Amazon arrow logo wrapped around the side like some sort of tattooed, Italian-bred Santa.

“Wow,” I began, trying to keep any tone of judgment out of my voice. “What’s all this?”

Ryan never spends money, like ever. Every once in a while he’ll announce that he’s purchased something on the Amazon card and it’s always something super practical, like parts for our air conditioner or some stuff he has to pour into the drain for our septic tank that cost less than $40. Meanwhile, I have boxes arriving from Zappos, Sephora and occasionally Nordstrom or Kate Spade, not to mention the occasional shopping bag I might have left in our closet, the kind with thick paper and metallic font that suggests something expensive is inside.

Ryan is pretty awesome about not giving me a hard time for my spending habits, which, let’s face it, aren’t the best. I should really start a business as a Rationalization Counselor to help people who have a hard time pulling the trigger on indulgences that I would most definitely put under the category of “self care.” That’s not to say I can’t be practical. My advice to most people who really want something they can’t afford is, “Think about the cost per use. If it’s something you’re going to use more times than the amount you paid for it, then it’s practically free.”

I also believe it’s important to treat yourself well, especially if you earned it. Maybe you didn’t dollars-and-cents earn it, but you earned it in your efforts or your intentions. This is especially true of mothers who take on the primary child care role. There’s no salary, no vacation time with that job. There are no end-of-year bonuses or even performance reviews to let you know if you’re doing well or could use some improvement. Still, this is hard work, and your intention to raise a decent human being are there, even if you still can’t figure out how to get your 3-year-old to stop dropping the F-bomb, because now that he knows it’s a bad word, it’s funnier than ever. Maybe you put a lot of effort into teaching him how to be decent, kind and polite. Maybe you failed, but it’s not like there’s a time limit on these things. Like my mother-in-law once told me, with young children, everything is a phase: as soon as you figure it out, they move onto something else.

Ryan comes in and drops the tall tower of large boxes on the dining room table, extracts his ever-present Leatherman from his pocket, and begins cutting open the packing tape. Out comes a snowmobile cover and two camping chairs that are supposed to be super-lightweight and amazing. I recognize them from the ones that Ryan has been researching for the past several weeks as he prepares his camping quiver for the season. This is his favorite activity: researching whatever product he is currently obsessing about. Sometimes these are things he knows he will never actually buy, like an Airstream or a tiny home. Still, he will spend hours reading product descriptions and reviews, comparing specs, and so on.

That’s why I’m a little surprised when the camping chair isn’t very comfortable at all. It’s too narrow, too tall, and has no head support. I consider asking if he read the reviews, surprised that no one else would have noticed that these chairs are not that awesome. But I know he probably read all the reviews he could get his hands on and maybe the other consumers who loved these chairs are smaller, thinner, and narrower than us. That’s probably it.

Plus, I didn’t want to be a buzzkill, what, with our first big camping trip of the season coming up this weekend. Yes, that’s right, while you are all choosing your outfits for various Food & Wine events, maybe even buying a few new breezy sundresses or a more updated pair of espadrilles, my packing list includes things like bug spray, butt wipes and my new hemp shorts from Patagonia that I love but probably wouldn’t be caught dead in on the streets of Aspen just because they’re a little baggy and way too comfortable to be fashionable and in certain light does show a teeny bit of inner thigh cellulite.

While you’re stumbling back to the suite at your five-star hotel (or more likely your cramped two-bedroom apartment in Centennial), I’ll be sleeping on top of Ryan’s truck with my three-nager in our beloved Roof Nest. I learned the hard way that luxury hotels and toddlers don’t mix and actually much prefer our little roof top tent these days, especially since you always get the best view and it’s free. While you’re sampling Sacnerre and Sassicaia (my personal faves) and savoring that top chef-crafted amuse-bouche, I’ll be wrapping my overcooked burger in iceburg lettuce to try and avoid carbs even though I’ll drink more than enough beer to make up for it. (Who are we kidding? My limit these days is two.)

I even finally gave up my platform flip-flops for a more practical pair just because I know if I broke my ankle on account of tall shoes I would never forgive myself and plus, it takes forever to heal from an injury these days. While you’re frequenting all the parties and managing all the wardrobe changes and making sure you have child care organized for all three days (and nights) I’ll be fighting for pillow space and missing my pug who used to sleep under the covers, with her little fat body pressed against my side.

Still, we’ll be under the same stars, clinking glasses (or more likely our cans) and feeling like the luckiest people in the world for this beautiful mountain life.

The Princess plans to make it back to Food & Wine maybe next year. Email your love to