David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Jeannie Ritter, Colorado's first lady, jokes with reporters during an interview in the governor's mansion in Denver on Wednesday.

DENVER — The other day, Jeannie Ritter did something she always did back in her old house. She started throwing scraps of bread from the balcony to the birds below.

But then she started wondering — are you supposed to that if you're married to Colorado's governor and now call a historic mansion home?

It's all part of the adjustment she and her husband, Gov. Bill Ritter, are going through as they settle into life at the governor's residence and get used to being in the public spotlight.

That includes explaining to the milk delivery company that you now live behind a security gate, and realizing that while the media want to know all about you and you get lots of invitations to give speeches, you have to check "unemployed" on paperwork for your daughter's school.

"It's a total Goldilocks experience," she told The Associated Press during an interview last week in the residence.

Looking toward the floor-to-ceiling windows with a view out over the Governor's Park neighborhood near the Capitol, she said she and the governor sometimes turn two large wing chairs around so they can take in the view at night, but they make sure to turn them around again when they're done.

Ritter doesn't seem completely at ease in the formality of the first floor, but she's definitely not shy, inviting guests upstairs to the family quarters for a cup of tea.

She displays the same casual, spontaneous style in public.

At one of her husband's first press conferences, she called him "Honey" before a bank of TV cameras and reporters. She admits that her friends have to remind her to wear makeup.

But she said she doesn't want to create a false image of someone who has everything under control.

"It's not really about the lipstick as much as that people get you because you have the same struggles they have. I think Bill Ritter does a beautiful job of that. He's all over that. I'm just copying his style, I'm just making it up as I go," she said.

Jeannie Ritter served in the Peace Corps in Tunisia and later returned to Africa along with her husband as Catholic missionaries. A former flight attendant and special education teacher, she wants to use her new position to help promote awareness about mental health.

Former first lady Dottie Lamm said Ritter is doing a great job by just being herself and focusing on an issue that's important to her.

Lamm, who lived in the mansion from 1975 to 1987 while her husband Dick Lamm served as governor, said she can't say whether Ritter's casual style is unusual because Colorado first ladies haven't followed a single pattern.

For example, Lamm said, most Coloradans don't care whether you live in the official residence or where you send your children school.

"I think there's a live-and-let-live attitude here that's different than in the South or the East," she said.

Lamm said Colorado also gives its first families more privacy than some other states, where guided tours might take visitors right through the governor's bedroom. Colorado's first family lives in private quarters upstairs in the 1908 home.

A private entrance allows the Ritters and their children to get to the living quarters without passing through the formal first floor. Two of the Ritters' four children, Sam and Tally, live with them at the mansion. The two oldest are away at college: August is a junior at Colorado State University and Abe is a freshman at Gonzaga University in Washington.

Lamm and Ritter both credited Frances Owens, the wife of former Gov. Bill Owens, for renovating the residence, even though the family didn't live there during Owens' two terms from 1998 to 2006 — they remained in their home in suburban Centennial so their children could stay in schools there.

The high-ceiling rooms on the first floor of the official residence are filled with antique furniture, paintings, a piano signed by Liberace and plush chairs and couches. White Colorado marble forms the floor in the Palm Room, where the Ritters like to take in the view.

But the style begins to change on the stairs up to the family quarters. An oversized print of Our Lady of Guadalupe, brought from the Ritters' home in the Platt Park section of Denver, hangs in the stairwell.

In the main room of the living quarters, a bookshelf holds family photos and a picture of their old house with a Colorado flag draped down the front of the building.

Inside the family's small kitchen, a half-eaten sandwich lies on the counter, and a photo of the first lady is pasted over the face of a paper doll magnet on the refrigerator. Ritter admits the family plants still don't look good in the mansion, but she brought them "on principle."

Ritter said she misses talking with her Platt Park neighbors when they would bump into each other on the sidewalk, their grocery bags resting on their hips, although she said their new neighbors have warmly welcomed them.

When she and her husband were eating pizza at a nearby restaurant recently, she regretted that she couldn't automatically invite a friend to stop by anytime, realizing that she now has to check with someone else about her schedule.

But she reminds herself that she is still the same mother and teacher and traveler as she was before her husband was elected governor, and only her role has changed — and that's temporary. So, knowing she can get her telephone calls returned for at least the next four years, Ritter said she wants to learn more about mental health and help get rid of the stigma that surrounds it while she can.

"It doesn't last forever, you know. It's this little window," she said. "So it's, gosh, go do this now while you have this opportunity."