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By Robin Dearing
Friday, March 7, 2014
Thursday morning, we had to get up extra early to attend the Student of the Month breakfast at Margaret's middle school. By the fit that Margaret threw over the prospect of losing 30 minutes of sleep, you'da thunk we were taking her to the gulag. She had all kinds of reasons why she didn't want to go, but I put my mom-foot down and told her if she didn't come to the breakfast, I was going to be mighty pissed at her. Luckily for us, that did it. She finally relented and agreed to get up early and go to the breakfast before school
And I'm so glad she did.
Look at the look on Little Sugar's face while Mr. Betts is sharing her recent accomplishments. Margaret loves her choir teacher and has grown so much in her three years of singing in his choirs.
This year has been quite an exceptional year for her. First, Margaret was selected to be part of the School District's Honor Choir. In addition, she was selected to be part of the first Colorado All-State Middle Choir. She was one of six selected from our district.
She performed with the District Honor Choir and then the next week, we drove her over to Denver in the middle of winter so she could sing with 300 other middle school girls for the all-state choir. It was a great experience for Margaret. She had to work on and memorize seven songs for each choir. I don't know how she does it, but learning songs is practically second nature to her.
In Denver, the choir spent hours and hours over a day and a half singing and practicing. They sounded amazing and I'm not just saying that because I'm the mom of one of the kids. I was blown away by the quality of music those girls performed. She couldn't have participated had Mr. Betts not also made the trip, at his own expense.
Once we were back in Grand Junction, Margaret began work on her songs for the School District's Solo/Ensemble Festival. She prepared a solo song and a duet with a friend and classmate. Here is video of her singing her solo:
She earned Superiors on both songs which is the highest scores. She got great feedback from both of the judges and she walked out of the festival feeling pretty good about herself.
Mar is definitely gaining confidence in herself as a singer which is so wonderful to see. This week, she lugged my acoustic guitar and several sheets of paper up to our bedroom where she gave us a preview of a song that she had written herself.
She always comments on the fact that I always get teary eyed whenever she sings ... honestly, I get teary eyed when I write about her singing, too. I'm so dang proud of her. Seeing my girl take an interest in something and work and suceed ... well, it's makes all the other hard parts of parenting seem not to matter so much.
I think that's really the key with Margaret and her singing. She is not blessed with perfect pitch or a naturally beautiful voice. She has to work at it ... a lot. Every song starts out rough, but she plucks away, working on each part, getting each note. The end result is incredible beauty to this mother's ears. It's that kind of hard work that will pay off for her, not just in music, but in anything she puts her mind to. It eases my mind knowing she has that in her. Knowing my kid can and will suceed at whatever she wants to makes all of our trials so much easier to manage.
By Randee Bergen
Friday, March 7, 2014
I saw a disturbing scene the other morning.
It wasn’t a typical day for me. I didn’t leave my house and drive to work as usual. Instead, I headed in the opposite direction to an all-day class. And on the way to my class, I made a quick stop at City Market, the downtown location.
I was feeling carefree and content as I got back into my vehicle. Though I wouldn’t be there, I knew all was in order for my students to have a productive day without me. I had caffeine and a banana and a little something sweet in hand for breakfast. And I was looking forward to a worthwhile day of professional learning.
I didn’t particularly want my happy morning to be disturbed.
There was honking. Different rhythms, different tones. Different horns being played by several different drivers.
The honking was coming from 1st Street. First street has four lanes and is quite busy, especially at 7:45 in the morning, but when I looked up it was at a standstill.
A man, in a grungy tan coat, was staggering through the middle of the street. It was apparent that he wasn’t trying to get to the other side of the street, necessarily; he didn’t seem to realize that he was in the street. His gaze, skittish yet glazed, flitted from the direction of the honking horns, down to his seemingly unruly feet, to his left hand, which danced in front of his face like a suspended marionette appendage, the cigarette there powerless in connecting with his waggling head.
And behind him. He kept glancing behind him. Not from where he had come, which was too distant, both physically and in his memory, but to the street. There was something on the street that, unlike the traffic and his wayward body parts and that cigarette, was better able to maintain his attention, his focus.
And then I saw it.
A dog. His dog.
He was a short-haired heeler mix, dressed smartly in a clean puffy jacket zipped down his spine. I watched as he wandered toward one of the stopped cars, the passenger side, and looked longingly at the window, hoping, perhaps, to get in, to be taken somewhere, somewhere other than this currently confusing situation.
I considered, briefly, opening my door and calling him into my vehicle. But that would leave the man alone.
After a few seconds, he turned and trotted after the man, following him faithfully.
The man stepped onto the sidewalk and into the shrubs that lined the parking lot.
Really? I thought, as the man slogged through the bushes. You have to go through the vegetation instead of around? And then I knew. Any compassion I may have initially had for this human being had turned to anger and complete disappointment.
It was the dog. It was one thing to get himself into this situation, to be so messed up so early in the morning, to not know where he was or where he was going, to put his life at risk as he wandered aimlessly through the city, across busy streets. But to get a helpless being involved? To bring a creature as wonderful as the dog into this mess?
The man mangled several of the dense, low-lying branches of the bushes before he got hung up and tripped, falling onto his left shoulder to the pavement of the parking lot. The dog leaped the span of shrubbery and went straight to the man, sitting down near him, nuzzling his face. The man grasped the dog’s head and used it as leverage to get himself into a sitting position.
And that’s the last I saw of them–a man and a dog sitting face-to-face on the pavement of a grocery store parking lot–as I drove away, away to my own day.
Disturbed. Downright disturbed.
Who was this man? What was his story? Was he always so out of it or was the majority of his time spent lucid and thinking and feeling? What about the dog? Were his needs being met? Was he getting fed? Was anyone going to take that jacket off him once the weather changed? Did he feel loved? Was he getting the same love that he was giving? (Does any dog?)
And what in the world was going on with my feelings? Why did the concern I felt, initially, for this human being dissipate so quickly and turn to anger? Was it easier that way? Easier to be angry than caring? Did being angry make it easier to drive away and continue on with my day?
Disturbed. What right did this guy have to disturb my otherwise wonderful morning?
What a horrible question. What right did I have to be upset with a slight disturbance, when his entire life might be one big disturbance? To himself, to society.
Most of us don’t want to be disturbed, including me. It’s easier to not look, not see, to just drive away and get to a place where my mind can quickly become preoccupied with something else. Something more normal, less perplexing and muddled.
And I find that terribly disturbing, exponentially more disturbing than the scene that disturbed me in the first place.
I suppose that’s what’s supposed to happen. We get disturbed and if we get downright disturbed, or get disturbed often enough, then we might actually force ourselves to notice, to really see what’s going on, to take action.
I am grateful for those who are there already, who are able to recognize their feelings, who are willing to take the time and make the effort to do something.
I am disturbed that I don’t feel that pressure. Am I selfish? Uncaring? Powerless? Too busy? I’m busy working, teaching children, raising my own. Busy doing what I can to make sure others don’t end up in the same shoes, the same street, the same parking lot as this man.
Yeah, that’s a pretty good answer. I’m busy making sure others get a good start in life. It’ll stop my disturbance meter for now.
But it’s definitely gone up a notch.
By Robin Dearing
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I’ve got a cold. It’s not a terrible cold at this point. It started with a minor sore throat and now my nose is stuffed up. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is … everything is a big deal since I was diagnosed with Addison’s disease.
Why? You ask. Mostly because Addison’s disease is an asshole.
Pretty much everything that happens to the human body — whether it be good, exciting news, or an injury, or sad news, or too much activity — all affects how a regular human body produces cortisol in the adrenal cortex. Maintaining healthy cortisol levels is incredibly important to being a healthy person.
So those of us with Addison’s disease or other adrenal insufficiency have to try to reproduce cortisol production through oral steroids (and some are now using insulin pumps to inject liquid synthetic cortisol, Solu-Cortef).
There is no blood test, like there is for blood sugar. We just have to predict how much cortisol our body might need before any kind of stress/activity/emotion, etc. or dose ourselves during or after any kind of something that might require more cortisol.
It’s a big guessing game. The kind of guessing game that is terrible for a high-strung individual as myself. I’ve said numerous times that I would take diabetes over this disease any day. I would kick ass as a diabetic. Regular self-testing; inexpensive, plentiful medications; tons of knowledgeable doctors available everywhere … sign me up.
If I don’t have enough oral steroid coursing through my body, I can go into crisis quicker than I’d like to think about. So why don’t we just take more steroid that we think we’ll need in a day? Wouldn’t that be nice?
If I take too much steroid, I can bring on Cushing’s disease which is another jerk disease that is characterized by impressive weight gain resulting in a hump on one’s back. Along with that, Cushing’s folks have a characteristic moon face. I’m not sure if you’ve seen my face, it’s pretty moon-like to begin with.
Basically, too much cortisol or steroid means fat among other things. I’ve been known to gain as much as three pounds in a day when I was on too much steroid. Trying to lose that weight is incredibly difficult and can be very disheartening.
Recently I worked very hard, ate very little and exercised tons to lose five of the 15 pounds I’ve gained since diagnosis. One weekend of too much steroid put it all back on. All those weeks of work, gone.
One of my resolutions this year was to come to terms with my disease. I want to leave the bitterness behind. Most hours of most days, I’m OK with my disease. But then there are those times (especially when I’m looking in the mirror at my gelatinous thighs or standing on the scale) when I long for the BAD (before Addison’s disease) old days and it all seems too overwhelming.
But then I look myself in the eye and remind myself that it could be much worse.
Yes, I’ve gained some weight, but I’m still 15 pounds lighter than I was when I graduated high school. I can do the job I love with relative ease. I can take care of my family and myself. I’m luckier than most.
Yes, I have to deal with this amorphous, jerk of a disease. But then I remember how close I was to dying last June, how I would have left my daughter and husband and mother … and I realize living with a jerk disease is far better than dying from it.
By Randee Bergen
Monday, March 3, 2014
I sat alone, toward the back, one pocket stuffed with jelly beans, the other with a wad of tissues I pulled from my console at the last minute before entering the auditorium. I had a pretty good cold going and didn’t want my sniffing and sneezing to irritate others. The jelly beans? Well, I had no appetite, really, but was craving sugar. Some weird symptom of the cold.
I had come out on this chilly, rainy night to hear Ruth Ozeki, the author of A Tale for the Time Being, this year’s book for the One Book, One Mesa County series. It was the tenth anniversary of One Book, which encourages the community to get involved in the one chosen title and the various educational and social activities that are planned around it, the culminating event always being the author coming to town.
I felt like I knew the author, somewhat, because she had written herself into the novel as one of the main characters. As she said, “A failed memoir can always be turned into a great work of fiction.”
Just before she started speaking, I glanced at the inside of the program and saw that all ten One Book, One Mesa County titles were listed there. There were a couple that I hadn’t read–too busy that year or they just hadn’t captured my attention–and only one that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed. One title, however, really caught my eye and brought back a flood of memories. Memories so strong that, together with my stuffed up head, I had trouble focusing on the presentation. Instead, I was reliving the reading of Kira, Kira (by Cynthia Kadohata) and what was going on in my life at that time.
It was late spring. Spring 2006. The girls–8 and 9 then–and I were reading the book together. Looking back now, I realize it was the last of several novels that we read together over the years. The years when they were tickled to crawl into bed with mom, thrilled to stay up past their bedtime to read a few more pages. I miss those days. In fact, reading to and with my children is one of the things I’ll always treasure the most as a parent.
Kira, Kira is the tale of two Japanese sisters who move from Iowa to the deep south in the 1950s, where their parents work in a non-unionized poultry plant. The sisters dream of growing up and making a better life for themselves and their family. Then the older sister becomes desperately ill and eventually dies.
We read the majority of the book but then things got crazy in May–finishing out the school year at the girls’ school, finishing the school year at my school, violin recitals, dance recitals, plays, all that closure kind of stuff that tends to happen all at once. Anyway, the book got put aside for a few weeks. During that time, Amy, who was a voracious reader, took the book into her room and finished reading it on her own. She couldn’t wait; she was too involved in the story.
In June, when school was out, I took the girls and several of their friends on a full moon hike up Serpent’s Trail. We began around 10:00 p.m. when the moon was full in the sky. Addy was a good hiker, but Amy was a bit of a bellyacher. Exertion was not her forte. Serpent’s Trail, as the name implies, is a series of switchbacks up the side of the Colorado National Monument, just out of town. At the top, you can see clear across the valley, which is, of course, all lit up at night.
“Come on, Amy, ” I recall saying several times on the way up. “Catch up. Mountain lions are always on the lookout for small children who are lagging behind.”
But Amy did her usual bellyaching. “I’m tired.” “Can we stop and rest?” “My stomach hurts.” “Can’t we stop and have a snack?” “Do we have to go all the way to the top?” “Mom, you’re not listening; I said my stomach hurts.”
After the hike, I took all the kids to Dairy Queen. Amy didn’t have anything, which was surprising. Instead, she hugged her body, still complaining of not feeling right.
The next morning, she was clearly in distress. Her dad–a doctor–and I powwowed and figured she was probably constipated. He went to work and I stayed home to comfort and care for her. By mid-afternoon she had a raging fever. Constipation does not cause fever, so in no time we had her in to Docs on Call and in no time they had her over to the emergency room for an ultrasound.
As it was, all that bellyaching on Serpent’s Trail was warranted. Her appendix had burst.
She was in and out of surgery by midnight and after that, for six days, she lay, deflated, in a hospital bed, recovering not only from the surgery but from the toll the leaking toxins had taken on her small body. On day two she took a few steps, and each day after that, a few steps more. Friends stopped by with games and crafts and books and treats, but she hardly had the energy to do anything with them.
The rest of us stayed in the hospital for six days, too. Mom, dad, and sister. An appendectomy is pretty routine and the doctors were quite sure Amy would make it, but we didn’t take any chances. We didn’t want to leave our child’s side. Not when she was in a gown. Not when she was strapped to an IV that was feeding her major antibiotics. Not when all she could do was lie there. Not when it took all of her energy to muster a small smile.
But six days is a long time for a sibling to stand by and watch her sister get so much attention. Some friends came and took Addy away from the hospital for a while, a couple of hours here, an afternoon there. On the fifth night, when Amy was feeling better and was visibly stronger, I took Addy for some special one-on-one time. We bought crafts to do and went out to dinner. That night, we slept at home, together, in my bed. We actually went to bed early, looking forward to the opportunity to finish Kira, Kira.
We were toward the end of the book and all that was left was the part where the older sister dies. As I read aloud, tears streamed down my face, down my neck, soaking my pajama top. Addy listened, watched, then finally said, “Geez, mom, get a grip! Are you okay?” I laughed at the get-a-grip part, spraying tears and snot and saliva all over the book. Of course Addy couldn’t see the severity of the situation. I had hardly understood it myself. Not until I was home. Home with just one daughter, not two. Finishing the book with just Addy curled up next to me, instead of the both of them, the way we had read most of it. Not until I got to the end of the book where one sister dies and the other one is left. Left to wonder how she’s supposed to carry on. What she’s supposed to do next.
“No, Ads, I guess I’m not okay.” I hadn’t realized it until my daughter had flat-out asked me. “I guess I’ve been really scared about Amy. Scared about what it would be like if she wasn’t in our family. What it would be like if you didn’t have her for a sister.”
“Geez, mom, it’s okay. The doctor said she’s going to be okay. She’s coming home soon, isn’t she?”
“Yes, yes she is,” I answered, wiping my messy face with the back of my hand. I looked toward the doorway, half expecting Amy to come bounding in just then, to hop into bed with us, to say something like, “So what part are you guys at?”
Soon. She would be home soon.
I turned my attention back to her sister. “Hey, Ads, will you please run and get me a wad of tissues? I need to wipe all this up so we can finish the book.”
By Robin Dearing
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
After too many days of feeling puny, on Sunday I finally was feeling normal-ish … or whatever normal is for me these days. Bill was playing landlord at our downtown house, so I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and start cleaning up our backyard.
Since this winter’s snow came before we got the yard cleaned up from fall, I broke out the leaf blower and started going to town. Sorry neighbors. Hope you weren’t trying to nap.
Our backyard has lots of steps and nooks and crannies and dead mice all covered in several inches of damp leaves. I stacked and organized our yard stuff and blew the heck out of everything else. Over and over again, I blew leaves trying to get them to stop going backwards and flow in the direction I wanted.
It took me a few hours, but, by golly, all those millions of leaves have been blown down to the bottom part of our yard where they wait for burn season.
When I was done, I texted Bill this picture. Telling him it was time to do some hot tub sitting. Every strenuous activity requires a fair amount of hot tub sitting as far as I’m concerned.
My arms were so sore that just trying to drink a glass of water felt like I was lifting 50-pound weights. I was shaking from exhaustion. But I was so proud that I did a good job at a challenging household project I stared into the backyard smiling to myself for a good long time.
I was useful and that felt good. Plus, I was able to cross something off of Bill’s to-do list which made it all that much better.
There was one thing that I didn’t get done, however. I didn’t get the dead mouse which I had accidentally wedged along the edge of our picnic table with the leaf blower. I just couldn’t get it to blow off the edge of our giant rock.
On our way back up the stairs from long, post-work, hot-tub soak, I reminded Bill that the dead mouse needed attention. He looked at the poor creature, then down at his flip-flop clad feet and said, in all seriousness, “I can’t get it now, my feet are bare.”
Exposed feet as an excuse to not handle dead rodents? Apparently that will have to wait until proper rodent-removing footwear is found. And that’s just fine by me. It was a job well done regardless.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, February 24, 2014
As you may have read in Bob Silbernagel's Friday column, "Happy Birthday, President! Leaders provide a yearlong project for one Grand Valley youngster," Bob and his wife Judy came to our house for dinner to help celebrate President's Day.
Before they arrived, we decorated with our 4th of July tablecloth and made a tissue paper chandelier. Then, we decided to make the Sibernagels some clever presidential disguises. We used paper plates, star stickers, construction paper, and cotton balls to make fun masks like this one.
As a guests of honor, Bob got to be Abe.
And Judy was Martha Washington
The boys were really, really excited to have company. Soren did a very grown up job of discussing presidents and his project with Bob.
But then there were his little brothers.
They didn't mind their manners over our fish dinner. They tried repeatedly to pull Bob's attention away from Soren and on to them using every which way of kid method they could think of. They jumped on him. They told jokes about farts and diapers. They shot him with Nerf guns.
And behind the camera, my face got redder and redder. Despite my best efforts, nothing could make them act right in front of our company.
You can see and hear it yourself in this video:
But, luckily, Bob and Judy were good sports. They like kids and they weren't offended by their poopy butt talk or other hijinks. It actually made them laugh.
And, then join in. Bob practiced kid flips, chased them around the house, and riled them all up before departing just like any good grandpa would.
Despite his rude introduction to the crazy Ashcraft house, Bob wrote the article about Soren which is hanging on the Wall of Fame at his school. It's something that Soren is proud of.
Writing an article may seem like a simple thing to a reporter, but for the 8-year-old kid who was recognized for doing something good, it means all the world to him. Who knows — it might mean the difference between a smart kid or a dumb kid, a good one or a bad one, in the long run.
Thanks Bob for honoring Soren with your time and writing. You're always welcome to dinner at the Ashcrafts— if you dare!
By Randee Bergen
Monday, February 24, 2014
It snowed in early December, quite a bit for the western edge of Colorado, maybe five or six inches. And then, a few days later, it snowed again. I remember it being lovely and welcoming it, like we always do with every first snowfall of the season.
Its depth and whiteness and blanketing effect stuck around for most of the winter, never melting, overstaying its welcome.
And then the weather began warming up. The next precipitation we got was rain. Rain in winter. Rain at 33 degrees.
This past week it got into the 50s. The dirt in my front yard--actually it's crushed granite I spread between the little plants I put in two summers ago when I xeriscaped my yard--was revealed, bit by bit, until this weekend when, finally, all the snow was gone. I said hello to my plants, which had been buried all winter.
When I pull up to my house now, what I see is dirt and little dead plants, and let me tell you, it's a beautiful sight.
Spring is supposed to be green and colorful and bursting with life. And it will be. When it arrives. For now, it's the tail end of winter and it's all gray and still dead, but it looks good. Real good.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Yesterday I talked to Molly Sims, former SI swimsuit model, actress and Haute Mama about hair color.
You know how sometimes, on a rare occasion, you talk to a complete stranger on the phone and you can just tell they're cool? That's how it was talking to Molly. I think her and I could totally chat if up over a couple of mimosas at brunch.
Molly changed her hair recently with the help of Nexxus from golden blonde to fiery red.
It looks awesome! I love the way the color warms her face. I also like, in both pictures, the subtle shade differences that add dimension.
I love to color my hair and have had just about every color there is. I've even tried red. And, not that I'm setting any fashion trend but since we're on the subject, I'm so over the stripey look of highlights and have been aiming for a more natural color dimension like Molly's. The folks at Nexxus did a great job.
We talked about how busy our lives as moms can be and the importance of finding time for ourselves, and yet not spending all of our time getting our hair done. (She goes ever four weeks!)
Check out our conversation — I'll think you'll agree that Molly Sims is not only pretty, but pretty cool.
By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
By Randee Bergen
Monday, February 17, 2014
The other night I was almost asleep when one of my daughters came in and asked if she could see my old glasses. She knew I had them somewhere, but it had been a few years since any of us had opened the hope chest.
The chest is in my bedroom, so I stayed awake and waited while she dug around, looking for the glasses. I knew she had located them when she burst out laughing. Big, pink, plastic, and big. And she hadn’t even put them on her face yet.
I have a few other pairs as well, all big and plastic and progressively stronger in prescription. “Addy!” Amy called, between snorts of laughter. “Come try on Mom’s old glasses with me.”
I’m not a keeper. I’m really pretty good about throwing out anything I haven’t used for a while or don’t suspect I’ll be using again. But I do have my hope chest, which, in actuality, has always served as a memory chest. In it are old photo albums, letters, cards, 4-H record books from when I was a kid, newspaper clippings, old glasses and mouth impressions and retainers (gross, I know), and my high school yearbooks and letter jacket. There are also things from my girls’ early years–their baptism paraphernalia and journals filled with funny things they said.
Then both girls were in my room and I was awake and reminiscing and laughing and crying for a good hour or more while we all shifted through the contents of the memory chest.
People have been mistaking my daughters for each other for most of their lives. And they’ve been asked hundreds of times if they’re twins. But my old glasses really make them look alike.
I was telling a friend about the hope chest/memory chest, and he said, "It sounds more like a treasure chest to me." I think he's right.