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Thank you, Chicago

By Robin Dearing
Monday, September 15, 2014

During my first excursion on my first morning, my umbrella was sacrificed to the notorious Chicago wind. I was a stereotypical tourist trying to fight the formidable gusts and rain with my tiny, inside-out umbrella. Within minutes, the fabric was torn from the ribs and the handle with in two pieces. Later in the trip, an entire bottle of water drenched the inside of my purse. Everything in my wallet is still damp.

But I'd sacrifice any number of umbrellas and purses to go back to Chicago. Damp money works just as well as dry.

I had never been to Chicago before, so when Bill announced that he would be attending a conference in the Windy City, I immediately invited myself to tag along. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see some of the works of art and architecture that I've been teaching for years.

Bill was to spend a week attending International Manufacturing Technology Show. I traveled on Tuesday after my classes. When I got off the airport shuttle after midnight, Bill was waiting. I dragged my suitcases past him to get my first look at Daniel Burnham and John Root's 1888 Rookery Building.

I spent every moment  I could seeking out Chicago's late-19th-century skyscrapers. Look at the Reliance Building by John Root and Charles Atwood.

When this building was completed in 1895, people were freaked out by the giant, plate-glass windows. They had never seen anything like it. Now we take giant, glass buildings for granted, such buildings like Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower). When it was completed in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world. As if 108 floors of glass and steel isn't enough, they have added Skydecks which project out from the 103rd viewing floor. Here is Bill enjoying one of the Skydeck:

I couldn't even get close to the edge. I was happy to watch him through the window.

I'm lucky that Bill was able to spend some time seeing a few buildings with me. One morning, he was able to accompany me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. 

Like so many of Wright's prairie-style architecture, this building has no bad side, gorgeously photogenic. 

But Chicago isn't just about architecture; it's chockful of world-class art as well. I spent hours at the Art Institute of Chicago, walking from gallery to gallery viewing some of the most important works in art history.

Here is me with Gustav Caillebotte's Rainy Day in Paris:

I discussed this work in my Art Appreciation class on Tuesday and found myself standing in front of the monumental work on Wednesday. It was magical. When I saw the room full of John Singer Sergant paintings, I even got a little misty. So much beauty and talent.

I walked by this stabile created by Alexander Calder (who invented the mobile ... babies everywhere thank him) numerous times as I walked more than 20 miles in three days trying to take in as much as I could:

It was a delight every time.

Actually, I was delighted by my entire visit to the Windy City. I may have ended up with a wallet full of wet cash, blisters on my toes and no umbrella, but it was just what I needed. This trip reinvigorated my excitment of discovery and stoked my passion for art and especially architecture. Thank you, Chicago. I needed that.

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Wordless Wednesday: Alien Invasion

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, September 10, 2014

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Celebrity Interview: Jerry Rice

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I was given the opportunity to interview former NFL star Jerry Rice. Of course, I said yes, because even I know who Jerry Rice is. I've totally seen "Dancing With The Stars."

It's no secret however that I don't know much about football. Luckily, he talked all about the game and I just said "right" a lot.

He seems like a great guy who shared tips from Lysol's "playbook" for healthy habits that families can use all year long.

And, he talks about the upcoming football season including his prediction for the Broncos and the 49's. Right.

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A Morning at Highline Lake

By Randee Bergen
Monday, September 8, 2014

 

Highline Lake

Just past sunrise

With my training partner

We swam in shimmery water and bouncy raindrops

Rode along freshly-showered farm roads laced in sunflowers and blooming rabbit brush

And trotted ourselves up and down the lakeside trail and across the dam

To the finish line

Week seven of training

Next weekend is the real deal.


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Throwback Thursday: Little Little Sugar

By Robin Dearing
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lookit that little cherub. That's my Little Sugar, 9 months old. Let's all say, Aw!

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Touched by kindness and generosity

By Robin Dearing
Friday, August 29, 2014

I couldn't sleep yet again last night, so I did what I always do, I started poking around the Internet using my phone. Clicking around Facebook, I was compelled to click the gofundme.com campaign created by my cousin, Cris.

What I saw there made me cry. 

Two days ago, Cris created this funding campaing: Wheels for Jacob. Cris' sister Marie is a hard-working, single mother of three boys. Her oldest, Jacob, has been in a wheelchair for most of his life because he has Muscular Dystrophy (MD is on my list of diseases that get a hearty middle finger daily). Because they don't have a handicapped-accessible vehicle, Jacob spends most of his days at home. For him to go anywhere, Marie has to rent an expensive handicapped van. Did I mention she's a single mom of three?

Marie now has the opportunity to buy a handicapped-accessible van for $5,000. That's a great deal, but like so many of us, she doesn't have the cash. Realizing this is a life-changing opportunity for Jacob, Marie and Jacob's little brothers, Cris started Wheels for Jacob on gofundme.com.

With this van, Jacob will be able to go see his brothers play sports, go to the movies, go visit friends and family. Jacob will be able get out into the world and be a part of it. Jacob is an awesome young man and deserves this.

In the past two days, family and friends have raised over $3,000 of the $5,000 needed. The outpouring of generosity has been wonderful.

The donation that got my waterworks going last night came from another young man, just a couple years about of high school, Cris' son and Jacob's cousin, Austin. I'm sure he cleaned out his bank account when he made the biggest donation to date to his beloved cousin. It would have been easy for Austin to just let his mom donate, but he didn't. I've always thought Austin was a neat guy, but this shows what a beautiful heart he has. 

This is a situation where just a few bucks can help change a good and deserving family's life for the better. If you want to help, http://www.gofundme.com/wheelsforjacob

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A Rotary Youth Exchange Blazer Story

By Randee Bergen
Friday, August 29, 2014

The day had arrived. The day I was looking forward to and dreading all at the same time.

I was in charge of one of the big suitcases and the rolling carry-on while she wheeled the other big suitcase and shouldered her overstuffed backpack. We followed the signs to Lufthansa and entered the ticketing/check-in line. After months of learning, checklists, paperwork, to-do’s, and last minute errands, we realized then that she still wasn’t ready.

“Amy!” I fake scolded. “Where are your luggage tags? You were supposed to write them out long before we got here!”

“I know. I forgot. I didn’t have my host family’s address.”

“What do you mean? It’s in your paperwork. Get it out.”

Down came the backpack and out came an envelope full of the documents she’s supposed to travel with: names and address of her first host family, the Rotary club in France that will host her, passport, birth certificate, permission to attend school, her insurance policy, parental permission, travel itinerary, and several other items. We pulled out the one with her host family’s address and I read it to her as she wrote it on the tags. She was nervous and her handwriting was atrocious, almost illegible.

As we fumbled with the tags and reorganizing some of her documents, a young girl got in line behind us.

“You can go ahead,” I said, scooting over the two suitcases I was in charge of.

She smiled and wheeled on past us, all of her luggage neatly stacked on a rolling cart.

“Mom,” Amy whispered, “do you think she’s an exchange student?”

“She might be,” I said. “I just don’t know why she’s all alone. It seems like someone would come to the airport with her.”

Once we felt organized, I told Amy to put her official Rotary blazer on so I could take her picture. All of the kids in our Rotary District – District 5470, the southern two-thirds of the state of Colorado – as well as all students going abroad through any of the United States Rotary clubs are supplied a black blazer. They exchange and collect pins and proudly display them on their blazer as they progress through their year abroad.

Amy gave me a look. I knew what it was about. Yesterday, as we were loading up to leave our home in Grand Junction and drive to Denver–where she’d be flying out of–she said, “Mom, what should I do with this blazer? I hate it; it’s so ugly. I mean, why don’t they just tell us to go buy an attractive, well-fitting black blazer that we actually like instead of SURPRISE! HERE’S THE UGLIEST BLACK BLAZER WE COULD FIND FOR YOU!”

I laughed out loud. Both of our emotions had been running high for the past two weeks as her departure day loomed and both of us had had a few outbursts and good cries over nothing, really. She wasn’t being ungrateful or disrespectful to the Rotarians who had helped her get to this point, just open and honest and funny. We all know that a heavy, black, too-big, too-constructed blazer is not what any teenage girl wants to wear, let alone travel in or meet their new families in. They want to wear comfort clothes and something in which they feel attractive and that represents the way in which teenagers dress in the country they’re from.

When my laughter subsided, Amy gave me a pouty look. “Mom, I’m scared I won’t be funny in France. I mean, how can I be funny when I don’t even know the language?”

“Honey, I think that anything you attempt to say in French will probably be hilarious. You’ll be plenty funny and interesting.”

I got the official departure photo and then helped Amy neatly fold the blazer and tuck it into her carry-on. “You should probably get this out right before boarding the plane and wear it for at least a little while on the plane. It’ll help other exchange students notice you, if there are any others on your flight. And make sure to wear it when you layover in Germany and maybe when you land in France. You’ll be safer in it – airport personnel are probably familiar with these blazers and they’ll know you’re an exchange student and a minor – and people will be less likely to mess with you.”

We then went to the counter, just as the other girl was finishing her check-in. “Hey, are you with Rotary?” she asked, looking hopeful. “I saw your blazer.”

“Yeah!” said Amy. “Are you?”

“Yes. I’m going to Croatia.”

“Where are you from?” I asked, knowing she did not live within District 5470. Croatia is not one of the 20 countries that students in District 5470 can exchange to.

“Boulder,” she answered.

“Are you here alone?” I asked, feeling at once both a little sorry for her and also that perhaps I wasn’t letting my daughter be independent enough.

“Oh, my dad’s here. He’s parking the car or something.”

“Are you traveling through Germany to get to Croatia?” I asked her. If so, that would mean she’d be on Amy’s flight.

“Yes, I’m on the 5:30 flight.”

“Cool,” said Amy, her eyes lighting up. “So am I!”

She gave the ticketing agent her passport and as he finished up his work, he asked, “Any seating preferences?” Not knowing exactly what that meant, Amy responded with, “Umm… no, I don’t think so.”

“Well,” I started, “is there any chance you could seat her next to the young girl who just checked in? The one in line in front of us? They’re both minors and they might feel more comfortable sitting together.”

“Sure,” he said. “I can do that.”

We were plenty early to the airport, but Amy was too nervous to have lunch or look around in the shops. So we made our way to the security area and plopped down on some seats there. I asked Amy how she was feeling. She seemed okay. I felt okay myself, compared to what an emotional mess I’d been the two weeks leading up to this point.

The line going through security looked long and I guessed the process might take about 45 minutes to an hour. After a while, when it seemed like it was probably time for Amy to make her way to her boarding gate, I said, “Hey, maybe I can stand in that line with you. That’d give us a little bit longer together.”

The woman in charge of the entrance to the line said it would be fine, that I’d just have to exit the line when they started checking boarding passes. “Unless, of course, you get randomly selected for Pre Check.”

“Pre Check? What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, we randomly select some people to go through a faster security line. You don’t have to take your shoes off.”

“Okay,” I said and we started winding our way through the serpentine straps used to create and manage a line of people. We didn’t go more than 20 feet before a man said, “Pre check. This way.” We veered off to the right into a different line.

I guess we were randomly selected, I thought. Amy was the one to notice. “Interesting. Everyone in this line is in a family. Look at the babies and kids. And us. The other line is all men. Nice random selection.”

I had it in my mind that I would be with my daughter for about 45 more minutes before I had to say goodbye to her once and for all, but the Pre Check line was only about two minutes long. The time was now. “Oh my gosh, Amy, we have to say good-bye now. Are you good? You okay?” I pulled her in for a hug.

“Mom, I’m sad,” she said, and started to cry a little.

I was sad, too, but tried not to let it show. “Don’t be sad, be happy. Go have the time of your life!” And I let go of her. And I walked away. And I cried, but not as badly as I thought I would.

I had to go upstairs to level two to exit the area. When I got up there, I realized I could look down on the security lines. So I found a quiet spot and stood looking over the railing, scanning like crazy to locate Amy. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out where that Pre Check line was. Or maybe she had already gone through it.

I glanced at my phone, it being in my hand, and saw a notification from Facebook that Amy had mentioned me in a status update. What? How? I thought. She’s in an airport security line. I opened it up and there was a picture of me standing on level two, looking for her. Randee Bergen spying on me it said. What? She saw me and I couldn’t see her? I wish I was spying on you! I wish I could see you one last time! I thought. Or, maybe not. Maybe this is for the better.

I exited the airport and went to find my vehicle in the parking area. Should I leave? Was it okay to leave the airport and head back to Grand Junction when she had more than an hour to sit at her gate? What if her plane didn’t show up or wouldn’t be able to take off? Maybe I should stay.

But I couldn’t. I drove away.

When I stopped to get gas, I texted her. Are you at your gate? Have you found your friend?

Yes, I”m here, but I don’t see her anywhere!

You will, eventually. I love you!

Not too long after that, there was a text from Amy. I found her and guess what? Her name is Amy!

Crying, I typed. No, that wasn’t texting language that I typically used; it was something Amy would have said. It usually meant happy tears, oh how special, how meaningful, something like that.

Then I added a smiley face and pushed SEND.

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Triple Play Day

By Randee Bergen
Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hey, do you want to do anything fun this evening? Bike riding? Pickleball? There are only so many summer evenings.

Jim texted back. What say you pedal down to Sherwood Park and we’ll toss the frisbee around for a while? That’ll give you one of those triathlon days you like.

That sounded fun. And Jim was right; that would be two more exercise opportunities for the day on top of the hiking I had done early in the morning.

The triathlon idea started with day trips to Glenwood Springs, where I would choose a hike or a run, ride my bike down the canyon, and then swim laps and relax at the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs. This was an individual event, made up entirely by me, and done at my happy pace, which included having lunch between legs and reclining in a chaise lounge with a good book between laps. The whole point was not to go my fastest and get the event over as quickly as possible, but to fully embrace and enjoy each aspect of it, making it last all day and taking pictures along the way.

So I met Jim at the park that evening and we tossed the frisbee back and forth in the low, late evening sunshine. To add some oomph to the workout, we did what we always do with a frisbee or a ball, we counted how many times we could get it back and forth to each other without dropping it. This extra challenge of throwing more accurately and running to catch throws that were slightly off got our heart rates up. At first, we did 18 in a row. Then 19. Then 26. And our record for the evening was 56. Fifty-six tosses back and forth with the frisbee never hitting the ground.

After, we sat in the cool grass. “Good idea, Jim! I forget how fun it is to throw a frisbee.”

“Good exercise, too,” he said. “I’m going to feel this tomorrow. All the bending over and reaching and sudden bursts of running.”

“You know how in your text you called this a triathlon day? I was thinking we should come up with a different name. Triathlon implies swimming and biking and running. But, really, any exercise counts. Even the work you do all day long at your job.”

“But the three different things is what’s important,” he said. “I think it’s a good goal to shoot for every day. It doesn’t have to be three big things, like your all-day Glenwood Springs triathlons. It could be walking down to the farmers’ market, paddling around the lake. Anything.

I pondered my locale and exercise tastes and all the options, especially in the summer months. “Yeah, Jim, there are so many fun things to do around here–hiking, trail running, walking, mountain biking, road biking, pickleball, racquetball, swimming laps, open water swimming, kayaking…”

“Frisbee,” Jim added.

“Yes, frisbee. And this would remind us to play more often. Plus, things like strength training, push ups, stretching.”

“Yeah, just stretching at some point in the day. It wouldn’t be that hard to get three things in.”

“And most of this stuff is fun. I’m thinking triple play, make it sound fun, like a triple play day.”

“Triple Play Day.” Jim tested out the sound of it. “I like it. Because most exercise is fun. Or it should be. People should try to find exercising options they enjoy, that make it seem like they’re playing.”

“It’d be really good for me,” I thought out loud, “to try to do triple play days as often as possible, especially when winter rolls around. I always slip into this horrible thinking that I need to be home and safe and locked in my house once it’s dark. And in the winter, that means 4:30. And that’s not good. It’d be great if I had a reason to go and do one more type of exercising. Go to the gym. Walk around the block on a snowy evening. Whatever. It would just help me change my mindset.”

“Yeah, we should keep it in mind. Think about it every day. See what happens.”

“There’s also housework and yard work. They’re not exactly fun…”

“For some people, they are,” Jim interrupted.

“Agree. And, even if they’re not fun, they’re rewarding, once you’re done, and that makes them fun in a different sort of way. So they’d be included. Included in this idea of ‘playing.'”

“What about long runs or climbing a 14er or something like that?” Jim asked. “Would that count as three things?”

“It should.”

Jim thought for a minute. “I’m thinking it shouldn’t. I mean, the whole point is to get in the habit of doing three things each day. To ask your body to do three different types of activity. And even if you do a biggie, you can still come home and stretch or vacuum or pull a few weeds in your yard.”

“I agree. Plus, it’d be too easy to start counting more intense exercise as two or three things for the day and then the whole triple play concept would be lost.”

I went on a week-long road trip right after I had this conversation with Jim. It was a good opportunity to test whether back-to-back, ongoing triple play days were a possibility. Some days were easy, like the day I went for a short run around the lake where we camped and then later that day played hard in the ocean and then took a long walk down the beach. Triple Play. Other days, the ones with seven hours of driving, were more difficult. But I could always get in some walking, some stretching, some isometric exercises while sitting in the driver’s seat. It was on my mind, a new challenge, so I made sure I did it. And I liked it.

Triple Play Day.

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Salute to the Little League World Series parents

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

You know who should get a parade? The parents of the kids who made it to the Little League World Series.

We've always been big fans to this series because these kids play with heart. But this year, I watched with a new eye — a Little League mom eye. Yup, I'm one of those these days.

Ask our sports department — Little League parents are pretty demanding. I finally know why. It's because baseball is a committment the entire family takes. When baseball season is on, there's nothing but baseball. The family spends their time at the baseball park. They plan their free time around practice. Then, they go home and throw the ball some more in the back yard. They endure hot dogs, chili cheese fries and Gatorade. Siblings do their homework on the bleachers. And, the parents make friends with each other as their kids move up in the ranks.

We are busy with baseball. The boys interleague in the fall so often Marty and I have to split up and drive kids in opposite directions around the valley. We seriously have to consult the spreadsheet everyday to figure out who needs to go where and what time they have to be there.

We love it.

But, can you imagine what it must be like to have a kid who is going to play in the Little League World Series? Or, what it took to even get there? What's that snack schedule look like? How much money did these families have to spend? On top of that, can you imagine the behind-the-scenes job of comforting the losing teams?

I was thinking about all this as I was watching the series. I don't think I'm a Little League parent on that level. It would be like parenting an Olympian.

So, my Haute Mama hat is off to parents! It was a job well done!

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C’mere 9th grade, I got something for you

By Robin Dearing
Monday, August 25, 2014

If 9th grade was a person, I'd give it a big, ole, sloppy kiss on the face. Yes, I realize we are only just over three weeks into the school year, but it's already head and shoulders better than last year.

Remember this post I wrote about Margaret's experience with middle school? So much has changed since then. And thank goodness for that.

Margaret had let herself get so down on everything after three years of middle school. She was due for a change and change she has made. Going to a new school has allowed her to have a fresh start with her teachers and classsmates and herself.

The first thing she has changed is her attitude. Through nothing more than encouragement and allowing her room to grow on our part, Margaret figured our that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. She is focusing on the positives, rather than the negatives. She is so much happier and that makes this Haute Mama so much happier.

That positive attitude has lead right into intial success in her classes. She is really happy with the choices she made for electives and is even enjoying honor's literacy. She has found and proudly touts the fact that hard work is rewarded with good grades. She is spending much more time studying for her courses and is loving the good grades that comes with it.

Mar had a lot of anxiety over taking honor's literacy and I aided that by getting her off on to the completely wrong foot. She was required to do a reading assignment over the summer. When we received notification of the assignment, I immediately went to the school's website and printed off requirements ... for the 8th grade honor's literacy (because I'm helpful like that). Doh! Luckily, Margaret noticed the mistake weeks before classes started.

The 9th grade assignment was to pick a book from a list and write responses as she read. The list included a bunch of great books, including Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She ended up choosing Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Now they are on their second book project and she got to choose from yet another list of great non-fiction works such as Seabiscuit and Angela's Ashes. I'm really jealous of the books she gets to read.

Except for book-reports books which came from a much-less-cool list, I was stuck reading such tomes as The Scarlet Letter. Not that there's anything wrong with The Scarlet Letter. But right now, Margaret is reading Kabul Beauty School for her second reading project. This book is so much more relevant to the world we live in now. She's really enjoying it. I don't remember "enjoying" much of the required reading in high school.

She feels accomplished and successful. It took me so much longer to figure out that I held the keys to my own happiness. It's a delight and a relief to see her be rewarded through her own hard work.

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