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By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
March was a doozy in the Ashcraft household. It was busy and full of stress and general "ew." The presidential birthdays were postponed over and over until we celebrated all of them with one meal on March 31.
We celebrated Madison, Jackson, Tyler and Cleveland.
Foodwise (is that a word?) Andrew Jackson was the most interesting. From the Food Timeline: "The evening's menu will include some of Jackson's favorites: Spiced round of tenderloin with mini biscuits and jezebel sauce; hot water corn cakes with caramelized onions & squash relish, roasted lamb chops with rosemary, hoppin' John, cheese and grapes, benne wafers, floating islands and mini-custard tarts. .." Jezebel sauce is what stood out to me. What is that? It sounds seductive, and rich, and sinful. Turns out, it's a combination of apple and pineapple jelly mixed with horseradish. It sounds yucky, but reviewed as super yummy!
HERE'S A RECIPE.
I had every intention of making this last night for dinner. But Safeway doesn't carry either apple or pineapple jelly. That's a perfect example of how March has been. So, I promised the fam that as soon as I found those ingredients we'd make jezebel sauce.
Soren dutifully did his homework about each president. He found the weight of Grover Cleveland fascinating and focused on that. Cleveland was our most unhealthy president. He weighed more than 250 pounds, smoked cigars, drank too much, and had gout. His nickname was "Big Steve" or "Uncle Jumbo." But, the funny thing is that the Food Timeline lists him as the kind of guy who just liked "a plain meal." We didn't make anything special to mark his birthday except a plain meal of steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans.
James Madison was outshined by his wife Dolly in many ways, including food. She's the most famous presidential hostess. Which naturally led me to think of Dolly Madison cakes, which was absorbed into Hostess. Hostess make Twinkies and my boys have told me on numerous occasions that they are the most deprived children in the country because they have never had a Twinkie. So, for dessert, we had Twinkies and crossed that one off the kid bucket list.
John Tyler was Soren's favorite because he was the first vice president to succeed into president. He knew the story of Harrison who died suddenly one month into office. He had 14 children, so their favorite dessert was a pudding pie. I'm sad I didn't have time to serve pudding pie and Twinkies, but again, thus was March.
We got them done which is the most important thing. There are only three equally spaced April birthdays so I'm hoping we do better this month.
By Randee Bergen
Monday, March 31, 2014
It was well worth going over a hundred miles out of our way on our Spring Break road trip to stay one night in Page, Arizona and tour the Navajo’s Antelope Canyon. Living in canyon country and near Utah, we’ve hiked through many slot canyons, but what I saw and read online about Antelope Canyon made me want to visit.
We arrived at the tour office in downtown Page at 7:30 a.m. and were loaded into the back of a pickup just before 8:00. There were two long bench seats, back to back, in the bed of the truck. Those sitting on the end were actually hanging out past the bed, perhaps even past the tailgate. A metal gate and seatbelts that double- and triple-buckled us made the 15 of us feel somewhat secure.
We drove through town in this fashion, then north at highway speed, and, finally, down a wide, sandy wash. I’m guessing we were going about 70 mph as we glided through the sand toward the west. The driver would have to go fast to not get stuck in the foot-deep sand; there were no obstacles, nothing to run into; and, the guide later said he did seven of these tours per day so he had a strict schedule to adhere to. We traveled—again I’m guessing—about five miles down the wash. Needless to say, it was a separate highlight of the tour in and of itself as we leaned and laughed and realized we may never do anything like this again.
Suddenly, the wash ended, blocked by a tall rock wall. And in the rock wall, a crack, the beginning of a slot canyon.
The beauty and wonder of the canyon hit us immediately upon entering. The canyon is only accessible with Navajo guides, as this is a spiritual place for them. Our guide explained that there were seven companies that gave tours (all Navajo) and that 14 million people have visited the canyon to date. At $35 per visitor, it is good to know that the Navajo nation is able to make some money on this natural wonder.
The thing about this slot canyon, which is one-quarter mile long, 125 feet deep, and ranges from three to 25 feet wide, is that the light within is constantly changing. Depending on the time of day, the season, and whether there are any clouds high above, the colors and stripes and textures upon the walls are always distinctively different.
Our guide pointed out the images of several sacred animals, objects, and places as we passed through the canyon, such as eagles, grizzly bears, Monument Valley, and the sun. I tended to linger behind, going at my own pace, separating myself from the group, and thus missed most of what he pointed out. He also told us where to stand and how to angle our cameras for certain photos. He demonstrated with his smart phone camera and showed us the shots to try to get. I was glad I was close enough to see how he zoomed in on some light entering high above and came away with “Monument Valley at Sunset.”
We emerged on the other end of the canyon and, as we traveled back through, I took many more photos as it really did look different with the passing of time.
Like many places out West, Antelope Canyon is remote and takes some time to get to, but it was definitely worth it.
By Randee Bergen
Monday, March 24, 2014
For the first time ever, Spring Break is two weeks long and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Come August, my oldest, Addy, is off to college and my youngest, Amy, will be leaving for her year abroad in France. To take advantage of this first, and perhaps last, two weeks that the three of us have off together, we have planned Addy’s Epic Senior Year Road Trip -12 days through Utah, Arizona, out to the Pacific, up to the Sequoias, Death Valley, Vegas, and Bryce Canyon in Utah.
I spent six entire days planning this 12-day road trip. I did the majority of the work back in December when I had some time off work – pouring over maps, googling and reading about possible cool places that we absolutely had to see, determining which campgrounds along our route would be open in March and whether it’d be warm enough to sleep in the tent at which elevations.
A couple of nights ago, Addy said to me, “Mom, I’m writing a bucket list for our trip.”
“Well, don’t get too carried away,” I said, thinking of the typical bucket list, a list of places to see and experience, “because the trip is pretty much planned out.”
“Oh, mom,” she replied, waving her hand in front of my face, behind which sits my concrete, sequential, very much inside-the-box type of brain. “I’m not talking about that kind of bucket list.”
The next day, while I was at work and she was at school, trying desperately to stick it out and finish her classes so that she can graduate, she texted me this.
SENIOR TRIP BUCKET LIST
1. fall in love with (at least) something: person, place, sunset, food
2. be completely present
3. try something new/out of the comfort zone every day
4. do nice things with/for my family
5. be patient with my family
6. LAUGH - all the time and make others laugh
7. be a kid
8. conversate with strangers
9. photograph Amy
10. photograph my mom
11. photograph everything
13. get lost
As always, I was blown away with her nonconventional way of thinking. I’m sure she had written it during class and that she wasn’t paying attention and that she wasn’t concerned with her grades, which she needed to be. But at this moment it didn’t matter. At this moment she was sharing something so beautiful, something that made me choke up and have to hold back the tears threatening to spill from my lower lids.
At the end of my work day, Friday, the last day of teaching before a two-week long respite from schedules and planning and worrying about whether I could get all of my students proficient in all subjects before the end of the school year, I grabbed my phone (with the texted bucket list) and went to look for my BFF colleagues, the ones I would share something like this with, the ones who know my daughter, know what she’s been through and about her ups and down her senior year, the ones who understand what a free spirit she is and would appreciate what she had written.
Together we stood there, in my classroom, on a Friday after school, the Friday before Spring Break, while I read her bucket list aloud. And together we cried.
We cried for everything the each of us has been through, all the trials and tribulations our children and families have had, what we know to be true and important, the bare basics of what we hope for for our children, that they learn to love and appreciate the people and moments in their lives.
I had errands to run after school, things I needed to get before we left on our trip. But I stopped at home first, to find Addy and tell her what a beautiful soul she was, inside and out.
“Mom, why are you saying this?” She looked at me, dumbfounded.
“Your bucket list, Addy. It was incredible. It made me cry. I shared it with my teacher friends and we were all standing around bawling.”
“Bucket list? Oh. Yeah.”
I didn’t sense that she had forgotten about it, necessarily, just that it was ordinary to her, nothing special. Just her typical thinking. And it was.
I reviewed each item, separately, and thought about them. Yep, yep, yep, each one was something that I do, almost daily. Maybe they weren’t so extraordinary. But they did need to be written down. To be shared. And to be consciously thought about – not only on our trip, but every day, always.
Thank you, Addy.
By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Somebody texted me last night at 10:30 p.m. What? A.) There's a cutoff for texting people.
B.) It said Soren was assigned to a spring baseball team, but wha-wah, there's no coach. Again. There's a "what are we going to do about it" meeting tomorrow.
So, a coworker and I started plotting ways for me to avoid being roped in to some kind of insanely ridiculous coaching position again.
Here's the list:
1. I'm just going to be late.
2. I'm going to wear insanely high high heels.
3. Put my hair in rollers and do my make-up like Mimi.
4. Ask how the boys can score 'goals.'
5, Don't speak, AT ALL.
6. Holler out to Soren, "Hey Soren, can you go get mama her cigarettes from out of the truck?"
7. Just say no.
8. Tell the parents you have the yips. Be vague about what the symptoms are.
9. Bribe them with team snacks.
10. Show up drunk.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, March 17, 2014
Saturday I decided to make some cookies for St. Patrick's Day.
I chose some pretty rainbow refridgerator cookies and used THIS RECIPE from Flour on her Nose.
I was hungry and decided we needed a lot of cookies so I doubled the recipe.
Rainbow Refrigerator Cookies: Makes 4 dozen
2.5 cups of flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
16 tablespoons of room temperature butter (2 sticks)
1 cup of sugar
1 tbsp of any extract or flavoring (vanilla, lemon, mint, whatever!)
pinch of salt.
Cream together the butter and sugar. When that's light and fluffy, add in the egg, and the extract/flavoring.
Add in the rest of the ingredients, and mix until the dough comes together.
Divide the dough into 7 parts, but not equally! To make sure the layers of the rainbow are the same thickness, the portions have to get progressively larger (from purple to red)
Color the smallest portion purple, and so on, and the largest red.
Cover and chill the doughs in the fridge for an hour. (or in the freezer for 15 minutes if you're a lazy bum like me)
Roll the purple dough into a snake, about 1 1/2 feet long. (for cookies the size of mine, about 1 1/2 inches across. If you want bigger ones, make the snake shorter and thicker)
Roll out each color, in order to fit perfectly over the color before it, and trim any excess before adding the next color.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Return the log to the fridge and chill until stiff enough to easily slice. (or the freezer again ;] )
Slice the log into 1/4 inch pieces, and places on a lined baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, and let cool completely on a rack.
It's been my experience that choosing recipes randomly off the Internet is pretty hit or miss. But this recipe is definately one to keep around because the dough itself is spectacular. I had to work the food coloring into the dough pretty hard and nonetheless the cookies were still light and delish. It's a basic dough that could be changed a manipulated a thousand different ways, all with great results. It's my new favorite obviously.
I cut the dough into seven uneven parts, then added the color. One suggestion though, do the yellow and lighter colors first. I did the blue/greens first and then I had some trouble getting it off my hands so it wouldn't taint my lighter colors.
I also layered all the colors into a log then sliced and baked the cookies.
I couldn't figure out how to make a cookie with a nice edge that wouldn't spread while baking. So, instead, I cut my cookies in half after they had cooled a bit to get the rainbow. Added bonus, I ended up with a lot of cookies. Enough to eat, to save for the preschool class, and to hide and freeze for later.
Happy St. Patty's Day everybody. Hope your day is full of rainbows. (or some kind of similiar cliche'. )
By Robin Dearing
Friday, March 14, 2014
Pain makes me bitter. I'm very bitter today.
Since becoming ill last year, I've been suffering chronic pain in my hips and knees. It tends to be worse when it's cold, when I'm very active or when I'm there's not enough steriod in my system. It's the kind of dull aching pain that begs for anti-inflammatories, like ibuprophen — the kind of anti-inflammatories that I can no longer take due to the GI troubles created from my life-sustaining oral steroids.
I met with my primary-care doctor who determined that anatomically, my joints are sound. I do have some arthritis in my left hip and some kind of thing with my right knee, but nothing seriously wrong. That's good news. The bad news is they tend to hurt for some reason undetermined by my doctor. Since the pain started when I got sick, I am blaming Addison's disease. It's such a jerk disease, it should get all the blame.
In hopes of building up the muscles associated with these joints and alleviating my pain, I started physical therapy several weeks ago. The physical therapist checked over my joints and came to the same conclusion as my doctor. There's not much wrong with them anatomically. He did some research on Addison's and joint pain, finding a single article from the 1970s which summarized a paper written in the 1940s. It was of no help in that it just suggested that people with Addison's disease may suffer inflammation of the joints.
I now have an extensive routine of exercises that use a giant, yellow, rubber band, an exercise ball and 5 lb. weights. The first couple of weeks, the exercises created caused more pain, then less pain. I was starting to think maybe the physical therapy was working. Last week I was sick and taking extra steriod to combat my cold. The pain went away entirely. It was awesome. This week, I'm back on my regular dose of meds and the pain is markedly worse.
Why not take more steriods? Last week, when I bumped up my steriods by as little as possible, I gained five pounds in five days.
So, my choices: I can take more steriod to relieve my pain and gain a pound of fat a day which will likely eventually form into a hump on my back (this is not a joke, look up Cushing's disease) or I can suffer joint pain that I can't treat with anti-inflammatories. I do have some pain pills that I take when the pain keeps me awake at night. I can take those and sleep my days away, but the thought of spending my day in a doped up stupor when I have work to do and a life to live, is beyond depressing.
I'm so on the verge of shaking my fist and shouting my hatred for this disease, but this disease is part of me. Hating it, is hating myself. Learning to not hate myself is something that I've been trying to overcome since middle school. So today will be a suck-it-up day with that hopes that tomorrow will be a better day.
By Randee Bergen
Friday, March 14, 2014
We Americans! We’re a bunch of insincere and pompous phonies. Liars, even!
Or so the French seem to think. Our tendency to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and go on and on past the small talk and into deep ideas and details about ourselves, is incomprehensible to the French.
I've been reading Au Contraire! Figuring Out the French (because my daughter is spending her junior year abroad in France) and the nature of friendship–and how it differs there from here in the U.S.–is so far the most interesting and easy-to-illustrate aspect of French culture.
I have found myself in several situations over the past few months doing just that–explaining how friendship in France works–and with complete strangers to boot. First it was a man at a wedding reception, someone I didn’t know, someone who sat down beside me to say hello because he had heard that I was from Grand Junction, a town he had been to a few times and had really liked. An hour later he knew a whole heck of a lot about my town and myself and my daughter going abroad and I was teaching him about French culture. Next it was a lady who was in line near me to get passports. We started talking about where we were going (I’m not really going to France, just want to be prepared in case there is an emergency while my daughter is there) and she made a comment about the French. I thought I better explain to her that much of our perception of the French stems from our differences in how we build relationships. And then there was a parent at parent-teacher conferences, a mom I sat near at my daughter’s swim meet, the man at the…
Well, since I’ve explained it so many times, I’ll share it with you, too. It really is quite fascinating.
Visualize a French person with about five concentric walls built around him. The outer wall will be the highest and each successive wall going in and toward the individual will be shorter. Now visualize an American, also with concentric walls surrounding him. The American’s outer walls are low, but as the walls get closer to the person, they get higher, taller.
Now, imagine that you are trying to develop a deep and lasting friendship with each of these two people. With the French guy, it will be extremely difficult to “get in.” It may take weeks, months, years to scale those outer walls. But, once you’re over that barrier, there will be a mutual agreement to commit to the friendship and it will become easier and easier to get close to the person, to get to know the real him.
Now, the American. I’m sure this will sound familiar. You can approach almost any American and start a conversation. And as long as you’re not creepy or overstepping boundaries or holding a person up from whatever it is he or she was just about to do, most Americans will keep chatting with you. Just like I did with the guy at the wedding reception and the lady in the passport line. Not only did we chat, but I shared a lot about my life, including that my daughter was going to France and oh by the way let me tell you something interesting about the French culture.
The thing about the American’s walls, however, is that even though it’s easy to get in, it’s difficult to continue climbing upward and inward to the real core or the real self of an American. In fact, we Americans may not ever truly know our closest friends and family members. We usually have a lot of mediocre and somewhat superficial friendships.
As I said, once you’re over the outer walls with a French person, you’re in and expected to commit to a truly amazing friendship. With Americans, a friendship might be based on a shared interest, a hobby, or just the fact that two people are coworkers. Once someone loses interest in the hobby, quits a job, or goes his or her separate way in life for whatever reason, the friendship might be over. Not so true with the French.
Another difference in friendships between our two cultures is that Americans are into “doing” whereas French people are into “being.” We like to do things with our friends–go out for coffee, go hiking, take the kids to the park, go to a movie. The French are more inclined to just hang out together. They might talk about what they should do and what it would look like, but no one minds if the group never gets around to doing it. To them, talking about it is fun enough.
Also, Americans don’t like conflict. We tend to not bring up anything that will cause an argument or jeopardize the friendship. The French consider this to be boring and tedious. In France, people like to argue. They look at it as entertainment, as educational, as something that friends can do together. French friends can be direct and frankly critical and it is not at all a problem between them.
I really like that aspect of their culture.
In America, the backbone of the culture is the individual. In France, it’s friendships, groups, the “circle.” In our country we fall in and out of friendships. In France, you are expected to put your heart into a friendship, now and forever. A common expression between friends in America is “I owe you one.” The French language has no equivalent to this. They do not keep score. If you’re not friends, there are no obligations; if you are friends, you’ll do nice things for each other no matter what. And it is baffling to them to hear us say to our new “friends” or to those we were once close to and happen to run into, “Yeah, I’ll give you a call,” or “We should get together sometime and catch up,” when neither party has any real desire or intention of doing so. Liars!
So the French find it weird that we’re so open and chatty with whomever, wherever. To them, that seems arrogant and cocky. Wait, isn’t it the French who are supposed to be arrogant and cocky?
By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Saturday night, I had my most favorite preformance moment ever. That's saying a lot because in the last 10 years, I've had some great times playing music with my band, Riveter. I mean, we opened for the English Beat, the Supersuckers, Bret Michels (really, Bret Michels) and we played South By Southwest in Austin two years in a row.
The funny thing about this performance is that I wasn't playing with my band. I didn't even have a microphone to share my witticisms with the crowd. Nope, I was just the mom standing off to the side with the guitar.
I had the opportunity to play guitar while Margaret sang to a rowdy crowd at our dear friend's barn party. Yes, we live in western Colorado and people throw barn parties and thank goodness for that. Our friend's barn parties consist of really great people playing music, watching music, eating great food and drinking local brewed beer and spirits. It's great fun.
Saturday, my husband played bass with his band. While they were preparing, I thought maybe Margaret could sing a song. Bill agreed that it would be a great venue for her in that it would be a friendly crowd, plus she would have the opportunity to sing outside of the formal choir opportunities.
Unfortunately, this bright idea didn't come until a few days before the party. Good thing Margaret is great at learning new songs.
We tried to get Mar to sing songs to a recorded backing track, but she claimed that was too uncool and that she wanted live music. She didn't have time to prepare both the vocals and piano or guitar parts, so I volunteered to play guitar for her. She chose to sing Flogging Molly's Drunken Lullabyes. A nice, angry Irish song.
I listened to the song and got the chords off the Internet. We quickly realized it was too low for Mar's voice, so we transposed it to a higher key and began practicing. We had two days.
We played the song over and over. You know what? I was truly impressed. Mar didn't need any cues from me at all. She knew when to come in, when to pause, when to belt the song and when to hold back. She worked on getting the lyrics right and then worked on singing it well. I tried to play the right chords most of the time.
So Saturday comes and it's our turn to take the stage inside the barn. As I was getting my guitar on, Mar puts her hand out and says confidently, "I'll introduce us." I looked at her and said, "OK." But in my mind, I was a little taken a back. I had already planned out what I was going to say. Then I realized that I was just the accompanist. It was Mar's show. She was the star.
When it was time, she quite expertly introduced herself and me and said what song she was singing. Without further ado, I started playing. She came in perfectly. Just like we practiced.
She sang great and really drew in the crowd. After the first chorus, Mar was rewarded by enthusiastic cheering. Oh the look on her face. It was priceless. It made me want to cry which I started to do, but then remembered I had a job to do. By the end of the song everyone the crowd was singing and shouting along.
It couldn't have gone better. I was on cloud nine and all did was strum a few chords. Mar was the star. Experiencing that with my girl will always be one of my most favorite moments.
By Randee Bergen
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
You never know where you’re going to end up in life. Right now, I am headed toward Race Directorship. In a little over a month, I’ll be a Race Director. And that thought frightens me a little.
Last month, I helped the Mesa Monument Striders running club with the timing of two small races here in the valley – the Valentine Massacre 3 Mile Prediction Run and the Lions Club’s Cabin Fever Reliever 5k. I am learning how to do the timing so that I’ll know the procedures and what to watch out for on the day of the race that I’m planning, the Lincoln O.M. ROARing to Run 5k (April 19, 8:30 a.m.).
One thing I noticed as I was working the timing table at the Cabin Fever Reliever is that when participants came to us with questions, the guy in charge would say, “Oh, we’re just the timers. You’ll need to ask the Race Director.” Then, he’d point out the man, the Lion, who was in charge and send that person his way. Some of the questions they asked, ooo la la, I was glad I wasn’t yet a Race Director because I wouldn’t know how to answer them and wouldn’t want to deal with them.
Other than learning how to time races, I’ve been busy running possible routes, securing insurance, checking into permits, creating a website, designing a race t-shirt, choosing who will make our t-shirts, setting registration fees and age groups, selecting awards and accepting donated door prizes, planning race day snacks and race day registration goodie bags, creating and distributing flyers, organizing a running club at the school to get the students fired up about and trained for the race, lining up volunteers, trying to think through every little detail that needs to be in place on race day, and the biggie – rounding up sponsors. Did you know that races make most of their money (ours is going toward technology for our classrooms) from their sponsors and not through race registration fees? That will definitely be the case with our race as we are keeping our fees incredibly low so that our students and families will be able to participate in this event.
It’s been a bit stressful and I know I’ll be sleeping a whole lot better after April 19, but trying to organize a race has also been a good learning journey.
I just have a few more things to figure out before I’ll be comfortable in my Race Director chair.