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Because tables are overrated

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Music has been on the priority list since the boys were babies. They had baby drums and tamborines. Jonas had a toy violin. And, then the toy electric guitar. But, baby toys just aren't cutting it.

Although I knew we'd have to buy real instruments sooner or later, I checked out some price tags and decided that later was probably the better option.

Somehow though, if you haven't noticed, things have a way of finding us when we need them.

We love to shop at Heirlooms For Hospice. I still have some furniture I want to buy for the house and on this particular occasion I was hoping to find a formal dining room table.

We stopped into the store and found two pianos for sale. They weren't in perfect shape but they sounded good. Soren sat down and played "Silent Night." It's the only song he knows but he desperately wants to know more. He's not interested in any other instruments, just the piano. I looked at Marty, he looked at me, we raised our eyebrows and I searched for a price tag. These pianos were priced at less than $250. A week later I went into the store to make a purchase and they had marked the pianos down another $100. Apparently, people don't buy pianos anymore. Score for us because we are now the proud owners of an old spinete that is going to be perfect for the boys to begin lessons on in the fall. I put it right where a formal dining room table would have gone in our house. No table, just piano. I'm okay with that. Tables are overrated.

BTW, if anyone has a reference for a good piano teacher please let me know.

A week later, we cruised by a garage sale in our neighborhood. We weren't going to stop, unless they had some other piece of furniture that appealed to me. No furniture but I heard a gasp from the back seat. Jonas whispered: "Mom, do you see that."

It was a green electric guitar with amp.

We had to pull over but as we were getting out of the car I started telling Jonas that if it was too expensive yadda yadda we weren't buying it because we just bought a piano ....

Our neighbor wanted $30. How could I say no? So, Jonas lovingly carried it into the house and set up in what is now our music corner, not dining room.

Soren and Jonas started a band called "Surfin' in Lightening." Because neither knows how to play, they just jam and scream out crazy lyrics.

Sorry neighbors, but Jonas has been waiting to get the Led out for a long, long time. It's how we're gonna roll.

2 comments

Dining on the road

By Robin Dearing
Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In a few days, Bill, Margaret and I will be driving cross country to visit family in Buffalo. We will be there for a couple of weeks and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone ahead of time. Just so everyone knows, feeding us has become ... er ... quite difficult. Let me explain:

Of the three of us, Bill is the easiest. He's diabetic which means that he needs to eat a healthy, balanced diet, low on carbs. He will eat most anything, so he's easy.

As for Margaret, she's a vegetarian. Pretty self explanatory, but still, she eats no meat. That means no hot dogs, hamburgers, wings or pepperoni pizza ... and don't even suggest she can pick the meat off. Luckily for us, Mar likes a lot of things including salads and pasta dishes which are easy enough to get without meat.

Then there's me. Really the list of things I can eat is much shorter than the things I can't. Being on steriods for the last year has completely ruined my stomach and associated internal organs. Before I could and would eat almost anything, now I have to be so careful about everything.

First, I can't drink anything that is carbonated. I've tested this a couple of times and the result is always the same. Carbonation acts like acid in my gut. No soda which is OK, but I can't have beer either. That's really hard. I like beer ... a lot. Now I just sniff Bill's and call it good. 

I can't eat most processed foods. No bread, no pasta, no crackers, no cake, no pie crust, no nothing yummy. I can have some corn products like corn tortillas. I'm also pretty good with rice and rice noodles. To make is worse, I can't do heavy doses of dairy. No milk or ice cream. I can eat cheese in moderaton.

Mostly what I eat is vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. OK, I have been known to drown my sorrows in M&Ms, too.

While at home, we've found many recipes that all of us enjoy. When we eat out, we have figured out the local restaurants that have options for all of us.

Dealing with all of our food issues while we are traveling is going to be quite a challenge. Honestly, what I fear most is being difficult house guests. 

3 comments

Building Capacity

By Randee Bergen
Monday, June 16, 2014

No, this post is not about how many people are legally allowed in a given space as determined by floor space, number of doors, and room configuration.

This post is about human capacity–the human potential–of each person within an organization. The notion of building capacity and its partner, sustainability, were introduced to me at the Tointon School and Teacher Leadership Academy, which I recently attended in Vail, Colorado.

There was not a particular presentation or session about building capacity; rather, the idea of building human potential, along with sustaining it and, hopefully, its accompanying positive results, was alluded to throughout the three days by every speaker. No single presenter stood up and told us what building capacity meant; I just had to keep inferring and refining my understanding of it as we progressed through the hours and days of learning to cultivate this in our school.

And so here I am trying to write about it, to help me solidify my understanding of this concept of building capacity.

To me, capacity is that which a human being has the potential to become, in the area of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and techniques. Building capacity is about changing, about becoming more, about distinguishing a fixed mindset and nurturing a growth mindset. Capacity can happen accidentally; but, when it is done by design–by intentionally putting into place a culture and supporting structures– it can flourish more readily and within and across a greater number of individuals. I think you’ll agree that capacity is limitless, that it is interminable.

Less concrete, but equally critical human capacities, include self-awareness, attitudes, purpose, ethics, and world views. There is also the larger collective capacity of any organization.

Perhaps the most fascinating strategy that stuck with me is asking questions rather than providing answers. If a teacher inquires about something, a school leader might ask several questions of her in return, to get her ideas and opinions, to build upon what she thinks. Then, if necessary, the leader may contribute her own perspective (note that it is not her opinion or her answer), intentionally implying that she does not have all the answers.

Likewise, the same technique can be used with students. If a student asks a question, the teacher responds by encouraging the student to talk more and formulate a response. This approach builds capacity in all members of an organization by making them feel respected and equally important and valuable.

Having permission to be innovative and autonomous – to work with purpose – also builds capacity by unleashing human potential. Teachers need opportunities for instructional inquiry (what effect will it have on achievement if I change this or implement that?) so they can improve their instructional practice.

Educators need plenty of opportunity for self-reflection as well as the time and expectation to reflect upon their teaching. Collaboration and peer coaching are highly effective means of building capacity. Teachers should know their own strengths and potential areas for growth. The latter–potential areas for growth–should not be seen as a weakness but instead as an opportunity to not only develop capacity but to experience the process and thrill of building capacity. Again, this is true with students as well.

It will probably come as no surprise that when I Googled building capacity, I came upon capacity building in nonprofit organizations and non-government organizations, capacity building in communities, how it’s defined and used in substance abuse prevention programs, and a whole host of other applications. Because trust and collaboration are two of its biggest pillars, capacity building has me thinking not only of my professional relationships and the relationships I have with students, but of my various personal relationships, too, and what I can do differently to give the gift of capacity to the people in my life.

I think you’ll agree that being mindful of capacity, and how it is developed, and how we, as individuals, can be instrumental in building it in others, is quite powerful. What have you heard of building capacity or, now that you know what it is, what does it have you thinking about?

0 comments

Throwback Thursday: Same as it ever was

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Thursday, June 12, 2014

1 comments

Free fishing weekend

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

If you look at the calendar the number of summer recreational weekend opportunities shakes out to about nine. Only nine weekends. Sure, you can do things after school starts but I always feel a lot of pressure to get some fun stuff done before our weekends are taken up again by the kid's school obligations. The things we need to make time for are fishing, hiking, swimming, vacation, a rodeo and a couple of birthday celebrations. If we spend one weekend doing each of these things, we'll have used up all our time. Freakin' hell. Summer is WAY too short but what can you do but try to pack in as much stuff as possible before the snow flies.

We dedicated last weekend to fishing because it was free fishing weekend in Colorado. Woot! We loaded up the kids, a cooler of snacks, Kip, worms and poles and headed up to Glade Park. We stopped at Fruita Reservoir No. 2 and cast our lines.

Fishing with kids is not like fishing with adults. It's loud and chaotic. There are tangled lines, spilled Cokes, scabbed knees, wet shoes, dropped worms, and abandoned poles. If someone does finally get a line in the water and hooks a trout, a grown-up has to jump up and supervise the entire process of reeling, unhooking, then stringing. Often, worm hooks get swallowed which means someone (Daddy) has to re-rig the whole pole.  Marty and I are not fishing, we're just running around helping the boys catch fish. It's rather exhausting.

But, it's so, so good for our boys. And, they love it.

After finally getting a pole in the water, Marek will sit patiently in a chair staring at a bobber he most likely can't see. Once every minute or so he says "Is it time Daddy?"

"No."

One minute later.

"Now Daddy?"

"No."

One minute later.

"Leave it in the water!!!"

One minute later.

"Daddy, am I a good fisherman."

Pause.

Marek sings ....

He drops his pole, pokes the mud with a stick.

"Now Marek, Now!"

And Marek jumps up and starts reeling with all his might. And everybody runs down to the water to inspect the stocked rainbow trout. 

And, Marty gets handed an empty pole to start the whole process over, again.

On the second day, Marek didn't catch any fish. This is what he thought of that.

No matter, in two days, we had nine fish that we ate with lemon and onion.

Fishing with little kids is far, far from a relaxing or serene time. But, we do it for the boys. And for ourselves because, just like summer, the number of weekends to make these kinds of memories before they grow up are pretty limited. And, we have so very much to do still.

 

 

 

2 comments

A Perfect Night for a Hike

By Randee Bergen
Monday, June 9, 2014

It was the perfect night to go hiking. The venue, the weather, the company, and a whole lot more.

My friend, Rochelle, also a teacher, took a class this past week called Teaching Environmental Science Naturally, put on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (formerly Division of Wildlife). I ran into her Friday at the pool and she was telling me all about the activities and what she had learned. She mentioned that Colorado Parks and Wildlife was going to start a bat study. They wanted to find out how many species of bats lived on the Monument.

“Oh, you’ll probably want to know this. It’s a great time to go night hiking in No Thoroughfare Canyon. Our instructors said the frogs and toads are going crazy up there right about the time it gets dark.”

“Um, yeah! We should go tonight!” I said. “Or tomorrow. Whatever works for you.”

Rochelle couldn’t go either night because she was going out-of-town. So I asked Jim and he agreed.

We grabbed some Del Taco on the way and threw it in his backpack and started hiking about 7:30. The prickly pear blooms were incredible, sporting hues I’d never seen before, especially the orange sherbet shade.

I gazed at the canyon walls, the last of the sunshine illuminating and highlighting their tremendous height, amazed as always at the splendor of the red canyons in the Monument. And the greens. So much variety, so rich in color and life following a fairly wet spring.

After about a mile we came upon the first pool created by run off. And at the first pool were two guys, wearing waders, and setting up nets.

“Hey, what are you doing?” asked Jim, in a friendly voice.

“Well, we’re going to try to catch some bats,” said the shorter of the two men, who we later found out was Dan.

“Oh, is this for the bat study?” I asked, hardly believing how lucky we were that the study Rochelle mentioned was starting tonight and happening right here, right where we happened to be.

Dan looked at me at funny. “Yes. Yes, it is.” He went on to explain how the nets worked, wanting us to know that there would be no harm to the animals.

“And you’re trying to find out how many bat species are up here on the Monument, is that right?” I asked.

“Uh, okay,” he said, cocking his head and squinting his eyes at me, “how do you know all this?”

I laughed and told him that I was a teacher and that I had a teacher friend who, not more than three hours ago, had told me about her class and what she had learned.

“Oh yeah, I spoke to that class,” he said. I noticed he was wearing a Colorado Parks and Wildlife t-shirt.

Dan and Jake were more than willing to tell us about their work in general and this study in particular. They explained what all they’d be looking for if they caught any bats and what type of information they’d record. I asked if it would be okay if we watched, if it was okay that we were in the area tonight.

“It shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t mind. You’ll just need to keep your headlamps off most of the time so the bats will come in. They usually come here to drink right around dusk.”

Jim and I went up the trail, above the first pool, and found a nice spot to have our Del Taco dinner.

The moon, a 5/8 moon, made its appearance as the sun exited the scene. Right as it was getting dark, we made our way back to the first pool, the loud machine gun sounding call of the Canyon Tree Frog (it doesn’t live in trees but it has feet like most tree frogs do) and the screaming of the Woodhouse Toads ricocheting off the rocks.

As the light extinguished, I kept my eyes on the trail. I was surprised when a frog (or perhaps a toad, they do look similar) crossed the path right in front of me and then scooted into the safety of the grass.

By the time we got back to the first pool, the guys had already captured several bats. They showed them to us beneath their headlamps. They were tiny, their furry bodies no bigger than a juvenile mouse. But then Dan gently stretched out the wings of one and we could see that the wingspan was nearly ten inches.

We observed their sharp teeth set into their tiny heads and got to touch their paper-thin wings. I tried to get my iPhone camera to cooperate, but it had trouble focusing and deciding whether to use its flash or rely on the ever-changing light of the four headlamps leaning in and lighting up the subject.

Dan and Jake shared more of their knowledge. These bats were all myotis bats, the same bats that dart about in town shortly after the sun goes down. They know of eight species of myotis bats on the Monument and about eight other species as well. Then, we thanked them and let them get back to work.

The moon was almost bright enough to light the way for us, but we didn’t want to stumble so we turned our headlights on and took the short hike back.

“What a magical evening this has been,” Jim said, walking slowly, not really wanting it to end. “Thanks for getting me out.”

“Yeah, magical is right. The hike alone would have been wonderful. Add in evening light and then an early rising moon. Perfect weather. No bugs. Our yummy Del Taco picnic. Background music of frogs and toads. And then the cherry on top–running into the bat study and getting to see that work firsthand. Pretty much a perfect night for a hike.”

1 comments

Wise words from my old self

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Friday, June 6, 2014

I posted this on back in 2006, less than a year after I became a mom. It was within a post about what the Haute Mamas, then me, Robin, and Lynn, had learned about being a mom. I love what I wrote:

Richie

1. Just stop and enjoy the moment because he’s already growing up so fast.

2. The dishes and housework can wait until after the baby goes to bed.

3. Toys are expensive!

4. The human body needs much less sleep than recommended.

5. Motherhood is the strongest emotion I’ve ever felt. I could never love anything more than my child.

6. I’ve learned how to be grateful. I have the most generous friends and family in the whole world.

7. It’s okay to cry right along with the baby if you feel like it. He’ll understand, he won’t tell anyone and you’ll both feel better.

8. Babies are the best excuse to loosen up, make faces, blow bubbles, and just be generally silly. After all these years of being told to STOP these things, it’s so refreshing to start up again.

9. Always give your husband credit and compliments especially in public and to his mother.

10. Everything you own is doomed to be destroyed in one way or another. Just accept this and you’ll be a lot happier.

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Victory by attitude

By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Last week, I finally got my tomato plants in their pots and flowers in their hanging baskets. Another thing crossed off ye olde “I’m going to … “ list.

Sunday, we packed up my mom’s RV and we made the quick trip west to Moab. Monday morning, Bill helped me cross yet another thing off my list. We hiked to Delicate Arch inside Arches National Park.

We got to the trailhead early enough to avoid the heat of the day, gathered our water and fruit and started out.

I have to agree with the National Park Service brochure, it was a strenuous hike … for me. For the tiny, Asian tourists “hiking” in polyester trousers and patent leather ballet flats, it seemed like the proverbial walk in the park.

The further up the steep slickrock trail, the slower I went. I stopped often for water and rest. When I was passed by a geriatric couple, I really started getting down.

My legs felt like lead, each step was a labor. I never considered quitting, but I started feeling bad about myself. I started mourning Robin B.A.D (Before Addison’s disease). I thought about how much easier the hike would have been a couple years ago, before I got sick.

As I plodded along, I forced myself to think about the fact I was achieving another goal. I wasn’t thinking about what I used to be, how things are harder for me now, how I’m not what I used to be. Instead I focused on the prize.

I pulled up my big-girl panties and carried on. I made it to Delicate Arch and even conquered my fear of heights to cross the steep bowl it sits on to get my picture taken at its base.

Now when I look at the pictures from that hike, I see victory by attitude … not defeat by disease.

3 comments

YOU People

By Randee Bergen
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What type of people are you? Are you downtown people? Redlands people? Near-the-North-desert people? Me? I’m Orchard Mesa people. Maybe you’ve never considered what type of people you are. Not quite in this sense, anyway, right? I hadn’t. Until a few nights ago.

I live just over the Fifth Street Bridge in Orchard Mesa. It’s an older neighborhood, blue collar, quiet, simple. There are no sidewalks on the side streets and not many businesses, so it has a bit of a country feel to it. It’s a little run down, quirky. But it’s peaceful.

One of the things I like is seeing the Colorado River on a daily basis, walking and driving over the bridge and walking along the river path. The river is fascinating in the spring when it’s running strong and full, fueled by mountain runoff, devouring the land that typically defines its normal path, visibly cresting from its power within.

Two evenings ago, Jim and I were driving over the bridge to my house and decided to try to get a better view of the confluence and the rapids that always form in that area in the month of May. I suggested we turn into Hilltop Liquors (now out of business) and drive behind the building. There is a good view of the Gunnison River there. But you can’t see the Colorado River all that well and it’s the Colorado that’s running wild right now, especially where it converges with the Gunnison. You need to drive north a little to get a better look at the Big C.

So that’s what we did. We drove north, back behind some other buildings that are up on the hill, not far, maybe a hundred yards. It’s basically a large gravelly area with worn out weeds and a few small structures. They may be homes or possibly storage or old business buildings. I’ve never really taken note and I wasn’t then. I had my eye on the rivers, the confluence.

Jim had his eye on a man walking toward us, a man with a beer bottle in one hand and a chihuahua on a chain in the other.

Neither of us had seen the NO TRESPASSING signs. I was checking out the river, the rapids. Jim was seeing the anger on the man’s face and in the way he strode toward us.

I stopped and got out to take a closer look. Jim kept his eye on the guy and said, “Where are you going? Get back in here.”

I took only a few steps when I saw the sign, a big sign that said PRIVATE PROPERTY. So I turned and got back into my vehicle.

I’m respectful. I’m not going to intentionally trespass on someone else’s property if I’m not welcome. And I know that whomever owns that property back there has had plenty of trespassers in the past, plenty of vagrants wanting to get to The Point, hoping to set up a temporary home on the picturesque slice of pie between the rivers at the confluence. But that was a few years ago. That area has been closed off for a while now.

As I hopped back in, I saw him. He was approaching our vehicle and he looked none too friendly.

You people!” he yelled at us. “Go back to the Redlands.”

“Calm down, man,” Jim said. “We’re not doing anything. We were just going to look at the river.”

“Go to the Redlands! Right over there!” He nodded to the bluffs on the other side of the Gunnison. “Go park in their driveways and look at the river. See if they like it. Can’t you read? It says no trespassing!”

“I’m sorry,” I yelled past Jim and out the passenger side window. “I see this big PRIVATE PROPERTY sign, but I didn’t see any others. I guess I was just looking at the river.”

It was true. I wouldn’t have driven past the liquor store if I realized it was posted no trespassing.

It didn’t matter though. What I said–my explanation, my apology–made no difference at all to this man.

“You people disgust me, you make me sick,” he continued. By now I had started driving. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk, if he was going to continue approaching us. So I circled wide around him and headed back from where we had come.

“Yeah, that’s right, you people! You go back to the Redlands!” he shouted behind us.

When we were safely out of there, Jim said, “That was weird. That really creeped me out.”

“Why?” I asked. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes it was. What was all that ‘you people’ about? ‘Go back to the Redlands?’”

“Yeah, you’re right, that was weird. Why would he think we’re from the Redlands? Are Redlands people more inclined to look at the river? To trespass? I felt like telling him, ‘Hey buddy, I live on Orchard Mesa. Same as you.’”

It concerns me that people think–not to mention speak out loud–like that, in blanket, ignorant generalizations. When he said ‘you people’–meaning you people who live in the Redlands–he was referring to thousands. What could those thousands of people possibly have in common, other than living in the Redlands? And if there is a commonality, how was he seeing it in us? The Redlands is generally thought of as an affluent area in our community, with many beautiful homes that sit along the base of the Colorado National Monument, but in truth there are all sorts of homes and all sorts of people who live out there.

Just as there are on Orchard Mesa, or in any other area of our town.

If I didn’t live in Orchard Mesa, myself, I suppose I could shake my head at the guy and think along the lines of, oh, he’s just an Orchard Mesa hillbilly.

But that doesn’t work for me. That’s the beauty of our neighborhood, my community, the world. There are all sorts of people to be found everywhere. And we’re all different.

And there is much to be learned from all people, from any one person. And that holds true for this guy, too. I understand that he was angry at me for being on his property and he had every right to be, but did he handle it well? Was it really me who made him angry or was he angry long before we showed up?

Unbeknownst to him, he is the subject of my blog, and his thinking, his attitudes, his behavior, can teach us.

What do you take away from him?

By the way, the next evening we went to look at the river again, this time by the Blue Heron area. You know, over by the Redlands.

2 comments

Walking Fred

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I have some pet regret when it comes to Fred. Don't ge me wrong, I love him as much as one can love a turtle I guess or else I wouldn't feed him. But, a turtle is a hard pet to love and if it weren't for me Fred II would be dead.

Nobody cares about Fred anymore. All he does is bury down in his tank, sleep, and occasionally he comes out to eat then quickly retreats underground. You can't even see him. It looks like an empty tank.

A really big empty tank because Fred's house is a turtle mega-mansion that sits on a wooden base. It's a rather large piece of furniture in my living room. And, I'm over that too. Sorry Fred, your tank is ruining my fung shui.

I feel bad that this is Fred's life. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that turtles should not be pets. There's no point in it. But, I also don't give pets away so we're in for the long haul which could be a very, very long time. So, I decided that Fred deserves the best kind of life we can give him and took him outside for a walk.

I remember getting off this bus in Cairo and trying to cross Tahrir Square. It was terrifying and exhilerating and somewhere along the way I remember thinking that this was the way to really get out and experience the world.

So I've been setting Fred in the grass every night hoping he would find an exhilerating experience, his Tahrir Square if you will.

He closes up in his shell. I sit on the porch and watch him. His feet won't touch the grass. He won't taste the mint. He won't experience the world.

Damn it Fred! I'm trying to give you a good life here. Walk Fred. WALK!!!

Guess I'll keep trying.

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Page 4 of 168




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