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Bang! Five-years-old

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Thursday, July 3, 2014

Marek turns 5-years-old tomorrow. It seems needless to say but where? Oh Where? did the time go?

Five is so momentous and yet so sad. He's officially a kid. Which also means that the baby/toddler years are well behind us. We're going to start saying things like "back when the kids were little..." Sniff.

But, for Marek, five is absolutely fabulous. He's getting included more and more in the things the big kids do and he wants that so much. With two big brothers, he's never been happy about being the youngest.

He was an awesome baby — but wow, even a more awesome little kid. I've never met a more balanced person than Marek. For every upside, there's a down, and visa-versa. He has the ability to roll with just about anything. He's tough and yet so very sweet. He's quick to laugh or pat the back of someone crying (even if it was him who made you cry.) He's genuinely nice but there's no way you could take advantage of that. And, he's definately not happy if we're not having fun.

I wanted to make this birthday really special for him and took extra care to make sure that all the focus remained on him alone. We threw him a big bash, the first destination birthday he's ever had, at Bannanas Fun Park. (On a side note: Bannanas is a great to place to have a birthday party. I'm still raving about what great customer service and fun we had for a really reasonable price.)

He requested a Star Wars birthday so I created the R2D2 cake just for him. The hardest part about the whole thing was rounding up kids his age for the party — not his brother's friends — but bonafide 5-year-olds he knows and likes. I cannot tell you how many times he told me how important this piece was to this party. I was very pleased and thankful for the kids who showed up to help celebrate.

It was pretty much Marek's dream come true party. After the pizza, the presents and the cake, he got to play (spray) his friends on the bumper boats on a hot summer day. They screeched, laughed and got soaking wet. We moved to laser tag then video games.

The happiness on Marek's face from this party was priceless. So were the tears when he realized it was all over and his friends had to go home.

Luckily for him, there will be more cake tomorrow! Hope everyone has a great Fourth of July !

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R2D2 Cake

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, June 30, 2014

Marek's 5th birthday is Friday. Since the fourth lands on the first day of a three-day weekend we had to celebrate a week early so that kids could come to his party. He wanted a Star Wars party with kids who would bring presents with wrapping paper on them. I'll blog more about that later.

Today's post is about my latest homemade birthday cake, the R2D2.

I'll say it again, thank God for Google and now for Pinterest. The Internet has made me such a better mom than I ever expected to be. It made me, one of very little artistic capabilities, capable of making at least half decent homemade birthday cakes. If I can make cakes, so can you.

I had very little confidence in the R2D2 cake though because the cake itself seemed pretty iffy. I got distracted by fancy Blue Velvet cake box made by some kind of cooking show guy. I know better. Always stick with the pros like Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. But, blue velvet sounded like the perfect color of cake for R2D2.

I used one cake mix and divided it between a standard round pan and a standard 9 X 13 rectangle pan. In retrospect, I should have used two boxes. Using one created a very thin cake that was hard to get out of the pan and even harder to move without breaking. It also stuck to the pan. I did my best to piece together my thin cakes but they looked awful. They were cracked and patched together. I decided to freeze the cakes and see what happened.

When I pulled the blue frozen thin little cakes out of the freezer, I stated my lack of cake cofindence to Marty who tried not to laugh at my baking incompetence. I figured if it all fell apart then I'd just buy an ice cream cake and call it good. Who cares if mom bakes a cake anyway?

To my surprise, the cakes cut and held together pretty well. I arranged them like this picture I found on the Internet:

 

I pretty much just eyeballed it. Then, because I'm lazy, I used some store-bought cream-cheese to cover the top. It hid all my cake imperfections perfectly. I iced it into a general R2D2 look, red, white and blue of course.

Marek came into the kitchen just as it was coming together. He was SO excited that he ran downstairs and screamed "SHE DID IT!!! I HAVE AN R2D2 CAKE AND IT LOOKS LIKE HIM. COME SEE — COME SEE!!!!"

And, my whole family came up to check out the lastest 'Cake Wreck' creation. I was pretty pleased with myself. It looked good, tasted good, and most importantly it helped make Marek's birthday a little more special.

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Throwback Thursday: Circa ‘82

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Thursday, June 26, 2014

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Presidential Birthdays: Kennedy and Bush Sr.

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We celebrated the belated birthdays of Kennedy and Bush Sr. last night. Their birthdays are May 29 and June 12th.

There's a reason the birthday are so belated.

The reason being that I dropped the subject for awhile after I realized that we had missed a couple. I wanted to see if Soren would notice because if you remember, this is his project, not mine.

It finally came up over dinner, "Hey, why haven't we done any presidential birthdays lately?"

Soren says "Yeah, mom, why?"

Then, I went into my mom lecture about why. I don't mind helping out by making fish chowder (Kennedy's favorite) but I'm not in charge of this project.

I guess Soren decided that was fair enough because he took it upon himself to get back on track by updating the July calendar and looking up things about H.W. and Kennedy.

He thought Bush Sr. was cool but he was VERY interested in Kennedy. And, of course, who wouldn't be. The guy was a superstar.

Did you know he won a Pulitzer prize in literature? I found that tidbit fascinating at our dinner table last night.

"Who's Marilyn Monroe?"

That brought some smiles to Marty and I who did our best to casually explain that yes, sometimes men have wives and girlfriends.

Soren liked both of the president's military service records.

I think Kennedy's colorful life renewed Soren's interest in finding out about the presidents. At least for now, he seems back on track.

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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.

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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?

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Throwback Thursday: Same as it ever was

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Thursday, June 12, 2014

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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.

 

 

 

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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.”

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