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It’s All Downhill from Here

By Randee Bergen
Thursday, January 16, 2014

One day last week I went straight to the grocery store after leaving work around 4:20. Gathering my bags from my cart, I tucked my purse tightly under my arm, got my keys in hand, and prepared to hustle through the cold and dark parking lot to my vehicle.

But as soon as I stepped outside, I relaxed. My pace slowed; my high alert button switched off; I lifted my chin up out of my jacket a bit. You see, it wasn’t dark out as I expected it to be. It was after 5:00, but daylight lingered.

I smiled, rejoicing inside. I had survived another dark December.

I don’t do so well when the days are short, when it gets dark shortly after I get off work. It seems I need to rush home, where it’s warm and safe, and where there’s too much food and a couch and quilts. To go out for any reason after getting home, whether for my daughters’ school events, to run errands, and especially to run, seems ridiculous.

It’s not all bad being at home so much. I have several inside activities I enjoy engaging in–hanging out with my daughters, reading, writing, staring at the Christmas tree lights. But it doesn’t take long to feel the effects of too much sitting and not enough movement. And that’s when I start feeling a little depressed, a bit like the winter solstice needs to get here and get over with now.

I teach second grade and studying the weather is a big part of the science curriculum. We look at The Weather Channel App every day to see what’s going on with the temperature, wind chill, humidity, precipitation, weather alerts, and, yes, the time the sun rises and sets. I am well aware that sunset was at 4:52 for nearly two weeks leading up to the first day of winter, December 21.

And now the sun is setting at 5:15. And a little daylight lingers well past that, almost until 5:45. That’s a huge difference from a few weeks ago.

I ran up and down one of my favorite hills a few times the day after I came out of the grocery store and realized it was staying light until after 5:00 p.m. I hadn’t run in the evening for weeks, hadn’t run much at all, to be honest, because the dark wintry days mess with me. Something about them just drives me home and makes me lock my door to the out-of-doors.

As I ran up and down this hill, I found myself enjoying the extra minutes of daylight in more than one way. Not only was I smiling the whole time, so glad to be doing what I need to do to stay healthy and happy, but I had some terrific views of the Bookcliffs bathed in the pinkish-yellow twilight, a beautiful evening glow upon the valley floor, and, then, like a cherry on top, a sunset.

Each time I trudged up that hill, I thought about the hill as December. Long, hard, a bit depressing. But once I hit the top, the hump, the Winter Solstice, I would turn around, see the glorious light upon the Bookcliffs and the valley, feel the smile spread across my face, and run on down, toward longer days and springtime and the promise of more outdoor activity time.

I did it! I made it through December, I’m over the hump, and it’s all downhill from here.


The Swing

By Randee Bergen
Monday, January 13, 2014

Her little girl

In the swing

Curious, energetic, bright

She pushes her

Learn, move, create

Harder, faster, higher

And the girl smiles.

Her daughter

In the swing

Inquisitive, assiduous, gifted

She teaches her to pump

Push, produce, live,

Harder, faster, higher

And the girl does.

Her teenager

In the swing

Introspective, lackadaisical, artsy

She watches her change paths

Grow, change, become herself

Twisting, slowing, nearly stopping

And the girl cries.

This young woman

In the swing

Discovering who she is

She watches as she

Looks up, beholds the sky

And resolves to pump again.


With a heavy heart

By Robin Dearing
Friday, January 10, 2014

When Margaret said we seem to be dealt more than our fair share of crumby cards, I smiled thinly and said that what we are suffering is an overabundance of the turmoils of life. For a 13-year-old, she's had to endure more sickness and loss than most adults will ever experience in a lifetime.

Right now as I type this, my husband is in DePew, New York outside of Buffalo. It took him two days of flying and shuttling between the two Chicago area airports to get there due to the unfortunately timed polar vortex. He wouldn't have made it until today had a cousin not bought him a new ticket to fly out of Chicago.  

Bill made the trip despite the horrible weather because his lovely, bright, generous mother, Clara Palmer, is suffering from kidney failure brought on by diabetes and the associated heart disease. She is too ill to treat. 

I have a lot of strong opinions on the horrible way we are forced to endure the process of dying. If you've never had to sit by while your family member or loved one is forced to endure the weeks or even months that it takes for the human body to finally give up the ghost, consider yourself charmed. It is cruel punishment, indeed. We don't make our pets suffer the indignities of suffering through the final stages of death.

My heart is breaking for my husband, sister-in-law and all those many people who love my dear, kind mother-in-law. There are few worse situations.

I wish there was something I could type here that would make some difference or somehow make this situation better. But we've decided as a culture that being alive at any cost is somehow better than dying in peace and with dignity.

I could go on about this, but let me go back to the conversation I had with Margaret about us having more than our fair share of illness and death. We have suffered a lot, but I reminded her that we also have a lot for which to be thankful. We have a safe and warm home, healthy food, access to quality healthy care, good jobs, loving family and friends, the opportunity to travel. We have more than most. Are we lucky? Is it a fair trade off? No. But life isn't fair and crumby cards or not, we've got to keep playing the ones we are dealt.


Time to eRead

By Randee Bergen
Thursday, January 9, 2014

Several years ago – four? – I wanted the Kindle. I thought I was the perfect candidate to own a Kindle, to test one out, to let others know if holding an eReader could be as fulfilling as holding a real book in my hands. Was the weight, the feel, the smell really as much of the experience as I believed them to be or could I easily exchange those things for the ease and efficiency of an eReader? And what were the benefits of an eReader anyway? I hadn’t really heard.

I never got the Kindle. My wants weren’t high on the priority list back then. Plus, with the beginning of the recession, I was rediscovering library books. Any book I wanted, for free! Just get online, request the titles, wait a few days, and then pick them up in my (practically) personal on-hold shelf area. No more paying for books. No more already-read books piling up in my house. I fell in love with the library all over again.

A couple of years ago my sister boxed up and sent me her slightly used Nook Color. She had a laptop, an iPad, an iPod, an iPhone, and, if I recall, some newer, fancier reader. It was kind of her to think of me and I very much appreciated the random gift. I plugged it in, charged it up, and moved about on it a few times and that was it. I just wasn’t sure what to do with it, how or where to get titles.

I heard that certain titles were available for a dollar or two. At the time, though, it didn’t make sense to pay for titles that weren’t on my absolute must-read list. It didn’t make sense to pay for any titles, really, when I could borrow books for free at the library. And it didn’t make sense to accumulate books, even if they were electronic, during that period in my life when I was really trying to downsize and simplify.

So the Nook Color went unused. I have yet to read a single book on it.

But I know that things are changing, that sometime in the future there may not be many physical titles that we hold in our hand, that more and more books are only available electronically. I’ve heard that libraries are spending more on audio books and electronic titles because they cost so much less than actual books. I realize that I need to get with the program, to learn more about electronic readers. I’m fairly technologically savvy in other areas; I need to jump on the eReader bandwagon, too, and not get left behind.

I also want to know more about eReaders because, as a writer, I may someday want to publish an electronic version of some of my work. Right now, I can’t even visualize what that might look like, and I know nothing of the process. The first step, it seems, is to start reading ebooks and getting a feel for them and how they are similar or different to traditional books.

I read in the paper today that our local library is offering classes on getting started with eReaders. They set the classes up for after Christmas because many people get eReaders for Christmas and don’t know how to get started with them. I also read that the library now has quite a few titles for eReaders.

This class is for me. Now is the time. I chose two dates that should work, will work, if I make a concerted effort to get there and nothing else comes up. Both days are in January. I’m looking forward to it. And I’m sure I’ll keep you posted on what I learn.

In the meantime, I’ll keep holding my precious books in my hands, carrying them with me, feeling them, breathing them in. I know that sounds kind of strange, but I also know you get what I’m talking about.

Do you use an eReader? Which one? And what are your thoughts about eReaders?


Happy birthday Millard Fillmore!

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Last week,  I was explaining to Soren what a New Year's resolution is. I told him my resolution this year was to spend more time playing games and things with the family, rather than cooking and cleaning all the time.

Later that night, he came downstairs holding a big book of president biographies and told me he'd decided on his New Year's resolution.

"I want to celebrate all the president's birthdays."

"Uh ... like on President's Day? We could have a cake." 

"No, I mean, all of them. And we should eat whatever they liked to eat."

Marty and I exchanged a look of shock and awe. Then we laughed, but only with our eyes.

What weird but nerdy cool idea. So what if we did? There’s only like, um, 40 or 50 of them right? Obviously even I needed to brush up on my presidents and this would provide a learning opportunity for us all.

“Okay, but you have to write it all down and keep track of it," I told him.

“Okay, but you’re in charge of the cake and food and stuff mom.”

He spent that evening writing every single president's birthday on our new 2014 calendar.

Yesterday, as we’re rushing out the door for the first day back to school after Christmas break, he says “Don’t forget that tonight is Millard Fillmore’s birthday.”

“Oh, I won’t,” I said, but in my head I thought how am I going to throw a party for Millard Fillmore tonight? Doh!

Millard Fillmore.


What does Millard Fillmore like to eat? I have no idea what this guy even did in office much less what he liked to munch on.

But, I asked the oracle Google who led me to this website, The Food Timeline. Awesome. The site has a little paragraph about all the president's favorite foods which is going to make this resolution so much easier.

I learned that Fillmore had the first cookstove installed in the White House. He liked simple country food like soup and something called Resurrection Pie. I was pretty sure Rachel Ray didn't have a 20-minute meal called Resurrection Pie, so I went with a simple cabbage soup. And, I'm pretty sure Fillmore didn't have Duncan Hines, so I made a shortcake with berries as his birthday dessert. (Confession: I used Bisquick.)

At dinner, I read the little paragraph I had printed from the site and then explained my food choices for the party as such. All the boys slurped up the soup juice, Fillmore style, then ate the veggies.

I also bought a box of candles for the occasion. Soren and Jonas put all the candles on the shortcake because quote "He's a really old guy."

Then we sang happy birthday to Millard Fillmore, our 13th president.

The funniest part was Marek's face as we sang. When we got to the name part, he looked around baffled because I'm pretty sure he still has no idea why we were singing to some old guy not at our dinner table, but whatever, there was shortcake. 

Anyway, Happy Birthday Millard Fillmore! One down, only like 40 or 50 more to go.


Birthday Climb

By Randee Bergen
Monday, January 6, 2014

I climbed Mt. Garfield for the first time seven years ago, on my 41st birthday, about a year after moving to Grand Junction. My children were younger then, 8 and 10, and I knew it would be challenging for them. Heck, it was challenging for me. But as we got it accomplished I remember telling my family that I wanted to do this same hike every year on my birthday. Doing so would prove to myself that I was still young and healthy and willing to have some fun in life.

Of course, I haven’t been able to climb Mt. Garfield every year on or near my birthday. My birthday’s in January and it snows around here and Mt. Garfield has a few treacherous spots. And there were years when climbing Garfield wasn’t a priority. I think I’ve climbed it four times now for my birthday, counting this year, and on numerous occasions during the spring, summer, and fall months.

But Saturday’s climb was just epic. For starters, there was a group of nearly 20 of us–my daughters, Jim, and so many good friends. Friends who enrich my life in small but priceless ways and made my day all the more special, friends who think climbing a steep, slippery mountain sounds fun, friends who show up despite the freshly fallen show and daunting weather.

The weather. Yes, the weather was another factor that contributed to the grandeur of the day.

When I awoke that morning, big juicy flakes were falling outside my window. It wasn’t cold. 25 degrees. A wonderful hiking temperature, really. But I couldn’t see Mt. Garfield, which, as you know, on most days is a prominent landmark across the valley.

I sent out a message: The weather is a little iffy and I’ve never hiked Garfield when I can’t even see it, but let’s do this! I can’t call off my birthday hike due to a little weather; that wouldn’t bode well for the year!

The weather made the climb all the more memorable, not just because of the management of layers, hats, and gloves as we moved between sunshine, windy spots, and in and out of clouds, but because of the impact it had on the scenery. The fickle sunlight, low-lying mist, and larger cumulus clouds cast interesting light upon the impressive topography. The colors of the landscape–the dull gray of the clay soil, rusty rock outcroppings and cliff walls, the muted leftover greens of summer’s minimal vegetation–were amplified by the juxtaposing white of the snow fallen just that morning.

And then, of course, there was the timing. It’s the new year and everyone–even if they haven’t made any formal commitments–has plans for self-improvement and living at least a wee bit more than they did last year. There’s good energy in the air when a group of friends embarks up a mountain in the beginning of January.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

I'll never forget this birthday with nearly 20 special friends, including my daughters, who did this not because they were dying to climb a mountain on a snowy Saturday morning over Christmas Break, but because they knew how much it would mean to me to have them along. Because they knew, themselves, how invaluable the memory of the day would be and how accomplishing a feat like this can empower one to go out there and really live the rest of the year.

Thanks, friends. Thanks, family. And a big shout out to life and a new year.

Now, go climb your own mountain.


Product Review: Tooth Tunes SpinBrush by Arm & Hammer

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Friday, January 3, 2014

This one needs just a few quick bits of back story:

A) I just spent a small fortune fixing cavities inside all three of my boys' heads. So, I've been harping on them quite a bit about brushing their teeth and laying off the candy. Then, they hubby and I got new SonicCare brushes for Christmas, which made the boys jealous. They wanted new toothbrushes too.

B) We got Apple TV a few months ago. It's made us watch WAY too much TV, brought commercials into the house, and introduced the boys to music videos. Whenever we're bored, we watch music videos. Soren likes parodies where they work in the word "Minecraft," Jonas likes old school Beastie Boys, and Marek has fallen in love with "What does the fox say?" and anything by Katy Perry or One Direction. In particular, when "What Makes You Beautiful" comes on, he has what I've dubbed a "Pop Seizure." His mouth gapes, his hands stretch across his belly sort of like air guitar, and then he kind of convulses likes he's going to barf. This is dancing. We listen to One Direction nearly every single day.

These two seemingly unrelated stories came together yesterday when we went toothbrush shopping. Marek nearly peed his pants when he found this:

It's a SpinBrush that plays "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction while you brush your teeth. The song plays for two minutes, the recommended time for brushing, then says "oh yeah" and shuts off. It's not that loud until you put it in your mouth, then you can hear it perfectly. According to Arm & Hammer's website, it's called Music In Your Mouth technology.

All three boys chose the same brush because they didn't know any of the other songs. There are a wide variety to choose, from Big Time Rush to Queen.

They all ran upstairs, turned on their brushes, and danced (seizured) to their favorite boy band.

I'm pretty sure this product is aimed at a different audience, maybe 10-12-year-old girls? Nonetheless, The Tooth Tunes SpinBrush is a huge hit (no pun intended) in our house!


Silent Night, Holy Night

By Randee Bergen
Thursday, January 2, 2014

The lights go down and a further hush blankets the sanctuary.

The lighting of the candles begins with just one candle, somewhere at the front of the church. We scramble to find ours, stuffed between hymnals, on the floor beneath piles of winter coats, stuffed in holiday purses.

I learned at a young age to tip my unlit candle into the flame of another, then to hold my burning candle straight and steady while the someone next to me dipped into it.

When all the candles are lit, the entire church aglow with flickering flames and their reflections, the organist’s introduction retards and it’s time. Time to sing Silent Night by candlelight on Christmas Eve.

My favorite holiday moment, my most precious holiday memories. Dozens of holy nights, most of them right here in this small Lutheran church in small town America, my hometown, the one I return to for as many Christmases as I can.

From childhood to my own children, past to present, old chapters to new.

As a girl, I stared at my candle, mesmerized by the flame, fearful of the wax that could drip, no guarantee that it would be caught by the cardboard ringing the little white candle. I listened to my mother’s beautiful singing voice, rising above all others near me, carrying those around her who were hesitant, unsure. As the years went on, my voice reached for hers and, finally, we could look into each other’s eyes, brimming with a single tear, and hear our voices ring out together.

And my dad’s voice, deep, seeming to rise from his boots, special because I only got to hear him sing in church twice a year. His favorite Christmas hymn, we all knew, was O Holy Night, but he liked this one, too. This occasion was just as special for him as it was for the rest of us. Every year, after the first verse, he’d switch to humming. He could have read the words in the program, but no, he preferred to just hum. My siblings and I always giggled beneath him.

He’s gone now. Gone for 23 years. Divorced and moved far, far away from any of us. There are other deep voices now–little boys grown up, new husbands and male significant others–but no one hums as my dad did when I was a little girl.

Once I became a mom, I was busy teaching my children how to light their candles, how to hold them, to be careful. My youngest held her first candle when she was not quite two. I had my video camera that year and wanted to capture the moment for forever, so I arranged, in advance, for my mother-in-law, who was there with us that time, to watch Amy closely while I stepped out of the pew to film my entire family. Through the viewfinder, I watched as Amy slowly pulled the flame toward her lip, sure that my mother-in-law would stop it in time, remind her to hold the candle upright, away from her or anyone else’s body. But that’s not how it happened; instead, a loud shriek cut through the silent night, holy night, and trailed off as my mother-in-law rushed her out of the sanctuary and into the narthex, me chasing after her, the video not turning out quite as I had hoped it would. For years, I was transfixed with my children’s faces, as they stared at their lit candles in wonder, another generation focusing on not dropping the candles, not letting the wax burn their little hands, not putting the flame to their lips.

On this particular Christmas Eve, I am blessed to be holding one of the newest additions to our family, my grand-nephew, Owen Daniel, four months old. He had been with his dad for most of the service, but Matthew handed him to me just before the lighting of the candles. Afterward, I thanked him for sharing his son, for letting me hold him during this special moment. “Sure,” he said. “I wanted to give him to someone I could trust, with the candles and all.” Apparently he hasn’t heard the story of Amy Claire.

I move outside my pew, against the wall of the church, perpendicular to all those I love. I turn Owen outward so he can gaze at the candlelight. As an adult now, with nearly grown children, my wonder is not on the candles or even the glory of the voices around me. Instead, I focus on each family member, one at a time, and marvel at them and their contribution to this family, this family that keeps coming together, year after year, one Christmas to the next. Four generations now taking up nearly four pews.

In front of me is my mom, the matriarch of the bunch, and her man Jackson, a permanent fixture in our family. They hold their candles with their outside hands, their inside ones clutched together in the folds of my mom’s winter dress coat. Next to her, my nephew, a grown man, just married. He has his arm around my mom, his grandma. I watch as he whispers something into her ear. Later, she tells me what he said. “If it weren’t for your spirituality and you teaching confirmation class, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Up and down the pews–my sister, her husband, their grown children, now with spouses and children of their own, my brother, his wife, their boys who are nearly the same ages as my girls. And Jim, my Jim.

Missing, this year, are my daughters. They are visiting their father over Christmas. My focus eventually lands on this baby boy in my arms and lingers until the final words–Jesus Lord at Thy birth. A brand new baby. Another generation. His first Christmas. I am the one to hold him during this most holy of moments on his first Christmas. A whole life ahead of him. A life with this family, this family of God, this group of incredibly loving, welcoming, wonderful people.

As my teary eyes reflect the candlelight around me, I think, too, of my own babies. They are clearly missing from our group, both of them possessing a vitality crucial to the second-to-youngest generation here, the generation of young adults, the next bunch to leave home, venture into the world, and return, at least for Christmases, perhaps for good.

My oldest is off to college next year, my youngest to France for her year abroad. The candlelight spills from my eyes as I miss her already not being here with us in this church next Christmas Eve, not being with us at all for the entire holiday season.

If my oldest–the singer, the artist, the free spirit–were here this eve, she would stand beside me and we’d sing together just as my mother and I once did.

I wipe the candlelight from my cheeks, catching it on my fingers before it falls on Owen’s bald baby head. Sad tears for feeling the void here in our family pews. But mostly happy tears. For the joy of Christmas, the joy of my loved ones, and the bundle of joy wrapped up in my arms.

The final words are sung, the organ fades away, but remaining here in the silence of this holy night is love, peace, faith, hope, and the candlelight, dancing in my tears.


Wordless Wednesday: Learning to tend bar

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, January 1, 2014


A few scenes of Christmas

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, December 30, 2013

The Ashcraft's had a great Christmas with all the traditional festivities.

We continued our annual tradition of swimming in Glenwood Springs on Christmas eve, followed by dinner No. 1 with family. Marty's family always serves oyster stew and it's something looked forward to all year long. The boys were allowed to open their one present, new pajamas and stuffed animals. The anticipation of Christmas of course keeps them up until they can't anymore.

Santa, being so kind and generous and able to look the other way this time of the year, gave the boys new bikes! They were intimidated and were happy to set those aside until the sun came up to focus on things wrapped in shiny paper.

Miles of paper and packaging later, the boys spread their new stuff out all over the house and promptly broke it all.

Oh well, we know they love us and were rewarded greatly with hugs and kisses and little boy tenderness.

I'm pretty sure we didn't leave anything out. There were cookies, food, prayer, and crazy aunts. (That's you Joanne!)

I watched the boys run by on Christmas day and I hoped that their memories of childhood Christmas' past were going to be enough to last them a lifetime! It's what makes all the effort worthwhile.

Page 6 of 162


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