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By Randee Bergen
Friday, May 2, 2014
If I were as overly dramatic as my teenage daughters I’d be saying “Worst night ever!” or “That was a literal shit storm!” or “I’d rather be dead!”
But instead I’ll say that our night of camping in Death Valley was astounding. And I’ll laugh and marvel at it always, just as I found myself doing when I finally stepped out of the tent at the first glimpse of daylight.
Not during the night. At no time during that long, long, painfully long night did I feel astounded. Well, actually I probably did, but that feeling would have been buried far beneath my frustration and exhaustion. And I surely wasn’t laughing. No, no laughing that night. Not til morning could I laugh.
We entered Death Valley National Park from the west, coming from a little California town called Lone Pine, in the early evening hours. That morning, we had been clear on the other side of the Sierra Nevadas in search of a giant sequoia.
As we entered the park, the evening light was incredibly beautiful, as was the landscape. I had no idea there were so many mountain ranges in and around Death Valley. And what really amazed me was the variety of colors, especially the chili powder rock that was so different from anything I’d ever seen in any other red rock country.
We climbed and descended several times as we drove east and it was dark by the time we reached sea level. And we still had another 50 or so miles to our destination–Furnace Creek Campground, which is near the Visitor’s Center.
It was well past dark when we turned into the campground. I had made reservations online months before not knowing anything about the campground and having long forgotten what I may have read about it at the time. So we didn’t know what to expect. There was no one in the booth, of course, but there was a list of about 20 late arrival names and to which site they had been assigned. Our name was not on the list.
“I’m so tired,” I told the girls, as we drove around the campground. It was hard to tell how big the place was and how many people were there, but there was a lot of activity going on–campfires, people walking around, kids still outside playing–and I didn’t see any empty spots. “Maybe we should just sleep in the car.”
“Wait, mom,” said Amy, “you probably got a confirmation email when you made the reservation. Maybe it has our site number.”
“I doubt it. Plus, I don’t know if I would have saved it.” I didn’t keep too many emails in my inbox, but I did have a lot of email folders and Vacation was one of them. Sure enough, there was the email. Furnace Creek, Site No. 143.
We drove around the place a couple more times and didn’t see any numbers close to 143. So back to the booth we went, hoping to find a map. Ah ha, site 143 was in an area that looked like a tent village. We found the area and found our parking spot (clearly marked with a 143 sign), but we couldn’t determine where our actual camp spot was. Right in front of where we parked were two parties, a group of four older guys enjoying a campfire in a fire ring labeled as 144 and a group of girl scouts in spot number 142. The girl scout leaders had a map and together we figured that our site was just beyond these two sites, behind a clump of trees (Russian olives? hard to tell in the dark).
With headlamps, we tromped around, trying not to bother too many people with our voices or our bright lights as we searched for our spot. There sure seemed to be a lot of people tightly packed into this area. Once we found our spot, we had to turn around and find our vehicle again so we could start to unload. We were thinking necessities only–tent, bags, pillows, water, phones, book for me–because it was so late, it was a trek between car and tent spot, the wind was really starting to blow, and we were so tired that we were just planning on crashing right away anyway.
Despite the wind, we had our tent up in no time. We were a week into our Spring Break road trip by this point and we knew how to work as a team with the tent. Plus, we decided against the rain fly. It was 85 degrees at 9:00 at night and we wanted to feel the breeze blow through our tent.
Feel the breeze, we did. After a long day of hiking and driving and plenty of beautiful country, we finally laid our weary heads down, but within minutes we understood that sleep would be hard to come by. The wind continued to strengthen and with each push of wind came a wall of fine dirt.
The dirt blew through the mesh of the tent and became trapped within it. We could feel, as well as hear, it settle on the sleeping bags, pillows, tent floor, and our skin, particularly with the strongest gusts. I slipped into my sleeping bag for protection, but I couldn’t stay there long; it was just too warm.
I’ve had a few nights in the tent where real sleep was out of the question, due to cold temperatures, rain seeping in, noise in the area, not feeling safe, or antsy dogs. Those nights always seemed to last forever and most of the time was spent “praying” that it could just be morning already.
This was one of those nights but worse. Worse because I couldn’t open my eyes. At first because the blowing dirt hurt them too much. After a few hours because my eyelids were stuck shut, like when my eyes get goopy with conjunctivitis. I couldn’t play around on my phone and couldn’t read. The only comfortable position was laying on my left side, but that was where the wind was coming from and I couldn’t take the beating for long. So I’d flip back to my right side, which was the nonzipper side of the sleeping bag, which meant that it was too hot. Back and forth, back and forth, all night long. In between I would listen to and marvel at the wind and this blowing dirt phenomenon.
Focusing on the wind was interesting. There were times when it would seem to be dying down. It would get eerily quiet for a minute or two. But then I would hear it. Not feel it; hear it. Each gust started far away on my right side. I could hear it enter that area or start over there. Then it circled around in the direction of my feet, still far off. From there, it grew louder and louder as it circled back toward me on my left. As the noise climaxed, the dirt blew, pelting the tent, our bedding, any exposed skin.
This happened dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times.
I imagined a semi-circle of a mountain range, to the right, foot-side, and left of me, whatever those directions were, and the wind racing along them, like a skateboarder on the curve of a bowl.
The sound of the wind as it finally reached me and the dirt it carried reminded me of the instant burst that comes from the burner of a hot air balloon. Just as that flame turns off suddenly, so would the wind. And the newest arrival of dirt would settle with little sprinkling sounds.
I brushed my hand across my pillow and it was coated in dirt. I touched my face, but did not make contact with my skin. Just dirt.
I wasn’t sure if the girls were awake. I didn’t speak to them, not wanting to wake them if by some miracle they had figured out how to sleep through this. At one point, Addy said, “Mom, I’m going to the car.”
I panicked, and responded with, “No, you’re not! I already thought of that but we all need to stay here and hold the tent down. If one of us leaves, the corners are going to start coming up.”
I wasn’t scared, but being mom, I had the need to keep us all together.
Of course, I had to pee. And I had no idea where the nearest bathroom was since we pulled in in the dark and the layout of the place was so disorienting. I really was concerned about exiting the tent, fearing that my half would lift up and fold over onto the girls.
Finally, I went outside and peed just five feet from the tent. Downwind. Mostly so that I could catch the tent if it decided to take off. I had no idea who was around us, how close, whether anyone could see or hear me. But that’s the way it had to be done.
I checked the time on my phone twice (12:23, 2:12), but then no more because of the amount of dirt that had built up on the screen, this with it being hidden in my sleeping bag. Perhaps I drifted off for an hour, maybe two.
I do know that I was awake when the first wisps of pastel light blew into the tent along with the dirt. Hallelujah! It was morning!
I fumbled with the zipper, my eyes nearly pasted shut, and stumbled out, alive, into Death Valley. I hooked my fingers into the collar of my t-shirt, turned it inside out, hoping to find some clean cloth, and wiped it gently across my eyes.
Better. I could see and I surveyed my surroundings.
There was the clump of trees. An orange tent had blown into them, and rested, tangled, about 15 feet off the ground. Between the trunks, I could see another tent completely flat on the ground, as if an elephant had sat on it and left just seconds ago.
There were two tents to the right. I turned in the other direction. Not far away at all, maybe 20 feet, was a man. There was a tent and a camper at his site.
Our eyes met. I wasn’t sure how I looked, but I knew how I felt. I felt filthy. My hair was heavy with dirt. My mouth was dry, teeth and tongue gritty. I imagined myself a movie character, a lost person stumbling back into civilization, unsure of where she is or how long she’s been gone, wondering if everyone is seeing things the way I am.
The man smiled. I smiled, too. And then I laughed. I literally laughed out loud.
“Well, that was quite a night!” I wasn’t speaking to my neighbor, necessarily, more to the powers that be.
A shower. I couldn’t wait to take a shower. I ambled around until I found the nearest bathroom. Inside, there were toilets, but no showers. But, there was a sink. With running water. Water to rinse away the dirt.
It wasn’t easy scrubbing away the grime that had been forced into the pores of my skin all night long. But it was okay that it took so long because it felt good. And a change of clothes felt pretty darn good, too.
When I returned to the tent and started removing my bedding to shake it out, I found a quarter-inch of dirt in some places. The wind, still blowing, made the shaking out process a bit easier. As the girls emerged from the tent, they didn’t look around in wonder as I had. And they certainly didn’t laugh. Instead, what I heard was, “Worst night ever!” and “What a shit storm that was.”
Soon, we were on our way to see the rest of Death Valley, particularly Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level and reaches temperatures of 117 degrees in the summer months.
Death Valley – a beautiful place. But rumor has it that you shouldn’t visit in the summer. And I certainly don’t recommend tent camping on a windy night.
By Robin Dearing
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Last evening, I was lying in bed grading research projects and watching hockey play-offs when I got a call from Margaret. She was crying hysterically. She hurt her ankle jumping on her friend's trampoline.
Bill and I raced to fetch her. A drive that normally took less than 10 minutes seems to take an hour.
By the time we arrived, Mar's right ankle looked like it swallowed a grapefruit. Her friend's quick-thinking mom already had the ankle iced and elevated and had given Mar Ibuprophen. I felt bad for the mom, having a kid get hurt on your watch is the worst. But kids will be kids, no?
We hurried to the emergency room to find it packed full. Sick people everywhere. A little boy had just been brought in via ambulance. Our daughter's swollen ankle didn't seem too bad.
Even though Mar was in considerable pain, she was very polite to all who attended her. Of course, a trip to the ER required a selfie posted to Facebook:
Despite the packed waiting room, she got taken back very quickly. A couple x-rays revealed no broken bones, thank goodness. The attending PA diagnosed her with a bad sprain and ligament damage. The nurse fitted her with an aircast. After a lesson using the crutches, we were out of there.
I'm very proud of how well she reacted to the whole situation. I'm terrible when I'm sick or in pain, Mar was pretty dang awesome over the whole thing.
Luckily, school is out today and tomorrow, so she has some time to recuperate before she has to go back to school.
But since she was just making plans with her friends for the next couple of days, it doesn't seem like a bum ankel is going to keep her down.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
It's been 16 days since I applied my Jamberry Nail sample. Last night, I couldn't resist the urge to pick them off. The corners were coming up, but otherwise they still looked fine. I contemplated turning the blow dryer on them and trying to reapply to see if they would last longer. But, I was lazy.
I think 16 days is pretty dang good.
I certainly am convinced it's a good product.
You can buy Jamberry Nails from consultant Tessa MIller, or have a party and invite me.
Her online store is available by CLICKING HERE!!!!
Today is day seven of my seven day Jamberry Nail challenge. Here's how they look:
The vinyl nail certainly has outlasted the polish. Notice, it is coming up a bit on the side. Probably more than is natural, in that I can't stop picking at it. Despite my picking though, the nail is still on. I haven't been able to pick it off.
Did I mention that I'm extremely rough on my hands? So far, I'm pretty impressed that this product has been able to keep up with someone like me.
I'm extending this challenge to see just how long the Jamberry Nail will last. I heard three weeks. Stay tuned.
Original post April 15, 2014
I'm taking the 7-day Jamberry Nails challenge this week.
Jamberry Nails is a direct sales company, similiar to Pampered Chef or Tupperware, that sells vinyl nail wraps. I was introduced to them by a friend and new consultant, Tessa Miller, who gave me a sample to try. The challenge is to wear the vinyl wrap, paint your other nails with polish, then see which lasts longer. The Jamberry nail is supposed to last up to three weeks, longer for pedicures.
That idea of course appeals to me. I don't always have time to paint my nails. Or maybe I don't even want to make the time. My hands are constantly in soapy water and garden dirt. So, as I told Tessa, this product is going to have to be pretty good to keep up with my kind of wear-n-tear.
I'll let you know how they hold up. In the meantime, check out the Jamberry website and tell me what you think.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Friday, April 25, 2014
Soren has been doing his school's invitational track meet the past couple of days. He signed himself up to run in the 1 mile open race Thursday morning.
We had to be there at 7:30 a.m. As we got closer to the stadium, his excitement began to build while I was furiously slugging down huge gulps of coffee and trying not to run red lights.
He starts explaining to me that he can't catch the fastest boy in his class. And, there's a 1st grader who can beat him. AND, this race was going to be scary because it was for all-ages up to the 8th grade.
Then, he starts pounding on his calves and stretching his back.
I formed my words very, very carefully because I didn't want to ruin the moment. "So, if you might not win, which you just might .... why did you want to do it?"
He didn't seem to care that I asked the question.
"I just didn't want anybody to think I was a wimp."
Ok then. I went into the track knowing that winning was clearly not his goal. It was more of a point he wanted to prove to himself and everybody else.
I totally get that.
So, he positioned himself in the crowd of boys, very large ones, and he was clearly the smallest one. (Only two 2nd graders raced, him, and the boy he can't beat.)
The gun went off and he ran.
Middle of pack.
By the first lap he was dead last.
But, keeping up with the tail end of the race pretty well.
He gave me a thumbs up on lap one.
He ran lap two, still keeping up okay. An 8th grade gazelle lapped him.
Lap three and his face was bright red. He was dragging his feet, and it looked like he just might pass the kid in front of him.
He tried hard but just couldn't catch him.
On the final lap he was clearly in last place. I screamed my head off though hoping I'd push him to the finish line with my weird mommy screaming. The really nice parents around me joined in.
Suddenly, he gave a HUGE final burst of energy and ran as fast as he could threw the finish line. Then he stepped to the side , coughing and spitting.
And I wiped the tears from my eyes. He didn't win the race but he ran it like a champ.
And I learned that people run for different reasons. Maybe to prove something. Maybe because they just enjoy it. Maybe they need T-shirts. Or maybe they need to win.
But mostly people run to feel good about themselves — first or last or in the middle.
I could not be prouder of the fact that Soren already gets that.
By Randee Bergen
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
“Oh my God, are you filing your nails?”
The stylish guy behind the counter at BC Surf & Sport looked up from his casual slouch. “First I bit them, now I’m smoothing them down.”
Not missing a beat, my teenage daughter continued. “So, is that, like, your personal nail file or do you all share it?” Two other young male employees, looking just as hip as the first, had sauntered over to join the conversation with this outgoing, plenty-hip-herself potential customer.
“Oh, no, it’s the shop file. We have to fight over who gets to use it.” All three of the guys chuckled.
“I hear ya,” said my daughter. “The struggle is real.”
The struggle is real? What an odd thing to say. Perhaps it was a trendy phrase among the young and cool, something I hadn’t yet heard my daughters use around the house.
The thing is, the struggle is real.
My teenager has had a rough couple of weeks. She’s a senior and will graduate in May. That is, if she can muster the will to get out of bed in the morning; if she can trick herself into believing that it’s worth it to go to class, to finish her assignments, complete the required service learning hours and supplementary reflection paper, to graduate because she has a future that’s worth living; if she can dispel the anxiety that obliterates her days when she’s forced to think about what’s coming next–a summer job, leaving for college, a lifetime of expectations to be capable, competent, optimistic, and excited about life.
For her, the struggle is real.
I try to understand. I try to hide my dismay and disappointment when I find her hunkered down in bed when she should have been up an hour ago for school, when I get yet another automated call from the school reporting her random absences, when she says she’ll take care of timely business later because she just can’t deal with things right now. I try to suppress my natural parenting instinct of taking away privileges or at least letting natural consequences play out – as would be effective with most teenagers – for some of the things she does and doesn’t do.
But what good is it to take away her car, her means of getting to school? Sure, she could ride the bus, and that would be the perfect consequence for most teens who have trouble getting to school on time when driving themselves, but for her, having to ride the bus, as a senior, would be another good reason to stay in bed. And the joy of driving, of being independent, is probably the main thing that’s getting her to leave the house these days. Grounding doesn’t make sense when what I really want to see happening is her going out more and interacting with the world and spending time with friends. And should I cut back on her already minimal weekly spending money when doing so might result in her being more anxious, less hopeful?
The struggle is real.
Luckily, my daughter makes fairly good choices within the confines of her disorder. Her depression has not resulted in any run-ins with the law. She is not failing her classes. Like she says, she’s got healthy ways of coping, her music, drawing, art. She always finds the time and plenty of humor and love for her sister. She is open about her depression and willing to explain what she’s going through for those of us who don’t get it, who can’t possibly imagine not embracing each new day and what the future has to offer. These past few weeks, as she’s mourned her childhood and confronts her future, she’s felt more anxious and out of control than ever.
I’m always fighting myself.
I don’t feel like I’m on my own team.
I have my coping mechanisms in place – playing guitar, drawing, writing, walking – and I have plenty of time to do those things now, but what about when I go to college? I’ll be so much busier. How will I find the time to calm myself down? I’m already freaking out about it.
I know I miss some classes, but you have to understand that, for me, going to most of them is a huge accomplishment being that I can barely get out of bed.
Every time I’m happy, I feel like I’m just faking it. I know who I really am, that the bad feelings are going to come back.
I feel like you deserve a better daughter. You should have a smart daughter, someone who gets really good grades.
I’m so afraid this is hereditary and I’m going to give it to my kids. I don’t want them to suffer. I’m keeping a journal so that when they become teens I can look back on my writing and hopefully remember and be able to help them get through it.
I listen. I see her tears. I feel the bubble wrap in which she’s encased herself, that protective layer that keeps her safe, but simultaneously keeps me from her. I’ve helped her get a diagnosis, medication, counseling. And yet I cannot give her what it is I truly want to – optimism.
She’s going to have to discover that on her own. And find a way to let optimism rule.
And I cannot give myself the one thing that would help me to understand her better, that would allow me to more thoroughly accept and support her. I cannot give myself depression. And for this, I sometimes feel guilty.
The struggle is real.
For both of us, and for so many more out there, it’s real.
By Robin Dearing
Monday, April 21, 2014
As I was lugging my school bag through the door after class on Thursday, Margaret was reading on the couch surrounded by the detrius of her after-school snack. She dryly stated that we needed to go the Art Center.
I was taken aback. Mar likes art well enough, but she's never asked to just go to the Art Center before. I asked what was at the Art Center and she broke out in a huge grin and said, "One of my paintings."
Her middle school's art teacher submitted one of her paintings to the Annual Altrusa Art Fair. I had the same reaction to pretty much every one of my daughter's accomplishments, I wanted to just weep with joy.
Friday after school, we took her and two of her friends to see the exhibition of middle- and high-school art work. Can I just say: What a bunch of good art! I was truly impressed. The art faculty in the Grand Valley are really doing a great job of getting the students engaged and creating significant works of art. It made this art historian mama very happy.
My favorite, of course, was Margaret's painting:
She was disappointed that it was mislabeled "Flying Cow" while she insisted that the real title was "Demon Cow." Of course, my kid would paint a demon cow. It all goes perfectly with the misfit persona she has created for herself.
Beyond the title, she did such a good job of representing the cow rising up through the air and twisting back toward the viewer. The wings are rendered nicely in relation to the position of the cow's body. Plus, the colors are so bright and in your face. Great stuff right there.
Because her goal is to never be normal, getting her to stand with a somewhat neutral look on her face was quite a chore. Take a look (she gets that from her dad):
At least no one can say she's boring.
Even though middle school has been a struggle for Mar (and me and probably most people who were forced to go to middle school or junior high or whatever it was called), she's having an amazing year. I hope when she looks back on this time that she remembers her many, wonderful successes which she earned through her own hard work.
By Randee Bergen
Thursday, April 17, 2014
You've got to watch this video:
Dad Films His Daughter Every Single Week for 14 Years
In this video I saw my daughter, my other daughter, and every young girl I've taught over the past 20-some years. The faces, the expressions, her countenance - it's universal.
I was so moved it brought me to years and I had to write this:
Her Countenance Alone
It doesn’t matter who she is
Nor father that created this beautiful piece of art
What she’s saying
In all those seconds
Over all that time
What I study instead
Is her countenance alone
Living, expressing, growing, changing
As the baby girl
Expressing without words
No words to express
How she is every girl
Every baby grown up
All the same
She is my daughter
My first daughter
She is every girl
I’ve taught over the years
At some point talking
Without me hearing
Her countenance alone
Entitling me to see, just see
Of every girl
All the same.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, April 14, 2014
We've rediscovered the library recently. We used to go all the time, but then the boys kind of outgrew the puppet shows, they weren't ready to read on their own, it closed for months and months, and our patronage gradually lapsed.
But, now all those things are all cured up and the Ashcraft family, all of five of us, have stepped back within the shelves. It's a land of new discovery for Soren and Jonas who can now read well and read voraciously. It makes me so happy.
I let them choose whatever they want. Books about LEGOS, Minecraft, choose-your-own adventure, and fun-facts are their very favorite. I don't even limit them to choose from the kids section. Last weekend Jonas brought home a book about the Colorado gold rush from the historical section because he liked the pictures. Fine by me.
Books their friends are reading are popular choices which include "Captain Underpants" by Dav Pilkey. Jonas just finished reading "Attack of the Talking Toilets." Just the title alone enthralled my kindergartener. Talking toilets — the wha?
This series is one of the most reviled by parents these days I guess according to an article today in the Associated Press. Parents complain about the potty humor and other offensive antics of the two main characters that write their own comic book and get into general mischief at home and school.
Okay, I get that. But consider this — your kid chose a book called "Captain Underpants — Attack of the Talking Toilets." What did you think it was going to be about? I read a few chapters out loud with Jonas. The potty-talk isn't too bad and it makes him laugh. He's a boy. I know he's smart enough to know that what is read in a book isn't necessarily appropriate in real life. That's the joy in reading ... letting the 'what-if' and imagination run wild. Books wouldn't be nearly as interesting if they were all about good kids planting flowers and doing good deeds. Aww, isn't it sweet — but boring. Toilets attacking people — well, it's funny when you're six.
The thing that bothered me about the book wasn't even mentioned by the complaining parents in the article. My complaint is there are lots of mispelled words in the comic book sections. I get that the premise is that it's being written by kids, but misspelled words are a much greater concern to me than somebody saying poopy. How about that Dav Pilkey? Can you at least make them good spellers? That'd be great. Thanks.
By Robin Dearing
Monday, April 14, 2014
Me to my husband, Bill: I don't expect you stay home with me when I'm sick ... but I sure do appreciate it.
Bill: There's no one I'd rather spend my time with.
I hope one day to deserve his genuine devotion.
In the meantime, I hope he knows how much his time and company mean to me.