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Hiking Underground

By Randee Bergen
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My teenage daughters aren’t that into hiking – you know, exertion and sweat and covering ground just for the sake of covering ground – so any hike I planned for our Spring Break road trip had to be extra beautiful or unique. And short. I know they’re not planning on walking far when the sturdiest shoes they have along are their Vans. And so it was we found ourselves hiking in an underground lava river tube.

Lave River Cave is northwest of Flagstaff in the Coconino ponderosa forest. A rock pile and short rock wall marks the opening. It is small and drops downward immediately, giving us the feeling right from the start that maybe we didn’t want to do this hike after all.

I hung back, initially, to take photos of the girls entering the cave and dropping down into it, and then panicked a bit as I realized I was getting behind and that catching up would be difficult due to the big boulders on the floor. It seemed wrong to call out, “Wait up!” when the girls were just fifteen feet in front of me. I was happy when Addy said, “Come on, Mom, we’ll wait for you.”

Just before the cave floor leveled out, I turned back to get the last glimpse of daylight.

Now we seemed to be walking parallel with the Earth’s surface above us. We turned our headlamps off to check and, as expected, found ourselves in complete darkness. Most of the cave was wide and up to 30 feet in height, but portions of it got to as low as three feet.

The cave is 3/4 mile long, so 1.5 miles round-trip. A short hike, right? Yes, but a long time to be underground. At no point was it relaxing. For starters, we had to keep our headlamps trained on the ground right in front of us, which was rocky and uneven. Looking ahead required stopping, getting my balance, and moving my head rather than just my eyes wherever it is I wanted to look. And looking around wasn’t all that revealing. The cave walls and floor looked almost the same the entire way, giving few hints that progress had been made or that the end was approaching. And then there’s the fact that our minds started racing with all kinds of crazy thoughts.

Like a good mom should, I started worrying while driving down the forest roads to get to the cave. Were we the only ones out here? Would it be better to be alone in the cave or to have some other hikers in the area? If something happened and I needed to drive out of here quickly to get some help, would I be able to find my way back if in a state of panic? I dropped my mental breadcrumbs.

And as soon as we were in the cave: What if someone covers the opening with boulders? What if there’s an earthquake? What if today is the day the cave becomes unstable? It was only a 1.5 mile hike, so I didn’t bring water or snacks. I didn’t bring anything except an extra headlamp and the clicker to my vehicle. Bad hiker. Bad mom.

There were others ahead of us, we assumed, because there were two vehicles in the parking lot. And there was another family arriving as we were starting down the trail. You’d think you’d hear voices echoing throughout the cave. But no; it was eerily quiet. Was anyone hiding down here, just waiting to attack us? I thought about how hard it would be to run out of here, and the worst, having my headlamp knocked off and the batteries coming loose while struggling to get away from someone.

To cope with these irrational (maybe not so irrational?) ideas, we started acting really goofy. It started in a low section of the cave, where we had to bend over to continue moving forward. The girls’ hands touched the floor and then they were suddenly acting like gorillas. While they do plenty of strange things, I have not seen this particular behavior elicited anywhere above the earth’s surface.

Amy kept us laughing with possible journal entries, doubly funny because they were all for Day 1 – as if one day would be the extent of our survival in the event something horrible happened – and they all had the word growing in them. Day 1 – Some of us are growing hungry. Day 1 – The soles of my Vans are growing thin. Day 1 – My mother is growing crazier by the minute.

Addy tried to get our minds off the situation by writing raps. She would start and Amy and I were supposed to add to it. I wasn’t very good at it. I was slow to think of rhyming lines and was getting hung up on whether we were doing couplets or quatrains and what was a quatrain, again, anyway.

After what seemed like several miles, we finally reached the end. There was a large family there, or two. It was awkward visiting with them in the dark, nothing like stopping to talk with other hikers while in the daylight and nothing at all like celebrating with whomever you find when you finally reach the summit of a 14er.

We continued our silliness on the way back, but now that we were on our return trip it was more for the fun of it than for the sake of retaining our sanity.

I must say I was plenty relieved when I saw that shaft of sunlight, which was slow to come into view because it was above us (remember I said we had to go down at the beginning of the hike before it leveled off) and not in front of us.

Am I glad we went? Absolutely. Any short hike that is unique in some way is a hike worth taking.

What exactly is a lave river cave? According to Wikipedia, between 650,000 and 700,000 years ago, molten lava erupted from a volcanic vent. The top, sides, and bottom of the flow cooled and solidified, while lave continued to flow through, and out of, the middle, forming a cave. I don’t know how common lava river tubes are, but there is one near Bend, Oregon. Lumbermen discovered the Arizona lava river tube in 1915. I’m a little surprised that the area hasn’t been made into a national monument or park, to be honest. A sign outside the opening explains that there have been problems with litter and graffiti. It’s a pretty cool place and I’d hate to see it destroyed.

1 comments

Passport envy

By Robin Dearing
Friday, April 4, 2014

After my class on Tuesday, I jumped in my car and headed to Denver. (I may or may not have stopped at McDonald’s first and bought way too many Chicken McNuggets.) I was in a hurry and drove the entire 250 miles without stopping.

Four hours and one cracked windshield (darn you, loose blacktop) later, I pulled into the parking lot of Denver International Airport. Just as I was parking, my cell phone rang. It was Margaret. She was just about done with customs.

I hurried inside the terminal and found international arrivals. Moments later, there she was, my 13-year-old girl lugging her suitcases, all smiles.

Margaret spent nine days of her spring break touring England and France with a group from her middle school.

From the moment we dropped her off at the airport until I saw her beautiful face again, I remained both very happy and very emotionally bent up. Many times over those nine days, I did my “I’m so happy, I’m going to cry” thing.

I missed many opportunities to travel abroad when I was younger. I never made it priority and now here I am, a 43-year-old, art history professor who has never seen most of the things I teach in person. I wanted to make sure Margaret didn’t miss any opportunities.

While we were so happy Mar took this trip, Bill and I worried our fair share. Luckily, our worrying did the trick and she had a great trip with no major issues. And she had a great time.

For Christmas, Santa brought Mar a new camera with a megazoon lens which she used to take 945 pictures. Seriously, 945. Here are a few:

This is the view of Paris from the Eiffle Tower.

Giving my daughter these opportunities is the best part of being a parent.
This trip saw Margaret get three new stamps in her passport (they stamped it on their layover in Iceland, as well as England and France). Along with her Mexico stamps, she’s got four foreign stamps. I’m not afraid to admit I’m a bit jealous, but so very happy.

2 comments

Slide Rock State Park

By Randee Bergen
Friday, April 4, 2014

A beach scene in the middle of a mountain canyon? Sounds fun.

Slide Rock is in Arizona, south of Flagstaff and north of Sedona, in Oak Creek Canyon. The month of March is a bit early in the season to be playing in a mountain creek even in sunny, warm Arizona. I researched camping in the area and found just one campground nearby that was open, for tent camping, during March, another sign that it might not be the best time to visit. But this was the time we had to go – the last two weeks of March. I figured we could at least make a stop and do some hiking.

It was a warm, beautiful day as we drove through the northern Arizona desert, then up into the Ponderosa pine forests to Flagstaff and down the switchbacks into Oak Creek Canyon. We saw the area and many people enjoying it before we actually turned into the entrance. A sign there said that the air temperature was 74 and the water temperature 46.

“Are people actually playing in the water?” I asked the ranger.

“A few are. It’s a really nice spring day here. No clouds, no wind. So some brave souls are getting in.”

In the parking lot, I changed into water shorts and a shirt that could serve as a swimsuit top if need be. I wasn’t quite ready to don true swimwear. We walked a half mile before dropping into the rocky canyon area called Slide Rock. We crossed the creek a few times in ankle-deep water, on stepping stones and over short bridges. Then, we set our belongings down and found a place to test the water.\

The rocks beneath the crystal clear water were green and looked slippery with moss. I was worried about losing my balance and falling in, but the wet rock was surprisingly easy to walk on.

The water was indeed chilly, but it wasn’t long before I was meandering over to the top of the sliding area. As I got closer, I watched a few people sit themselves into the water, push off, and slide down the rock. They all drew their breath in quickly and grimaced, but soon switched to laughing, screaming, and smiling.

Some of the kids got out, rushed back to the top, and did it again. But they were kids. I found the one woman who was close to my age who had braved the water slide and got her opinion. She basically said it was awesome and that she could do it all day long.

All I needed to hear.

I gave my camera to my daughter, sat down, sucked my breath in, and pushed off. It wasn’t as slippery and slide-like as I thought it would be. Nor as cold. I had to push myself along in a few spots and this meant that I was sitting in the water longer than I had planned to.

But, when I hit the deep pool at the bottom and pulled myself to the side, I was smiling like the rest of them and thinking about doing it again.

I hear they have to close the gates in the summer because there are too many people. I could only imagine the line to slide on a hot Arizona day. So I was glad I did it on this early spring day while I was here.

Later, I noticed people on the cliff high above and set off to find the trail.

As I left the swimming area, some teens were cliff jumping into a large pool. If I was still wet, I would have tried it. Now I wish I would have anyway.

The views from above, on the trail, were incredible. What a fun spot!

 

 

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March Presidential Birthdays

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March was a doozy in the Ashcraft household. It was busy and full of stress and general "ew." The presidential birthdays were postponed over and over until we celebrated all of them with one meal on March 31.

We celebrated Madison, Jackson, Tyler and Cleveland.

Foodwise (is that a word?) Andrew Jackson was the most interesting. From the Food Timeline: "The evening's menu will include some of Jackson's favorites: Spiced round of tenderloin with mini biscuits and jezebel sauce; hot water corn cakes with caramelized onions & squash relish, roasted lamb chops with rosemary, hoppin' John, cheese and grapes, benne wafers, floating islands and mini-custard tarts. .." Jezebel sauce is what stood out to me. What is that? It sounds seductive, and rich, and sinful. Turns out, it's a combination of apple and pineapple jelly mixed with horseradish. It sounds yucky, but reviewed as super yummy!

HERE'S A RECIPE.

I had every intention of making this last night for dinner. But Safeway doesn't carry either apple or pineapple jelly. That's a perfect example of how March has been. So, I promised the fam that as soon as I found those ingredients we'd make jezebel sauce.

Soren dutifully did his homework about each president. He found the weight of Grover Cleveland fascinating and focused on that. Cleveland was our most unhealthy president. He weighed more than 250 pounds, smoked cigars, drank too much, and had gout. His nickname was "Big Steve" or "Uncle Jumbo."  But, the funny thing is that the Food Timeline lists him as the kind of guy who just liked "a plain meal." We didn't make anything special to mark his birthday except a plain meal of steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

James Madison was outshined by his wife Dolly in many ways, including food. She's the most famous presidential hostess. Which naturally led me to think of Dolly Madison cakes, which was absorbed into Hostess. Hostess make Twinkies and my boys have told me on numerous occasions that they are the most deprived children in the country because they have never had a Twinkie. So, for dessert, we had Twinkies and crossed that one off the kid bucket list.

John Tyler was Soren's favorite because he was the first vice president to succeed into president. He knew the story of Harrison who died suddenly one month into office. He had 14 children, so their favorite dessert was a pudding pie. I'm sad I didn't have time to serve pudding pie and Twinkies, but again, thus was March.

We got them done which is the most important thing. There are only three equally spaced April birthdays so I'm hoping we do better this month.

1 comments

Antelope Canyon

By Randee Bergen
Monday, March 31, 2014

It was well worth going over a hundred miles out of our way on our Spring Break road trip to stay one night in Page, Arizona and tour the Navajo’s Antelope Canyon. Living in canyon country and near Utah, we’ve hiked through many slot canyons, but what I saw and read online about Antelope Canyon made me want to visit.

We arrived at the tour office in downtown Page at 7:30 a.m. and were loaded into the back of a pickup just before 8:00. There were two long bench seats, back to back, in the bed of the truck. Those sitting on the end were actually hanging out past the bed, perhaps even past the tailgate. A metal gate and seatbelts that double- and triple-buckled us made the 15 of us feel somewhat secure.


We drove through town in this fashion, then north at highway speed, and, finally, down a wide, sandy wash. I’m guessing we were going about 70 mph as we glided through the sand toward the west. The driver would have to go fast to not get stuck in the foot-deep sand; there were no obstacles, nothing to run into; and, the guide later said he did seven of these tours per day so he had a strict schedule to adhere to. We traveled—again I’m guessing—about five miles down the wash. Needless to say, it was a separate highlight of the tour in and of itself as we leaned and laughed and realized we may never do anything like this again.

Suddenly, the wash ended, blocked by a tall rock wall. And in the rock wall, a crack, the beginning of a slot canyon.

The beauty and wonder of the canyon hit us immediately upon entering. The canyon is only accessible with Navajo guides, as this is a spiritual place for them. Our guide explained that there were seven companies that gave tours (all Navajo) and that 14 million people have visited the canyon to date. At $35 per visitor, it is good to know that the Navajo nation is able to make some money on this natural wonder.


The thing about this slot canyon, which is one-quarter mile long, 125 feet deep, and ranges from three to 25 feet wide, is that the light within is constantly changing. Depending on the time of day, the season, and whether there are any clouds high above, the colors and stripes and textures upon the walls are always distinctively different.

Our guide pointed out the images of several sacred animals, objects, and places as we passed through the canyon, such as eagles, grizzly bears, Monument Valley, and the sun. I tended to linger behind, going at my own pace, separating myself from the group, and thus missed most of what he pointed out. He also told us where to stand and how to angle our cameras for certain photos. He demonstrated with his smart phone camera and showed us the shots to try to get. I was glad I was close enough to see how he zoomed in on some light entering high above and came away with “Monument Valley at Sunset.”

We emerged on the other end of the canyon and, as we traveled back through, I took many more photos as it really did look different with the passing of time.

 

Like many places out West, Antelope Canyon is remote and takes some time to get to, but it was definitely worth it.
 

1 comments

Road Trip Bucket List

By Randee Bergen
Monday, March 24, 2014

For the first time ever, Spring Break is two weeks long and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Come August, my oldest, Addy, is off to college and my youngest, Amy, will be leaving for her year abroad in France. To take advantage of this first, and perhaps last, two weeks that the three of us have off together, we have planned Addy’s Epic Senior Year Road Trip -12 days through Utah, Arizona, out to the Pacific, up to the Sequoias, Death Valley, Vegas, and Bryce Canyon in Utah.


I spent six entire days planning this 12-day road trip. I did the majority of the work back in December when I had some time off work – pouring over maps, googling and reading about possible cool places that we absolutely had to see, determining which campgrounds along our route would be open in March and whether it’d be warm enough to sleep in the tent at which elevations.


A couple of nights ago, Addy said to me, “Mom, I’m writing a bucket list for our trip.”


“Well, don’t get too carried away,” I said, thinking of the typical bucket list, a list of places to see and experience, “because the trip is pretty much planned out.”


“Oh, mom,” she replied, waving her hand in front of my face, behind which sits my concrete, sequential, very much inside-the-box type of brain. “I’m not talking about that kind of bucket list.”


The next day, while I was at work and she was at school, trying desperately to stick it out and finish her classes so that she can graduate, she texted me this.

SENIOR TRIP BUCKET LIST

1. fall in love with (at least) something: person, place, sunset, food
2. be completely present
3. try something new/out of the comfort zone every day
4. do nice things with/for my family
5. be patient with my family
6. LAUGH - all the time and make others laugh
7. be a kid
8. conversate with strangers
9. photograph Amy
10. photograph my mom
11. photograph everything
12. write
13. get lost

As always, I was blown away with her nonconventional way of thinking. I’m sure she had written it during class and that she wasn’t paying attention and that she wasn’t concerned with her grades, which she needed to be. But at this moment it didn’t matter. At this moment she was sharing something so beautiful, something that made me choke up and have to hold back the tears threatening to spill from my lower lids.


At the end of my work day, Friday, the last day of teaching before a two-week long respite from schedules and planning and worrying about whether I could get all of my students proficient in all subjects before the end of the school year, I grabbed my phone (with the texted bucket list) and went to look for my BFF colleagues, the ones I would share something like this with, the ones who know my daughter, know what she’s been through and about her ups and down her senior year, the ones who understand what a free spirit she is and would appreciate what she had written.


Together we stood there, in my classroom, on a Friday after school, the Friday before Spring Break, while I read her bucket list aloud. And together we cried.


We cried for everything the each of us has been through, all the trials and tribulations our children and families have had, what we know to be true and important, the bare basics of what we hope for for our children, that they learn to love and appreciate the people and moments in their lives.


I had errands to run after school, things I needed to get before we left on our trip. But I stopped at home first, to find Addy and tell her what a beautiful soul she was, inside and out.


“Mom, why are you saying this?” She looked at me, dumbfounded.


“Your bucket list, Addy. It was incredible. It made me cry. I shared it with my teacher friends and we were all standing around bawling.”


“Bucket list? Oh. Yeah.”


I didn’t sense that she had forgotten about it, necessarily, just that it was ordinary to her, nothing special. Just her typical thinking. And it was.


I reviewed each item, separately, and thought about them. Yep, yep, yep, each one was something that I do, almost daily. Maybe they weren’t so extraordinary. But they did need to be written down. To be shared. And to be consciously thought about – not only on our trip, but every day, always.


Thank you, Addy.
 

1 comments

Worded Wednesday from Winnie the Pooh

By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2 comments

How not to be a baseball coach

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Somebody texted me last night at 10:30 p.m. What? A.) There's a cutoff for texting people.

B.) It said Soren was assigned to a spring baseball team, but wha-wah, there's no coach. Again. There's a "what are we going to do about it" meeting tomorrow.

So, a coworker and I started plotting ways for me to avoid being roped in to some kind of insanely ridiculous coaching position again.

Here's the list:

1. I'm just going to be late.

2. I'm going to wear insanely high high heels.

3. Put my hair in rollers and do my make-up like Mimi.

4. Ask how the boys can score 'goals.'

5, Don't speak, AT ALL.

6. Holler out to Soren, "Hey Soren, can you go get mama her cigarettes from out of the truck?"

7. Just say no.

8. Tell the parents you have the yips. Be vague about what the symptoms are.

9. Bribe them with team snacks.

10. Show up drunk.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Rainbow Cookies

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, March 17, 2014

Saturday I decided to make some cookies for St. Patrick's Day.

I chose some pretty rainbow refridgerator cookies and used THIS RECIPE from Flour on her Nose.

I was hungry and decided we needed a lot of cookies so I doubled the recipe.

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Rainbow Refrigerator Cookies: Makes 4 dozen
2.5 cups of flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
16 tablespoons of room temperature butter (2 sticks)
1 cup of sugar
1 tbsp of any extract or flavoring (vanilla, lemon, mint, whatever!)
1 egg
pinch of salt.

Cream together the butter and sugar. When that's light and fluffy, add in the egg, and the extract/flavoring.

Add in the rest of the ingredients, and mix until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough into 7 parts, but not equally! To make sure the layers of the rainbow are the same thickness, the portions have to get progressively larger (from purple to red)

Color the smallest portion purple, and so on, and the largest red.
Cover and chill the doughs in the fridge for an hour. (or in the freezer for 15 minutes if you're a lazy bum like me)

Roll the purple dough into a snake, about 1 1/2 feet long. (for cookies the size of mine, about 1 1/2 inches across. If you want bigger ones, make the snake shorter and thicker)
Roll out each color, in order to fit perfectly over the color before it, and trim any excess before adding the next color.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Return the log to the fridge and chill until stiff enough to easily slice. (or the freezer again ;] )

Slice the log into 1/4 inch pieces, and places on a lined baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, and let cool completely on a rack.

___________________________________________________________________

It's been my experience that choosing recipes randomly off the Internet is pretty hit or miss. But this recipe is definately one to keep around because the dough itself is spectacular. I had to work the food coloring into the dough pretty hard and nonetheless the cookies were still light and delish. It's a basic dough that could be changed a manipulated a thousand different ways, all with great results. It's my new favorite obviously.

I cut the dough into seven uneven parts, then added the color. One suggestion though, do the yellow and lighter colors first. I did the blue/greens first and then I had some trouble getting it off my hands so it wouldn't taint my lighter colors.

I also layered all the colors into a log then sliced and baked the cookies.

I couldn't figure out how to make a cookie with a nice edge that wouldn't spread while baking. So, instead, I cut my cookies in half after they had cooled a bit to get the rainbow. Added bonus, I ended up with a lot of cookies. Enough to eat, to save for the preschool class, and to hide and freeze for later.

Happy St. Patty's Day everybody. Hope your day is full of rainbows. (or some kind of similiar cliche'. ) 

2 comments

Bitter

By Robin Dearing
Friday, March 14, 2014

Pain makes me bitter. I'm very bitter today.

Since becoming ill last year, I've been suffering chronic pain in my hips and knees. It tends to be worse when it's cold, when I'm very active or when I'm there's not enough steriod in my system. It's the kind of dull aching pain that begs for anti-inflammatories, like ibuprophen — the kind of anti-inflammatories that I can no longer take due to the GI troubles created from my life-sustaining oral steroids. 

I met with my primary-care doctor who determined that anatomically, my joints are sound. I do have some arthritis in my left hip and some kind of thing with my right knee, but nothing seriously wrong. That's good news. The bad news is they tend to hurt for some reason undetermined by my doctor. Since the pain started when I got sick, I am blaming Addison's disease. It's such a jerk disease, it should get all the blame.  

In hopes of building up the muscles associated with these joints and alleviating my pain, I started physical therapy several weeks ago. The physical therapist checked over my joints and came to the same conclusion as my doctor. There's not much wrong with them anatomically. He did some research on Addison's and joint pain, finding a single article from the 1970s which summarized a paper written in the 1940s. It was of no help in that it just suggested that people with Addison's disease may suffer inflammation of the joints.

I now have an extensive routine of exercises that use a giant, yellow, rubber band, an exercise ball and 5 lb. weights. The first couple of weeks, the exercises created caused more pain, then less pain. I was starting to think maybe the physical therapy was working. Last week I was sick and taking extra steriod to combat my cold. The pain went away entirely. It was awesome. This week, I'm back on my regular dose of meds and the pain is markedly worse. 

Why not take more steriods? Last week, when I bumped up my steriods by as little as possible, I gained five pounds in five days. 

So, my choices: I can take more steriod to relieve my pain and gain a pound of fat a day which will likely eventually form into a hump on my back (this is not a joke, look up Cushing's disease) or I can suffer joint pain that I can't treat with anti-inflammatories. I do have some pain pills that I take when the pain keeps me awake at night. I can take those and sleep my days away, but the thought of spending my day in a doped up stupor when I have work to do and a life to live, is beyond depressing.

I'm so on the verge of shaking my fist and shouting my hatred for this disease, but this disease is part of me. Hating it, is hating myself. Learning to not hate myself is something that I've been trying to overcome since middle school. So today will be a suck-it-up day with that hopes that tomorrow will be a better day.

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