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A Rotary Youth Exchange Blazer Story

By Randee Bergen
Friday, August 29, 2014

The day had arrived. The day I was looking forward to and dreading all at the same time.

I was in charge of one of the big suitcases and the rolling carry-on while she wheeled the other big suitcase and shouldered her overstuffed backpack. We followed the signs to Lufthansa and entered the ticketing/check-in line. After months of learning, checklists, paperwork, to-do’s, and last minute errands, we realized then that she still wasn’t ready.

“Amy!” I fake scolded. “Where are your luggage tags? You were supposed to write them out long before we got here!”

“I know. I forgot. I didn’t have my host family’s address.”

“What do you mean? It’s in your paperwork. Get it out.”

Down came the backpack and out came an envelope full of the documents she’s supposed to travel with: names and address of her first host family, the Rotary club in France that will host her, passport, birth certificate, permission to attend school, her insurance policy, parental permission, travel itinerary, and several other items. We pulled out the one with her host family’s address and I read it to her as she wrote it on the tags. She was nervous and her handwriting was atrocious, almost illegible.

As we fumbled with the tags and reorganizing some of her documents, a young girl got in line behind us.

“You can go ahead,” I said, scooting over the two suitcases I was in charge of.

She smiled and wheeled on past us, all of her luggage neatly stacked on a rolling cart.

“Mom,” Amy whispered, “do you think she’s an exchange student?”

“She might be,” I said. “I just don’t know why she’s all alone. It seems like someone would come to the airport with her.”

Once we felt organized, I told Amy to put her official Rotary blazer on so I could take her picture. All of the kids in our Rotary District – District 5470, the southern two-thirds of the state of Colorado – as well as all students going abroad through any of the United States Rotary clubs are supplied a black blazer. They exchange and collect pins and proudly display them on their blazer as they progress through their year abroad.

Amy gave me a look. I knew what it was about. Yesterday, as we were loading up to leave our home in Grand Junction and drive to Denver–where she’d be flying out of–she said, “Mom, what should I do with this blazer? I hate it; it’s so ugly. I mean, why don’t they just tell us to go buy an attractive, well-fitting black blazer that we actually like instead of SURPRISE! HERE’S THE UGLIEST BLACK BLAZER WE COULD FIND FOR YOU!”

I laughed out loud. Both of our emotions had been running high for the past two weeks as her departure day loomed and both of us had had a few outbursts and good cries over nothing, really. She wasn’t being ungrateful or disrespectful to the Rotarians who had helped her get to this point, just open and honest and funny. We all know that a heavy, black, too-big, too-constructed blazer is not what any teenage girl wants to wear, let alone travel in or meet their new families in. They want to wear comfort clothes and something in which they feel attractive and that represents the way in which teenagers dress in the country they’re from.

When my laughter subsided, Amy gave me a pouty look. “Mom, I’m scared I won’t be funny in France. I mean, how can I be funny when I don’t even know the language?”

“Honey, I think that anything you attempt to say in French will probably be hilarious. You’ll be plenty funny and interesting.”

I got the official departure photo and then helped Amy neatly fold the blazer and tuck it into her carry-on. “You should probably get this out right before boarding the plane and wear it for at least a little while on the plane. It’ll help other exchange students notice you, if there are any others on your flight. And make sure to wear it when you layover in Germany and maybe when you land in France. You’ll be safer in it – airport personnel are probably familiar with these blazers and they’ll know you’re an exchange student and a minor – and people will be less likely to mess with you.”

We then went to the counter, just as the other girl was finishing her check-in. “Hey, are you with Rotary?” she asked, looking hopeful. “I saw your blazer.”

“Yeah!” said Amy. “Are you?”

“Yes. I’m going to Croatia.”

“Where are you from?” I asked, knowing she did not live within District 5470. Croatia is not one of the 20 countries that students in District 5470 can exchange to.

“Boulder,” she answered.

“Are you here alone?” I asked, feeling at once both a little sorry for her and also that perhaps I wasn’t letting my daughter be independent enough.

“Oh, my dad’s here. He’s parking the car or something.”

“Are you traveling through Germany to get to Croatia?” I asked her. If so, that would mean she’d be on Amy’s flight.

“Yes, I’m on the 5:30 flight.”

“Cool,” said Amy, her eyes lighting up. “So am I!”

She gave the ticketing agent her passport and as he finished up his work, he asked, “Any seating preferences?” Not knowing exactly what that meant, Amy responded with, “Umm… no, I don’t think so.”

“Well,” I started, “is there any chance you could seat her next to the young girl who just checked in? The one in line in front of us? They’re both minors and they might feel more comfortable sitting together.”

“Sure,” he said. “I can do that.”

We were plenty early to the airport, but Amy was too nervous to have lunch or look around in the shops. So we made our way to the security area and plopped down on some seats there. I asked Amy how she was feeling. She seemed okay. I felt okay myself, compared to what an emotional mess I’d been the two weeks leading up to this point.

The line going through security looked long and I guessed the process might take about 45 minutes to an hour. After a while, when it seemed like it was probably time for Amy to make her way to her boarding gate, I said, “Hey, maybe I can stand in that line with you. That’d give us a little bit longer together.”

The woman in charge of the entrance to the line said it would be fine, that I’d just have to exit the line when they started checking boarding passes. “Unless, of course, you get randomly selected for Pre Check.”

“Pre Check? What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, we randomly select some people to go through a faster security line. You don’t have to take your shoes off.”

“Okay,” I said and we started winding our way through the serpentine straps used to create and manage a line of people. We didn’t go more than 20 feet before a man said, “Pre check. This way.” We veered off to the right into a different line.

I guess we were randomly selected, I thought. Amy was the one to notice. “Interesting. Everyone in this line is in a family. Look at the babies and kids. And us. The other line is all men. Nice random selection.”

I had it in my mind that I would be with my daughter for about 45 more minutes before I had to say goodbye to her once and for all, but the Pre Check line was only about two minutes long. The time was now. “Oh my gosh, Amy, we have to say good-bye now. Are you good? You okay?” I pulled her in for a hug.

“Mom, I’m sad,” she said, and started to cry a little.

I was sad, too, but tried not to let it show. “Don’t be sad, be happy. Go have the time of your life!” And I let go of her. And I walked away. And I cried, but not as badly as I thought I would.

I had to go upstairs to level two to exit the area. When I got up there, I realized I could look down on the security lines. So I found a quiet spot and stood looking over the railing, scanning like crazy to locate Amy. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out where that Pre Check line was. Or maybe she had already gone through it.

I glanced at my phone, it being in my hand, and saw a notification from Facebook that Amy had mentioned me in a status update. What? How? I thought. She’s in an airport security line. I opened it up and there was a picture of me standing on level two, looking for her. Randee Bergen spying on me it said. What? She saw me and I couldn’t see her? I wish I was spying on you! I wish I could see you one last time! I thought. Or, maybe not. Maybe this is for the better.

I exited the airport and went to find my vehicle in the parking area. Should I leave? Was it okay to leave the airport and head back to Grand Junction when she had more than an hour to sit at her gate? What if her plane didn’t show up or wouldn’t be able to take off? Maybe I should stay.

But I couldn’t. I drove away.

When I stopped to get gas, I texted her. Are you at your gate? Have you found your friend?

Yes, I”m here, but I don’t see her anywhere!

You will, eventually. I love you!

Not too long after that, there was a text from Amy. I found her and guess what? Her name is Amy!

Crying, I typed. No, that wasn’t texting language that I typically used; it was something Amy would have said. It usually meant happy tears, oh how special, how meaningful, something like that.

Then I added a smiley face and pushed SEND.

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Triple Play Day

By Randee Bergen
Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hey, do you want to do anything fun this evening? Bike riding? Pickleball? There are only so many summer evenings.

Jim texted back. What say you pedal down to Sherwood Park and we’ll toss the frisbee around for a while? That’ll give you one of those triathlon days you like.

That sounded fun. And Jim was right; that would be two more exercise opportunities for the day on top of the hiking I had done early in the morning.

The triathlon idea started with day trips to Glenwood Springs, where I would choose a hike or a run, ride my bike down the canyon, and then swim laps and relax at the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs. This was an individual event, made up entirely by me, and done at my happy pace, which included having lunch between legs and reclining in a chaise lounge with a good book between laps. The whole point was not to go my fastest and get the event over as quickly as possible, but to fully embrace and enjoy each aspect of it, making it last all day and taking pictures along the way.

So I met Jim at the park that evening and we tossed the frisbee back and forth in the low, late evening sunshine. To add some oomph to the workout, we did what we always do with a frisbee or a ball, we counted how many times we could get it back and forth to each other without dropping it. This extra challenge of throwing more accurately and running to catch throws that were slightly off got our heart rates up. At first, we did 18 in a row. Then 19. Then 26. And our record for the evening was 56. Fifty-six tosses back and forth with the frisbee never hitting the ground.

After, we sat in the cool grass. “Good idea, Jim! I forget how fun it is to throw a frisbee.”

“Good exercise, too,” he said. “I’m going to feel this tomorrow. All the bending over and reaching and sudden bursts of running.”

“You know how in your text you called this a triathlon day? I was thinking we should come up with a different name. Triathlon implies swimming and biking and running. But, really, any exercise counts. Even the work you do all day long at your job.”

“But the three different things is what’s important,” he said. “I think it’s a good goal to shoot for every day. It doesn’t have to be three big things, like your all-day Glenwood Springs triathlons. It could be walking down to the farmers’ market, paddling around the lake. Anything.

I pondered my locale and exercise tastes and all the options, especially in the summer months. “Yeah, Jim, there are so many fun things to do around here–hiking, trail running, walking, mountain biking, road biking, pickleball, racquetball, swimming laps, open water swimming, kayaking…”

“Frisbee,” Jim added.

“Yes, frisbee. And this would remind us to play more often. Plus, things like strength training, push ups, stretching.”

“Yeah, just stretching at some point in the day. It wouldn’t be that hard to get three things in.”

“And most of this stuff is fun. I’m thinking triple play, make it sound fun, like a triple play day.”

“Triple Play Day.” Jim tested out the sound of it. “I like it. Because most exercise is fun. Or it should be. People should try to find exercising options they enjoy, that make it seem like they’re playing.”

“It’d be really good for me,” I thought out loud, “to try to do triple play days as often as possible, especially when winter rolls around. I always slip into this horrible thinking that I need to be home and safe and locked in my house once it’s dark. And in the winter, that means 4:30. And that’s not good. It’d be great if I had a reason to go and do one more type of exercising. Go to the gym. Walk around the block on a snowy evening. Whatever. It would just help me change my mindset.”

“Yeah, we should keep it in mind. Think about it every day. See what happens.”

“There’s also housework and yard work. They’re not exactly fun…”

“For some people, they are,” Jim interrupted.

“Agree. And, even if they’re not fun, they’re rewarding, once you’re done, and that makes them fun in a different sort of way. So they’d be included. Included in this idea of ‘playing.'”

“What about long runs or climbing a 14er or something like that?” Jim asked. “Would that count as three things?”

“It should.”

Jim thought for a minute. “I’m thinking it shouldn’t. I mean, the whole point is to get in the habit of doing three things each day. To ask your body to do three different types of activity. And even if you do a biggie, you can still come home and stretch or vacuum or pull a few weeds in your yard.”

“I agree. Plus, it’d be too easy to start counting more intense exercise as two or three things for the day and then the whole triple play concept would be lost.”

I went on a week-long road trip right after I had this conversation with Jim. It was a good opportunity to test whether back-to-back, ongoing triple play days were a possibility. Some days were easy, like the day I went for a short run around the lake where we camped and then later that day played hard in the ocean and then took a long walk down the beach. Triple Play. Other days, the ones with seven hours of driving, were more difficult. But I could always get in some walking, some stretching, some isometric exercises while sitting in the driver’s seat. It was on my mind, a new challenge, so I made sure I did it. And I liked it.

Triple Play Day.

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Salute to the Little League World Series parents

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

You know who should get a parade? The parents of the kids who made it to the Little League World Series.

We've always been big fans to this series because these kids play with heart. But this year, I watched with a new eye — a Little League mom eye. Yup, I'm one of those these days.

Ask our sports department — Little League parents are pretty demanding. I finally know why. It's because baseball is a committment the entire family takes. When baseball season is on, there's nothing but baseball. The family spends their time at the baseball park. They plan their free time around practice. Then, they go home and throw the ball some more in the back yard. They endure hot dogs, chili cheese fries and Gatorade. Siblings do their homework on the bleachers. And, the parents make friends with each other as their kids move up in the ranks.

We are busy with baseball. The boys interleague in the fall so often Marty and I have to split up and drive kids in opposite directions around the valley. We seriously have to consult the spreadsheet everyday to figure out who needs to go where and what time they have to be there.

We love it.

But, can you imagine what it must be like to have a kid who is going to play in the Little League World Series? Or, what it took to even get there? What's that snack schedule look like? How much money did these families have to spend? On top of that, can you imagine the behind-the-scenes job of comforting the losing teams?

I was thinking about all this as I was watching the series. I don't think I'm a Little League parent on that level. It would be like parenting an Olympian.

So, my Haute Mama hat is off to parents! It was a job well done!

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C’mere 9th grade, I got something for you

By Robin Dearing
Monday, August 25, 2014

If 9th grade was a person, I'd give it a big, ole, sloppy kiss on the face. Yes, I realize we are only just over three weeks into the school year, but it's already head and shoulders better than last year.

Remember this post I wrote about Margaret's experience with middle school? So much has changed since then. And thank goodness for that.

Margaret had let herself get so down on everything after three years of middle school. She was due for a change and change she has made. Going to a new school has allowed her to have a fresh start with her teachers and classsmates and herself.

The first thing she has changed is her attitude. Through nothing more than encouragement and allowing her room to grow on our part, Margaret figured our that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. She is focusing on the positives, rather than the negatives. She is so much happier and that makes this Haute Mama so much happier.

That positive attitude has lead right into intial success in her classes. She is really happy with the choices she made for electives and is even enjoying honor's literacy. She has found and proudly touts the fact that hard work is rewarded with good grades. She is spending much more time studying for her courses and is loving the good grades that comes with it.

Mar had a lot of anxiety over taking honor's literacy and I aided that by getting her off on to the completely wrong foot. She was required to do a reading assignment over the summer. When we received notification of the assignment, I immediately went to the school's website and printed off requirements ... for the 8th grade honor's literacy (because I'm helpful like that). Doh! Luckily, Margaret noticed the mistake weeks before classes started.

The 9th grade assignment was to pick a book from a list and write responses as she read. The list included a bunch of great books, including Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She ended up choosing Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Now they are on their second book project and she got to choose from yet another list of great non-fiction works such as Seabiscuit and Angela's Ashes. I'm really jealous of the books she gets to read.

Except for book-reports books which came from a much-less-cool list, I was stuck reading such tomes as The Scarlet Letter. Not that there's anything wrong with The Scarlet Letter. But right now, Margaret is reading Kabul Beauty School for her second reading project. This book is so much more relevant to the world we live in now. She's really enjoying it. I don't remember "enjoying" much of the required reading in high school.

She feels accomplished and successful. It took me so much longer to figure out that I held the keys to my own happiness. It's a delight and a relief to see her be rewarded through her own hard work.

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Kersplash!

By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

You're probably wondering where the boys' first day of school pictures are. Well, I forgot. Worst mom ever who forgets to take the milestone first day of third, first and pre-k picture.

(Pretend there's a picture here.)

The boys stared school this morning loaded down with a thousand school supplies, new clothes, new shoes, hair cut, showered, teeth brushed, and breakfast in their bellies. It was a Herculean effort to get there because all of us are very much resisting this non-vacationing lifestyle. We've enjoyed a lazy summer capped by a lazy vacation where we slept in our tent until 9 a.m., took naps whenever the mood struck, and stayed up late watching movies or listening to the constant north western rain hit our tent.

It's not just them, it's me. I'm disorganized and overwhelmed by all that fall (well, sort of) brings.

When we spread out the mountain of school supplies last night, I had forgotten things. I got confused with the three lists and bought things we didn't need and overlooked things we did. So, I had to make an early morning trip to Target which only added stress to a busy day.

The fall baseball season started this week too. It's taken me a few days to figure out those three lists and the needs of all three teams.

I felt so overwhelmed by it all that I stayed up late creating a spreadsheet that lists the schedules of baseball and school. It's hard to tell people that "we're busy" without them rolling their eyes, but seriously, I need a SPREADSHEET to organize my children's lives.

Sink or swim Haute Mama — Kersplash!

 

 

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Western New York: Little cemetery on a hill

By Robin Dearing
Monday, August 18, 2014

While re-reading this post Randee wrote last month, I was reminded of some photos I took while we were on vacation in western New York in June and July.

Several times, we drove by this tiny cemetery surrounded by a farmer's fields:

Only the grassy drive up to the little plot of land was not being farmed.

Driving on the grass is something so foreign for those of us in the west. We treasure every blade of grass, but it grows in very nook and granny back east. 

What's also common in rural New York, are tiny, old cemeteries tucked into odd, little plots of land. I saw a new housing subdivision flanked by a small grassy area which held 30 old headstones. It reminded me of the vast history of the area and little, self-sufficient communites that used to dot this region. Would you buy a house next door to a charming little graveyard?

While several of the 19th century headstones had fallen over, the graveyard was well manicured. It looked more like something out of central casting, than a knoll in the middle of a famer's soybean crop.

I was also taken by the inscriptions. Many of these from the 19th century didn't have birth dates. Instead, the stone — like this one for John L. Wilson — included the death date and Mr. Wilson's exact age, 28 years and 24 days when he died.

When looking through these pictures, I thought I had captured ghosts in this one. Then I remembered it was windy that day and I was having a hard time keeping my hair out of the frames.

There's something about visiting cemetaries that reminds me of how we are just here, living on this earth, for a tiny fraction of time. It's both sobering and comforting. Time goes on with or without us. 

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Pitter patter

By Robin Dearing
Thursday, August 14, 2014

I haven't been sleeping well lately. My mind won't quiet. I lie in bed listening to Bill saw logs while I toss and turn.

Out of desperation, I downloaded an app on my phone that plays soothing sounds. I set the timer for 15 minutes, get comfortable and put in an earbud. I focus on the sounds instead of the crazy floating around my gray matter. It's been working pretty well. I've been getting to sleep much easier. 

Last night, I set up my phone and put in my earbud. I was getting lulled to sleep when I realized the earbud was on the floor. I was no longer listening to the sounds of the electronic app. I was listening to a rainstorm blanketing our high-desert valley with always-needed rain.

I've not found a more soothing sound than rain. But living in the desert, we don't get much ... until recently.

I moved to the Grand Valley 18 years ago this month. I remember someone telling me that the monsoons were wonderful in late summer. Ever year I would wait for them. Every year summer would end hot and dry, like it started. 

Fall would cool down, but the monsoons were always missing. Oh, we'd get a few showers, but they never lasted long enough though. They were always just a tease.

This year, we've had rainstorm after rainstorm. It's crummy for camping and hiking, but it's been great for my psyche. The rain is so refreshing and healing. Plus, it's a great excuse to lie in bed reading instead of getting out and walking the dog. Also, I heard that the peaches have never been better.

The desert always needs rain and I know exactly how it feels.

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Wordless Wednesday: Good moo-rning

By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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First day of 9th Grade

By Robin Dearing
Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Here's Margaret as she was getting ready to leave for her first day of 9th grade:

Super cute, indeed!

Her first day went fine. She's pleased with most of her courses and has friends with whom she can eat lunch. She's going into this year with a better attitude and is focusing on her school work and trying to stay out of the drama (if that's possible among teenaged girls). 

But this morning, she was so tired, she put her head down on the table instead of eating. I'm feeling it, too. We have to get up much earlier than last year because we have a longer drive to get her to her new school.

Maybe it's because I'm tired, but I'm so irritated with the school district. Could someone please explain why high-school kids need to start school at 7:25? Elementary kids start at 8:50. Why not move high-school start time to 8 a.m.?

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Product review: The Box by Fitmark

By Robin Dearing
Friday, August 1, 2014

When I brought home The Box by Fitmark, my husband said, "Wow! That's a nice bag." When I showed him what was inside, he was doubly impressed.

Fitmark creates their high-quality bags specifically for the fitness enthusiasts, but they are useful to armchair athletes, as well. The Box is more than just a bag for carrying your lunch. It is a food organizer that comes complete with two Meal Containers, ice packs and their Smartshake Shaker Bottle which holds drink powders and any pills, vitamins or supplements that you may need during your day or your workout.

I can easily see me using this bag to pack my husband's lunches during the week and then using it on the weekends for when we go rafting or skiing. I love that the front of The Box zips open so the you can put your food on the flap. Plus the divider is velcroed to the bottom, so it can be moved out of the way for largers items. Honestly, I've never seen a nicer food-carrying box that includes everything I will need to pack a good meal.

The lid has a mesh pocket for silverware and napkins. The outside has larger mesh pocket that easily fits my husband's travel coffee cups. The Box has a handle on top and an adjustable carrying strap, too. Those Fitmark people are really clever in their design, plus they use really nice materials that will last.

Overall, I was really impressed with the quality and functionality of The Box by Fitmark. The fact that the ice packs, containers and drink shaker are all included is impressive. Fitmark is selling a complete meal management system in one easy-to-use soft-sided box. Very nice product and I can't recommend it highly enough.

For more information about Fitmark, you can find then on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram @FitmarkBags.

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Page 8 of 174




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