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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.
By Randee Bergen
Monday, April 14, 2014
Of course, a 5k can't be a perfect three miles; that’d make too much sense. A 5k is 3.1 miles long. But it’s that final .1 that’s so much fun. That final .1 when the finish line is in sight.
This weekend I labored through the last stages of my 5k. I’ve been steadily planning the Lincoln OM ROARing to Run 5k—a joint effort between Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary School and the Mesa Monument Striders running club—for the past four months. The event is happening next weekend, April 19, and I’ve only got a few days now to get all of the remaining details in place.
Just a short distance until I reach that final .1 of this run I’ve been running.
I want to say first of all that though this project has been like an extra half-time job for me, I have had a great time with it. The learning curve has been challenging and I’ve enjoyed thinking about how to make this race the best it can be.
Here are the highlights:
• a flat straightforward course starting and ending at the school
• low registration fees – just $5 for kids
• 30+ volunteers, with many of them on the course to help cheer on the runners and keep children safe
• post-race snacks
• raffle tickets for a kid’s mountain bike
• lots and lots of door prizes
• popcorn for sale
• the school’s bathrooms and drinking fountains handy
• music rocking the race scene
• covered areas in case of inclement weather
• finisher awards for all kids
• age group prizes
• the National Anthem
I’ve completed most of this race, meaning that I’ve put forth most of the mental and physical energy necessary for this race to happen. I’ve learned how to time races, ran several possible routes, secured insurance, checked into permits, created a website, designed a race t-shirt, set registration fees and age groups, selected awards, accepted and stockpiled donated door prizes, planned race day snacks and registration goodie bags, created and distributed flyers, organized a running club at the school to get the students fired up about and trained for the race, lined up volunteers, held committee meetings, and rounded up sponsors.
Thank you to the race committee that helped all of the above come to fruition.
This weekend I spent nearly 12 hours in my classroom (which doubles as my 5k planning and storage area) making signs, preparing the results boards, stuffing race bags, and sending emails to all the volunteers with their assignments and instructions.
I think I’ve got enough accomplished and feel ready enough to go with this event to say that the first three miles are done.
And now I’ve got just that final .1 to go. The super fun part, when I know that all of my hard work is going to pay off. The finish line is in site, right before my eyes. I’ll be crossing it next Saturday as the event starts, happens, and concludes.
I’m excited. I truly believe it’s going to be a fun time for all – runners and volunteers alike. And what an awesome way to build school-community relations and pride.
A shout-out to all the businesses that are supporting this race in various ways: Bicycle Outfitters, Mesa Monument Striders, Fiesta Guadalajara, Reddy Ice, Domino’s Pizza, Fairground Liquor and Wine, Meadowgold Dairy, Chipotle, Octopus Coffee, Supercuts, Smiles in There Photography, Randy’s Diner, A&R Enterprise, and Silo Adventure Center.
Looking for something to do next Saturday? Something healthy and fun and that supports a local school? Look no further than the ROARing to Run 5k!
By Robin Dearing
Thursday, April 10, 2014
By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I freely admit that I take satisfaction in some pretty strange things. I love showing people when I've run a ball-point pen out of ink or used a pencil down to an unsharpenable nub.
No one cares about these things, but it feels like an accomplishment to me. So when I tackle a real job and get it done, I can hardly contain myself.
I had that feeling several times recently. Thursday and Friday, I worked in our much-neglected front yard. To make Bill happy, I cut back everything to tiny stumps. I'm loath to admit it, but he was right. The yard looks much better. The Russian sage, pampas grass, lavender all are neatly trimmed and free of as many of those evil elm seedlings as I could find. I tried to dig up as many of the volunteer hollyhocks as I could get and now that bed looks a bit bare. Luckily, the planting season is upon us. I can't wait to go the greenhouse to see what I can fill it up with.
The yard was a just one of the great accomplishments that happened more recently.
Saturday and Sunday, Bill and I (mostly Bill) cleaned out our garage. This is huge because our garage has been the universal dumping ground for all things useful and un-useful since we moved into our house over three years ago. It was packed with Bill's tools, my dad's tools, too many bikes, a couple motorcycles, discarded household items and various detritus from our lives. It rendered the garage completely functionless. It was impossible to find anything and there was no room to do anything in there even if you could find the right tools.
We took everything out of the garage and began organizing it. Then the negotiations began. I wanted to get rid of everything that didn’t have an immediate purpose. Bill wanted to keep a bunch of junk. We dickered and I took much glee in hauling unneeded items out to our junk pile in the front yard.
Oh yes, the junk pile. It’s that time of year again when the city of Grand Junction allows us to pile anything heading for the dump in our front of our house to be picked up in a couple of weeks. Of course, it becomes a crazy recycling program as pickers creep slowly through the neighborhoods searching piles for items that have value or can be reused.
I take strange satisfaction in that the fact that the pickers are going to love our pile this year. We’ve got a bunch of good stuff in there. The neighbor kids already gleaned a couple sets of golf clubs and a fish house. Now that I think about it, the old computer desk is already gone. Hope it went to a good home.
In his defense, Bill did agree to get rid of a fair amount of stuff, so I didn’t argue about a bunch of other stuff. Now, we still have too much stuff in the garage, but at least it’s organized now. Plus, we can actually get to the toolboxes and workbench.
I’m strangely proud of our almost-tidy garage — even more proud than I was when I used up another Bic softgel writing lectures this week.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.