Our Rocky Mountain National Park Adventure

20160826_133932 Something about mountains has always attracted me. The chance of finding a $112 round trip fare from Chicago to Denver could not be resisted, and so I’d booked myself, husband, and son to escape for four wonderful days of adventure. Our destination, Rocky Mountain National Park!

Thinking I was so clever to not book accommodations until our arrival at night in Denver, I’d calculated that every hotel would clamor for us to reduce their occupancy rate. Ugh! I miscalculated! Our arrival was technically in the wee hours of the next day, Wednesday, and all I wanted was a few hours of sleep in a motel before heading to the mountains. My smartphone apps wouldn’t let me schedule a booking and still leave the same day; and if I did, they were primed for my arrival after 3:00 p.m., not 3:00 a.m. My chivalrous husband wandered among five hotels inquiring about vacancies where we didn’t want to pay $230 for just a few hours of sleep. Another miscalculation.

While I thought that we’d take advantage of the fact that many schools were now in session and that there would be empty rooms, I forgot that University of Colorado was starting and Colorado State began the week before. Suffice it to say, we found a deal and slept soundly after grousing through something of a pre-dawn breakfast at Denny’s.

The next day had us barreling through from Aurora to head northwest toward Westminster and Boulder. I’d heard so much about Boulder and found basically a college-town annexed to something like Naperville, IL. But we did not linger; instead we thought to not take a chance at sleeping with the bears, we headed to the area by Estes Park, very close to Rocky Mountain National. As we rubbernecked with joyful squeals and pointing fingers at the terrain, I managed to find mention of $109 rates for cabins and lodge rooms at the YMCA of the Rockies. We set our GPS and headed there while noting other prospects for lodging if we came up short.

The YMCA of the Rockies was impressive! Several buildings dotted the huge property at the foothills to the national park. We found our way to the Administration Building with the tall flagpole and Old Glory looking impressive against an unusually dark cerulean blue sky. The doorway featured a sign stating that we were at about 8000 feet altitude. Its deck was timbered, and I saw some tall, wooden hiking poles leaning against the exterior wall. Inside, was a rather large fireplace and decor that I’d describe as upper crust rustic. Behind the registration counter was a very pert young lady whom I approached and made my case. “Hi! We’re from Chicago, don’t know a thing, don’t have reservations, but here we are. Help!” Apparently, she was a recent hire (from New Jersey) and summoned her supervisor, a woman similar to my age and curiously very much resembling a former neighbor.

She greeted us, and I repeated our circumstances. The woman was a godsend. She took us under her wing, told us all the options, and didn’t blink when we emphasized the word “cheap.” With that, I also told her that she looked, sounded, and had the same mannerisms of my neighbor Lisa. She laughed and said that other people have told her she has a doppelganger, but that in fact her name was Lisa. Only Lisa was from Oregon. To that I gushed, “Oh, I have another friend from Salem, Oregon who now lives by me!” Crazy how us chicks can do that, right?

Anyway, Lisa set us up in a lodge room away from the ruckus of youthful campers. Blissfully quiet was the setting for our room with one queen and two bunks. We each had our own bed to give relief to what would soon become sore feet, joints, and muscles. And the room had a 3/4 bathroom. And breakfast! It overlooked green forest and hills with residences lucky enough to live so close to this paradise. Bookworm that I am, I’d quickly scanned all the literature that outlined the variety of activities available to us, most at no additional charge! There was volleyball, guided hikes, archery, tennis, mini-golf, arts & crafts, and other programs for outdoor education enthusiasts. Quickly, we snarfed down some snacks we’d picked up at Walmart along the way from Denver, and then we headed to the national park.

Just antecedent to the park’s admission fee hut, was the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center where I did the same, “Hi! We don’t know nuthin'” script. A helpful ranger took us under her wing and outlined a few detail maps which would give us guidance to hike trails that were adequate to tire our son who was eager to try his luck at a pre-Himalayan experience, but that would not result in coronary collapse on our behalf. Back in Chicago, we had been pretty active in biking and golfing in recent years, but we just have not been able to carve out enough time this year due to work. She suggested the Bear Lake Trail as a warm up and then to approach the nearby route to Emerald Lake. Also, as luck was truly on our side, she mentioned that the usual $20 entrance fee was only enforced this day, but that the next days’ fees were waived as a celebration of 100 years of the National Park Service coincided with our visit. Yaaas!

We paid our fee and drove to the parking lot of the Bear Lake Trailhead, took a few pics, and then started to search for the trail’s start. But my husband halted, looked somewhat uncomfortable, and told us that his heart was racing. I took off my Fitbit and put it on his wrist. He was about 100 beats per minute. Then I noted that I felt strained, but not overly so. We took deep breaths, and proceeded with caution as we each monitored our physiology. The trailhead ranger station had a sign posting the elevation at 9400-something feet. Our wonderment and curiosity of this new environment was mixed with some reserve lest our naivety cost us our lives.

Bear Lake was an easy, almost lateral traverse. Then it was time to do the Emerald Lake route, which would take us past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, over 10,000 feet. Knowing our youngest would want to venture at his quicker pace relative to our’s, we suggested that he go on ahead. After we walked and paused, and walked and paused to breathe, it started to rain. I’d packed three umbrellas, but our son was out of sight. Fortunately, although it was chilly, we did not think it was threatening. However, walking with umbrellas through the trails and hearing a bit of rumbling thunder afar was making it a bit more exciting.

Nymph Lake was a pleasant surprise, as it was covered in lily pads. It reminded me of my Uncle Ben’s place  on Lake Osterhoot in Michigan. He’d had a summer place on the lake where we’d visit when I was a child. Dream Lake was long, narrow and, as is everything in the park, it was picturesque. We saw people of all ages, several well into their 70’s who were getting along just fine, as my husband and I tempted fate with our unconditioned, urban-dwelling, flatlander attempts at real mountain hiking. We were in surreal heaven, but it may have been oxygen deprivation. Finally, we saw our son approaching us on his descent; he’d seen Emerald Lake and encouraged us to continue the quest to witness the beauty of it. People along the way said it was worth it, so we persisted as three umbrella fortified pilgrims.

Just as we approached, the rain lightened up and we peered at the saddle between two crests where the sun was beaming white behind clouds and the rain could have been mistaken for snow. Emerald Lake was dark; but as the rain abated, we saw the hallmark color slowly reveal itself. Little gophers came scurrying out again to play by our feet, and other travelers posed for pictures to capture the memory of this beautiful sight. Once again, the rain picked up as the sun shone; and I craned my neck, pivoting to try to find a rainbow, but the mountain formed a screen which would not reveal one this day. We felt the chill of moisture plus altitude, and descended.

Later that night we explored nearby Estes Park and ravenously consumed whatever we could to re-energize our bodies. Back at the YMCA of the Rockies, I crawled into bed with a headache that persisted all night…altitude sickness had struck. The next morning, my husband went to breakfast and brought some back to our room. Upon his invitation to eat, nausea roiled my innards and I lost water and Propel, and even got the dry heaves. The guys went hiking and I went to bed. I just wanted to sleep and stop the misery I’d felt.

At peace with them on their merry way, I knew that my son wanted to attempt the summit of Flat Top Mountain (12,324 ft.), and before he left I rattled off all the mountaineering safety rules I could recall. After awhile, I startled when I heard thunder from my bed. I checked my weather app and saw a small thunderstorm with a red zone approaching where I thought he’d be then. Quickly, I’d texted my son and husband to take cover, get down out of the treeless alpine altitude, but there seemingly was no decent cell service from Sprint! I prayed, and I called my daughter who was on vacation with her husband at Mackinac Island to pray for his safety. I can’t tell you where my mind went…worry…intense worry. No contact with either guy.

I hobbled out of bed, dressed, tried to drink an ounce of water with some coffee powder, and the headache disappeared. Tried more, and I was feeling better about 3 p.m. Within minutes after that, the door flung open and there they were. My tears and emotion poured as they excitedly told me about their day. My son had taken numerous videos, even recording the whiteout that occurred on the summit. He did receive my text. That is when he also saw the little critters making a heck of a lot of noise and scampering toward safety. He took that as a sign and bounded out of there as fast as he could, and good thing he did. He conquered the mountain.

The next day, we headed out for more hiking, all of us. We did about twelve miles and ascended again to about 11,000 feet, but this time we had no problems. What beauty we found at Alberta Falls, and we explored a spur from the Flat Top Mountain trail toward Bierstadt Lake and beyond. Finally, we’d had enough and thought to exit toward Denver in order to catch our flight early the next day. But what a treat it was to find a deal at the Marriott in Broomsfield where we could enjoy the hot tub before our flight and the chance to reminisce about our adventure.

Next target: Glacier National Park!

 

 

 

Ready, Set, Plan…

Flickr credit Violet Monde

Flickr credit Violet Monde

The first day of school will be here in a heartbeat; and while you still need to recharge, it’s a good idea to brainstorm plans for the coming term.

How are you going to make this the best school year ever? What will you do differently? How far do you dare to reach out of your comfort zone?

As with any new year, make resolutions now. Be the light, be the flint that sparks the lamp of knowledge within your students. Consider how you will connect with parents of your charges, because involved parents make a significant impact on student success.

What will you do? Yet whatever you decide, be sure to still pack in some summer fun while you can.

“But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.” Pilgrim at Tinder Creek by Annie Dillard

Seatbelt Time

Buckle in till the end


It is “seatbelt time,” that brief span of two weeks or less when classes still meet, but everyone knows that they are sooooo done with straining over the disciplines of school. When assigning homework brings a roll of the eyes of every student, and teachers are going through the motions while grinding their teeth, you know the jig is up because teachers walk into the teachers’ lounge asking, “Is it June yet?”

Well, it is here. My insight lends me to regroup, change plans, shake it up, and do those things the students have been clamoring to do. Skits, outings, art projects, are a few of my tools. I’d even made a classroom set of Roman numeral Bingo cards, and I think we’ll have some more practice the last few days.

Noticing that a few of my middle school students’ handwriting could be described as atrocious, they will get coached and practice some calligraphy using an italic font and a bulk of pens I’d ordered from Amazon specifically for these seatbelt days.

With May having AP exams, other standardized tests, field trips, field days, and senior ditch days as acceptable distractions from the regimen of learning, it is time to take the foot off the pedal and evolve into a stunt driver of new and alternative curriculum.

Always keep them guessing, and try to preserve their joy in gaining new skills, developing their social-emotional development, and building their confidence to explore a vast ocean of knowledge. Here’s to hoping for summer and the cry of “school’s out!”

The Greatest Power

Green hummingbirdAmid the horrific headlines bringing distress over Syria, continued subjugation of the Palestinians, vituperation and bullying of immigrants and minorities, and environmental and economic dangers, it is time to acknowledge the greatest power in the universe.

Recently returned from Costa Rica, one of my children shared divinely inspired photos and videos of their adventures to the Pacific Ocean, Arenal Volcano, and the cloud forest of Monteverde. Awareness of the vitality in nature struck a contrast to the fragile, artificial urban environment we call home. The disconnect with the greatest power in the universe has led to greed, arrogance, violence, despair, and predatory injustice. Many people are drowning in depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and mind numbing pastimes in order to cope.

As the NFL draft picks are taking place in Chicago, my husband noted the high degree of commercialization and profiteering he has witnessed. It is with apperception that I find parallels with ancient Rome when corrupt aristocrats led the ignorant and impoverished people to be placated with bread and gladiator events, which were meant to quell potential rebellions. We are being “entertained” so as to not rebel against the sources of our distress, and “others” are being cast as scapegoats to account for the common man’s plights.

Such contrasts are apparent. We try to educate to promote critical thinking; yet, our media feeds us predigested sound bytes and program our expressions. Several pop celebrities debase humanity’s morals and seduce us with false confectionary-like goals of fame, fortune, and public affection. The majority of presidential candidates offer us two-faced lies and demonstrate ill manners with aplomb, while we educators try to promote virtues like honesty, mutual respect, fair play, and honor. It is vexing how convoluted society’s values have become since my youth. Yet, with reference to history, I am not optimistic, but I seek refuge from the greatest power in the universe.

This power has given us capacity to decide and act, and I choose to resist by exemplifying virtue, reliance on my own senses, prayer, and diligence to keep aware of corrupting influences for myself and my family. I believe that if we work as a tribe for goodness, regardless of nationality, religion, or other polarizing divisions, we have a chance to live on our own terms as one identity-Humanity.

“The truth has arrived, and falsehood will vanish, for falsehood always vanishes!”               –Al Isra’, (The Night Journey, 17:81).

Life’s a blazing blur

3764133068_fd4f23e736_z Down to the wire, life has been a frenzied, blazing blur all of January, February, and March with teaching middle and high school level classes, writing research papers, designing presentations, planning and completing two education conferences, and having progressive interviews for a principalship in Silicon Valley. The latter which I have just returned from today. Now we wait for the final verdict.

The premeditated strategy to stay ultra busy in hopes of not having time to curse Chicago’s lousy winter weather was a success, and it helped that this El Nino gave us a milder span of confinement. Having the chance to travel and escape it a few times helped too. Yet the stress of being overbooked with commitments resulted in my decision to suspend my participation in some favored volunteer activities for the next year because I realized that there has not been enough time to do some things I’d intended to pursue for nearly three years. With prospects of a relocation and ultra responsible obligation to a school community, I may only have a few months to accomplish those items on my list– but it is all good.

By the way, my 6th grade classes I’d written about in my previous blog are much improved in conduct and we have definitely made some great strides and connections. Being a democratic class community, I found it surprising that students voted to return to the traditional rows versus desk clusters. What they did ask for, and I approved, was that they could relocate themselves to sit by favored classmates. This was with the understanding that I could veto the arrangements if they were unable to focus or became disruptive. I’m greatly enjoying their progress and look forward to the next unit on Ancient Rome. They’ve asked to do skits!

Also pleasing to me is the interest in the school, where I interviewed, to encourage students to pursue some of the more creative and expressive avenues in art, writing, and media. I do believe they are on the right track to recognize these as significant pursuits which can enhance student motivation and ownership of their education. That’s a formula for success.

I am very blessed and grateful with how my efforts and prayers have resulted in rich rewards. Stay tuned for what should be an interesting springtime of emergence.

 

 

New Kid=New Teacher

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Agh! Just starting at a new school at mid-year is rough for students, but it isn’t easy for teachers either. I’m the “new teacher” that just came on board in January for 6th grade Ancient History and high school AP Psychology, and it is as much of a transition for me as it is for my students.

Teachers typically take the first few weeks to get to know their students, establish routines, and set a positive climate. But even experienced teachers know that after winter and spring breaks there is a certain degree of retraining that is needed.

Last weekend, when I flew to Santa Clara for an interview, my students endured one day of a substitute. To my chagrin, the 6th grade did not conduct themselves optimally, and I felt responsible. For if teachers have trained their classes well, the students should be able to follow established protocols even without the regular teacher’s presence. Of course, with less than one month, mine were evidently not well settled, so I took measures to modify my protocols.

The previous instructor used daily bellwork that featured map handouts each week, and she used her computer desktop to project questions relevant to those maps prior to the day’s lesson. I found that procedure conflicting with also using the desktop to report attendance at the start of each class. In addition, I really like to use short video clips to illustrate geographic places and concepts.

It occurred to me that this fit nicely into what Fred Jones, author of Tools For Teaching described as Preferred Activity Time (PAT), whereby students are rewarded if they behave and perform responsibly.

I communicated my displeasure with the conduct during my absence, and stated that we would concentrate on note taking skills each day. Students would be allowed and rewarded if they put effort forth to take good notes, as they could be used on formative assessments and specifically quizzes. On days which were productive, we would enjoy geography “bellwork” and a relevant video at the end of class. This week we saw a clip on the locks of the Panama Canal, some facts about Mexico, and a modern housing subdivision in Managua, Nicaragua.

Now students come in, ready their notebooks and texts while I complete attendance. I have learned their names, established cooperative groups via a seating chart, have numerous writing samples which indicate several areas I have targeted for remediation, and I am feeling pretty good that we are going to progress happily through till June.

As for Santa Clara, I’m going to enjoy this SuperBowl regardless of which team wins because it was my good fortune to have my hotel room view directly upon Levi’s Stadium as preparations were underway. The area is lovely and I truly enjoyed meeting people at their local school.

In fact, everything is win-win, and attitude, autonomy, and ambition are guiding my game lately. Enjoy!

5 Tips for a Better Year

 

Holiday breaks can foster fertile ideas and hopefully you have made solid plans for your entrepreneurial intentions. Yet, even if you are not an entrepreneur per se, you may have had ideas of ways you wish to improve your life. With that, allow me to share some tips with you, as I’ve had some fun conning myself at times to do the nasty but necessary tasks that I’ve preferred to defer, but just knew that I had to do.

I think it was Brian Tracy that coined the term “Eat That Frog” as a title for one of his books. This zany phrase was extrapolated from Mark Twain who described that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, then that is probably the worst thing that will happen all day. The gist of it is that with the myriad of distractions in our lives, be sure to knock off the most vital thing you can prioritize in order to gain traction; eat that frog.

For me yesterday, I updated and renewed a FAFSA application with my child who is in college. Everything else-albeit more pleasurable-took second place to “eating that frog.” Today it is writing lesson plans, for I am returning to the classroom for some part time social studies at middle school and high school levels. This will give me the pleasure of satisfying my “kid fix” while funding my other entrepreneurial tools that I want to explore. The only downside is that I’ll have to join the early riser club again, but it is probably for the best.

Every day, I have a huge amount of useless emails that I typically don’t even open after scanning the subject line because I do not find them relevant to my needs. Consequently, they pile up and I periodically unsubscribe or at least bulk delete several times each year. The reason I acquire so much email is that I find many free resources that give benefits, but at a certain point it becomes clear that subsequent offerings don’t interest me, are not coming at an opportune time, or cost more than I am willing to invest. Purge unnecessary emails. Ditto; for smartphone apps that free up more memory.

The tips on decluttering from Marie Kondo still give me “spark joy,” but it is deep winter now and I have no need for chiffon blouses, Boho skirts, and lightweight workout apparel. In fact, I’m recovering from a Baker’s Cyst (getting drained and having a Cortisone shot was like eating a frog!) that put brakes on my typically athletic lifestyle, so until I mend it seems joyful to thin out warm weather clothes from closets and drawers, except for what I will wear to present at the West Coast Education Forum in Newport Beach in mid-January.

Lastly, with high expectations for a productive year, it makes sense to calendarize, in order of priorities, all the work, personal projects and dates you intend to pursue. This includes writing and marketing campaigns, content creation, social dates, and vacations. For me, if I put it on my calendar, it is going to be done-even if it’s within a few days of my posting-so fill 2016 with a seriously accountable calendar of things that matter to you!

Hope you have the best, healthiest, happy and prosperous year ever.