Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Balance Found

This isn't Facebook. This blog is real. You know by now that I don't share only the good. There's the bad and the ugly, too. I'm all about the balance.

I don't think I jinxed myself the other day writing about how much I enjoy subbing; I figured I was bound to have a bad day. In fact, I've honestly been waiting for it because I understand and accept that life is filled with highs and lows. Things have been going really well on my assignments, and I knew it would not go well every single day. Today is proof. I had my first subbing low, and frankly I'm relieved to be on the other side of that milestone.

Today wasn't a bad day as much as it was a bad fifteen minutes. And the good news is that it was the very last fifteen minutes of the day. Pack up and clean up is normally the most boisterous and chaotic portion of the day, but this afternoon in first grade it was amplified because a student's behavior specialist showed up right at that moment and I felt as though I was being judged. That only led to embarrassment. I don't know what she thought of me and my abilities, but if I was her I would not have been impressed.

It was ugly. Her kid was falling apart and that set off some other kids who set off some more kids and before long everyone was loud. I wasn't sure we were going to be able to hear the bell. I quieted them long enough to make a few announcements and let them know how disappointed I was in their end-of-the-day behavior but as soon as I stopped talking, they started talking. Loudly. I really just wanted to run away.

But I didn't. And no one got hurt. It was loud, yes, but it was not unsafe. That's what I keep reminding myself. What I'm most upset about is that the behavior specialist saw what she saw and didn't see the rest of our day. And she might tell all her friends I didn't have control of the class. And her friends might think I'm an ineffective sub. And they won't call on me. And, and, and. But maybe she won't. And maybe they won't judge me. That's not up to me. All I know is it happened and I need to move on. It doesn't help to dwell on it. I think of it as a lesson. Though I can't immediately think of any classroom management skills that I learned from this episode, I did learn that I should not worry about what others think of me so much, especially when what they see is 1/28th of a full day in the classroom.

Monday, October 20, 2014

How the Other Half Lives

A few months ago, Brian was at Home Depot and a radio station was broadcasting from the site. He threw his name into a raffle and a few hours later he drove back to Home Depot to collect a $100 gift card to Donovan's Steak and Chop House that he had won. Since his mom was here visiting last week and willing to babysit, he and I went out for a fancy steak dinner. And that is something that we usually do not do.

What else don't we usually do? Well I probably sound like a hillbilly when I say I've never used valet parking. It's true; I've never handed over my keys to a stranger so he could go park my car. It just feels so silly. And in this case, it was our 1997 Honda Accord. Good grief. That felt really silly. They were very kind and opened my door for me, but I couldn't help but giggle inside because it was so ridiculous.

Once we were inside, it only got more humorous. Our reservation was in ten minutes so they had us sit at the bar. No, nothing yet. Thank you. As we sat there, I noticed the wine lockers along the wall with last names or law firms or investment firms engraved on the nameplates. Classy. When our table was ready, the hostess walked us to our table, making sure to provide me with a play by play of the turns we would make along the way. We'll go straight through here. We'll turn left up here. We're making a right here. Here's your table. Does it suit you? Uh yeah. Sure. Looks great! Oh what the heck. I played along with, "Of course. Thank you."

We made our wine and beer and dinner selections pretty quickly as the menu is not grand. Of course, that didn't stop the maitre d' from reading the entire menu to us a few moments later. After patiently listening to his insipid humor delivered in a French accent, "au gratin is French for au gratin," and politely smiling at "smashed potatoes is similar to mashed potatoes but it has an S," he left us to ponder the menu one last time before coming back to collect our order. He was charming, but charming turned to trite after I heard him repeating that same spiel to another table. Also, I have my doubts that he's French. 

About forty minutes later (not a bother, we were in no hurry) Brian and I had a delicious, rich, and very filling meal that we enjoyed together in a quiet, dimly lit restaurant with tasteful decor. It was very pleasant even though we also enjoyed it with the four members of the table across from us who were drinking several bottles of wine, cocktails, and then finally coffee cocktails. They were clearly living it up and having a fun Saturday night on a Monday, so we quietly observed and chuckled. They were like the entertainment.

We declined dessert, settled our bill, and then waited for our car. "Did you tell him to be careful with it?" I asked Brian as we stood by a new Mercedes and then watched an Audi drive up. The valet opened my squeaky door for me (thank goodness we didn't have another couple with us because the rear doors are even louder!), and we headed for home.

We are not the kind of people who are used to such pampering, and we felt almost guilty for being taken care of so well. We certainly don't expect to be treated that way all the time. Well, I guess if we're paying for it, okay then yes; they should be overly polite and helpful. But I think I'll stick to the casual and comfortable restaurants we normally patronize. For one, comfortable trumps swanky. Second, I'd like to go out to dinner more than once a year.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Backyard Glamping

The other night, Elizabeth and some friends had a backyard campout to celebrate her birthday. She asked just a few girls and we grilled hot dogs, had a campfire with s'mores, and they slept outside in the tent. As far as birthday parties go, this might be considered a dud to most. I can't keep up with those Pinterest moms out there, so the most elaborate decoration was a candelabra my mother sent for the occasion. I bought some glow sticks and a variety of bulk bin goodies so they could make their own trail mix, but I mean there wasn't even a cake! I was relieved that they had a good time for such little effort, and the fact that the girls enjoyed a party of such simplicity makes me hopeful for all our futures.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Top of the World

I'm really digging this substitute teaching gig. For one, there's plenty of work. Though I could have worked on Wednesday, I had to mark myself as unavailable because I kept receiving calls for kindergarten. There must have been some District training that day--which I have to say would be oddly timed. It's not that I don't like kindergarten; in fact, I have a kinder assignment scheduled in two weeks. But Wednesday was the first day back from fall break, and I pictured a lot of little kids crying and not wanting to leave Mom. So after hitting the decline button quite a few times, I realized I didn't want to teach any grade that day and my house could use a good cleaning. That's another perk of this job. I work when I want to and don't have to work when I don't want to. Sa-weet! However, I do want to work a lot, and next week I'm working Monday through Friday. It's like I have a real job! I have fourth and first grade at one school on Monday and Tuesday, and then Wednesday through Friday is a three-day assignment in third grade at our school. That will be my first multiple day assignment so I'm hoping it goes well at least the first day so I don't dread returning. It's for one of our best teachers, so I'm confident her plans will be thorough and she'll leave enough work for her students.

The most surprising parts of this new job are how much I'm enjoying being in the classroom with the students and how much the teachers appreciate the work I'm doing. Yes, I'm a guest in that class for that day, but I seemingly have no problem running the show. I don't know where the appearance of confidence comes from (though I theorize it's because I'm dressed up after having not been for ten years) because I don't feel all that confident. At times though, the words and tone come out like I know what the heck I'm doing, and it's quite shocking to me and probably most others who know me well.

Here's an example. Yesterday was my first PE assignment, and thirty seconds into the activity of kooshball throwing, first grade girls were crying from getting hit. With kooshballs! First I let them sit out, but within minutes I had four girls sitting down behind me and I'm thinking, This is ridiculous. It's a kooshball. It doesn't hurt. They're just trying to get out of playing. Well, this is PE class not lazy time. So I spun around and said, "Hey girls. Stand up and let's shake it off like Taylor Swift," and I did a little dance. They all giggled, stood up, shook it off, and joined the game. After that, every time someone got hit, I told them to shake it off. Laughs ensued and the game continued. What can I say? I'm a genius. I'd never do that for fifth graders, but first graders have no idea how uncool I really am. Fourth graders, on the other hand, are borderline. We did longer warm ups yesterday than what they were probably used to, but my strategy was to take our time on that part as well as the cool down so that the rather wild activity lasted about fifteen minutes. I didn't want anyone to get hurt on my watch. While we were stretching, a fourth grade boy shouted, "Hey this isn't yoga!" I calmly said, "Oh no. Because of that outburst, we're going to have to hold this stretch for another fifteen seconds. Let's count by fives to 75." I may not be a drill sergeant at Camp Lejeune, but that kid didn't complain anymore and neither did his friends. I learn something every single day, and when I'm not able to figure out what to do or what to say, it's refreshing to remember that my time in that class expires in a few hours or minutes and I don't have to go back the next day. Or ever.

Despite my sterness and high expectations for good behavior, I think most of the kids like me. However, I'd rather be respected than liked by the students, and I do feel respected. I figured out that part after messing it all up with my girl scouts five years ago. Sure they had fun, but I got no respect and ended up having very little fun. That's no way to lead. As for the teachers for whom I sub, I really do want them to like me so I follow their plans and do what they say. I don't want to brag (okay maybe a little) but from the feedback I've received, I am doing well at following their instructions. It's no secret that I'm needy and like to be validated, so when teachers call me to thank me for getting their class to be so productive, I appreciate it and will work hard to get more of that. I subbed in fifth grade this week at a school in which all the fifth grade teachers were in a training that day. A volunteer who floats among the fifth grade classrooms told me that my class was the quietest and best behaved. "I don't know what you did, but you really have a grip on it. Does Mrs. M know you? Does she know how to reach you to come back? Because I'm going to tell her to ask you back." Maybe the joke's on me and she told that to every sub, but I felt she was being sincere. That's one of my favorite schools to go to, so I really hope she meant it and shared her opinions with others. Another teacher called me out of the blue asking if I was free for three days because I subbed for her friend and "she was very happy with what you left for her." Wow. Huh. Really? No kidding! I guess I'll just keep doing what I'm doing then.

I don't know how long I'll do this, but I plan to do it until it's not fun anymore. I'm not the kind of person who wants to do something for forty years and retire. I like to try and learn new things, and I realize I'm fortunate to be able to live and work that way. So right now, I'm on top of the world and hoping I don't fall off it anytime soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just a Few More

Because I know you really want to see more photos of our trip to Colorado, I'll share these last few with you. Then I promise to stop.

After we hiked the Goulding Trail on Monday, we drove to Silverton. We saw some awesome autumnal views along the way.

We happened to arrive in Silverton as the train was departing.The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is the thing to do for anyone who visits Durango. Though you can ride it to Silverton, have lunch and shop in Silverton for a few hours, and then ride the train back to Durago, that is an all day affair. The train ride is 3.5 hours, but a drive in the car takes only an hour.We considered riding the train to Silverton and taking one of their buses back to Durango, but since we did the zip line activity we were never forced to make a decision on that. Thank goodness because the train options were mind-boggling.

Downtown Silverton

The following day, we did ride the train to Soaring Treetop Adventures. The view for the first hour wasn't too enthralling, but it got good very quickly once we reached the mountains. The photos don't do it justice. You should really go see it for yourself.

Aww man. I want to go back. Let's go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zippity Doo Dah

If Disney offered a zip line experience, this would be it. Though I may not be all that fond of heights, I must tell you that our day in the trees at Soaring Treetop Adventures was hands down the best day of any vacation we've taken without our kids.

First, you should know a little something about the company, or rather, the family business. Denny and Judy Beggrow purchased this land along the Animas River in the San Juan Mountains in 1969 with the dream to build a five-star resort. They realized their dream, and the Tall Timber Resort existed as an exclusive vacation destination for forty years. In the early 2000s, though, the times changed. The resort had no television, no internet access, and cell phones just did not work. After all, the place is six miles from the nearest road, and the only ways to get there are via the Durango & Silverton Railroad or by helicopter. The place was created for people who wanted to get away from it all yet wanted to be catered to. Once smart phones ruined the world (okay, so that may be only my dramatic opinion), not very many people wanted to vacation somewhere where they would be disconnected for more than a day. By the late 90s, they weren't receiving as many guests, so they had to redesign their business. Well, here comes the son.

Denny and Judy's son, Johnroy, was inspired to create a zip line course after watching the film Medicine Man which showcases Sean Connery zipping from tree to tree in the jungle. As the name would suggest, they had plenty of trees at Tall Timber so he started running kite string between trees and eventually ended up with a 27-line course that's over one and a half miles long. In fact, one span is 1400 feet (that's about a quarter mile!). It's the second-to-last run and it is spectacular. Feel free to watch as Brian demonstrates. This is the only span that begins on a cliff instead of a tree, and it takes him through the forest and over the Animas River before he meets me on the treetop platform at the end of the line.

Is that beautiful or what? Add October foliage, crisp Colorado weather, and "sky rangers" who treat you as though you're best friends forever, and it was a day to remember always.

We began the adventure in Durango where we boarded Soaring's own comfortable railroad car and enjoyed a scenic two-hour ride through the mountains to Tall Timber. I'm gonna come right out and say this will be a long blog already, so I'm saving the train pics for another day. But as we pulled up to Soaring, Luis did an impressive demonstration to wow all the train's passengers.

We disembarked and immediately signed waivers, made our lunch choices, and got suited up in these cool-looking Petzl harnesses. Jimmy led us on a short hike to our starting point all the while telling us the history of the resort, the company, and the Beggrow family. He also pointed out how their patented system of treetop platforms never penetrates any trees with nails or screws. They literally hug the trees up there.

There was a brief safety class and we were led up to the first span. It was higher and longer than I expected it to be. I was excited to do this but notably nervous.

Jimmy loaded my carriage onto the line while I grasped the tree with my hands. My knees were shaking, and I admit that it was very hard to let go of that tree.

I don't look confident, but Jimmy sent me on my way anyway.

Who's that receiving me? It's Johnroy!

Hey, I lived!

The sky rangers (the employees who send and receive you at each tree) are so friendly and kind. They are well-trained in customer service and you feel a certain kinship very quickly. Along those same lines, there's something about hanging from trees that makes one feel pretty vulnerable, and when you feel vulnerable you easily bond with others who are in a similar situation. Our group of thirty guests got close fairly fast. Here's Brian with our seatmates on the train. They were celebrating their 27th anniversary that week, and he surprised her with the train ride. Then there was that awkward moment when he told her they were also going zip lining. Let's just say she was not pleased, and I'm sure if we--two strangers--had not been there, she would have blown up. She was throwing quite a few zingers at him all day, but I also think she enjoyed herself. Whew. I think he learned his lesson though. No matter how good it may be, she does not like surprises.

Also in our group were three couples from Texas, a family from Prescott, another family from Phoenix, a couple from England, a couple on their honeymoon, two single women (one of whom was traveling across the country by herself for five weeks), and a couple that owns a bed and breakfast in Durango who were treating their friend to a happy 79th birthday.

Back to the zipping. The first few spans aren't very long in comparison to the rest of the course, but they allow guests to warm up to the idea and become familiar with the equipment. My heart was beating fast and it wasn't easy to lift my feet off the platforms at first, but after awhile it got easier, more fun, and I allowed myself to enjoy the scenery instead of clutching the strap with a death grip.

See that orange speck between the trees? That's a guest being raised by a helicopter lift from one platform to another that is 100 feet higher. Yeah. We did that, too.

Here's Brian being greeted by Johnroy on the span right after the helicopter lift. 

Want to see me take off on that span? Here's the video. Not only was it very high, but it was also the longest span we had done so far. Additionally, I was wondering why Neil was having such a hard time getting my carriage clamped onto the line. I make a very funny face but eventually submit to the process.

Next was a gorgeous span aptly named Aspen Alley. Here's a video of that, too. I seemed to stop short on a few spans, but I'll happily take that over crashing into trees. Luis mentioned several times that he was testing something, but I'm not sure if he was kidding. You know I believe anything, so just listen to me nervously giggle and carry on. 

After a few more, we were on the ground. A sky ranger unclamped us from the safety line, and a chef handed us a snack--a homemade cranberry bar and a bottle of water. You never had a cranberry bar like this. They shared the recipe with us at the end of the day, and I can't wait to make them. They are buttery and full of dates and caramel. Caramel!

After a few more spans, we enjoyed a delicious lunch on some complex platforms along the river. The food was so good--hot butternut squash soup, gourmet sandwiches, veggie chips, cool drinks for your water bottle, pasta or potato salad, and warm apple crisp for dessert. I'm hungry again just thinking about it.

Right after lunch, we began the river section of the course. I don't know how many times we crossed the river, but it got prettier every time. It was absolutely fabulous and unbelievably fun. And the more we did it, the more comfortable it felt.

Yes, of course, Brian took a video crossing the river. As Jimmy said, "He really likes cameras," but I guess Jimmy doesn't care for them much.

Not only were we more comfortable by now, but we were starting to show off.

We were really having a blast! Our new friends from Texas took this photo.

Then things got competitive with a race. The sky ranger let go of me early and gave me an advantage, but I still lost because I didn't quite make it all the way to the platform first. This is a cool video of both of us. (Sorry for all the links, but I know how to embed only one video in a post.)

One of the last spans was the aforementioned 1400-footer. It starts from a cliff, and it's a significant climb to get up there. Some of the older folks had a time of it, but no one's ever rushing you. There's no hurry; everyone has to wait their turn anyway.

Emily got me set up...

and away I went.

When it was all over, they gave us citrus water for our bottles and evaluations so we could let them know how awesome they are and what a fantastic time we had. We sat and chatted with our group and sky rangers for maybe fifteen minutes before we heard the train whistle. Then it was a little sad to have to say goodbye. Hugs, not handshakes, all around.

Denny Beggrow is the man in black here. What a vision he had. What a guy!

I obviously can't say enough good things about this place, but I strongly encourage you to buy a ticket and experience it for yourself. No, it's not cheap. It costs $479 a person but that includes the comfy train ride, a gourmet lunch in the trees, a fancy snack and water bottle, and four of the most fun hours of your life zipping through a forest in the mountains of Colorado. Occasionally they offer discount days for which the entire experience is only $250 per person if you pay cash. It just so happened that that offer was going on while we were there, so we were able to take advantage of it. It would have been worth the full price, though. If you ever have the chance, go Soaring!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Day Camp

The plan was to go camping for the weekend with Matthew's cub scout pack. However, after Brian and I came home from the outdoor paradise that is Durango, Colorado, the thought of camping in the dusty desert just a little north of Phoenix in the heat of early October was unfathomable. Why, cub scouts, why? If you want to camp in October, don't you want to be in the mountains, pines, and cooler air? So instead of scrambling to get all our gear in order and camping Friday through Sunday, we talked Matthew into the idea of us all going up for the day on Saturday. It worked out fine.

We arrived at Cave Creek Regional Park around 9 am all ready for the hike at 9:30. Only that hike didn't start until 10:30 by the time those guys got their act together. My it's-only-getting-hotter attitude was really starting to heat up. We finally got going and, as predicted, it was a hot climb. By the end of the 4-mile hike, Elizabeth and I realized that boys complain, bellyache, and even cry as much as girls do. It was a lovely hike; it just would have been nice to do it earlier in the day or later--like in December.

That's Elizabeth and me trying so hard to find shade.
We got back to camp about two hours later and ate our lunch that we packed. After a rather boring discussion and lesson about knots from the old boy scouts, we then went on another and hotter hike to an old clay mine within the park. Only a few could go in at a time so I opted out, but Brian and the kids donned hard hats and checked out the mine for a few minutes.

The rest of the afternoon wasn't structured, but it was good for Matthew to run around with his buddies and get dirty and dusty. Some of the moms were trying to crochet and knit, and Elizabeth borrowed some knitting needles and started a project. About three days earlier, GiGi had taught her how to knit. A few moments before we left that evening, Elizabeth knitted her scarf/blanket/sweater/whatever she will do with this work onto a kabob skewer so she could take it home with her.

The dinner theme was bring your own kabobs. One of the leaders fired up the barbie so the dads could cook their family's kabobs. It was a colorful grill and delicious feast.

As soon as the sun set, the campfire was lit and kids and adults were toasting marshmallows. After a kickball game ended, we successfully pulled Matthew from the fun and made our way home. Though we didn't sleep at camp, we were there for all the fun and simpler parts of the camping weekend. It was a good day.