Monday, October 29, 2012

I Love My Mom

Today is my mom's birthday and I love her.

I was talking with her over the phone yesterday and it was a pretty typical, casual conversation: do you have snow, what's been going on, what do you think about this, this is what we've been doing, etc.

But it made me so happy just to chat with her. I asked if she had any plans for her birthday. She said she's going to get a perm. That doesn't sound so much like a celebration, does it? However, my mom has had some pretty major health challenges and some things, like going out to a salon, can be difficult. It just made me feel happy for her that she is going to get her hair done.

Maybe it's because I saw the hair dresser myself on Wednesday, the very afternoon we returned from Clear Creek. I decided to have her chop four inches off--something fresh, a little different. It felt good. I want my mom to feel good, fresh, and shined up with a new do!

I just love her.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Clear Creek 2012

Another Clear Creek has come and gone. Gosh, I love that place. Every time we go there's something new or different--it never gets old. Our school district has owned this outdoor education camp for more than thirty years, possibly approaching forty. What a great investment they made once upon a time. The camp is eighty acres of beautiful land sitting at around 8000 feet elevation in coal country (sheep country too). The above photo was snapped no more than fifty yards from the driveway of the camp. The sheep were impeding our impending arrival, but only slightly.

I'd be flirting with trouble if I posted pictures of minors on my public blog. I may post some of the bad pictures I took which don't show any faces of the kids I teach. That's what the news channels do when they're doing a story on obesity--they just film all the bellies walking down the street and nobody gets cited for anything.

The camp has several ropes course activities installed here and there. I've never been trained or certified to use them so they're off limits when we visit. However, the father of one of my students contacted me last month and asked if he could be one of the volunteer parents at camp. And then he told me he is currently trained to run the ropes courses. What teacher would turn down such an offer on such a shiny silver platter? No one, that's who.

I really adore the above three photos because they all feature hands: teaching hands, learning hands, let's trust each other hands, I'll-catch-you-if-you-fall hands, and the hands of friends. I could go on and on about the whole camp experience, but if we only consider the ropes course, my, it is such a tool to help kids stretch themselves, try new things, learn new skills, gain confidence, learn from others, listen more, hear more, feel more, consider more. It was all just this amazing combination of various things on various levels that they don't get in my classroom. We were so blessed that the weather held for us, that the stars aligned for so many to participate in this activity. Lucky, Lucky, LUCKY!

After all of the children had a chance, the instructor asked if any of the adults wanted to try. I was pleased to have nine wonderful parents join us on our overnight adventure. Each parent worked hard, sacrificed, and contributed something to our camp experience. I'm sure they thought, "Of course I would do all of this for my child." However, it blows me away every time to see how much these parents love their kiddos and what they are willing to endure in their behalf. One dad raised his hand to be in charge of tie dye when nobody else wanted to (and he stayed jovial for the duration). Six parents stood up to take eighty percent of the kids on a cold hike in the pouring snow. Parents mopped, hauled trash, comforted the homesick, and dared to discipline. They worked together as a team. You know those moms who always have a song up their sleeve? She was at camp. Those dads that can load and haul any assortment of gear, bags, and boxes? He was there. Those moms who help the dilly-dally girls finally finish packing? Yep, She was there too. We had just the kind of parents we needed and they didn't get much sleep. The campfire dads were covered in snow so that sixty students could cook their banana boats. I saw pure love all around!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Canyon de Chilly and Other Local Humor

It was our last day of Fall Break. We woke up in the Cottonwood Campground in Canyon de Chelly in plenty of time to strike camp and head over to the Thunderbird Lodge for our spendy tour. But first, news about the campground.

The evening before we had driven up the South Rim to check out some of the overlooks--you know, look down into the canyon. There were several hogans up there, a variety of homes and dwellings. Back at camp, we had dinner and it quickly grew dark. We noticed several cars pulling into the campground and briefly parking in the site neighboring ours, cutting their lights, and heading to a certain destination. I mean, everybody was headed to this place which was fifty yards from our picnic table. This kept happening over and over. Some were quiet and stealthy. Some would chit-chat with others. Nobody stayed long. It was really dark so we couldn't see a thing. At first I asked, "Honey, what's going on? Do you think they're cutting drug deals?" I mean, the campground attendant had been off duty since five. We could hear a little clanking around, but we couldn't figure out what was going on. So, when there happened to be a quiet moment, we walked over there together and what did we discover with our Petzls? A WATER SPIGOT! ALL of these people were stealing water from the campground under the cover of darkness. We went back to our table and sure enough, a truck pulls into the same site everyone else was pulling into. This time, there were about four people and they started unloading jug after jug from the back of the pickup. They carried, filled, hauled, and repeated.

Okay, back to the following morning. We met up with Ron, our Navajo guide and truck driver who would be taking us into the canyon, since you're not allowed to venture in by yourself unless you hike this one trail from the top and hike right back out on the same trail. Everything else is very controlled. We were the last ones on the back of the truck and happened to get seats up front.

Ron has been a guide for twenty years and he knew just how to drive in that deeeeep sand! It was a very bumpy ride. Ron was so good at driving this terrain that he did most of it one-handed, because he always seemed to have coffee in his other hand.

He didn't have much of a safety message, but he did greet us and so I snapped a photo of him. Right after that, he said we could take a picture of anything in the canyon except for Navajo people. So, I guess I won't post that picture of Ron. He asked everyone if we had layers because it's cold in the canyon in the morning. "Shadow," he said. He said that's why they call it Canyon de Chilly (insert laughter here). Someone asked him what the Navajo people farm in the canyon. Ron said, "Oh, a lot of things: peaches, apples, apricots, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, marijuana, peyote." Classic. When he mentioned the people living up on the rim, I asked about water without spilling the beans about the spigot at the campground. Ron said people have Chinle water on the North Rim, but there's no water on the South Rim. In fact, South Rim just barely got electricity in 1999. Ron will be unemployed as of 3 November because the tour company is shutting down. He said he will go back home and live for free. "You can always go back home. I'll just let my bills go." We dutifully purchased Navajo Fry Bread at one of the stops and enjoyed all there was to see. K bought a pot when he found out they take Visa down there in the bottom of the canyon. It was a beautiful morning!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Visiting the Navajo Nation

After El Morro, we headed for our hotel reservation in Window Rock, Arizona which happens to be the capital city of the whole entire Navajo Nation which is a bit bigger than the state of West Virginia. We arrived in Window Rock around 6:30 p.m. hoping to find a local diner with some local flavor. The hotel clerk informed us the hotel's restaurant, The Dine' (Navajo for "The People", prounounced din-nay) had already closed for the evening at 6:00 p.m. It was Saturday night and everything was closed, except McDonald's. She suggested we drive back to Gallup, New Mexico if we wanted a decent restaurant. Having just come from Gallup, we headed for the local grocery store. K picked out some chicken tenders from the deli. I spied the tamales and also picked up a small package of sushi. We took it all back to our hotel room, hauled in the cooler for supplementation, and enjoyed our "traditionally Navajo supper" there in the nation's capital.

The next morning, we got ready for Church. Even didn't have an address for the church, but K said it was "somewhere on the highway, less than five miles or so." We drove and found it on the right hand side of the highway in St. Michael's. There was a cattle guard to cross as we entered the parking lot. We didn't know how long we might be lost, so we were actually ten minutes early. We shook hands with a lot of missionaries in the foyer and found a seat in the chapel. A sister sat by me in Sacrament Meeting and I found out she had participated in the Indian Placement Program. She had a good experience. She is recently widowed because her husband was killed in the line of duty (police officer). She took that money and "came back home" to build a nice new house. Another lady drew a map for us as an alternate route to our next stop. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. I wish I could get to know them better and ask a lot of questions. When we told people we were on our way to Canyon de Chelly, every single face lit up with a smile and bright eyes as they exclaimed, "Ooohhh!" They were suggesting four-wheel-drive roads and special hiking trails. They love sharing the beauty of their land with visitors.

The first speaker was a bishop's counselor and he is a New Zealander! I still wonder how he wound up in Window Rock. The other speaker was Brother Yellow Hair. His talk was mostly in Navajo with a few brief summaries in English. He was talking about the thirteenth Article of Faith so he would say, "Navajo, Navajo, Navajo, good report, Navajo, Navajo, Navajo, praiseworthy, Navajo..." You get the idea. We followed the best we could. He did speak enough in English for us to find out that he sent one of his eight children to the Indian Placement Program. They started getting letters from their boy, "Dad, I eat good, got a nice family, we do this thing called Family Home Evening, and you need to find out about this Church." That's how they were baptized and Brother Yellow Hair went on to serve in various bishoprics for fourteen years. Now he's on the high council.

Relief Society was great. All the Navajo sisters were sporting some form of turquoise but they admired my black Hawaiian pearls guessing they might be hematite. The lesson was about the Word of Wisdom (Lord's law of health) and the teacher said something I just did not comprehend. She was showing good foods we should eat such as tomatoes from the garden, oatmeal, etc. She held up a small silver can and smiling mentioned, "This is where I keep my cedar ash." She put the can down and moved on. The other ladies just nodded, but I was left in the dark. I don't keep any cedar ash in my pantry. I later found out that it is the green parts of the juniper they burn and then they save the ashes to flavor traditional Navajo foods such as corn mush. They are all wonderful women.

On the way to Canyon de Chelly, we stopped in at the Hubbell Trading Post, another park service site. Ranger Becky Begay was our tour guide and inside the Hubbell Home I spied a pot on top of the piano! We met Shadow, a retired park ranger horse from Washington state.

El Malpais and El Morro

The following morning, we left Albuquerque as LOTS of balloons ascended into the blue sky for the last day of the Balloon Fiesta. We're glad we got a little glimpse of that! We headed to a place called El Malpais National Monument, another one of those small park gems. There are a lot of volcanoes around and of course, we also saw a lot of volcanic rock and lava flows.

We stopped at a place called "Sandstone Bluffs" and played around on the outcropping of rocks. It was extraordinarily windy. Up on top, there was a small pool of water left from the rainstorm the day before. As I took a closer look, I was astounded to see tadpoles swimming in this little pool! How long had the eggs been there before the nourishing water arrived to move the little creatures forward in their stages of life? There were no other pools of water up there, just this one, and it wasn't all that deep. Deep enough, I guess. It's October! Where will the little frogs go when they're done swimming and growing? Incidentally, one of my favorite Japanese words is otamajakushi. You guessed it! It means "tadpole." You just never know what you'll find or think about in volcano country!

So after that little stop, we headed for a trail which took us across the lava. It was crazy fun. You really must try tramping across lava sometime. I couldn't believe how much fun I had. Even though the lava "bites back" as they say, we had a glorious, wonderful time following these volcanic rock cairns on our little treasure hunt. Some of them were hard to see so we were using our route-finding skills. This place is well-known for its ropey pahoe'hoe and the vulcanologists who visit still ask, "Huh, what happened here exactly?"

After El Malpais, we ran over to nearby El Morro National Monument, but the trails were closed to hiking due to the lateness of the day. There's a big inscription rock carved by Native Americans, Spanish Conquistadors, and Pioneers. The reason everyone stopped by was the constant pool of water. Water certainly attracts people, especially those who don't have it! We'll have to get back to El Morro someday.

What Does Rinconada Mean?

We left Casa Rinconada and drove to Albuquerque to visit Petroglyphs National Monument. Our first stop there was Rinconada Canyon. I don't speak Spanish. The rocks here are obviously volcanic, so it was unusual for me to see petroglyphs on lava rather than sandstone. More wildlife what with the millipedes roaming around and the rabbits darting through the rabbitbrush.

Chaco Sites

Woke up in camp and had cold cereal and milk. Stopped at the VC and chatted up the ranger. Headed out to the lastings. First up, Hungo Pavi:

And let's not forget the wildlife:

Next up, Chetro Ketl--this place had, for me, THE most impressive Great Kiva:

On to Pueblo Bonito, the place Dr. Buckley spoke of that got me all excited to visit:

I guess back in the forties (they know the month and day) a huge piece of the cliff fell down upon the pueblo wiping out about thirty rooms. This place is huge.

After that, we found Casa Rinconada. Sometimes they built what are called "tower kivas":