Mojave in my Heart

From a not-so childlike beginning in New York City to my child inspired world here and now


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st. nick, holiday happenings and joe, a former student of mine

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St. Nick came by our place in similar fashion as last year, leaving a sweet treat and a note about the weeks to come. Last year St. Nick wrote about the beauty of the 12 days of Christmas and we had a wonderful time celebrating it–  our first in Colorado, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on the Epiphany. We enjoyed it so much it was hard to accept it just wouldn’t work out this year. St. Nick was very helpful with this conundrum. His note informed us that we would be celebrating with gifts on Christmas only, but he asked us to give to others during the 12 days. Immediately the girls were excited by the challenge, not disappointed by the change, of giving to others for “all those days!”

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Perhaps it is my Catholic background or my attraction to the organization, but we’ve embraced the Advent calendar and candle ritual these years, too. I’ve come up with themes for the weeks of Advent- this week, the second, has centered around giving to others. St. Nick kicks it off, inspiring us to give to others on the heels of his gift to us.  We started in earnest –our happy crafting time, leaving handmade gifts for neighbors, signed “mystery givers” and baking cookies for those near and far. Last night we went to a homeless shelter in Boulder where we helped give out medicine, band aids, cough drops, etc. The girls asked lots of questions which I ultimately think is healthy, although it certainly made me wonder and question my decision. The folks at the shelter were friendly and while the girls have been well aware of the homeless situation in Boulder, this was a far more intimate and realistic dose.

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Whenever there are multiple trips to the post office, things can get stressful. Yesterday, our second day to the post office in a week, was no different! We had a pretty unhappy meltdown on our way home– and it left everyone feeling unhappy. We all had a quiet time at home and then came back together for lunch. I was still feeling uncertain about our afternoon (we had a lot going on in the evening) and how to smooth things out. It was gorgeous out so I suggested we get some balls and go to the park. We were excited about heading out, but as we finished lunch they got sidetracked with a handmade figure a former student of mine named Joe made for me, many years ago. Joe was a unique, wonderful student of mine in North Carolina who also happened to be on the autism spectrum. One day, early on in my knowing Joe, I found him completely absorbed in making tiny figures with paperclips and thread. I nearly stopped him, but stopped myself instead. I gave him a smile and on we went. His “crafting” with found objects didn’t seem to distract him from the importance of the Renaissance or the Treaty of Versailles. ; ) He was prolific in his work and soon I was finding these figures on my desk after class. There were spiders, robots, animals, people and even portraits of me! I was distinguished from the others by a scarf, which he managed to incorporate with thread or pieces of yarn.

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It was one of these figures that the girls became curious about that diverted our afternoon, for so much the better. They asked lots of questions about the figures, Joe and my teaching. Can we make them? We pulled out paperclips and yarn and got to work. It was HARD and it left me with more appreciation for these tiny figures than I had before. Our fingers ached a little, but we managed to create self-portraits, paperclips only.

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Above: Joe’s figures

We staged our figures along with Joe’s and put some music on. Wednesdays, if we can get it in, we sing. With more activity and school this year, it has been harder to have a set, weekly singing time. Ah, but here we were! So we piled up on the couch and started singing! It was overwhelming in the most beautiful of ways. We were close and connected, present and soulful. We belted out our favorites– mostly gospel songs that are simple, powerful and beautiful– getting right to the truth of the matter.

We can do things, offer things, go places with our kids, but I know that times like these imprint deeply. They seem to fill the soul rather than create a specific memory. The feeling of closeness, singing these powerful words and the presence we all shared. These are the times I want more of, just sometimes they come after the stress of package making, post office tripping and low blood sugar, but I’ll take it.

One song in particular, “I’ll Fly Away” a hymn from the earlier part of the 20th century really spoke to me yesterday. With the passing of my cousin two days ago and today marking three years since my mother was diagnosed, I was left really wondering about it all…and full of gratitude that I got to wonder in the arms of these sweet little people.


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ecosystems – aquatic (day 4)

The balm of nature transformed several gravel pits in eastern Boulder into a thriving wetlands ecosystem, home to a variety of birds, small mammals, wildflowers and other plants. We decided to visit the ponds on our 4th and final day of ecosystems. It was an absolutely stunning day– classic blue skies and the omnipresent, warming sun. With only containers of fresh popcorn packed, we headed out and met some friends at the trail.

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Decades ago this area was mined for gravel.  In 1974, residents of the area wished to transform the open pits and puddles into a wildlife habitat- they had a vision. Rocks were added to the pits, creating several ponds. Trees and shrubs were planted, the ponds filled with groundwater and then stocked with fish. It was named Walden Ponds, not as I thought as a nod to Henry David Thoreau’s,, but in reference to the Boulder County Commissioner who helped launch the plan to convert the gravel pits to a wildlife habitat. His name was Walden “Wally” Toevs. While active pits do remain around the open space, you can get lost in the tall grasses and cattails, winding trails and various ponds. That is just what the girls (and friends) did when we visited the ponds on Friday. They completely immersed themselves in the work of building fishing rods, diverting water this way and that, digging holes, digging holes and digging some more.

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Even after 5 hours, their work was not done.  I knew they were hungry and tired.  We had an early dinner at 4:30 and slept deeply.

The contrasts between the environments of the week and that little bit of structure (parts of an ecosystem) really meant a lot to the girls. This was the easiest of the four ecosystems to discuss the soil (maybe because they played in for several hours). They felt its moisture and its pliability. Arlene mentioned on the way home that the dirt was much easier to dig in than at Mud Lake. They also talked about how the grasses were fun to play with although there weren’t many trees. I appreciated their awareness and was so grateful for the inspiration and time to have this week together– exploring and loving Colorado even more.

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ecosystems – montane (day 3)

Thursdays take us up to Nederland, a town 18 miles west of Boulder at about 8300 feet. We had a great morning at Wild Bear, an ecology center conveniently located  beside the wonderful Carousel of Happiness. Add to all that fun, a hike in the mountains. We love Caribou Ranch but because of time, we did an easier loop at Mud Lake. They enjoyed talking about all the places water comes from in this ecosystem, which paved the way for a good chat about the importance of snow at this altitude and why it is better suited to the land than rain.

I’m getting better at identifying the different conifers, too, so that’s helpful. It gets old saying I just don’t know, but I do know it is a conifer! All my life I called them pine trees, but not all conifers are pine trees! We saw Douglas fir, lodgepole pine and the beautiful ponderosa. We’ve seen areas where the conifers are more spaced out and that has to do with soil moisture and the direction of the slope. Here at Mud Lake, the forest trees grew closer together. The competition for sunlight yields long, slender trees.

IMG_9224Hiking around the lake. It was quiet and cool. We had all hoped for snow. My southern ladies do LOVE snow.

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A beautiful scene, clouds and all.

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ecosystems – foothills (day 2)

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Since we talked so much about the flat grasslands yesterday, today we started our ascent! We went to Rabbit Mountain in Lyons — the lower, initial part of our walk served as a refresher on yesterday’s ecosystem, grasslands. From there we climbed several hundred feet to more of a foothills ecosystem 5700-7000 feet above sea level. The foothills refers to a region of the Front Range where the mountains rise suddenly from flat, prairie, grasslands. The girls immediately noticed the rocks, the incline, the shrubs, the trees! It is pretty incredible that a few miles east or a few miles north yield different landscapes and biological environments to explore. It is challenging to explain that there are transition zones, meaning we’ll see evidence of one ecosystem in another, such as grasslands at Rabbit Mountain although it is “primarily” a foothills environment.

Incredible views since it is the easternmost part of the foothills in the area. It was stunning and the photos don’t begin to capture it. We picnicked under ponderosa pines and had great little talks about grasslands and foothills environments.

This place has a great vibe for the girls–they just love it there.

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ecosystems — homeschool style (day 1)

I was struggling to put together a nature/science block for December all last month. I deliberated. I read. I had ideas. I lost ideas. Yet, I don’t like to engage in intellectual, abstract studies with them and all too many of my ideas seemed to rely on ME telling them something. However, their curiosity in the natural world beckoned some anchors.  After all my great reading and engaging ideas, many of them were just too ambitious and not authentic to what I’m striving for in these early years. Then it dawned on me. Why not just take them to various ecosystems during a week-long period (as to provide that contrast in a short time period) as their nature block?!

Mondays we typically do a morning lesson and a handwork project. I had an idea  that for handwork we could make ecosystem journals to use hiking for the week. The notebooks would provide them with those “anchors” the various parts of an ecosystem and a place to sketch and doodle as they pleased.

Journals were a success and so was our first ecosystem exploration– grasslands.

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Within a couple miles of driving east, it is clear you’re in a different landscape. Suddenly the foothills and mountains are replaced with gentle rolling hills, flat wide expanses of land, large deciduous trees, ditches and creeks . The grassland area we hiked was nestled between some homes and farms- many parts of the area restricted in an effort to protect burrowing raptors as well as other birds of prey. The American Bald Eagle apparently likes to hunt in this area and according to one of my books, we were sure to spot some overhead or atop a tree. Hawks too are numerous in the area and indeed, we saw both and more.

I was amazed that after so little conversation about the parts of an ecosystem that they could put together the concept behind an ecosystem. Saying things like, the hawks are here because the prairie dogs are and they want to hunt them. These grasses must like the dirt here because we don’t see them anywhere else. Fun stuff.

We hiked along the trail which was easy with some gentle slopping. We walked through and by various grasses, yuccas, and spent summer flowers such as sunflowers. We saw many prairie dogs, a Western Kingbird and a few other songbirds.  It wasn’t until we sat down along the trail for lunch that we spotted the hawks and then eagles soaring overhead, looking for an opportunity. The rather talkative, barky prairie dogs instantly quieted and froze. The girls were totally impressed with their ability to freeze like that! It was amazing after all that activity and barking that they could hold still and camouflage in so well! The predators circled overhead for some time– the bald eagles in a pair with immense their wingspans and beautiful glide. We spotted the hawk, lighter in color and slightly smaller later as we hiked back out.

It was a pretty cold day, but when the sunshine came out from behind the clouds, we all relaxed into it. We even talked about how this would be a difficult place for animals in the summer since there were so few places to seek cover. Old cottonwoods grew in and along the ditches along the trails and they both suggested that was probably where water collected.

It was a sweet time with amazing connections, hand holding and happiness.

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parenting spectrum – being permissive?

I’d like to reflect on one end of the parenting spectrum, the permissive, that is seemingly absent from my life. I’ve struck a very nice balance with that middle ground and increasingly I’m seeing opportunities for my girls’ wills to surface more and more and for my role to be more neutral, when possible. That’s not to say there aren’t those I’m the boss moments, hours…but I’m learning how to react slower and find that new language.

Permissiveness has been equated with neglect in my experience and yet, I think there’s something to learn from letting  go, being more easy going, putting things off from time to time, abstain from wallowing in worries or anxiety (like my mom), but to be THERE, the here and now stuff, together to see what happens. I’d like more of this to flow from me because the times I am FORCED to do nothing and just BE, like when we’re ill or a night that comes to me so vividly — one of my daughters landed in the ER from a big fall– are so rich in the experience and now the memory. I feel as if I can recount each second from our night in the ER together, lying on the bed, my hand brushing her hair from her forehead, the light in the room, her breathing, the way my body felt, her gaze–all of it comes back to me in such rich detail. Of course it was a crisis of sorts (everything is OK, but she had some serious stitches to her sweet face) and I slowed it all down. I could have been pacing, texting my husband about what was happening or not happening. We were there for a some time — before and after, just absorbing the present.

I’m goal-oriented, motivated, creative… and it is no big surprise that I came from a rather inert home environment. I equate not producing, not making, not doing with NOT living. Not being in tune with me or my siblings was largely the result of my mother’s inability– she just couldn’t handle much at all.  I have a difficult time just lazing, just being and I do see value in it- ironically!! :) I think in my young adult life it took some time to get around to just BEING and now with children, I’ve re-faced that challenge, but with a lot more weight to it.

The presence of some parenting styles, ways of being serve roles, protect us and the absence of some might have served/serve us too. Understanding that is so important a first step. I didn’t really see or connect my aversion with that distant end –permissiveness with my past…

Photos below found mysteriously on my camera. I think they’re Ada’s.

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