Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Morning 2008 - Keicha's House
This year Keicha incorporated an important piece of family history in her Christmas decorating. The chair in this photo, part of an entire suite of furniture that included four chairs, a round drop leaf table, a bed and a chest of drawers , was made by my grandfather, Albert Townsley, for my mother when she was a child. As I recall, she was five years old when her father made this gift for her. A doll, with beautiful clothes made by my grandmother, was included in the gift. The furniture which would have been made around 1921 remains and is now taken care of by Keicha. The gift that my grandparents made illustrate the artistic, creative and productive traits that Albert and Lulu possessed. They had just lost their home and all of their possessions in a fire just before they created this homemade and much treasured gift for my mother, their only child who had been born quite late in their lives. She passed down the this treasure to me when I was child, and I remember many happy hours spent playing with the doll furniture and my dolls. I was thrilled to see one of the chairs in its place of honor in Keicha's house.
We made new memories and had a great time this year at Christmas. Christmas morning was spent in Keicha's lovely home opening presents with Gillian, Keicha and Gillian's dad Jeff.
Here is an example of Keicha's lovely decorating. Her mantle was beautiful. Jeff set a cozy mood for us by lighting a fire in the fireplace. We then began to open presents, but not until we got a picture of Miss Gills in front of the tree. We had such a wonderful time together. It was good to spend some time with Jeff and to know that these parents are working very hard to co-parent their wonderful daughter who also happens to be my granddaughter. I loved the picture I got of Gillian and Jeff snuggled up together after Gillian put on her new robe. New memories were made by all of us that will be treasured as time goes on.

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Christmas Afternoon - Ryan & Stephanie's House

It snowed in Ogden on Christmas Eve, and it kept snowing throughout the day on Christmas Day. "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" is an appropriate song in Utah. The driving from Keicha's house out to Ryan's was a bit tricky for Jim and me. We don't get that much snow in Pueblo. We just took it slow, too slow for Keicha who was being driven to Ryan's by Jeff and followed us, but we made it safe and sound. Hey, we're old folks - we take it slow. Even though this isn't the best picture in the world, you can see the view of the snow through the entry way of Ryan's house.

Ryan's house was already a beehive of activity when we arrived. Stephanie's dad and her step-mom were there, as was my kid's dad, Barry and his wife Kay. A wonderful brunch prepared by Ryan and Steph was on the table. Brunch on Christmas is a tradition I started when the kids were little. I never wanted to spend the day in the kitchen producing some big meal. We like late morning brunch with plenty of possibilities for snacking throughout the day instead. I had purchased an Santa apron for Ryan - also known as Ry-hop - to wear when he makes his Christmas brunches. He loved it. Here he is getting ready to slice the ham. We had a great time at Ryan's. The kids played with the pogo stick that Regan got - the kids included Ryan and Keicha who showed that they could still balance and jump at the same time. That pogo stick is a good workout, but the kids wouldn't let me try it out! When Grandma arrived, that meant that there was another round of present opening. Here Parker is looking at the new textapedia that I gave him; it is exactly like the one I gave Jim. I thought a middle school principal and 7th grader both could use a guide to texting. Below is a nice picture of Ryan and Stephanie in their lovely home. They always are the subject of such cute pictures of the two of them together. The tree, which was cleverly decorated with a ski theme was charming as was the entire house. We had so much fun together, but we really missed the rest of our family too. If only all of us could have been together, it would have be perfect. Ok, it would have been crazy with all my wild kids on one place! I still wish we could have been together.
My two husbands spent some time bonding. Isn't that what Christmas in 2008 is all about?

Too bad I have such a dorky smile on my face; otherwise, we would have a nice portrait of me and my two oldest children by the Christmas fire. Ryan & Keicha can still eat all afternoon and show the effects!

Gillian and Regan went sledding. It was a perfect day for that. Parker and Bridger continued to play with their electronic toys in the basement family room. Bridger asked me the next day what I had given him because he forgot. My answer: "What did you do all day Christmas?" He said, "play with Mario DS auto racing." I said, "Ok, well that is what I gave you!" I guess he liked it.

The boys couldn't seem to get away from the new toys. This meant Ryan worked off some of his Christmas dinner by shoveling the driveway.

Refrigeration Utah style: I guess Stephanie ran out of room in the fridge.

Below is the view of Ryan & Stephanie's backyard from the family room. Almost looks like a Christmas card, doesn't it? I always say one is almost guaranteed a Norman Rockwell Christmas in Utah.

The beautiful, inside and out, Regan is shown above. She is relaxing and getting ready to watch "Momma Mia" with the girls: Gillian, Keicha, Stephanie & Me. (Please note Keicha's new ring that I got her in Santa Fe.) The boys continued to play their electronic games.

Alas, the sun began to dip into the snowy Utah sky, and it was the end of the day that is now just a treasured memory. Thanks Ryan, Stephanie, Parker, Regan, Bridger, Keicha and Gillian for such a wonderful day! And, thanks Jim, for making the trip. The snow and wind across Wyoming getting there was terrible, and my husband really doesn't like driving in the snow that covered Ogden streets, but he made sure I had a great Christmas. That's only one reason why I love him.

Keicha waves; always in fashion, even her coat is color coordinated with the garage across the street from Ryan's!

Good-bye! It was a very Merry Christmas. I hope it will be an even better New Year!

Christiansen Family Blog: A Memorable Christmas

Christiansen Family Blog: A Memorable Christmas

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Christmas letter.

The Christmas letter did not even get mailed this year! Some friends got a copy via email while other family members had their copy hand delivered. I will spend tonight addressing envelopes and getting the VERY LATE letter in the mail.

Today, after returning from Utah last night, I found the plethora of Christmas letters from friends and family in the stack of mail Jim picked up from the post office. I loved sitting down and reading these wonderful letters. They made me laugh, and I even got a tear or two from others. My mother's letter states that my dad wrote the first French Christmas letter 43 years ago. What a gift and what a legacy those letters are. Now, I know that no matter how late my letter may arrive, I must get it in the mail before the end of the year. Traditions must be honored. Besides, I put too much work and effort in this year's letter to just not mail it out. Now, those who receive it can chuckle and know that I am still the same procrastinator they have always known.

My own children look forward to seeing who makes the news each year. Actually, making the news is not enough, they want to know who merits a photo. Amy gave me grief because there was not one photo of her in the letter while Keicha garnered two.

I sometime think I am being taken over by photos, and yet at the end of the year, they become such a treasured way of sharing memories made in the Christmas letter. It really does become a problem when one has the size of family that I do to decide what events, what pictures, and of whom, should "make the letter."

Christmas letters have taken a bad rapp by some. They say they are just bragging rags etc. Perhaps they are, but I think they are also a way we stay connected. They give us a glimpse into the lives of friends who no longer are near to us but remain dear to our hearts. They have changed over the years thanks to technology. We all can now send out a nice looking newsletter if we choose to do so. But this year, I found some of my friends have really gotten creative. Some letters look like something done on Smilebox or they look almost like a travel brochure. I love the new look of many Christmas letters. Perhaps next year, I will experiment with format etc. Oh, and next year, I hope to get my letter out on time!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Blog or Not To Blog

Of course that is the question...I started this blog, and sometimes I wonder why I continue to keep it. Do I write for an audience? That is a question that just appeared on Jim Burke's ning. It is a question that I am asking myself as I write this blog post. It is a question that does not have just one answer.

I have always enjoyed writing and have kept various types of journals over the years. I kept sporatic journals when my children were small as an attempt to just try and keep some sort of record of what life was like during that period of my life. I didn't really have an audience in mind when I kept those journals, but they were often more than just some sort of daily log of experiences. I wish I had been more disciplined in my journal attempts during those days because now, I do have an audience for what I wrote during those busy, hectic times: myself and possibly my children.

Many young moms are blogging these days. They create fabulous blogs full of wonderful pictures of their children. They are pretty blogs filled with flowers and flowing designs. They represent the technological gifts that this generation of moms have developed. I envy these young moms and their blogs because they will have a precious record of their lives with their children. What a gift and a blessing. What I wouldn't give to have the same type of archive of my childrens' activities when they were young. I think these moms must have a permanent camera in their hands to capture all those adorable photos. They also must be incredibly organized to be able to produce these wonderful blogs, cook the meals, do the laundry and clean the house.

When one writes, the audience does not always present itself immediately. We wrtie because we have a need to record our lives. We write to express our dreams, our needs, our disappointments, our heartbreak, our insights, or even as a means of trying to make sense out of what is going on around us. Writing is intensely personal, and for that reason, we are sometimes hesitant to put down our most intimate thoughts and emotions on paper because we fear an unknown or known audience. Audience can intimidate us and cause us not to write or not to write well.

As a teacher, I now see I might have confused my students when I taught about audience and writing. I would tell my students that they did not need to consider audience when they wrote in their journals. In fact, I encouraged them not to think about the reader while writing. I told them that they were just to write. They did not have to worry about punctuation or spelling or any other grammatical rules as they wrote in their journals. I just wanted them to feel free to write without being intimidated by feeling that they must write perfectly if they were to write at all. I told them to focus on developing voice.

Many of my students would write stunning journal entries. They would amaze me with the uniqueness of their individual voices. I would get glimpses into their true selves through their journal writing. Sometimes, I would be heartbroken by what they had to share. Sometimes I would be alarmed. Always, I was grateful that they trusted me enough to write transparently and honestly when they knew I would read what they wrote. I was their audience, and they trusted me enough to write honestly.

Othertimes, when the students had a writing assignment, I would teach about audience. I would remind them that they should consider their audience when they wrote. Unfortunately, many times, these formal writings lacked an ability to touch any type of audience. They became stilted, boring, and seemed to only represent some sort of stylized writing that came about from trying to follow the form style writing that they had been taught in previous years of schooling. This writing would lack life. It might be perfectly representative of a five paragrah essay, but it lacked true meaning. The concept of writing for an audience was difficult for many students to grasp.

When my father became very ill and was hospitalized just days before he died, my students took a quarterly essay test that I had to grade before I could leave to drive over to Grand Junction to be with him. They had to respond to Li-Young Lee's poem, "The Grandfather." They knew they were writing for me - their teacher. They wrote mostly to get a grade. They clearly understood their audience. Interestingly, after all the responses were read, the grades were assigned, and I had left my role as teacher to drive to my father's bedside to become a daughter who only had a few more days to spend with her father, I found that my focus as an audience who had read assigned poetry responses shifted. I found myself recalling the poem, and even more importantly, I recalled the responses my students had shared with me about the poem in their tests. Their words began to comfort me. They gave me strength. They allowed me to peacefully surrender myself to the moment I found myself in. I realized the power of the written word in a unique way. The freshness of my students' youthful responses that spoke of the value of caring for the elderly grandfather while treasuring his final stories spoke to me. We don't always know what response our audience will have to our writing.

Now, I find that I question the appropriateness and usefullness of my own attempts to write by using a blog. One of the most freeing lessons I embraced during this summer's writing project, was the concept that "there are not final drafts; there are only due dates." I can hear Katherine Frank's voice in my head whenever I repeat this saying to myself. I also embrace Anne Lamott's quote about some writing being a "shitty rough draft." The problem with a blog is that those types of drafts are immediately published! Horrors! What was I thinking???

Blogging is certainly the new "in thing" to do. I have so enjoyed our family blog. It has kept me smiling when I read the funny responses my children post. It has been a place where we can share our pictures and update our lives with each other. In today's world, so many of us have children spread all over the place, so it is nice to have a place where we can connect. The blog has been that place for us. It almost reminds me of the old round robin letters that my grandmother's family would circulate.

Blogs that are successful, seems to require audience. One would not continue to blog very long if one did not have some sort of audience. The beauty of the blog is the ability to have a place where one can post something that can generate an immedite response.

As of today, the jury is still out. I am not sure of the benefit of this blog except for serving as a place where I can create a bit of a history of what is going on in my life at the moment. I am newly retired. I struggle with my new status at times. I miss the academic life, and yet I am also happy to leave the daily demands of it behind. I miss my students. I miss the interaction. I miss my audience. That is one thing a teacher always has - an audience. As I used to say, "Just give me a stage!" But, I also like to think that my classroom was a place where we were all learning together. I like to think that I created a more generative, constructivist type of classroom. It wasn't just like the classrooms where I went to school most of the time. It was interactive and interesting. Certainly, if a blog is going to be successful, it must be all of those things too. At the moment, I think my blog mostly serves as a place where I can contemplate and explore where I want to go with my life as as a retired teacher. I don't necessarily need an audience to do that. I only need a place where I can record my thoughts and activities so I don't get lost. So, for now the blog continues.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December Update

December is always a busy time of the year, but this year this busy month has also brought great change to our lives. Jim has gone back to work. He was called and asked to go to work on a Friday afternoon, November 21st to be exact. It just so happens that at the time he was called, he was just coming home from Colorado Springs after having had a colonoscopy. This weekend, I happened to find a little souvenier from that procedure: his take-home vomit bag was tucked inside of the passenger side pocket of the car. I pulled out the bag and commented on how the bag was still there. Jim asked, "What is that for?" I said, if you don't remember, you had no business saying "yes" to the job offer you got that same afternoon. He truly had no memory of being sick or anything that happened that afternoon after the procedure(he complained of shoulder pain and underwent many xrays etc.), except for the job offer. I did advise him when he got the phone call that he had been told that he could not make any big decisions that day; therefore, the answer would have to wait until Monday, the 24th of November.

After discussion of the pros and cons, Jim did decide to return to work as principal of Pitts Middle School from December 1, 2008 until June, 2009. You can read the article from the Pueblo Chieftain about his appointment on this link.

I have been teaching a methods course at Colorado State University-Pueblo for students who are preparing to be secondary English teachers. I had a great group of students this year and really enjoyed the experience. I taught the class last year, but it seems that it is always better the second or third time around. I am attaching a picture of the class that was taken last week just before our final. I will miss this great group, but am excited about their potential.

The day after my English methods class final, Jim and I went to Santa Fe to support the South High School basketball team who was participating in a tournament. This tournament participation has been going on for eleven years, and Jim and I had the opportunity to first attend in December 1997. It is hard to believe that it has been that long since we made the first trip with the team. Sadly, on our first trip in 1997, we received word that a student at Centennial, where I was teaching at the time, had been murdered in in her bed by an intruder. The young girl, Julie Padilla, had been a student of mine in seventh grade at Risley. In 1997, when she was a sophomore, I believe, she would come into my room at Centennial after school or during breaks with some of her friends who had also been students of mine at Risley. They used to love to draw pictures on my white board. Like I said to my class on Wednesday night, teaching will break your heart. We sometimes have terrible things happen to our students.

Then, there are the good memories that go with teaching. The team from 1997-98 is now all grown up and taking thier place in society. We stay in touch with many of them at weddings, family gatherings, funerals, class reunions and athletic events. Last night, Jim and I visited Ryan and Amy Torres at the Torres restaurant, El Nopal. Ryan and Amy are much loved former students of Jim's at South. Ryan played on the 1997-98 team. We were recalling that trip to Santa Fe in '97 with Ryan. Now, he is a young man who is most likely to be hired as a Pueblo City policeman in the next few weeks. Amy is teaching French and English at Pueblo East. We watched them grow up, date, went to their wedding, just recently grieved with them at Ryan's father's funeral. Of course, Ryan's father, George, was a special dear friend of ours also. All of these relationships began because of Jim's involvement with his students at South.

This trip was especially nostalgic because I am sure Jim and I won't be going down to the Capital City Tournament with the team again. The coach, Dave Locket, is retiring this year, so this trip was the end of a tradition in many ways. While Jim was principal, we tried to always build the South High family. Dave and his family and his teams have been a very important part of our family. Dave is one who also is all about building family. He teaches special ed and he has always included some his students from his classes in the team. Some have been water boys since high school and continue to sit on the bench now that they are in their 20s.
This is a picture of Dave that I took in Santa Fe.

We have had some great memories made following the South High teams. This weekend's trip to Santa Fe ranks right up at the top. I didn't get a lot of pictures, but here are a few.

Here is a picture of Jim & me, and the Wilhites having lunch on Saturday at my favorite spot for chili rellanos - La Fonda. Love that place!

La Fonda

Keith and Tootsie Wilhite, parents of Kameron Wilhite, member of the 2008 team are great friends of ours. We have watched Kameron grow up. He was seven or eight when we went to Santa Fe in '97. He is a fine young man, a senior and an excellent athlete. Keith was very excited and quite surprised when he saw a "doll that looks just like me" at La Fonda. I took his picture. What do you think?

Keith and his twin.

Tootsie with granddaughter Trinity(on Toosie's lap) and niece DJ.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Retirement Challenges

I find that the greatest disadvantage of being a retired teacher who is attempting to work at home is the lack of structure that is provided by a real job. I mean, when you are a real teacher, you have to report to work at a set time. This is an advantage. I find I sit down at my computer in the morning after I have read the paper, had my coffee, and debated over whether I should walk the dog or plop down in front of the computer. The plopping down in front of the computer usually wins. This is followed by checking out my favorite sites which include Facebook. "Goodness," I think when I see a post made earlier in the morning, "my daughters have been at work for several hours already and I am in my pajamas and just turning on the computer." Next I check out our family blog, and then I read my hometown newspaper on-line. Finally, I sign on to my email account from the University that I am able to still access because I am retired. This reminds me that I have responsibilities to the University since I am an adjunct professor.

I get lost in reading new research articles. I also get enthused and begin to think of ways I can include what I am reading in the class I am teaching or in professional development courses I am teaching as a consultant. I still love my field. I still love reading about what is new. I especially am impressed and inspired by what I am seeing the area of teaching with use of technology. "I am an old dog who still wants to learn new tricks," I think to myself.

When I get ready to plan for my courses, I find that it is very difficult to establish a working office area. My files, books, resources are still mostly in boxes in the basement. I have not been able to get myself organized at home. My office space is also a guest bedroom. I love this room. It is comfortable and set up with a desk, some bookshelves, a small tv and my favorite reading chair. It just does not have enough bookshelf area for all of what I traditionally am using to prepare a lesson, nor do I want it to. I want it to remain a cozy, comforting place. I also, want this room to be a place where guests feel comfortable. This means that I don't want my "stuff" cramming every open space.

I think I will eventually establish a place where I can relax and read or work on the computer that also meets the needs of allowing access to my professional books and files. In the meantime, I shift and sort and dig for materials for I need to prepare for my courses. This has been a very frustrating part of working from home.

Finally, I find that I must schedule my life better. I spend an entire two days preparing for class for every day I teach. This means that I really have to create plan, just as if I had a real job I went to everyday, when it comes to establishing a schedule. I can't just fit in my planning and grading into any little bit of spare time that happens to occur in the day. I may be retired, but I must be realistic. I am also teaching courses that involve a lot of work. My priorities must be scheduled if I want to be happy with the life I have chosen.

I have begun a Pilates program. I plan on doing Pilates every MWF from about 8:30 to 9:30 in the morning. I must think of this as a class I attend and build my schedule around it. Walking the dog on a daily basis is another exercise I don't want to give up. Today, it is unbelievably warm (73 degrees) and there seems to be a only a slight breeze outside, so I guess I will end this post, eat some lunch and get outside for a walk with the dog. I'll grade those papers I need to grade when I get back.