Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mountain Skies

A rainbow viewed through raindrops on my car's window last night.
29 April 2016

One of the coolest things about living in the White Mountains is the wide variety of sky-scapes we get to enjoy throughout our four seasons. I always grab my camera to try and capture the beauty stretched out above my head, but photos never really do justice to the magnificence dazzling my eyes. Still, I keep trying!

Yesterday, Mark and I drove to the Safeway in Show Low to cash his paycheck. During the drive there, a drizzle of rain began to fall. By the time we parked at Safeway, it was coming down pretty good. As I turned to my left to open the car door, a really bright rainbow caught my eye. Of course I had to grab my camera! 

A double rainbow!

I wasn't the only one. As I paused at the store's entrance to capture the double rainbow in the second photo, I noticed several customers coming out of the store, pushing aside their carts, and taking pictures with their cell phones. One woman pointed up and told her toddler daughter, "See the pretty rainbow?"

The rainbow filled the sky from end to end. Only the pot of gold was missing!

By the time we exited the store about fifteen minutes later, the entire rainbow was clearly visible from end to end. Unfortunately, my cell phone camera doesn't have a wide enough angle to get the entire rainbow in one shot, so I did the next best thing and took the two shots above. Seen in real life, the rainbow was unbelievably magical!

Full moon from my front yard.
April 22, 2016

A week ago, I came out of my house and saw the most magnificent full moon lighting up the surrounding clouds in the dark sky. Mark and I were on our way somewhere, but I told him to hang on while I quickly ran back inside to get my actual camera. As nice as my camera is, it doesn't usually take great night pictures, so I didn't expect too much. However, I walked out into my front yard, rested my elbows on the chain link fence, and did my best. To my surprise, a few of the photos came out nicely, like the one above. In fact, I'm thinking it could be an excellent cover for my upcoming novel, Darkling Moon...

Sunset from Walmart parking lot.
March 11, 2016

Finally, back in March, my eyes were greeted with this beautifully pink-and-blue sunset as I walked out of Walmart one evening. Cue the camera...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Valley So Low

April 25, 2016: Municipal Court in Mesa, AZ

Yesterday we made yet another drive down to the Valley, this time to deal with more legal issues arising from Mark's pre-prison days. Not exactly how I wanted to use the no-school Monday of my three-day weekend, but it was necessary, and at least I didn't have to take the day off work and get a sub.

Mark is doing awesome, by the way. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of his release from prison, and he has been a model citizen. He has stayed close to home and family, while actively avoiding the old friends with whom he always used to find trouble; he successfully completed both his parole and a court-ordered course on addiction; he contributes to our home both financially and by helping out around the house; and he's been employed at Denny's for almost eleven months now, where his employers and co-workers truly appreciate and like him for the hard-working, dependable, good-natured person he is. Mark has also been working steadily over the past ten months to pay the fines and fees he accrued during his years of questionable decision-making. It will probably take him several years to meet those obligations, but I hope they'll serve as a reminder whenever temptation rears its ugly head.

Nice to look a block up the road from the courthouse and see the Mesa Temple.

And now, having returned from this most recent Valley visit, where we dealt with the latest costly issues stemming from Mark's not-so-wise choices from five years ago (like ancient parking tickets and a five-year-old warrant that, thankfully, the judge quashed), we hope that the surprises are over and he can focus on paying off his "debt to society."

March 31, 2016: Biltmore Cardiology in Phoenix.

Our last visit to the Phoenix area was less than four weeks ago, on the last day of March, but I never found time to share the pictures I took on our drive home. That trip, too, was made to deal with business for Mark, but this time the need was medical in nature.

I'm glad to report that Mark was finally able to have the spinal injections he needed to ease the pain in his lower back from spinal stenosis, and it seems to have helped decrease the pain a lot. He's very happy with the results, and we hope it gives him many months of pain-free activity.

Mark worked out in physical therapy for a few months,
but he saw only minimal pain relief in his back.

The problems with Mark's atrial fibrillation haven't been as easy to resolve, however. Twice he has been to the hospital to have his heart shocked back into a normal rhythm, and twice it hasn't worked. The first try didn't work at all. The second try seemed to work, but within a few days his heart reverted back to A-fib. Our cardiologist, Dr. Ata, recommended that Mark consider having an ablation done. Otherwise, he would be looking at a lifetime of blood thinners and their potential side effects, as well as a gradual worsening of his heart health. Mark is too young at age 47 to resign himself to that, Dr. Ata told us.

Mark wasn't too thrilled with the idea of having the inside of his heart burned, though, and who could blame him? I told the doctor that we'd need to get more information before Mark could feel comfortable enough to make such a big decision. So Dr. Ata contacted Dr. Bahu, a cardiologist in Phoenix who specializes in ablations. Dr. Bahu actually called me (how often does that happen?) to discuss the issue, and then we made an appointment to drive down and visit with him on March 31st.

As Dr. Bahu explained it to us, the electrical impulse that makes the heart beat originates in just one area of the heart. Sometimes, however, those electrical impulses begin originating in multiple places, which throws off the regular heartbeat, leading to arrhythmia. In Mark's case, it's probably due to years of severe sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing during your sleep (according to his sleep study, Mark stopped breathing more than once every minute). Now that it's been diagnosed, the apnea problem has been corrected by Mark sleeping with a breathing mask attached to a bi-pap machine and an oxygen concentrator.

After our meeting with Dr. Bahu, Mark agreed that an ablation was his best option, and his procedure is currently scheduled for late June. Apparently this is considered a fairly low-risk procedure with a success rate of about 90%. It involves threading a catheter through the groin to an upper chamber (atrium) of the heart. Then the doctor locates the problem spots (anywhere from about 20 to 60 of them) and burns a very small area of cells (about 1/5 inch) for each one, using radiofrequency energy similar to microwave heat, so that it can no longer carry those misdirected electrical impulses. Dr. Bahu anticipates that Mark has closer to 60 problem areas, based on how resistant his heart has been to treatment.

The ablation will take anywhere from two to four hours, and Mark will spend one night in the hospital for observation. Then we'll be able to return home, but he'll need to take a week off work to finish recovering. After that, we hope he'll be good as new!

Taking Bush Highway past Red Mountain, a prominent feature north of Mesa.

After our visit with the Phoenix cardiologist, we decided to stop for dinner at a Golden Corral Buffet before we left town to head back home. Crazy, I know, since I'm eating low-carb, but I kind of enjoyed having all those varieties of meats and vegetables (the non-starchy, non-breaded kinds, at least) to choose from.

After consulting an online map, it seemed the only Golden Corral even remotely along our route home was way up in northeast Mesa. To get there, we had to drive a portion of the Red Mountain Freeway that I'd never been on before, and it put us quite a bit east of the roads leading directly to the Beeline Highway route through Payson. However, it also put us right on Power Road, which becomes Bush Highway as it meanders along and over the Salt River, passing Saguaro Lake and finally meeting up with Beeline Highway.

Four Peaks in the distance, as viewed from Bush Highway.

It hit me that the last time I'd driven Bush Highway was way back in 1988-89, when Mark and I were dating. We used to tube down Salt River and hang out  at Saguaro, Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt Lakes for fishing (Mark), cliff diving (Mark), swimming (mostly Mark), and relaxing with a good book (me) in those days. I thought it would be fun to cruise that highway again for old time's sake. And it was. 

Scenery alongside Bush Highway.

We enjoyed our meal at Golden Corral, and I didn't cheat at all. I even enjoyed a dessert of strawberries-on-a-stick from the chocolate fountain, skipping the fountain and instead dipping them in a small bowl of sugar-free chocolate pudding. Then we headed up Power Road and into the desert wilderness.

Saguaro Lake as seen from Bush Highway.

I don't know if I ever really appreciated the beauty of the desert during the ten years I lived in Mesa, but on this day I did. So much of the stark landscape truly is magnificent. I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer my mountain home or my beloved California beaches but, nonetheless, I can recognize now the amazing beauty of a place I once saw as merely hot and desolate.

Saguaro Lake and its marina.

I'd forgotten how thickly the hills are covered in saguaro cactus. Not quite as dense as the saguaros in Saguaro National Park just outside Tucson, but I'd say a close second. And it certainly explains the name of the easternmost lake of the four-lake system that includes Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt Lakes. 

Saguaro Lake

We almost settled for seeing Saguaro Lake in the distance from the highway, but then we gave in and took the short turn-off leading down to the water's edge. We were only there for 15 minutes or so, but even for that short time there's just something peaceful and calming about being near water. 

Saguaro cacti cover the hills above the Saguaro Lake's parking lot.

Another familiar landmark in the distance visible from Bush Highway (and parts of Beeline Highway) is Four Peaks. Located in the Mazatzal Mountain Range, the highest of the four peaks of Four Peaks stands at an altitude of 7,657 feet. That's only about 500 feet higher than my house in the White Mountains further east.

Back in 1987, I explored the caves and mines in the wilds of Arizona with a group of geology enthusiasts, and one of the things we did was hike Four Peaks. We spent the night at a nearby campsite, and early the next morning we set off on a four-mile hike (the first mile was almost straight up) across the tops of the first three peaks to the fourth (the one on the far right in these photos), on which was located an abandoned amethyst mine. Not only did we have to haul in our mining equipment, but we also carried in buckets of water to clean up any specimens we found. Without doubt, the hardest hike I've ever undertaken. I still have the amethyst, hematite, and other minerals I collected there. One woman even found a perfect chunk of amethyst that she later sold to a jeweler for $4,000!

One last look at Four Peaks before turning off Bush Highway
and onto Beeline Highway toward Payson.

Eventually we reconnected with Beeline Highway and made our way home, but it was pleasant to relive a little piece of our history. In so many ways, I really have lived a rich life!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shadow Boxes

I made this shadow box as an example for the students:
Curtis and Lateesha from a chapter in Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman.

As I explained in my last post, we lost the first week of our two-week Spring Break due to using up more than our allotted snow days and, since so many students and teachers were going to be gone anyway for pre-planned vacations, we were instructed to spend the week doing reviews rather than presenting new material. I felt bad for the students who were stuck at school instead of vacationing like their friends, so I decided to plan some fun activities for that week. For my freshman English classes, we spent two days making shadow boxes. 

I collect boxes of all sizes and keep them in my closet in case I need to use one for an oddly-shaped gift I may want to wrap (never mind that I almost always use gift bags these days). I gathered up about 30 of those boxes--and their lids--and carted them to school with me, along with bags and bags of craft materials, which my 2nd-period sophomore English class also used for their planet activity (see last post).

The freshmen's assignment was to create a shadow box based on a scene from one of the novels we've read this year. To be sure they understood what I expected, I made my own sample shadow box in the lid of a small, sparkly-pink jewelry box featuring a simple scene from our first book of the year, Seedfolks. Each chapter in Seedfolks focuses on one person living in a poor, run-down neighborhood and how that person's life is transformed when he/she becomes involved in an impromptu community garden.

One of those characters is Curtis, a body-builder who thinks he's all that and neglects his girlfriend, Lateesha, in favor of the little groupies who hang all over his big bad self. She's too smart to put up with that, so she dumps him. Several years later, Lateesha moves back to town. By now, Curtis has grown up and realizes what he lost, but Lateesha won't even talk to him. He won't give up, though. Remembering how much she loved tomatoes, he decides to grow a bunch of juicy red beefsteak tomatoes right under her apartment window to show her that he's a different person now: a responsible, thoughtful, serious guy who has given up the activities of his misspent youth.

About half of the kids' shadow boxes, displayed on the chalk tray.

Some of the students asked if they could use scenes from a film we'd watched, as well. When I had to be absent for two days not long before Spring Break, I'd had the sub show the movie Where the Red Fern Grows, and after I returned the students had to write a response paper for me. We did not read the book since nearly all of my students (and all three of my own children) had read and cried over Where the Red Fern Grows (by Wilson Rawls) in fourth grade.

I gave them permission to use the film as another option, and that turned out to be the most popular source of shadow box scenes for both of my freshman classes. I thought the students did an amazing job of bringing their chosen scenes to life. See if you agree. Here are some of my favorites.

Billy's Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, tree a coon 
in a scene from Where the Red Fern Grows.

If you haven't ever read Where the Red Fern Grows, or even seen the movie, well...first of all, have you been living under a rock? Second of all, beware, there are spoilers ahead!

A forest scene from Where the Red Fern Grows.

Billy's Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, tree a coon 
in a scene from Where the Red Fern Grows.

Not every student is artistic, and that's okay. I tell the kids that I'm looking for their effort and their ability to capture a moment. Even stick figures, like those above, can capture the essence of a scene.

At the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, of course, both of Billy's hounds die.
A rare red fern grows up near their graves before Billy's family moves away,
giving him comfort. This was another favorite scene of my students.
(The blue and white pearls are sky and clouds, I was told. The bell is the sun.)

Poor Dan and Ann.

I really like the subtle coloring of this scene, like a sand painting.

Four more scenes depicting the graves of Old Dan and Little Ann
with the red fern springing up nearby.

Charlie and Tommo race to the church in their search for their brother Big Joe,
who had been missing since the previous day. From Private Peaceful.

The second most popular book for this activity was Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo of Britain. This novel is about two brothers, Charlie and Tommo, who love the same girl (Molly) and eventually enlist together as soldiers in World War I. Again, there are spoilers ahead!

Charlie and Tommo find Big Joe sleeping in the church bell tower.
Love that enormous bell!

This student did a nice job depicting the bombs bursting over no-man's land
during a bombardment in World War I.

German soldiers on one side, British soldiers on the other, no-man's land between,
facing each other through the barbed wire. Beautifully abstract!

Many of the boys were focused on the final scenes in which 
one of the characters is unfairly executed by firing squad for cowardice.
(We'd run out of boxes and lids by the time these boys started their projects.)

One brother says farewell to the other. Kind of a downer...

Anton and Patty say good-bye in Summer of My German Solider.

Another novel we read was Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene. This book tells the story of a lonely, abused, and neglected twelve-year-old Jewish girl named Patty Bergen, who lives in Arkansas. After she befriends a German soldier who's escaped from a nearby POW camp, she hides him in her garage and smuggles him food and clothing while he helps her to see that she's a person of value. 

I wish this picture were clearer, because this one's adorable.
Anton gives Patty a treasured family ring before they part.

Our classes weren't well attended that week. In some classes, less than half my students were present most days. Still, we had some fun and relived some moments in literature. The students who did come to school really stepped up!

One simple picture is worth a thousand words.
The FBI shows Patty her father's monogrammed shirt,
which she had given to Anton. It has a small, bloodstained hole...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Little Planets

Planets designed by my sophomore English class, a la The Little Prince.
Some of their planets were given "legs" and spiny projections.

Since our school district went to a modified-year-round school year a few years ago, we've enjoyed having a two-week break at the end of every quarter. A two-week Fall Break; a two-week Christmas Break; and a two-week Spring Break. We quite like it!

However, this year the calendar committee reduced the number of potential snow days in our district calendar (the only time that's been done in my 26 years with the district) and, sure enough, we had just enough snow this winter to exceed the extra days in the calendar. So our new superintendent made the decision to cancel the first week of Spring Break. As you can imagine, it was a wildly unpopular decision.

Some planets were given Saturn-ish rings.

Many students' families, as well as staff members, had already planned vacations for that week, right down to airline tickets, hotel reservations, and car rentals. There was a cry of outrage from the community. The superintendent responded by allowing those who notified the school of their plans to miss that week of school without penalty.

Which led to an outcry from the teachers who remained (like me). How could we hold these missing students responsible for the work they missed while their classmates trudged on during their absences? With so many students out, that would create a logistical nightmare of makeup work.

So the official word came down: no new concepts were to be taught. Review work only.

Some planets took on their own distinct personalities! 
(In my world, that's called personification...)

Interesting. I gave it some thought and decided to make the week fun for those students who were stuck at school while their friends were off cavorting on beaches and in theme parks. I collected all the crafty items I could scare up from my own collection, from Walmart, and from a variety of dollar stores, and I hauled them to school with me. Then my freshman and sophomore English classes spent the first two days of that week doing a craft assignment related to the novels we'd been reading in class.

A few planets were more basic but given popsicle sticks to hold them up. 

My sophomores had just begun reading The Little Prince, by French pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in which a little boy lives on a tiny planet with three small volcanoes that come up only to his knees (one is extinct, so he uses it as a footstool, while he warms his food on the other two). Every morning he rakes out his volcanoes and clears his planet of baobab tree seedlings (or they would take over the tiny planet). And he tends to his beloved rose. She is very difficult, but throughout the course of his explorations he learns to appreciate and cherish her.

And these planets were so unique that I needed two pics to show both sides!

The assignment for the class was to create their own tiny planets using the styrofoam balls I'd provided and then be prepared to describe their planet and its features. What was it that made their planets unique and special to whomever lived there?

Of the 28 students in this class, only 17 attended school that week. But in the end, the kids who joined us did a great job on their planets, and so I thought I'd share their results. Enjoy!

Side two.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Random, by Dylan

Photo by Dylan, March 2016. I love the contrast!

Every so often, I grab the memory card from Dylan's camera and download any pictures I like to a "Photographs by Dylan" file on my computer. Although he enjoys doing photo shoots (senior pictures, family shots, and even a "pregnancy" photo shoot coming up next weekend), he's always keeping an eye out for photographic opportunities whenever he has his camera with him.

Here are a few of my favorites for March.

A doe in the woods near Chris and Sarah's house, March 2016.

Diego talks to his family, March 2016.

A look through his dad's reflective sunglasses at the Renaissance Festival.
March 2016

A Knight Triumphant, March 2016.
Renaissance Festival

Friday, April 22, 2016

Apple Trees and BR Games

My little apple tree, loaded with blossoms.

As I left for work yesterday morning, I glanced over and noticed that my little apple tree was still covered with blossoms despite last weekend's snow and below-freezing overnight temperatures. Thankfully, it wasn't a hard freeze, and my baby apple blossoms seem to have survived. My dream of small, sweet, autumn apples has been revived! (But I think I need to learn how to prune the tree back this fall, before those low branches take over...)

The blossoms are even prettier up close.

I snapped a quick picture of the tree and then went on to work, but then this afternoon, after I got home from work (TGIF), I decided to take some pictures of the blossoms themselves. They are so lovely. And I was pleased to see that the tree was buzzing with busy little bees. Dozens of them, maybe even hundreds, were flitting from bloom to bloom. That's good news, because I've been told there will be no apples without cross-pollination from the hundreds of apple trees in our area.

An even closer shot. So beautiful!

I spent several minutes snapping one picture after another, trying to get a close-up of one of those industrious little fellows, but they moved so quickly (and sometimes, admittedly, I was pointed at the wrong flower), gathering their pollen and then buzzing off to the next blossom, that I couldn't seem to catch one on film.

No matter how many photos I shot, I couldn't capture even one busy bee!

I don't usually take my camera to work with me, but yesterday I happened to have it on hand because of the special annual event taking place at the our high school football field yesterday morning. Every year, in April, Blue Ridge hosts the BR Games, a local Special Olympics event for the special young athletes of our community and neighboring towns. It's a big deal. Classes are released to fill the stands with cheering students, alongside members of the community.

The Special Olympics athletes compete in the softball throw at BR Games.
21 April 2016

One of the especially cool things about the BR Games is the fact that it gives the youth at our school an opportunity to provide service by helping the sweet-spirited athletes at their events throughout the morning. My son Dylan, who is a senior this year, has been a volunteer for the BR Games every one of his four years at Blue Ridge High. And every year he falls in love with the young athlete to whom he is assigned. 

In fact, all three of my kids (and their dad) have always had a sweet spot in their hearts for children with disabilities and love spending time with them. It's one of the many things that make me so pleased and proud to be their mom.

Dylan and his clipboard on the field with co-officer Mary Lawrence,
keeping an eye on the events and making sure the BR Games ran smoothly.

This year, Dylan's involvement went even deeper when he was elected to be one of the officers in charge of planning, organizing, and carrying out this year's BR Games. He was involved from the start and then, yesterday, he spent almost six hours doing his part to manage the event. By the time he came to my room at the end of fourth period to return a fan he'd borrowed for the announcer's box, he was quite sunburned (too busy to put on sunscreen, he said).

I didn't think to take a picture of the stands filled with fans,
but you can see that even the area in front of the stands was packed!

Today I got a call from Barb Goza, the teacher who sponsors and puts on this event every year. She told me how valuable Dylan was as an officer this year, how he took charge and made sure everything under his purview went smoothly, including managing the people assigned to work under him. Not only was he awesome at the games yesterday, she said, but he had even come to her two days before the event to discuss several areas where he saw potential problems so they could troubleshoot them ahead of time. She was very impressed with his leadership skills and said she has no doubt he has a bright future ahead of him.

As Dylan's mother, I already knew he had all these great qualities, of course, but it's so nice to hear it from someone else who has witnessed his talents in action. Way to go, my son. You make me proud!