With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Maintenance

Dermatologist is on the calendar for tomorrow at 9am - fun, fun, fun. Getting a skin check definitely falls into that category of personal health / maintenance that is SO not sexy and may be a bit scary. At this stage of life we all know folks - heck, may have been folks - who walked into some kind of appointment for a routine checkup and had startling news, with unpleasant consequences.  Maybe I should focus on getting my sunspots lightened and ignore the potential dark side of the new moles on my back. At least by tomorrow afternoon I will either have a reprieve or a series of next steps to take.

It's exactly the same thing as taking the van into the shop. Our trusty Toyota minivan has 88,000 miles on it and we just had a routine oil change that turned into an oil change plus two belts being replaced plus a taillight fixed. It's not a fun way to spend $200+, and when the kind men at the shop call to get my go-ahead before they make the fixes I am tempted to say "no." The specter of a car problem on the highway with my kids makes me steer in the right direction. In some ways I go to the dermatologist or the mammogram folks or the GYN for the same reason, so that nothing bad happens to the kids through me, the all-purpose, driven-into-the-ground vehicle.

This week has seen a lot of maintenance, as Colorado turned into southern Ireland and forsook its high-desert climate in favor of monsoon rains. We cleaned the basement, behind the piano, in the kids' rooms and even considered a trip to the grocery store a fun reprieve. We bought three bunches of bananas, since stocking the banana bowl is hugely necessary maintenance with three growing kids. And we cheered together when the sun came out this afternoon, ready to go out and play and forget all responsibilities in these last few weeks of summer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rain and Hail on the Pike's Peak Trail

"The elevation gain is a brutal 7,400 vertical feet, Colorado's greatest vertical rise."
 - Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, by Gerry Roach

We embarked on the Barr Trail in Manitou Springs yesterday at 6:18am, full of energy and excitement at climbing the 12.9 miles to the summit of Pike's Peak. Heidi did the hike last year with a friend and loved the beautiful, shady trail. I wanted to go but felt nervous anticipation along with the knowledge that I'm not yet up to full strength. After shuffling around the parking lot and hunting to get to the correct trailhead, I feel confident in saying that our total climb was at least 13.1 miles - a half marathon straight up the mountain.

Heidi set a blazing pace and  after a while I started to lag behind, allowing the two couples that we had passed to catch up and stride by us. After I took out one of Rob's climbing poles and ate some cashews, I got a second wind and we moved at a good clip up to Barr's Camp, halfway up the trail. Many people climb to this point and then turn around and go down, which gives them a good hike without the trauma of going all the way up or the cost of paying the cog rail fare to come down. It also means that super-fit runners jog past up trail or fly by down trail, murmuring "on your left" and "thank you" as they move their hyper-trained bodies over rocks and other obstacles in their path.  I started to resent this super-species of hiker as my left knee threatened to blow at every step, my glutes turned into hard knots and my breathing got ragged.

After 9.9 miles we still had three miles remaining and I felt serious concern about reaching the summit. The only incentive to continue at that point was that getting down was 9.9 miles the other direction. So I took all the chocolate out of my trail mix and ate it, and plowed up the trail behind a rapidly disappearing Heidi. The clouds rolled in and a few fat drops fell, landing on my hat and rolling off my jacket sleeve. With two miles to go we encountered a couple from Texas who had driven in the day prior and immediately started hiking (note to self: NEVER do this). We all looked at the clouds rolling past and obstructing our view, and Heidi and I hurried on again.

The last two miles were epic as the fat drops turned to steady rain and then hail. We hid briefly under a rock as thunder rolled below us but moved on in a short lull.  A half-mile from the summit we bumped into a solo runner who had taken our photo a while back - he was headed down with a short-sleeved T and a water bottle for company. He assured us that we were almost to the summit and safety, so we hurried on, even as the thunder got closer and the hail increased in size. Running water poured down the center of the trail and I found a burst of adrenaline-fired energy that had me plowing through the rivulets right behind Heidi. A loud thunder clap sent us running across the 14,110 foot summit right into the tourist center at the top. At 12:54pm, as well-dressed tourists parted in confusion, we threw our bodies into the concrete building and collapsed into a teary, wet hug.

My guidebook notes that "at the summit, you enter another universe." We struggled to find seats in the midst of fudge and french-fry eating, knick-knack buying tourists, who looked at us as if we had invaded from space. The joke was on them as lightning strikes began near the building and enough "graupel" fell that the authorities closed Pike's Peak Highway and called the plow to come clear the way. After shivering for an hour at our table we obtained our pre-purchased cog rail tickets and shivered thankfully back down the cog rail to warmth and dry clothes. Though I did not get the summit views that inspired "America the Beautiful" I won't be going back to the top on foot ever again. Next time I'll be one of the tourists who drives to the top and buys a t-shirt . . .but for now I'm grateful that we made the epic climb.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Homecoming

Heidi, Dina and I went down to Eagle Lake yesterday to retrieve our kids. I say kids, though I really couldn't stop thinking of them as my babies. Turns out they had a fantastic time, already signed up to pre-register for next year, and suffered little, if any, homesickness. I was thrilled but also shoved off balance by the realization that they did better than I did with the absence.

"There was a lot of God" at the camp, they said, though Aden, William and Adam (in my car) all enjoyed the spiritual focus and rituals. My two insisted on changing the way we say grace at dinner, moving from a rote non-specific ritual prayer to "real praying" by a member of the family. Aden led off last night. And all three campers recited some of the Bible verses they memorized as part of the cabin competition. William said Matthew's verses on the Beatitudes, which moved me to tears as I drove along the dirt road towards Pike's Peak.

They grow in arrhythmic leaps - moving five giant steps closer to adulthood in five days. Hopefully we will have a little static stretch ahead to give me and the rest of the family time to catch up before everyone goes back to school and gets stretched in other directions. My prayer is that they maintain this closer relationship to God and that our family grows in ability to support them and develop its own connections, keeping pace with their needs and moving toward the same goal.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Brother’s Baby

I squeezed in a visit to the dentist yesterday for the ritual stabbing and slicing they call “cleaning.”  On the TV, fortunately muted, was a daytime talk show of the most exploitative variety, sporting the byline “I Know That’s Not My Brother’s Baby.” As the hygienist turned my head this way and that my eyes were drawn, as to a horrific accident, to the gesticulating, weeping women onscreen. Apparently the Girlfriend With the Baby and the Sister were the ones at odds. I turned away to finish cleaning both my teeth and my conscience but I can tell you two things:  1. it was not her brother’s baby and 2. That was the theme of the entire show – not just a segment – so appallingly, there were more Girlfriends, Sisters and Brothers to come, sandwiched between advertisements for a paternity testing company.


I have two brothers who are expecting babies – and we won’t be appearing on the Steve Wilkos Show.  After my descent through at least two layers of hell yesterday morning I reflected on how lucky I am that my brothers married such lovely women and that their families are growing in the most blessed way. One of my sisters-in-law is due in just a few weeks and I am excited to hear some good news from back East. They decided to keep the baby’s gender a surprise, so we all wait with bated breath to determine boy or girl (a much better test to wait on than paternity!). The other brother and his wife are close to halfway through their pregnancy, and they plan to find out the gender soon, so I am keeping an eye on my phone for West Coast area codes, as well, to see what color presents I should buy. I’m sending you best wishes for health and easy deliveries, sisters, and much gratitude for the wonderful women that you are!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Perfect

I overheard a group of young people talking the other day. They were in their late teens or early twenties, contemplating going back to college or heading overseas to teach English and travel. As I was reading an article on the other side of a bulletin board that separated us, their conversation turned to a young woman who was not present. "I'm glad my brother didn't meet her," one said, "it would have been all over for him."  Another responded, "Yeah, she was one of my best friends in high school and the guys fell apart over her. My best friend met her for a double-date at LoDos and couldn't talk. He started babbling about how good the water was there. She's super smart, goes to a great school, is a terrific athlete and models. She's basically the perfect person." At this the other young women burst in to reassure the speaker that she was pretty great, herself, but I couldn't forget that comment about the "perfect person."

As I turn that sentence over in my mind I can't escape the corresponding thought that anyone who could say the word 'perfect' in connection with a human being is so young. Too young to know that self-doubt and emotional pain arises in each of us, too young to know that life never fails to deal us all blows, and if the young model in question hasn't had any knocks yet, she certainly will. That realization is nothing to be gleeful about, and I take no satisfaction in the knowledge, but it's true. I wish I could have expressed these sentiments to the young women in the group, that pretty fades, sports end, and a good college does not always equal a worthwhile, family-friendly, high-paying career - but they would not have understood. I could have told the speaker to appreciate all of her own gifts and to relish her own opportunities, that no one needs a crowd of admirers, we just need one good one. There is no such thing as a perfect human being, though we are all perfectly human, with all the flaws, tears, bumps and bruises granted us by life.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Camps!

Headed to Eagle Lake now to drop Aden, William and all of their gear for a week. Having returned from camping in the same area west of Colorado Springs just 24 hours ago, I am beginning to feel like a camp shuttle. It’s a bit of driving but no complaints here; the amazing blessings of gorgeous scenery and close friendships sustain us. To commemorate the weekend I scratched a few verses as chipmunks schemed and scurried around my camp chair . . .

Spillway Campground

Wade the river
  small boys
    on your back.
Don’t fish,
  swim.

Climb a rock
  touch the top
    of a tree.
 Don’t fall,
    fly.

Shine your light
  seek the center
    of the dark.
Don’t stumble,

  follow stars.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Returns

The towns string together like the wooden beads of my childhood rosary: Missoula, Deer Lodge, Bozeman, Billings, Sheridan, Casper. Today is our long, hard day, with ten hours of driving on heavy hearts. The green mountains lining Salmon Lake were hard to leave this morning. The biting air and clear view to glacier-ground stones on the lake bottom taunted us as we took the pontoon boat from the Montana Island Lodge toward our dusty car. Harder still to leave the many dear faces and waving hands on the docks, some misty-eyed at our departure. I cried my tears of gratitude and sorrow at our sing-along last night, where we gathered in the great room to sing all of the Clavadetscher family favorites: Willie Nelson, The Big Chill, and especially John Denver’s “Wild Montana Skies.” The songs that my parents played for us on countless road trips to Montana are now the soundtrack of my children’s and their cousins summer travels. To be connected, to be part of something larger than yourself – what greater gift to give our kids? Except maybe the sweet mountain air, clear cold lake water, and endless sunshiney days of outdoor activity.

Yesterday’s athletic pursuits included a long canoe trip for me and Rob, north on the lake and into the feeding river. We paddled upstream for a bit, sighting blue herons and hawks along with the yellow and red-winged blackbirds. A spider sat in the middle of his web just in front of my feet, distracting me from the scenery. I couldn’t bear to destroy his masteripiece with my paddle, though Mr. Spider freaked me out with his fat red/brown body and baleful glare. Somehow the web reminded me of the strands drawn between each member of our family, 17 members present and the few absent. Strong and often invisible but reinforced over time by repeated effort, the tensile strength unquestionable.


When we returned my sister was towing William on her water bike and Mike and James were fishing. As twilight fell, Rob, John, Mike and I paddled our kids across the lake to try a rope swing. Each kid had 3 great jumps before the injuries mounted – Rob with a gigantic rope burn on his arm and my nephew Sean with a scraped-up knee.  All this before ending the night with the sounds of this summer and summers past, all singing together out of tune but so in touch.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Notes from Salmon Lake

Updates from the trip, continued . . .

Lovely to be in the Seeley-Swan Valley where the most significant issue on a July 4th weekend is escalating chicken – bear conflict (see photo above). At the parade in Seeley yesterday the passing ATV’s and motorcycles threw out candy, stickers, and toilet paper (?) On our little island the biggest problem appears to be how to fit every water activity into one day. The days last 17  hours but lake activities include water bicycles, paddle boats, canoes, fishing, swimming, floating and cannon-balling in 64 degree water.  The seven cousins run around the lodge brandishing life jackets and water guns as if they were pressed for time.

Last night we held the first annual Clavadetscher/Dravenstott lip-synching contest and the talent overwhelmed its audience. Papa emerged in a Dolly Parton wig and a 44-D brassiere to pair up with Nana in Kenny Rogers garb to warble “Islands in the Stream.” Their costumes, effort, and inability to keep from whispering the lyrics brought down the house. Dad's dress actually belonged to my brother, John, who wore it during the rehearsal dinner for my wedding fifteen years ago. James and Michael had matching dresses and breasts as they introduced themselves as my "bridesmaids", and Mom was apparently so impressed by the event that she kept all three dresses in the closet for over a decade.  Dad boasts the best arms and chest of all the Clavadetscher men and looks great as a blonde.


The songs alternated between hysterically funny and painfully touching. The John Clavadetschers did “YMCA”, we lisped“We are the Champions” and Michael and his four-year-old, Mac, sang a lovely duet about a father missing his son, which Mac dedicated to Papa. After that tear-jerker the three girl cousins changed the tide of sentiment by rocking out to Grace Potter and "Ooh La La'. Memories and missing each other and shock at the rapid passage of time hung thick in the room for the adults and the atmosphere faintly puzzled and disturbed the children, who took all of the singing and dancing at face value. It's strange to feel the weight of years passing but the gift inherent is the appreciation for the times we reunite and recognition of the love that has given Mom and Dad 45 happy years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Notes from A Road Trip

On the last leg of our return journey this morning, with road-weary tushies and two tons of dirty laundry. Over the next week or so I'll post notes from the road; here's the first.

We journeyed to Montana via Mount Rushmore, a lengthy but worthwhile side trip. All three kids were transfixed by the giant granite sculptures looking out over the Black Hills, with Aden particularly affected by their eternally peaceful repose. Daniel was impressed by the Herculean efforts of artist and sculptor Gutzon Borglum, to the extent that he determined to name his first-born son Gutzon Borglum Dravenstott. Unique, to be sure. We stayed to watch the mountain light up and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" with hundreds of other tourists.

Our education continued the next day as we learned the history of the both the mountain and the presidents depicted thereon and moved on to a study of geography when we got off the beaten path for lunch at the Petrified Fores.The petrified logs there have literally been turned to stone over the past 120 million years, and they are cypress trees. At that time the area was located where southern Texas is now, and the vegetation was tropical as opposed to mountainous. Though initially skeptical  of our stop, we were super-de-duper impressed.

On to Devil’s Tower in the middle-of-nowhere, Wyoming, where shocking numbers of tourists got out of cars to look at prairie dogs and the vegetation was surprisingly lush after a winter of heavy rain and snow. The kids studied up for this side trip by watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind (courtesy of Rob) where the monument appears desert-like and harsh. When we did our three mile hike around the base we waded through meadows thick with golden wildflowers and tromped across red sandstone dirt broken by water rivulets and bright green pines.

Our last side-trip was at Custer’s Last Stand – Little Bighorn National Monument. We all felt the aura of sadness for the murder of the 7th Cavalry and for the campaign of terror against the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. There was no honor in the continuous line of treaties broken by the US Government nor in Custer’s practice of taking women and children hostage and using them as bait for the Indian warriors. There are now a monument and gravestones for the Indian warriors as well as a massive stone and cemetery for Custer and the members of the US 7th Cavalry.

Over this first part of the Fourth of July holiday week we were fortunate to learn many lessons about the nation's history, both about the values of peace, freedom, dignity and hard work, and about the hard things that occur when these values are "trailed in the dust" as Teddy Roosevelt  once said. Now off to meet the family . .  .