Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, March 31, 2014


Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of my 28th birthday. I got up early for a walk and listened to the robins chirping and the idiot woodpeckers drilling away on the tin chimney-tops. At church, I attended to fifteen wet-combed kindergartners in Sunday School and then met friends for chocolate cupcakes and coffee.  Though I drilled my knee and wrist in the family soccer game that ensued in early afternoon, and my childhood team (Michigan) lost to Kentucky in NCAA basketball, it was a heavenly day. After well-wishes, cards, phone calls, emails and facebook greetings, I realized how blessed I am to know you all, to be connected to you in a constellation of ways.

Perhaps the most important connection I made was with my husband, who escorted me to a fabulous dinner at RootDown in Denver. We chatted and ate at a leisurely pace over a two-hour meal and the crowning glory was that we had 120 minutes of things to talk about, apart from the children! I am still surprised and challenged and intrigued by the possibilities we share, and gratified that our core values are still intact. For this year, I resolve to put more dinners on the calendar, though our waistlines and wallets might appreciate a less sensational dining experience. For now, I am lucky, and I am thankful.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Support Groups

Here's an amazing story that I read in Tara Brach's True Refuge:

[Change agent Fran Peavey writes:] One day I was walking through the Stanford University campus with a friend when I saw a crowd of people with cameras and video equipment on a little hillside. They were clustered around a pair of chimpanzees - a male running loose and a female on a chain about twenty-five feet long. It turned out the male was from Marine World and the female was being studied for something or other at Stanford. The spectators were scientists and publicity people trying to get them to mate.

The male was eager. He grunted and grabbed the female's chain and tugged. She whimpered and backed away. He pulled again. She pulled back. Watching the chimps' faces, I [a woman] began to feel sympathy for the female.

Suddenly the female chimp yanked her chain out of the male's grasp. To my amazement, she walked through the crowd, straight over to me, and took my hand. Then she led me across the circle to the only other two women in the crowd, and she joined hands with one of them. The three of us stood together in a circle. I remember the feeling of that rough palm against mine. The little chimp had recognized us and reached out across all the years of evolution to form her own support group.
Quoted from Fran Peavey,
Heart Politics (New Society Publishers, 1986), p. 176

The female chimpanzee's insight and strength amazed me. She reached across species to find the commonality and help that she needed.  How hard is it for us to do the same, even among our trusted friends and family?  I wonder how that story ended; I'm willing to bet the publicity people's crude wish was not fulfilled that day. The little chimp's outreach out shows strength and intelligence, not weakness. The same goes for us; when we reach out for help we show strength, and by experiencing pain we cultivate compassion. It's not comfortable and it's not society's way, but it appears to be fundamental to more than one species.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Don;t Set Out to Save the World

"We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts."
-          -Pema Chodron

I did set out to save the world. I was younger then, and didn’t know better. At first I wanted to stamp it, make my permanent mark, and then I wanted to save it. Now I just want to inhabit my own microcosmic slice of this big pie. My slice is strawberry-rhubarb today, sweet and sour, tangy and tart. I hope  my actions sweeten or warm your  plate and never detract from the full flavor of life.

PS – Thank you for the wonderful words of support regarding poetry and writing sent in response to my poem. You opened and strengthened my heart and bolstered me through a day of recovery from the stomach flu. What a welcome break from disinfecting, washing sheets and warming 7Up. Yesterday would have been  much more sour if not for you! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Poetically Pleased

Many of you have already seen my email or Facebook posting, so forgive me for the duplication, but I'm excited about my poem being published on  Every Day Poets. It's only the second poem of mine to be published, and the first in several years. I've posted the poem here, too, just for fun. Thank you for supporting this baby step, hopefully the first of many.

A century of empty miles, nowhere to rest
between Las Vegas and Ratón.
The scrub-brush residents here
root tenaciously in the red-orange soil.
New world vultures circle overhead,
beady-eyed, greedy to sound the alarm
on invaders thinking to dig up splintered
bones of stinking cedar or sugar pine.
Enigmatic cloud shadows dash and dot
across the shrugged shoulders of the high mesa
with a silent warning for travelers to move on.

Monday, March 24, 2014


It was a wild weekend of basketball here at the Dravenstott household. All of us entered the traditional Drav-Clav March Madness tournament (includes all of the Dravenstotts and Clavadetschers and makes it clear why I didn't hyphenate!) My kids all filled out a bracket for the first time in recent memory and so had a personal interest in the course of the games. One by one our brackets have succumbed to upsets; Daniel lost his tournament winner, Duke, on the first day, and I lost my final two teams by yesterday afternoon. Rob sails on in first place, followed closely by his brother and Aden (whose bracket title is "Umm . . .what?").

We had fun sitting around the fire watching basketball on Saturday as snow drifted past the windows full of spring flowers and Easter wreaths. Aden started asking about the colleges themselves: where they are located, how big they are, if the weather is rainy or cold, etc. I answered with a typical Mama Bear slant: everything far away is either too large, too cold, or too rainy. Aden's interest in colleges tugged at my heartstrings; we have a few more years before the interest gets deep and personal, but those years are passing quickly.

Yesterday afternoon Rob and I took Daniel to his first Denver Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center. Since it was a Christmas present, I had splurged on good seats and it was awesome to see how tall, quick, and strong the pro players are when you sit close-up. We bought junk food, swapped stories with the people around us, and hammed it up for the in-house camera during free-throws. Daniel made it on to the jumbo-tron doing some of his dance moves, with me in the corner frantically directing the camera his way. He pronounced it a "dream come true" though he didn't realize he was on the big screen until after the fact, when I told him and Rob showed him video on the camera. A fun weekend full of basketball, taunts and jibes, college dreams and big screens. I love March Madness!

Friday, March 21, 2014

World Poetry Day

In celebration of World Poetry Day, I give you another work off Anne Barngrover's list of 31 poems everyone should read. Enjoy this master work from Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939).

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lessons Learned

“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” ― Rita Mae BrownAlma Mater

I’ve had a few accidents in the past week and I thought you could benefit from the following tips:

1.       Never apply hand lotion before doing yoga. Your "dog" will go down so quickly that your nose will leave skidmarks. (A friend of mine also noted that lotion should not be applied before pole dancing . . . I have no first-hand knowledge of this activity).
2.       Do not allow your children to watch Meatballs and memorize these lines from the camp counselors’ song:  “We’re gonna smoke and drink and fool around, we are the Northstar CITs”. These lines will be repeated at teacher conferences, piano lessons, or baseball practice to the consternation of parents.
3.       Do not go hiking in unfamiliar woods without a trail map, or commit one of your friends to riding solo with a gas man named Roman  to retrieve a car parked 12 miles away.
4.       Do not allow your children access to your secret stash of gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate chips.
5.       Never start a land war in Asia. (OK, I stole that one from the Princess Bride. The rest are all courtesy of the author).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Balance Sheet

"Your qualities overshadow your weaknesses."
- Fortune from Thai fortune cookie

At the PTO meeting this morning we reviewed the financials and the budget for the coming year. At one point the treasurer showed us the Profit / Loss numbers even though, as a nonprofit, the PTO technically does not have profit or loss. That idea sparked a connection with the fortune that I opened at a Santa Fe Thai restaurant. To my driven logical mind, my (good) qualities narrowly overshadow my weaknesses, and I picture this as a PnL sheet, with the P barely overshadowing the L. As I look back it seems that I have measured my worth in this way for many years, struggling to prove my value and to find ways of valuation that could be quantitatively measured. This mindset nearly sunk me when I stopped working to take care of the kids, for as every parent knows, one cannot quantitatively measure value when it comes to raising children (or at least not for many years).

My college education cost my folks a LOT of money, and when I left consulting to begin a steady downturn in earnings, I began more and more to feel like a liability instead of an asset. This feeling increased over the past few years of my illness and rehabilitation; countless hours and dollars went into to my healing process and now, as an investment, I am so hopelessly in the red that a bailout is not even possible. Fortunately for my sanity, I realize that human beings are not "assets" or "liabilities." I see from raising my children that money spent on their health and well-being and happiness is not tracked or grudged. And I am beginning to see and dimly understand that the best things in life are not free, nor are they easily measured. Creativity, love, joy, friendship, support and understanding cannot be given a numerical value, and perhaps overshadow every weakness.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Back in the Swing

Back at home in our converted dining room / office. The sun persists in shining through heavy cloud cover and currently highlights the dust and crumbs on the floor. I apparently missed a few spots when I was ninja cleaning yesterday; I got home earlier than I expected and found an empty house. Grateful for the opportunity to sweep up five days' worth of kitchen crumbs and homework / mail, I barely got through the basics before the kids got home and demanded to see their presents.  It's such a gift to hold them and Rob in my arms and get caught up on the impressive list of events that transpired in my absence: a lunch with the principal, a harrowing water polo practice, a great night at the Imagine Dragons concert, and all sorts of odds and ends that need to be told to mom before the kids feel like they really happened.

To sum up the last five days, I offer a quote sent to me by my dear friend, Heidi. I don't know the source, but please enjoy the sentiments:

"There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from
all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who
make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who
treat you well, pray for the ones who don't. Life is too short to be anything
but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up living."

Have a great Monday -

Friday, March 14, 2014

Where I Have Been

“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

- Georgia O'Keeffe

The land here feels ancient. Humans have inhabited this high desert landscape for generations upon generations, and my feet can feel it in the ground of the Chamisa Trail Loop, the red brick floor of the rental house, and the broken concrete walkways of the Cathedral Square. We have walked almost twenty miles over the last two days - some by accident in the woods beyond Tesuque Creek - and are soaking in the sight of the low mountains dusted with snow, the adobe buildings and the turquoise jewelry, as well as the smell of junipers and spicy red sauce. 

The desert southwest has called me before, in the southern Arizonan desert and the mountains outside of Tucson. The appeal of the scrub brush and the low structures here surprises me, as I have always sought out the northern mountains or ocean beaches before. Places can reach out to you and weave tendrils of belonging through your heart, but I have never thought about the relationship between place and what one can do with it until I saw the O'Keeffe quote on the wall of her Museum here in Santa Fe. What do I do with the places I have been?

In this place I have hiked semi-frozen trails, eaten New Mexican food, window-shopped, purchased presents for friends and family, enjoyed lengthy personal conversations, gotten lost in the woods and rescued by Roman the gas man, looked at art, and soaked up a new atmosphere. Tomorrow we plan to work on a Habitat for Humanity site from dawn to dusk and contribute something back to this area that is hosting us. And as my thoughts turn back toward home, I wonder what I have done with our home place outside of Denver, and what more I have to do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Going to hit the road this afternoon on a journey to Santa Fe (New Mexico, for all my geography-challenged readers).  My bags are packed and three pages of instructions typed out, covering carpools, practices, appointments and meals. The freezer and pantry are stocked and the bathroom is cleaned, checks for the babysitter written and love notes to Rob and the kids are stuck to their place mats. Now all that remains is for me to cut the cord and walk out the door.

Walking out the door is surprisingly difficult. My “energy envelope” includes Rob and the kids, so when I leave, I often feel like my energy is s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d beyond my comfort level.  I am safe here and necessary, and I cherish those feelings since only a year ago I was still shaky, new in my recovery from serious illness, and questioning my abilities as a mother. When Daniel came home from school yesterday with hordes of red bumps on his belly, I thought “chicken pox?!” and was almost relieved at the thought of staying home. We rushed to the doctor, who assured us it was only “hot tub folliculitis” caused by the hot tub in Winter Park, and I was both relieved and disappointed.

But I just talked with a good friend, who assured me that I could still “tuck the kids in” at night with a timely phone call, and that my absence and my ability to travel will confirm to my family that I am truly well and that they can be similarly free to be with friends and experience new places. I hope that’s true, because I’m going for it. Will send pictures from the Casita in Santa Fe. . .  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns fascinate my family. A pride of peacocks, a charm of hummingbirds - I've listed some of the more enchanting in previous posts. What a thrill to open Reader's Digest yesterday to find a list of "real (and weirdly accurate) names for groups of professionals:
     - a group of librarians is called a shush
     - a group of dentists is called a wince
     - a group of bowlers is called a keg
     - a group of creditors is called a curse"
- Reader's Digest, March 2014, : From A Compendium of Collective Nouns by Woop Studios (Chronicle Books)

I chortled and immediately made a note to purchase the Compendium of Collective Nouns for myself and my siblings. Then, inspired by the image of my witty sister, Karen, who teaches fourth grade, I wondered what a group of teachers is called? When I googled it (are there any more ugly words than 'googled' or 'blogged'? Both sound like medieval tortures) I found a series of boring, serviceable responses, and then the perfect answer - a group of teachers is called "a quiz" (From How perfect!

So on this crazy Colorado day when the temperature has plummeted from sunny 70s to a windy, snowy, 33 degrees, I salute the teachers who make up my personal quiz: my mom and sister, two sisters-in-law, and the amazing professionals who instruct and care for my kids each day. Between report cards, conferences, and state tests, March is a tough month for teachers, so I'm sending you all chocolate - at least mentally. And perhaps, a copy of the Compendium, just for laughs.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Dreaded Mommy Blogger

An article in today's Denver Post (Kids Digital Privacy) discussed kids growing up in the age of ubiquitous technology. They text rather than talk, their personal information and buying preferences are stashed on their phones and computers, and their childhoods are on display through their parents’ photo -sharing and, yes, blogging. I am one of the feared “mommy bloggers” who crowds the blogosphere with anecdotes about her family’s lives, to what lasting effect on their children no one really knows.

My blog entries are random, to be sure, but I attempt to focus  on personal angst, political dramas, faith and religious struggles, and larger friend/family adventures. If my writing seems self-centered it’s because I aim to air only my own dirty laundry. I hope that the blog shows my kids that writing is powerful and not a lost art, though perhaps writing a book would prove the point more effectively. I know - I'll create a book out of my blog entries and present it to them as the ultimate in print media!  My daughter might bust me, though, since she reads the blog (on her phone) each day. 

The last thing on my mind is to create another source of sibling strife or parental pressure. Though I will remember many tragi-comic stories of each child forever, I plan to unburden them at each kid's wedding and not in cyberspace, where they might someday throw a job interview out of line. It’s difficult to harness technology and not have it grab us by the throat, but I hope that we can take control. If we can’t teach that to our children, perhaps they can teach us. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Up On Top of the World

"Take it in but don't look down
Cause I'm on top of the world, 'ay
I'm on top of the world, 'ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I've been waiting to smile, 'ay
Been holding it in for a while, 'ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I'm on top of the world."
 - Lyrics to "I'm On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons

A fear of heights runs in the family, but every now and then the pure  electric joy of a panoramic view supersedes any nervousness over footing on a mountain’s edge. The top of Parsenn’s Bowl  delivered this shot of adrenaline yesterday morning, when a friend and our four oldest children hit the top of Winter Park resort for a spectacular view of the Colorado Rockies. After burning our quads through 8 inches of powder the previous day in a cloudy snowy swirl, God served Saturday on a golden platter. Plentiful sun, no wind, and amazing soft snow, a sensory feast that bathed our nervous systems in a warm soup which precluded fear and inspired playful skiing and grateful hearts.

The kids pored over a tattered trail map and plotted our course as they rode up on the lift ahead of us, taking the bit of control in their teeth and carrying their confidence into their top – to – bottom runs, swooping in and out of trees on the edge of wide open runs and taking jumps over the freshly humped snow. We shouted for each other in the forest and collapsed into snowbanks, before finally dropping in fatigued stupor at the lunch table. On the last run of the day we picked up the youngest kiddos from their lessons and took a leisurely final run of the season – until my boys and their friend took a left into the terrain park for one last jump. My favorite memory of the weekend was the sight of my two boys shooting down the hill toward the first jump, almost in sync, then seeing William take off and get over two feet in the air while Daniel just glided smoothly over the edge. Their forward progress surpassed both me and Rob and their joy was contagious. Now washing and putting away for another year, but inspired by adventures to come.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mirror Unreality

Just continuing on this thought process that we never see real life portrayed in the media. The Oscars just celebrated all of the folks in movie-making that go behind making unreal scenes: hair and makeup, costume and set designers, cinematographers, and film editors. They construct alternate worlds, peopled with characters, not actual individuals. And yet we try to replicate what we see by striving for physical "perfection," the right clothes and makeup, the immaculate house as our stage set and the hero / heroine as our significant other. We mistake the images for truth, and we seek to mirror unreality.

These are first world, or "champagne problems," had by those of us with food in our bellies and a roof over our heads, but the media's false images affect anyone around the world with access to television or film, or internet, and I would guess it only worsens the divide that they feel. That thought calls to mind images from The Hunger Games, where citizens of the Capitol dye their hair and skin and create crazy costumes and jewelry from a surfeit of time and money while the inhabitants of poor outlying districts struggle to avoid hunger. Is that what we seek to replicate? The images of the Capitol were only slightly over-the-top, and struck a bit too close to home; the movie made me feel that I should question everything in order to avoid such a fate.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Real People

I've been thinking more about the movie, Meatballs, and not just about how much younger Bill Murray looked in 1979. The teenagers, adults and kids in that movie look like . . . real people. Murray's hair is too long and he's not in great shape, his love interest looks like an actual human being who might not wear makeup or get dressed up when acting as camp counselor, and unbelievably, they don't have perfect teeth. Curly hair is allowed to get flyaway and though there are requisite "pretty girls" and at least one "handsome" guy, they don't have major parts and they don't get star billing in the film. You might say that's what I get for watching a movie called Meatballs, but seriously, tell me the last time you watched a movie where people weren't perfectly fit, made up, buffed, shined and airbrushed? In 2014, even reprobates with long hair and unshaven beards have perfect long hair, and the exact right amount of scruff  not quite hiding their symmetrical, blazing white teeth. I miss seeing real people on film and TV, miss feeling like my reality is normal.

In a somewhat-related tangent, I went to the doctor's office today to see my internal medicine doc. He's a great guy, and has seen me through the absolute worst of times with a cheerful realism and practical advice. I was nervous, though, not because of the appointment but because of the weigh-in that always accompanies a routine check-up. I thought about  not looking, I thought about wearing a light-weight skirt and tank top (though it's only 48 degrees) to add less clothing poundage to the total, but in the end I just wore jeans and a sweater and stared that digital read-out right in the face. When the number popped up, I felt . . . relief. It's the same number I saw three months ago, the same approximate weight I was for years before marathon training started me on the road to emaciation, and more importantly, the new normal. It felt significant to accept the fullness of who I am now as right and good - a real person. Unless they remake Meatballs I won't be starring in any films, but I feel pretty good about the starring role in my own life.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A wee bit of humor

I was reminded over the weekend that some good jokes can change your mood for the better. Unfortunately, my brain is the black hole of jokes - though I've heard many, none have ever surfaced to be retold. My son is good with remembering and making up jokes (he must have inherited this trait from his father) and since he has testing at school all this week (and the next, and the next) he thought he would get a list of jokes together. I am supposed to surprise him with one joke off of the list each day by slipping it into his pocket, so when he looks down at his joke just before the test starts, he receives a humorous jolt to his brain.

Rob has contributed to the kids' education in humor by showing all of the Harold Ramis movies - most recently Meatballs. The children loved the movie and several of its one-liners made William's joke list, but the kids almost had a heart attack when they saw the current Bill Murray at the Oscars. It's hard to absorb 30 years of aging in less than 24 hours! Since I've already contributed my entire collection of Calvin and Hobbes,I'm fresh out of humor and had to resort to the internet. Here are a few jokes I printed off for William. Hope it helps get your week off to a good start! And, (to borrow from Bloggess Jenny Lawson) you're welcome!

1. It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.
2. I used to think the brain was the most important organ. Then I thought, look what’s telling me that.
3. What does a nosey pepper do? Get jalapeño business.
4. What is Bruce Lee’s favorite drink? Wataaaaah!
5. The dyslexic devil worshipper sold his soul to Santa.
6. You kill vegetarian vampires with a steak to the heart.
7. There was a prison break and I saw a midget climb up the fence. As he jumped down her sneered at me and I thought, well that’s a little condescending.