Tuesday, August 31, 2010

iheartfaces - Photojournalism via gratefulness

I have been blown away by the entries to this week’s iheartfaces photojournalism challenge.  What an amazing theme with so many incredible captures!

We recently got a chance to be part of an amazing project.  Originally called The Hans Project, it morphed into “Small House, Big God” as more and more people stepped forward to repay a man who had invested in their families.

Hans is the kind of person who makes a difference: working with disabled citizens during the day, mentoring youth all through the week – a Desert Storm medic, loving husband and involved dad to his two boys.

Unfortunately, his home couldn’t keep up.  You could shower under a roof leak in the living room each time it rained (imagine… the Northwest!), and their real shower required pliers to turn on.

What touched me the most – during the course of a week while Hans was in San Francisco (taking a youth group to feed the homeless) - was the sheer number and diversity of people who just simply showed up.

Showed up to work alongside strangers who had also been helped by Hans.  Showed up with smiles and laughter and cheerfully teamed up:

demolition, roofing, siding, sanding, painting, flooring, electrical, cabinetry, building, cleaning, planting…

It was a beautiful demonstration of each person finding a way to thank Hans for the gift of his time.

I wish I could show you a hundred pictures (yes, I took that many) – and settled on five showing the profound sense of family as people of all ages and races worked with gratitude.

Those teens you see?  Yeah, Hans loves them and they love him.



If you can’t wait – stop by The Hans Project to meet Hans and to see the results!

Visit iheartfaces for some incredible pictures with incredible stories:

Monday, August 30, 2010

When politeness sucks

I try not to be all negative about my deafness.

It can be hard enough trying to find ways to work around my disability while living in a world where so much depends on sound.  (Try jumping out of the way of a speeding airport golf cart after it beeps.  Oh wait, you didn’t hear it beep? )

But dealing with opinions is far more difficult.


I took Itty Bit to a sand-sculpture contest this weekend.  And before we even set foot into the viewing area, a woman noticed me signing to Itty Bit.

“Oh, is he a signer?”

I smiled and replied that he was.  “He’s just shy around everyone right now.”

I could tell that she didn’t realize I was deaf.  She signed to him and spoke to me.  “So nice that he’s bilingual!”

She introduced herself as a “deaf educator”, and remarked that many parents were realizing the benefits of teaching their children sign language.

Just to get it out there playfully so she wasn’t embarrassed about not realizing my profound hearing loss, I said, “Yeah, he’ll grow up to be my interpreter” with a smile.

I saw the expression on her face.  And I couldn’t help it -  I braced myself.

“Oh!  And what school are you going to put him in???” with a calculating look.


I tried to sidestep – I really did.

“He’s only four.  We haven’t decided yet.”

“Oh really?”  Pointedly, “Well don’t you think he needs to be someplace where other children sign?”

I cringed.

“You know, we may just homeschool.”

Supreme unsubtle hint ignored.  Shoved aside.  She had an educated point to make.

“But don’t you think”, she pressed, “that he deserves to be around children in THAT social environment?”

I knew my Irish genes were making an appearance in my clenched jaw and sharp exhalation.

I also knew there was a good possibility that I’d had more scholastic success than her, and spent more time with children than she had.  And to be sure, I’d spent more time being deaf than she likely ever would.  The clear criticism on her face was insulting.

“He signs at home and speaks as well.”

“Oh, so what method are you using?”

What “method”?  He’s a kid.  I talk to him.  I sign to him.  Does a mother need a “method”?


“I simply sign as  I speak.”

“I see.  So you’re using the SYM COM method.  And he just picks it up?”

arched eyebrow, extended sidelong glance at my patient little boy

Yes, he’s very bright”.



“But don’t you think he needs…”

She is pressuring me about my lack of using strictly American Sign Language.

“I want him to read, write, and speak in correct English sentence structure”, I say with my last bit of patience.

It stops her momentarily.  There is no argument she can offer.

She looks at me as if I am simply too stupid to understand her.  She looks at my son with pity on her face.


So help me I wanted to shake her and ask her if she really thought that her suggestion was the best for my child?  He is already growing up with a deaf mother, let’s throw another handicap in there and send HIM to a school for deaf children?

My son can communicate with everyone in his world.  I won’t get into an argument over why I won’t confuse him by teaching him a language I don’t use.  (Aww heck – we did just fine last weekend, didn’t we GunDiva?)

I’m used to the personal criticism – it’s easy to say with a smile, “I have a great marriage/family/circle of friends/professional life – how would limiting myself to a certain brand of sign language better it?”

But when it was directed at me as a mother… I was surprised at how angry I got at the clear insinuation that I was doing a disservice to my son.

Experiences make up the most profound education.  I hope that book-learning doesn’t give others permission to look down on people who actually walk in those shoes day after day.


Sorry.  I just needed to vent.

He’s worth every right decision I ever make.


The Escapees - Allenspark Adventures

So we left off at the end of the High Country Rendezvous trail ride… where Baggins still wanted to toss his head, despite the switch in riders:

Equi-Leah 062

(Killlashandra’s photo)

But backing up to the drive from Denver to Allenspark: we oohed and ahhed our way through the rocks:


I think I thoroughly annoyed my mother when we drove through some boulder areas and I couldn’t stop saying, “You give me gum gum, you better run run”IMG_5380

(Fifty OnceUponAMiracle points for telling me which movie that comes from)


The sun behind the landscape was incredible:



A random little store with a great little advertisement:


Oops!  Probably unkind of us to snap this picture.  Especially because were two chicks in a strange town by ourselves with no cell phone coverage.  Don’t worry, car trouble caught up to us later.


Check it out… can you see the sleeping Indian?


Here’s the lodge – rustic and beautiful:



We checked in and met this little charmer (Killlashandra’s E.C.):



And the lodge’s furry, feathered, and quilled mascots:




And of course some quality time with the equine residents (GunDiva with my mom and Estes):


We received a quick education on the dangers of foraging bears:

IMG_5672(Yes, that is an electrified garbage container… all the more reason for the hubs to have trash duty!)


We discovered that altitude DOES make a difference:



We took a stroll and were tickled by this random antique pumper truck parked outside:


After setting the timer on the camera…

IMG_5612I rushed back to get it and wound up with my most colorful souvenir from our trip.  Three inches of my shin are finally turning from blue to green… that darn shale! :)

Killlashandra’s husband Shorty was kind enough to give her a chance to ride – and you can see that E.C. didn’t mind having Dad to himself.



This next shot totally reminded me of Itty Bit launching himself off Mr. Daddy… no wonder this little guy was such a charmer!



Let’s just say that every single meal was DELICIOUS and I am bugging Juanita to start a cooking blog.  Trust me, if Mr. Daddy had come along, he would also be begging Juanita to spare me a few tips ;)

And this my friends, was the end result of Mr. Daddy’s consolation prize for his entry into GunDiva’s contest… a consolation prize that I happily polished off while watching my plate to ensure no “samples” were taken.


That, my friends, was a cherry cream cheese pastry… the likes of which you will never taste unless you go here.

This one was another favorite:  Blueberry Pot Pie.  See?


We took a field trip out to Estes Park to see the elk.

And this is where my camera totally betrayed me and just gave me that yellow blink of death.  No pictures, but rest assured that the beasts were big and unafraid and we had to wait for them to cross the road.  Eek!

We strolled the town and snapped some pictures:





Then headed back to the lodge.  Or so we thought.

A half mile from home, Juanita pulled to the side of the road.  A packed van, sleeping baby, and a flat tire.

So GunDiva, mom, and I started out… walking the mountain road with only the moon to light the way.


(Absolutely user error… I was running to keep up with the other chicks for fear of being eaten by bears!)

The next morning, there were hugs all around and we said goodbye to the Sleeping Indian.


Until next year!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Escapees hit the trail

So here we are: the main event.  The trail ride through the Rockies of Colorado.

8450 feet above sea level.  Which is nearly 8400 feet higher than we’re used to!

The weather was perfect – with brilliant blue skies and insane views that competed for photos.

What these High Country Rendezvous friends are too nice to tell you, is that I was by far the greenest rider in the bunch.  Which means that I fully expected to be plopped onto a plodder (say that three times fast), and sent on my merry way.

Well, Baggins was a plodder alright (more on that later), but he also had a “head-tossing festival” as described by Bill and Juanita.

Let’s start with an introduction:


There’s Bill on Ranger, Killlashandra on Rahja, and yours truly on Whiplash King Baggins.

IMG_5554GunDiva on Estes and Juanita on Jesse.

 Equi-Leah 112 Mom on Timber, me on Mane Flipper Baggins, and RockCrawlinChef on Gem.

(photo shamelessly stolen from Bill & Juanita’s website… sorry)


Little did I know the kind of terrain we were going to be encountering…IMG_5418

Umm yeah… our 9” wide trail with multiple switchbacks started at the grass on those rocks!

I can’t even show you pictures of the steep parts, because unlike King Julien, bodily safety outranks my camera.


Had to laugh at Bill’s technique for keeping Ranger at hand while checking cinches:

Equi-Leah 144

Man, I gotta quit stealing shots off Bill & Juanita’s site ;)

Notice my mom signing?  Well GunDiva wasn’t exactly forthcoming with just how well she could sign.  That chick kept up with us all weekend and made it nearly impossible to tell secrets at the dinner table… (but secretly I was uber impressed – the girl kept up her skills :)

This was just a few minutes into the ride.  See the typical view I had from the saddle?  My horse’s nose pointing STRAIGHT UP?!?!

IMG_5484 I had to laugh – that with four cameras on the trail, we had umpteen shots of of Bridle Slinger’s Baggin’s antics.

So this was about the 147th head-toss for the “I don’t like my bit” horse (if you think I’m exaggerating, please feel free to check with the other bloggers in attendance)… but what could distract from the view???




Everywhere you looked, there were pictures waiting to be taken.  But trust me, you won’t see any of the steep trails from my particular seat… I was too busy hanging on and watching the rocks slide down the hillside.

Ever walked behind a draft horse for a couple hours and watch the dinnerplate hooves dislodge shale down the mountain?  Or watched those same massive hooves struggle for traction while boulder climbing?

Equi-Leah 155Killlashandra and I (also shamelessly stolen from Bill & Juanita)

Here’s my quandry: my head-tossin horse also liked to snack along the trail.  Give the horse it’s head so you won’t pull back on the bit, or pull up every time it tries to take a bite?  A steep slippery trail is the worst time and place for a green rider to give a horse a lesson.

But Violent Nodder Baggins sure gave ME a lesson…

Equi-Leah 215 (Bill & Juanita’s photo)

Trail Lesson #1 – if there’s a choice between a clear space and a large item, the horse will put you into the tree every.time.

Trail Lesson #2 – don’t get behind the “kicker” in the group.

Trail Lesson #3 – go pee before you saddle up.

Trail Lesson #4 – always bring a cowboy on the ride.

IMG_5468Watching Bill belt out:

I can tell by your outfit that you are a cowboy

You can tell by my outfit that I’m a cowboy too

You can tell by outfits that we are both cowboys

If you buy an outfit, you can be a cowboy too.

was the highlight of the day.

Juanita swears that Ranger gets that face every time Bill gets silly.  But the rest of us?  We were howling.  Giggling.  Cracking.the.heck.up.


Though I suspect that RockCrawlinChef’s grin also had to do with possibly overhearing me talk to Mr. Needs a Tie Down Baggins, “Eyes on the road please dude” every time we approached a cliff.  I had no idea how much I talk to my horse until that day.  Maybe Kona just obeys so she can have some peace and quiet?  Don’t answer that.

See Mom now on Mr. Snackin Baggins?  We swapped out and I hopped on her big chestnut Timber.  And cracked up watching her kick and kick and kick trying to get Plodder Baggins to keep up.

Once I switched horses with Mom, I just couldn’t stop giggling as I rode through the water on Timber.


My girl would rather jump over streams than get her feet wet.  Having a bombproof horse splash his way across was a thrill.  Heck, he could have taken me swimming and I would have giggled until my hearing aid shorted out ;)

The view back… Meeker looked close enough to touch.


We picked our way back to the mountain road


where Bill made extra sure to keep traffic at bay for us:


Considering that there were no cars nearby, this was highly entertaining… well, to everyone except Ranger.

(bah humbug)


And this is where I was rude enough to call GunDiva out for her sweaty and hairy butt.


She’s a good shot, but I don’t think even she can hit me from a few states away?

(Geez, what is it with the horses not thinking stuff is funny???)


For the pranks that happened after the ride… go check out what Bill did to GunDiva…eek!

For GunDiva’s post on our funny arrival, read here.

And for Juanita’s take on the ride (with more pictures I wanted to steal) – check here.

For a beautiful collage of the trip, see Killlashandra’s pictures here.

I can’t thank them enough for the wonderful weekend.  We had a stay full of the memories that you hope to make in your lifetime.  And would you believe it happened all because we share a love of these?



Anyone want to join us next year?