NOT IN MY TIME OR YOUR TIME, BUT IN OLDEN TIMES. . . . - by Jean Meimann Christen

Telling stories in granddaughter Hailey’s 2nd grade classroom, April 2016

Telling stories in granddaughter Hailey’s 2nd grade classroom, April 2016

“And bird, mosquito, bedbug, crab and snake high-fived each other, shouting in joy that they had done something they could never have done alone.  Working together they defeated the horrible Odon the Giant!”  With wide-eyed wonder, the young people in front of me clapped in excitement, for in their imaginations, they had become part of the defeat of the strong and powerful by the weak and small.  Back to reality, I packed up my storytelling bag and was surrounded by smiling 7 year-olds with questions, comments, smiles, and hugs.

Thus ended another storytelling session with 2nd graders in Poudre School District.  As  a member of the Spellbinders Storytellers, I am immersed in bringing the ancient art of storytelling to today’s tech-savvy children.  About 11 years ago, a retired friend told me of a group of storytellers just getting started.  They were looking for people to join their ranks.  So after my retirement from teaching, I embarked on a four-week training where we learned the techniques and skills necessary to be successful.  We practiced learning and then telling stories to the other adult students.  I summoned up all my courage to overcome my natural fear of performing in front of an audience.  And then I was ready to give it a go in the real world.  For me, the elementary classrooms were very familiar, but I was now wonderfully transformed from teacher to honored guest.  

I learned as I went, taking notes on what worked and what didn’t.  Remembering a half hour’s worth of stories without using notes is a bit of a challenge.  Equally challenging is using voice, gestures, timing, etc. to keep my listeners engaged. They love the occasional “Knock Knock” joke or riddle I challenge them with between stories.  I almost always use music in my program, often playing my ukelele as we sing silly songs or songs with gestures.  One of the most-loved is a song that feels just a little bit naughty, called “Don’t’ Stick Your Finger Up Your Nose”.

From folk and fairy tales to real life stories, our goal is to pass on wisdom, values, humor, and a sense of community.  The magic begins when I put on my storytelling beads and ask them to “click onto their imagination app” where they get to make their own videos while listening to my words. The children get quiet, eyes on me in anticipation.  Then begins tales of adventures often related to the classroom curriculum, school values or holidays.  Kids especially love Halloween stories, but are also delighted when I weave tales of tricky leprechauns, talking animals who overcome great obstacles, and heroes of all kinds.  At the end I invite them to retell my stories to their families and friends.

One of my greatest joys has been telling stories in my grandchildren’s classrooms.  Whenever possible we timed our trips to New York to coincide with our grandson’s school schedule so that I could be guest grandma and storyteller.  Also once a year I would tell stories in the classes of my two grandchildren in Highlands Ranch. It was a great way to get to know their school environment, and hopefully give a meaningful and special gift to them and their classmates.   In addition, the two grands from Highlands Ranch used to beg for stories before falling asleep at our house during their weekend visits.  Now I have begun telling stories to my five-year old grandson. “The Belly Button Monster” and “Bark George” have him asking, “Is that real?” I’m anticipating being the storyteller in his classroom some day.

Over the years I have loved receiving cards and letters from students expressing their appreciation and favorite stories.  Among the many memorable comments are: “I think you would be a pretty good teacher too, but I like you better when you tell us stories.”  “You’re the nicest storyteller in the world.”  “Your stories were gold.  They made kids happy.  You are speshl.”

The children look forward to my visit each month, and their teachers appreciate storytelling as an important part of literacy education.  Storytelling is a gift given and a gift received, linking generations.  As a retired person and grandmother, I get the opportunity to challenge my aging brain to learn stories, songs, riddles, jokes.  I continue to grow and challenge myself to do a better job each time.  The children get to see that older people can interact and bring fun and excitement to their day and their learning.  We’re not just old fuddy- duddies!


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Jean Christen is a retired elementary teacher who indulges her passion for children by telling stories to 2nd graders and babysitting her grandson.  Originally from the Midwest, she put down roots in Fort Collins after a stint in the Peace Corps and graduate work at UNC in Greeley (CO).  In retirement she has begun writing vignettes about her life to pass down to her children and grandchildren.  She lives in Fort Collins with her husband, and together they enjoy family, volunteering, and traveling the world.  

Obituary for Barley -by Fran Green

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Barley was born on August 23, 2005, in Chesterfield, Virginia, and died on April 1, 2019, at Moore Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Barley was 100% dachshund, black and tan, and was half wire-haired and half smooth coat.  He was adopted by Fran and Bob Green in November 2005 and spent his first week at their home in Richmond, Virginia.  A week later he moved with them to Corolla, North Carolina.  

As a puppy, Barley loved annoying his older “brother” Bagel by biting his leg and tail.  While Barley loved living at the beach he did not like to go near the ocean.  Particularly frightening to him was the red fire hydrant on the path to the beach.

In 2013 Barley moved to Fort Collins. He loved treats, was extremely stubborn and ate all sorts of wrong things:  rugs, particularly oriental ones, jockey underwear, Levi jeans, cell phone, CDs, wallet, dead worms and bunny scat.  Barley loved to travel in his crate and crossed from NC to Colorado several times.  He retained a stubborn streak all of his years and enjoyed exercising his vocal chords.

His doggie friends Cody, Gus, Mimi, Blackberri and Tutu will miss him as will his owners and their friends and neighbors.  He his ashes will join those of Biscuit and Bagel.

After reading his obituary, one of our friends wrote about the time they visited us and we went to a wildlife center in North Carolina.  She left her grey jacket on the back seat where Barley was.  When we came out, he was nowhere to be found...until we noticed that the sleeve of her jacket was moving.  He had crawled inside the sleeve and was stuck there with just his nose and beard sticking out of the cuff.  It looked like a seal in the back seat.  Adorable.

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Fran Green grew up in western Virginia, graduated from The College of William and Mary and followed a career path into retail buying and management. She and her husband Bob moved to Fort Collins in 2013 to be closer to their son and his family, including 3 granddaughters. She and Bob have always been dog people. She is also a goat person, a musician and, when she finds the time, she writes.

"Wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth” Part Two - by Wes Rutt

Introduction:

In January, 2019, Wes Rutt began to unfold his story of motorcycle riding with his wife, Nicki, on several continents and over 50 years. He ended the first part of his tale with the destruction of their trusty bike in the High Park fire, both of them assuming their motorcycling days were over. But it turned out that more adventures awaited them after all.


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We were physically beginning to slow down by the time of the fire. Reflexes weren’t as quick. Sitting on a motorcycle saddle for hours day after day would have left us hobbling around in pain. We told ourselves that losing the bike was probably a sign that we had had a great run but it was time to be realistic. It would be silly to press our luck.

We decided that it was time to sit back and enjoy the many fond memories of our past adventures, so we did...for a while. A few years after the fire we were in Chile returning from the Patagonian International Marathon (an adventure for a different story). Sitting in an airport waiting for a connecting flight, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman from New Zealand who was wearing a T-shirt that advertised an “Adventure Motorcycling” trip. He explained that he was returning home from eastern Europe where he had been on a motorcycling tour.

I told him that my wife and I had traveled rather extensively by motorcycle over the years and asked if there was anything special about “adventure motorcycling”. He informed me that in the last few years a few motorcycle manufacturers had introduced bikes that handled as well off the road as on it, so motorcycle tours could now reach more locations that were impossible to get to on ordinary road machines. I was intrigued because: 1) some years before we had visited Chaco Canyon National Park in New Mexico and had to travel several miles down a very rough washboard road. We literally shook the headlight and one of the turn signals off our road bike before reaching our destination; 2) I was starting to feel the wind in my hair and the bugs in my teeth while hearing about the New Zealander’s tour.

When we returned home I couldn’t get “adventure motorcycling” out of my mind. I started researching the topic and discovered that the two most highly praised manufacturers of adventure bikes happened to have shops in Loveland. Nicki has always been the (slightly) more practical member of our partnership, and we had already made a perfectly rational decision to retire from motorcycle riding so I straightened my hair, swallowed some imaginary bugs and determined to be rational.

A few weeks later, however, we were picking up some art in Loveland and, as we just happened to be driving by one of the bike shops, I mentioned that it might be fun to drop in.  Just to look, you understand. So, although it was a cold, cloudy November day and certainly not conducive to motorcycle riding, we stopped in at Elite Motorsport, the KTM dealer. Roger, the owner, who is about our age, asked if he could show us anything. I said that our last bike was destroyed in the High Park Fire, that we were too old to start riding again, and we were just there to “look.” Roger nodded knowingly.

 Of course, as motorcyclists do, we spent some time swapping stories with Roger of riding adventures.  When I mentioned that we had purchased a motorcycle from Elite Motors in London in 1970, he eagerly replied that in 1971 he too had purchased a motorcycle from Elite Motors in London...same shop and owner.One thing kept leading to another, and Roger ended up giving us such a good deal on a bike, a bike that we had rationally decided we didn’t need or want, that we, now in our 70’s, became the proud owners of a brand new adventure motorcycle.

Wes & Nicki - 1975

Wes & Nicki - 1975

Wes & Nicki - 2018

Wes & Nicki - 2018

 Unfortunately, having a shiny new machine in the barn didn’t do much to reduce our physical infirmities. Some days just swinging a leg over the saddle was an iffy proposition. However, having a motorcycle in the barn again seemed to improve our mental outlook dramatically. Instead of dwelling on memories and starting to feel “old,” we began to plan new adventures. We thought back on what we enjoyed most about our motorcycle trips. What we particularly enjoyed was the anticipation of going somewhere new, the people we would meet along the way, the new things we would discover, and, since this is a story about aging, reliving memories. So how could we enjoy those things again without spending so many weeks and thousands of miles on the bike?

In 1970 when we took our first long trip, there was no internet, there were no cell phones, and good cameras were bulky, hard to carry on a bike, and they required lots of film. We often didn’t do a very good job of recording our adventures. Nicki’s sister recently found some old postcards we had sent during some of our trips. They described adventures and discoveries we had almost completely forgotten about. It seemed to us that if we were going to embark on a new set of adventures, we might as well make some use of our hard-won experience and avoid making the same mistakes over again.

What we had to do is figure out how to take trips on our new bike that would take advantage of our maturity and experience, provide us with a little more of that adventure we so fondly remembered, and, this time, do a better job of recording everything to help us relive those memories  in the years to come. Fortunately here in Colorado we don’t have to travel far in order to enjoy some of the best scenery anywhere. To add frosting to this cake, Colorado is loaded with fascinating history that can make that scenery come alive.  We decided that the best way we could experience adventure motorcycle riding at our age would be to research local history and take relatively short trips, stopping often to relieve aching joints and, at the same time, relive the history at sites that might be overlooked by many travelers. But this time we wanted to do a better job of recording what we experience and discover. 

So we have created a YouTube channel to record our adventures and store our memories. We have just published our first adventure: Adventure Motorcycle Trip #1 - Laporte Loop. Now I understand why it can take years to produce a movie. This is complicated, but we have no timetable or deadlines to meet. As with our earlier adventures, and perhaps life in general, it is more about the journey than the destination.

Adventure Motorcycling for the More Mature


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Wes Rutt is a runner, biker, and woodcutter who spends his free time as the Outreach and Education Chair for the Colorado Tree Farmers.

Staying Alive -by Clay Carter

Each year makes me more aware of distinct choices for living with aging.  One choice is to welcome the inertia of reduced energy and meager responsibility:  Make no non-medical commitments that can’t be easily broken, avoid engaging in reading or interacting with anything or anyone that is mentally challenging, make exercise a matter easily dismissed, disengage from issues beyond my constricted circle of activity, ignore activities that excited me in the past, rationalize and excuse indulgences, become gradually more secluded except for being merely a spectator.  In this mode, lethargy spreads like spilled syrup on a pantry shelf: invasive and hard to get rid of; the mind and body become dull and sluggish.

Another response to aging is to keep adapting so that my essential self is not lost. Not just living until I die, but staying lively till I die. This is where meaning-purpose is relevant.  Meaning-purpose energizes. (I use the hyphenated term to suggest a connection like two sides of the same coin.  For many of us, “meaning” connotes static essence, while “purpose” connotes action. Think of the one term as the blend of two aspects.)  

Aging often moves us beyond roles in which we found satisfying meaning-purpose. Sometimes it is retirement from important work, or children growing beyond the need for care, or physical decline, or loss of access to people in whose company we most liked ourselves, or…you have your own list. The changes affect not only our external routines, but also the way we see ourselves and relate to ourselves.  

How to regain the sense of being alive? We think of times when we were fully engaged in an activity that we could do well, that we enjoyed, that resulted in something we wanted to happen, that fitted with who we are. Then we remember how it felt: fullness of energy, ability to think what came next, alive! 

Next, we tease out all the skills and attributes that we expressed in doing what made us feel alive. We may notice instincts for mentoring, or being a catalyst for productivity, or nurturing cooperation between antagonists, or engendering camaraderie among mere acquaintances, or problem solving, or having empathy, or organizing people to do complicated tasks, or encouraging love for excellence, or sharing resources, or seeing new solutions, or giving hopeful perspective; the list is longer than my imagination.  We may be surprised at the complexity and range of what we know how to do with excellence.

The next step: look for a place to express the essential self.  This can be difficult in a culture that pays closest attention to youthfulness.  However, we keep in mind that all the wisdom and skill we possess is something sorely needed somewhere by someone.  When we get frustrated or confused or disrespected, we pause and remember the energy and satisfaction of our best moments. We try again.  We find places to live out who we are to the fullest.  We find ourselves staying alive.

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As a minister, family therapist, and addiction therapist, Clay conducted groups for over two decades designed to facilitate positive change in attitude and behavior.  In 2008 Clay published a book entitled Older, Wiser…HAPPIER: 10 Choices for Rebooting Your Life at 50+.  He has used the book as a text for more than twenty pro bono multi-session workshops in senior centers, churches, and libraries for groups who wanted to address issues related to aging. Since his retirement to Loveland in 2012, Clay has continued his pro bono senior project in local area senior centers and churches. 

FROM AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING IN THREE ACTS -by Richard Thompson

Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi’s 1995 book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older, has proved so helpful to so many since then as to have become part of a movement across the county. It describes a process which might be described as occurring in three acts, based on the fact that while everyone ages, not everyone sages. 

Act One:  Deepening One’s Spirituality                 

Some might think this development is like the grandchild, when observing her grandmother reading the Bible more often, asked, ‘Nana, are you cramming for the finals?” Rather the Rabbi defines spirituality as ‘expanding one’s consciousness.” Certainly, anyone of any age who becomes increasingly aware of his or her awareness grows wiser.   

Act Two:  Preparing One’s Life Review 

The Rabbi describes this part of the process by asking the question, ‘Have you been saved?’ By that he means doing so electronically – by writing your story, and/or reflections upon its meaning, then saving it on the computer or speaking it into a recorder, as part of your legacy.

Act Three: (in two scenes) Dealing with Life and Death Matters

The life scene has to do with taking care of your health and being realistic about your physical limitations. This attitude was suggested by a doctor who advised a newly retired couple, ‘Get your travels done before you turn eighty, because then the wheels begin to come off!”

The death scene is suggested by the title of Margie Jenkins’ book, You Only Die Once. That fact suggests that we do what we can to spare our survivors unnecessary grief by having our affairs in order – from preparing a will, and perhaps a living will, to providing a list of those to be notified, with contact information, along with user name/passwords of agencies and businesses which need to notified. 

Also it is fitting to prepare a draft of one’s own obituary, as a way of indicating what one would want to be remembered for. A written description of what Jenkins calls “your going away party,” i.e. your preferences for a memorial service’s participants and setting, as well as a reception afterwards, is in order. 

Finally, Psalm 90, verse 12, sums up the sage-ing process as a whole, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” 

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Rich Thompson is a retired Presbyterian minister and past president of the Fort Collins Interfaith Council. He recently retired from the board of Faith Family Hospitality. He is married to Jane, a retired school librarian active in the League of Women Voters.