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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

My dad—otherwise known as “Mr. Put on a Sweater”—would be proud of me. In the last few weeks I was often inside wearing a sweater and half-finger gloves—sometimes even the dachshund was wearing a sweater! Yes, we made it to October 25 before turning on the upstairs furnace.

My father wasn’t really one to give up his comforts, having grown up on the prairie during the Depression. I think his childhood made him refuse to be as cheap as I am. However, he had a higher body temperature than I do. Since he was comfortable, he didn’t understand why I might be cold.

He’d understand now!

“This Old House”—as I often refer to this home—has a few idiosyncrasies. One of them is that the walls are so sturdy it’s hard to do anything to change them since they’re made from cinder blocks covered with stucco on the outside and plaster on the insides. I remember seeing bombed out homes in Bosnia on the news and noticing that the cinder block homes there were still standing, even when the roofs were missing.

We don’t move walls around here anymore. Not since Sherman knocked out a wall between two small bedrooms to make our current bedroom. He was in a hurry to rush the project since we had twins on the way, but no matter, the Sawzall blades were hardly up to the task. He did finish, but vowed never again.

Back to the unique properties of the home—it came with a furnace for each floor. Former neighbors said the garden level basement was built during World War II, but materials weren’t available to build out the top floor until 1947. And, I don’t know why the family didn’t insulate the home. Low expectations of comfort, perhaps? (The lack of insulation might explain why the pipes burst the winter before Sherman and his brother bought the home . . .)

I can still remember how cold this house was in the late 80s—the casement windows didn’t even close all the way. Let’s just say my father had long forgotten the cold of his childhood home—and he didn’t want to be reminded when he came to visit us. Still, it gave me just a little pleasure to tell him, “Put on a sweater!”

Duncan & Mr. Put on a Sweater, 1988

About a year after we married, Sherman started the process of adding insulation inside the home to all the outside walls (he didn’t want to inject the insulation) and covering them with drywall. We would put in new windows a couple at a time as we had the money. What a difference when they’d all been replaced. Even my dad thought so!

That the heater in the wall in the basement was getting flaky was no surprise—the practice of hitting it with a dog brush to restart was becoming all too necessary. The upstairs furnace was no young thing either. We thought we’d just replace both of the aging furnaces with one new energy-efficient model. No—it was pretty much impossible to put in ducts between floors. In fact, we were lucky to get three very short ducts carved out of the even harder walls in the basement.

By the time the kids were old enough to move into the basement, we’d also replaced those windows (once again, casements that didn’t quite close). However, we really didn’t even consider installing egress windows—not even one—after what we went through to get those small ducts in the walls. Instead we placed the furniture so the kids could climb out, if necessary (and thankfully, that didn’t come back to haunt us when they were in high school!) We had my parents sleep upstairs when they visited, since they wouldn’t exactly fit through those windows.

Yes, the house has been warm in almost every way since the mid-90s, except for when the temperatures first drop outside. Oh, it’s not really a problem in the basement, but turns out the placement of the furnace in the attic makes replacing filters far from user-friendly. And, I, the one who spends my days here, would rather freeze awhile than inhale last spring’s dust.

Either I see for myself how hard it is to change that filter or I enjoy the pennies we are saving on our utility bill while waiting for Sherman to have time and energy to squeeze himself into a dirty, tight space. Since I’ve selected option “B” so far, I can’t really whine too much. I just tell myself, “Put on a sweater!”, and do my work at the keyboard, gloves on hands.

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(c) 2010 Scott Lange

What types of educational reform will help public schools in the United States? I asked myself that question throughout my own children’s thirteen years of public education, as a parent, as a member of accountability boards, as a participant on a strategic planning team, and as a community member. Future reforms won’t directly affect my own kids’ schooling, but I’m still a citizen of this country—and I think so many of the discussions on educational reforms are missing the point.

For example, take the 20 September 2010 issue of TIME. The title on the school-bus-emblazoned front cover reads: “What Makes a School Great.” Below you’ll find teasers for articles on teachers and the difficulty finding them. Inside, an article by Amanda Ripley, “A Call to Action for Public Schools,” talks about the movie Waiting for “Superman” and the current state of education.

The results from the August 2010 TIME poll in the associated sidebar demonstrate what I think is missing in the debate. “What will improve student performance the most?” More-involved parents. More-effective teachers. Student rewards. More time on test prep. Longer school day.

I know many involved parents and effective teachers, but it’s not enough to work harder. Reform is needed system-wide—it’s not just about the who, but the how. The category answers didn’t include anything about providing a relevant education. And that’s what I believe matters the most—and why I wrote the following piece a couple years ago.

Public School Graduate Thinking Outside the Boxes 2010

RIGOROUS STANDARDS

As jobs are outsourced to China and India—and who knows what other soon-to-be emerging markets—we worry how to create an educational system that prepares our own kids well enough so they can maintain at least the same standard of living we enjoy now. Rigorous academic standards. More math, science, languages. Increased homework. Renewed work ethic. “Clean your plate—there are starving children in India,” grandmothers and parents across the United States admonished children in the 50s and 60s. Times have changed. In his book, The World Is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman states he advises his own daughters to finish their homework because people in China and India are starving for their jobs.

It’s easy to think students should do their work because teachers have assigned it. Students, however, are not so different from those long past their school days. One of the most important things I learned while studying at the University of Colorado/Denver Business School didn’t come from a textbook or a planned lecture on the topic for the evening: motivating employees.

As the professor explained techniques, a young man raised his hand. “Why do we have to work so hard to motivate employees? They get paid to do their jobs—that should be motivation enough.”

The professor paused before diving into a heated exchange with my fellow student that began with something like “Just because they should do something, doesn’t mean they will.” She launched into other factors such as company culture, management styles, and job design. In other words, provide the workers with meaningful work and reward them for what you ask them to do and you’ll be surprised at how engaged they become.

Today’s students, raised in a fast-paced, digital, global world, have access to seemingly infinite information which most can locate within split seconds. In order to compete with the world outside the classroom, schools must be relevant to what happens beyond their walls while providing opportunities for passionate learning and face-to-face relationships. The attitude of what happens in school, stays in school is a thing of the past because students know they are connected, in some way, to everything on this planet—and beyond.

We can no longer follow a 20th Century factory model if we want our students to excel not only as 21st Century learners, but also as 21st Century workers. Producing a quality buggy whip could not save the jobs of even the most dutiful and hardworking buggy whip makers in the early 1900s as automobiles stormed the marketplace. If we equate rigorous standards with requiring students to take detailed lecture notes, fill out worksheets, and ace standardized tests, we are no better than those buggy whip factory owners who refused to see their market was disappearing.

The 21st Century Literacy Summit (2002) strove to define the skills necessary to grow our young people into competitive working adults. Skills identified as necessary for success in our ever-changing world economy are digital-age literacy, effective communication, high productivity, and inventive thinking. Unless schools provide all students with relevant learning experiences, few will develop those inventive thinking skills further detailed as adaptability/managing complexity, self-direction, curiosity, creativity, risk taking and higher-order thinking, and sound reasoning.

Partial Mural From Littleton High School (CO) Painted by Lan Cantrell & Christiana Lambert

The United States has been known as a powerful global leader because of its resources—and its workers’ creative approaches to resolving needs and providing products around the world. Someone in another country might figure out a better way to make a product, but often the core innovative idea started here first. Not only do we provide education to all our children, but also many schools offer learning through music, arts, sports, and club activities, reaching students who might otherwise disengage from education. If the phrase rigorous standards assumes we can focus only on reading, writing, math, and science, then our students lose multiple opportunities to make connections between the various disciplines and the real world—and to develop passion.

Sure, we want to maintain high standards so we don’t starve as a nation, but passion matters for achieving quality, productivity, and innovation. People who care about what they learn or the work they do often forget they are working.

Imagine a world made-up of countries like that.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert


Trina L. and I’m addicted to technology.

Last week I felt as if I were in a modern version of The Twilight Zone—yes, I became disconnected from the Internet!

Oh, I am able to spend a few days away from the web when I’m traveling. I don’t own a smart phone by choice. If I plan ahead, I don’t really need to stay connected, most of the time, even when I have my laptop and access to wireless. I figure it’s good for me once in awhile.

But I like to know when I will be offline—I prefer to think I get to make the choice. Just another example of my “control” issues—deep down I know that none of us has ultimate control over technology.

Two weekends ago we took a road trip to see our nephew Chris play football. While gone I didn’t connect my computer to the Internet and only used it to play Sherman the CD I had burned for him for our anniversary. (Our car is so old school it can’t even play CDs so I couldn’t share it with him on the road.)

Then we came home to a house with no DSL and, we soon discovered, that my computer was slower than any of my computers in the 90s.

Suffice it to say I am now quite aware of the depth of my addiction. Or at least how much of my life runs through my computer. While my computer still ran, technically, the excruciatingly slow speed pretty much cancelled being able to tolerate using it for even simple transactions. And without DSL connection and certain programs, Sherman’s computer couldn’t help me much either.

Supposedly the age of the modem caused the DSL problem and should be fixed now that the modem’s been replaced. While it’s true we have connection again, we regained connection before the new modem arrived. Plus, the new modem seems rather finicky itself. Perhaps the modem was one problem and the connection another. Almost every autumn, the first moisture exposes the damage made by overactive squirrels on the phone lines—when the sun dries out the lines, the DSL works again—until the next moist event. Rain is in our forecast for tonight . . .

Hardware, connectivity issues, whatever, but I was out of my computer for about seven days.

And because I haven’t upgraded to running more of my life through my phone, I was essentially disconnected for much of last week. No research or easy access to my financial documents or writing documents (Sherman’s computer doesn’t run my programs and I didn’t want to hassle with conversion.) Little or no access to my main e-mail address, although I could eventually reach out once we regained connection—if I had the patience to tolerate my computer’s starts and stops. Not able to refill prescriptions, transfer funds, or pay bills through my computer. Luckily I could do some of that through either of my phones, as long as data transfers weren’t required.

Because I’m far from efficient, I try to stick with the systems that work for me. I know I can do things in a different way, but that will take more time, whether that’s figuring how to connect on a computer elsewhere or doing something manually that I usually do on my computer.

Meanwhile back in my office, we were trying computer fixes that took way longer than watching paint dry (and after last month’s painting projects, I do have some experience in that area!) Just the usual one a.m. virus scan of thirty minutes ran until 5:00 p.m. before it would halt, unfinished. All the scans for damage lasted longer than most workdays, thanks to a computer that hung up every few minutes, but at least we discovered the computer had no viruses.

Oh yes, I got a lot of organizing done around the house—anything to keep from watching the lack of progress. I also looked for any excuse to get away from home and my disrupted routines.

Thankfully, my nephew Brian, who is recently Microsoft certified and looking for a different job, seemed to know the secret handshake we were missing to repair the bad sectors on my computer. One little piece of information made a big difference! Thanks again, Brian!

We are still mucking around with the new modem and trying to discover why it is so slow (while watching those rain clouds on the horizon . . .) But at least if the rain brings down my connection, I’ve got access to my own documents on my own computer.

When will I learn to stop storing up my treasures in technology?

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert


I am sitting on my front porch, proud that that not only is the painting job finished, but also everything is cleaned up and put away. Turns out the porch glider is a pretty good substitute for an office chair. Not so sure how conducive, however, one particular dog (ours!) who thinks he’s in charge of ranch security is for my writing, though.

Exactly one month ago we began our house-painting odyssey; yesterday we finished the job. Of course, I think it’s beautiful, but I feel even better because we visualized the project and then managed to carry out the project to completion. The only thing that remains to for us to do is to put away the one paint roller that hasn’t dried yet.

Sherman and I have really great ideas, but so often we get sidetracked from finishing them. A lot of that has to do with our ADD-tendencies—it’s much more stimulating to start something than it is to get around to the mundane activities, such as dabbing paint on spots or putting away equipment, that mean that all steps of the project have been completed.

But the other obstacle to finishing projects has been both routine and out of the ordinary family duties. And all of the sudden, we don’t have nearly so many of those. I am starting to remember how things used to be before we had kids. Sure, we had ADD and were easily distracted, but not by so many urgent and necessary tasks. We worked on projects on the weekend, but we could often finish them and still have time to relax.

We like to accomplish things at home as well as go away from the home, but for years it seemed we had to choose one or the other.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

The thing is it’s just easier to get things done with fewer people in the home thanks to fewer dishes and dirty clothes, as well as less wear and tear on the home. That leaves me with more energy for catching up on work that has been left undone for years—or for even more than a decade.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want my kids to come back home for breaks—if there weren’t so much longstanding chaos in our home, then it would be easier to deal with the everyday clutter and tasks associated with living as a family and still have time to enjoy ourselves together.

Finally I feel hopeful we will make real progress toward having a house that’s clutter-free enough to be truly relaxing for Sherman and me.

This newly painted house is a symbol of possibility. Sure, it’s easier to complete tasks, such as painting, that have clear steps, but as anyone with ADD knows, unless you can get yourself through the tedious parts of any job, you still won’t finish.

We finished. Turns out we can trust ourselves again to carry out our plans.

But before we start the next project, I think we deserve a little breathing space—there’s plenty out here on the porch. Just say, “Ah . . .”—and look with awe upon all we’ve accomplished.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

We sold my mom’s couch! We sold my mom’s couch!

This may sound like minor news, but to Sherman and me, it’s major news. By now it should be old news to many readers that: a. we live in a modest 1940s house; b. handling “stuff” isn’t our skill area; and, c. we’ve been a bit overwhelmed with my mother’s possessions over the last few years. All those factors did not make the arrival of another couch a happy occasion for us.

We’ve moved Mom four times since 2008—and if we were any good at moving in the first place, maybe he and I wouldn’t have lived in the same house for 25 and 22 years, respectively.

In April 2008 we moved what she would need for her 630 square foot apartment from her 1,100 square foot condo in Estes Park, but we decided it made more sense to get a new couch for her in Denver and have it delivered. That was easier said than done because couches seem to have become super-sized in the past several years. She looked like Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann on most of the couches in the store—we found one simple beige couch that was comfortable for both her and taller people. Surprisingly, it took five weeks to arrive at her apartment while they made this couch they didn’t carry in their warehouse.

Move number two followed in March 2009 right before her condo finally sold. She had packed a lot into the surprisingly well designed storage of her home and its single car garage. We filled a 10’ x 10’ unit in Denver—and haven’t had much time to cull items out other than for an occasional donation or to find an item someone in the family could use.

August 2009 found us surprised to be moving her into the secured wing where she lived. Moving the couch from the 5th floor to the 1st was also unexpectedly challenging, even with the wide hallways. This time she would live in 300 square feet—so more possessions went into storage, while others, such as her queen-sized bed and matching dresser and night stand, were sold at the same time we purchased a single bed frame, mattress, and box springs.

The most recent move in March 2010 meant she only needed clothing and pictures. Wow. But in the last few months of our kids’ last few months at school, we didn’t have much time to do anything, but hang on and enjoy the ride. The storage unit had room for the bed, but not the couch. So we draped it and left it protected—for the most part—on our picnic/ping pong table on the covered porch, only moving it to the side for our kids’ graduation celebration. Yup, we pretty much looked like the Clampetts (the hillbillies from Beverly Hills, that is!) minus the big mansion.

We didn’t need a couch, having bought one for the upstairs at the same time she bought the couch, and having bought one for the downstairs in June 2009.

Truthfully, it never occurred to us that Mom would only need the couch for less than two years.

And, after the twin near debacles of bringing in our current couches (see blog post for reference), we knew our house could rip up this near-new couch, even if it came in for a temporary stay. Plus, Fordham, our English Springer Spaniel, is a dog’s dog—we don’t buy beige cloth furniture with him in the home. Heck, we don’t even wear light-colored clothes with him in the home.

Mom had paid for the stain protection and with a little cleaning by the chemicals in the provided kit, the couch really did look nearly new. Thus began our summer’s long odyssey to try to sell it on Craigslist for a price that matched the condition.

(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

Call me stubborn or a fool—after all it was on my patio all summer—but I wouldn’t compromise much on the price. It’s not like my mom doesn’t need the money to pay for her prescriptions or recent hospital stay. What I saw for sale by others showed me couches that had been used regularly by families, just as the ones in our home have been. You can tell where we sit on them—and you could see that in these other couches.

After a few Nigerian e-mail scam replies (“We’ll send you a money order and then you can send the product.” What?) as well as people who wanted to pay a lot less or who didn’t show up, we finally changed our ad to read something like “Couch used only by a little old lady on Sunday” to demonstrate the condition.

We also added in a minimal fee for delivery to those who didn’t have access to a vehicle—a fee much lower than the $69.00 Furniture Row originally charged.

The changes worked! We delivered it to a couple (who, by the way, look about the same age our kids do!) on Wednesday night—they were thrilled to set it down in the previously empty spot in front of their television and game system. The young woman even noted that she could tell from the pictures that it was like new, especially compared to the pictures on other ads she viewed. She wasn’t disappointed.

Now, instead of a reminder of loss, we have space. After we complete our outdoor painting project tomorrow, we will still have time to enjoy our patio before the weather turns cold. Our labors finished, we will be sitting pretty once more.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert