Thursday, May 30, 2013

Changing Perspectives

Two entire summers have passed without a single camping trip.  Thinking back on our last trips in 2010, our family has certainly changed a lot since then.  Our weekend was full of "Last time..." statements and opportunities to compare the kids, and our experiences, to those past years.  While humans tend to look fondly on the years gone by as "The Good Old Days," it was fun to see how the current days stack up.

The trip down to Moab(ish) was amazingly quiet as the boys were wrapped up in the books on CD.  Quiet anytime in the car is new to us!


The location was also new.  Neither Kirk nor I have ever been to Arches National Park before, so we were pretty excited to share that new experience.


It turns out we're still just as bad at following the rules as ever.  In the picture below, the boys are sliding down the side of Pine Tree Arch.


But actually getting in trouble with the rangers was new.  Turns out our site wasn't a site after all.  In fact, we had several violations.  But the very kind ranger only wrote us up for the cheapest infraction.


Now that the boys are bigger, so is their desire to put sticks in the fire.  I am anxiously awaiting the day when their common sense might catch up.  I fear this day may never come.


Daddy is still chief carrier of all things sleepy.  Sadly for Daddy, the sleepy things weigh lots more.


Dylan has promoted himself to Chief Navigator, at least when arrows are involved.


We still use the same cobbler recipe (thanks, Jay & Raini), even though only 60% of the family likes cobbler.  Turns out this particular 20% liked it well enough for everyone.


Our backpack options have certainly changed.  Kirk got mocked on the trail for sporting this particular pack; mine was Buzz Lightyear.


We still try to use the trail to teach as much as possible.  The last time we hiked the Southern Utah redrock, Adam was 18 months old and learning the words "up" and "down."  Dylan practiced the same concepts but in complete sentences.  "Now we are going up?"


Mom no longer has to read all the signs.  Adam was given the post of Chief Sign Reader whenever possible.  However, I should have reconsidered having him read the warnings about dehydration; he ended up knowing all the right symptoms to be certain he was exhibiting.


Cheesy Balls of Goodness still reign supreme on our menu!


Mom has a new partner for adventure.  Adam and I hiked an extra quarter-mile to get to perch high up in this section of Partition Arch.  The next day, we enjoyed the natural water slide (also known as a slippery part of a waterfall) we found at Mill Creek.  It was fun to teach Adam my personal rules regarding adventure: think of the likeliest worst-case scenario.  If you can live with that - go for it!


Water at our campsites is still a MUST.  We were lucky to get to camp near Onion Creek.  Ankle deep at its deepest, it provided hours of worry-free fun.


We still get dirtier than any other family out there.  The red sand of Southern Utah made Dylan's face match his hair!


Okay, make that THREE new partners in adventure.  We enjoyed running down the sand dune located conveniently across the street from the Arches entrance.


Daddy is still the pack mule.


But at least he has more help around the campsite!


In fact, the older boys loaded all the firewood themselves.  I think we can get used to that!


The boys still love their Gatorade.  They drank little else for three straight days.


Daddy missed the four-wheel drive of our old Ford but didn't miss the unreliable brakes.  But after listening to the truck work hard to top every hill, we may put a tow hitch on and take Mommy's V6 next time.

We still proudly celebrate "owies" as a badge of courage.  Dylan collected the best one sliding down a patch of slickrock.  Considering he hiked nearly six miles by himself over the course of the weekend, he certainly deserved his badge. 


Our old trailer is no more.  We borrowed one from Grandma Tess for the trip, and we now know about a few conveniences we can't live without.  Our next trailer (someday) will have a working light and some astro-turf to throw in front of the door.


The trail of hikers now extends one more brother back.  They often hiked in this exact formation, equally spaced little heads exploring the skyline.


The trip was great.  A much needed time to reconnect after a busy few years.  And definitely a chance to gain a little perspective.


Ha ha... see what I did there?  A little perspective?  




Monday, May 20, 2013

To Close or Not To Close

Proof that at some point, my garage door was shut.



I say this because several points have come to my attention lately:

  • According to Nick Harmon, my garage door is open far more than the average neighborhood door.
  • According to my husband (though why he didn't mention this at some point in the last 9 years since we've been homeowners, I am not certain), normal people arrive at home, park in the garage, and immediately close the garage door.
  • Apparently both Michelle Davis and I deviate regularly from this standard procedure.
I am pointing my finger at several possibilities:
  • Casdorph's don't do a lot of things that "normal" people do.  And we fill any potential void with plenty of things others generally choose not to do.  I've never particularly considered my time on earth to be the norm.
  • I grew up on over an acre of land in a house set back significantly from the road with a garage that doesn't even face the street.  Perhaps the reasons others close their garages (according to Nick, people steal things in broad daylight...) didn't seem as important to us?
  • I don't like to do things that I will soon have to un-do.  I don't like to make my bed, knowing that less than 24 hours later, I will just need to un-make it.  I'm not a big fan of sweeping the floor if I know I'm serving the kids crackers with the next snack.  I don't like to close the garage knowing that at some point in the next 3 hours, I will need to open it.  And how often am I truly home for longer than 3 hours?!
  • I'm no good at things that have to be done regularly.  Taking a full 10 days of antibiotic?  Not happening.  Putting on my seat belt without the annoying insistence of my dinging car?  Nope.  Routinely remembering to close the garage door?  So not high on my list of priorities.
Right after both Nick and Kirk had brought this item to my attention, I started to notice things:
  • Next door neighbors pulled into their garage around 9:30 a.m. and promptly closed the garage right behind them.  Really?!  I had truly thought Nick and Kirk were both crazy.  Hmm... seems normal people do close their garages.  Mid-day!
  • I got home from work and left not only the garage door open, but also the house door to the garage open.  I was blissfully enjoying the natural breeze and the sun, until I started to feel self-conscious about having left the garage open.  Kirk got home soon after and closed both doors.  :(
  • Sure enough, mine really is the only house with it's garage open in the middle of the day!  I've started paying attention.  I look up and down both sides of the street, and there they are: rows of houses with closed garages.  Apparent kudos to you, neighbors.  You can proudly consider yourselves within the bounds of the norm.
  • I don't like the idea of closing my garage!  Now that I've been made aware, I don't want to stop being me just because Kirk and Nick say so.  (Again... why didn't Kirk mention this before?!)  But now I am paranoid that our stuff will get stolen and it will all be my fault.  
So I'm curious.  Should I be closing* my garage?  Do people really steal stuff mid-day?  (They will now that I've told the whole internet that I'm just sitting there with my garage open...)  Does anyone else confidently (or absentmindedly) leave their garage doors open?

*Clarification: I close my garage door when I am home asleep.  I close my garage door when I'm not home (theoretically).  I'm just talking about mid-day when I am home.

So I've posted a poll.  Please weigh in and help me make this life-altering decision.  To close or not to close?  Help me!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Over the Moon

Alternately titled: "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

Alternately titled: "Andrea doesn't love things Andrea doesn't get."

You know the song from Rent, "Over the Moon"?  How it is so purposefully out there to help develop a character?  Well, what if you were actually there in that moment, when a serious artist presents a similarly out-there work, and it is all you can do to keep from laughing.

You're alone at the concert, which helps.  Imagine trying to keep a straight face sitting next to a sister, or worse, a best friend.  You're doing your best, which really is barely hanging on, when you hear a snicker from two rows back where the immensely talented cello-playing teenage band is sitting.  Maybe it was just in your head, you think... maybe he just has a case of the sniffles. 

You focus on the stage again, where three seemingly respectable adult musicians are intentionally attempting to play a pitched piece on three instruments they've admitted are not up to the task.  The composer has even titled the piece, written for slide whistle, theramen, and flexatone, "Well, This Is Hopeless."  You pull out your cell phone to record, because who's going to believe this without documentation.



You could probably contain your giggles better were it nor for the previous numbers which included a trio for iphone (you don't recall anyone ever wanting more ipod cowbell...), a hauntingly beautiful piece inspired by the brown wizard Radagast (but unfortunately accompanied by a visual display you feared was reprogramming your brain via subliminal messaging), and a prerecorded piece that reminded you of the sounds of a variety of plumbed apparatus.

Even the set you were hired to play was a strange set to perform.  A collection of traditional tongue twisters set to original melodies across a variety of styles (and time signatures!), the set makes sense in the context for which it was composed: to give vocalists a repertoire by which to refine their elocution.  But to hear an incredibly talented vocalist present them as songs worthy of an audience ends up being just... weird.

This is not to say there is no talent at the concert.  In fact, you fear what you're witnessing is musicians so talented, they have become artists.  Everything these artists set out to do they are doing exceptionally well.  You just can't quite figure out why they're doing it at all.

Perhaps the strongest evidence is the final performer who presents some pretty incredible harmonies as she sings live along with a recording of herself(ves).  Her voice is beautiful!  And the stuff she's singing is incredibly challenging.  But just because one can doesn't mean one should.

She finishes, and they announce a suprise: the talented teen cellists will be playing a finale encore, and you get out your phone again.  Again, because no one will believe it without documentation.

They can.  And they should. 

And realizing your phone video did terrible justice, you stalk their website and find this mp3 recording of your favorite number of the evening.  You thank them afterward for being the only thing you could really relate to as music.

You realize there may be a difference between music and art.  And you are a musician.

All you have to do is jump over the moon...

Curious what you'd do?  Attend a Salty Cricket Composers Collective MÉLANGE concert, and you can find out!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

And the award for best film goes to...

I'm busy playing organ prelude and generally minding my own business when the bishop approaches.  "We've finally figured out an idea of what to do for the stake film festival," he begins.

"Okay..." I think, wondering why he's telling me.

After I've heard the idea, I know exactly why he's telling me.  

"Okay, Bishop," I say.  "Are you saying, 'Sister Fife, I am asking you to make this idea happen?"

"Well, it's your choir," he responds.  "So we figured it should be you."

"Okay, I can do that.  I just wanted to be clear on what you were asking me to do.  So, when exactly does this need to be done by?" 

"Next week."

"Oh..."

He kindly asks what kind of support I will need, and I give him a list.  Someone to make signs.  Bishopric involvement if I can't commit 16 choir members.  And a treat/bribe budget.  And I get to work.

Luckily, the bishopric's super original idea has actually been done before.  A lot.  And it's on YouTube.  So I steal borrow logistics from some singing monks and map it all out.  The signs get made (thanks Denny & Nanny), the volunteers sign up (thanks Mechams, Wilsons, Okerlunds, Kanes, Murdocks, Michelle, Denny, Matt, and Zac), the brownies appear (thanks Mom), and the filming date arrives.

I take off my choir director hat and put on my film director hat (just a metaphor folks, no actual hats were involved), and we get to work.  Sort of.  Mostly we get to laughing.  A lot.  And making last-minute decisions, like removing a few light bulbs from the ceiling (thanks other Mechams!), taping cues to people's backs, and running back and forth for various cameras and SD cards.

And we get a lot of bad takes.  Like these ones.  (Thanks to Zac, Dave K, and Dana for making this experience particularly memorable.)




Finally we get a decent take.  And I edit and submit to the film festival.  And that all goes pretty great (that is, if you're the kind of person who likes winning).  And although I admit to being originally annoyed when the bishop asked to add something so seemingly trivial to my overly full plate, the bonding time with the choir turns out to be well worth it.  



Plus, the bishop's request helped me follow through with my original desire to submit a Fife Family video.  I'd write some great story about that, but in reality it just kind of went like this:

I forgot the kids were sick.  So it took lots of begging and bribing.  But it turned out to be a great way to memorialize Adam's baptism.  

Enjoy!


Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Long-Way Shortcut


Well, commencement came and went.  If only I could say the same thing about the actual end of classes and student teaching.  But only 4 more weeks to go, and this morning's ceremony may just have been the thing I needed to help me through the final stretch.  

Besides the whole graduating thing, there were a few moments worth mentioning that made the day truly perfect:

Kirk's BFF Nick Harmon also graduated today, and he honored me with both an on-the-stage hug and an official stole of gratitude (don't worry... his wife got the fancy gold one) for tutoring him in a few of his classes.





My own BFF classmate (and therefore fellow graduate) Ben Meredith happened to take his family to the exact same restaurant we had chosen for our post-graduation celebration, so I got to party with him and his awesome wife.  (Look closely and you can see Kirk stroking Ben's ear in the picture.)

And then there was that whole student-speaker thing, which really did turn out to be pretty great.  My name was on the official seating chart and everything!  I'm certain every single one of you wanted to sit through two hours of commencement just to hear my 5 to 7 minutes, but I promised to spare you that pain.  Here it is: the big speech.


University of Phoenix Graduation Speech
By Andrea K. Fife

“A lot of people want a shortcut,” wrote Randy Pausch in his bestselling novel on achieving childhood dreams.  He defined the best shortcut as “the long way, which is basically two words: work hard.”  Looking out at the expanse of black caps and tassels, I know the names of only seven individuals graduating with me today.  But I know something about the journey each of us has made to be in this moment: each has taken that best of shortcuts – hard work.

A collegiate degree in any form from any university is something to be proud of.  But a University of Phoenix graduate can boast of so much more than academic achievement.  The path to a University of Phoenix degree is rarely short or direct, as many of us have lived our share of successes and failures before discovering what we really want to be when we grow up.  That unique timing means that while we have lived the past months and years of our lives as students, we have also lived as professionals, community leaders, members of the PTA, as husbands or wives, fathers or mothers -- for some of us, even as grandparents.  

We’ve experienced life-changing moments and managed to fit them between that defining week-day known to our friends and family as “class.”  In my small group of classmates alone, two students have welcomed a new baby into their families.  Others have undergone employment and housing changes.  And two students continued on after learning one of their parents would not live to see him earn this degree. 

College graduation statistics are somewhat non-specific, but a Washington Monthly article suggests that while 54% of first-time, full-time college students graduate, those of us in the “over 24 who’ve tried college before” group are significantly less likely to cross that finish line.  In fact, less than a quarter of us “non-traditional” students will earn the cap and gown we’re each wearing today.  So take a moment and be proud of taking the long way.  Be proud of your hard work!

And then start working hard again.  

Thomas Boswell said, “There is no substitute for excellence – not even success.”  Today is a huge success in each of our lives, but it is nothing compared to the excellence we’ve been prepared to achieve.  Because whether we are graduating today with a degree in business, in criminal justice, in education, in nursing or health care, in the social sciences, or in technology, I would be willing to bet we’ve learned far more than what will be reflected on the official transcripts.

For one thing, there’s the confidence that comes from presentation after presentation after presentation.  I’ll never forget the anxiety that accompanied my first-ever University of Phoenix presentation.  I’d been asked to share a few minutes of information about myself for an introductory level business course, and I was nothing but nerves.  Unfamiliar with PowerPoint, I had made an actual poster, and lacking confidence in my public speaking skills, I had memorized every word of the speech I intended to give.  36 courses, 2 degrees, and an estimated 75 academic presentations later, I can now add “public speaking” to my personal bag of tricks.

For some of us, maybe that new trick is time management.  There are the readings that each of read faithfully, word for word, every week of every course.  Right?  The papers.  The team assignments.  The discussion questions.  The learning team logs, the end of course surveys, the forums.  Quizzes, chapter shares, team charters.  Meetings, phone calls, text messages.  Rewrites and edits, compilations, references.  WritePoint revisions and plagiarism checker reports.  Hard work, people, and lots of it.  A University of Phoenix degree is hard work.  Maybe your journey included plenty of all-nighters or scrambling to submit that assignment just before the deadline.  But in any case, you got it done, and you got yourself here to graduation day.  So in addition to the content knowledge we each gained along the way, we can now add “time management” to our growing list of marketable skills.

And what about interpersonal skills?  Perhaps there are a few of you who will claim that every moment of every learning team assignment was nothing but sunshine and roses.  But I think most of us will take away a better understanding of human diversity, an appreciation for the specific talents of others, and maybe even a better understanding of how we each fit into a bigger picture.  Dolly Parton said, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”  It is amazing how working as a group can force an individual to reexamine who he or she is.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is about motivation.  As an elementary student, I was fortunate to have a long string of teachers who were determined not to let me fail.  I worked hard, but if I ever missed a step, these great teachers were a constant safety net.  Throughout middle school and high school, this safety net stayed on in the form of involved parents – particularly my mother, whose high expectations never really gave me a chance to stray far from my goals.  

My first real detour occurred when I tried to earn a bachelor’s degree at a traditional university.  I quickly discovered that I respond best to two main sources of motivation: public perception and competition.  On a large campus as a seemingly faceless student, I just didn’t have what I needed to succeed.  But at University of Phoenix, I found highly driven classmates and plenty of opportunities to succeed (or fail) publicly.  I found a place where I could succeed.

So here I stand, ready to accept the symbol of my achievement, the culmination of the long-way short cut each of us here chose to take.  I hope that symbol will open doors for me.  I hope I’ll make more money, earn more exciting opportunities, go professionally further.  I hope I will inspire my children to choose higher education.  I hope I can continue to feel the pride that comes with accomplishment.  I mean, those are the reasons I headed down this path in the first place.  I am proud of all I have accomplished, and I definitely think I’ve earned a party.  

But I won’t let this diploma be the biggest thing I ever accomplish.  As we graduate today with the increased confidence, with the sharpened skill sets, and the self-determination of University of Phoenix graduates, I can’t help but wonder, where will your next short cut lead?