Too Big To Wrap

Have you ever thought you might have too much stuff? Yeah, me too, and with Christmas (or, as my sister calls it, The Great Redistribution of Goods) coming…

But wait. There are alternatives. We can give an experience as a gift—better yet, an experience in our great out-of-doors!

TooBigToWrapDec2013

Soaring

Rolling down the runway, from the snug front seat I’m strapped into, I realize the glider takes off before the plane pulling us––its wings are that efficient.  Up we go. There’s the sturdy rope arcing out in front of us, attached to the tow plane. We continue to climb. The views are spectacular; the glider responds to every little movement of air. The pilot, sitting behind me, brings my attention to the big red knob on the instrument panel. I am to give it a good yank when he says so. He then steers the glider into a climb to the right. This is felt by the pilot of the tow plane and signals we’re going to detach. Continue reading

Oooh Ahh…Albuquerque

A flame has been lit. The food scene in Albuquerque has been growing for years, but this year there’s a fire burning that’s on par with metropolitan cities across the country. A trifecta of new restaurants, top chefs and electric nightlife has given the Duke City the kindling to start a blaze roaring high enough that the nation has started to take notice. If 2013 is any indication of what is ahead, might Albuquerque be the next Portland?

Val Armstrong  Dreamstime.com

Photos by Val Armstrong
Dreamstime.com

I recently strolled down Central Avenue in the Nob Hill district on a crisp November afternoon with my girlies. We reveled in the plethora of new business, some of which we hadn’t even noticed before. Nob Hill is known for its eclectic mix of locally owned businesses, and this year saw a slew of new restaurants and bars.

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Feliz White Christmas

As a child in southern England, I always dreamed of a white Christmas. Every year Bing Crosby sang about it in the film Holiday Inn, which I always watched with my grandfather, who thought Bing was the bee’s knees. I assumed that this snowy wonderland was what Christmas was meant to look like. Every year I was disappointed on Christmas morning when I leapt out of bed and rushed to the window, expecting glittering snow, a world transformed, almost expecting to see old Bing himself humming away, pipe clenched between his teeth as he shoveled a path to our door. The truth is, snow was so rare that if an inch fell we’d cheer and dash outside to self-consciously throw snowballs, laughing gaily like we’d seen in the movies. We had little practice making snowmen and never enough raw material. Our snowmen were deformed snow dwarves, knee-high blobs of brownish slush that melted in hours. Where was this White Christmas the universe owed me?

"PieJesu"-Santisimo Trinidad, Oil on Linen, 30x40 at Concetta D Gallery

“PieJesu”-Santisimo Trinidad, Oil on Linen, 30×40 at Concetta D Gallery

I found it in Taos. My first Christmas in Taos, more snow fell than I believed possible. It fell, and it fell, and it fell. I watched in awe on those December days as the land turned virgin white, a perfect immaculate conception. On Christmas Eve, we bundled up and hiked into that pristine world as the sun set, firing the mountain tops with a tangerine glow. The foot-deep snow hushed everything, all except for our hot spring-fed creek gamely babbling by. Wraiths of steam rose from the warm water as it hit the frigid air, the holy ghost reaching for heaven. On the other side of the canyon two horses stood, heads down, stilled for the night. Far below us in the valley, the lights of Taos twinkled … our own little town of Bethlehem. By the time we returned, a bright star pierced the dusk sky. Everything still, everything silent. To say it was magical is trite. To say it was magical is true. It felt as if the whole world were waiting, waiting for the new hope, the new peace, the new birth.

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Sharing the Slopes

Story by Kate Gerwin
Photos courtesy of the Adaptive Ski Program 

For Katya Franzgen, Director of the Adaptive Ski Program, serving Santa Fe, Sandia Peak and Pajarito Mountain, the question, “What if you couldn’t enjoy the outdoors?” is anything but rhetorical.

Being stuck inside, she says, is the reality for many people living with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis and a wide range of other disabilities. You could admire the scenery from afar, Katya continues, the distant mountains blanketed in white, faint echoes of people up there having fun. But, parked behind your window, you might just as well be watching a movie. The exhilaration of your own body slicing the brisk, muffled air, through a storm of snowflakes slanting at you vertically, fast and furious, feeling yourself being as miraculously transformed as the landscape—these sensations are, typically, as inaccessible as a dream.

During the winter months, especially, disabilities often keep people isolated at home, with recreational opportunities limited to physical therapy exercises. Cabin fever exacerbates the feeling of alienation; loneliness, depression and poor physical health often follow.

The Adaptive Ski Program (ASP) actively works with members of the disabled community over the age of five who have a desire to challenge themselves to go beyond what they may have thought possible. Think that sounds overly optimistic? According to Katya, “Even if your whole body is paralyzed, as long as you can turn your head—or even just your eyes—you can be an adaptive skier.” Go to the video gallery on adaptiveski.org, the 501(c)(3)’s website, and watch the video. You’ll see for yourself the wide range of students willing to embrace their initial fears and let gravity become their ally. Katya’s personal mantra, repeated in all earnestness, is, “Never say never.”

To adapt means to actively change so as to fit one’s behavior or attitudes to new circumstances. In the video, ASP student Matthew, from Albuquerque, five days into the program, is positively thrilled. “When I drove home after my first lesson,” he enthuses, “I had a smile on the whole day, and I couldn’t wait for the following Saturday to come!” Amanda, another student interviewed for the video, says, “Skiing is much different than a wheelchair. You get a whole lot closer to the ground!” She describes the ways the program has helped her grow as a person and become more independent. “Even if you get up on the wrong side of the bed,” she adds, “you come up here and your whole day turns around!”

While some ASP students can ski using standard equipment, most use adaptive aids. For students with lower body paralysis or dysfunction and severe balance or motor control issues, mono- and bi-skis offer a seated method of skiing. Outriggers are miniature skis attached to a set of forearm crutches. For those with lower limb amputation or weakness, one standard ski is used with outriggers. Snowboarding is also available. The ASP provides private, one-on-one lessons tailored to address the specific needs of each student.

 

But, of course, there would be no program without its core of 250 volunteers. “The volunteers are everything!” says Matthew. “They bust their butts. They pick you up off the snow, time and time again, and, no matter what, they keep giving you positive influence.”

Fred Walling, a volunteer shown in the video as he skis tethered behind a student, says that skiing is twice as joyful when you do it with a student than when you do it by yourself. “Your turns have to be okay,” he says, “but the real turns you’re living are theirs.” He demonstrates following closely but unobtrusively behind as his student executes a graceful, confident turn of his own.

Being an ASP volunteer, says Ruthie Koval, who’s been one since 1998, requires an enormous amount of patience and understanding. “It’s a lot harder and more responsibility than you might think. The majority of our students are younger. You have to be quite fine-tuned. They arrive feeling differently every week. They could have had seizures the night before, or their cat might have died that day, and they can’t express that. We also need to know the side effects of all their medications—not because we administer them, because we don’t, but so that we can track those, too.”

Ruthie is certified as a regular ski instructor as well as an adaptive ski instructor; she trains the new ASP instructors. But she started out at ASP a rookie. “My son had multiple disabilities: seizures, mental retardation and some kind of autism. I started skiing with him when he was seven.” As a girl growing up in Switzerland, Ruthie skied to school every day; she also worked in ski resorts. So teaching her son to ski came naturally to her. “I didn’t know adaptive ski instruction—I didn’t even know there was such a thing—I just skied backwards with my son. He loved to ride the chair lift!”

She and her family moved to Santa Fe, and there, at the ski basin, they discovered the Adaptive Ski Program. “He’s basically my motivation as an instructor. My son died in a seizure, so I teach adaptive skiing in honor and memory of him. I transfer my love for my son to the kids.”

One of her current students, Colin, she’s skied with for 13 years. “I love working with all of them hands-on. That’s by far the best part of it all. Colin has Down syndrome. I tell you, he is a great skier! Every Sunday morning I look forward to skiing with him. We’ve even formed a group, which is rare. Sometimes I let him be the leader and do the warm-up moves. It’s a blast! They’re always so happy to be outside, in the snow and air, yelling all the way down the mountain, their parents taking pictures. I have one boy with cerebral palsy who comes every spring vacation with his family from Dallas. He skis on a slider, which is like a walker. He calls it his choo-choo train.” Public schools bring special ed classes up for instruction every year; different groups who work with children with cancer come, too.

The program also works with students with developmental delays, the blind and hearing impaired and those with critical illnesses such as AIDS. It’s a wide scope, and instructors have to be well trained. First-year instructors learn the many intricacies of teaching adaptive skiing. Then, as Katya says, “they go out with a veteran instructor their first season—we don’t just throw them to the wolves!” And instructors often take it on themselves to learn about a new adaptive ski aid, so they can help a specific student who needs that technique.

Nineteen-year-old Augusta Skroog, who started out as an ASP student herself, then advanced to junior instructor and now is a volunteer, is an ardent fan of the program and stresses how hard they’ve worked all these years to help students with disabilities like herself. “Skiing helps students be more confident. You feel like you’re not normal, then you learn to ski and you say, ‘Oh, hey, I can actually do something!’ I tell scared first-timers, ‘Take it one step at a time. We’re here to have fun, not to push you. We’ll go slowly, help you get comfortable, take you out for a run, and you’ll learn how to do the basic turns, then we’ll try more advanced terrain. Our goal is to make sure you have fun and you’re safe. It’ll be fine.’” She’s worked with one student, Isa, over the past three years, watching her improve and become progressively more independent. “She’s grown up and developed as a person, too, not just with skiing. I’m so proud of her!”

Winter season runs from late January to mid-March each year. And this past summer, due to students continually requesting it, ASP became year-round, now offering water skiing, kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding and swimming at local lakes. “Students and their families go camping together, cooking and getting to know each other better. It’s a very inclusive experience,” says Katya. “And equalizing. Some of the younger students, especially, really earn their bragging rights for completing the first successful water ski lap around the lake!”

Katya’s particularly proud of the program’s visibility. “One of the park rangers at the lake was blown away at the creativity of our instructors constructing wheelchair ramps on the beach!” she laughs.

ASP offers scholarships to students whose families have limited discretionary funds. “They’re struggling just to provide the assisted care, the medical therapy, the special equipment and medications,” says Katya. “Over sixty-five percent of our students, in fact, wouldn’t be able to participate without full or partial scholarships.” So ASP relies on the incredible generosity of its donors and its fundraising events in order to provide instruction, ski wear and access to the newest adaptive sports equipment to fit students’ individual needs. This winter season they’ll bring back their popular Snow Ball as well as the wreath sale, outside Kaune’s on Saturday, November 30, and Saturday, December 7.

Katya calls herself “the luckiest girl in the world” to have landed this job, which marries her passions for skiing and nonprofits. Asked if she ever cries as she watches the progress the students in the program make, she says, “Every time I see that video! It’s really empowering to be a part of something that gives people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to be up there in the mountains, on skis, the opportunity to experience freedom and fun and getting to move with such fluidity and grace.”

Ruthie, laughing at herself, says, “Whenever I meet someone new, I ask, ‘Are you a skier? Do you have any free time?’ It’s a great, great program. I’ll be very grateful if I can keep doing this for a long, long time more. I can’t wait for the first snowflake—I come alive this time of year. It’s the ultimate thing, watching the students being high on air!”

To learn more about the services of the Adaptive Ski Program or how to become a volunteer, go to their website adaptiveski.org. If you wish to make a donation to this wonderful organization, you can do so right online.

 

Taos Hum

by Tania Casselle 

In our regular column, Tania Casselle introduces us to the people who make Taos hum. This Halloween month, we meet two ghost hunters on the prowl for things that go bump in the night.

Reyes Cisneros

Reyes Cisneros co-founded New Mexico Research and Investigation of the Paranormal (NMRIP) to find proof of the paranormal but also to provide rational explanations for spooky events. “About 75% of the time, that is the situation,” says Cisneros. “We’ll find bad plumbing or electrics, or the house foundation tends to shift, so cabinets are opening or shutting on their own.” NMRIP doesn’t charge to investigate homes or businesses, but it accepts donations. “We started the organization to help people, to shed light on whatever it is that they are experiencing.”

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