Friends · My Thoughts

Two Team-Teachers: Thank God for Them!

Denim Christmas Shirts We Had Alike! Team-teachers
Denim Christmas Shirts We Had Alike!

Team-Teaching

In 1991, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico from Raton, New Mexico and started two lifelong relationships with two team-teachers, Rhonda Sandoval and Rebecca Betzen. We grew beyond colleagues to friends. Here’s why I’m thankful for them in my life.

First, I started team-teaching with Rhonda for sixth graders at Washington middle school. She taught math, science and social studies. I taught language arts, literature and Spanish.

Rhonda taught me so much about classroom management. She had a B.S. in Sociology and had worked with tough kids before, so her strict but fair discipline kept our students well behaved. Her famous “Honest Man” speech showed me how to get students to be honest first and then value of honesty.

Next, a couple of years later, we added Rebecca to our team, so we split the teaching areas with her. Rebecca student taught with Rhonda and, but the three of us worked together. When she finished her student teaching, we enjoyed her so much, we wanted her to join our team, so our principal hired her. Rebecca’s positive attitude was infectious!

We did interdisciplinary units where we worked on projects for an extended period that addressed all the content areas. We had a Future City unit and a Native American Unit the students loved. In fact, they enjoyed these projects so much we had to kick them out of the classroom to go to lunch. Our teaching techniques complimented and supported each other, and our students thrived!

For Halloween, we put on a play with vampires and more vampires. We had it translated into Spanish, so each class did the play in both languages. Rhonda designed the sets, and Rebecca and I rehearsed the lines. Early Halloween morning, the three of us arrived at the school to do the makeup for all the kids. How they enjoyed it! Team work—that’s what they both taught me! Life is better done as a team.

Socially

We partied at Rhonda or Rebecca’s houses often. For many Christmases, Mom and I would attend a party at Rhonda’s house and her parents would be there too!

The End of Our Team-Teaching

I left the team first in about 2000, then we ended up back together later in our careers for a couple years, working together, which was a dream come true. Rhonda had become a principal and hired Rebecca and me to work at her school. It never felt strange to work for Rhonda because of the type of person she is.

Throughout the years we have been apart, we scheduled regular time to meet, eat, and talk endlessly about our lives. We have gone through the deaths of a couple of Rhonda’s dogs. As the years unfolded, we watched Rebecca’s four daughters grow up, graduate, and move on with life. We celebrated Rebecca’s granddaughters when they arrived. We mourned the death of Rebecca’s family members. Rhonda has been with me for three of my four marriages; Rebecca for two.

In 1993, I got deathly sick and ended up in the hospital for the first time in my life. Rhonda was my first visitor and was so helpful through the whole horrible ordeal.

I lost both of my parents during our friendship, and when Mom got sick in 2013, Rhonda visited her in the hospital twice. When she died in 2013, Rhonda and Rebecca drove to Trinidad, Colorado, for her funeral. That’s the friends they are.

When Lin and I married in 2011, they stood up with me and celebrated our wedding day.

Bridal  party - team-teachers
Front Row: Rhonda-third from the left; Rebecca-second from the right

Finally,

Yes, we worked together—team-teachers, but because of these two women and how we related, we became enduring friends I know I can count on for anything. We may not talk for a few months, but when we get together, we pick up right where we left off! In fact, we have our annual Christmas get-together already scheduled.

Thank you, Rhonda and Rebecca for your constant support and love over the years!

Do you have friends from work that are close to you? How do you keep close?


Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? meme

Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks: https://laradasbooks.com

Check out Cyber Week Specials at my Etsy Shop, Larada’s Reading Loft, on select books! 40% off of select Individual books, 40% off of select bundles and 50% off of digital copies! These books make the perfect gift for your friends and family.

Friends · My Thoughts · square dance · Travel

Part 2: Two Special Friends Continued!

Kathi twirling - Part 2
Kathi Twirling

Part 2 of my series on two special friends continues today. I met Kathi Raver at Duke City Singles square dance club in 1997, excited to have a younger woman to relate to—she was a teacher, too! She immediately jumped in and took part in the club’s leadership.

Kathi stood nearly six-foot-tall and I’m 5 feet 3 inches, so we were like Mutt and Jeff for sure, but we loved to dress alike with our square dance clothes. When she died, we had about thirteen outfits alike.

One year to promote the Fling, we went to TASSD (Texas Area Single Square Dancers) in Amarillo, Texas—Art Tangen, our club caller, was calling. So, we decorated our petty pants on our backside with, “I (a heart) Art!” Then we mooned him when he was calling, showing him our petti pants and our support. Someone took a picture of Kathi’s bottom, and they featured her on the TASSD newsletter the next month.

I had been the chairperson for the New Mexico Singles Fling for several years, and she became my co-chair, then chaired it for several years. I stayed onboard the committee then and did the publicity for her. We had so much fun on that committee, producing major successful event, one right after the other.

For years, we did an outfit check before a dance weekend to see what we would wear each night. Kathi made several of my square dance outfits when she was chairing the Fling. She always felt that it helped me out because she liked to sew and I did the computer stuff for us for the Fling.

In 2000, she and two other women square dancers from Albuquerque went to Oklahoma City for Dance-A-Rama, the national single square dance festival. They came home and convinced me to chair the Dance-A-Rama in Albuquerque in 2003.

To promote Dance-A-Rama, 2003, the committee traveled to Richmond, Virginia, Norfolk, Nebraska and Dallas, Texas. Those travel trips top the list of my memories with Kathi. We had a blast doing it, and again, we had a major success. After DAR, 03, we promised each other we would go into the same nursing home and remember DAR, 03 and all of our fun antics over the years.

During this time, Kathi’s melanoma came back with a vengeance after being in remission for twenty years. It broke my heart to watch my spirited, fun-loving friend slow down as she dealt with this horrible disease. She continued working and daily gave herself shots as needed.

In 2004, Kathi met Lin Miller, and immediately they connected. In 2005, I treasure the memory of being present at Festigal, an annual square dance festival in Gallup, New Mexico where they met, when Lin asked her to marry him. Her face said absolute shock.

We hung out together with my ex-husband. We danced all over the Southwest together. When we were home, we danced at Duke City Singles on Friday night, then afterwards played cards until the wee hours of the morning.

Kathi’s the one responsible for my red hair. At a dance in Norfolk, Nebraska, in 2007, we went out to have breakfast. She saw a woman standing in line in front of us. Casually, she whispered in my ear, “Go ask her what color she uses. You’d look great with red hair.”

So, I did. The women chuckled, “Hot Tamale.” I came home and colored it and loved it. I returned to my natural color after a year, but in 2013 I went back to “Hot Tamale” and have had it red ever since. Every time I color it, I think of her.

During the years, we traveled together a lot. In 2008, we went to Branson, Missouri with two other couples. We cried at the Roy Rogers Museum during the show with Roy’s grandson.

In 2008, my ex and I broke up, and Kathi and Lin took me under their wing. Kathi went house hunting with me and her sister-in-law was a realtor. She would tell her sister-in-law, “Larada can’t afford this place.”

When I moved into my new townhouse, Kathi helped me find it. After getting instructions from her brother on how to do it, she hooked up my gas dryer. She climbed behind the dryer with barely enough room to get around in. She did it to save me $85.

In thinking about relationships, Kathi had a brisk attitude about them: give your mourning time of six months, then get on with life. She had a hard time watching me deal with my recent divorce—she wanted me to move on.

Her cancer came back with a vengeance again, and she kept beating it, but she couldn’t for the last time. Her powerful spirit still shown through, though. When the ambulance drove her to the hospice in Albuquerque, they went to the wrong hospital, and she had to direct them to the right one! Leave it to Kathi.

Kathi died on November 25, 2009, eleven years ago today. I felt privileged to be by her side when she died. My heart felt shattered as I stood by her bed and witnessed her last breath after our fourteen years relationship. What a privilege to be there!

Her spirit lives on around me today—because Lin, her husband, and I ended up together and married. We live in her house she built. Some might be uneasy about this. I have never had an issue because I remembered her strong directive when my ex and I broke up—take six months and get on with life.

Lin and I had a very interesting confirmation about our relationship from a mutual friend of ours and Kathi after she died. We’re all on the committee of an annual dance, Hot August Nights. Kathi and this friend were talking in the kitchen. Kathi had been battling her last round of cancer. She watched me on the dance and told our friend, “I hope Lin and Larada get together if something happens to me. They would make each other happy.” That was August; she died in November!

So every day I get to thank Kathi for so much! The memories, the fun, the craziness an her beautiful house! And she gave me Lin!

Part 2 features Kathi; Part 1 featured Candy. I’m so fortunate to have had two friends like these two women, and I carry them with me each day.

Here’s the Gratitude Log again if you need it. I shared a couple days ago.

Do you ever buy clothes alike? Have you ever been present with a friend dying? What did you take away from it?


Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?

Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks: https://laradasbooks.com

Check out Cyber Week Specials at my Etsy Shop, Larada’s Reading Loft, on select books! 40% off of select Individual books, 40% off of select bundles and 50% off of digital copies! These books make the perfect gift for your friends and family.

family · Friends · My Thoughts

Two Special Friends I’ve Lost: Part 1

Three friends -one with umbrella. Two Special Friends

Two special friends came to mind today as I pondered who to write about in all my friends I have across the United States. These two precious ladies came up: Candy McMillan Vargas and Kathi Raver Miller. Both have died from cancer, but their influence in my life lingers years after their deaths. They both helped me soar and succeed in ways I never imagined! Kathi died in 2009, and Candy died in 2011. Here’s how Candy touched me so deeply, and tomorrow I will tell Kathi and my story!

Candy McMillan Vargas

Candy was born on July 8, 1952, and my brother, Harold (Bub) was born May 25, 1952. Our mothers enjoyed being young pregnant women together, telling hilarious stories about getting their car stuck in the mud with their enormous bellies. Candy’s dad and my dad were best friends. So, we grew up together.

For many years, Candy and I were the only girls in Branson, Colorado, a small ranching town. So, I remember my early playtime with her—donning our mom’s dresses, hats, and shoes. Then we threw purses over our shoulders. Those female items transported us to be Ethel and Lucy for sure.

So much of my childhood memories center on Candy and her family. They owned the grocery store in Branson, so we visited often. Also, back then, people visited each other’s houses in the evening.

Candy moved away about the time she was twelve, but we didn’t lose contact. One morning she arrived at our doorstep at 6:00 AM, having just jumped off the train to come and see us. We felt like she was family.

We ended up going to Trinidad State Junior College together her last year, then she moved to Pueblo, Colorado. Candy was maid-of-honor at my first and second wedding. I think I exhausted her out for the next couple.

She married Michael Vargas in Pueblo, and I was her matron-of-honor. Then they moved to Denver, just a few short blocks from where we lived. I celebrated with her and Michael when their children, Sonia and Shane, were born.

When I graduated in 1986 from Colorado State University, Mom and Dad hosted a major shindig at a bar I frequented often, and Candy catered the delicious meal. She also partied like a crazy lady with me to celebrate my big day.

Candy listened to all my woes about my first husband and our marriage. After our divorce and my graduation from Fort Collins, Colorado, I lived with her and Michael for six months to get established in Denver. She always came to my rescue.

When I moved to Raton, New Mexico, she continued having me cut her hair every six weeks and lined up enough friends to get perms and cuts to make my trip profitable. (I was a beautician for 14 years before becoming a teacher.).

In 2005, when Lela, my sister-in-law died, we had the funeral and burial in Branson. Candy brought a tent to set up out in the backyard because of the hot July weather and helped Mom and I handle the meal after the service.

Mom and I with our Team Candy t-shirts on. Two Special Friends
Mom and I with our Team Candy t-shirts on.

Diagnosed with kidney cancer, a group of her friends bought these “Team Candy” t-shirts to support her. She loved the idea.

Candy died September 13, 2011, and I had been experiencing some strange health episodes. The night she died, I had one of the worst ones yet. Needing to call 911, I went to the hospital. They found nothing identifiably wrong, but my doctor strongly suggested I not go to her funeral on September 19. So, I didn’t, but I took the day off from work and had a private ceremony I prepared at home by myself. That broke my heart not to honor her by attending! I will always regret not saying goodbye formally to her and her family I love so much.

Larada & Candy, Cripple Creek for Larada's birthday. Two special friends
Larada & Candy, Cripple Creek for Larada’s birthday

Candy’s hilarious sense-of-humor, her delicious home-cooked meals and her deep friendship remind me daily of my dear friend. I still see her sparkling eyes and hear her contagious laughter and know that I am a better person for having known her and loved by her. Thank you, Candy, for everything you did.

Do you have a best friend? Have you thanked him or her lately?

Here’s the Gratitude Log again if you need it. I shared a couple days ago.


Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks: https://laradasbooks.com

Check out Cyber Week Specials at my Etsy Shop, Larada’s Reading Loft, on select books! 40% off of select Individual books, 40% off of select bundles and 50% off of digital copies! These books make the perfect gift for your friends and family.