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Putting the Garden Back in Kindergarten

Governor Polis’ efforts to bring free, full-day kindergarten to Colorado’s public schools have been in the news quite often the last several weeks. Currently, Colorado only pays for half-day kindergarten. Those districts that do offer full-day kindergarten pay for it with funds designated for other programs, with local property taxes, or by charging families. Polis recently stated, “It’s time to make the state a full partner with our (school) districts. We simply need to ensure that kindergarten is treated as the critical part of our public education infrastructure that it is.”

As a parent, grandparent, and educator, I understand the reasoning behind this push for full-day kindergarten. We all want the very best education for our children, and we often assume that getting kids started with their formal academic education earlier is better than later.

This assumption has contributed to the trend in our nation’s kindergartens to push academics – like getting kids to read early – at the expense of the free play, self-directed learning and exploration that used to make up the bulk of a kindergartener’s day. As Christopher Brown, University of Texas professor of Early Childhood Education framed it, “Across the country, kindergartners are being told what to do and how to do it, every single step along the way, all day long. They play less and study more than they did 20 years ago. This is what kindergarten has become, and it’s not a good thing.”

There is much research to support Professor Brown’s view. Yes, studies indicate that this academic redirection of the kindergarten focus does produce initial successes in academic performance. But the successes are temporary, and studies also clearly indicate that by mid-elementary grades, these academic advances disappear. For example, a large-scale German study compared the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens with the graduates of 50 academic-based kindergartens. After initial academic gains of the academic-based kindergarteners, by grade four the children from the academic-based kindergartens performed significantly worse on every measure that was used in comparison to those from the play-based kindergartens.

This study, and many others, indicate that, along with lower performance in academics, those who attended academic-based kindergartens also had more social and emotional challenges through the rest of their academic careers, and even into adulthood. Boston College research professor Peter Gray put it this way, “Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.”

The skills and qualities that so many educators, parents, and research say are the foundation of academic success – initiative, problem-solving, invention, persistence, resilience, grit – the very skills that are developed in play-based kindergartens, are what is being lost in our academic-based kindergartens.

There are those in early childhood education who recognize the above trends. In response, they are actively working to provide an alternative kind of kindergarten that puts the “garden” back in kindergarten. Called Nature or Forest Kindergartens, with roots in Europe and now found in many locations in the US, advocates of these Nature- and play-based kindergartens (and preschools) recognize that, along with the loss of play and self-directed learning, academic-based early childhood programs tend to alienate children from the natural world.

These Nature Kindergarten advocates believe that the original image of the kindergarten, the “children’s garden,” has been replaced by academic-based programs that only deepen what is sometimes called the “indoor-ification” of early childhood. A preoccupation with academics and testing; an over-fascination with and over-use of technology; less, or no time for play, recess, art and music; the increased use of worksheets – is why many parents, early childhood educators and pediatric health practitioners believe that there truly is a kindergarten crisis in America. Children aren’t playing in the garden; instead, they are ardently filling in bubbles on worksheets.

So, as full-day kindergarten is being debated and considered, I urge Governor Polis, our elected representatives, as well as those who work in early childhood education, to incorporate early childhood education research findings and Nature Kindergarten philosophy into what the kindergartens in Colorado – whether they be full-day or half-day – will look like. Play, self-directed learning, exploration, Nature – these need to be the focus of Colorado’s young children’s kindergarten experience. Please, put the garden back in Colorado’s kindergartens.

A Couple of Questions on Climate Change for Political Candidates and Policy Makers

I find it serendipitous that, a few short weeks before the 2018 elections, a dire warning has been issued by the International Panel on Climate Change, a warning that should be of major concern to every political candidate, be it for federal, state, or local office. While acknowledging that the negative impacts of a warming planet are already underway, the IPCC says that to avoid catastrophic changes to the Earth’s interconnected ecological and societal systems, we must limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. The report is based on the findings of over 6000 scientific studies (

As a long-time resident of a Colorado town that is becoming increasingly threatened by more frequent wildfires, floods after the burns, and drought, all symptoms of a warming climate, this report hits me very close to home. Time is not on our side. “We are at the crossroads,” says the IPCC. “What is going to happen between now and 2030 is critical. If we don’t act now,” it will be essentially impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Having already warmed 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times, the report recognizes that limiting climate change to 1.5°C would require “unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.”  Yet, the IPCC is still calling for an economic transition that “has no documented historic precedents.By 2030, the world needs to have cut its annual carbon emissions by around 50%. This will require a full scale move away from fossil fuels, which is very much the opposite of the path our current administration has our country on.

It is worth noting that this report is not merely talking about if we will have more or less taxes taken out of our paycheck, or how a new regulation will raise the price of groceries, or how this or that legislation will impact the quality of our cell phone service. It is talking about the future of human civilization. As German climate scientist Hans-Otto Pörtner put it, “If action is not taken, it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future… Climate change is shaping the future of our civilization.”

According to Georgia Tech climate science professor Kim Cobb, “Many will dismiss the target as unrealistic, if not laughable.” She makes a good point – is it even realistic to think we could limit warming to 1.5°C, which would require completely redesigning the way we live on this planet? How we produce energy. How we produce food. How we get around. I must admit, it sounds rather impossible!

IPCC scientists say it is not impossible. “It is within the scope of what humans can achieve,” the report says. “We identified 6 different conditions we’d need to meet to hit 1.5°C. Is it possible within the laws of physics? Yes. But the political feasibility? Frankly, that’s up to politicians.”

So, these scientists are saying that the future of the Earth’s climate and what human civilization will look like in the coming decades and beyond is “up to politicians.” Wow, whoever said this election may be the most important in our lifetimes wasn’t kidding.

In the interest of voters and constituents knowing where candidates and current policy makers stand on climate change and, in particular, on the urgent warning that the world’s top climate scientists just released to the world, I have a couple of questions that I would like candidates and current office holders and policy makers to answer:

  1. As a candidate for public office, or as a current elected official or policy maker, what is your response to the IPCC report?
  2. As an elected official and leader, what will you do to ensure that the policies and actions enacted under your watch will limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?

Answers can be sent to me, Dave Van Manen, via email at I will post all answers to my Facebook page,

Two Minutes to Doomsday!

The clock is ticking. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, “a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe,” the clock is the closest it’s ever been to doomsday (  This looming doomsday has me comparing today’s chaotic politics and other challenges to another tumultuous time in our history, the 1960s. I got my start in this world during the Eisenhower presidency, and started becoming aware of the larger world around me during that iconic decade. I often find myself asking, “Is all this craziness new, or have we been here before?”

Just as it was in the 60s, war is a dominant facet of today’s world. Today, it’s Afghanistan, Syria and vicinity. When I was approaching my teens, it was Viet Nam: print and television images, protests, older brothers    getting drafted and killed, and as the 60s slipped into the 70s, the possibility of winding up in Viet Nam myself (the war ended just as I hit draft age).

With North Korea’s current development of nuclear weapons, coupled with the war of words between Trump and Kim Jong-un, some say that this is the closest we’ve been to a nuclear exchange since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I was too young then to know it, but had it not been for Kennedy and Khrushchev reaching a diplomatic resolution to a nuclear war that appeared imminent, my life may very well have been cut short, along with much of the rest of the planet’s life.

Today’s MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements can be likened to the Women’s and Civil Rights movements of the 60s and 70s. Likewise, lines can be drawn connecting the 1969 Stonewall riots, which brought the Gay Rights movement into the mainstream, to the recent Supreme Court ruling giving same-sex couples the Constitutional right to marry.

Then there are the current investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia and his subsequent obstruction of justice. The similarities between this drama and the whole Nixon/Watergate affair are downright eerie. Trump tweets, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Nixon and company called the Watergate hearings a “political witch hunt.” Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Will Trump fire special counsel Robert Mueller? Once again, we are hearing the phrase “constitutional crisis.”

Names and details may be different, but there certainly are parallels between the 1960s and today. It can be argued that we survived that tumultuous time, so we will survive the current chaos as well. But there is one very significant difference between then and now. Although it was already on the rise back then, the increased level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, was not yet playing havoc on the planet’s climate. Human activity, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, increased global CO2 levels from around 275ppm in the mid-1700s to a bit over 300ppm at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In January 2018, when Trump tweeted about having a “bigger and more powerful” nuclear button then Kim Jong-un’s, atmospheric CO2 was at 408ppm. Climate scientists believe that 350ppm is the safe upper limit to avoid catastrophic climate change. It rises still!

Despite the similar political and cultural upheavals between the 1960s and today, we are now living on a different planet. Different because of the altered chemistry of the atmosphere and the growing number and intensity of floods, storms, droughts, wildfires and other adversities that this changing atmosphere brings.

The Doomsday Clock, begun in 1947, originally assessed the likelihood of nuclear war in determining how close we are to midnight, the doomsday hour. Through the years, it has moved closer, and farther, to midnight. Tellingly, in 2007, the Bulletin “concluded that the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons.” Hence, nuclear war and now, climate change, are the human-made threats to civilization used to set the Doomsday Clock.

In 1963, the year after Kennedy and Khrushchev averted nuclear war, we were twelve minutes to midnight. In 2007, we were five minutes to midnight. Today, according the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we are two minutes to midnight. Scientists say it is still not too late to avert catastrophic climate change.

This administration and Congress must act now. Sign the Paris climate agreement. Give America’s best minds the monumental task of developing a clean-energy economy and getting us off of fossil fuels. Can we do it? The answer might be found in another 1960s comparison, the amazing accomplishment of President Kennedy’s wildly ambitious 1961 goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade was out. Just five months before the end of the decade, we were on the moon.

The clock is ticking!

National Monuments: Land Grab or Legacy?

A Utah Senator says that setting aside this land as part of the National Parks is “a hasty, impetuous action to lock up the area, a step that the people of Utah and the nation would regret for centuries.”  A Deseret News article asserts there is “no other place in the state which [has] greater potential for mineral production.” A Moab Times Independent editorial states, “We wholeheartedly agree that Utahans cannot allow vast, potentially-rich tracts of land to be ‘locked’ into reserves that would prohibit any future use…” Why would these people say these things about the Bears Ears National Monument, designated in 2016 by President Obama? Because they didn’t! They said these things in 1962, opposing the establishment of Canyonlands National Park, which, coincidentally, borders Bears Ears National Monument.

A popular hiking trial in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Few today – from Utah or any other state – would argue that creating Canyonlands National Park was a mistake. Along with Arches National Park, Canyonlands has helped make southeast Utah one of the nation’s outdoor recreation hotspots. As Stephen Mather, the Park Service’s first director put it a hundred years ago, a National Park is “an economic asset of incalculable value.”  Canyonlands has certainly been such an asset to southeast Utah.

Since the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906, nearly every president has used it to protect places that they deemed needed protecting and to “leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Teddy Roosevelt used it numerous times. In 1908, concerned about all sorts of plans to develop and deface the beauty of the Grand Canyon, Roosevelt, using the Antiquities Act, established Grand Canyon National Monument. There was local opposition to this decision, claiming abuse of federal power. History has proven that acting to protect the Grand Canyon as a National Monument (which eventually became a National Park) was undeniably the right thing to do.

President Theodore Roosevelt and other officials at the Grand Canyon in 1903

The designation of many National Monuments and Parks was fiercely contested by small local groups, including designations by Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jackson Hole National Monument, now Grand Teton National Park) and more recently by George W. Bush (Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, northwest of Hawaii). Who today would argue that the legacy of Grand Canyon, Arches, Grand Teton, Zion, or Canyonlands National Parks would better serve our nation if they would have instead gone the way that a small group of locals wanted them to go – as mines, oil fields, private ranches,  or for timber production?

The names of the places may be different today – Bears Ears, Grand Staircase Escalante, Katahdin Woods and Waters – but the arguments are simply history repeating itself. “Land grab”, “locked up”, “abuse of power” – this is the same language used to argue against every National Monument or Park designation that the locals believed was wrong. Thankfully, we as a people have decided that some places deserve to be set aside to protect their scenic, historic or ecological values as a legacy for future generations, protected from mining, logging, and other extractive industries. Thankfully, we have given the president the power, through the Antiquities Act, to make those decisions when threats to the integrity of these places are moving faster than other efforts to protect them.

Exploring along the Green River with my grandkids at Dinosaur National Monument, August 2015

Wallace Stegner’s words are as appropriate today as they were when he wrote them in the 1950s, opposing the proposed construction of dams in Dinosaur National Monument, “It is a better world with some buffalo left in it, a richer world with some gorgeous canyons unmarred by signboards, hot-dog stands, super highways, or high-tension lines, undrowned by power or irrigation reservoirs. If we preserved as parks only those places that have no economic possibilities, we would have no parks. And in the decades to come, it will not be only the buffalo and the trumpeter swan who need sanctuaries. Our own species is going to need them too. It needs them now.”

Right now, the current administration has directed Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Department of Interior, to conduct a quick review of all national monument designations since 1996. This review is taking place under the false premise that they were designated without local input. For example, years of local Native American conservation efforts, public hearings, Utah congressional requests, visits by former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel and other officials, countless letters, op-eds and emails took place before Bears Ears was finally designated late in 2016. The original 1.9 million acre proposal was reduced by 30% by the Obama administration as a result of local input.

The current administration has essentially stated that it believes that many of these national monument designations were improperly done, and wants to see them altered or rescinded. These monuments belong to all Americans; if you are among the vast majority of Americans that believe they should remain intact, please let Secretary Zinke know: Secretary Ryan Zinke Dept. of Interior 1849 C Street N.W. Washington D.C. 20240; 202-208-7351; email through website

The Bears Ears Butte in the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah, one of the most significant cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and important areas of spiritual significance.

Vuja de

I’ve been writing about various facets of the natural world for the newsletter of the Nature education non-profit I started in the Mountain Park in Beulah, my small southern Colorado town, for a long time. The recent issue that was just published begins the eighteenth year of the Mountain Park News.  I can recall writing articles on all sorts of birds and wildflowers, bears, trees, mountain lions, pronghorn, bobcat, pleasing fungus beetles, squirrels, owls, biological soil crusts…but, surprisingly, I don’t recall ever writing about one of the area’s most common and iconic species, Odocileus hemionus. If my memory is correct, the pages of Mountain Park News never included an article specifically about mule deer. As of the recent issue, that is no longer the case.

There has been much statewide press about the significant population decline of mule deer in Colorado over the past decade. According to a recent Denver Post article, mule deer population estimates in Colorado are down about 36 percent, from 614,100 in 2005 to 390,600 in 201 (compared to a 10% decrease across the entire western US). Disease, habitat loss due to development encroachment, and road mortality are among the likely reasons for the decline according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Well, maybe they should do a count in Beulah; considering how many deer with the big ears and short, black-tipped tail there are in the valley, maybe all those missing mule deer are all hanging out here. It is a rare day that I don’t see several mule deer while driving or walking in Beulah.

Just the other day, on a windy and chilly late afternoon walk in the park, I came across eight deer – one young buck, a few does, and several adolescents – that watched me but hardly seemed concerned about me as I walked by within around 20 feet of the closest one. A couple weeks ago, I was walking down the steps to my house (which is just across the road from the park). Looking at my mail and not paying much attention as I’ve walked down these steps a million times, I looked up to see a doe no more than ten feet in front of me, standing on the steps. I stopped. She turned and took a couple of step towards me. Hmm. I’ve seen video clips of how aggressive deer can be. So I backed up a few steps, made some noise, and she finally ambled off. Slowly.

The minimal snow so far this season is keeping the dried forbs and grasses readily available for our area’s mule deer to fatten up on as the winter approaches. When the snow cover is deep, shrubs and trees make up most of their diet. I recall many times being out in the park on skis or snowshoes on cold days with the landscape covered in deep snow. Working hard to keep myself warm, I’d watch deer bite the needles off ponderosa pines and wonder how many calories they are were actually getting from those needles that would get them through the cold night ahead. Mountain mahogany and Gambel oak are also common winter foods for mule deer in the park.


Yes, mule deer are common and I see them pretty much every day. They are a very familiar part of my daily life here in Beulah. Hence, mule deer give me daily opportunities to apply Vuja de. The opposite of Déjà vu, the sensation that an experience currently being experienced has already been experienced, Vuja de is the act of seeing something familiar with a fresh view. I love keeping the idea of Vuja de alive in my life. It helps me to see the familiar – my home, my loved ones, my everyday world  – with fresh eyes. Vuja de reminds me to see each day and everything in it as a special gift. Because each day that I am alive, each day that I get to see my home, my family, my world, and mule deer, is, indeed, a special gift.


My views on Trump and Climate Change

I’ve been reading about how we need to get behind president-elect Trump so he has a successful presidency. If a successful presidency would be defined as finding common ground to begin healing the divide that so defines our country right now, I’m all for it.  I suspect, though, that the president-elect and the team he is gathering to run the country would define a successful presidency primarily as the successful implementation of his campaign promises.  One of his defining promises has to do with energy and climate change, based on his belief that global warming is BS, or a hoax started by the Chinese.  I can emphatically say that I will never get behind the president-elect on this issue, and will do all that I can so he is unsuccessful on this issue.

Trump and his team can argue that human-caused climate change is not happening, is a lie, is a conspiracy, is bad science, or is a left-wing invention all they want. But science is not on their side. As a bumper sticker I saw once said, Science doesn’t care what you believe. According to nearly every climate scientist not in bed with the fossil-fuel industry, climate change is real, it is primarily caused by human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, and it is going to be catastrophic for the Earth that all of us, regardless of political affiliation, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and anything else, live our lives on.  Scientists also say that there is still time to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, but only if we act now!

The president-elect and company are arguing with physics. You can’t argue with physics and win. Increase greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the planet’s climate will change. It’s the law.  It’s like arguing about the existence of gravity while holding a bowling ball over your foot. You can argue all you want, but if you let go, it’s going to hurt. A lot. Unfortunately, the impacts of denying gravity are so much more immediate than the somewhat slower manifestations of increased greenhouse gases.

It is often argued that the current warming is nothing more than a natural cycle, as the planet has always had warming and cooling periods. No argument from science there – the Earth’s temperature has always changed as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other factors change. Currently, CO2 levels are at around 400ppm (parts per million). Using data gathered from tiny air bubbles in ice cores drilled into ancient Antarctica ice fields, CO2 levels have not been this high for at least 800,000 years. Analyses of shells in deep sea sediments take it back much further, to 10-15 million years. Yes, somewhere back there, way back there, way before any modern human species walked the planet, CO2 levels were 400ppm.  And the Earth showed it – sea levels 100 feet higher than they are today, little ice anywhere on the planet – it was a very different planet than the one we all live on.

When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, CO2 levels were about 275ppm. At the time of the Civil War, they were around 285ppm. In 1950, they were a bit above 300ppm. Three days after the recent election, they were 403ppm. Why the increase? The science is clear – human activity, mainly the burning of coal, oil and gas.

All those numbers are not liberal think tank numbers, they are scientific facts. Have there been variations in the interpretation of them? Sure. That is what science is – looking at phenomena; developing a theory about this or that facet of the phenomena; subjecting the theory  to vigorous testing,  observation and data gathering; analyzing the outcomes; making a conclusion as to the accuracy of the theory; making adjustments and re-testing; and, eventually, subjecting conclusions to  reviews, challenges and insights from other scientists.  As the past few decades have gone by since the theory of global warming first hit the mainstream, the theory of global warming has been questioned and scrutinized over and over and over.  Today, the science is more certain than ever:  global warming is happening, and we are causing it.

Consider this: Say my young child comes down with some malady, and I take her to 10 doctors and receive ten medical opinions. Nine doctors tell me she has a serious condition that needs to be acted on immediately, and the tenth doc is pretty sure she has that same serious illness, but says there is a small chance it is not something serious and I shouldn’t worry about it. What would you think of me if I ignored the nine doctors plus the general counsel of the tenth doctor that it is serious, and instead went with the small chance the last doctor mentioned, that it is nothing to worry about? Not very well, I suspect. Negligence would be an appropriate word. Child abuse, you might say. Well, that is exactly what the president-elect and all other climate-change-deniers are doing about the planet we all live on – ignoring the 97% of scientists that agree that the planet is in trouble.

Fifteen years ago, the Bush administration cut funding of global warming research and systematically sought to suppress and distort the findings of climate scientists.  Today, the president-elect wants to do much the same, including eliminating, or significantly reducing, the Environmental Protection Agency. And it looks like he’s got Congress behind him on this.  These actions are equivalent to removing the mechanisms that monitors your car’s oil levels and engine temperature. Of course, none of us want to see the oil or temperature light come on when we are driving, but what’s the alternative? Not knowing something is wrong until your engine is ruined? At least you can buy another car – we can’t buy another planet. Such actions and policies are not science based, and they are not people based, they are based on the corporate interests of the fossil fuel industry.

Four hundred years ago, Galileo was persecuted for publishing his evidence that supported the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. At a time when the prevailing view was that that the Earth was the center of the Universe, strongly supported by the powerful Catholic Church, Galileo was tried, convicted and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. All for studying and concluding what we now know to be indisputably true – the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Fast forward to our time.  Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, is a modern day Galileo. His research into global warming led to a massive misinformation campaign initiated by the powerful fossil fuel industry. In Mann’s own words, “I set myself up for a completely different life … I was vilified … I was called a fraud. I was being attacked by Congressmen. I had death threats, which were actionable enough that the FBI had to come to my office to look at an envelope that had white powder [in it]. I’ve had threats made against my family. These folks know they don’t have to win a legitimate scientific debate. They just need to divide the public. All of that hatred and fear is organized and funded by just a few players. Fossil fuel interests … finance a very large echo chamber of climate change denialism. They find people with very impressive looking credentials who are willing to sell those credentials to fossil fuel interests. Front groups funded by corporate interests.”

Sadly, this campaign, echoed by politicians, conservative talk show hosts, and others, has been very effective; in spite of the solidity of climate science, a significant percentage of Americans still do not believe in global warming. And fossil fuels continue to be mined and piped and burned, and atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise.

I have dedicated much of my life to providing opportunities for people, especially disadvantaged young people, to experience the wonders of Nature. I do this work because it is so good for children in so many ways to spend time in Nature (it is good for adults too). And I do it because these young people, if they have first hand experiences in Nature, are more likely to then grow up into adult citizens who advocate for the natural world. I love this planet, this amazing little blue ball floating in space. I want others to love it too. From all that I’ve heard said by the president-elect and the people he is surrounding himself with about their plans, it makes me feel like my work will soon be taking place in a small room on the Titanic. It’s a nice room, but what does it matter if the ship is going to sink? This is unacceptable to me.

So, am I a whiner, a sore-loser, a doomsayer… if I want to see the president-elect fail in implementing his policies that will so terribly impact the planet we all live on? If I am anything, I am simply a very concerned American citizen that wants to see my government implement environmental policies based on science – good, solid science.

Because without a hospitable planet, no lives matter.

40 Day Love Fest: Daily Marriage Practices for Easy Living

Forty years is made up of a whole lot of individual days.

It is what happens routinely in those days that add up to make a life, or a marriage. Sure, vacations are nice, breaks from the routine, opportunities to do some different things and see some different places. But vacations are just that – temporarily vacating the familiar. Then it is back to the familiar. One of our philosophies of creating a happy life, and marriage, is to make the familiar – the everyday days with the everyday tasks – to be as good as they can be. Here are a few of the things we have always tried – and continue to try – to get as many of these as we can into every day:

Walking: Any day with a walk is better than a day without a walk.

One of the reasons we so love living dhvmshadowwalkwhere we do in Beulah is the easy opportunities for walking. We walk in all seasons, and know that even in the coldest of conditions, all it takes is the right warm clothes to make for a good walk.

But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir








Music: When we made a living making music, this was easy.

Now that we have different jobs, it sometimes takes a bit more of an effort to get a good hit of music each day – we mean something more than just background music. Sometimes a day of meetings, appointments, work tasks, and other activities requires a deliberate effort to incorporate some good music time – closely listening, dancing, kicking back, singing. But whenever we do, we are glad we did.



Talking: We have always loved talking – just plain old talking – to each other. It helps us feel connected, up-to-date, closer.

Our talks include planning and strategizing, as well as sharing gratitudes, interesting stories or facts we read or heard, things that are “up” for one of us, something that needs “getting clear” on… We usually try to separate out our work talks from our personal talks, although so much of our work is so tied to our personal interests and values, so these two often bleed into each other. Our talks do include a lot of listening which may be one of our ‘secrets’.

IMG_7629Eating together: When the kids were little, eating together was an important part of our family life.

As they got older, sharing breakfast and lunch was not always possible, but we always made a point to eat dinner together. No TV, no eating in their rooms – we ate together at the table. Always. This also contributed to keeping our small cabin clean. And this has carried into our empty nest – breakfast and lunch are often on our own, but we almost always eat dinner together.


December harvest from the greenhouse.

Preparing food together:  Helene is certainly better and more confident when it comes to cooking, but that hasn’t stopped us from preparing our meals together.

We’ve lately noticed that we have evolved this very pleasant flow when we cook together, knowing without having to say what comes next, what needs to be done…

IMG_1476Chores: We find doing chores together makes the work easier.

So when it works for our schedules, we often put on some music and do a tornado clean of the house, or a part of the house. We both like things to be organized and uncluttered so together we meet up to accomplish what needs to be done. And…we have learned to not tell each other how to do things…or micro-manage each other.



Making the bed together in the morning: There is something about making the bed together, right after we get up, that feels good – like we start the day, right off the bat, with a completion.

It is also a way that we connect to each other across the bed and creates a pause to nurture each other in the moment. Sometimes we talk; sometimes it is in quiet; sometimes while listening to the NPR morning news. But it is a symbolic action that mirrors how to attend to our marriage. And then the pleasant payoff: getting into a beautifully made bed together each evening. Now that brings luxury to our relationship.

Going to bed at the same time: Most of the time we do.

Naturally there are times when our schedules are busy and our needs for rest vary, but getting into bed together is a sweetness that can’t be beat for us. And the cuddling is a part of the healing connection that our relationship is based on.

sept 2011 wise women walking retreat 019

Helping each other:  It’s pretty great to have your best friend to walk through your days with.

We always seek to help make each other’s life easier; high on the list of what we are to each other is help-mates.  It works for us and infuses our marriage with mutual support, along with the joy and the fun!  And…when we built our greenhouse our great family all came and helped in this learning experience.  We are the lucky ones for certain.


 dhvm smoothies

Dave and Helene Van Manen know the secret to their 40 years of loving and it includes green smoothies, making the bed together and falling into bed laughing each night. They share their journey as they honor for 40 days their relationship started back in the 70’s when they were teens. Today they live and teach in the mountains of Colorado.




40 Day Love Fest: Kindness Guides Our Days

This song sums up what we strive for…in our day to day connection.

ps Let us know if you love this song by David Wilcox as much as we do.

dhvmlakeDave and Helene Van Manen celebrate living intentionally together for 40 years with honoring 40 days during the summer of 2016. They have joined forces to raise children, create music, build a community non-profit and more. Kindness is one of the secret ingredients in their recipe for loving.

40 Day Love Fest: Music Brought Us Together – The Van Manens are born

In the beginning, there was music.

If there is a thread that connects the entire length of our marriage, as well as the couple of years we were together before we were married, it is music. Making it and listening to it.

lovefestroseJust a few months before we met, Dave did his first public performance at his high school (Brooklyn Tech) after abandoning the plan to become a professional football player (his not-quite 5’7″ stature had something to do with this abandonment) and setting his sights on a music career. Helene’s vocals led to the two-part harmony that became one of the Van Manens’ trademarks.  We were in love and in love with the songs that fueled our desire to leave NYC…Country Roads by John Denver, Dark Hollow (David Bromberg), and Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles).

at badlands

Badlands National Monument in South Dakota, a couple of weeks after we were married.

Along with our friend Tommy Kessler, we made a demo of a few of our songs at A & R Recording Studio, Dave’s place of employment the year before we were married (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Judy Collins were among the artists who recorded there that year). The demo didn’t really go anywhere, but it sowed some recording seeds that would eventually germinate.

We were into the Eagles years before they became the super-popular band they later became.

We were lucky to go to some of the best concerts in the early years – Jackson Browne (Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ), James Taylor (Carnegie Hall), Eagles (2x at Capitol Theatre, one show 2nd row center, tickets were $5.65 each), and Janis Ian (Central Park).

singing at yule log 1977
Beulah Yule Log event in Pueblo Mountain Park, late 70s.

Not long after arriving in Colorado, we spent some time as students in the Music Department at the University of So. Colorado, Dave taught music privately and then at the University, and we were soon singing at weddings. We sang the Wedding Song by Paul Stookey, Follow Me (John Denver), and Longer (Dan Fogelberg) at a whole lot of weddings. We were soon doing music therapy at area hospitals, and our writing music together led us back into the recording studio.

in studio

Recording at FTM Studios in Denver, 1986 or ’87.

We happily found ourselves drawn to making music for children, which led to traveling throughout the country during the late 80s and the 90s making a living on our songs, including We Recycle, Don’t Whine, I Love My Home… Libraries, schools, church basements, living rooms, parks, peace rallies, festivals – we sang in thousands of places.  Little did we know back then that our music would someday be uploadable through something called “itunes” and that a future generations of children would be singing the songs we wrote for our children and their friends.

state fair 1984
Street Performing, mid 80s.





Peace Rally with Elaine Lopez Pacheco

 With our lifetime friend Elaine Lopez Pacheco at a peace rally on the lawn outside the Pueblo, CO Courthouse, around 1990.

 Paul Simon recorded this song at A&R Studios the year Dave worked there. We love this song!

In 2000, ready to “retire” from the music business, we both launched new careers (Helene as a Coach, Dave opening the Mountain Park Environmental Center). But music continues to enrich our lives and nurture our connection as we take music into our present day work and play – on hikes, out under the oaks, with children, and into the desert in our ’95 Eurovan. And there is singing in our house most every day.

Our music has taken us a long long way since we first sang together back in the spring of 1974, on a picnic bench in Forest Park, or on the corner of Gates and Seneca where we “hung out.” Music has also moved into the next generations – our kids Sierra and Sequoia played piano, guitar, danced, and they sang on several of our albums and performed with us when they accompanied us on our tours. And now our grandkids play a variety of instruments and receive countless lessons in music appreciation and instrument instruction from us.

A deepening of our connection to each other often takes place when we listen to music and, especially, when we make music.

An unspoken clarity rings through us about who we are together, why we are living this life on the planet at this time, and what we are meant to be doing. It  ground us and helps keep things in perspective when the world seems too crazy or is moving too fast.

Most days you will find a well-played guitar taking a break on the couch, or the Beatles or Bach or David Wilcox filling the air, or the sounds of a uke coming from the back deck, or one or both of us  irresistibly dancing to the B-52s.  It’s a wonderful musical life!



dhvm canyonlandsDave and Helene Van Manen found each other as teenagers in their New York neighborhoods, left for Colorado and let love carry them as they grew up together. Today they are reaping the joys of decades of loving and learning together.

40 Day Love Fest – Our Magical Mystery Marriage

40daylovefest1We’ve been talking about how to honor and celebrate our 40 year wedding anniversary (which we cannot even believe we are saying “forty”). We originally thought we would take 40 days off (one for each year), but that did not work out with our work schedules. So we grew that idea into creating the “40-Day LoveFest,” which will consist of doing something special each day for 40 days to celebrate these 40 magical years, including taking time each day to remember the years, the ups and downs, the memorable moments and more!
dhvmjuly10201640yearanniversaryHelene and Dave on July 10, 2016 in Wild Rivers National Monument in northern New Mexico.

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”~ Annie Dillard

Looking back on those forty years, the statement by Annie Dillard, “We do not remember days, we remember moments,” rings true for us. We got married as kids in Queens, New York (Dave was 20, Helene 17) on July 10, 1976 – a bicentennial wedding. A few days later, we headed West in a Chevy van to find our place to live the life of our dreams. Our wealth is our shared lives, our family, our love for the natural world, our mountainside home, and the wonderful work we have been able to do. It all is centered on making our day-to-day actions reflect our shared value of “making a difference”.  Leaving NYC and settling somewhere in the West was a dream-come-true in and of itself; since then we have had many many other dreams come true.

Dave 0046

Journey with us these next 40 days as we share some of the moments we remember, along with thoughts about being married to the same person for all these years and what it feels like to wake up and have the calendar say, “Hey kids, it’s been 40 years!”