Marimba band is ‘part of school culture’ at Canyon Creek

  • Written by Deborah Stone


The Canyon Creek Elementary School marimba band has become a tradition at the school. Staff photo.

Canyon Creek’s marimba band has been a tradition at the school for seven years.

“It’s become part of the school culture here,” says Patricia Bourne, Canyon Creek’s music teacher and director of the group. “Only sixth graders can participate and those who do understand the commitment they must make, as it requires time, energy, self-discipline and responsibility.”

The idea to form a marimba ensemble was initially driven by students, who were interested in playing more challenging music with the instruments.

The first group consisted of 20 kids. This year, there are 33, with an almost even split between girls and boys.

Although acceptance to the band does not require an audition, it does necessitate the completion of an application form.

“I had 65 students apply this time around and I had to draw names to see who would get in,” says Bourne. “It was hard to disappoint those who weren’t selected.”

Bourne explains that she has been using marimbas in her classes for 10 years and that they are very popular with the kids.

She notes their accessibility and the fact that very young children can learn to play the instruments without too much difficulty.

She adds, “There’s immediate feedback to the marimba, which is well-suited to children.”

Bourne’s husband Tom makes the marimbas.

“I brought home a book about marimbas years ago,” she says, “and I asked him to make me one. He’s a musician himself and also a wonderful woodworker. After creating that first one, he’s gone on to make many more and now has his own company, Bourne Marimbas.”

The students, according to Bourne, take great pleasure in making music with the instruments.

She comments that it’s physically hard work to play the marimbas, but for boys, that aspect is particularly appealing.

“They get to hit something hard and it’s perfectly appropriate and acceptable,” she adds. “And they get to do it with their buddies. What more could you ask?”

As a member of the ensemble, students must attend rehearsals every Monday and Friday after school from February to June. Independent practice is also highly encouraged.

During May and June, the group performs at several events, including  the school’s art gala, Sorenson’s preschool carnival, for the University Women’s Club in Seattle and at Pacific Lutheran University, as well as at the Bothell Arts Fair this summer.

“It’s so rewarding for the students to have the chance to perform, as they’ve worked so hard and they’re thrilled to share their music with others,” comments Bourne.

She continues to explain that the children delight in the positive response they get from audiences.

“People smile and sometimes they start moving and dancing to the music. They always appear to be enraptured by the performances,” she adds. “They’re often surprised to learn that the kids are only 11 and 12 year olds because it just seems like it would be too difficult for children of that age to play these instruments so well.”

In addition to having fun participating in the band, students gain invaluable learning from the experience.

Musically, their sense of timing and rhythm improves, along with their understanding of theory, form and tonality.

Socially and emotionally, they learn about cooperation, commitment and accountability.

“They really take on a sense of maturity over time,” says Bourne. “They realize that they’re participating in a legacy and that there is a level of expectation and responsibility that comes with their participation.”

Bourne chooses the music selection for the group, opting for numbers that represent a variety of different genres, spanning from jazz and contemporary songs to the tunes of the 50s.

For sixth grader Saahil Vasdev, the music is energizing and makes him feel happy.

“Mrs. Bourne always picks out good music for us to play,” he says. “Some of the songs are difficult at first, but with practice they get easier.”

Saahil knew he wanted to be a part of the band after hearing his older friends talk about the experience.

“They told me how fantastic it was, which made me want to do it,” he adds. “I was so glad to get in and it’s been so much fun. The group really comes together and it’s great to see our skills improve.”

Fellow student Daniel Borgida expresses his pride at being a part of the ensemble, saying, “It really feels good to work at something that’s challenging and then be able to do it well. I like performing to show others what we’ve learned and to show them that marimbas are fun instruments. It’s also a way to get younger kids interested.”

Bourne derives much joy from directing the band and comments that the age level of the members is ideal. She remarks, “They’re so responsible and capable and they’re only limited by my skill.”

She comments that as she is a “true musician,” she loves great music, adding, “But, I love it even more when I can see and hear kids making great music. That is incredibly rewarding for me.”

Gentle breezes and soft landings

  • Written by Deborah Stone
An aura of serenity surrounds a hot air balloon flight. Photo courtesy of Airial Balloon Company
Tom Hamilton spends a good deal of his time above land. The veteran pilot finds life much more interesting up in the air than down on the ground.

Though years ago he flew helicopters in the military, today you’ll find Hamilton at the helm of a hot air balloon, working for Airial Balloon Company in Snohomish.

“Hot air balloons have been around for a long time,” says the local man. “The first documented flight was made in 1783 by Joseph and Etienne Montgolifier, two brothers from France who were in the paper manufacturing business.”

Hamilton goes on to explain that the men developed a new paper which was a combination of paper and silk. When they watched it burn, they observed that little pieces of unburned paper and ashes would rise into the air.

This phenomenon fascinated them and they decided to explore the possibility of capturing this air and using it as a means for man to fly.

The brothers’ first flight lasted 25 minutes. Their balloon rose to 1,500 feet and traveled a total distance of five miles.

“Ballooning eventually became the rage in Europe,” comments Hamilton. “The symbol of the balloon was used everywhere. And then later after World War II, a man named Ed Yost came along and developed a balloon made of nylon and heated it with propane. That marked the development of the modern balloon.” He adds, “Today, hot air balloons are very prolific and popular everywhere.”

Airial Balloon Company has been in existence since 1981. It runs flights year-round, seven days a week, weather permitting.

The conditions have to be just right and obviously, windy, rainy days are not favorable. On a recent beautiful Sunday morning, six of us assembled at Airial Balloon’s offices for a flight.

Lee and Lucy came from Issaquah to celebrate Lucy’s birthday, while Todd, Kathleen and 11-year-old Nicholas drove from Capitol Hill to mark Todd’s 50th.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” says Todd. “Every year, I see the balloons in the valley and they look so beautiful and I’ve always imagined how it would be to go up in one. Turning 50 seemed like a good time to do it.”

The group gathered in the parking lot to watch as our pilot, Hamilton, sent several small, helium-filled balloons up in the air in order to get speed and directional data.

Then we loaded up in a van and headed to a nearby field where we participated in the process of helping to bring the balloon to life.

At nine stories high and decked out in the colors of the rainbow, it was a thing of wondrous beauty to behold.

Once in the basket, we quickly ascended and left terra firma behind.

From our bird’s eye perch, we were able to see the picturesque Puget Sound region in all its glory, from the snow-capped mountains of the Cascades and the Olympics to majestic Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker. Lakes, rivers and the sound were all in view, as were the various islands that dot this spectacular landscape.

Seattle’s skyline appeared, along with the Space Needle, and below us, the pastoral Snohomish Valley looked like a geometric grid with toy sized farms.

What surprises most first- time passengers is the aura of serenity that surrounds a hot air balloon flight.

“It’s so peaceful up here,” comments Kathleen. “And, other than the noise of the burner every so often, it’s really quiet. I just never expected it to be this way.”

Her husband Todd adds, “It’s so gentle, too. You really do float. There’s no rocking or swinging wildly. It’s very smooth and calm.” As he piloted the balloon, Hamilton pointed out landmarks and sights and answered questions about the mechanics of hot air ballooning.

He explained that the direction of the flight depends on the wind and that the altitude of the craft is controlled by changing the temperature of the air inside the envelope.

“It’s the challenge of navigating from point A to point B that’s fun,” he says. “And no two flights are the same, so it’s a unique experience each time I go up.”

After over an hour in the air, we began to descend, coming right over Highway 9 and landing in another spacious field.

Back at the company’s offices, in a gazebo in the garden, we celebrated our adventure with a champagne toast to “gentle breezes and soft landings,” followed by a tasty breakfast of warm apple coffeecake and fresh fruit.

We had flown five miles at a max height of 2,300 feet and gained an entirely different perspective on our own backyard.

For more information about hot air balloon flights, contact Airial Balloon Company at (360) 568-3025 or visit

Nutrition, bone marrow registry are local woman’s passion

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Crave Health one
Crave Health. Courtesy photo
Ashley Besecker’s fascination with nutrition was sparked during her first sports nutrition class in college.

Initially, the 2002 WHS grad planned to be a sports team doctor, but after she was introduced to the world of nutrition, she altered her course.

“I was hooked,” says Besecker. “I realized that food is involved in everything, and it’s at the core of health and wellness. I decided I wanted to be involved in the field so that I could help people achieve their wellness goals.”

Upon graduating from Pepperdine University, the young woman headed to Vanderbilt University for graduate studies and to complete the necessary residency requirement for certification as a registered dietician. She went on to work at The Center, a private clinic in Edmonds that focuses on the treatment of eating disorders, as well as completed a short stint with Microsoft’s wellness program before opening her own practice, Crave Health, in Kirkland.

“I always wanted to have my own practice,” explains Besecker, “because I wanted the freedom to see all types of clients and create special individualized programs to meet their needs. I wanted to be able to go outside the box.”

Many of Besecker’s clients need help in the area of preventative wellness with issues such as weight control, high cholesterol and hypertension. She also sees a number of children and adolescents, as one of her specialties is pediatric nutrition.

This past winter, Besecker began offering monthly nutrition clinics for the public on a variety of different topics such as organics, weight loss and reproductive and fertility nutrition.

Up next is a session devoted to nutrition and cancer. “I’m going to be speaking on prevention and risk reduction, discuss updated research and present a new theory I am working on regarding the diets in different countries and the correlation to number of deaths from cancer,” explains Besecker.

“For example, there is a high number of deaths from cancer in the U.S., Canada, Australia and many parts of Europe. But, in India and some of the African countries, this number is much lower. I believe the common denominator is diet.”

Joining Besecker at the upcoming clinic is guest speaker Kenechi Udeze of the Seattle Seahawks, who is also a leukemia survivor, thanks to a bone marrow transplant.

Prior to the event, representatives from Puget Sound Blood Center will be on hand to register individuals interested in becoming bone marrow donors.

“I am very excited to partner with the center,” comments Besecker, “because their work is near and dear to my heart.” She adds, “During my graduate work at Vanderbilt Medical Center, I donated blood and at that time, I was asked if I would also do a quick cheek swab to be put on the bone marrow registry. A year later, I was called and told I was a match to an unknown person with terminal ALL or Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I chose to donate my marrow and one year after that, I found out that my recipient was a 32-year-old mother of two from Utah and she had survived.”

Besecker continues to explain that later she got an email from the woman expressing her gratitude for Besecker’s selfless act.

The two gradually developed a relationship in the ensuing years and though the women have talked on the phone numerous times, they have yet to meet face-to-face. That will soon change.

“She’s coming for a visit in August,” says Besecker. “I can’t wait to meet her!” In having representatives from the blood center at her clinic, Besecker hopes to draw attention to the need for more registered donors. She notes there are a high number of patients, primarily with blood cancers, who are in need of a bone marrow transplant and who are unable to find a match within their family.

The need is especially great for bone marrow from minorities, such as Hispanic, African, Native Hawaiian and other populations.

“There is a severe shortage of donors,” says Besecker, “and approximately 3,000 children and adults die each year without a match.”

It used to be that there was a “scary stigma” surrounding being a bone marrow donor, as the procedure involved surgery and was viewed with much fear and caution.

Thanks to modern medicine’s advances, the process is now as easy as giving blood. And to register is even easier.

All it takes is a simple cheek swab with a Q-tip. Normally, it costs $50 to register, but according to Besecker, the fee will be waived at the upcoming clinic. She says, “The goal is to get as many people as we can to get on the registry. It’s about saving lives.”

Crave Health’s clinic on Nutrition & Cancer will be held Monday, May 21st from

6-7 p.m. at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland. Cost is $20 per person and registration is required. The bone marrow drive will take place from 5-7 p.m.

For more information, visit: or contact Ashley Besecker at: (425) 828-0100

It’s fiesta time with Cinco de Mayo!

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Spring brings flowers, baseball, farmers markets, longer days and maybe if we’re lucky, a bit more sunshine.

Holidays are plentiful, from Mother’s Day to Memorial Day. And don’t forget Cinco de Mayo (the “fifth of May”), which is right around the corner.

The date is significant to Hispanics, as it is a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, commemorating the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Contrary to widespread belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, the most important national patriotic holiday in the country, which is actually observed on September 16.

When Cinco de Mayo rolls around, Mexicans get out their party clothes and head to a fiesta.

They may first watch a parade, usually a military spectacle that pays tribute to all who gave their lives for their country.

Or if they happen to be in Mexico City, they may head to Peñón de los Baños to observe a reenactment of the actual battle, a tradition that the people of this barrio have kept alive for many years.

In every town square, there will be festivities with music, dancing and food.

It’s a joyous time and young and old come together to mark the occasion.

In the U.S., where the Hispanic population is close to 50 million and comprises over 16 percent of the country’s population, Cinco de Mayo is recognized as a date to celebrate the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican ancestry in much the same way as St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest and the Chinese New Year are used to signify those of Irish, German and Chinese ancestry respectively.

And as is often the case, many Americans, regardless of their ethnic background, join in the festivities.

There are special events and activities highlighting Mexican culture in cities and towns across the U.S.

Locally, there will be several races including the Cinco de Mayo Half Marathon and 8K and the Seattle 5K Olé and Taco Challenge.

At the Children’s Museum in Seattle Center, kids can join in on the fun and learn about the holiday through various games, crafts and cooking projects.

They can also take part in the activities at El Centro de la Raza, which is putting on a family-friendly street party.

For the late night crowd, the Seattle International Foundation will host a Cinco de Mayo party with some of the city’s best DJs.

There’ll be salsa dancing lessons at the Century Ballroom and over at Teatro ZinZanni, the “Tres Amigos” will put on an extra spicy, extra loco show of comedy, music and saucy entertainment.

Out on the water, passengers on the Queen of Seattle Paddle Wheel Cruises will be cruising to the sounds of mariachi music and chowing down on an Olé! buffet.

And as always, plenty of area restaurants and watering holes are planning on offering tasty deals on food and beverages.

New preschool offers positive outdoor experiences for children

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Outdoor Preschool one
Photo by Deborah Stone Children at the Field & Forest Outdoor Preschool are immersed in nature, the ideal developmental playground.
Preschools abound in every community, each with its own philosophy on early childhood development.

Approaches vary, with some focusing more on individualized learning and others favoring group projects.

One program may emphasize play as the primary learning activity, while another may include more traditional academic learning.

There are schools that revolve around set routines and those that prefer more of an unstructured environment.

At the Field & Forest Outdoor Preschool in Woodinville, a newly established program created by The Attic Learning Community in collaboration with Quiet Heart Wilderness School, children are immersed in nature.

They spend their time outdoors participating in motivating tasks and activities as they explore the natural setting.

Based on the German Forest Garden model, the program offers a balance of routine and structure while following the interests of the children.

“Children are so natural in the world, so joyful outside,” comments Alan “Hawkeye” Sande, founder of Quietheart Wilderness School. “It’s the perfect environment for them to develop a sense of self, build confidence and competency, as well as become more independent from adults.”

Hawkeye, who founded Quietheart, a wilderness education program designed to enhance kids’ understanding of the natural world and instill in them a sense of environmental stewardship, worked with Pat Orrell, executive director of The Attic Learning Community to develop the preschool.

“We have a long history with Quietheart and have offered its classes to our students for many years,” explains Orrell. “We had been thinking about adding a preschool program to The Attic for a while and then about three years ago, Hawkeye came to me with an idea about starting an outdoor preschool. We eventually bought a five-acre parcel and last September, we opened the school.”

The site is a lovely pastoral setting with large trees, and a grassy field that runs down into a forested ravine and at the bottom is a tributary of Little Bear Creek, called Rowland Creek.

A newly created trail allows children to have access to the tiny creek to explore the water and the plants and creatures that make their home in the ravine environment.

There’s also an authentic 18-foot tipi that serves as a base for some group activities or as shelter during extreme weather conditions.

Currently, the program has 10 students and two teachers, who meet Monday mornings.

Come next fall, Orrell hopes to expand.

“We would love to have two-day and three-day sessions in the future,” she says. “And we’ll be able to take up to 12 students per session.”

A typical day at the preschool begins with a welcoming circle or activity and then the group embarks on a shared adventure guided by the instructors.

Mid-morning, they have a snack along with story and song time before participating in a second lesson or group exploration.

The children wrap up their day by having lunch together, sometimes cooking it over a small fire pit.

“The teachers come up with themes and ideas to use with the kids,” comments Hawkeye, “but they are very flexible and they follow the kids’ lead, based on their curiosity and energy.”

He adds, “There’s lots of imaginary play, building and creating with things they find in nature. The outdoors is their classroom and there’s so much to observe, examine and study using all of their senses. They are constantly learning and they’re getting the learning they need in a very natural and organic way.”

Orrell notes that the program’s goals are aimed at helping children develop a sense of who they are in the world. She says, “We want them to be autonomous, to be intrinsically motivated and to take responsibility for themselves, while developing connections with the earth and with others.”

Parent Diane VandenBrook, who has a son at The Attic, jumped at the chance to enroll her daughter in the preschool. For her, the outdoors was the big attraction.

She comments, “My daughter loves being outside and as we were already familiar with the Attic’s philosophy, we knew this would be a good fit.” VandenBrook has noticed several positive changes in her daughter, which she attributes to the program.

“She is much more respectful of the natural world,” she remarks. “And at home, she is much more expressive of her feelings and thoughts. She verbalizes them more clearly now.”

VandenBrook says the best way she can tell if her daughter is having fun at the preschool is when she goes to pick her up and sees her covered in mud.

“That tells me she’s enjoyed her time here freely,” she adds.

Orrell chimes in, “The kids don’t want to leave at the end of the morning because they’re having a great time. The outdoors is their playground and they are stimulated by everything around them in nature.”

Registration is now open for 2012-13 for the Field & Forest Outdoor Preschool.

Those interested in learning more about the program are invited to attend an open house to be held Sunday, June 3, 2-3:30 p.m.

For more information and directions, visit: