By Andrew Kensley

Monday, December 10, 2018

"Save One Life, and You Save the Whole World"

Schindler's List is back for a short run at a couple of cinemas in Fort Collins. It's 25 years old, but the message of the dangers of hatred and bigotry...well, let's just say our country could use a reboot.

Last night, I took my 15-year-old to see one of the most important films ever made: Steven Spielberg's opus about the efforts of one very wealthy, magnanimous man to save over a thousand Jews from certain death in extermination camps.

If you've got teenagers that you think can handle this kind of thing, I strongly urge you to do the same while it's on the big screen. The future of our country could use a bit of a grisly history lesson right about now.

It's gonna hurt, which it should.

*     *     *

Ella has grown up "half-Jewish" and has continually expressed an interest in learning more, voluntarily enduring several hours of an orthodox Rosh Hashanah service, proudly lighting Hanukkah candles and listening to explanations of the Passover Seder plate. What makes her Jewish and Unitarian families most proud, though, is that she clearly has an innate sense of social justice.

Full disclosure: I am unapologetically antagonistic toward religious rituals (of any denomination) that are dogmatic, archaic, and by their very nature, exclusive. I also, however, have a very aggressive stance on intolerance, and I fully appreciate that genocidal massacres don't just happen with one flick of a Zyklon-B gas valve.

They start insidiously by sowing fear and panic, then vilifying and dehumanizing specific groups of people, and slowly normalizing hatred and absolute intolerance until even good people follow and suddenly, it's institutional and accepted.

Yes, it's awful but what can I do about it?

I'm white, so I don't have to worry about routine traffic stops.

Oh, those poor people. At least WE aren't the ones being herded into train cars.

All those illegal Mexican murderers and rapists are taking our jobs.

It's a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. They are the cause of all your problems.

There are some good people on the Neo-Nazi side.

What happened in Nazi Germany began in the late 1920's and it took more than a decade for the war to open people's eyes. By then, it was too late.

My point is, institutional racism becomes the norm in democratic societies all the time. If we ignore history, it's our own fault.

It's everyone's fault.

*     *     *

Ella and I sat through Schindler's List with the expected discomfort. I'm not sure exactly how much detail she knew about the dehumanization, the propaganda, public humiliation, property seizing, cramped ghettos, the random point-blank killings, the "work" camps, the packed trains, the gas chambers, the piles of burning corpses (that put Ella over the edge, by the way), the crematoria, and the utter lack of control and agency millions of people had over their own existence; but she knows now.

We spent a lot of time in each other's arms, tears mixing in a silent connection. The movie even managed to elicit a few laughs and smiles as the suave, Nazi-party member Oskar Schindler managed to go from inveterate playboy and businessman into principled, undaunted humanitarian savior. We talked a bit on the way home, but Ella didn't need to hear much more from me.

After our tears had dried, she and Sophia joined me in lighting the candles for the final night of Hanukkah: a testament to resiliency and light for future generations of kind, tolerant souls just like the ones that currently occupy the bedrooms on the top floor of our home.

My favorite line in the film is at the end when Izaak Stern, Schindler's accountant and right-hand man paraphrases the Talmud to help assuage a torn Schindler, who wishes he could have saved more people: "He who saves one life, saves the whole world."

I think Ella gets it.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

On the Road to Adulthood

Sleeping through the night.

Full sentences.

First steps.

Potty training.

Making their own bowl of Sugar-Honey-Crunchy-Os without waking up Mommy at Oh-Dark-Thirty.

Their first iPhone. (Lord have mercy.)

Parental success is logged and charted by our children's milestone achievements. We try to enjoy each phase as it motors through, bringing with it excitement and angst and terrible selfies. We fail and succeed reciprocally, and by the time we figure out how to relax for a minute, we are thrust full bore into the next potential accomplishment. Which brings me to...

Operating a Motor Vehicle.

My oldest child turned 15 last week so on her birthday, of course, we took a direct vector from high school to driver's ed school, where Ella got 100% on her permit test in, like, five minutes. Then it was off to the DMV, where, with no wait time (What??!!) Ella posed for a mugshot and got her official State-Issued authorization to operate a two-ton hunk of highly flammable materials with the potential to crush lampposts, hover boards and slouching smartphone-staring pedestrians in a whip.

Day 1: Ella at the drive through ATM window
Days one and two behind the wheel took us through our sedate suburban neighborhood, with its wide lanes, and lack of blind-spot-eclipsing trucks. She soon graduated to the busier multi-lane and 45-mph speed limit roads close by, complete with traffic lights, left turns into traffic and lane changes, all of which caused me tachycardia and a cramp or two on my finger muscles.

Amid a bit of a lead foot on both the gas and the brake pedals and some mild righting issues out of turns, Ella soon got the hang of it. Which was more than I can say for myself.

"Dad," she says with a chuckle, "you know that when you push your foot into the floor we don't slow down, right?"

"Uh...yeah. Of course I know that," I say. "Habit I guess."

I reiterate several times what my dad used say when I was learning, and used to roll my eyes at: "A car is a loaded weapon!"

She laughs, unperturbed.

I may have raised my voice slightly a time of two. "Ella! You literally just went through that stop sign!"

"Oh, sorry, she says, "not sure what I was thinking, won't do that again," and continues toward one of the busiest roads in Fort Collins another hundred yards away.

"Ella, you have to regularly check your right side mirror! You nearly shaved four inches off the bumper of that parked truck!"

"Okay," without flinching.

She even starts out driving me, her little sister and her best friend about a mile and a half to dinner in a wispy drizzle when the hail suddenly pours from the heavens like God herself had spilled the frozen peas.

"I think you should drive now," Ella says, pulling over into a cul-de-sac, where we switch seats.

Despite my nerves and ongoing commentary, Ella has been great at receiving constructive criticism; she's calm and is proving to be a fast learner; she knows her limitations.

Seems like the latest milestone.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Generation Gap

I realize this is a conversation most parents my age have already had, in some form, with their kids. But as I sit in our hot tub on the backyard deck under the stars with Ella, my 14-year-old, I realize I have to record this momentous exchange in some way because it's simply too rich not to.

Below is an almost-but-not-quite-verbatim account of our tête-à-tête.

*     *     *

Ella: When did you first get a computer?

Me: I think I was about 12 or 13.

Ella: Oh, so about the same time most kids get their own cell phones now. (I spared her the embarrassment of correcting her. Most kids are way younger that that.) What did you do on it?

Me: Mostly video games, some word processing. We did other things. You know, played outside? Games...

Ella: (clearly seeing where I was going with this, but ignoring my trolls): What about the internet? You know, the World...Wide...Web? (Sassy smile.)

Me: I don't remember getting on the internet till I was almost done with college. Around the mid-nineties.

Ella's eyes widen, her mouth gapes to the size of an orange.

Me: We did have email in my second year in college, I think, but we were given an ID number and an email address that we could only use on school computers. It was so cool to be able to email someone a message, like, "Hey! Wanna have lunch?"

Ella (Unable to hide her condescension. Or maybe it was pity.): Wait. Wait a minute. You didn' didn't have internet on your computer at home?

Me: Nope. The first time I got on the internet I was about 20 or 21, maybe. Jodi (my sister) had a computer, so I went on at her house. And I remember looking up physical therapy stuff, being fascinated at all the information I could access. The connection was slow, though. It was dial-up.

Ella: What?

Me (At this point, feeling like a nursing home resident recounting watching Howdy Doody for the first time on the old Zenith): You had to connect to the...what do you call it, the server? You connected through a phone line and had to wait like a minute, sometimes longer, to get online. It made a funny sound. (I imitate the sound of dial-up. Ella looks like she just inhaled a gallon of lemon juice.)

Ella: How did you do your assignments? Research?

Me: I went to the library.

Ella (clearly amused by my nostalgia): And...did what? Look in—

Me: Yup, books.

(Ella completely...not kidding here...incredulous.)

Ella: I don't know if I that. I mean, that would make me so uncomfortable. How did you...find the books you needed?

Me: I guess in a catalog or something, don't quite remember.

Ella (like seeing a sunrise for the first time): Oh. My. God. So you had to, like, find information in books! Okay. How did you talk to your friends?

Me (laughing): Face to face. Or we called them on the home phone.

Ella: What about your friends from out of town? Did you, like, have to...SEND LETTERS???!!

Me: Sometimes.

Ella (Basically falling over): But that could take like 6 days, and by then the information wasn't even relevant anymore!

Me: (Don't want to correct her on her naive overestimation of Canada Post's efficiency so I just remain embarrassingly silent.)

Ella: How did you talk to your friends if they weren't home?

Me: We called their house and left them a message.

Ella: (Mouth hanging like a spring had snapped)

Me (ready for impending awe): On their answering machine, I guess.

Ella: (Predictably, speechless. The, after she has semi-recovered): I'm curious. How did you find airplane tickets?

Me: We called the airline, I guess, and bought them over the phone.

Ella: You did WHAT??!!

Me (awkwardly buoyed by my own rapidly progressing senescence): Yeah, and they actually sent you a ticket in the mail!

Ella: I like having my boarding pass on my phone.

*     *     *

Ella exits the hot tub and wraps herself in a towel, face framing the same electric smile I've adored since she was only a few months old. She goes inside and immediately picks up her phone, no doubt checking the dozens (hundreds?) of Snaps and texts and other vitally important data she has received in the 20 minutes we were outside.

Her mind is surely still reeling from the bombshells I've dropped. Yet before she tumbles down that unstoppable cataract of connectivity into the roiling eddy of iPhone-induced dopamine, she slides open the kitchen window and waves at me, eyes now open to the archaic past of her 43-year-old dad.

Ella's evanescent soul shines countless wavelengths brighter than any blue screen ever will. And because of that, I'm certain that our connection will forever stay a half-step ahead of technology.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"My First Mortgage"

Ella reeeaaaallly wanted—no, needed—a new phone. 

"The one you have works fine," I said, bracing for impact.

"It locks up! It doesn't have enough storage space! Aaargghhh."

"And it's paid in full. I'm not paying $700 for a Seven when your Five will do." Breathe, Andrew. Breathe. "You're 14. You don't need a new phone every two years."

A long pause. "I'll buy it myself."

And that's when it hit me. My high school freshman is more of an adult than most adults.

What ensued over the next few days was a back and forth that taught me a lot about the kid I thought I knew so well. The discussion had all the elements of a mature tête-à-tête one might expect between two cogent, reasonable people: differing points of view, compelling arguments, hesitation, angst, frustration, and finally, compromise. Next thing I know, I'm at the AT&T shop fingering my awkward, looping John Hancock on on iPad. 

And Ella's texting mom on her new iPhone 7 Plus.

The one she paid for herself.

Like most teenagers, Ella doesn't have $700 sitting around burning a hole in her piggy bank. She knows she's not allowed to dip into her college account or the glacially growing investment account I started for her years ago, tossing in birthday money and other scraps every few months. That's for things like maybe a car, a backpacking trip during college, or maybe even a downpayment on a home at some point.

We decided she would transfer me the exact payment—$25.34—for exactly 30 months until the phone was paid off. She would work at babysitting or whatever odd jobs she could find to make the money. She was still required, as per our prior rules, to put half of whatever she makes into her savings account. The old "pay yourself first" thing. And if she missed an installment, Collections Agent Dad would take her phone until she came up with the money.

I tried to convince her to get the smaller iPhone 7 for about three bucks less a month, but she wasn't having it.

I tried to get her to spend a few more months putting away four or five months worth of payments for a little cushion.

But no dice. Ella had basically signed up for a mortgage, just like adults buying a home or an expensive car, fully aware of the terms and conditions. Only without the credit check or the pay stubs. Her phone is, predictably, stuck to her hand pretty much most of the day.

It sounds worrisome, until you accept that this was not an impetuous decision. Ella knew the pros and cons, the requirements, the possible consequences, all the "fine print." So far, she's two payments in, right on time, and has babysitting jobs lined up for the rest of this month. Maybe I can stop worrying.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Back to School? Get That Head Checked!

The bell has rung: schools in Colorado and Wyoming are officially in session. Parents are hoping that head lice don’t become part of the curriculum.

School means daily contact with other kids for extended periods of time, much more than during the summer vacation months. This brings with it some, um, itching concerns. According to FDA statistics, 6 to 12 million children are infested with head lice every year, and 97% of cases are spread by head to head contact.

Before getting entrenched into those busy school routines, it’s wise to have your children checked by a trained professional, says Tanya Kensley, owner of Lice Clinics of America—Fort Collins, a full service lice treatment clinic. The initial screen takes only about 15 minutes but, Kensley says, it can save enormous costs—time, energy and money spent on ineffective over-the-counter treatments—down the road.

“If you are unsure how to do it yourself or what you’re looking for,” Kensley says, “have it done professionally. We recommend knowing for sure that your child is starting the school year lice-free.”

School also brings with it before- and after-school programs, extracurricular activities, and sports, all of which increase the chance of direct contact with another child who might have lice. And, the expert says, the best way to treat head lice is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

“Our one-treatment-and-done solution is FDA approved, free of harsh chemicals, and only takes about an hour,” says Kensley, who adds that she offers preventative sprays, specialized combs, and a complete at-home treatment kit as well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lice Treatment Clinic Offers Medicaid Discount

New Resource for Low Income Coloradans

Lice Treatment Clinic Offers Medicaid Discount

FORT COLLINS, CO—Treating head lice successfully can be a costly proposition. Believe it or not, some lower income Coloradans affected by the itch-inducing bugs might even be forced to choose between helping their child stop scratching and buying groceries for their families.

Tanya Kensley, owner of Lice Clinics of America—Fort Collins, is doing everything she can to help make that decision less agonizing for those on a tight budget. Patrons with a valid Medicaid card can now receive nearly 50% off the standard price tag for the one-time, guaranteed lice removal treatment Kensley offers.

“I receive a lot of calls from people who tell me they’ve already spent upwards of $100 on over the counter products that just don’t work,” Kensley said. “A lot of families don’t have money to waste but they desperately need a solution, especially when multiple family members are battling lice.”

With as many as six to 12 million people worldwide contracting head lice every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kensley said that the stubborn little bugs have become resistant to most over the counter products. This has led many people to repeat potentially dangerous home chemical treatments upwards of four times per child.

The lice treatment expert is quick to point out, however, that lice do not discriminate based on income or socioeconomic status. Some people, she contends, just need a bit of extra help.

“No one suffering from lice should be priced out of an effective treatment, no matter what their income level,” Kensley said. “Community is important to me, and I want to help my entire community—not just those with higher disposable income—achieve peace of mind.”

Since initiating her discount, Kensley said she’s treated a total of 21 people who may not have been able to come in otherwise. One of whom, a mother of four named Catarina, was elated.

“I won’t spend one more dollar on products that don’t work,” said the Greeley, Colorado, resident. “I’d already spent over $50 at the drug store and it didn’t work. When I found out about the guaranteed treatment for $99 I was so happy.”

About 19 percent of Larimer County residents and 24 percent of those living in Weld County, which includes Greeley and Windsor, currently receive Medicaid benefits, according to the Colorado Health Institute. And in Wyoming, 39 percent of children are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, based on data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Such numbers are certainly cause for concern. But Kensley is doing her part to help reduce scratch levels for low-income families for years to come.

Tanya Kensley can be reached via email at, or by phone at 970-233-8787. Lice Clinics of America—Fort Collins is located at 1501 S. Lemay Ave, Suite 205, in Fort Collins, CO.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The French Riviera: at Half Speed

The French Riviera is more than just superstars boarding private jets and partying on yachts with the Kardashians. Toulon, our base for four gloriously calm days on the Western edge of the Côte d'Azur, is a perfect example of that.

Tanya and me in Saint Mandrier-sur-Mer

Between waking up to a serene curtain of bougainvilleas and palm trees, the shimmering Mediterranean outside our balcony, and the continued consumption of mouth-watering French foods, this would just figure to be an extension of our glorious holiday. But it ended up being so much more.

Our front door
In spite of the gale force gusts, we spent a day on Île de Porquerolles, a short ferry ride from Tour Fondue, located at the tip of the peninsula extending southward from the nearby town of Hyères. And with very little searching, we found exactly what we needed: a beach and gelato. While the wind introduced a modest amount of sand into our packed lunches, we managed to enjoy a few hours in the sun, and even dipped our bodies into the freezing water. The girls' first exposure to a topless beach was interesting to watch: Sophia squirmed and giggled her way through the day as boobs of all sizes populated our immediate vicinity.

Tanya at the beach in Porquerolles
Having our rental car was another convenient coup, and the rolling, meandering streets of Toulon's topography tested my driving skills. There's nothing quite like backing up a 20 degree incline in a stick-shift, four-door hatchback, or having to use every millimeter of lateral street space to allow another car to pass you in the other direction.

On one of our rainy days—ironic, as recently-flooded Paris was bone dry a week earlier—we maximized our time by heading into Toulon's surprisingly urban-looking downtown, shopping and indulging in more chocolate. The girls also used some well-positioned stealth to pick out a fondue restaurant for my birthday. As you might expect, it was phenomenal, leaving us breathless yet again the depth of culinary adventures that lurk at every turn in France, no matter where you might be.

Like in Avignon and Paris, I relished the ability to take morning strolls into town to explore the many local boulangeries, patisseries and charcuteries, and stock up on the basics for a day or two. While the taste was divine, I fully appreciate that part of the joy was factoring in where it was bought— local French shop owners, happy to meet a pleasant American that spoke French—and where it was eaten: on an open air balcony with a whiff of the sea gracing every bite.

My 42nd birthday was spent exploring glorious Saint Mandrier-sur-Mer, a fishing village on a sparsely populated outcropping southwest of Toulon. We waltzed through town past tall-masted fishing boats moored in the harbor, and enjoyed a splendid lunch of mussels, fries and, of course, more absurdly phenomenal bread. The kids and I scrambled up a precarious hiking trail etched into the side of a hill, giving us fabulous views of the gray navy ships sitting peacefully inside the bay.

Hiking in Saint Mandrier sur Mer

Adding to my Muss-culature
Saint Mandrier-sur-Mer
We danced in the rain (literally), napped, and drank foamy hot chocolate and coffee all day long. The breeze filled our sea side condo day and night, leaving us with the perfect coda to our 11-day French sojourn: a briny taste in our mouths, the Mediterranean air tickling our skin, and enduring French memories in our hearts forever.

After dancing in the rain
Downtown Toulon in the rain
Fishing boat at Ile de Porquerolles