Sunday, November 30, 2014

So Here's the Thing

I'm a little late writing a gratitude post for Thanksgiving. It's been on my mind a lot lately. I hesitate to write about my blessings because I have and have had so many. There are so many people who have not had the advantages in life that I've had. It's with that painful awareness of the vast human suffering and the unequal chances we have in life, that I write about my blessings. None of us choose our beginnings. We don't choose our parents, our families, our neighbors, our homes, our towns, our ethnicity, our religion, our gender and so on. And yet all of these circumstances play a large part in our ultimate choices and who we eventually become. Some experience truly horrifying things even though they grew up with advantages. Some experience a joyful life in spite of multiple disadvantages. Most have a mixture of both. The truth is that I have no idea who I would be if I had grown up in a different part of the world or country, or with a different family, or ethnicity, or religion.

I grew up in a Mormon middle class family. My parents treated each other with love and respect. I never saw a day of true hunger or cold. I could walk in any house in my neighborhood and not expect anything but a warm greeting, often followed by an embrace and some home cooking. My dad worked hard. My mother often had a part-time job, but her primary job was taking care of the home and the family. To this day, my mother is the least judgmental person I've ever known. We grew up with plenty of freedom that few people even in rural America are afforded anymore. During summers, I most often played unsupervised in open fields, and orchards, and parks and only checked in at home at the appointed lunch and dinner times. Every need was supplied. Every want was discussed and sometimes given. Besides public school, I was offered piano lessons, swimming lessons, and often saw a movie every saturday afternoon. I could go to recreation camps and girls camps. We had family vacations to the extended family cabin. We were one of the first in the neighborhood to own a color television. I remember the day Dad carried it into the house. I couldn't wait to watch The Wizard of Oz to see the scene change from the black and white in Kansas to the colorful land of Oz. We were one of the first to own a dishwasher and a microwave oven.

Higher education was expected and my parents helped me pay for it. In spite of myself, I fell in love with the most decent man on campus. We've raised a couple of great kids and now have four great-grandkids. We live in one of the most beautiful places on this earth surrounded by open fields and mountains. I've been able to do pretty much whatever I've wanted to do much of my adult life. I'm grateful for the love so many have offered me; my family, my friends, my kids, and my grandkids. I'm lucky enough to live within a mile of the spot where even before my husband and I were married, I'd said I wanted to live someday. There's a hymn familiar to all Mormons Because I Have Been Given Much, I too must give. It pretty much sums up my life so far.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Check your Self-Esteem at the Door

Twenty-eight years ago I taught school at Pleasant Grove Junior High. It was a blow to my self-esteem. I had about 180 students divided up into six classes of Art and English. I was young had difficulty motivating the kids and keeping them disciplined enough to get them through forty-five minutes. Danny was sort of a class smart-alec and it was obvious that he was smart and probably knew more than I did on the subject of English grammar--which to be honest is still not my strength (though since them I graduated magna cum laude in English. But I digress, back then Danny loved to throw me off my game and it worked. A few times, what he said was actually quite funny. I'd quickly turn my back on the kids so they wouldn't see me laugh. Other times, I turned my back so they wouldn't see me cry. Once I did cry--not a cool thing--to a bunch of rowdy thirteen-year-olds.

I taught for one year at P.G.J.H and then joined my husband to teach  in Grouse Creek, Utah. We had 24 students K-10. Since my self-esteem was already rock bottom it improved some over the few years. I had fun. I loved the kids we had though some of them still loved to throw me off my game. I taught for a few years before we moved to Paradise.

As most of you know, I'm back out to Grouse Creek teaching once again with my husband. This time around we have only have ten kids spread from K-5th grade. My self-esteem was pretty good before I started teaching again. I'm a fairly respected potter in Cache Valley and an author of five published novels, so you know, I was feeling pretty good about myself. So how is it that a kindergartner can throw you off your game with a few comments and say things so funny that it's hard not to laugh out loud.

Here's just a bit of wisdom from a couple of very cute five year olds. While I was attempting to teach reading, one of the kids said, "Hey, you're growing a mustache, you've got hairs right here," as  he pointed to my face. Another time this same child warned me to be careful "you might break it," while I was hanging from the tricky bars sturdy enough to hold an elephant. Another time, this same child mentioned that I was "painting sloppy." Did I mention my art degree? Just the other day, I was trying to console a 7-year-old who was very upset that he couldn't draw a butterfly as well as I could. I told him, that I was a whole fifty years older than he was and so had fifty more years drawing butterflies. One of the five-year-olds piped up with, my grandpa is really old too..."damn old." I burst out laughing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Musings from my morning walk in Grouse Creek


I must’ve hiked in the Rock Quarry in Grouse Creek hundreds of times. The first time I came to Grouse Creek was when I married my husband, and he took me there. The sandstone dugouts and formations were used to quarry stone for the 1910 house that belongs to my husband’s family, and the bigger house, they used to own when my husband was a little boy. The stone was used to build the school, and the church that was torn down in about 1983. When I first hiked to the quarry, I thought it was the highlight of an otherwise drab little town in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know then, that the town, the church, the school, the people, the landscape, and the lifestyle would dig deep into my being and become a part of me. I didn’t know then, that I would eventually write three novels set in the town. (More to come—hopefully.)

This morning I hiked to the quarry once again and thought about the times I had hiked there with my children when they were only three and seven—and that was 27 years ago. My husband had taken a teaching job, teaching students from K-10 with another Carol(e) Warburton—not me—believe it or not. She is older than I am and taught with my husband for one year before moving away from this town. I already had a teaching contract, so waited until the next year to join my husband and take over for the other Carol(e) Warburton. (She doesn’t have an “e” at the end of her name.) I inherited her PO box because I had to wait for one to open up, so for the five years we lived in Grouse Creek at only twenty-eight years old, I got her AARP mail and everything else that the postmaster couldn’t forward. Now I get AARP mail legitimately.


The school kids called me the new Carole Warburton, and they called her the old Carol Warburton. Now here we are back. Mick is feeling the difference of his years this time around. Youth does have advantages when it comes to challenges and energy levels. But then again, I’m reminded of the many sturdy and courageous men and women who have at one time or another called Grouse Creek home. The town and the landscape and the difficulty of living seventy miles from a real grocery store, doctors, and other necessities make a difference. This morning as I made my way to the rock quarry, stumbling over stones, cactus, brush, and climbing up hills and through washes, I thought about one amazing woman, over ninety years old who just led this hike with two primary age girls in tow. Now that is brave.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Connecting at the Cabin

In 1960 our grandpa built a cabin one mile outside the North East entrance to Yellowstone. He's the one of the right side on the back row. Our grandma is right below him. I'm on the middle row on my mother's lap--third from the left. I'm blowing bubbles. My dad is right above my mom. He along with the other men in the family helped work on the cabin. My dad built the fireplace inside. A bunch of these great people died before they reached old age.
The Family
Grandpa and Grandma got to enjoy the cabin each summer for about seven years. Grandpa used to pile us into the back of an old jeep and bump down a dirt road to the edge of the mountain where there was an open dump. We would wait stock still and when the sun began to wane, bears would emerge from the trees to rummage through the discarded piles of food. It was wondrous. We often would walk to the Soda Butte and wade into the frigid water and I would attempt endlessly to skip rocks like my Aunt Carole showed me. She's the one with the cat on her lap. We played card games at night and roasted marshmallows.

Grandpa died in Yellowstone. He and Uncle Arky, his son-in-law (third from right back row) were fishing at the confluence of the Lamar River and the Soda Butte. Grandpa caught his limit, waved to Arky, and dropped over. Arky tried to do CPR, but to no avail. The cabin lost it's charm for Grandma, who only went a time or two after her husband's death. She lived over thirty years longer without him. I don't think he could have known at the time, how much his cabin in the woods would be loved for generations to come. Grandpa was 67. My dad died of cancer and he was only 56. My Uncle Richard (back row, first on left) died of a heart attack--not sure how old he was, but not old enough. And my Uncle Dick, next to Grandpa (his son) died in his 60's. Four cousins in this photo died before they reached the age of 50. The cabin helps me to remember experiences I've had with each of these relatives that are gone. If there's anything that can connect a family like this cabin, then I don't know what it is. 

I just got to spend a few days with two of my cousins that I barely knew as a child. They are both nearly seven years younger than I am. And though that isn't much now, it was a lot when we were young. I've probably only seen them in person only a handful of times, but it felt like I was with life-long friends who share common bonds, one of them being the love a cabin that grandpa built. Our memories of the place are different, but we reminisced about family times, our grand parents, the lost years, our philosophies, our different struggles, and dreams. Because of the nearly constant rain, we spent a lot of time playing games, talking and laughing. In fact, I don't know when I've laughed as much as I did in my four days with my wonderful cousins.
The cabin grandpa built with the help of my dad and uncles. 

We had to laugh because our ice cream matched our outfits. 

view from the cabin window with bison in the meadow

A big laugh to see the girl from Montana in the middle with only a T-shirt. 

Again dressed as we should be Montana T-shirt, Utah Sweater, and California parka. 

We thought it would be fun to post this so our relatives could guess who was having a great time. 




Monday, July 21, 2014

The Road to Nowhere... Again

What seems like a lifetime ago, we were just starting out. We had two children, ages 2 and 6. The state was in a recession. Making ends meet was tough. Mick went back to school and I took a full-time teaching job. But then everything changed and my husband was offered a teaching job in the tiny town of Grouse Creek--the very town where he began his life, the town where his father had grown up and had spent much of his life cattle ranching. When my husband took the teaching job, it was a dream come true for him. But I had just signed a full-time teaching job and wasn't sure what the next year would bring, so I stayed with our youngest in our house that we had built just two years before. My husband took the oldest child so he could be one of his 25 students in the two room school, grades K-10. We met on the weekends.

After the hardest year of my life, I was more than ready to give up the teaching job and join the other half of my family. I taught part-time and we had a great few years more of teaching. And even though there were some adjustments, we blended well into the ranching town. The town is 70 miles to the nearest real grocery store and most of the road is gravel. Flat tires and breakdowns are common with so many miles of constant travel. Still, there's no place like it or as the Grouse Creek sign says, "A Place Like No Other."

Mick is now nearing the end of his career. Needing a change, when the job came open again, we decided to go for it. We had a great experience 25 years ago, and hope to have another great experience. Times have changed even for the tiny town, in that they have become even tinier. Now Mick will only have 7 kids. And so there isn't a job for me, but I can take my computer and hope to be inspired to write another novel. The town inspired three novels which are set there: "A Question of Trust" False Pretenses" and "Sun Tunnels and Secrets."  They are all still available on Amazon. We will live in the family house again--the house right behind the school. And no we aren't moving. We'll be back and forth a lot. Our house will be lived in, so it won't be empty and will be taken care of. We welcome friends and family to visit this unique place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lessons from hiking in Yellowstone with a 7-year-old

1. The destination is not nearly as important as the trial itself. The "joy is in the journey" is what it's all about. The more obstacles to increase the imagination, the better. This would include roots that trip most adults "heat censors" to most likely detect "nozzleheads." The best I can tell nozzleheads are fallen dead trees with a shape like a dragon. All I know is whenever I tried to identify one, I was wrong. So apparently these are more visible to the keen eye of a 7-year old.

2. All hikes are better with the promise of an ice cream bar afterward. Driving way out of the way in search of the bar is not of any consequence. And it doesn't matter if you have already eaten dinner or not. When I was just a tiny child, no older than four, part of the allure of our family cabin was the treats that Montana seemed to have more selection and better taste than anything in Utah. I don't know at what point, I realized that the brand Wilcoxson's was the reason. Everyday in Yellowstone we find a store to buy our daily dose because seriously nothing compares to this brand. Our grand children know the drill and happily go along with it. Our last day in the Park, we bought our grandson three bars because who knew when he'd have another chance to have one. These were well-spaced out, but we heard later he threw up at home. Hopefully, it was NOT too much of a good thing.

3. All sticks are potential weapons for fighting something--nozzleheads maybe.

4. All boulders, the larger the better, should be climbed and conquered. And one never knows what one will find--even pizza perhaps. Explanation: One of our favorite hiking spots begins and ends at the Yellowstone River picnic ground. This hike follows a ridge and offers a fabulous view of the canyon full of hoodoos opposite of tower falls (though not the falls itself.) After we'd finished the hike, my husband and grandson made it down before me. I stayed up on the ridge answering emails and phone messages because it's one of the few places in the Park that you can get reception. Anyway just before I got down to the picnic ground, an Aussie with a great accent came out of his motor home and plopped his pizza down on a picnic table then stepped back inside. Then a large raven swooped down and picked up the whole pizza slice. About a half-hour later our grandson was climbing boulders when he found the pizza slice on top of one. He had to go back, find the man the man and show him where his pizza ended up. They had some great laughs about that, but for some reason the man declined to eat the remainder of the pizza--though he added it had been really good.


5. Seeing wild animals on a hike is always a bonus. If there are baby animals, so much the better. On the same hike we saw marmots, Rocky Mountain Sheep and babies, Antelopes and babies. The sheep, perhaps even more tame than the domestic version came right up to me as I snapped their photos.

6. Being prepared means hauling bear spray everywhere you hike in and around Yellowstone. However, 7-year-olds may be disappointed when they don't actually encounter a bear on the trail to spray. Two years ago, this same 7-year-old had gotten too far in front of us on a trail and mom and her cubs came within ten yards of him. Nothing happened fortunately, but the first thing he said to us was "spray it!"

7. Seeing other hikers on the trail is not a downside, but an opportunity to swap tales--especially when you've seen a raven steal someone's pizza--because really what could be more exciting than that?

8. Baby animals cuteness is directly comparable to the baby brother you left at home. Seeing cute baby animals reminds you of how much you miss baby brothers.

9. If one prays to see a bear and one does see a bear, then the prayer was answered. If one prays to see a wolf and a coyote, but doesn't, then it's nothing to be worried about. (Or lose faith over.)

10. Potty talk is always, always funny especially when it's your grammy that says words like peedle pot and stink pot. There are plenty of opportunities for saying stink pot in Yellowstone, since it is full of them. The only problem is that sometimes grammy might accidentally call someone else a stinkpot.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Even Though I LOVE it, It's Still Hard Work.



Today I worked at the Cache Valley Gardener's Market, trying to sell my creative work. I spent most of Thursday unloading the kiln, then waxing the bottoms of the pots, decorating, then dipping each piece in a bucket of glaze, that I hand-mixed--measuring and stirring and screening ingredients--then cleaning each piece by hand, then loading each piece one by one into the kiln. Friday I made some more pottery that won't be finished until next week. Friday night I wrapped pottery in newspaper, packed it into boxes, then my husband helped me load all the wares, boxes and boxes worth into the back of the Subaru. Then on Saturday morning, we unloaded the kiln, then finished packing the new work into boxes, then finished loading the car. Then we drove to Logan from Avon, backed into the spot we were assigned--unloaded all the ware and set it up on two banquet tables. At the end of our four-hour work day, we loaded it all back up again. And unloaded it again when we got home.

Why am I telling you, my unknown readers all this? Because invariably someone says to me, "I bet making pottery is so relaxing." Or, "It sure must be nice having a hobby." Can you tell that I find those comments just slightly annoying. I know, people mean well. They are just trying to find a way to relate to me. I often smile and explain that there is a lot of work involved. Work that I love, but none-the-less, it's still work. I don't usually go into how many hours and hours and hours, thousands upon thousands, it has taken me to learn my craft. I don't often tell them that I earned through sheer hard work a BFA in art, or that I have been creating pottery for nearly 40 years. I don't often tell them that I've had numerous failures, whole kiln loads of failures. Pots crack or glazes bubble and quite often I still fail even though it's less often than it used to be. I find the whole process enjoyable, but far from relaxing. Relaxation is sitting on a beach with a pina colada watching the waves. It's sitting on my front porch reading a novel. It's what I'm doing right now, watching an episode of Doc Martin in my big cushy recliner after working--extra hard.