Monday, March 31, 2014

Confusion at Le Bakery Sensual Adds to My Confusion, in General

Before this particular experience in Denver, I would have eagerly defined myself as a sensual woman, without reservation, and without explanation. Each of you would draw your own conclusions as to what that means to you about me, but before you leave in a huff, allow me to explain myself. In light of this event in Denver last fall, I have decided I need to be more aware of my vocabulary, and the meanings of words.

Last September, I joined my college roommates on a girls' getaway weekend to Denver. While Cindy and I had kept in touch over the years, our contact with Lisa had been spotty. I blame geography; Massachusetts and England were so far away, but I just didn't do a very good job of keeping track of our girl. The Girly Getaway was filled with conversation, laughter, and great food. We shared our triumphs and heartaches. Being together again made me realize how blessed I am to have such wonderful friends.
Snooze Eatery with the girlies

Early one evening, we pulled into a little strip mall where there was a bakery that caught my eye. Lisa and I decided to run in to the bakery to buy some delightful desserts for later, while Cindy got us a table at the Mexican restaurant we had decided to try.

 After some earlier confusion at Le Bakery Sensual in Denver, I decided I needed a refresher course on what that word really means.  

For future reference, Le Bakery Sensual doesn't involve as many of the senses as one might think.  Perhaps if the guys who owned the joint had just named their business the EROTIC Bakery, I could have saved myself a little embarrassment.  The young men who worked there seemed to enjoy our pink-cheeked presence.  I'm sure my mouth was agape as I peered into the refrigerated glass display case.  We thanked them for their time, and scurried off to rejoin Cindy.  She just shook her head. 

When I told Cindy with some embarrassed laughter what we had seen there, she just looked at me with raised eyebrows, and asked me what exactly I thought a SENSUAL bakery would be selling. I felt a little silly. 

Honestly?  I imagined the 
ultimate in baked goods. When I walk into a SENSUAL bake shop, I expect to be overwhelmed by the most delectable aromas, the most tantalizing creations, the most decadent tastes.  I was NOT expecting to be bombarded with anatomically correct desserts.  

Fast forward to later in the fall. I had forgotten we'd been doing an IMAGE search for Al Pacino on my laptop before we went to bed the night before.  During my blog time, I was looking up the definition to use in this piece. 

When I typed in the word "sensual," my computer screen was flooded with IMAGES of the word. I am most grateful I was not surrounded by a classroom full of fifth graders. The images focused solely on sexual images, some of them quite tasteful, I might add, but still, more erotic in nature than what I was seeking. So, here's my disclaimer:  if you choose to search the word sensual for yourself, I'd recommend clearing the room first.

I gathered myself together, and left the image search and went on the WEB search.  Much better. Well, it was what I was looking for this morning, anyway.


Search Results

  1. sen·su·al
    1. 1.
      of or arousing gratification of the senses and physical, esp. sexual, pleasure.
      "the production of the ballet is sensual and passionate"
I can now see by definition, the word sensual is exactly what I thought, but it's the "esp. sexual" part of the definition of which I was not aware.  For me, the true sensual experience is not the opposite of a spiritual experience, it HEIGHTENS a physical experience to the point that it becomes a spiritual one.  I am one who loses herself in the gratification of her senses.                    

Lest I be misunderstood in the future, perhaps I should rethink declaring myself a sensual woman. Is there a better word to describe me? Epicureans devote themselves to sensual experiences, especially fine food and drink.  That may be a little "high brow" for someone who thinks Peanut Butter M&Ms are DI-vine.  Another synonym is bon vivant, a person who enjoys a sociable and luxurious lifestyle. That's true enough, but seems to ignore the sensory experiences to which I'm drawn, and ignores the realities of living on a teacher's pension.

There is a synonym listed further down the in the dictionary entry that perhaps describes me best: sybaritic, which means I am fond of sensuous pleasure; I am self-indulgent. 

The word describes me perfectly, except that I'd never heard of it in my life, and I'm not sure many others would be familiar with it. I feel like I would just get empty stares from others if I tossed that word into daily conversation. I've never heard it spoken aloud in my life, and if I had read it, I probably skipped over it. I may just have to start using it. Its definition is perfect, even if the pronunciation and meaning challenged me at first.  

Sensuous pleasures delight me, all of them. Mostly, I am referring to the innocent, G-rated pleasures involving the senses, but I would be lying to say they are the only ones I crave. I am a sentient and sybaritic creature; I am aware of, and take delight in all of the sensory pleasures afforded to me. 
I am a sybaritic woman, without apology.

Excuse me, I'm going to have to go practice my new vocabulary word, and use it in sentences, until it rolls off my tongue with a little less effort.  ;-) 
Having a SYBARITIC experience at the Farmers' Market in Denver!

My Love of Chocolate is Genetic

Chocolate lovers love to remind everyone of the health benefits of eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day. Oh, yes! The experts remind us of the antioxidants, which contain flavonoids, and the potential for stress relief, insulin control...yada, yada, yada. I have two issues with those touting the health benefits of chocolate. 

One: I am a connoisseur of MILK chocolate. Two: I don't limit my consumption to a small amount of anything I like. Houston, we have a problem.

I blame my mother. Her love affair of chocolate began when she was a very young girl. When I hear of the bleak food supply they had back then, I can understand her fascination with chocolate. There are tales of lettuce sandwiches and her joy at receiving an orange and a rubber ball ONLY at Christmas. Chocolate must have been a highlight for anyone in the forties, but especially my sweet mom, representing high-living, decadence, and indulgence. 

Her father owned a succession of five and dime stores throughout her childhood and beyond. Grandpa was a frugal man, and taught his girls early the value of a good work ethic. Child labor laws have been around since the 1800s, but there must have been exceptions for parents who had their children working in the family business.

Mom tells us stories of her training for working the candy counter. Grandpa had told his daughters and the other employees that on their first day, they could eat all of the candy they wanted, knowing that they would most likely get sick, and be cured forever of wanting to eat candy. I'm not sure how familiar Grandpa was with Mom's love for chocolate at that point. Mom made him keep his promise. She ate chocolate all day long. It didn't make her sick; it made her happy. She couldn't wait to come back to work. She would work happily, forever, under those conditions. 
More sustaining than meat? Why don't the experts point this little fact out any more?

On the second day behind the candy counter, Mom shocked her father when she inquired about the free-for-all candy eating. He set her straight immediately, explaining that he could not afford to let employees consume all of the profits by feeding them candy all day. A monster was born; not a mean monster; just a chocoholic who loves chocolate in all of its forms: bars, syrups, drinks, powders, flavorings; if it's chocolate, she loves it.

When I was little, we ate well at Mama's supper table; no lettuce sandwiches for us! We had casseroles, homemade bread, soups, and entrées. We also had dessert every single night. Chocolate cake, chocolate pie, chocolate cookies, chocolate ice cream...we loved chocolate, Mama and I. Occasionally, I can remember turning my nose up at her lemon meringue pie, but that was my little brother Danny's favorite dessert; Mama's chocolate gene skipped him somehow.

To me, chocolate was the only candy in the world. Fireballs, cellophane-wrapped butterscotch candy, wax lips, root beer barrels, Nik-L-Nips, Necco discs, and Bazooka bubble gum could all be found in the penny candy section of the Campbell's store at the north end of Main Street going out of town, but the only thing I was interested in was chocolate. I don't recall any penny candy that was creamy milk chocolate, but I remember being satisfied with the candies that were chocolate-flavored: Sixlets (the poor man's M&Ms), BB Bats, Kit Kats, and Tootsie Rolls.  

Easter, Halloween, and Christmas were jackpot times to me because of the candy available. I always went right for the big chocolate rabbit that sat prominently in my Easter basket, reaching through the colored cellophane so that I could bring him to my mouth, and bite his ears off first. Chocolate before breakfast was the best taste in the world. I always sorted my candy; I got rid of all of the jelly beans in my Easter basket, the non-chocolates in my trick-or-treat bag, and the peppermints and hard candy in my stocking. I bartered with my little brother for his chocolates, convincing him he was getting a great deal: ALL of these other candies for just a few chocolates. Danny didn't care; he just didn't like chocolate anything very much. I never understood his aversion to chocolate, but I was most grateful for it.

We didn't have quite the array of chocolate options available to us in our small town of Amherst, Virginia. I can remember going to Grandpa's store, The Amherst Department Store on Main Street, and gazing lovingly at the candy display. When I was allowed to choose a treat for myself, I would never consider anything other than chocolate. I really only remember Hershey bars, and M&Ms, and I loved them both. 

Photo Credit:
4 cents off? What a bargain! I'd buy 2!
As a little girl, I savored chocolate as much as a child could. I can still remember standing outside of the department store on the hot sidewalk, and carefully ripping the top of the dark brown wrapper off of the bag of M&Ms while waiting for my Mom. I would remind myself of the commercial's jingle I'd heard on TV, "They melt in your mouth, not in your hands." 

Sometimes I would wrap my hot little hands around the candies to test it, but I didn't want to waste too much time before putting the little disks of chocolate in my mouth. I must've eaten them one at a time at first because to this day, the only way I can get that nostalgic flavor is when I eat the first M&M. After that, to pop a handful of plain M&Ms into my mouth disappoints me; the memory fades, and that nostalgic taste disappears.

Chocolate has gotten me through cross-country road trips, college exams, hard days, and broken hearts. "It's good for what ails ya." 

Occasionally, I'll buy a fancy bar of imported dark chocolate, just to sample the exotic flavors that sound so enticing: salted caramel, orange silk, ginger, and coconut. They're not bad, but my preference will always be milk chocolate, regardless of what the experts say. 

For more samples of Hershey chocolate (stories), see Our History with Hershey Bars.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Granola Girl Nods in Approval (Part 4)

The early days of the Utah Writers' Project at Bear Lake held physical, as well as spiritual challenges for me, the frustrated writer and hiker. 

We spilled out of the USU vans at Tony Grove Lake for a choice of hikes. FINALLY! Today was the day to give those hiking boots a workout. Some of the writers with physical limitations would be walking/sitting around the lake, and the slightly adventurous would be taking a short hike in the surrounding area. I joined the advanced group who planned to hike up to another lake, have lunch, do a little writing, and return later in the afternoon. When we began hiking the White Pine Lake Trail, I somehow missed a cue from the faster-paced hikers, and was left behind with a straggling entourage of budding botanists. 

It was annoying to stop so frequently to get a closer look at a particular wildflower, and then to wait for the small group of women to come to consensus on its proper name. I found myself wanting to say after the third rather lengthy stop near a patch of little yellow flowers (seriously, what more need be said?) "Don't identify everything to death! Can't you just enjoy the moment? Just hike already!"

I was here for adventure, not a biology lesson. I was here for me, not for them. My impatience kept bubbling up, and I think it was because I felt guilty for not having remembered all of those botanical names that once rolled off my tongue as easily as the name of my fourth graders. 

"Penstemon. Indian paintbrush. Columbine. Douglas fir. Blue spruce." My biologist hiking partner had taught me well. 

That day I found my vocabulary reduced to "pretty, yellow flower," "delicate, white, lacy plant." I loved that Judee, one of the women who introduced me to Tai Chi, called some of the flowers "damn yellow composites." I figured that would work for just about anything: "Damn blue simple...damn white composite." Her friend Margaret even suggested simplifying further with "DF." Damn flower. Loved that; it fed my sarcastic mood that day. We three chuckled. I detected disapproval from the more serious of the group.

Finally, I pushed ahead to catch up with the hikers ahead of us, leaving the lallygaggers behind to identify to their hearts' content. I hiked, and I hiked hard, pausing from time to time to survey all that lay before me; the foliage, the boulders, the rising peaks. My lungs were straining with the exertion, but my heart was full, and my spirit stirred. The view took me back to another place and time.

Lone Peak Wilderness was the place, and the early eighties was the time. Back then, I was discovering meadows of wildflowers, and learning their names. I wasn't poring over a book. I had Sid with me. He dropped names, lots of names, on every hike. After awhile, a few of them stuck with me. 

I loved the Rocky Mountains, and everything in them. The mountains called to us, and we responded, seeking the solace to be found in them in evenings after our days at school, and on weekends for overnight trips. I felt at home when we left the valley behind. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by the pressures of living in the city, and the demands of being a teaching intern, I would drive to a higher elevation, leave my car behind, and head up a local canyon.  The solitude of the outdoors always calmed me.

Why did the mountains no longer call my name? Perhaps they did, but I no longer heard the promptings above the noise of the television, the music, and the chaos of my life. It was time to get quiet, and open myself up to the stillness and peace once more. I had forgotten how rejuvenating nature can be; how restorative. It wasn't that my name was no longer being whispered by the Rockies, it was that I was no longer listening. Ah, that was it. Once I became receptive, I could determine how to meet the needs of my family, while meeting those of my own. 

Jerry Fuhriman, a local artist, spoke to us one evening at Bear Lake. He was speaking of his paintings and comparing it to our writing, and how it's important when creating to know what to embrace, what to enhance, and what to relinquish. Inspired by his words, I adapted his lesson to suit my needs by writing this down in my journal: 

I need to learn what to embrace, what to enhance, and what to relinquish in my writing. And in my life. 

I could feel the Granola Girl peering over my shoulder in approval. I looked forward to the day that she and I would become one.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

*The Granola Girl (Part 3): A Glimpse of Who I Was

Morning came early at the Bear Lake Training Center, but I could not deny the temptations dawn held for me. Back home, this is my time of day; it's the time I call my own, and do what I like. I work out, correspond with friends, putter in my office, and get ready to face the day. This was my first full day at the Utah Writers' Project, and I couldn't wait to get started. 

After I pulled on my tank top and shorts, I quickly brushed my teeth, and jogged down the road along the lake to get the juices flowing. Cooling off on the porch afterwards, I attempted a journal entry. Since I was at a writing camp, I didn't want to waste any time in starting my writing.


Good morning, Bear Lake! I scared up a couple of robins, and saw the seagulls having breakfast at the dumpsters. I have now officially exhausted my repertoire of known fauna in this region. The Utah Writers' Project will really benefit from having an expert like me in its midst. 

Later Monday morning, we drove up to the Limber Pine Trailhead. We were offered a mile and a half of a looping trail, and Dixie cups of India ink and water to go off by ourselves, and do a nature journal entry. I could do a mile and a half in my flip-flops. I wasn't seeing how the hiking boots were relevant yet, but I trudged off up the hill to make friends with a paint brush, and a drawing stick I selected from under the canopy of trees.

I sat quietly, noticing how the plants swayed softly in the breeze, and felt the tickle-y fly that kept crawling on my leg. I was hoping one of the many marmots (a small, local rodent) I had seen on my short hike would come for a visit, but I was left alone with my thoughts while I was there. My mind wandered home to Monroe.

By now the boys would be up, and the swamp cooler humming. Bridger would have had his fill of chocolate milk while watching Full House. Dylan was probably helping his dad with something on the farm, or convincing his dad to take him to a friend's house. Sierra, most likely, was still asleep. I knew my kids would be okay, but my stomach nearly ached with the pangs of missing them. The guilt settled uncomfortably on my shoulders for most of the day. I wonder if husbands fret about these things when they go on trips. 

After lunch, I headed to the shore of Bear Lake with a woman named Nicki. We picked our way through the mucky, marshy land that stretched between our lodging and the lake. The enticement of the water and the soft sandy beach were calling my name.

The Utah sun was bearing down on the beach. Wanting to prove to my children my love for them, and mostly, to ease my guilt, I wrote each one a small note on a Bear Lake post card. I tucked the post cards into my daypack, and considered doing some writing, but first, a little swim was in order. 

Photo Credit: Scott T. Smith (
The crystal clear water allowed me to see a lone black fish on the bottom of the lake. I dove under the water. The cold temperature had me breathing in short gulps after I broke back through the surface of the water into the warm air. 

Just the week before, when I had dove off our boat into the icy water of Otter Creek reservoir, Bridger had squealed, "You're such a AMINAL, Mom!" I had found myself beaming. 

"You bet I am, Buddy!" I said, as I swam back toward my grinning little towhead sitting in the boat. I hadn't always been a working mom who lived out her dreams vicariously through her children.

That night after our dinner at the center, we were discussing our anthology readings. Dan was moving the discussion along when I shifted uncomfortably on the aluminum bench. I could tell they were moving away from the Tom Brown piece, which had touched me. Encouraged by the camaraderie of the group, I tentatively lifted my finger, catching Dan's eye.

"Before we leave Tom Brown's writing, may I say something?" I took a shallow breath to collect my thoughts, and began. "Brown's section entitled, "Let Go of Worries" was meaningful to me. He said this, 
'Many times we carry into the woods a load of mental baggage that is far heavier than anything we carry on our backs. We stride along through forest, country, or beachside as though our primary purpose were to fret over the past and worry about the future.'

"I was just thinking that it is so easy to get caught up in the mundane, the day-to-day living, that we forget to live," I continued. "My goal during this writing camp is to reconnect with that 'granola girl' I used to be. Before I was a wife and mother, I had my own identity. I did things that fulfilled me, and made me feel alive. I want to live in the moment. There was a time I used to walk alone in the morning, meditating, praying, and problem-solving. Lately, I seem  to be afraid to be alone with my thoughts. I turn on the TV and music so that I never feel alone in any room of the house. I'm experiencing sensory overload. I have lost touch with things I once held sacred. I want to set down my mental baggage for at least this week."

Dusk was settling in at Bear Lake as I stared down at the picnic table in front of me. Bill Strong followed up my comments with supportive words of his own, but didn't really hear him; I was still trying to sort out what I had just said. These fleeting thoughts of nature, spirit, and self were so difficult to touch and to hold. It would take some work before I would be able to call them my own.

The Granola Girl series started here: Part 1: The Prologue: Do Moms Deserve Adventures?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Granola Girl (Part 1): Do Moms Deserve Adventures?

This is actually where yesterday's story (In Search of the Granola Girl) began. Here is the backstory to how I ended up at the Utah Writers' Project in 2002.


"What would be wrong with my perfectly good running shoes?" I wondered aloud to no one in particular, but aware my husband could hear me. "I wore those heavy Vibram-soled hiking boots back in the early eighties, but why should I spend so much money on a pair of hiking boots I'll never wear out?"

My husband was used to my questions; tired of them perhaps, but he listened. It had become our routine by then.

"Don't you think my Nikes would work? You know, the only reason I would buy them, if I do, is so that Dan guy, whoever he is, won't laugh at me after our big hike and tell me, 'I told you so.'"

Each Utah Writers' Project participant had received a list of suggested hiking gear a few weeks before camp from Dan Kirby and Bill Strong, the leaders of the advanced writing course. Dan had mentioned we should bring good, sturdy hiking boots, a nice Nikon camera, if we had one, and binoculars. 

I couldn't believe I was going. Not only was I treating myself to a week-long nature writing experience, I was shopping for luxuries like new hiking boots. Buying boots and clothes for hunting was something my husband did every fall, but for me, this seemed like such a luxury. It was finally my turn to leave the house, and do something I wanted to do. He did it all of the time, leaving us at home, while he hunted, fished, and trapped. Why did I feel so guilty for wanting to take a week to write and hike?

It had been AGES since I'd even considered hiking, and I was struggling to justify the expense of the camp and new boots. When I was single, I had all sorts of specialized equipment: hiking boots, back pack, down sleeping bag, Kelty tent, cross-country skis, and rock-climbing shoes. All of that stuff had disappeared over the years after I got married, and we had moved from fixer-upper to fixer upper every three years. I lost my gear to nephews going on Boy Scout trips, and who knew where else. I had three children then who needed shoes of their own, and more. We found much of what we needed at thrift stores and yard sales. I wasn't sure I deserved this week-long writing vacation, let alone a brand-new pair of boots. My point-and-shoot camera would have to do, and if I needed binoculars, my husband's camouflage-taped binoculars would suffice. 

"Denise, just buy the boots. Maybe you'll come hunting with me and Dylan, and come with us more if you had them." I rolled my eyes. "Anyway, they're 'required' for your class; they'll be a tax write-off." He knew that would get me.

In the end, I chose the low top hiker by Pacific Crest. They had a respectable-sounding, outdoorsy name, and seemed a good compromise between a running shoe and a hiking boot. All of this thought for a pair of shoes. 

"I'm going to a writing camp; I should be picking out pens and journals, not worrying about silly things like boots," I thought. "He's right though, an eight mile hike had better be done in comfort."

Secretly, I was nearly giddy with excitement. I walked around the house in my new boots, trying to break them in to avoid blisters hiking around Bear Lake. I couldn't believe this was happening. I made lists of phone numbers and schedules and chores for the kids. I made a packing list for myself. I didn't have a big suitcase; we didn't do a lot of traveling as a family. My husband assured me his hunting duffle would hold my gear. He had two of them for his out-of-state excursions; I could use one of those. They were hideous to me, but I really couldn't justify buying a suitcase, too. It would have to do.

After my shopping excursion at our local hardware store, I confessed my insecurities to my husband about going to Bear Lake. "It'll be me with a bunch of environmental activists. I guess I used to be a bit of a tree-hugger myself back in my college days, reading Edward Abbey, and hiking the Uintas, but now here I am, married to you, trophy hunter of the west, fisherman of the world. I've killed a deer with a bow, for crying out loud. What does that make me? And what about the kids? I shouldn't be leaving the kids for a whole week. Good moms don't do this kind of thing."

My husband and I had been married for almost 17 years, and we were a living example of the "opposites attract" theory. While he traveled to Alaska, and all of the states surrounding Utah in search of fish, fur bearing animals, and big game, I taught school, and took care of our children. The things I loved to do had been on the back burner for nearly two decades while he continued to pursue trophy animals throughout the western states. Our interests were so vastly different, but I was content to be with my children; they were my favorite people in the world. My husband and I generally tried to find common ground for most of our discussions, and agreed to disagree on the rest.

Was it really two decades ago that I was a wide-eyed college girl just finishing up my bachelor's degree in Provo, Utah? Weekdays were spent teaching a captive audience of fourth grade children, and weekends and holidays were spent in the mountains with Sid.

Hmm...I hadn't thought about him much. He was a high school biology teacher who offered outdoor adventures to this elementary school intern looking for adventure. 

Sid was the one who first called me "Granola Girl." We hiked, cross-country skied, rock-climbed, and white water rafted together. You'd think after a couple of years with a man you'd see the end coming, but I didn't. I just kept thinking things would work out. It turns out they did; just not the way I expected.

Late Sunday afternoon, I dropped down out of Logan Canyon, and found Garden City sprawled before me. I clutched my cell phone tightly after I heard my husband's voice on the other end.
Photo Credit: Utah-Travel-Secrets

"I've just seen the lake, and it's so HUGE. It's so much bigger than I had imagined! And the color; it's so blue that it looks nearly tropical." The phone went quiet. My voice softened, "Thank you for encouraging me to come." I could almost hear his smile. He knew how much I needed this time away, but it couldn't have been easy for him to take on the responsibility of the kids. I'd made arrangements beforehand, making sure they had things to do, friends to visit, and meals prepared before I left. Of course, I did. I felt like I owed them that much; I felt so guilty for leaving them during our precious summer vacation. He assured me everything would be fine at home.

When I flipped my cellphone shut, I tossed it on the seat beside me. Gripping the steering wheel  a little tighter, I took in a big breath, and let it out slowly. It was finally happening. I desperately hoped no one would question my presence at this advanced writer's workshop. I didn't know a soul, and I wasn't sure I would ever fit in, but I'd come this far. My adventure was just beginning.

This Granola Girl series continues. Part 2 is here: In Search of the Granola Girl. Maybe your former self had dreams of the stage, of owning your own business, of making a difference. Are you in touch with who you were, or have your dreams changed over time?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Granola Girl (Part 2): In Search of the Granola Girl

"What am I doing here? I don't know a soul." It was the summer of 2002, and I had just driven four hours from my home in south-central Utah past Logan to come to a summer camp for teachers. My thoughts were interrupted as I passed by the faded blue sign outside Utah State University's Bear Lake Training Center. I parked my aging El Dorado next to a flashy SUV. Two friendly faces met mine, and the smiles broke the proverbial ice. I had been so nervous getting ready for my week-long stay at the Utah Writer’s Project, but now that I was here, I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

People were getting reacquainted, and women were rushing up and down the stairs. Friendly greetings resounded from the foyer. Heavy backpacks and suitcases were being lugged into the building. People squeezed past the visiting throng to find their rooms. It felt like being a first week freshman at Brigham Young. Once before I had been the outsider trying to find herself in the masses. 

I gripped the huge camouflage duffle bag, and flashed a weak smile, in case anyone was looking my way, and made my way up the stairs to settle into the narrow dorm room. My husband's hunting presence felt so conspicuous among all of these nature-loving, Birkenstock-wearing teachers; tree-huggers, he would have called them.

How had I come to this point? The girl who had climbed Rock Canyon, skied past Strawberry Reservoir, and hiked the Uintas was somehow so far down the trail from the woman I had become. Now I was a mom with a mortgage, a full-time job, driving a ten year old Cadillac. The outdoorsy me was buried under the layers of who I'd become. We missed each other. We needed each other. It's why I was here. I was determined to find my inner granola girl.

"Granola Girl" was the nickname Sid gave me when we went white-water rafting down the Colorado River after graduation. After college, Sid, the man with whom I'd spent every weekend hiking, camping, rock climbing, and skiing began fading from my life, and the door to the outdoor enthusiast I had been began to slowly close. I went into the mountains less because I didn't like to be reminded of how alone I was. There was safety to consider, too.

When I married at the age of 25, I felt like that door slammed shut. I was letting dust gather on my lightweight hiking gear and cross-country skis. My husband tried to encourage me to continue my outdoor interests, but my climbing and hiking partners had all been single men. He had to admit he wasn't really thrilled about my going with them, but he suggested I go with other women. He did not slam the door shut; I did.

During the spring of 2002, a flyer in the faculty room for the Utah Writer's Project  caught my eye. It offered hiking, writing, and the lure of summer camp experiences for teachers. The words caught my breath. Bear Lake in the summer. A chance to work on my writing. Hiking in northern Utah, even. This was my chance to open that all but forgotten door. The focus of the camp would be nature writing.

Before bedtime that first night at Bear Lake, I called home. "So, are you with a bunch of weirdoes?" he asked me. He always cut to the chase. I smiled half-heartedly into the phone, my cheeks pink realizing that that's how we talked about these people we didn't really know.

"Well, I guess you'd say so. I've never seen so many vegetarians, and people with dietary restrictions." I didn't bother to mention the Buddhists. Vegetarians were probably more than he wanted to hear about for now. After telling my kids good night, I climbed up onto the top bunk, and tried to calm my racing brain.

I lay awake on top of the sheets, missing the cooled air of my farmhouse, my soft bed, and my children. It could have been the heat, or too much Diet Pepsi, or the lumpy bed underneath the filthy mattress cover, but I couldn't sleep. Pressing the light on my digital watch, I checked the time periodically. Sometime after 2:00, I fell into an exhausted slumber.

The next day, my children wandered through the back of my mind for most of the day. What did they think of their mother who took no more thought of her children than to leave them for a week? My words rang hollow that I had said so often, "I love being a teacher so I can spend my summers with my family." 

What kind of mother leaves her children behind in search of herself?

Before I left for the camp, there was much deliberation, much self-doubt, much fear. The prologue to this story is found here: DO MOMS DESERVE ADVENTURES?

The story continues here in A Glimpse of Who I Was (Part 3).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Highway 40 Blues

At the beginning of August 1984, I found myself traveling eastward from Utah to Virginia with my younger brother Danny in my non-air-conditioned, although brand-new, Nissan Sentra. Who doesn't demand air-conditioning as a minimal requirement in a new car? Someone who thinks she's being frugal, that's who, and someone who can't see herself driving in anything but a dry climate like Utah's.                                                                                           
1983, Provo River
In a tailspin move, I decided to flee home to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia after playing in the Rocky Mountains of Utah all summer long, to see if I could find a last-minute teaching job, and if not, my "plan" was to return to Utah in a couple of weeks, and get by somehow.  Fabulous plan; success nearly guaranteed. (I was a new graduate in elementary education; no one said I was a MENSA inductee.)

The following was recorded in my journal during the last of our 30 hour, non-stop drive home via Interstate 40.  We were hot; we were sweaty; we were sleep-deprived. We spelled each other from driving whenever one of us found  our eyelids drooping.  Every meal we had consumed had been whatever was available wherever we stopped for gas. We were living on Diet Coke, refrigerated sandwiches, and candy bars. 

My disjointed thoughts are presented in no particular order, but if I had been more geographically gifted, I would have considered listing them from west to east, but alas, once again, I was newly certified in elementary education, with only the rudimentary Geography 101 under my belt. These were scrawled in my journal while Danny took the wheel for his turn when we were somewhere over Tennessee state line.

From my journal:

AUGUST 6, 1984

An hour before Nashville.  (Pilot confused.  Nashville actually only 8 miles away.)  

August 6, 1984 (I think.  I've got the Highway 40 Blues so bad, I don't even CARE what the date is.)

Bathroom graffiti in a rundown rest area en route:  "If you're gonna write something, make it revelant."   And this one:  "I love Jeater with everything I got."

First Moon Pie sighting:  Arkansas.

Quotable quote from Danny:  "I would feel so much better if I could just put my head in the trunk."

First simulation of being suffocated by a wet sponge due to high humidity:  Oklahoma City.

Mosquitoes so numerous in "Menphis, Tennesse" rest area, the sibling duo fear malaria.

Interesting geographical names (I didn't say I had NO interest in geography; I just don't have a very good grasp of the information.): Forked Deer River (forked, as opposed to stabbed or shot?) AND...A sign in Arkansas over a bridge:  LOTAHWATAH.  In my state of delirium, I find this hilarious.

Favorite song from Texican radio:  "Where's the Beef?"

Another quotable quote:  (4:22 A.M. in Albuquerque)  My former college roommate Cindy asked, "Are you hungry?  Can I get you some ice cream?"  

Danny:  "Oh, NO!   A health food nut.  I won't be able to stand it!"

Five days later, August 11, 1984

Even as I left Utah, I knew I couldn't stay in Virginia.  I can't believe the mileage and hours we put on the road this past week.

"I'm going back.  I have no job.  I have no housing.  I have little money.  I hope only to get a good teaching job, a nice apartment, and to be able to spend some good times with my friends."

TODAY, March 26, 2014

Looking back now, I can see that at this particular crossroads, my life actually started to fall into place. My brother and I became closer on that cross-country trip.  If I hadn't returned to Utah, my life would be so different than it is today.  

I ended up getting married less than 18 months later, to a man I'd known five weeks. It wasn't exactly a match made in heaven, but heaven blessed our home with three of the most amazing kids.  I taught for 30 years.  I earned a master's degree from Utah State University.  I later divorced, and remarried.  In my late forties, I learned how to ski on the slopes of south-central Utah. I find myself once again divorced. Hiking, biking, and photography have become some of my favorite things to do when I'm not writing. Utah gave me a place to call home. It gave me a wonderful career, and my three kids; my crowning glory. 

I'm starting to get the itch to hit the road.  Highway 40 again? One day. Highway A1A along the east coast? (Kenny Chesney, I blame you for that fascination.) California's Coastal Highway? That sounds promising. I hope I'll take all of these road trips eventually, but this summer, California is calling my name. 

There is one thing that is certain.  As much as I still love Virginia, and all of my loved ones there, I will never regret coming back to Utah at the end of that summer. That one decision has made all of the difference for me.