Monday, June 30, 2014

And the Loser Is...-

My confidence as a good speller has been with me all of my academic career. I spell well not because I studied harder than anyone else; I came by it naturally. I'm grateful for the Dick and Jane readers we had as children at Amherst Academy, and for learning phonics in first grade with Mrs. Ware. I was marking words with diacritical marks happily in my phonics workbook when I was six years old. I just got it; it was easy; it was fun. 

That being said, there have been times my confidence has gotten the best of me. I am NOT a perfect typist, and auto-correct has seen to it that I've sent some doozies for text messages. When others catch my mistakes, I can laugh it off, but inside, I'm mortified. My children take after me, and I think nothing makes them happier than catching their mom's mistakes in her blog!

7th grade, actually
There was one time, as a young teenager, that I had my most embarrassing experience with spelling. It was the Nelson County Junior High Spelling Bee, and I was an 8th grade participant, proudly representing my homeroom.

The competition saw to it that most of the contestants were dinged out of the competition by that gleaming, silver bell. We had come to the final two; my brother Kevin, a mere 7th grader, and me, the older, wiser 8th grader. This would be a piece of cake.

The auditorium was quiet. The announcer was ready to give me my word. I smiled under the bright lights of the stage. I was pretty sure I had this. 


Hah! I couldn't believe it! This was my lucky day. How could I get such an easy word during the final round? I'd seen that word every single day for the last four years in our old farmhouse kitchen. In the pantry, there was a large box of assorted plastic forks and knives. PLASTIK CUTLERY, the brand-name was emblazoned on the box. This was my big moment.

The Winner with Minnie Mouse
"Plastic. P-L-A-S-T-I-K. Plastic."

To say I was shocked when the judge's hand hit the metal bell would be an understatement. NO WAY! I'd seen that word every day of my life. It was ingrained in my brain. The word was PLASTIK. My face flamed red. My shoulders slumped. 

I looked at Kevin standing confidently beside me, his hands held together in front of him. My little brother simply spelled PLASTIC, and then his word, and it was all over. I was devastated.

Miss Smarty-Pants had her comeuppance that day. Lucky for me, Kevin was a good sport; I'll give him that. I learned more than one lesson that day. And you can bet I never spelled "plastic" wrong again.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fanning the Flame of a Young Writer

My sixth grade teacher was Mrs. Cynthia Scibal, a fresh-faced, college graduate from the University of Virginia. My memories of sixth grade are strong ones. 

In her class, we did so much more than worksheets. I built a prehistoric diorama with my Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe. When the weather was cold, my teacher would let a few of us stay inside to draw. My fascination with the middle ages began that year when I made a castle, and learned the basics of calligraphy. I thought Mrs. Scibal was the most beautiful, exciting woman I'd ever met. And then she introduced us to poetry.

Yes, I kept a few mementos from 6th grade.

That sixth grade year, I was a horse lover, through and through. My fascination with horses lasted until my fascination with boys overtook my life. I drew them; I read about them; I coveted them; I rode them; I loved them...the horses, I mean.

When a stray pony showed up in our yard one winter's day, our parents were puzzled about what to do. There was no question in my mind; we had to adopt him straightaway so he didn't miss a meal, and he knew he was loved. I began a desperate plea on the pony's behalf. I needed him as much as he needed me.

Since my teacher had assigned us a poem for homework at about the same time as the stray pony incident, I was thrilled to have a topic so dear to my heart about which to write. It was rather a long poem; simple in rhythm and rhyme, and I couldn't wait to show it to my teacher.

As soon as Mr. Wolf stopped the yellow school bus in front of the school, I pushed my way to the front of the bus, and ran all the way up the cement stairs, and across the creaking wooden floor to my classroom. My notebook paper was slightly wrinkled in my clutches when I breathlessly entered the room. Mrs. Scibal looked up from her desk, and her face broke into a wide smile.

"I did a poem last night!" I told her, placing the paper in front of her on her desk. She flashed me a smile, and began to read.

"Oh, Denise, this is good stuff," she said as her eyes moved down my paper. "I love this. Wow. Super cool." Yes, my teacher was very generous with her praise. "We need to show this to Mr. Drumheller."

I couldn't believe it. We were going to the principal's office to show him my poetry. As we waited outside his door, I shifted nervously in my Converse high tops. What if he thought it was just dumb?

"Mrs. Scibal! Denise! Come in," Mr. Drumheller boomed in his cheerful voice. We walked into his office with the infamous "Board of Education," a paddle with holes in it, hanging behind his desk. I was pretty sure it was supposed to be a joke; I couldn't imagine our jolly principal actually using that on anyone's backside.

"Mr. Drumheller, we have a poet here. I would like to share Denise's poem with you," Mrs. Scibal told him. She beamed at me as she handed the rumpled sheet of paper to him. 

As he read, he stroked my blossoming ego with his enthusiastic words, "Good job! Well done!" I thought I would burst. 

There are many turning points along our life's journey. This was one of mine. From that day on, in my mind, I was a writer; a poet, even.  No one could tell me any differently because my teacher and my principal had confirmed it when I was 12 years old. 

Was the poem exceptional? Was it an exemplary piece of literary work deserving of this sort of praise? Well, actually, no. My teacher had seen a young girl, struggling to find herself, wanting to be accepted in her new school. She had gotten to know me, and knew of my parents' recent divorce, the move to a new county, a new house, and this new school. She knew I only had a handful of friends, Audrey Kay Phillips, Laura Ann Hall, and Bennett Saunders. My teacher wanted more than anything for me to feel appreciated and accepted, and she went out of her way to make sure that I knew my value and worth.

This snippet was in my scrapbook:

The poem driveled on and on, building tension and emotion, the conflict evident of a young girl's desire to have a pony, and the unlikelihood of that ever happening, and it ended happily when the owners offered to let the family keep the pony since he seemed so happy at the young girl's house. 

It was a dreadful first attempt at rhyming couplets, but my teacher saw something more. She fanned the flame of a young writer's heart with her compassion and love for me. That turning point taught me less about writing, and more about being a good teacher. 

When I became a teacher with a classroom of my own many years later, I tried to find ways to motivate my students by capitalizing on their own strengths. Instead of using empty threats of being sent to the principal's office for bad behavior, I tried to reward good behavior with a quick trip to the principal's office. We never know how far our influence will reach, but I personally know the power of having two adult role models praising a child for a good job.

Mrs. Scibal and Mr. Drumheller, I have no idea where you are today, but this writer is so grateful for the moments you took out of your busy days to honor the poet within her. It truly changed my life, and I know I will never forget how important praise is in the life of a child. I only wish I could thank you in person, but this will have to do. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Finding the Sacredness in this Moment

Living in the now is more about dwelling in the possibilities of the moment before us than it is about throwing caution to the wind, giving no thought to the consequences of our actions. If we can immerse ourselves in the present, and let go of our regrets and worries, our lives become more rich and complete. Each day ends with a sense of satisfaction as we become more aware of what is most important to us.

I love this quote from Eckhart Tolle:
"There is sacredness in everything you perceive when you are present. The more you live in the Now, the more you sense the simple yet profound joy of Being and the sacredness of all life."

Our challenge is focusing on each moment as it comes, enjoying it for what it is, a gift of time. In each moment there are blessings to be discovered, if we are able to discern what is uniquely available to us in the now. Is there a lesson to be learned? A task to be completed? A sensation to be savored? A sacrifice to be made? A relationship to be nurtured? 

It is so easy to get caught up in multi-tasking, fracturing our focus on more than one activity or person at a time. The results are not always pleasant when we are distracted or consumed with worry.

When I find myself overcome with sadness or anxiety, I know that my mind is not where it should be. At times like those, I know I am either lost in thoughts about the past, or worrying about the unknown. It takes practice to bring my thoughts to this moment in time, but every time I do, I find the hidden gifts available to me. I cannot rewrite the past, and I cannot control the future.

We all have the ability to let go of regrets and fears by bringing our thoughts back to where we are right here, right now. We allow ourselves to live with joy and freedom when we focus on the present.

You only have today. Dwell in this moment. Let go of the past. Tomorrow will take care of itself. This moment is all you really have. Live and love wholeheartedly, without fear or reservation.

What will you do with the gift of your day?

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Magic of Mendocino

The brightly-colored storefronts of Mendocino contrast nicely with the azure blue sky, and the dried grass of the meadows that stretches toward the headlands. 

The thing I noticed right away was the quiet. People seemed to talk softly, not only in the restaurants and sitting areas of the hotels, but also along the streets. There are specialty gift shops, book stores, eateries and fine dining establishments, and old-fashioned hotels, reminiscent of  New England.

Notice the fabric-wrapped columns in front of the stores? There's a lot of that going on in Mendocino. Trees and posts are covered in brightly colored material. The tradition met with mixed reviews with our crowd, but I love it; it adds to the quirkiness of the quiet coastal town.
These baby birds caught the attention of a small gathering of tourists.

MacCallum House Bed and Breakfast serves sumptuous meals. Every window in the dining room provides inspiring views, either of the surrounding gardens, or of the sea. The food is exceptional, and the staff, very attentive.

The Gallery Book Shop has Catsby as its live-in mascot. He seemed quite content to survey the bookstore from his perch atop this freestanding shelf near the checkout.
Tonia took advantage of one of the window seats in the Gallery Bookshop.
My friends took this picture, using the funky knitted cap as a stand-in for me after I was gone. I wonder if they left the hat there, in keeping with the town's latest trend of decorating fence posts, trees, and columns with textiles?
Photo Credit: Pushing the Bruise, Roslynn Pryor's blog
If you ever get a chance to go to Mendocino, go. There is something restorative about the headlands with the cool, ocean breezes, and the quaint village full of specialty shops and other locally-owned businesses. I'm going to have to take Tonia up on securing my own key to the guest house. This is a place that will call to my heart for years to come. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Keep Them Guessing!

While wandering around the charming coastal town of Mendocino one evening, we happened upon this tattoo shop after-hours. We thought it would be fun to get a picture to send to our friend Debbie who was with us in spirit on this trip. We texted her, and told her we were getting tats to commemorate our "Randomocity Road Trip."

Debbie teased us, wondering who would get "Random," who would get "O," and who would get "City." A great discussion ensued. We fought over who would get the "O." I lost. I got stuck with "City." 

Tonia found this YouTube video of Tattoo from Fantasy Island, in honor of our silliness.
My big kids all have tattoos. I thought I'd have a little fun with them, and send them the pic with this message: "Shrink's getting ink." (Explanation of my children's nickname for me HERE.)

My daughter-in-law was the first to respond. "What!? No way!" Sierra's text came in quickly after Jamie's. They were both shocked. Dylan asked if I were getting a full sleeve because "that would be sick." 

Yes, a full sleeve tat would be SICK. ;-) I like to keep them guessing. This mom's still got a few tricks up her sleeve; just not a full sleeve tattoo...YET. 

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Break from the Ordinary

The ranch in Comptche provided so many delights for us. If a change is as good as a vacation, a vacation full of changes is is the most therapeutic of all. Leaving the irrigated farm lands and deserts of Utah for the vineyards and redwoods of California provided us with rest and relaxation at every turn.

Bridger and I stayed with Roslynn at the guest house, this charming, rustic cabin located up the hill from the main house. Once we got the water heater going, it had all of the comforts of home. As soon as I saw the clawfoot tub in the bathroom, I knew I would be enjoying a soak as soon as it was feasible.
I finally SLEPT on our vacation. I was in a strange bed, in a strange place, over 900 miles from home, and I managed to sleep all night long. The filtered sunlight came through the bare windows, revealing the redwood forest that surrounded the cabin. A full night's rest was the last of many unexpected gifts during our stay. Another pleasure was waking up to the trees shrouded by fog. In the desert back home, fog is a rare occurrence, so this was a treat for me.

As I sat on the deck in the early morning chill, I was surrounded by giant redwoods, moss-covered trees, and the sound of mourning doves and songbirds. The fog slowly lifted off of the coniferous trees to reveal a soft blue sky with wispy, white clouds.
While we have plenty of mule deer in Utah, and plenty of white tail in Virginia, I do believe this was my first black tailed deer sighting. Early in the morning, it was my privilege to see the smallest fawn I've ever seen, several of a small herd, and also, three wild turkeys heading up the hill.
When  I noticed the chickens gathering at the gate of their pen, I took it upon myself to let them out. My feathered friends milled about on the deck beside me. Their gentle cluckings and purrings made for a comforting background noise.

Until I met Tonia and Ros, I'd never considered what headlands were, but as soon as I saw them, I was in love. The rocky coast is so different than what I know about beaches in the southeast. There is a wild beauty here that speaks to my heart.
It was wonderful to stay where we did; we were less than an hour away from the town of Mendocino, and the headlands. (Yes, now that I know that word, I'll try to work it into as many conversations as possible.)

The recording studio was an unexpected pleasure for Bridger. Steve set him up with an amazing guitar, and let him play until his heart's content.

This was my view from the antique tub. <Sigh>

An afternoon nap in the meadow felt so decadent.

Yesterday was a challenging day for me emotionally. My best guess is that I was suffering from a vacation hangover. 

As soon as we got home, there were so many things to do: suitcases to be unpacked, a car to be unloaded, laundry to be done. Bridger went back to his dad's, and I was left alone with my thoughts all day long. The contrast of our vacation to life back home was stark. No loud laughter, no hijinks, no teasing, no shady pines. It was back to the ticking of the clock, solitude, and days that heat up early under the hot Utah sun. I missed California. I missed the cabin. I missed our friends. 
Thank you, Tonia, Roslynn, and Sparrow, for a wonderful getaway weekend.

Our break from the ordinary was much-needed, and filled us up in so many ways. In time, this discomfort will be replaced with happy memories, and satisfied smiles. 

For now, I'm adjusting to life back home, and restoring a sense of normalcy to my daily activities. Today, I'll walk earlier. 81 degrees in this dry heat was a little much for me yesterday. Yes, I've been spoiled. The vacation was definitely a change of pace; a beautiful break from routine, and all things ordinary. It was extraordinary in every way.
Back to Utah, a land of hay derricks and wild desert flowers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Loneliest Road in America: Highway 50

"Make it stop. Make it stop." My inner child wanted to throw a tantrum. We had just spent three glorious days with friends in Mendocino. The price we had to pay to get there, and come home, was enduring the seemingly endless stretch of road through the Nevada desert known as Highway 50. 

The Randomocity Road Trip began last Wednesday night. We soaked up all we could of our weekend there, Celebrating the Summer Solstice in true Mendocino fashion. 

Yesterday, we left Comptche just after five in the morning. We would finally see the Nevada desert during the day. I took the first shift of driving, as the winding roads of northern California make me carsick. Bridger slept for the first four hours of our journey while I fought to keep my eyes open with 5 Hour Energy drinks and coffee.

When we were heading to California, we'd seen elk, antelope, jack rabbits, a fox, and many, many mice. On our eastward trip home, most of the wildlife sighted were not as impressive as on our westward journey: a dead antelope, dead rabbits, and two dead badgers. Would that make them wilddead?

We reminisced about some of our favorite memories of our stay in Redwood Country. Bridger thought Tonia and Ros were hilarious. "Tonia and Roslynn could be handpuppets, the way they act with each other. One says something; the other says something, and then their mouths are wide open, laughing hilariously at what they just said."
Tonia made this little graphic for Bridger while we were traveling home.

Before driving out of California, I heard a word that sounded suspiciously like an expletive escape Bridger's mouth as he glanced in the rearview mirror, but with my hearing, anything is possible, and I could tell he wasn't happy. The next thing I knew, we were pulling over on the side of the road, and there were flashing lights behind us.

Apparently, Bridger was changing lanes frequently; boredom will do that to a driver, but the policeman decided to verify that the driver of our vehicle was not, in fact, intoxicated. He asked if we had any drugs, alcohol, knives, or other weapons in the car. That made me chuckle. I thought perhaps he might have been suggesting items we should be sure to have on hand to avoid the mind-numbing boredom of Highway 50, but we soberly assured him our car was clean. (Well, it looked trashed with all of the empty drink bottles and fast food wrappers, but we had no contraband.) The officer was very nice, and handed back the registration, and Bridger's license, and left us with this parting shot: "Just don't drive like you're drunk."

Bridger pulled over again, somewhere after Ely because something had caught his eye. "Look, Shrink, a Roadtripasaurus!"

We set up our new little friend for a quick photo shoot, and tried out some jokes about our recent paleontology find.

"Why did the Roadtripasaurus cross Highway 50?"

"He was hoping a car would hit him, and put him out of his misery."

"I'm keeping him, you know." Bridger has always loved dinosaurs.

We took turns napping, eating, driving, and reading to pass the time of our 16 hours on the road.

I was so grateful when we finally crossed over into Utah. We still had about four hours of travel to go, but we were getting closer to home.

Five miles before Delta, we finally saw the Shoe Tree. There are a couple of bras hanging there, too. Neither one of us had any items we wanted to donate, so we just took a couple of pictures, and kept on going.

While we were missing our Mendocino memory makers, they were missing us. I received this picture via Facebook toward the end of our journey.

Ros and Tonia had covered a wooden post with a hideous Christmas hat to stand in for me, and took this pic. I missed them so much, it made my heart hurt a little. Yes, I was jealous of that ugly yarn cap. It had been a whirlwind trip of hilarity and hijinks, walks down dirt lanes and warm water soaks, decadent eating and late-night chats...the stuff of which friendships are forged. 

The only thing I want to know now is: when are Ros and Tonia planning a road trip of their own to come see us? Make it soon, please! Bridger and I miss you both already!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Celebrating the Summer Solstice

You know those endless days that seem to blend into each other, where nothing seems to change, and everything seems the same, and you almost feel numb from the lack of joy in your life? You'll be glad to know the curse has lifted, and those days have been pretty rare lately.

I know I'm alive. My cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much. I have bruises fading, and small lacerations healing quickly. Charlie horses attack without warning from my yoga and Zumba classes. Small pleasures like Cowlick's ice cream, salted caramels, and Trader Joe's peppermint chocolates tantalize my tongue. We rolled down the windows of Ros's SUV, and rocked out to the tunes of the Carpenters, if one can actually say they're rocking out to the Carpenters. The conversation flows, and the laughter comes easily.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a dog lover, and knows I have a weakness for dogs with smushy faces. This is my friend Dobby, and sometimes he gets a little excited. When I bent over to love on him yesterday, he leapt up to meet me halfway, with his mouth wide open, and his upper teeth sank into my forehead while his lower teeth grazed my nose. It's hard to fault a mouth breather. Poor thing can't help it that breathing is easier for him with his mouth open. 

Yesterday afternoon, Tonia's husband was flying his latest toy, a remote-controlled quad copter. We were watching on the deck while he put the helicopter through some maneuvers overhead. The next thing I knew, everyone scattered, and I heard the whirring blades of the propellers beating against the leafy branches above me. I ducked, but the helicopter landed with a crash on my head. I was stunned, but okay. (I've been accused of being hard-headed more than once.)
Steve christened the quad copter "Headshot," in my honor.

Ros and Tonia teased me later that on my next visit, I may want to consider wearing a helmet. A helmet with a full-face mask. <taking notes>

Yesterday was the summer solstice. What a perfect way to celebrate the first day of summer, with good friends under the California sun. Roslynn, Tonia, and I drove out to the headlands to watch the sunset, and then when we were back at the ranch, we joined our family members who were by the fire under the stars, and roasted marshmallows, and ate s'mores with minty dark chocolate. 

While at the headlands in Mendocino, we struck up a conversation with a friendly couple who were celebrating their 15th anniversary together. The women seemed to be thoroughly enjoying whatever was in their glasses, and we learned quite a bit about them in the short time we were watching the sun set.

One of the women noticed we were taking turns with the cameras and phones to get pictures of each other, and she offered to take a picture of the three of us together. Now, admittedly, it's hard to get a good picture when the sun is setting in front of the camera, silhouetting the subjects, but I was hoping for a little more finesse; perhaps a picture that included our faces. I'm hoping Ros will share the pictures taken with her camera. Maybe they turned out a little better. We can hope.

It's a great feeling to be energized by life again. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm heading out to the coast for some breakfast with the girls. I have one more day to soak in all of this northern California experience, and I intend to do just that.

Here's the pic that Ty took with Roslynn's camera; it's a little better!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Randomocity Road Trip 2014


Knowing we had hours and hours of travel to endure across the desert of Nevada, we decided to leave as the sun was going down. Once we reached Delta, Utah, it would've been easy to just put the car on auto-pilot, and head west. Oh, if only there were such a thing. 

Bless Bridger's heart, he did most of the night driving. When I woke up at one point, I asked him what I'd missed.

"Well, I've had time to listen to all 246 Indie songs on my iPod so far, and there was a straight stretch of road that lasted about 57 miles, and there was a big dip in the road, and then there were two little ones pretty close together." At that moment, Bridger let out a mild, "Woo-hoo" when there was a slight curve in the road. "You've gotta take time to enjoy the little things, no matter how microscopically small." The glow of the dashboard revealed his impish grin. Ah, the joys of driving across the endless desert in the middle of the night. 

We were on our way to Mendocino, California to meet my new friends, Tonia, her sister Sparrow, and Roslynn. Tonia has a son Bridger's age, and we thought the boys could go do what boys do, while we kept busy doing what we do: talk, write, and take pictures.

It has been a weekend of indulgences, doing things I wouldn't ordinarily do. Stay up late, sleep in past sunrise, walk along the shore, dine in fancy restaurants, enjoy the early morning fog, sit around the many simple pleasures. I even ate fish and chips, which might not seem strange considering we're on the coast, but as a rule, I don't do fried food. It was wonderful. "When in Rome..."

I can't wait to see what we get into today. Every day here has felt like such a gift.

The view from my bed in the loft. It's like sleeping in a treehouse.

Watching the early morning fog rise from the coniferous trees across the road.

Yes, it's true. I met the Lorax. "He speaks for the trees," you know.

Late night around the fire pit.
I could get used to this.