Saturday, May 27, 2017

You Can Take a Girl Out of the Mountains

You never really know how much you love a place, until you leave it, and return. At least, that has been true for me. I grew up in Virginia, raised my family in Utah, and moved to Illinois to marry my handsome prince. I've done a lot of leaving in my life, and returning to the places I love always brings me so much joy.

Cove Mountain, Utah

While Chuck worked from home in his office, I worked on getting ready for our road trip to Utah. The grass had to be cut, the car needed to be packed, and the cooler needed to be filled with food to sustain us for our 27 hours on the road. And those puppies needed to get plenty of exercise before being kenneled in the back of the car for an entire day. By 4:15, I'd checked everything off my list, and Chuck was ready to begin his much-deserved vacation. We were OFF!

Leaving an elevation of 732 feet in St. Charles, Illinois, we were heading toward the Mile-High City of Denver, and pushing on to Utah where we would be meeting our kids in Saint George (elevation: 2,860 feet). To say I've gotten used to the flat prairie of the Midwest is not entirely true. Not having any mountain ranges on the horizon to help me get my bearings has been unsettling more than anything. Thank heavens for my GPS in Illinois, or I'd never get to any of my destinations!

Our plan was to take turns driving and sleeping during our 1,600 mile trip, but we began with both of us up front, and the puppies in the back. We were thrilled that we would travel through Nebraska and Iowa after the sun went down, and would arrive in Colorado around sunrise. Being spared the monotonous landscapes of the prairie states during the night, and viewing the Rockies and Utah's eastern desert during the day were part of our master plan. On our return trip, we would leave at sunrise to enjoy our favorite views throughout the day, and drive through most of the flat lands after sunset. The planning doesn't get much better than that!

Just as we entered eastern Colorado, a pretty peach sunrise lit up the sky. I was thrilled just to be in that Rocky Mountain state, but to be honest, eastern Colorado should just be called western Nebraska; they're twinners. Just slightly rolling farmland, and not a mountain in sight. 

We grabbed a quick breakfast at Chick-Fil-A, and headed into Denver. My heart was not prepared for my first sight of the Rocky Mountain range. Poor Chuck. He was so worried this trip was making me sad, but I couldn't help it; I was so overcome with emotion that tears ran down my cheeks. There was no sadness; just gratitude that I was finally surrounded by mountains again. I just didn't realize how much I'd missed them.

Driving through Vail and Silverthorne, and then Grand Junction offers some of the most breath-taking views. While Chuck drove, I snapped pictures with my cellphone through the car window. Never mind the glare from the glass or the bug guts on the window; there were mountains in my viewfinder again. 

Crossing the state line into Utah was a highlight of our journey. I love the welcome signs featuring the red rock delicate arch from Arches National park with the words LIFE ELEVATED. Yes, we weren't in the flat lands any more. 

My spirits continued to lift as we drove across the eastern desert, which is like a mini-Bryce or Zion National park to me. I love seeing the mesas in the distance and all of the massive rock formations. There are so many different colors of rock out there.

When we finally entered the Sevier Valley of south central Utah, I cried again. Home. I was home. We pulled off I-70 for a quick pit stop at our humble little cottage. I paused in the living room, just soaking up all of the familiar sights and I picked up Sierra's cat Ludo to give him a hug before we piled back into the car for our final stretch of the trip to Saint George, where all of my kids were waiting. 

It was a glorious week with our family, catching up with conversation and laughter, hiking across the slickrock above Apple Valley and into Bullion Canyon of Marysvale. I was constantly in awe of the beauty around me, and felt my eyes sting with tears several times as my breath would catch in my throat at the sight of the sun coming up or going down over the mountains, or seeing the mountains in the distance shrouded by fluffy, white clouds. 

We rode off into the sunrise during our return trip, enjoying the majesty of the mountains and taking delight in the desert as we reversed our route eastward to Illinois. As we approached Orchard, Nebraska, I looked as far as I could see, which is pretty far, and I noticed all of the clouds surrounding us in the distance. I shared my thoughts on the view with Chuck.

"It's not that the prairie is ugly. I know that there are farmers and teachers and college students and others here, who wake up here every morning, and when they step outside, they are so grateful for the beauty of where they live. For me, I just have to pretend that there are mountains hidden from view by all of those clouds, and it makes me feel a little better. I feel calmer when there are mountains nearby." 

The next morning, after crossing the Mississippi River, it was my pleasure to watch the sunrise over western Illinois where the farmlands roll gently toward Chicago. We were closer to home, and I smiled knowing we were almost there. Yes, I had missed this place, too.

Calling the prairies of the Midwest home during this time of my life is much easier, knowing that Chuck and I will be returning to the western mountains` frequently, until the day we both call Utah home. Until then, I will love my life as the Country Mouse turned City Mouse, living in the suburbs of Chicago, and visiting the mountains as often as I can. 

Chuck and I with the red rock mountains of Utah in the distance.

You might take a girl out of the mountains, but you'll never take the mountains out of the girl.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Making the Grade

Sami represented Team Bristol and Team Sam at our Puppy Preschool Graduation.

A few weeks ago, I was so excited to realize it had been a very long time since the puppies had had an accident. And by puppies, I mean Bristol. Sami has been housebroken for weeks now. Woo-hoo. Bristol, on the other hand, does really well for a spell, and then things go south.

Out of the blue, Bristol's crate was wet one day, and then he peed in the middle of the floor during our last puppy class, and he woke up the next day with a wet crate again. It turns out he was having another bladder infection. So, for now, we'll hold off on doing the Happy Dance for his being completely housebroken, but boy, have we come a long way in other areas.

Just kidding. Bristol does a pretty good job of staying when I ask him to wait.

We have much to celebrate! If there were such a thing as puppy report cards, these guys would be getting some high marks. They are pretty quick to understand basic commands. Both of them have learned SIT, DOWN, and WAIT.

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

Bristol has mastered walking on the leash without pulling. He will SHAKE on command. The day he gave me a high five was a day to celebrate!

Sami is a pro at ringing the jingle bells on the doors each time she needs to go out, which has cut down on Bristol's accidents immensely, so THANK YOU, Sami. What a good girl!

Something both of them are still working on is recall. When I call them, Bristol will usually come right away, but sometimes I have to resort to dropping a handful of kibble in a metal dog food dish to get their attention. When they hear that, they both come running. Usually. Like I said, we have some work to do. 

Another skill that needs more opportunities for practice is being calm when we meet someone new. Whew. Right now, they are just ecstatic to meet folks, and pull on their leashes, leaping and straining to get a closer look. Their enthusiasm is almost embarrassing, but most people seem to understand they're still puppies.

Puppy Kindergarten graduate.

Sami and Bristol have earned their certificates from Puppy Preschool and Puppy Kindergarten. We learned so much in those classes. The Puppy Professor saved my sanity these last few months. We've gone from having absolutely chaotic dinners, to being able to talk to each other while the puppies are on their mats on the floor by the table. 

Our instructor shared good information on how to shape the desired behaviors we want our puppies to display for a specific situation. That seemed easy enough; I wanted them calm and quiet during dinner. 

Practicing "park the puppy" with Sami at puppy preschool.

Bristol and Sam like being near us, and not in their crates while we're eating, so at first, we "parked the puppies" on their mats. In other words, we put their leashes under our feet, restricting their movement. When they stayed on their mats quietly, we dropped "kibbles from heaven" to reward them. They caught on quickly, and have been delightful mealtime companions, most of the time.

Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth

Sami has stellar behavior during dinner. Chuck doesn't have to reward her often, and she is content to stretch out, and relax while we eat. 

Bristol is all about the treats. He stares at his mat intently, waiting for the next kibble to land, or else he will look at me mournfully, and whimper. Sometimes he has been bold enough to "high five" me for attention. I'm trying to ignore him when he does that, and just reward his quiet behavior, but it's hard. He's just so adorable, and he makes me laugh. 

We're happy with the puppies' progress, but know our teaching and training is not done until Bristol and Sami become the cool, calm, and collected adult dogs of our dreams. For now, we'll be patient, and just enjoy them while they're little. 

As a teacher, I never liked assigning grades. I'd like to give Sam and Bristol both an A+, but realistically, I know they are performing just above average, so they've probably only earned a B-. I did like setting goals with my students, though, so I'm looking forward to checking things off as they mature and learn. It's all about progress, isn't it? 

I have to say, I'm enjoying being a teacher again, even if I only have two students in my class, and they're just my little pups. 

Photo Credit: Dylan Waters

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hiking Bullion Falls

Bullion Falls is a must-see in Piute County.

When I lived in Marysvale, it was always fun to introduce friends to Bullion Canyon with a hike to Bullion Falls. My son Bridger and I have hiked it a couple of times together, and during my most recent return trip to Utah, we introduced my husband to two of the waterfalls in Bullion Canyon. 

Chuck taking a break on a comfy rock.
Of course, we took our cameras along. What's Team Bennorth without our photo gear? I wanted to document our time together with Bridger and the puppies, and Chuck planned to capture the beauty of the canyon and waterfalls. 

Photo credit: Bridger Waters

The wooden sign at the bottom of the trail says it is one mile to the falls. After hiking uphill for awhile, we noticed another sign, metal, that states it is one mile to the falls. STILL? 

So let's just say it's approximately a two mile out and back hike. It is a moderate level hike with a lot of rocks along the path. It is well-suited to older children, and not too difficult for seniors like Chuck and me. 

Bristol can sleep anywhere, even on a bunch of jagged rocks.

We took mini breaks along the way to catch our breath, and the puppies took advantage of the time to rest. Partway up the trail, there is a bonus waterfall, Cascade Falls. We took pictures there before heading up to the main attraction, Bullion Falls.

Bridger and me.

Bullion Falls is a beautiful 75 foot waterfall. I've never hiked above it, but we hear there are more waterfalls further up the trail. 

Since we were managing harnessed puppies on dog leashes, cameras, and Chuck even had his tripod, I didn't think about bringing water bottles. "It's only a mile," I thought. 

Bridger, Bristol, and Sami taking a well-deserved break.

Well, I should have known better. One mile of steadily increasing elevation in Utah is much different from walking on a flat trail in Illinois. I was good and thirsty by the time we reached the larger falls, and was wishing I'd packed my CamelBak hydration pack in the Highlander for hands-free access to water. We all would have enjoyed a drink or two during our hike. Live and learn. 

Chuck capturing the beauty of Bullion Falls.

NEXT time we will bring water! I let the puppies drink from the mountain stream that crossed the trail, much to Chuck's dismay. He was worried about giardia in the water. My dogs have always taken drinks from the streams, lakes and puddles, so I wasn't too worried, but I promised to stick to tap water for Bristol and Sam in the future. We have such pampered puppies.

One pooped pup.
Bristol and Sami were such good little troupers during their first hiking experience in Utah. The farthest they'd ever walked before was 1.2 miles on flat midwestern sidewalks, and during that day, we easily racked up three miles on my walking app. 

Another pooped pup.
Bristol and Sam took turns napping on my backpack on our way back into Marysvale. Since we had some time to kill before Chuck had a senior photo shoot to do for one of Bridger's friends, we treated ourselves to a yummy meal at Dixon's Dawgs in Marysvale. Bridger ordered a fancy hot dog with peppers and cheese, while Chuck enjoyed a bacon cheeseburger. I just can't resist their Chicago-style dogs. They are identical to what I order at Portillo's in Chicagoland. My mouth is watering just thinking about those hot dogs. 

Chicago-style, just the way I get them in Illinois.
Marysvale will always hold a special place in my heart. So many of my good friends live there, and the canyon was a place of healing for me during the months following Daddy's death. It was so nice to see some of our friends after our hike, and to just soak up the beauty that is Marysvale. We'll be back. Often.

Marysvale's valley is surrounded by the rugged mountains I used to call home.

The AllTrails app will give you the particulars about the location coordinates, map, and other details about the Bullion Falls hike HERE

Most of my shots that day were courtesy of my iPhone 6s. These are a few of my favorite captures with my Canon:

Cascade Falls, below Bullion Falls.

We're so glad Bridger was able to take some time off work to hike with us.

Sami Girl.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dreaming about Drumming

Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth

Did I tell you about that time I was a drummer in a rock 'n' roll band?

"Pictures or it didn't happen," my kids are always telling me. Well, today I'll go one better. I've even got VIDEO. 

Not every mom would appreciate a Mother's Day gift of new drum sticks, but my old set is so chewed up, I thought it was a pretty special gift from my youngest, the musician in the family.  That would have been enough of a gift, but Bridger had a surprise planned I wouldn't learn about until later in the week. 

Bridger asked me if I would like to drop by his jam shack to see the recent improvements. Of course, I would. How about 2:00 Thursday? Well, that seemed a pretty specific time for my laid-back son to suggest, but my week was wide open, so I agreed to it. I asked if I would get to hear his band play that day. Probably so, he said.

As we were driving to Monroe, Bridger wanted me to let him know when we arrived. When we pulled up in front of the old cabin that has been converted into his jam shack, complete with heat and electricity, he came out to greet us, grinning from ear to ear.

The shack looked great. There was a cozy couch for guests, amps and speakers, and a brand-new, shiny green drum kit. "That's YOURS?" I asked. It was. He handed me another new set of sticks, and told me I was going to get to play them. Right then and there.

We spent some time reviewing some familiar rhythms, and then he said, "You know, I've been listening to a lot of my music lately, and nearly all of it uses the rhythm you already know. So today I'm going to teach you about fills."

When Bridger pulled out his electric guitar, he told me to start playing my basic rhythm, and then he jumped in with his guitar. It was so fun! If you are curious how that went, I humbly offer this little video clip:

After awhile, one of the guitarists from Grizzly Bear Whiplash walked through the door, and started setting up his guitar and amp. Zach said Bronson would be coming in just a bit. The high school must have just let out. I played the drums while Bridger and Zach jammed. I kept wondering when their drummer was going to show up. 

When Bronson walked in, I asked about their missing band member. "He's not coming. You're playing the drums for us today," Bridger said. I couldn't help it; I just laughed. My boy flashed his trademark grin. 

Every once in awhile, Bridger would mouth these words to me, "Are you having fun?" I nodded excitedly to let him know how happy I was. I was having the time of my life. Bridger had been planning this for weeks, and even kept his new drum set a secret from me. I couldn't believe he convinced his band members to let me play with them.

Practicing in my dark basement on my little beginner First Act drum set in no way prepared me for the thrill of playing on a full drum kit with a rock 'n' roll band. I didn't do anything all that amazing, but I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Playing the drums has been something I've wanted to do nearly all my life, but playing the drums with a band is an item I never dreamed I would check off my bucket list.
I've had a lot of help making my dreams come true these last few years. I have my kids and Chuck to thank for most of them. 

Bridger, you outdid yourself this Mother's Day. That was an afternoon I will never forget.

All photos/video: Chuck Bennorth
Thanks, Beart!

An Exciting Day on the Desert

Little Creek Mesa.

Several years ago, the tradition of the annual Mother and Sons' Hike began when my boys asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day. I just wanted to spend the day with them hiking in southern Utah. My daughter was living in Denver at the time, or she would have joined us, too. I enjoyed our Mother and Sons' hikes each year, and this year, our tradition included Chuck and Sierra, and some friends. What a wonderful way to celebrate being a mom; hiking with my husband and children.

Photo Credit: Cole Palmer

This year, Dylan took us to explore the slickrock area 18 miles east of Hurricane, Utah, known as Little Creek Mesa. We didn't actually hike on a trail, but we walked up and down, and across the open rock surface. The desert was dotted with colorful blossoms; the wildflowers and cacti certainly caught our attention. 

It was so odd to be in the Utah desert, and come upon a small marsh that attracted beautiful dragonflies and butterflies. We saw lizards, hummingbirds, and petroglyphs, too.  

While Chuck and I were bringing up the rear, we heard a very loud scream. I chalked it up to Dylan's scaring Sisi or Bridger; one of his favorite things to do. As we came over the hill, we saw Dylan and Bridger laughing. 

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

Apparently, Dylan had jumped off of a higher rock, and as he landed, he noticed a rattlesnake right in front of his foot. He screamed, which got Bridger's attention, and then the snake slipped down into a foliage-filled ravine. 

The boys were trying to see where the snake had gone, and while they were focused on that, Sierra started throwing rocks into the ravine. 

Have you ever heard a rattler? It is much louder than I thought it would be.  Each time a rock hit the limbs below, Dylan would jump, and the snake would rattle, and everyone else would laugh. The tables were finally turned. It's usually Dylan scaring everyone else. Bridger said it was one of the best days of his life.

These are some of my favorite images from our day on the desert.

My handsome sons Bridger and Dylan.

Photo credit: Sierra Waters