Monday, October 1, 2012

A wonderful place to live, a wonderful day to be alive

My mother and I had been watching the leaves on the mountain turn for days--a patchwork quilt of scarlets, greens, and golds. This is such a beautiful time of year, but it can be so fleeting. A heavy frost and a stiff wind can end all that glory almost over night--leaving the grey, bare trees of later fall.

Saturday, I really wanted to make our yearly trip up the mountain to enjoy the autumn leaves, but at first my mother wasn't having any of it. She had things to do and places to be. Finally, she decided that a short ride would be okay; then we would come down and get the work done. We helped my dad into the car (he has post-polio syndrome and Alzheimer's) and went on our way. The road was newly opened following six-months of repair work to recover from an avalanche and landslide last winter that took out a large section of it. It was our first trip up the mountain in months.

The mountain was beautiful. We could not have chosen a prettier day. The colors were brilliant--reds, oranges, golds set against an azure sky, and there were still plenty of greens as well. We turned up Right-Hand Canyon road which is mostly dirt and gravel, but is beautiful forested land and has great views of the valley below. There are also large lava outcroppings and acres of lava beds to add a rugged dimension to the aspens, scrub oaks, and pines. Many of the trees are gnarled and twisted from harsh weather conditions of wind and heavy snow they endure in the winter. Here and there are flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and a few horses running free. Boundaries are sketched by miles of wire fences. Here and there are the zigzag log fences. They used to dominate the mountain, but many have fallen into disrepair, been replaced by posts and wire. Cabins and sheepherder's camps dot the landscape.

We remember girls' camp, picnics, family outings to hunt fossilized shells in the tiny mountain creeks. One year, Dad even kept a hive of bees on a friend's mountain property. The mountain wildflowers made a light, delicate, floral honey that was so delicious--especially on Mom's hot homemade bread with melted butter.

My mother was exhilarated with the crisp beautiful day, and all the memories. Once we reached the plateau, she thought we might as well just drive on across. This journey took us past Kolob Reservoir, which was brim full after a wetter than usual summer, and through the back roads of Zion National Park. It took us two and a half hours at 25-30 miles per hour on dusty, rutted roads. After we reached Kolob, the roads were oiled again, but still very winding and narrow.

The peaks of Zion are fantastical--red and white sandstone monoliths. They catch the sun in shining glory. From where we were, they still had a distant look. But they were familiar, and we knew their grandeur well from many summers of hiking and picnics.

Then Mom decided we might as well just go drop in on my brother, about 30 miles more, but good highways. He and his family were so surprised. "Why didn't you call?" he wondered, but this day would never had happened if we had planned it. We would have just felt that we were too busy and it was too hard. It was the allure of that "just a short little ride, then we'll come home" that got us out the door and up the mountain. How glad I was that I had gassed the car the day before so that this adventure could happen.

My mother sent my brother and I out for hamburgers--her treat. We had a great time together; then headed back home by another, but faster, scenic route.

The next day when I looked at the mountain, it was so gorgeous, and I felt so connected, having just traveled across its face the day before.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Celebrating September

I love September, the season of Indian summer. The days have become shorter. Now it is dark soon after 8:00. The shorter days bring with them a welcome coolness after the heat of the summer. These earlier evenings are perfect for neighborhood night games for a few more weekends when it’s not a school night. Leaves are kissed by the cool nights and begin to turn brilliant shades: Reds, golds, oranges. We look to the mountains for their stunning displays. The birds begin to gather into flocks. They feed together in fields and fly in formation.

Gardeners begin to be vigilant. Tomatoes that have taken the summer to grow fat and heavy are still busy ripening. Those occasional frosts could end everything in a snap. Weather reports and thermometers are watched for danger signs. Blankets, newspapers, plastic must be strategically laid on cold nights to protect the harvest. Then everything must be removed in the morning to bless the garden with the warmth of the day. The pumpkins grow fat. That frosty kiss of cool evenings sweetens the apples.

Many gardeners are diligently canning and preserving their labors. Zucchini and summer squash still abound and are being passed off and traded to anyone who is still willing to take them, or they are shredded and frozen for a few more batches of zucchini bread later in the fall when it will be more appreciated.

Students have been in school for two or three weeks now, and the crisper days make it easier to settle into the classes that have cut the summer short. Bright colors of new school clothes flash in the hallways as students hustle between classes, eager to greet a friend or gather books for the next class. Excitement over upcoming football games, dances, and other activities spreads. Students revel in the still warm days which furnish wonderful after school hours for sports practice or gossip sessions with attendants all seated around in the grass.

September is the month when we honor the workers. On Labor Day we remember how far we have come from the time of sweatshops and factory row houses. Now days, unions are often reviled, but they played an important part in giving workers a voice against rich and powerful employers who exploited them and often had them working in dangerous conditions. But regardless of your take on unions, everyone enjoys having a day off from work to catch up on a project or enjoy a last summer outing.

We also take a somber moment to remember many lives lost to terrorism and the heroism of those who risked all to save others. The flags flying on September 11 inspire our courage and loyalty to our country. Thanks to our soldiers, police offices, EMTs, firefighters, and other unsung heroes. 

It is a time for fairs with their carnival rides and arcades, exhibits, and shows. Those garden harvests will show up at the fair along with livestock, all vying for blue ribbons or sweepstakes. There will be slews of 4-Hers showing off their summer projects. Beautiful quilts, artwork, and photographs from local artisans. We’ll enjoy rodeos, picnics, cotton candy, corn dogs, and kettle corn. Classic cars, horses, and local royalty will parade.

September! What a wonderful transition from summer to fall.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A call to jury duty is an eye-opening experience

This week I was called up to jury duty. I would have to say it was a pretty interesting experience, although I wasn't actually seated on the jury. It was for an infant abuse-homicide case, and it turned out that they had called up about 90 potential jurors in order to seat ten (8 and 2 alternates.) I was in the third group of thirty.

We were all called in and watched a video explaining what jury duty was all about. Then we were sworn in before the next process occurred. Because the judge needed to sift through lots of potential jurors, we filled out about a fifteen page questionnaire about our feelings, attitudes, education, etc. etc. etc. It was a very introspective process. Happily, the jury was seated from the first two groups, and our group was excused by 5:00 the next day, so I didn't have to go through what I believe would have been a very painful process for me of learning about and accessing a tragic situation and passing  judgment on another human being.

Knowing that I could possibly have been on that jury has made me read about the case with a whole different set of eyes. Of course, reading bits and pieces from a court report is a lot different than being in the courtroom and seeing all the evidence, but it has made the case feel very real to me.

(This post was originally written and posted by me on my Sparkpeople blog on this same date)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pictures I Would Paint If I Could Paint

I have two brothers who are trained artists, both of them are very imaginative in their compositions. I also have a lot of admiration for other artists who bring inspiration into my life. One of my favorites is Greg Olsen. These ideas often flash to life instantly in our imaginations--or maybe we absorb them bit by bit as we study the picture in more detail--but they take the artist hours to create.

There are a few different things happening in my life that have all mixed together to produce this blog. Last Saturday I went to here a children's concert of the Orchestra of Southern Utah playing Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an exhibition." I have been reorganizing my room with the help of my mother. We are to the point of hanging pictures. I have enjoyed choosing out the family photos to hang on the walls. I just read Thomas S. Monson's book Faith Rewarded: A Personal Account of Prophetic Promises the the East German Saint. I have also been reading The Book of Mormon lately, and a lot of thoughts have been coursing through my mind as I read it. So here are some of the items on my list of pictures that I would love to paint if I had the talent and abilities to do that--my pictures at an exhibition:
  • Christ gently holding a prodigal around the shoulder as He knocked at the door of the prodigal's family (This of course is based on a famous painting called Christ at Heart's Door. I have frequently seen other versions of this picture by different artists, but never one where he is bringing someone home.)
  • A triptych of the LDS church in East Germany. The first panel would be President Monson alone at Checkpoint Charlie for the first time, the second would be of the East Germans flocking to see the Freiberg Temple for the first time, and the third would be of the German people from both sides, knocking down the Berlin Wall with sledge hammers--maybe with Joshua blowing his horn in the foreground for dramatic effect.
  • My husband and I stooped side by side next to a small campfire, one of his arms is around my shoulder, and with the other hand, he is feeding our divorce papers into the fire.
  • A still life of a sword and a plowshare (Isaiah 2:4), maybe with a rifle with a daisy in the barrel leaning against a nearby stump.
  • A portrait of Gail Halvorsen with a B-52 Bomber buzzing overhead, dropping little parachutes with candy tied to them.
  • Christ standing with his arm around my mother-in-laws shoulder.  I am at one side, standing off a respectful distance and watching while they talk. My husband and his father are on the other side, watching. Christ and my mother-in-law have been talking, but now He is beckoning me to join them. I originally had pictured this taking place on the day of judgement, but maybe I would rather set the background near the tree of life near the end of the iron rod.
  • A U.S. soldier in full combat uniform (a member of the Utah National Guard 222 Battlion, rifle slung over his shoulder, stooped down next to an Afghani child, presenting a toy from the Happy Factory in Cedar City Utah.
Please add descriptions of pictures you would like to paint in the comment area.  Although I was obviously in a very symbolic and religious mood when I wrote this, your ideas don't have to be religious.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Journaling with Children

    Making a journal with a child is fun for both the adult and child, preserves precious information about what is important to the child, and helps them learn to read and write as well as forming a great journaling habit they will have in the future.  My own love of writing probably began with my kindergarten teacher who took individual time with each student to write little captions under the pictures we drew, and helped and encouraged us in making little story books.

    Several years ago, IBM had a program called Writing to Read which fostered the idea that when children experience their own words in writing, it makes reading easier for them. This is because it uses their own vocabulary, and also develops a deep connection between the written and spoken word for them. They really understand that words on the paper come from people, and that putting words on paper is a powerful way to communicate. Seeing their own words on paper can also help children build self-esteem.  Although transcribing what children say onto paper doesn't have to be done in a book, making a book about themselves is a lot of fun for children and creates a more permanent record.


    Art stores and Craft stores often carry art journals, which are bound books which may contain either sketch paper or watercolor paper. They come in both regular hardback bindings or spiral bindings. The covers of these books are often black, and can be decorated with metalic markers or gel pens. Although they are a little more expensive, they make an excellent medium for the child to work with, and wonderful books to keep. Locking diaries can also be fun for children, but be sure to keep a copy of the key in a safe place where it won't get lost.

    Less expensive books can be found at bookstores, department stores or even grocery stores. These come in both lined and unlined varieties. I prefer the unlined paper for young children because it is better for artwork. Lined paper for older children can help them write more easily as long as the lines are appropriately wide for their age and abilities, but even older children may appreciate adding visuals to unlined paper. Binders (with or without page protectors) also make a great way to gather children's artwork and writing into memory books.

    Have a variety of art materials for the children to work with. This would include pens and pencils, along with your choice of materials such as crayons, watercolors, markers (usually best to only use one side of the paper if you are using watercolors or markers). Old magazines for children to cut pictures out of, photographs of the child, and glue and tape also provide great resources. Journals and age appropriate art supplies make great gifts for children.

    Print shops provide ways to copy journals to send to grandparents or other interested friends and family member. They also have equipment to bind loose pages together in comb binds or spiral bindings. There are also companies that can provide hard bindings for books, although they are more expensive, and usually cater to the mass school projects. Creating a family calendar is also a fun project with children. Most print shops have calendars available to plug your own pictures into, but even making the calendar pages can be a fun learning experience with children if you feel comfortable with the technology to create them.

    Picture Journals with Dictation

    When my girls were small, we spent many happy hours together while they drew pictures in their journals, and I helped them write brief captions underneath these pictures. We called their first books "Heather Book" and "Hannah Book." Later making up a name and decorating the cover became part of the fun. One of the great things about these books was that it preserved a record of their growing abilities. Two of my brothers have taught art (one still teaching), and they explained to me the different stages children go through as they begin to comprehend faces and bodies, and represent these artistically.  This development was very clear in the pictures the kids drew. It was also interesting that one of my daughters gravitated towards written journals as she got older, while the other daughter continued to enjoy art journals. I believe this practice helped to develop confidence in both my girls in expressing themselves both in art and writing.

    Collages, Scrapbooks, and Photo Essays

    Collages are a fun way to add visual interest to a journal and to prompt writing ideas. Cutting and pasting pictures together out of magazines can help children develop ideas for a story and connect with written words. It is also a great technique for adults or children who are less comfortable with art techniques. Remember that collages don't need to be limited to cutting out pictures from somewhere else, but can be a combination of the child's own art along with found items or memorabilia. There are lots of fun materials available at arts and crafts stores for creating great scrapbook pages. Small, flat items, such as buttons, yarn, or foam cutouts can also be fun to add to pages.

    A photograph provides an instant prompt for a child to talk about or write about as well as a great illustration for their story. Photo essays are groups of photos that go together to illustrate a process or an event. Help your child illustrate and write about a special day using photographs, or take a set of pictures specifically to illustrate something you are working on together or a concept you are learning about. Good examples would be a day creating in the kitchen together, or a nature walk with photos of some of the great finds you made. As children get old enough, you could also encourage them to take their own pictures. This is getting ever cheaper and easier with digital cameras and computers.

    Collecting the Best Schoolwork

    Creating a binder full of the school work that best expresses who child is and what he or she has learned during the year is a great way to create a journal record together of the child's growth and development. With twelve years of school, you can afford to be a bit picky about what you add to the journal or cull them out a bit later as the material accumulates. Many middle schools and high schools assign students to create portfolios of their work, but this is also a great activity for elementary and preschool aged children as well, and encourages them to take pride in their work as they see that adults in their lives value what they are doing.

    Final Tips

    The words journal and diary both refer to the idea of a daily record. Although it isn't necessary to journal everyday, it is important to develop a regular schedule or habit to keep the journal going. Just as children are encouraged to read for at least twenty minutes a day, taking regular time to write and express themselves artistically will help their abilities to grow.

    Young children love to take time to share their journal with others. Going back over the past entries can be very fun. As children get older, they often become more private about their entries, but sharing selected thoughts and feelings from a journal can still be a great way to share together. The best way to model sharing journals is to share things from your own journal. There are also many excellent examples of books written in journal style such as James Herriot's books or The Diary of Ann Frank. Add a few of these to your reading list. Finally, as children do get more private about their journals, it is important to respect these boundaries so that you don't put them off and cause them to stop journaling.

    I have found that one of the best ways to avoid writer's block is to keep an idea list going. In the back of the journal, I usually keep a running list of ideas about things to write about, and brainstorm from time to time to add to this list. A few ideas to get you started might be holidays (be specific) and family traditions, things that the child is interested in (animals, transportation, jobs, etc), responses to books you are reading, family outings, friends, or favorite things to do. Above all, be creative and let this become your own journey with your child.