What stupid looks like


Dear Duncan,

If you read this someday you may find the title of this post with its accompanying photograph a tad harsh. Please remember that I am making the tired but important distinction between you and your behavior.  You are not stupid; unfortunately your behavior was.

Oh my fair one–you of the white and freckle-prone skin, you of the multiple grandparents who have battled skin cancer, you of the lifetime slathered in sunscreen, oh what were you thinking?

Your Mama didn’t tell you to wear a shirt in order to harass you; your Mama told you to wear a shirt because she loves you.  You chose the path of disobedience.  You reaped the whirlwind of scarlet skin, blisters, and the oozing, raw aftermath.  Your Mama would have undone the price of your misbehavior for you if she could–but she couldn’t. However, your suffering did give Mama hope.  Hope that you would know better in the future, not just about your skin but about the law of act and consequence.

So, today when Mama  saw you outside with your still healing blisters exposed to the sun, scrambling to re-don the shirt only when you saw her, Mama felt sad for her boy. It looks like there are blisters ahead–and not just for the skin. Not connecting the act with the consequence–that’s what stupid looks like.



Visiting with my grandparents

My grandparents have been gone for a long time.  My last grandmother died before Amelia was born.  My other three grandparents died several years before I married.  So, it was with joy that I spent time with them this past week.  Three of my four grandparents wrote letters to me that I found amongst long-saved and forgotten school papers.  I was surprised at the tender feelings they brought.  I was only blessed to know one of my four grandparents well.  Two lived in Canada–I saw each of them (they were divorced) just a few times and years apart.  The other, whom I have no letters from, was felled by Alzheimer’s.

I am so blessed to have these letters and so thankful for them.  I suspect I benefited from my birth-order with all three letter-writing grandparents.  I was my Canadian grandparents’ first grandchild and my Orem grandma’s first granddaughter.  There are many rewards to being a younger child, but I’m guessing that the strength of relationship with grandparents probably isn’t one of them.

I had just one letter from my Canadian grandfather.  It was sent from La Paz, Bolivia, where he had traveled for business.  It didn’t say anything important, but it reminded me that he had known me and cared about me, and thought about me once when he was far from home.  In the same box where I found his letters, I also found the three trinkets I have that connect him to me: a little coin purse made from Kangaroo fur (!) and imported/purchased (?) from Australia, a little coin purse that looks Bolivian-ish, and a dried-up seahorse.  I remember the day he gave me the seahorse.  I had been pouting because we were visiting him in Canada and my family and I were going to go on some outing; he didn’t intend to accompany us, and I wasn’t to be allowed to stay with him.  Pouting is perhaps not the appropriate word; I was genuinely sad.  I believed that his intention to stay home showed that he did not care about his American grandchildren. It is hard to remember, but I believe that after witnessing my emotion he ended up coming with us on the outing, and giving me the seahorse as a token of affection.  I love that seahorse.


I also had letters from my Canadian grandmother.  She wrote them very early, when I was less than a year old.  She hadn’t met me, but spoke of her excitement over my photographs.  She told me about how her own mother had just been told that her cancer was terminal and of her wish that I could meet her before she passed on (I don’t think I did).  I was amazed at how her letters radiated love for a little person that she had never seen or spoken to.  Perhaps I just read this into it because I wanted it to be there, but I was amazed at her ability to direct her thoughts and attention to me.  These letters didn’t feel like they were aimed at my mother, filtered through the cute gimmick of being sent to her baby daughter, they felt like they were actually written to me.  At one point she mentioned her hope that my mother would save and share them with me when I was older.  It’s been almost forty years, but I did read them, and I’m so thankful she took the time to write.

Most of the grandparent letters, notes and cards were from my Orem grandma.  She lived the latest into my life and was a natural-born encourager.  I found several notes of celebration over spelling-bees and other childhood accomplishments, but even more words of praise and encouragement.  In the same box as the notes, I found a little white box that had nothing in it.  A Christmas label was taped to the top.  It was addressed to me in her trademark red ballpoint-inked cursive with love from her.  I’ve apparently saved that empty box for two or three decades, but once again I found that I couldn’t bear to throw it out.  After all, the box was not actually empty, but full: it seemed to overflow with her love and caring for me.  I am lucky because I have plenty of memories of my Orem grandma outside her notes and cards.   The notes are cards are neat though because they exactly reflect the woman I remember.

I am greatly blessed to have had grandparents who loved me and who told me so.  I am so thankful that they wrote me letters.  It reminds me of the importance of giving lasting physical reminders to my children–letters, trinkets, whatever–but something that they can keep–so that they can always remember how much I love them.  I want to remind my children’s grandparents the same thing.  It is hard to say which letter or tiny  trinket might turn up in a child’s box of forgotten treasures 30 years from now, but don’t you hope one of yours does?

Bear World

One of our first stops was at Bear World in Rexburg, Idaho.  I polled my Facebook friends and heard a mixed verdict on Bear World beforehand. Some said that it was worth doing once, others said it was the highlight of their trip, and others wished they hadn’t wasted the money. I decided to chance it.

When we first arrived at Bear World, we were pretty excited to see all of the bears. You will see more bears at Bear World than at any of the other venues. Later, we came to realize that things were actually pretty boring when we arrived–mid-afternoon is bear naptime. But given our newbie bear-watching status (on our last trip to Yellowstone we didn’t see any bears), the sight of an ear here, and furry paws there was enough to make all of us wild with excitement: “Look! A bear! Look! A bear! Look! Look!”

After our first drive-through we stopped to enjoy the petting zoo and pose for photos at the bear cutouts. Then the baby bears (which are kept in a separate special area) woke up and began to play. Baby bears are seriously cute!

The best was yet to come. On Facebook, our friend Cameron had offered a key tip: Don’t pay extra to go on the curator tour. Do follow the curator truck around. Following his advice, when they announced the tour over the PA system, we ran to our car. We were lucky to get right behind the curator truck just as Cameron had suggested. It was awesome! Almost every bear in the park wakes up and comes out for the food truck. Where before we had just seen sleeping bits of fuzz, we now saw bears standing and begging for food, bears sitting and begging for food, bears clustering around the food truck, and bears right next to our car. At one point we were worried for the safety of our van! It was great.

Tips for Bear World: 1) Bear World requires that you roll your windows up. If you hope to take photos, make sure your car windows are scrupulously clean. Ours were bug-splattered and it is obvious on many of the photos we took. 2) Find out when the curator tours will take place and be ready to jump in your car and go at the appropriate time. 3) If at first you don’t see many or only sleeping bears, wait, and do the drivethrough again in another hour or so.

I do still worry a bit about the ethical issues involved with Bear World. It’s a neat experience for humans, but is it wrong to do to the bears? The issue that most concerns me is how they remove the cubs from their mothers at such a young age. Is that okay? I know that many of these cubs would be killed by other bears if they were not removed, but I still believe it is the case that the cubs are removed for our convenience and safety, not theirs. Do mother bears and their cubs have a sense of emotional loss?


To be continued . . .

Yellowstone–Spring 2011–Weather!

Spring and snow in Yellowstone

Not quite the spring weather we were hoping for!

We had a wonderful trip to Yellowstone. Although the weather ensured that it was very different from any previous trip to Yellowstone I had ever taken, it was fantastic in its own way. Still, I hope to write a few different posts about our trip and in this post I will focus on the notably bad weather–it was memorable.

When planning our adventure, I had read one of those “What is the best time to visit?” pages in my guidebook. The guidebook mentioned that the upside of visiting Yellowstone in the spring was that the crowds would be thinner (a mighty upside indeed). The possible downside was that the weather might be iffy, and insects might be about in force. Well, I can report that the weather we experienced was not iffy–it was definite. There was not an insect in sight, and for that we were able to thank the weather. I can’t begin to count how many snow, rain, and hail storm episodes we were a part of!

In case someone finds this post by googling Yellowstone and spring, I should hasten to explain that this year’s weather was apparently quite an anomaly. Although Yellowstone is always nippy compared to most other places in the spring because of its high elevation, the consistently cold temperatures and stormy weather we saw over almost two weeks’ time were quite unusual. I can’t be an expert on what is typical most years, but I can tell you that this year the spring weather the last week of May and first days of June was far from ideal for touring the park. In the photo above, my family and I are posing in front of one of Yellowstone’s most scenic vistas: the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Can’t see it in the picture? We couldn’t see it in real life!

We knew we were in trouble as soon as we began our trip through the south entrance of the park. We saw snow–feet and feet of it–piled up on both sides of the roadway. My vision of seeing wildlife from the roadside or enjoying beautiful scenery from the comfort of the van vanished. We were driving through a long white tunnel with walls of ice.

When we arrived at the lovely Lake Yellowstone Hotel, it was difficult to contain my disappointment. Tip #1: If you bravely travel to Yellowstone before the season has begun in earnest, do not book reservations at Lake Yellowstone. Lake Yellowstone is at a high elevation and may still be frozen solid. Do not pay extra for a room with a view! Your $50-100 extra will buy you a look out the antique window (the hotel is over 100 years old and this is both a good and a bad thing) at an undifferentiated white expanse–not actually picturesque! If it storms during the night (as it did for us), you will be reminded of the antique window all night long as the wind bangs it back and forth in its ill-fitting frame.

Tip # 2: Remember that you do not need to book a room at the lovely Lake Yellowstone Hotel in order to enjoy its magnificent lobby. If you do not have the misfortune of being snowed in with all roads to the rest of the park closed (ask me how I know!), you will find that the beautiful lobby is empty. You can admire the architecture, read the historical displays, pose for pictures by the grand fireplace, and spend time talking, reading, playing UNO, or simply gazing at the glass-walled lobby without paying the extortionate prices for a room there.

Keep in mind that if you visit Lake in late May or the first days of June, there will be no tours of the hotel, no cruises of the lake, no boat rentals, nor any of the other water activities that are so heavily advertised available. (I wish a reservationist, guidebook author, or experienced friend had explained this to me. My dream of going on a scenic lake cruise with my family shattered into little jagged bits after we arrived). Most of these activities start no earlier than June 5th and some as late as June 15th.

I don’t know how it is most years, but my experience from this year allows me to testify that if you plan your visit for the spring the hikes you envisioned may not be possible either. Most of the trails were closed–access was not simply discouraged but usually forbidden. Sometimes there were feet of snow; other times there were inches of water.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Tip #3: If you plan to visit Yellowstone during the spring, do consider staying at Mammoth Hot Springs (near the north entrance to the park). There are two excellent reasons for this: 1) Mammoth is at a lower elevation than the rest of the park, so there will be less snow, better views, and possibly better weather. 2) Mammoth is one of the best wildlife viewing areas in the park and spring is a prime wildlife-viewing season. On the road between Norris and Mammoth we were lucky to spot grizzly bears a couple of times–a real thrill. Apparently, the road between Mammoth and Tower is even better for wildlife viewing, but regrettably a rockside had closed that route during our visit. Nonetheless, we drove it as far as we were allowed and we were rewarded with a closeup view of the biggest elk and bison herds we saw in the park. We also saw pronghorns. On the road from Mammoth to the North entrance in Gardiner, MT, we saw big horn sheep. A minor reason for staying at Mammoth is that the rooms are cheaper. If you are willing to share a bath (which means going down the hallway to use the very private shower or toilet–really not too bad), you can get an adequate room with two queen beds for less than $100–a bargain inside the park. We had a view of elk and bison grazing from our window.

Mammoth isn’t Upper Geyser basin–you won’t find Old Faithful or any geysers there–but it has its own unique geology. The travertine terraces will command your awe and are accessible via easy walk along a well-maintained boardwalk.


Travertine Terraces at Mammoth

Mist rising from Mammoth

To be continued . . . (I deserve punishment if I only end up blogging about the bad weather . . . )

I hate stuttering; I love my stutterers


I loved The King’s Speech and strongly recommend it. But if you spent 10 minutes with my 4 year old you would learn that stuttering doesn’t always arise out of some sort of social self-consciousness or timidity that can be overcome by strength of will. People who feel sure of their “right to speak” (as a 4 year old is!) still stutter.

The same is true of Duncan.  He has no self-consciousness about the way he talks.  Thankfully, his stutter is mild and gradually improving  so perhaps he never will.  His stuttering began gradually–a stealthy slide into repetition, until one day I realized that he had been stuttering for months.

Kate’s descent into dysfluency has been sudden. One week last fall it was clear that she had started, this spring week has been a calamity; every day she is less fluent than before. No one understands the cause of stuttering. What has prompted Kate’s speech crisis? We will never know. Who is this thief stealing my children’s ability to speak? When will they get it back? All mysteries.

Often making progress on stuttering takes a lifetime of work and therapy; other times stuttering spontaneously resolves. Girls are less likely to stutter and also more likely to cease stuttering spontaneously. Kate currently attends Talking Time, a special district-sponsored once a week speech preschool for working on articulation (pronunciation).  The teacher informed me this month that they don’t work with fluency (stuttering issues) so if Kate doesn’t improve over the summer, she won’t be eligible to attend in the Fall. I was tempted to say something bitter and defensive like: “Stuttering isn’t contagious!  She won’t contaminate the other children!” But instead I just reminded myself that she has made excellent progress on articulation and probably won’t even need Talking Time’s help in the Fall. (The question of whether our home elementary school’s speech program will be helpful for her stuttering is something I’m less sanguine about.)  Two years ago, I would have thought the level of vocabulary and articulation she manages today almost impossible for her. I wondered whether she was making any progress at all. Two years later I can say that things change. Here’s to change for the better!

My son is a reader–Thank you Warriors!

Yesterday after Duncan got home from school he was quiet for a long, long time. Long periods of quiet from Duncan are unusual and also disturbing (messy and involved craft projects are a possible cause). I went looking and quickly found him. This is what I saw:


He didn’t move or change expression at all when I photographed him. He was engrossed. Until yesterday, he has been reading mainly Seuss and beginning reader type stuff (and we considered that highly exciting) so this was a stunning development. He read to himself for at least 90 minutes until he had finished the book. May I say I am thankful? I am SO thankful! It has been a long road to reading for this boy. He is only 7, but we are a reading-centric household and although he has loved to be read to since he was tiny, until this year his progress towards reading to himself seemed plodding. Judging from his handwriting, I think the letters may be backwards in his mind–many of them certainly are on his papers!

His school teacher has worked wonders this year. Thank you Melinda!

A lot of credit must also go to the Warriors Series by Erin Hunter. We have spent countless hours reading the Warriors books to him. The one he is reading in the picture is #4. We were halfway through reading it aloud to him before a) our need to work on the tax return and b) his need to know what happened next, coincided to produce the above result. Warriors is about four clans of warrior cats who live in the forest and interact amidst clan warfare, villainy, and environmental disaster. When my mother-in-law gave Amelia the first book in the series many years ago, I was deeply skeptical. It didn’t look good; it didn’t sound good. It sat on the shelf in our house for a long time. But readers always run out of material, so we eventually had to give it a try. I love these books as much as Amelia and Duncan–we all love them. (Though as Pdad says, by book #4, the series becomes predictable). Highly recommended!