Apostrophes, ships and the 3rd grader who ended up writing stories about it…

Shortly after I shared my last blog entry about revisiting my first home with my parents as guides, my Mom emailed me with this:

“All that beautiful prose from the 3rd grader who didn’t understand apostrophes.”

My first reaction was feeling very honored by her words given that I was retelling her story about my beginnings in Colorado, as I was too young to have my own story.  Secondly, I was touched that she remembered the story about the difficulties I had with grammar in the 3rd grade, specifically with the placement of apostrophies.

For whatever reason, I have more memories from 3rd grade than any other in elementary school.  I loved my teacher.  I loved her shoes. I watched those cool red fringe-toed shoes walk up and down the narrow aisle of the temporary trailer classroom, demonstrating to a captivated audience how Indians would walk without making a sound… toe heel, toe heel, toe heel.  It was crowded in that tiny trailer classroom and maybe because the situations weren’t ideal, she was just a little more patient with us than a teacher in a normal-sized classroom would be.  One of my favorite memories was when the Sacajawea book would be pulled out every afternoon after recess and Mrs. Faires would read to us. I was mesmerized. I held onto every word and for the first time, the notion that school could be fun and interesting took hold.  She made that year of being crowded into the tiny temporary classroom one of my favorites, and even though elbows were bumped as we did out lessons in our pushed together desks and I just happened to be seated next to the boy who sweated more than anyone else in the classroom, I would not have traded those squeezed together conditions for a normal classroom.  It felt special for some reason… like we were special.  All that love went out the small louvered trailer window when the lesson on apostrophes and ownership began.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the the concept of ownership and placement of the apostrophe, it’s that I did not understand my Alabama bred teacher’s accent.  When she gave the explanation of “ownership,” what I heard was “on a ship,” which made little sense to me, especially given that I lived in Kansas and could count on one hand how many times I had actually seen a ship. Were ships really that important that they got their own apostrophe when used in a sentence?

After hearing Mrs. Faires’ explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever were “on a ship,” or “showed on a ship” as my teacher explained it.  I wasn’t sure what “showed on a ship” was, short of the visual of people on a ship, which was simple enough… or was it?  This all makes a whole lot more sense when I’m able to voice the words out loud and show that “ownership” sounds like “on a ship” when spoken with a heavy southern drawl.  I usually did pretty well with understanding new assignments in school, especially when they weren’t of the math variety, but my 8 year-old, wanting to please self, was beginning to get discouraged when worksheet after worksheet were handed back to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them.  Even the boy who sweated so much, was getting good marks and happy faces on his returned papers.  And then there was the amount of time it took me to complete the worksheets.  While the other kids seemed to breeze right through the sentences, without having to look up in thought or confusion, I would read each sentence over and over again while trying desperately to find the ship, the boat or out of desperation, simply the water in the sentence so that I’d have clearance to add my apostrophe.  It seemed to me to be a futile exercise as few, if any sentences, made reference to a ship or for that matter, any maritime reference at all, but none of the other students were questioning the absurdity, so in trying to fit in with my peers, I kept quiet and kept searching… for the ship in the sentence.

More than once Mrs. Faires brought me up to her desk and would explain the “on a ship” concept to which I would share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences.  Of course in this now comedy of errors, she heard my words speak Southern to her and would explain, yet again,  that “on a ship” requires an apostrophe, hoping that eventually it would all make sense to me.  After failing exercise after exercise, some how, some way, someone who did not speak with a heavy southern drawl, put it together that what I was hearing was different than what my teacher was actually saying.  My Mom eventually shared the story with my teacher, Mrs. Faires, and I’m sure it gave her pause every year when teaching the concept of “ownership” to a new group of 3rd graders.

The one in the middle sporting the Bob Dylan look and the attitude smirk,  wasn’t about to admit to anyone that she didn’t understand why ships garnered so much importance that they got their own apostrophe… especially in Kansas for Pete’s sake!

I’ve got to wonder how long this would have gone on had someone not stumbled onto the problem, given that I was too embarrassed and too insecure to admit that I didn’t have a clue as to what the teacher was trying to teach me.  This insecurity would resurface again with my 7th grade Algebra teacher, who was from Brazil,  and spoke with a heavy accent.  The difference this time though, was that the rest of the class was hearing Mr. La Torre the same way I did, so would throw their hands up in question before I had to.  I ended up struggling with Algebra through college and have to wonder if I had had a teacher who I could understand and felt comfortable simply asking for help, would seeing the x’s and y’s still throw me into panic mode today?  Or am I simply more of a words person than a numbers person?  I’m grateful that my stumble with the apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for the act of writing, the way x’s and y’s did for me in math,  as it’s been something I’ve loved and enjoyed for as long as I can remember.

Thank you, Mrs. Faires, for giving me pause and a smile every time I place an apostrophe, whether there’s a ship in the sentence or not.  And thank you, Mom, for not forgetting the story and continually encouraging my putting pen to paper.


Returning to my roots with the keepers of the stories at my side…

A few weeks ago, my sister, Robin, and I were given the tremendous gift of getting to step back in time for a few days and with our parents as our guides, revisited the place where we spent our earliest days – Evergreen, Colorado.

Although our time there was relatively short,  one would assume that we had lived there for decades given the many stories Mom and Dad have shared with us throughout our lives.  Because of the many stories and the joy with which they have been shared,  I grew up knowing  how very important this little mountain town was in my parents lives.

They were young, very young, 20 and 25, with a baby on the way (Robin) and were actually on their way to Oregon, simply on a “Why not?  It sounds like a nice place to live…” when they stopped in Denver to see my Mom’s parents.  While there, Dad found out that to teach high school music in Oregon, he needed a master’s degree (something that would come later and in Missouri), so they decided to simply stay in Denver.  Besides, with a baby on the way, it would be nice to have family nearby.  I love thinking about those carefree 20 somethings with a baby on the way pointing their car and trailered belongings west, without really having much of a plan.  Somehow it gives the many wing and a prayer plans I’ve had a bit more weight.

There were no teaching jobs in Denver, but while interviewing, a call came through from the principal in Evergreen with the news that the high school music teacher had not renewed his contract and through the perfect timing of a synchronistic moment, my Dad had a job and their plans to continue their journey west to Oregon were shortened to the short 30 minute drive west from Denver to the scenic mountain town of Evergreen.

Robin and I have both heard the stories, countless times, of our time in Evergreen, but to get to hear them again, with the soil underfoot, was truly a gift.  Hearing about Dad coasting down the mountain from Evergreen to St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver, my Mom in labor with me, made a lot more sense as we recently made our way down from Evergreen to Denver  – an easy coast of a drive that was a necessary choice on that day, almost 60 years go to the date, as the gas tank was near empty (he made it with fumes to spare, I’m told…).

Although Robin and I had tried to find the house we lived in when we were in Colorado  last summer,  our interpretation of Mom and Dad’s directions had us on the wrong end of the town, but with their keen memories and navigational skills a few weeks ago, we drove right to the house.  Both of our initial reactions upon seeing the nice house that sat off the road on 5 acres was… “wait… I thought we were poor” ….  Yes, they reassured us… we were poor.  They said it looked like the house had been added on to and that while it looked nice on the outside, the inside had needed work… work that Dad chipped away at when he had the gift of both time and money.   The furnishings were sparse and although Mom had a wringer washing machine, she didn’t have a dryer, so after washing the clothes, diapers in particular with two under the age of two, she’d hang them out on the line, where they would freeze dry in the arid air.  She’d then bring them in and lay them throughout the house to thaw.  For some reason, I’ve always connected with pioneer women and have sworn that I must have lived during that period of time in a past life.  This explains it.  I did.

As we sat in the drive and looked directly at our past, hearing the stories from the ones that created them, that piece of my past, that I don’t remember, became real and I understood where my love for mountains was born.  Dad told us that when Mom was pregnant with me she told him that she was not going to come home from the hospital until we had a flushing toilet IN the house.  Yes, these adventure seeking parents of mine were using an outhouse, not to mention transporting their water in  50 gallon drums.  Dad worked tirelessly at digging the leeching well near the house in preparation for my arrival, using a pick axe, a shovel and his favorite tool, dynamite.  And lo and behold, Mom had the flush toilet she had requested upon her arrival home from the hospital with me.  Simple times, but not all that simple of a request.  Still, every mom just home from the hospital with a new born and a one year-old to greet her, deserves the luxury of indoor toilet… and one that flushes no less.  It sure beat any “congratulations on your new baby” flower arrangement Dad could have gotten her.

My Evergreen, Colorado roots

Out of the many stories I’ve heard over the years, and my hands down favorite, I heard for the first time last year.  Because we were surrounded by evergreen trees, Dad would simply go to the woods behind the house to select the Christmas tree, then would drag it down to the house.  I believe it was my first Christmas (and if it wasn’t, I’m taking artistic license here) that Mom questioned the tree he brought home, wondering if he could have found a tree that was just a little bit prettier.  So, on his way home from work the following day, the perfect tree came into view with the lights of his car.  He cut it down, put it in the car and as he was pulling away, his car lights gave him a better view of exactly where the tree he had just cut down had come from… the landscaping in the front yard of one of the summer vacation homes in the area.  When I asked him what he did when he discovered what he did,  he told me that he couldn’t exactly put it back, so simply covered the stump with snow and drove home.  Given that it was a summer vacation home,  he had several months before the missing tree would be noticed.  No doubt some of that guilt waned with Mom’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the beautiful specimen of a tree that would grace our small living room that Christmas.

“Now THAT’s what I had in mind!  It’s the PERFECT tree!”

Dad had set the Christmas decor bar high on this one…

I’m not sure how long it was before he came clean on exactly where the tree had come from and am betting that the following Christmas, it was back to the scrappy juniper Christmas trees.  All of our Christmas trees in those early Colorado days were decorated with pine cones that Mom had spray painted gold.  It was only in later years that I understood the significance of Mom insisting on adding what we thought at the time were “the tacky gold spray-painted pine cones” to our then more lavishly decorated trees.  It was a nudge to the memory of where they began as a family, and although times were very tough, they were also very good.

I love hearing their  humble roots stories – two kids with two babies eeking out a living in the mountains of Evergreen, Colorado.  Funds were so tight that when a job offer in northern Missouri came in for far more money and an unlimited high school band budget, Dad had to say yes.  He has told me several times that when they drove out of town for the last time on their way to Missouri, he had hoped for a rainy, cloudy day or at least weather that was over cast enough so that he wouldn’t have to see the mountains in his rearview mirror.  It was sunny that day.   To this day, I think both Mom and Dad would agree that it felt like the mountains were waving goodbye to them as they left them in the rear view mirror.

What a gift it was to return to those Evergreen mountains just as they had left them so many years ago and better yet, to get to return with the keepers of the stories.  Although I was always a part of the stories,  I feel a real sense of their connection to me now.

something I still enjoy.. playing in the dirt…


Mom and Dad… who still have a bit of that Colorado spirit in them….


Back in my boots…

As of yesterday afternoon, I’m back in the saddle…. or hiking boots, more specifically.  Feeling ready and anxious after almost two months of babying my injured shoulder, I ventured out on a real hike with boots, poles and a full camelback.  I hiked  Mt. Royal and although it’s not a long hike (only a mile and a half to the top), it’s not easy as during that short mile and a half, 1,500 feet of altitude are gained, translating to pretty much straight up with no switch backs.  This was a hike that I did several times over the course of my stay here last summer as it was literally right behind where I was staying so there was ease and no excuses in getting to the trail head.  It also became my measure of how much I was improving, which speaks to the Virgo in me.  My first time up was a miserable journey that took over two hours to get to the top and the last time I journeyed up last summer,  I had bettered my time to just over an hour – an accomplishment that I’m quite proud of.  While making my way down that last time and feeling quite smug with my improved time and generally efficiency, I passed my neighbor, jogging up the rocky trail and with still enough breath that he stopped to chat.  So much for my thinking I was “all that…”  I’ve learned while living part-time in this very physically active state that the safest person to compare yourself to IS yourself, otherwise you’re likely to be disappointed.

In keeping with the open and honest approach I’ve decided to take with this blog, I’ve got to back up a bit and do some re-wording.  I hiked Mt. Royal, but I did not make it to the top and I must say, it’s one of the prouder non-accomplishments I’ve had this summer.  It’s real hard for me to not barrel ahead when I can all but see the end, ignoring any physical or emotional signs that are telling me, “enough already!”  Well, yesterday probably within 10 minutes of the top, I experienced one of those “enough” signs.  Up to that point, I had been hiking like a 95 year-old woman in stilettos on ice with a tail wind… being very mindful of foot placement and with an eye on constant patrol for mud, or exposed roots or loose rocks, as I know too well that a quick slip can and does happen.  That’s the part that kind of sucks.  I rather liked that barreling ahead with an eye on the prize and full confidence that I’d summit without a scrape, take some time to revel in the beautiful views and with a proud pat on my own back, would make it down again.  No problem.  But knowing that accidents do happen has changed the way I hike – or at least I was changed for the inaugural hike.  I feel more apprehensive, more cautious and certainly more timid, yet still with the confidence that I can do it as I’ve done it before.  But I also want to do it in a manner that doesn’t require a trip to the ER.

I had to stop several times to catch my breath, totally normal, but by the time I was almost within shouting distance to the top, I started to feel a bit dizzy.  My town of Frisco sits at 9,097 feet, an altitude that can easily have an effect on even the fittest if not acclimated and that’s what I’m going to blame it on.  Having only been back in town for a little over a week, I called myself acclimated, but more than likely was not.  So when that feeling of apprehension, laced with a bit of dizziness came over me, I was very thoughtful of the messages and opted to abort the nearby summit and head back down.  As disappointing as it felt, at the same time I felt very grown up for having listened, very carefully, and followed through with what my body was telling me, which was go home… you already did most of it.  It’s OK.

By the time I got home, I had come to an easy place of peace with my decision and knew that honoring that slight twinge of a feeling was the right thing to do.  And so, in keeping with my hiking tradition of eat what sounds good post hike because I’ve earned it, I sat down to a plate full of spaghetti and several heaping forkfuls of sauerkraut because that’s exactly what my body was asking for… oh yea, and a cold beer…I mean two cold beers, to round it off.  And good it was.  I never falter on post hike refueling.   It’s truly one of my favorite luxuries of the sport.

Views of Frisco and Lake Dillon while on my way up…


The only non-climbing part of the hike… really…
Views for days…


The very majestic Mt. Royal (also the mountain I have a view of from most of the windows in my house).

Today, rather than revisit my not quite accomplished hike from yesterday, (which will happen and soon), I opted for big views, low physical expenditure.  And it worked… satisfyingly well.  The Lower Cataract Lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness area never ceases to amaze me.  It’s not a hard hike as there’s little to no altitude gain, but it’s enough of a workout that I still get to savor the post hike accolades of feeling strong, committed and a little bit more in tune with nature than I was while driving to the trail head.  I’m not sure I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

Accomplishments come in all sorts of packages and it isn’t necessarily the straight up journey to the top that has given me the most pride.  Yesterday it was NOT making it to the top that made me the proudest.  Next time…

Views around every corner…


Nature’s painting…



Wildflowers in full bloom…