Friday, September 21, 2012

Jackson Hole {and Why I Want to Move to a Ranch}

Some days I want to pack up my family and move to a horse ranch. A ranch at least thirty minutes from the nearest town. Far enough from civilization it's easier to home school than catch a rural route bus. A ranch where we can spend school days sitting together at the kitchen table studying colorful texts, allowing my kids to learn the ways they learn best, letting mother nature tutor us, and bookending the days with chores like gathering eggs, feeding livestock, mucking stalls, and taking long trail rides.

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I want my kids to understand that most of this big glorious earth hasn't the faintest concept of American suburbia. I want them to experience that distinct burn I can only describe as a knowing. A knowing that God is always speaking to us, flaring at our heels and before our faces, if we can train our spirit to be still enough to hear the snap, see the flame. 

I want them to grow up knowing how important it is to talk kindly, never compare, fill buckets as they go, rather than dip or chip away at someone's confidence. It pains me to see Eliza come home some days, crestfallen over a hurtful comment from someone at school.

I know I'm an idealist, a dreamer, and all this is pie in the sky (unless my accountant husband can turn wrangler while also turning a profit). I will teach my children these things where we are, but some weeks I feel like running away to the big outdoors, just the seven us. Because maybe that would expedite the process.

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Last Friday Eliza's 2nd/3rd split class, for which I had nothing but adulation, was suddenly dissolved. I got an email late Thursday night explaining that "due to low enrollment" the school was forced to surplus a teacher and Eliza would be reassigned the following day. She was crushed. We've done the best we can to keep things positive, but the remaining 2nd grade classes are now so full (32+ students), teachers are saying they need parent volunteers every day.

You can bet I spent an hour on the phone with the woman at the District office responsible for this decision, trying to understand why they can't figure these things out before school is in session. Then I wrote a letter, that has since gone out to parents in the community as well as the school administration detailing the information I garnered and how we can avoid something like this in the future. 

Utah has more public school students per taxpayer than any other state in the nation, and that puts us at a disadvantage. We have no cap size on classes. We have state mandates to follow, and the whole situation (without rewriting my letter) is just plain frustrating. If you live in Utah and want more information on how the schools function when it comes to class size, drop me a line, I'll send you what I learned. 


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All that to say, some days I want to move to a ranch. And if I could hand pick the spot for our bubble-in-the-woods, it would be near Jackson Hole. Somewhere along that stretch from Evanston to Jackson. Blue sky, jagged peaks, snaking river, and rolling grasslands. That is God's country I tell you.

We spent Labor Day there with Doug's family.

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Doug's parents are leaving on an LDS mission. They will be serving for eighteen months as Public Affairs Specialists in the Pacific area, with a mailing address of Auckland New Zealand. Their work, however, will encompass the surrounding islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and even Australia. Doug's Dad served as a nineteen-year-old missionary in New Zealand years ago, so this assignment came as a wonderful surprise. A dream come true for him. And this trip was our last hurrah with the Arvy Clan before we hug his parents goodbye.


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We arrived late Thursday evening after midnight. Not a single noggin napped on the drive. So we had some wired kids to put to bed. The boys shared a queen bed (first time sharing sleeping quarters since the womb) and they didn't fall asleep until 1:30 AM! After that we slept Spence on the bed and Gordy in a pack-n-play.

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Our first full day, we ate lunch at the Cowboy Cafe in Teton Village.

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Three of my handsome nephews. They're all such good boys.


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Then we took the tram to the top of Rendezvous Peak. 

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10,450 ft. Elevation

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The activity of choice, of course, was rock-throwing.

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And my boys were not about to be left out. With rocks in hand they galloped along the edge, nearly sending me into cardiac arrest. Twice.

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We hiked around, took in the magnificent view, and gave the girls plenty of time to add a few treasures to their rock collection.

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That night we had dinner at the Bar J Ranch. We made it through dinner (barely) but by the time the bluegrass band took the stage for what we heard was a fabulous show, the chilluns were in full melt-down mode and we abandoned the ranch for toothbrushes and bedtime stories. Doesn't Sami look thrilled?

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The next day we did some shopping in downtown Jackson. Here we are under one of the famous elk antler arches that trim Jackson Square (yes, all real elk antlers). The kids are holding their souvenirs. Spencer's horse suffered amputation of both hind legs before we made it home, and Gordon named his fox "Nudey" (short for Noodle) despite numerous attempts to persuade him otherwise.

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Before dinner we rode the Alpine Slide. This is the view from the top. All that flat, empty land is the Elk Refuge. Come snowfall, it will be dotted with herds and herds of elk.

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Gordon with his Grandpa. Pedal to the medal for that kid. The faster and twistier, the better.

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Doug and I ran together one morning, thanks to his mom who stayed with the kids. That was a first in five years. We went on walks, gathered wild flowers, laughed with cousins, went swimming, took our time in the morning. And since Doug forgot his power cord, we had him all to ourselves - no strings attached (much to his frustration that first night).


The last day we drove into Grand Teton National Park.


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We took a ferry across Jenny Lake (also a great place for rock-throwing), then hiked to Hidden Falls.

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After our hike, we packed the kids into the car and drove home. 

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It was a lovely trip, so renewing. All thanks to Doug's parents, who are consistently generous, happy, and go with the flow. Thanks Jim and Renae. Boy, we are going to miss you!

While I really don't maintain an escapist mentality, I do get that wandering feeling now and then to uproot and do something big, gather my family tight, go somewhere new, walk away from what we know. And maybe you can see why Jackson seems like a pretty nice place to land.

14 comments:

  1. Flaring at our heels and before our faces...I love that! Your children are so lucky to have you. Fun, fun trip and best wishes to Eliza in her new class.

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    1. Dear Gretchen - thank you for leaving a comment. I am beginning to worry this post sounds whiney, like I want to disconnect from the good, loving people that surround us. I don't. I'm just negotiating some challenges. And your one comment helps me know I'm not writing into the void. Thanks for the wishes. Eliza has been surprisingly resilient even though it was a hard week. Hoping you and your beautiful girls are well. xo

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  2. Catherine, wow-I feel the same way! My girls and I went to Moab area for a week this summer. We tossed rocks in a big pond, caught frogs, did some fun, small hikes and stayed up late having girls night while watching the Olympics. It was a dream. No arguments with neighborhood kids, we read scriptures extra long, never had to rush off on an errand, no disapointment b/c dad was coming home from work late. I have so many blessings here where we live, but I would have sold this house and moved down there in a heart beat if I'd had the choice that week. This hasn't been a terrific school year so far, and I feel like my words of comfort aren't going deep enough for my girls. That life, out in nature, is a dream for me. I'll never forget that trip. The closeness we had while being so far from anyone else. Any ideas how to create it here at home, or capture it on the weekends so our kids can forget the stresses from school for a while and rejuvenate? I loved your post, and I am so glad your family had such a great trip!

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  3. I love this post. What a wonderful trip- and I so resonate with everything you said! For a long time I've dreamed of a place apart for my family, but I am learning to carve out our peaceful, growing space right where we are- as most of us must, right? For me, realizing I don't actually have to give in to something that brings so much frustration has been very liberating. I can have a say in what happens with my children if I choose to. It's scary, yes, but freeing. Little by little I am creating this life I dream of- one that resembles what you described so beautifully. It is possible!

    I was going to answer your question here, but it's pretty lengthy, so I'll just write a post on my blog.

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  4. I love the magic of the mountains. My family moved from our home in Salt Lake to the wilderness of Woodland (outside of Kamas...at the end of a dirt road) when I was 10. Being in the mountains feeds my soul in a way little else can. It is no wonder God's prophets removed to the mountains to pray.

    Living in the busy bay area now, I find a need to unplug and escape to the mountains as often as we can. We hike the nature preserve trails around here, and go into the Santa Cruz "Mountains" (they aren't the Rockies....more like lovely hills in some ways :-). I find so much joy there. When I feel an escapist itch because circumstances aren't ideal for some reason, I have to remind myself that the respite is rejuvenating and beautiful in some ways simply because it isn't my daily experience. As much as I also long for the idealist picture you so beautifully painted, I know in my heart of hearts that if I moved my family off the grid and into the wilderness, life's stresses and challenges would follow - they would just look different in that different setting. But man alive, is it beautiful to dream and escape to those dreams every now and again!?

    Good luck to Eliza and the rest of you. I often find myself toying with homeschooling for many of the reasons you mentioned. There are great aspects of the public system, but it is also struggling in a million ways. She'll be all the better for the lessons learned and struggles overcome. Prayers to you as you help guide her through it.

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  5. Darling Cath, these pictures are incredible! What a beautiful place! So glad you got time together there. 18 months sounds like a really long time to have grandparents/parents gone. Whew! I am sure you and yours will miss them so.

    32-plus kids in a class!!! That is positively ridiculous. How in the world can they expect a teacher to help each one of those kids…especially in the early grades? I don't blame you at all for wanting to pack up and find yourself a pretty piece of land and a slower, quieter pace. Good for you to make a phone call and say something about the situation! I am proud that you are expressing your very valid concerns.

    I have thought of you and wanted to write you an e-mail so badly for a couple weeks now. I have been consumed by the many extra things that have come up in the whole buying/selling process. We have felt so very blessed during the experience, but there have been many, many hiccups to attend to. I have come out of this time with a deepened belief in God's hand in our lives, as he attends to the small and simple concerns and desires of our hearts. I know He will hear your cries and lead you as you figure out how to help your sweet girl thrive and live life fully. She is so very lucky to have you.

    Love you. xoxo

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  6. I am feeling the pain of the class-size issue here too. Last year when my oldest was in 3rd she was in a great 2nd/3rd grade split that was perfect for her. And small--up until now she's been blessed with small classes (20-22 kids). But this year they couldn't make it work other than having only 2 4th grade classes, each with 32 students. So not fun. She has a great teacher and I love our school for so many reasons, but the class-size thing this year is not making me happy. Unfortunately I can't homeschool my kids and still feed and house them, but every day I pray that she will be OK.

    And my parents both grew up on farms south of Jackson and neither of them could wait to leave as adults :) The weather is only nice for about 2 months out of the year (their high school graduation was delayed by a blizzard) and life on a farm means a lot of sacrifice. My mom's family only ever went on vacation once the entire time she was growing up.

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  7. I didn't mean to be a downer in my comment :) I really do love Wyoming and I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents when I was young and they were still alive and farming. Those pictures of your kids on top of the mountain make me smile and make my heart stop at the same time. I'm taking my kids to Zion for a few days over fall break and I hope we have as much fun as it looks like your family did on this trip

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  8. Meagen - It's so nice to know someone else feels similarly, understands. Sounds like you had a lovely getaway. I feel much the same - that sometimes "my words aren't going deep enough for my girls." I'm sorry you too have had a rough go with school this year. Maybe the reality is like the poem (anon) that we can't live on the mountain, because our work is in the valley, but we can frequent the mountain for vision and perspective and closeness to God. Hoping things improve your way, and if they don't, maybe these are simply the challenges that make us stronger. Sending love.

    Tricia - thank you for responding. I am just about to read your post. xo

    Melanie - such beautiful thoughts in your comment. "Being in the mountains feeds my soul in a way little else can." I completely agree there. And yes, I can only imagine your need to "unplug" in the busy bay area. But you're so right, moving off the grid would come with it's own challenges, and the many of the ones we face would still stay with us. All these challenges, as you say, can only make us better if we link ourselves to God while negotiating them. You have a fine wisdom about you Melanie, and I love the way you see life. Thank you, thank you, for writing here.

    Anne Marie - you dear person! I've been meaning to email you. I'm dying to know all that has gone on with your house, buying/selling. Have you moved then? I can only imagine what upheaval you've been experiencing of late. Your expressions of faith were a lift to me. I'm still discovering more information re: how the public schools work here, and working for change where we can. Eliza is doing quite well, all things considered. And as we work through other issues, I know she is learning the right way to treat people, who she wants to be. All is good. I miss you, miss your words and thoughts. Let's connect when you have time! xo

    Jessie - You make me laugh. Your comment wasn't a downer at all, just a true-to-life perspective. Another friend of mine said, live two months in Wyoming wilderness, and you'll see why few people do it. The answer then is to have a cabin somewhere in the woods, to retreat to, right? Re: class size, I find it interesting you are battling similar issues. The 27.25 student to 1 teacher ratio just isn't working. It is just that, a ratio. Leaving overloading of some classes, and under loading of others to shake out that ratio. But for some of us, homeschooling isn't a possibility. Like your circumstances. And so we do the best we can with what we have. Your children are lucky to have you as their mother. And I hope your trip to Zion is a much-needed respite. It's so beautiful there this time of year! I'm happy for you. Thanks for your understanding. xo

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  9. Jackson is one of our favorite places. In fact, last year in preschool, Brett brought home artwork that had above it, "If I was a bird I would fly to...Jackson Hole".
    I can't believe how big your class sizes are! Our school is overcrowded this year and we have all received notes informing us that our 3rd grade class if over the capped class size with 26 in it. Hope you can help bring about some change.

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  10. I read your first paragraph and thought, "She and I would get along just fine." ;)

    What about your husband? Is the farm idea his dream, too? It's not my husband's. He thinks I probably idealize it a bit...which I think is true. But I still talk about it (a cabin, some land, close to the city but not too close, solitude, mountains...sounds pretty good, yes?). And I've gotta recommend this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dirty-Life-Memoir-Farming/dp/1416551611/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349131424&sr=8-1&keywords=the+dirty+life

    Seriously one of my favorite, favorite reads in the past couple years. If you dream about this kind of thing, I think you'll love it.

    xoxo, friend!

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  11. And I guess I don't dream about a horse ranch, but I dream about being self-sufficient, having land, my own Jersey for fresh milk, a simpler life, surrounded by nature, etc. etc. etc.

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  12. Oh that looks like such a good time!!! So sad we couldn't be there, I miss those Labor day trips! But luckily we'll get to see you guys VERY soon!!!!

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  13. Nice post. You are such a good photographer. And yes, beautiful country. And a beautiful family. Do you plan to visit Doug's parents sometime? I know it is tricky with kids. We hope all is well with you! We are hoping to connect with Doug's brother sometime here in Allentown. If you come visit, be sure to contact us!

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