Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Laura J.

Laura J. is a woman who sees her challenges as an opportunity to learn something new. They might occasionally slow her down, but nothing stops her for very long.

Born in Texas, Laura, her sister and their parents moved to Grants, NM when she was in second grade. After graduating from Grants High School she went on to earn a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education and a Masters Degree in School Administration from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM.

Along the way she found time to marry and give birth to her daughter and son. When her children were young she and her husband decided on a divorce and she became a single parent.Although her children's father provided financial support any single mother knows it takes a lot more than money to raise children. She always knew what her children were up to and set firm guidelines for them to follow.

Laura used her degrees wisely, working as an elementary teacher for fifteen years and then as a principal. In addition to a full time job she has always supported and participated in community projects, especially those that involve families.

Shortly after her divorce Laura was the victim of a terrible accident that caused a delay in any plans she had made for her future. While training for the annual Grants Quadrathlon she was riding her bike up Mt.Taylor and was struck from behind by a car. The driver slammed on his brakes trying to avoid her hitting the windshield and it projected her 90 ft.forward before she hit the pavement. Her injuries were severe and resulted in numerous stitches to her head and pins placed in her hip. Laura amazed everyone when she participated in the Quadrathlon a year later.

In 2000 Laura was unanimously chosen to take over as the director of the new Future Foundations Family Center in Grants. It has given her an opportunity to use her administrative degree on a new level, connect with area children and help her community in ways that were not previously possible for her. The center offers after school and summer programs for children, a gymnasium, a computer lab, a fitness room for adults, meeting rooms for various community groups and provides part time jobs for area youth. In my opinion the family center is the best thing that has ever happened to Grants and Laura is the best possible person to hold the job as its director.

In 2005 Laura was on the governor's list of the top 20 Women in New Mexico. She has served on many community boards and in addition to her job has taught an Early Childhood Development class at NMSU, Grants campus. She puts her heart into making Cibola County the best place to raise a family.

After waiting almost 20 years to change her status, Laura surprised her family and friends by making a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada a few years ago. She was not alone. When she returned she and her former high school sweetheart were man and wife. Mike had also married, was divorced and had a son and a daughter. Their combined family now consists of four children and two granddaughters that they both adore.

Laura J. has always been a positive role model for anyone she comes in contact with. Her life experiences teach the teenagers in her community that they can do anything they set their mind to, no matter what challenges they face.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yes we have trees

When I moved to Cibola County in 1976 via California my first question was, where is the grass? Well we don't have much grass, but we do have some interesting trees.

One of my very favorite is a Navajo willow tree growing on the bank of my very favorite place, the Riverwalk, right in the middle of Grants.

Getting my vote for most stubborn is this mighty little guy growing in almost no soil on the Sandstone bluffs. It has a magnificent view of the lava beds and Mt. Taylor.
Mt. Taylor has its own spectacular trees as seen in this view of the Aspen in the fall.
Many residents plant Poplar trees to act as wind breaks. This group looks as if they are having an animated conversation as the mighty wind blows around them.
So yes, we do have trees!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Johnny C.

Today's post introduces you to a very colorful authentic character whom I tripped over one day on my journey and couldn't resist writing his story.

In 2009 Johnny C. moved his kitchen and his unique expertise into town from Gallup, NM, which is about 60 miles West of Grants. He had previously maintained several businesses. The building he chose to open Johnny's Kitchen in had been occupied on and off by several other people with similar intentions of feeding the residents of Grants, NM.

Johnny's Spanish ancestry no doubt inspires his menu. Burritos and tamales are his most popular offerings. During holidays he is the busiest man in town, keeping up with orders for tamales. He also caters meetings and parties ranging in size from 10 to 600. He serves whatever they ask for, from meat and potatoes to Mexican fare. He has been in the catering business for over 20 years and his customers always come first.

In the kitchen he usually works with a skeleton crew and also keeps expenses down by using disposable packaging such as foil and napkins. His customers do not mind the no frills treatment because they come for the generous portions he serves not what it is served on.

Regular customers often stop by to visit and enjoy the friendly casual atmosphere of Johnny's place. It has the unique distinction of including sales tax in its prices. Instead of paying let's say, $3.00 plus tax for a burrito, the tab is just $3.00. Johnny said, "I don't like to mess with change."

When I first met Johnny I asked him if he was married. His answer was, I am a part time husband".

At the time I thought ahaa! Now I am quite sure he meant he spends most of his time working so he is not home much. He closes at 4:00 PM and then coaches a youth baseball team. He volunteered because of his young grandson. He said, "We are either practicing or playing a game."

One day I was waiting for my son's ex-wife to arrive so we could have lunch together. I confided in Johnny that I didn't know how to refer to her anymore. He asked a question that made my decision easy. Without hesitation he asked, "You didn't divorce her did you?"

Family is very important to Johnny. He and his wife Carmen, find time to take weekend trips together and have gone on several cruises, including to the Bahamas, the Mexican Riviera, and Jamaica. Their roots are in Gallup where they raised their two children. Their married daughter is a third grade teacher in Grants and has a daughter of her own.Their son also lives in Grants, is married and has a son and a daughter. According to Johnny, "We moved to Grants to be close to our children."

Most people show off photos of their family, but not Johnny. When I stopped by to set up his interview he pulled out a picture of his recent knee replacement. Arthritis had eaten the cartilage in his knee, causing the bones to rub together. Although in a great deal of constant pain, it didn't keep him from working. In preparation for his surgery, which went well, he had to attend classes to learn how to use a walker and crutches. He went from walker to walking. He only took two months off and admitted, "I should have taken at least four months to heal."

In 2010, due to circumstances beyond his control, Johnny was forced to move his kitchen once again. Grants is an old town and so are most of the water pipes running through town. The powers that be decided it was time to dig up one of the main streets and replace the pipes. Unfortunately, some of the digging took place in the area in front of Johnny's Kitchen.

He didn't go far, just a few blocks further East. About this time the owner of our only bakery wanted to sell her property. Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to. Johnny's son loved to bake and the two became partner's. They now share the space as Johnny's Kitchen & Paul's Bakery.

If I were to describe Johnny C. in one word it would be authentic. What you see is exactly who he is and his customers will follow him anywhere.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Beautiful sunsets

Cibola County has some of the most beautiful sunsets of anywhere I have ever lived. Today I am sharing a few of my favorites. These were taken from my front yard. Please enjoy.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Marlee G.

Marlee G. was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1941, destined to be one of a kind. She was outspoken, did what she wanted to do and truly did not care what anyone else thought.

She raised two sons pretty much by herself. She traveled and held jobs as an art dealer, a probation officer, a salesperson and in later years a case worker for both Western New Mexico Correctional and New Mexico Women's Correctional facilities in Grants, NM

Marlee had an abundance of friends from every walk of life. She enjoyed the outdoors, especially the mountains. In her spare time she made jewelry, read and dabbled in arts and crafts. Her most notable hobby was the ability to collect knowledge from everything and everyone she touched.

It was not part of her conscious life plan, but Marlee was diagnosed with lung cancer and eventually had to leave her job as a case worker. She chose to refuse suggested treatment, believing that what was going to happen was supposed to happen.

She loved her home on Mt. Taylor and lived there as long as she was able with the help of hospice and friends. She began sorting through her extensive art collection and possessions from her travels. One by one she invited special friends to choose what she wanted to take home with them.

One day Marlee announced to all who knew her that she had decided on the exact day she would die. Over the years she had tried out several religions and settled on Buddhism. She claimed Buddhists had been given the ability to decide when there last day on earth would be. She planned a party for the night before her chosen death date and invited her closest friends to attend. Whether her guests actually believed her or were just humoring their very ill friend is unknown.

Of course, the next day she was still alive. It was a little embarrassing, but nothing stopped Marlee for very long. She continued to grow weaker and finally moved to Grants Good Samaritan Nursing Center, where she tried to make the best of still being alive.

She made sure the nurses and staff knew she wanted to die. It was not a morbid wish and she did take her meds. Marlee just felt she was done with what she had come to earth to do and it was time to move on. She even had plans to come back as a healer in her next life. She was annoyed that God was not listening to her.

Marlee was a very spiritual soul, in her own way. A few weeks before she died I had a strong feeling that I was supposed to visit her. I had at one time shared my spirit photographs with her. On my visit I gave her copies of a couple that I knew she especially liked. She was very grateful that I had stopped by and said, "There is no one here to talk to about spiritual things."

Above all Marlee had a great sense of humor. Before I left I remarked, "You know you can't tell God when you are going to die, right?" Smiling she replied, "Yes, I know."

Marlee finally got her wish in 2008 and like her life her memorial service was one of a kind. Her ashes were scattered by family and friends on the grounds of the Sandstone Bluffs in Cibola County. Her survivors include her sons, three grandchildren and her friends. One of her sons, after sharing his memories, summed up her life by saying, "My mother was an odd bird." The comment fit her to a tee and I'd be willing to bet Marlee joined in the laughter that followed.

In honor of Marlee G. I am sharing a photo of the Sandstone Bluffs taken near where her ashes remain.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Welcome to my new blog

Cibola County, New Mexico has been my adopted home for 37 years.It is as close to a hometown as I am ever going to have. Being Anglo, moving here was an eye opening experience.It was the first time in my life that I felt like a minority because the area is predominately Spanish and Native American. It took years for me to actually feel at home. It only happened when I began to look around and appreciate what I had been offered.

The 2010 census put us at over 27,000 residents.I began writing about some of those people as a columnist for our local newspaper in 2000, recently adding new stories to my "people gallery". Attempting to reflect the growth of the area. These personal life stories, together with local photographs I have taken of our beautiful county, will make up the contents of this blog.

Cibola county is located halfway between Albuquerque and Gallup. It is the home of four Indian pueblos: Acoma, Laguna, Zuni and Navajo. Chaco Canyon is the site of the ancient ruins of the Anasazi Tribe. Other historic sites include: the Sandstone bluffs, El Malpais National Monument, Acoma-Sky City and several mesas and lava beds.

Our major employers are three prisons, Cibola General Hospital, New Mexico State University Grants Campus, Grants Good Samaritan Center and Wal-Mart. In recent years several casinos have been added between Albuquerque and Gallup. The rest of the county and the town of Grants, where I live, are pretty much like any other small town in Southwestern USA. Our most renowned event is the Winter Quadrathlon held in early February. It attracts participants from all over the world. The start to finish race is 44 miles and includes biking, running, cross county skiing and snow shoeing. It begins in Grants, goes up Mt. Taylor (elevation 11,305 ft.) and back into town. Participants are exhausted when they finish. Many residents hold their breath at the beginning of the new year as they look up at the mountain and pray there will be enough snow for the quad. Grants also holds a four day Bike Rally in July hosting people of all ages who ride motorcycles.

This is my first post on my new blog and I hope I have interested you in getting to know more about Cibola County, New Mexico. The journey begins here follow me...