Never surrender

Today marks the official start of the third week of school at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah, even thought it’s only the second calendar week – the four-day block rotation means I only see students four days a week, instead of 5, and allows me at least one daily plan period, instead of teaching 6 classes back-to-back. On A and B days, I teach five classes and on C and D days, I only have four. It’s nice to have a break in the middle of the day like today (an A day.) On B and C days, I have first period prep, which I’m using to make sure my lessons are in order for the day. Then, on D days, I have two prep periods, so there seems to be just enough time to have everything prepared in between classes. I’m excited teaching journalism at the high school level and I’m always happy to see them; I’m doing my best to learn all 143 of their names and personally greet them when they walk in my classroom. I want to earn their respect and remind them constantly how important journalism is to our democracy.

Tell the young high school kids keep dreamin’ because they sure do come true. – Drake

In the middle of class yesterday, as we were discussing the differences between hard and soft news stories, I pulled up a story about the brush fires in Utah and noticed a red breaking news banner across the top of the website about the shooting death of two journalists in Virginia. I was just trying to explain how new stories are written with different tones, and there I was standing in front of ~30 9th graders staring at the TV in stock. I was not prepared for this teachable moment to come so soon, and I thought to myself, “This is getting to be a dangerous profession,” but I couldn’t just tell them that. I reminded them that we have a duty to report the truth and went home to prepare today’s lecture about the freedom of the press. We talked about government interference and how photographing is not a crime; we talked about the BBC reporters who “were reporting from the scene of the crash when they were told by police to delete their video footage.” I was happy telling them their rights as a journalist and how sometimes, police can (unlawfully) interfere with your reporting and threaten to confiscate your materials. And, if you don’t obey their orders, they can have you arrested (which then becomes a story in itself.) But, back to the First Amendment and the freedom of the press: “We have to know and defend our rights as journalists. Would a police officer hand his gun over to you if you demanded it? Your camera is the same as that officer’s gun. You never surrender it. Ever.”

Collecting moments

I almost dropped a few tears at Friday’s faculty retreat when my colleague ended her story on the history of Juan Diego with a personal anecdote about working with foster children whose parents have been detained at the Mexican border – sometimes for up to 5 years without a court date.

It wouldn’t be the first time I fought back tears that day.

It all started the moment we were asked to pick a partner or someone we wanted to get to know better (or knew nothing at all.) There I stood next to my colleague who I’d met months before when I flew out for my interview; I’d wanted to pick her but my gut said that was too easy, and she picked the teacher standing next to her before I could say anything. For a moment, I wanted to cry; it reminded me of being the last person picked for the flag football team in grade school. In a moment, my friend said, “Pick Sister. She’s super cool,” and in a moment, I knew that’s what I needed to do.

Sister, who teaches theology, and I rode the school bus together to our destination and talked about caring for our students and how we can live “bravely” and “boldly” this year. We spent the rest of the morning learning about Juan Diego – “the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas.” Then it was our school principal’s time to talk about the history of Sam Skaggs – a well-known Utah businessman and benefactor who donated the 57-acre campus also known as the Skaggs Catholic Center.

What’s interesting is that Mr. Skaggs converted to Catholicism at the age of 72 after serving in World War II where he witnessed the “compassion and generosity of Roman Catholic chaplains during the war.” This ultimately lead to his conversion. “It was always the Catholics,” Dr. Colosimo said. Tears. 

The retreat ended with an interactive lesson on the Juan Diego seal (or logo or crest or symbol) and the meaning behind each of the elements. A few faculty spoke about the importance of the school’s mission of “Spiritus Donorum,” and as I looked around the room, I noticed grown men rubbing their eyes; one lady said to  please excuse her if she cried. I turned around to see my colleague and fellow new teacher’s eyes big, wet and red and I understood this was where I belonged.

God really outdid Himself with this one: this is how it’s supposed to be, I thought, or at least how I’ve always envisioned it. It’s a world where I don’t mind working so long as I can contribute to the greater good of my community. I am grateful to finally feel surrounded by people who live the way I intend to, giving as much of themselves to the students, each other and to life/God/whatever image for you is God. Honestly, the Catholic church is the last place I would have thought to find what I’ve been looking for but, looking back, it should have been the first place I looked.

“Be strong and of good courage.”

Riding Fivemile Pass OHV Area outside of Lehi, Utah yesterday reminded me how much stronger my right (brake) hand is than my left (clutch) hand. The terrain at 5,300-feet was mostly wide open (read: boring), and rocky. Some spots required all the front brake I could grab bulldogging the bike down a steep hill, locking up the rear brake and putting to use all my years of delicately balancing my mountain bike. When it came time for one of the uphills, I stalled my bike – obviously, I can’t clutch as good as I can brake. After 10 miles of dusty desert jeep trails, which is fun for the side-by-sides and ATVs, I decided I would rather hike, it’s so scenic. Plus, I’m not sure riding there makes me a better rider, either. I was more concerned about dropping my bike and denting the pipe again. I did manage to ricochet off a sage bush and scratch my arm so I must be the only person who can ride in the desert and still run into a tree. Score!

Last Friday I attended the new faculty orientation for teachers in the Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese and I learned a lot about the history of the Catholic Church in Utah and what it means to teach at a Catholic school. For one, when a student tells me something terrible happened in their life, I have the right (and privilege) to say, “I’ll pray for you.” Words like “morals,” “peaceful,” “nurturing,” “patient,” floated around reminding me of my greater responsibility with this job: Utah is celebrating 140 years of Catholic education. “This is a small town in a big city,” someone said, and it’s true. Of the 16 schools in the Diocese, I’m teaching at one of 3 high schools and, while it is not a requirement to be Catholic in order to teach at a Catholic school – in fact, more than 25 percent of teachers are not Catholic – it is encouraged to uphold the Catholic values of caring for each other as relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be Catholic. But it’s not just about being Catholic; it’s more about our commitment to the service of educating the “whole person” and helping prepare student leaders to go make peace in the world. I can jive with that.

“Prayer should come with a disclosure: if you pray, you will change.”

Growing pleasures, less pains

I could never give my child up for adoption, which I just did professionally when I resigned from my position as editor, publisher and advertising manager of Florida Trail Riders Magazine, a position I’ve held for about five years. Now my baby’s new parent is using the wrong “your,” forgetting apostrophes and doesn’t even have a Facebook page. The Facebook page I started for the magazine has more then 3,500 likes, the Twitter and Instagram have an active following and I’m walking away…The worst part is I feel like I’m letting a lot of people down who say they’re sad to see me go: “I feel the magazine is a real mag now.”

It’s harder than I thought.

“Back when it used to matter.”

My pleasures are much greater now. I’m learning my way around the Salt Lake valley, as one of my friends put it: “as far from us as she can.”

My Florida license scored me a nonresident offroad permit: $30 for the year.
My Florida license scored me a nonresident offroad permit: $30 for the year and it’s good in other states, too.
Fiesta loves swimming with the ducks.
Fiesta loves swimming with the ducks.
Taking the girl to the top.
Taking my girl to the top.
Getting used to having the apartment gym to myself!
Getting used to having the apartment gym to myself!

So I know it’s real

I had to buy a couch before sitting down to publish this first blog post since moving to Utah. The couch I found on the online classifieds looked clean and comfortable enough for me to pop in a DVD, lean back, kick my feet up and grab the MacBook that’s tethered to my phone while I’m working from home, finishing off some leftover work from Florida while also preparing for the new school year.
Yesterday, I met a fellow high school teacher while cleaning up the classroom from last year’s Yearbook teacher. She teaches health and P.E. along with coaching girls soccer, assisting with boys and more that I can’t remember. She mentioned the big role I was taking on and how she would be there if I needed anything. Then I stopped by to talk with the ladies in the office; one reassured me that she could tell by my “aura” that I would fit in great around there.
I was beginning to worry when I couldn’t find an available apartment that accepted dogs with a garage within my price range. Even though I’m forking over more than I expected, I’d rather be safe than sorry living in a nice neighborhood less then 10 miles from school. (Note: dumpster diving still occurs around 3 a.m.)
The elevation here in South Jordan is around 4,800 feet, which makes running hard at first and took some time getting used to after sitting on my tail for more than a week driving here.
Babe and I made the 3,000 mile trip in just over 7 days, stopping to split time with his family in St. Louis, ride dirt bikes at some of Missouri’s stellar offroad state parks and 4th of July at the Lake of the Ozarks. Then, it was off through Kansas City, which I learned is actually in Missouri, and a full day’s driving by great green swaths, beautiful sunsets and giant windmills. We stopped in Colorado near Pikes Peak to ride some of the most epic single track I’ve ever seen or thought existed. Then, the last leg consisted of the gnarliest drive on Interstate 70 through Colorado to Utah in the rain, but we stopped for some wild art and picked up some ‘rado swag. I was impressed by the mountains and roads on the way, and the 75 mph speed limit, which was both liberating and scary in some spots.


Colorado captivated me with sights like this one at a rest stop in Vail.
Colorado captivated me with sights like this one at a rest stop in Vail.
The Rocky Mountain Raceways Motocross park sits next to a drag strip by another speedway.
The Rocky Mountain Raceways Motocross park sits next to a drag strip by another speedway.
I put in a few laps for practice at the motocross track in West Valley, Utah.
I put in a few laps for practice at the motocross track in West Valley, Utah.
Crowds covered the stands both nights of the weekend race.
Crowds covered the stands both nights of the weekend race.

DSC_0615 DSC_0620More photos:

Thursday practice – Friday and Saturday racing

Posted by Number One Productions LLC


I started my journey west yesterday, driving more than 600 miles from Asheville to St. Louis where I feasted my eyes on the 630-foot Gateway Arch just as the clock said midnight and counted my 12th straight hour of driving, save for gas, bathroom and coffee stops.

Gateway to the west
Gateway to the west

I’m glad I was able to get one more ride in the Western North Carolina mountains before setting off; Pops and I rode a few miles around the Wayehutta OHV Park outside of Sylva this weekend, until it started raining and traction was hard to find. In Florida when it rains, it’s usually a welcome sign, at least if it hasn’t been raining everyday. The wet cools you off and loams up the sand, which there’s more than enough of. But in the mountains of WNC, when it rains it’s like riding on ice. There’s no traction and it’s hard to tell where the rocky mountain ends and the dirt begins.
I just tried bouncing from rock to rock but we had to be careful due to these “catch pits” that the forestry has developed, Pops said, “So they can have zero run off into the river.”

This makes the tree huggers happy not to have run off from the riding are. It was sketchy riding by because if you get off trail and hit one, you’ll end up on the opposite bank with your front tire stuck in a 6-foot hole. Day over.

We pulled up to an almost empty parking lot, except for one truck with a side-by-side parked next to it and a couple sharing a sub under the pavilion. The guy was quick to complain that “they had the trails all messed up” and must have blamed it on Obama three times before I stopped listening. “Ever since Obama got in there,” and “Obama came in there and messed everything up.”

After those guys took off, the volunteer ranger showed up to check on things and he told me “they spent $160,000 in the park this year,” making the parking lot bigger and safer removing trees and doing trail maitenance. It reminded me of the quote: “Believe half of what you hear and all of what you see.”

Trails to ourselves
Trails to ourselves

Today’s plan is to ride at St. Joe State Park in Park Hills, MO.

A safe space

I wish I could have live-tweeted the digital producer retreat Wednesday at the Open Works co-working space in Greenville, but that would have put an end to our private, invite-only “safe place.” A lot was said that couldn’t be repeated. 
One thing I did tweet was favorited by Post-It Notes because we made a joke about the giant stickies we started filling up with our strengths and weaknesses. We noted more weaknesses than strengths, which was fine because that’s what we were there for: to recognize and improve our digital production experience for ourselves and our audience. 
My boss prepped the six-person team with a few speaking points and told us, “You don’t really need to bring anything except your good ideas.” Of course, I started a list right away and came prepared with nearly two pages of ideas separated into quadrants based on topic.

“She’s got like a whole notebook,” one of the producers noticed. “This ain’t my first rodeo,” I laughed. 

Setting up for the digital producer brainstorming session at OpenWorks Greenville.
Halfway through thr day of brainstorming, we had filled up five giant Post-It notes.
Halfway through the day of brainstorming, we had filled up five giant Post-It notes.
Taking a walk after lunch in downtown Greenville.
Taking a walk after lunch in downtown Greenville.
The Greenville News building, where the compant has been since 1931, will soon be torn down and the newspaper will be relocated.
The Greenville News building, where the company has been since 1931, will soon be torn down and the newspaper will be relocated.
Fall's Park on the Reedy is one of downtown Greenville's main attractions.
Fall’s Park on the Reedy is one of downtown Greenville’s main attractions.
@downtownmelissa captured the crew chilling above Fall's Creek.
@downtownmelissa captured the digital producer crew chilling above Fall’s Creek.

My ideas included more short video pieces on timely topics like man-on-the-street interviews and also adding live coverage (of sports, meetings, concerts or festivals) through social media apps like Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat. There’s potential for a regular series like “What’s on your desk,” that would give readers a sneak peek into the newsroom. Companies are using Snapchat to deliver breaking news or tease new content. With filters, time, geolocation and drawing capabilities, media can provide a real-time, raw human connection with readers. I also continued to advocate for a newsroom Instagram account as another way to connect with readers through behind-the-scenes photos from around the newsroom especially. Lots of brands use Instagram not as a way to get clicks on the website but to let people in on the news through a different format and to get more personal with readers. Instagram can also help the newspaper find happenings around town or breaking news.

For Facebook, I thought it would be a good idea to post Facebook-only video; for instance, what didn’t make the cut and short recaps from reporters about their stories. I also suggested us asking our readers for content using hashtags like #tellasheville or #tellcitizentimes that we could run in print or online. USA Today does a great job of curating user generated content (UGC) with hashtags like #tellusatoday and photo galleries for the top reader photos of the day.
We ended with discussion of not “thinking too much like a newspaper,” and how some reporters are still worried about inch count instead of writing “the story that it’s worth.” All in all, our more Post-It Notes were full of creative ideas and I feel rejuvenated to bring more consistency to the online production (and more embedded tweets.)

The road to Brown Mountain

Not many things are better than looking out the backseat window on the way to go riding in the Western North Carolina mountains with your dad and boyfriend for the day.

Barkbuster buddies in three colors heading to the
Barkbuster buddies in three colors heading to the “Land of Mystery.”

Saturday rides are new to me so it’s not quite the same vibe overall waking up Sunday morning as far as on the news and around town. But since I’m working the Sunday producer shift at my job, I’m left to take the ol’ girl out on Saturday, which is like a Sunday to me in that I’m off Fridays, too.

Through the dog’s nose prints, you can see for hundreds of miles, driving east to Brown Mountain.

Last time at Brown Mountain was a little too slick on some of the offcamber single track, and everyone’s assuming it will be like that again today.

Driving to the offroad vehicle park, the interstate curves tightly down and around the ridge so I volunteered not to drive my truck, especially loaded down with three bikes. It’s way too beautiful outside to take my eyes off the scenery surrounding me, or the abundant Subarus with sometimes funny bumper stickers, sick road bikes or kayaks.

I spotted a dirt bike heading the other way toward Tennessee, which reminded me today is the motocross national at Muddy Creek. We thought about going to that but anyone would rather go ride than watch, especially if you ride, even if the race is less than 100 miles away and both your dad and babe have never been to a national. I would also go just to watch Chad Reed because he’s making a comeback, but I’m not really into forking out money for a ticket and I’d rather go riding, anyway.

Talent speaks for itself

When news broke yesterday that all 19 women who attempted to become the first class of female Army Rangers failed to complete the requirements, I didn’t even want to read the 398+ comments on this USA Today story, but I did. I knew what most would say – that women can’t rise to the same standards as men because of our “lighter bone structure.” Women aren’t “built to do a man’s job.” One comment summed it up: “Even the highest level women athletes in their chosen sport cannot complete with men in the same sport.”

I beg to differ, guy.

Women compete against men in professional motorcycle races, and they win sometimes, too! Elena Myers was the first female to win a professional road race in 2011 and Shayna Texter is the only female to ever win a professional flat track race. (She and her brother Cory will be the first sibling duo to compete in the X Games later this month. Read more, here.)

I’m new to the whole flat track world but I’m intrigued that professional flat track racing doesn’t separate the females from males (at the professional level) as do (all?) other sports. In fact, there are husbands and wives who race against each other. This last weekend at the Sacramento mile, Nichole Mees was the fastest qualifier in the first session, which earned her a front row start. I have always thought women were just as capable as men in terms of talent and ability and I’m so thankful that flat track racing proves me right.

“That’s the cool thing about this sport. The guys don’t look at me any differently. If they had to bump me out out of the way or take me out or whatever, they are going to do the same thing to me as they would their male competitors,” Nichole said.