Our big move: part 3

by June Jewell | January 5, 2021
4 min read
"Play is the work of the child." Photograph of Daisy Russett by June Jewell copyright © 2020

Editor’s Note: This is the third in an occasional series of personal reflections by Jewell on the challenges and rewards of making a new life for herself and her family in Sierra County.

I spent many scattered moments pondering what to write about next. Continue writing about isolating with two small children? What’s going on in the garden? Plans for the studio? Yes, yes, yes. I’ll write what I know, and I don’t know much else right now besides those three subjects. I would write some about conversations with neighbors; but, though they’ve been good, they’ve been short and minimal. My van has logged an additional eight miles at most the past month. 

We don’t really go anywhere or do much, but, I must say, Truth or Consequences has been a pretty good place to do that. There’s little-to-no judgment passed, and anything that I do with my kids is praised, even though it feels to me like I’m doing the bare minimum. The things I wish I would do with Calvin and Daisy fall to the wayside when I give myself grace. 

As many parents before me, I am doing my best, given the current state of the world and my current mental state. I often remind myself that “play is the work of the child.” They play, they’re fed, they’re happy and, even without sitting them down with specific lessons, they’re learning so much. We go for walks, read stories, play and watch regrettable amounts of the “Transformers” sci-fi action TV show. The kids are how I spend the bulk of my day. Before I know it, it’s bedtime. 

I am with them constantly, soaking in every moment. The repeated comment, “They grow up so fast,” by elders passing by us doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I am aware of the fleeting moments. I see it when my son’s haircut is already lengthening or when he is slightly braver than yesterday or when my daughter says new words or grasps new concepts.

They are the inspiration for my garden. The thought that they will, hopefully within the year, be able to pick food to eat that they’ve helped grow themselves is fun to imagine.

The garden is still mostly plans, at the moment, and compost in progress. This has been the closest I’ve ever monitored my compost. I bought a compost thermometer and have been keeping a spreadsheet. As of today, I’m on Day 10 of 130-plus temperatures on my second batch. The results from my first batch are nothing less than beautiful and provide motivation to keep going. The contents were kitchen scraps, spent brewing grains from the brewery, leaves from a few yards, wood chips (that I chipped myself) and manure from cows that ventured over the shallow part of the river in front of the dirt dam and into our front yard. 

During that short, half-inch rain we had a few weeks ago, I was out digging trenches before the sun, excitedly watching the water flow into the fresh mini-reservoirs and sink into the sandy soil as opposed to evaporating in the street where it would otherwise collect. 

I’m getting used to the inquiries asking what the heck I’m doing. I’m debating about creating a page on my website to record the progress of my food forest (the name of which is still in brainstorming stages), as well listing the permaculture and regenerative agriculture resources I’ve learned from. I am confident that this preparatory work will come to fruition, but I am also trying not to be too naive to believe I can feed my family without failures along the way. It doesn’t help that many others, who have actually grown food here, tell me about their own failures. I don’t let it bog me down; I must keep hope alive. 

My garden dreams include continuing to enrich the soil, harvesting any rain and greywater I can, planting a food forest and at least one other forest dedicated to wildlife and inspiring others to think and eventually move beyond sustainable agriculture to regenerative. You know, small, attainable goals—like greening the desert. 

That’s what I get excited about. Progress, precipitation and hopes of a desert oasis food forest.

“Blue Heron” by June Jewell copyright © 2020

And, of course, my art. Over the last month or so, I’ve also been working on a large-scale commission of a blue heron, as well as countless other custom digital portraits that many used as holiday presents. The studio is getting electricity soon. The exterior still needs the first coat of paint, but the studio and all other items on my lengthy to-do list are patient and, for that, I am grateful. 

We have collectively put a lot of pressure on 2021 to be better than 2020. I am ready for a fresh start, but also trying to remember all the flowers that grew in the steaming, hot pile of manure of this past year. 

I hope you’re well. Deep breaths, drink some water, get some rest. We’ve got a new year, full of possibilities, ahead of us.


June Jewell, artist, mother and occasional Sierra County Sun blogger, recently moved across country to Truth or Consequences with her husband Nick Russett, pre-school children Calvin and Daisy, a van full of stuff and a heart full of hope. June enjoys digging her hands and feet into her Land of Enchantment garden and painting in any windows of time she can squeeze open.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


Our big move
by June Jewell | October 16, 2020

Why would a thirty-something couple with two pre-school kids leave affluent, green northern Virginia to start over in high-desert Truth or Consequences?

Our big move: Part 2
by June Jewell | November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving week seems like a good time for the Sun’s occasional blogger to take stock of the challenges and rewards of having uprooted her husband...

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