Rooted: Our big move, Part 5

by June Jewell | October 18, 2021
6 min read
Though not yet the envisioned food forest capable of feeding her family, Jewell's garden has produced after her first full season of planting an array of produce and fruit, including strawberries from these plants. Photograph by June Jewell

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding part of 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.

My family and I have been here in Truth or Consequences for a little more than a year now. I think we’ve settled in quite nicely, especially seeing as we’re in such an interesting time in our society. This feature was meant to be an occasional review of my family’s decision to move here from Virginia and how our plan to start a new life in southern New Mexico is progressing. But it’s been so long since my last installment, I’m not sure where to begin. It seems as though every update here or on my blog has started the same way with “so much has happened since my last entry.” Between my kids, my efforts at developing friendships for myself and family, my business, my expanding food forest, and dipping my toe into community activism, I’ve kept pretty busy. 

When I last wrote in May, I was preparing for my “Mama and Child” show at Desert Archaic Gallery on Broadway in downtown T or C. The show was, in my opinion, a pretty huge success. It had been a long time since I basked in compliments and comments on my work. My paintings and digital creations seemed to connect with people, perhaps because they had some vague but good memory of being held by their own mothers. My work has been up at the gallery ever since. It’s so nice to have a home base, a place where I can direct people to view my work. There are so many local talented artists who show at Desert Archaic and in this town with whom I have gradually been connecting.

Jewell and a selection of her abstract paintings
This summer Jewell received her second local art exhibition, when the Truth or Consequences Brewing Company displayed a selection of her abstract paintings. Photograph courtesy of the T or C Brewing Company

It feels good to have a sense of belonging. 

I also had select large abstract works on display at the T or C Brewing Company this summer. Seeing as the brewery’s one of the more thriving, popular spots in town, having my paintings there felt like another way to introduce myself and my art to the community. Once again, I received some high praise and that has definitely driven me to keep creating. Although I’ve not really sold much, having my work visible to a greater audience, rather than hidden in a box in storage, feels like an accomplishment. 

Since June, I’ve also been taking part in the Sierra County Farmer’s Market which is held at Ralph Edwards Park each Saturday morning. It has been so nice to meet lots of people there and see their support for local small businesses. Because the market is devoted primarily to produce and food vendors, my friend Lala Magpiong, a fellow artist mama (she makes fabulous jewelry and body and home adornments) and recent T or C newcomer like me, began brainstorming different ways to both support each other and local creatives and crafters.

While there are many brick and mortar businesses that show local artists, it can be a bit difficult to figure out from the outside what might be the best fit for one’s work. Another problem is the part-time nature of so many of these retailers. During the pandemic, store hours have been especially inconsistent, but I visited this town for more than a decade before moving here and cannot recall a time when encountering closed signs everywhere was not an issue. 

So Lala and I decided to support and celebrate the local creative community by starting a maker’s market called Makers For Makers. So far, the market has been set up at two events, one in July at Ralph Edwards and the other at the Pickamania concert series at the Black Rangel Lodge in Kingston. Our next markets will be held on October 23 at Hot Springs Glamp Camp, and then on November 13 at Healing Waters Plaza, both in T or C. (For more information, click here.)

During the past year plus, most of us have been living in seclusion, marinating in our own brilliant ideas, hopefully resting as well as contemplating what we would like to see change from the former normal. I recognize my privilege here and know that, sadly, times have grown harder for many. Many others have died. I’m not trying to make light of the events that have taken place, and what is still a very real threat, but I think that now many of us can more easily recognize the broken parts of our society and how toxicity and complacency have become so normalized. We have caught a glimpse of the possibility of a life less ordinary. 

I hope that other young individuals and families such as mine discover this town’s potential. I’ve heard about hopes of branding Truth or Consequences as a creative, healthful and environmentally conscious community, and I’m on board. I believe in fixing what’s broken, and slow, meaningful change and growth. My passions are my family (and local youth), my art (and the art of others) and the environment (globally, but especially locally). There are so many other things I’d love to tackle, but I think I have to focus my efforts on those three main areas. I will continue to fill my days driving these passions forward, personally, professionally and civically.

As for my envisioned food forest, I must say it’s coming along nicely. I’m now taking in kitchen scraps from five households and two businesses for compost. My worm farm is prospering. I’m up to 20 food production trees planted, though none fruited this year, I have been eating the leaves of the moringa. We’re still picking strawberries in October. I seeded out the greenhouse last week, and things are already starting to sprout.

This was my first full planting season, and it went a lot better than planned. I’ve harvested around 20 pumpkins, maybe 100 strawberries, a bunch of cherry tomatoes, maybe 30 small potatoes, a few sweet potatoes, two zucchini, maybe a dozen cucumbers, hundreds of green beans, maybe 30 pea pods, spinach, kale, four radishes and so many peppers. It’s obviously not enough to live off of, but I’d call the garden a success. So many things just gave up. I was warned that navigating desert gardening is a process. Well, the advice I received was actually more like “everything you grow will die,” but I knew to take that with a grain of salt.

Everything has not died, and I hold onto hope that my garden will not only survive, but thrive in the coming years. This town sometimes feels like it’s in survival mode, but I know it has potential to thrive, as well. In the next few years, I’m sure T or C—and my garden—will be abundant and full of life.


June Jewell, artist, mother and occasional Sierra County Sun blogger, moved across country to Truth or Consequences last summer 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.

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