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Paradise Found!

I’ve lived in Cache Valley for a little more than two years, now. Last summer, I went with a group of friends to the south end of the valley to sit atop a hill in the middle of nowhere, late at night, to witness a Perseid meteor shower. I was out there for about two hours looking at shooting stars. When I took breaks to keep my neck from getting stiff, I would look around to try to figure out where I was in relation to the rest of the valley. To the south of the cow pasture we were standing in, I could see a few orange street lights twinkling in the distance. When I asked one of my friends where the lights were coming from, he said, “Paradise.”

I chuckled, because I figured he just messing with me. Then I asked again, “No, seriously, what’s over there?”

“Paradise,” my friend repeated.

Then it struck me, he was talking about a town called Paradise. For those not familiar with the
nature of Utah town and city nomenclature, the pioneers who settled this and other parts of Utah were quite creative — or, rather, I should say they looked to books of scripture for ideas on what to name their settlements. Paradise of course is another name for Heaven.

Now that I’ve explained to you how it came to be that I discovered this tiny town called Paradise, I will tell you about my first experiences mingling with the friendly citizens of this Cache Valley town with a Utopian name.

Christy Holmes holds a carton of farm-fresh eggs laid by her husband Dave's chickens. The Holmeses have been vending at The Paradise Market since it began three years ago.

Several towns and cities here in our beautiful Cache Valley host a variety of farmer’s and gardener’s markets. Why not? The area is, after all, an agricultural hub. Of the long list of reasons I could give you for coming to visit and/or eventually live in Cache Valley, at the top of that list would be the expression of rich heritage that thrives throughout the area. It’s no secret Cache Valley has always been a flourishing farming and agricultural center — among a whole bunch of other cool things. This place just has a slightly slower-paced way of life, especially during fair-weather months; on my list of places that embody qualities like genuine, old-fashioned, small town goodness, The Paradise Market is up at the top.

The Paradise Market is three years old and starts in June and last until the weather begins to turn cold. The weekly meet is organized by a town committee, which was developed specifically to facilitate the market. I was told this year it has been tough to adapt to the record-high rainfall that affected typical growth in garden produce, but even with the adversity, growers gather every Wednesday, from 6 p.m. to sunset, to peddle the fruits of their labor.

Of course Logan has the well-renowned Cache Valley Gardeners’ Market, which is lauded for traditional crafts, novelties, artisan demonstrations and homegrown produce — I can’t name everything, there’s just too many great things there. One thing, though, that sets Paradise apart is that it’s so much quieter there. The feeling I get from The Paradise Market is that it’s a grassroots, community gathering. This is the kind of place where relationships between friends and neighbors are not only fostered but strengthened and promoted. As a visitor to the town, I didn’t feel unwelcome or alienated; and I was able to watch people who see each other every day interact with one another in a genuinely friendly way.

It should probably go without saying, but the produce I went home with last week was spectacular. The price was rock bottom, and the freshness and quality were great — so much so that I’m going back again tonight. The Paradise Farmer’s Market will be recurring weekly until a couple of weeks after the first frost of the fall. After the frost comes, according to a couple of the vendors, they will   meet until they run out of goods to sell.

Utah-made honey wine vinegar is on display at the table of a local Cache Valley vendor. Tables at The Paradise Market are available to anyone willing to pay a small fee. Only items grown or produced in Utah are allowed to be sold.

Among the fresh kohlrabi, rainbow chard and fresh apricots and peaches, there were also coolers filled with ice-cold sodas, a table with hand-knitted wool winter hats, hand-crafted plates and a table with honey wine vinegar for sale. I bought the vinegar — it was a great addition to the collection of local cooking ingredients I have in my kitchen.

I was told there is usually live music performed by various local musicians, too. So, anybody who’d like to join me for a nice evening in the park. Head south, down Highway 165 until you see the sign that says “Paradise.” Travel about one more mile and look for some tables surrounded by people in the town park. That’s where we’ll be, talking about honey wine vinegar recipes and enjoying one another’s company.

It didn’t rain, like some of the participants and event coordinators hoped, but Cache Valley’s first ever mud run —the 5K Man vs. Mud obstacle course and mud track— still entertained thousands of participants and spectators on a sunny Saturday, in Wellsville, Utah.

The first ever Man vs. Mud 5K run was held Saturday, Sept. 3,2011, at the American West Heritage Center, Wellsville, Utah.

Co-directors Mike Schaefer and David Knight organized a massive 5K track, in cooperation with the American West Heritage Center, which had runners sliding, crawling, sprinting, wading and jumping through a wide range of muddy obstacles. The event took place on Sept. 3, 2011, in the southwestern corner of Cache Valley where the majestic Wellsville mountains provided a late summer backdrop for a beautiful —albeit filthy— day of good, clean family fun.

I was able to track down Schaefer and briefly ask him a few questions regarding some of the details of the event. He told me roughly 2,000 runners had registered by 1 p.m. (the first wave of 150 runners was released at 9 a.m.). Schaefer guessed that another 2,000 or 3,000 spectators were in the massive crowd that showed up to shoot pictures and psych out their friends and loved ones.  When I asked how far some of the “muddites” traveled to take part in the fun, Schaefer said he saw registrations from as far away as North Carolina and Missouri.

Tickets for the event were priced at $40 a pop in advance, or $50 the day of the event. I, personally, felt like this was a lot of money to pay just to roll around in the mud —something that, historically, pigs do every day for free— but surely I underestimate the value, not to mention exfoliant properties, of a good trudge in the sludge. There were strings of people racing around the track when I got there around noon. The local fire department was on site with its trucks so firemen armed with fire hoses could spray down the runners after they got caked in wet dirt.

These Smithfield men, students of USU, came dressed as Captain America, The Green Lantern and a jailbird. They called themselves "Heroes vs. Villains."

There were also several other attractions and diversions available at the venue, partly because the American West Heritage Center already includes certain amenities and sights, including gift shops, horse rides for the kids, and food and beverage vendors. The AWHC’s parking lot was not just full, but fields and overflow parking areas were packed with vehicles from all over Utah and surrounding states. There were cars parked all the way to Highway 89 —the turnout was epic. I have to admit, I was both surprised and impressed with how many people this event drew, especially because it was the first of its kind in our area.

One of the other local websites, cachevalleymagazine.com, stated that Knight and Schaefer expected approximately 9,000 people to show up over the course of the day. When I was out there I could see that there were at least 4,000 people there in the couple of hours that I spent walking around and taking pictures.

I was interested in finding out, too, with such a high registration fee if the money was going to benefit any charities or causes. Apparently, according to cachemagazine.com, Schaefer and Knight have a fundraising goal of $50,000. The AWHC will receive some of the money and “some Cache Valley families in need of serious financial help” will be the recipients of the rest.

As I walked around taking in the sights, I found several articles of clothing, like shorts, shirts, socks

Mud-covered Mia and Eddie Sandoval chow down on burgers sold by vendors at the Man vs. Mud event held at the American West Heritage Center, in Wellsville.

and sneakers, that were abandoned. I guess the previous owners of these items figured it would be no use putting them in the washer at home —mud-logged clothing must not seem worth it to some people. The event website also suggested that costumes were a great way to make the day more fun. I saw a wide variety of groups who decided it was Halloween eight weeks early. One group of guys from Smithfield was dressed up as Captain America, The Green Lantern and a jailbird. They called themselves “Team Heroes vs. Villains.” The group seemed quite jovial for having mud everywhere imaginable. I also saw a group of five or six guys wearing blazers and ties without shirts on. I wondered, since I saw these guys on my way out, if they really knew what they were in for; and I hoped they weren’t planning on wearing those jackets to church the next day. The usual outrageously colored tights, ’80s garb and, of course, tutus,  were other typical elements of the standard mud runner uniform.

Aside from nearly having to threaten a muddy friend in order to keep him from hugging me —I’m a poor sport when it comes to getting dirty when I don’t want to be— I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And my friend certainly appeared to be enjoying himself. After talking to my friend, I was very happy to find out that I could get food and drink at regular rates, rather than the monopolistic prices you’ll see at concerts, movies, or airports.

For those of you who now think I’m not really as much fun as I may think, don’t worry, maybe I’ll actually run the mud track next year. The wet plastic slide by the starting line that went down a huge hill and into a pit of muddy water actually looked like a lot of fun. If you’re thinking about attending this event next year, that is if Schaefer and Knight decide to make this an annual event (which I’m sure they will), there were attractions available this year for all shapes, ages, sizes and interests. You don’t have to be a mud lover or a hippie to enjoy Man vs. Mud. I would, however, suggest that germaphobes stay home or at least stay far away from the mud. Don’t forget to keep your eyes opened for the guy racing toward the fire hoses, that’ll be me… see you there!

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Guess who’s back!

Hello, friends, family, Cache residents and visitors. One year ago —in August 2010— as a budding journalism student at Utah State University, I began to pursue jobs outside the world I came to know all too well. I’m talking about the world of working in restaurants. This was a world I lived in for over a decade after graduating from high school. My pursuit of something new landed me —as good fortune had it— a couple of internship-esque jobs as a writer. I am happy to say that this year I will be returning as a blogger for the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau.

Anybody who read my blog last year should remember: I originally set out to find as many of the fun, exciting and one-of-a-kind things there are to do here in Cache Valley, Utah, and write about them so others could share in my wonderment. The great thing about this place (one of them, anyway) is that I couldn’t possibly fit all of the great things to do into one four-month period. I am happy to say that I’ve been asked to come back and do it all again. Not only do I get a second opportunity to explore new ways of writing about things I like to do anyway —eat, go to shows, enjoy the outdoors and experience new things— but I also get to share these adventures with you, the reader.

Whether you are a Cache Valley native, or you are thinking about coming to visit for the first time, I can attest to the fact that in the short two-years that I’ve been here, there are limitless unique ways to enjoy our beautiful parcel of paradise here in northern Utah.

This year, I already have a long list of  possible topics to write about; plus I’m going to revisit a few of the things I did last year to get a better, more in-depth look. My goal is to express in the best way I can how blessed we are to be nestled here between the Wellsville and Bear River mountains, with great things to do outdoors and in. Just a couple of weeks ago I attended a retreat near Bear Lake as part of a training session for the newspaper I work for —The Utah Statesman. While I was there I was able to take in the calming beauty of the area, however, I was unable to truly enjoy my surroundings to the fullest extent. In the near future I plan to visit the lake again to kayak across it. I can guarantee after I do, readers will be able to find more details about the trip on this website.

Aside from planning a trip to Bear Lake, I also intend to investigate a few of the annual athletic events that take place here. One new event, inspired by a new filthy trend sweeping the nation, mucking up the faces of all who take part, is a 5K mud run that takes place Saturday, Sept. 3, in Wellsville, Utah (the southwestern border of Cache Valley). I hope to make it to the venue in time to talk to some of the participants and rake up some juicy dirt on what it is that motivates a person to trudge through mud alongside, possibly, thousands of other mud-lovin’ runners.

The event, officially called “Man vs. Mud” begins at 9 a.m. and is sponsored by several organizations, including the American West Heritage Center. Of course I will shovel up a whole bogful of more details while I’m there. This race has been receiving truckloads of hype and should promise to be a spectacle that nobody should miss. But if you do miss it, I’ll be there to get you the best version of a vicarious account of the magnificence and mayhem.  As always, maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one trying not to get my camera muddy.

The fall semester of 2010 has come to a close at Utah State University. I took my last final this morning, and as I walked through the door into the 10 degree weather, I breathed a sigh of relief. With a smile on my face – watching the vapor that vented from my mouth as I exhaled – I briskly walked to my car and left campus.

For a couple of months now, I have been anticipating a trip to Pennsylvania to join my family and old friends for Christmas and New Years. I moved to Utah almost five years ago. This is the first time since then that I’ll be spending the holidays with my loved ones. As I’ve prepared for this trip, I have thought about all of the great things I have done here in Cache Valley since I moved here not so long ago. I’ve seen several shows at the Ellen Eccles Theatre. I have enjoyed many hikes and nature walks. I have also begun to explore local eateries, as well as coffee shops and ice cream parlors. Autumn hosted several iconic, annual events that I believe help make Cache Valley what it is. All of these things I’ve done add to the unique signature of this beautiful northern Utah treasure.

The past couple of weeks of winterish weather have reminded me what it’s like here during this wonderful time of year. Leaving the house in the morning to see the sun glistening on the powdery snow makes for a wonderful way to wake up. More often than not as I  jaunt around town, doing the things I do, I catch myself with a grin – if not a full-blown smile – on my face. I think to myself, “Man! I’m really glad I came here!”

Soon I will be on a plane heading 2,300 miles east. I’ll spend some time in New York City at Rockefeller Center and Times Square (a past-time of mine and my family’s), and as I look at the holiday lights I will remember the quaint streets of Providence and Logan (and surrounding areas). There’s something really cozy and comfortable about this place! I feel welcome. I embrace each day with a determination that life is good.

I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to blog about my adventures. This is my last post on the Cache Valley Blog…maybe someday I’ll do it again. Thank you for reading. Remember, as you explore Cache Valley, keep your eyes open for me, I’ll be around!

Ever since age 15 one of my favorite places to go is the local coffee shop. As a poet I have written many times about the solace and respite found in such a place as an espresso joint. Even if you don’t drink coffee, a good coffee shop has so much (more) to offer. The essence, the ambiance, great food, a wide variety of hot and cold beverages – these are all, among other things, excellent reasons to visit your local beanery.

Whether you go to write, converse, read the paper, do the puzzles, meditate or just plain be around people, the sweet smell of fresh ground, fresh brewed coffee will delight you. I even spent time working in a coffee shop in Moab as a barista and manager. While I had these jobs, I learned many tricks of the trade, including what the difference is between a breve, a latte and a macchiato.

No matter where I go, I stick my nose out in search of the best place to sit down, grab a drink and open my notebook and write. Now that I live in Cache Valley, the obvious local destination is evidently Caffe Ibis (usually referred to as just “Ibis”). Ibis does not only sell coffee drinks, it also roasts its own beans. The roasting/brewing company touts a wide selection of roasts, including several that are triple certified – organic, fair trade, shade grown/ bird friendly. To the conscious coffee drinker, these are excellent qualities for a bean to have.

Caffe Ibis is also a bustling deli that prepares some wonderful breakfast items for people of all tastes. The walls in the shop are adorned with artwork produced by local painters, photographers and multimedia artists. In every  corner of the store, you can find gourmet chocolates, locally grown produce like apples and garlic, trinkets and other exotic treats. Ibis is just an all-around great place to explore. As I said, you don’t have to be a coffee drinker to find a reason to be there. Several afternoons and nights, the shop is home to musical performances by local singer/songwriters.

If you want the true coffee shop experience, take it from me, Caffe Ibis is the place to be. Devoted fans come from all over to purchase the unrivaled, triple-certified roasts that are offered. Ibis also ships their beans to Moab – a place where I lived for a few years – to supply some of the local coffee dispensaries there. If you are interested in finding out more about Caffe Ibis, you can go online and check out their frequently updated and beautifully designed Web page at: http://caffeibis.com/.  Ibis is also part of the Cache Valley Food Tour so those who are interested can see the magic as it happens behind the scenes. If you stop by, make sure you say ,”Hi.” I’ll be there.

In the heart of downtown Logan is nestled maybe the oldest restaurant in the area still in business. I’m talking, of course, about the Bluebird Restaurant. The Bluebird originally opened in 1914 as a soda shop and candy store. Apparently it moved to where it currently resides, at 19 North Main St., in 1921. Since then, from what I learned today, the Bluebird has been serving food to residents and visitors of Cache Valley.

Today was the first time I actually went into the restaurant to eat. It was almost 2 p.m. and I hadn’t had lunch yet. Not being familiar with the menu, I asked the waiter who greeted me what he would suggest. I was told that some of the house favorites include the Bluebird Chicken, Steak Oscar and the Clubhouse Sandwich. At lunchtime, I’m always a fan of a good club.

I was very impressed by the Iron Port soda that I ordered. It was made the way I imagine sodas were traditionally made – start with club soda and add the good stuff. The flavor of the drink was unique and refreshing.

I decided to go with the Clubhouse Sandwich, on rye bread, and because English chips were available, I opted for them as my side. The sandwich was great and the chips lived up to what I expected. To me, this is comfort food.

I enjoyed my meal from a seat at the counter, which faces a large mirror mounted above what I was told is the original marble from when the establishment was built. The atmosphere was certainly quaint. I almost felt like I was back East in a New York diner about 60 years ago – I’m speculating, of course. As I sniffed the air, I could smell the wonderful, splendrous smell of chocolate. This is because I was practically surrounded by it. Behind me were numerous cases filled with chocolate creations of all shapes and sizes. There was milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate in endless supply. There were macaroons and candy bars and chocolate covered everything. I learned the decadent treats were chocolatiered by Alvey’s, from Richmond, Utah.

If I would have had more money, I probably would have left with a bag full of chocolate goodies. Unfortunately, I was not financially prepared to feed into my weakness. I was, however, happy to find that most of the menu items on the Bluebird menu were very affordable, including my sandwich.

On my way out, I was able to look around at the restaurant, and see the multiple stories available for fine dining and banquet seating. The ceilings were high and the walls were adorned with ornate, restored moldings and paint. There were also several pictures of historic Logan landmarks. The Bluebird Restaurant was certainly a step back in time. I was treated with the same level of hospitality I’d imagine existed when the place first opened its doors to patrons in the early 1900s. For anyone looking for a warm atmosphere, a free look into local history and a delicious, affordable bite to eat, join me at the Bluebird…see you there soon!

Polar Extremes

In the summertime, the sun shines, the birds sing and the grass is green. Kids play out in the streets and in their yards until late in the evening. The sun does not set until late in the day, and even when it does, the light lingers in the sky at dusk.

As autumn rolls around, the leaves in the trees change color. They take on the most brilliant array of colors. The crisp evening air inspires romance and reminiscence of childhood memories of playing in piles of raked leaves. Pumpkins are carved, crops are harvested and parents prepare their children for another year of school.

The fall season eventually begins to wane, and here, in Logan, Utah, we taste winter sooner than the calendar foretells. Although the solstice is not until three quarters of the way through December, snow has already fallen several times upon Cache Valley. Coats and gloves, shovels and snow blowers, and even festive lights have been returned to circulation in preparation for another chilly winter season.

Yesterday (Nov. 23), a ferocious storm arrived on the coattails of a blustery, relentless wind. Schools closed early in anticipation of the cantankerous cries of old man winter. The howling wind blew snow in all directions but primarily horizontally. Those summer citizens, who revel in the sunny beauty that Cache Valley has to offer, may know that we see such storms, but it seems as though they may not fancy such frigid extremes.

After living in southeastern Utah, in a place where the sun never seems to go away and summer temperatures skyrocket, I find happiness in seeing blizzards such as the one that came yesterday. From the warmth of my home, I stood at the windows in awe of the spectacle that I beheld. Within an hour, the streets went from macadam black to wintry white. It seemed, at those moments, that if I saw a polar bear or penguins shuffling by, nothing would have been out of order.

I truly love the wide range of beauty that I have seen since I moved here. What a variety of adventures to be had! I’ve enjoyed summer hikes in Logan Canyon. I’ve enjoyed evening musicals and operatic matinees at the Ellen Eccles Theatre. I’ve discovered splendid venues for fun and affordable dates. I’ve seen the sun shine as it glistens on the pearly white, snowcapped Wellsville Mountains. Within the next few weeks, I will continue to explore the wonder of Cache Valley and eagerly report on my findings.

I must say, in light of the holidays, that I am truly thankful that I’ve been able to move to Cache Valley. I am undeniably grateful for all of the wonderful times that I have had here already, and I am sure there are many more to come. I say with confidence, to anyone who has the opportunity visit, or live here, this is a truly remarkable place. Thank you for reading…I will see you soon. Happy Thanksgiving!

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