Saturday, June 27, 2015

True Service

*A summer re-run.

Once when I was relatively new in the church I learned a great lesson. I learned it in Relief Society.
Relief Society was a unique experience for me back then.  There I found lots of women gathering together without coffee, cake, and canasta!
After a time I figured out that service to others was a big part of what they did there.
In fact, I was told by a sister who later became a close friend, that it was customary to hold a "baby shower" for new Relief Society members.
This was to provide them with plenty of serving dishes to replace the ones they would lose from dragging dinner around the ward all the time.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I figured out that she was kidding.

Another friendly sister did give me some helpful hints though.
She wisely said to buy disposable foil pans whenever they’re on sale. And always check the dishes aisle at Deseret when you’re in there dropping stuff off, because you can pick up casseroles really cheap.
I still do that to this day even though now if I’m asked to provide a meal for someone in the ward it’s most likely going to be take-out chicken.
These things are important to know because becoming a Mormon is more than just doctrine and scriptures, believe me.
For some people it's a whole new way of life.

Well, anyway, one Sunday someone in the Relief Society presidency asked me to help with a new project.
An elderly blind lady, a new convert, had just moved into the ward boundaries. She lived in a little trailer park just across the canal. The sisters were taking dinner to her each night and I was asked to pick one day of the week to be my assignment.
I was assured that this was “easy."  All I had to do was make a plate of food, whatever I was fixing for my family, and take it over to her by 5:30 on my day.

I figured I could handle that so I signed up for Tuesdays.
It did turn out to be really easy and we got into a routine.
On my designated day each week I wrapped up whatever we were having, made a little pitcher of lemonade or Koolaid, took it over to this sister who was always so grateful, and put the food down on her table.  I explained that the meatloaf or whatever was at 12 on the clock,  potatoes were at 3,  green beans at 6,  and roll at 9. Then I left the lemonade on the side at 2 on the clock. Then I asked her if there was anything at all that I could help her with.
She always said the same thing…”No, no, no…you ladies do way too much for me already! Thank you so much!”
Then each week I left and drove home feeling good about myself and my “service.”

Well, one Tuesday in the summer, I was home from teaching, and really busy painting kid’s bedrooms or something, and I was way behind schedule.
I had made dinner in the crockpot and put a salad in the fridge earlier in the day. So now I packed it up as usual but had no time to shower or clean up. I thought I could get away with this because this sweet sister was blind after all.
But on the way out to the car I realized that I didn’t smell exactly flower fresh.

As I was loading up I had an idea.
I stood outside the car and began to holler for my oldest kids.
This was back in the day when parents could let their kids run all around the neighborhood and in and out of friends’ houses without a worry. It was an evening ritual to hear moms and dads hollering from their driveways….. SUUUUUSIE… LOOOORIE…  ALLLLLLLEX…DAAAAAVID……FERNAAAAAANDO… DIIIIIIIINNNER!
Kids would pop out from backyards and houses all down the block and return to their original owners until the next day. Usually there were bunches of kids at our house but I had shooed them all away so I could paint in peace.

Well, my 9 year old son popped out first. ”What do you want, Mom?” he yelled.
“Come home…I need you,” I yelled back.
When he got there I told him to get in the car because I needed him to take dinner in to this sister because I was smelly. He nodded.
I explained how he was to tell her where the food was on the plate…like a clock. Then put the lemonade on the side at 2 o'clock and ask if there was anything he could do for her.  "It’ll only take a minute," I assured him.
“Okay,” he said.
When we arrived he went up the steps to her trailer with the food and lemonade.

Well, he was gone a long time!
I began to fret and just as I was about to go inside despite my lack of recent bathing, he came out the door.
“What took you? I asked him. “Did you break something?”
“No, Mom.  I just did what you told me. I gave her the plate and told her where everything was, like on a clock. Then I asked her if I could do anything for her, like you told me, and she said she lost a slipper under the bed somewhere and could I find it, and she needed a jar of pickles opened, and she couldn’t find the mustard. Then there was a tape from her son stuck in the player. After I got it out we listened to the last part of it. Did you know he used to play in Little League too? He used to play outfield just like me. We use the same kind of glove. He lives in Texas now. I think she misses him. You know, just stuff she needed.”

“Oh, okay son. Thanks.” I replied.

On the drive home I remember thinking that it was strange that I always asked her if she needed help and never once had she asked me to do anything for her.

Well, Tuesday came around again and I thought I’d try a little experiment.
After I packed up the food and the lemonade I stood outside the car and called out the mother song..…."KIIIIIIIIIIM…COOOOOME HOOOOME."
She eventually popped out and came running. “What do you want, Ma?”
I explained that I needed her to take dinner in to a sister in our ward because I had a headache and on the way over I told her about the clock and the drink and told her to be sure to ask her if there was anything she could do for her before she left.
Kim said okay and up the steps she went. Well she was gone even longer than her brother. 10minutes…15minutes….20minutes.

No problem. I had brought a book this time.
When she finally came out I asked, “What took you?”
She said, “Ma, I only did what you told me. I put her plate down and told her the chicken was at 12, the potatoes at 3 and everything. Then I asked her if she needed anything and she said that her robe had fallen behind the dresser and could I get it. She needed to pick a sweater to go with the dress she was going to wear tomorrow and she couldn’t see the colors. The aspirin bottle was too hard for her to open and her jewelry box was all tangled up and she couldn’t find the necklace she’d been looking for. We straightened it all out. Did you know that she has a necklace shaped like a heart that opens up and she keeps a lock of hair in it!  It was her husband’s. I think she misses him.”

“Oh, okay", I said.  "Thanks for your help.”

The next Tuesday I made sure that I was all clean and fresh and I took dinner in myself.
After I explained about the food I asked her if there was anything at all I could do for her.
She replied, “Oh no, no, no. You ladies do way too much for me already. I don’t want to be a bother. Thank you so much!”

Later I checked with some of the other sisters who brought dinner.  They were always told that same thing.


After that when I made dinner on Tuesdays, I packed it up with the meat at 12 on the clock, the potatoes at 3, vegetable at 6 and roll at 9. And I made a little pitcher of lemonade.

Then on my way out the door, I called a 9 year old boy or an 11 year old girl to come with me so that they could do the real service.

*Author’s Note
This reminds me of another “Mormon” thing.  Part of the culture, so to speak.
The thing is this.
Bake two cakes.
It's a Relief Society lesson that I learned too late.

That boy I just told you about, well, that same boy came home from school one day to the smell of chocolate cake filling the house. Not an everyday occurrence at our house.
He went straight to the kitchen and there on the counter was a freshly baked cake with gooey chocolate icing and chopped nuts sprinkled on top…..His favorite!!!
I was standing at the sink, very busy, and I glanced over at him.
His eyes looked at me longingly and then he said what every Mormon kid says at a time like that.
You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

”Who’s that for?”  he asked.

Today I would give practically anything if I’d said the right thing that afternoon so long ago.
Which was, of course, “Why it’s for you, honey. I love you so much and I missed you while you were at school and I wanted to surprise you.”

But I didn’t say that.
I told him it was for the family who just had a baby and I was taking them dinner.
The light went out of his eyes as he went off to do the usual after school things.
And now, so many years later, I still feel the sting of regret.

Regret because that boy is gone now. I’ll never get him back.
In fact he has a boy of his own, growing up fast. I hope he and his dear wife are wiser than I was.

When Kim, his older sister, heard this story recently, she said she knew just what I meant.
She said the exact same thing happened to her when she was baking homemade rolls one day.
Only the boy that came into her kitchen with a light in his eyes was 40 and she was married to him.
She said the right thing though….”Why honey, these rolls are for you. I know they're your favorite and I missed you so much today.”
Then she hurried to make a pan of cornbread for the family that just had a baby in the ward.

I didn’t raise stupid kids you know.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Father's Day Tribute to Mother

Tis the season when thoughts turn to fathers.
Our thoughts don't turn to them often enough, actually. Those men of all shapes and sizes who work hard all their lives, buying diapers and braces when they really want fast cars.
Unsung heroes, those men who are "there" for their families.  Who show up, with all that means, on the stone days and the diamond days, no matter what.

So I turned my thoughts to them.
And when the thoughts turned, one thing I recognized is that there would be no great fathers without the women they turned into mothers.
So, in honor of Father's Day, I remembered the first time that I knew I was a great mother to our teenagers.

It was late on one of many Friday or Saturday nights.

Larry and I, being worn out from working all week and being the parents of four kids, two of them currently in their early teens, (as exhausting as toddlers, by the way), went to bed and were snoring by 10:00.
At 11:30 the alarm went off.
I rolled over to shake Larry.
He sat up on the side of the bed and began to pull on his pants. The belt was still in them. It saved time.
As he zipped and sleepily buttoned his shirt he asked me the Friday/Saturday night question.
"Bowling alley, church dance, pizza parlor, or movie theater?"
I, who am responsible for knowing things, replied, "Movie theater."
Then I patted his shoulder as he tied his shoes, said, "You're a good father," and rolled over to go back to sleep. (Notice the support and encouragement here.)

This happened too many times to count until those teens were able to drive.

After they could drive the scenario changed.

Exhausted, overworked parents in bed by 10:00 again.
Phone rings at 12:00. They stay out later now.
The phone is on Larry's side of the bed.  He answers, hands it to me, and says, "It's for you."

Teenager on the line says,  "Ma, make dad come to:  (Choose one) movie theater, church, Stake Center, gas station on the corner, side of the road down from the Circle K, Jake's house, etc., etc.  Tell him to bring: (Choose one) battery charger, jack, spare tire, money for gas, gas, fuel filter etc. Tell him a bunch of people need a ride home too. My car's full."

I thought it strange that this little scenario never changed.
The call was always for me. (Notice how important the mother is.)
Larry always answered and said nothing except "Hello."  Then he handed the phone to me saying, "It's for you."
Before I could speak he began to put his pants on. The belt was still in them to save time.
I was always told by the teenager on the line to "make dad" do something.

And always, when he returned and climbed back in bed, he smelled of:  (Choose one) pizza, hamburger with onions, chile dogs, french fries, chocolate from a sundae etc.

Seems word got around that this dad would come to rescue kids at any hour if they fed him afterwards.
Sometimes not even his own kids. Sometimes he had to spring for the pizza too.

It's been many years since we've had teenagers.
But if the phone ever rings in the dead of night the same thing always happens.
There Larry will be, sitting on the side of the bed, pulling on his pants, waiting to see where he's supposed to go.

Old habits die hard.
It always reminds me of what a good mother I've been.

"I do nothing of myself; but as my father hath taught me."
                                                                    John 8:28

Monday, May 25, 2015

Apple Seed Promises

We've had an unusually cool spring here in the Sonoron desert.  Add that to some unheard of May rain and we are all extremely grateful. Jubilant even!
Doors and windows are being left open at night to let in the "free" cold air.
In a month that draft will be very expensive.

Lately when Larry and I are out and about we see people in their yards soaking up that wonderful "cool" for the long summer siege. Kids can even be spotted in the neighborhood parks playing basketball at high noon!

We can go somewhere practically every day in this weather, tooling along on our motorized carts in about a 5 mile radius from home. Larry looks quite dashing in his Indiana Jones hat and dark glasses that the doctor says he must wear to keep safe from the sun. If he had a whip you'd look twice for sure.

Every restaurant, bank, and store knows us well.
Young people run to open doors for us and waitresses hurry to take away the chairs from our usual tables as soon as they spot us from across the street.

Teenaged carryouts vie to load us up with our groceries, knowing that we have special permission from management to tip them because we're so much trouble. Most of them know our routine. Just push Grandpa around because he can't see or hear, laugh at his jokes, put the water and other heavy stuff at his feet, and load Gma after she pays. It turns out that a little $5 bill can still light a kid's eyes. We appreciate their help so much and that eye sparkle makes our day.

Yes, our little geezer parade has become a fixture in these parts, people honking and waving as they pass.
Once a stranger stopped to tell us we look so "cute," racing along the sidewalks together.
We've gone from being competent, contributing human beings to being cute.
Who thought it would come to this?

But at least I always win our races.
Larry has to follow me because of his poor vision. But as we go along our way I always stop by any bright flowers for him. He can see the red and orange Mexican birds of paradise now coming back after winter. And the bright tips of the penstimmons and fairy dusters. And the glorious spring palo verde trees that overhang the sidewalks. Now when we look up through them we see their green branches filled with yellow blossoms and blue sky. And a breeze will bring a flower shower on our heads if we're lucky. That's a love note from Father.

People call out that I'm winning the little race we seem to be running, but Larry's always quick to explain to anyone who'll listen that his cart is actually faster than mine.
He tells them he just lets me win.
I tell them that he's been chasing after me for 50 years now.
One guy asked if he ever caught me.
I told him, "Well, sir, we do have children."

Anyway, even this late in May my patio pots look wonderful, spilled over with sweet allysum. And the johnny-jump-ups still make you smile at their purple and yellow giggles just as they did in the winter months.

Usually this sort of thing never happens so far along in the spring. By most Junes my flowers are winding down due to the heat, starting to struggle and looking a bit crispy no matter how much shade and water I provide. This time of year I must get ready to pull plants and shut down for the summer, just when mountain and beach folks are planting.
It's the saddest garden chore, that pulling of plants is.

I did sow a few seeds for summer though.
Ones that are supposed to be able to withstand high temperatures.

I was seduced by a plant catalog filled with glorious pictures of varieties "sure to do well" in the hottest summer months.
The catalogs were written by liars, I know.
Liars who live in Minnesota or Colorado. What do they know about heat?
But hope springs eternal.
And last year I did manage to grow a few precious Bells of Ireland from seed. Their spicy smelling green stalks filled a single flower arrangement with wonderful fragrance.
When I was just a girl I remember helping a dear neighbor in her garden who grew them by the bucketful. I wish I could talk to her now.

I'd also like to talk to the man who was the landlord of our first newlywed apartment.
There was a long wooden fence behind our building, all the kitchen doors opening to a sidewalk that ran along back. In the dead of winter he was busy out back planting seeds. By early spring the whole, long fence spilled over with six foot tall sweet peas, their fragrance filling the air, their colors a pink and purple parade waving to every eye that passed.
I remember leaving the kitchen door open all day to let those sweet peas in.
The landlord encouraged the tenants to pick as many flowers as we wished.
He said picking encouraged more blooms. I was happy to oblige.
Sweet peas have been a favorite of mine ever since, bringing memories along with their colors and scent.

Seeds are amazing things really.
Each one is a promise.
Take a close look at one and think about it. There's a great lesson to be found there.
Remember the old saying,
"You can count the seeds in an apple, but you can't count the apples in a seed."
I used to post that on my classroom door as one of the "Great Thoughts" every year. It brings to mind the scripture, "By small means great things are brought to pass."

Think of an apple.
Cut it into pieces and count the seeds as they fall out. There will be just a few, enough to barely fill your palm.
But say you planted them all.
Perhaps half will take root and grow to seedlings.
Perhaps half of them will flourish into saplings.  Maybe one or two will make it to maturity and become productive apple trees.
In season each of those full grown trees will produce many apples, hundreds perhaps, each containing a few seeds.
What if you planted all of the seeds from every single apple born by those trees?
What if you planted every seed from every apple from every tree that grew thereafter.
Apple after apple after apple. Season after season after season.

Think what that would mean. Think hard.
Seems like you may need a lot of ground to contain all those apple trees after a while.
After time, it might take a whole country to contain them, apple trees producing countless apples wherever they could grow.
Keep planting every seed from every apple, season after season after season.
After that, what? Given time, the whole earth would have every spot where apples could grow filled with trees.
Where would you plant the seeds then?

Seems like we may have apple trees "without number" eventually.
Perhaps you'd need a galaxy to hold them. Then perhaps a universe.

An eternal concept, that "without number" thing isn't it?
Too many to even count. Numbers won't go that high after time.
All from a seed small enough to be tiny in your palm.

Isn't that what Father says? "Worlds I have without number."

"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that  by small and simple things are great things come to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise."
                                                     Alma 37:6

Does anything else behave like a seed?

Is a smile too small to be a seed? What could grow from it?
What about a kind word spoken? Or a harsh one not?
Small acts of kindness maybe? Or charity? Or work? Or love or sacrifice. Or little bits of determination or perseverence or self discipline.

What other small things can bring great things to pass?
What else can start something that will end up "without number."
What else holds the eternal promise of an apple seed?

Think about it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pain Is a Great Teacher

"Pain Is a Great Teacher" was one of the "great thoughts" I posted on my classroom door when I was teaching high school.
It sparked some interesting discussions.

But now I whine, like my students sometimes did, that I can't accomplish things because of pain. Physical that is. As opposed to the psychic or emotional or "what a pain!" type.
I get so frustrated when I have to stop, lie down and ice up for a couple of hours before I can finish something important and time sensitive.
Pain seems so useless when nothing can be done about it. And it gets in the way of achieving anything really worthwhile!

Then I heard the word "achievement" used to describe Christ's Atonement.
It said that the Atonement wasn't just the greatest act of selfless love ever known to mankind, but also the greatest achievement.
The greatest accomplishment.
I stopped whining for a minute to think about that.

More than the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, or sending men to the moon, or discovering penicillin. Or inventing the telephone or digging the Panama Canal. Or anything else mankind has ever been able to do.

Christ's Atonement.
The most magnificent, epic achievement ever. The greatest accomplishment in history.

Completed while suffering unimaginable pain.

Remember that the Atonement was made when the one accomplishing it was in pain so great it caused drops of blood to seep from every pore.
Then the task was finished while nailed to a cross.
There might be a message here.

Then again, I sometimes get discouraged because of the insignificance of what I can do?
In the past I used to be able to contribute more. Not much compared to others maybe, but more.
Why even make the monumental effort it takes these days for such puny results?
These days I find myself in the lines of my favorite Tennyson poem,
      "Though we are not now that strength
       which in days of old, moved earth and
       What we are, we are."

Not strength for moving earth and heaven for sure. Filling a few flower pots is about all the earth moving I can manage.
But since "I are what I are," maybe I should move whatever I still can.
After all, my little spot on earth is more beautiful if I plant those sweet peas and mums.
And that's one.

And here's a comforting thought that just wandered across my feeble brain.

Compared to Father, all human feats are tiny anyway.
Next to what He can do, all of mankind's efforts combined pale in comparison.
All those bridge buiders, disease cure finders, rocket senders, peacemakers, presidents and kings, as great as they may be, can't begin to compare to what Father has achieved.

Even the greatest man's greatest efforts.

So perhaps the key isn't "what" you've accomplished. "What" may not be important at all.
Perhaps the important thing is that you keep on accomplishing what you can.
That might be a principle of enduring.

Maybe Father won't ask us, "Did you contribute something astounding?
Maybe He won't say, "Let me see a list of the diseases you cured, or the countries you ruled."
Maybe instead He'll ask each of us, "Did you contribute what you could?  Right to the end.  Even when it hurt."
Maybe especially when it hurt.

All of this pondering leads me back to ponder on Father's hand in the stages of human life.
I know there's a purpose in each.

But I've never really understood why so many human beings grow frail with age. Because almost everybody who lives long enough will eventually become frail.
That seems backwards and counterproductive to me.

Here we have a growing army of people who've learned to do so many useful things. Brimming with experience and know-how.
But with backs and knees that keep them from climbing ladders to fix the world's leaky roofs, metaphorically speaking.
And with so many leaks in this world the rain's pouring in on everybody's heads!

Shouldn't old people get up there to help? With all that wisdom what a force we could be!
Shouldn't humans get physically stronger with age? Wouldn't that make more sense?

Yes, I've had a hard time figuring out the purpose of age related disability.
I'd like to talk to somebody about that living a long and useful life and then "being called back in a twinkling of an eye."  Isn't that how things will work during the millenium?
Seems like a better idea to me.

But then, after a longer ponder, perhaps one reason so many of us finish up life as old people is because "old," and all that goes with it, is a great test of faith.
I can testify of that.
Yes, perhaps old age is the widow's mite principle all over again.
Applied to our whole life's work this time.
Because time leaves so many of us with only mites to give.

Do we understand Father well enough to know how important it is to give them?

On those last days of this short lifetime, with all the indignities of age, were we making some kind of effort to do something, anything, even the smallest thing, good?
Did we try to improve ourselves and demonstrate love to the last?

Maybe that last mite we are able to give will be the most important one of all.

Maybe that's part of what it means to endure to the end.
I'm thinking about that.
You think about it too. Let me know what you found out.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Geezer Gripes and Teens' Advice

I was disappointed to learn from the April church conference that "Hang in there" isn't a gospel principle.
I was hoping it was.
Because I can do a pretty "good grin and bear it" sometimes.
But apparently endure to the end doesn't mean hanging and grinning.
Enduring means more.
Like trying, accomplishing, learning, progressing, making a contribution maybe.
Even when it hurts.
Those things might be part of enduring.
Which makes it harder.

You see the passing years have left their mark on me, as it has on some of the others who live around here.
Though in my case, not physically empowering or attractive ones.
Which is another geezer gripe by the way.
Why does my husband continue to be attractive while I continue to be just old? He may be feeble but he still looks good. At least to me. Is that fair?
Have you noticed that men often get better-looking with age?  Who thought of that, I'd like to know?
I'll bet it was a man.

But I digress.
My mind does that a lot now. Wandering off down Apple Lane, next to a creek in spring where yellow columbines grow wild. There it goes again.


The other day I was cleaning a mirror with my handy dandy, swiffee, "you can reach it from a wheelchair thingy" when I noticed my reflection.
I was shocked at who was looking back at me.
Yes, time indeed marches on.
And sometimes right across your face too.
And over your hair, since you stopped coloring, and down your back, and into your knees and hips.
Now the scriptural reference to "feeble knees and hands that hang down" has a whole new meaning for me.
Old hands have young muscle memory you see.
And that's a dirty trick too.
Because this means that they automatically remember to grip items such as a new bottle of soy sauce with the proper amount of strength to hold it and put it in the cupboard. However, now, those hands being old and forgetful, the grip seems to stop automatically just as the pain from creaky joints kicks in, which is not enough to actually hold that bottle, so it crashes to splinter in a thousand shards on that awful ceramic tile floor.

You'd think I'd compensate by holding tighter. But I forget to remember.
Another dirty trick.
As I gaze at the current mess, my mind goes for a wander back in time.

I hear voices.

"Find a way! Figure it out. Go in the back door. Try a different approach." the voice says.
Because back when my students were discouraged I spoke those very same words countless times as their teacher.
There was even a poster I had on my special ed classroom wall for years.
It showed a photo of a young man in a wheelchair, poised over the tippy top edge of one of those crazy skateboard half pipes, ready to fling himself over and off.
Your heart skipped a beat just looking at it.

Next to that picture was another of a group of kids playing ping pong in a school yard. Their school in the background was a half bombed out pile of rubble. The table was without a net, cracked, and missing one leg. A dozen kids were lined up to play. Before taking the cardboard paddle, the first in line took a turn at the corner, serving as the missing table leg so the others could play.
Three legs and a child and they were in business.
They found a way.

I used that poster many times when a student with a disability came in to whine that he wasn't able to do something because of his limitations.
I'd look intently in their eyes and point silently at the poster. The kid then usually groaned in disgust and went back to try again.
I'll never forget a terrific young man, a senior football player with severe dyslexia, who came to me just about defeated after struggling with a science text and a long written assignment.
"Mz Dub! There's no way I can pass this class! There's just too many words!" he wailed in defeat, words on paper being far more formidable than a hulking tackle trying to knock him flat.
I pointed to the poster and handed him a small tape recorder.
He groaned.
But then he went to his teacher, they worked something out for the written work, and he passed the class.

Now I hear the voices of my students laughingly tell me many times a day, "Find a way, Mz Dub!"
That's irony for you.
And maybe justice too.
So, I usually groan in disgust and try it again a different way.

Come to think of it, that's how I started cleaning mirrors with paper towels and that long "swiffee" mop reachy-thingy.
And how I figured out how to make pasta without carrying a pot of boiling water to the sink while still seated. (Just turn off the heat and use tongs to grab, dangle-drain and transfer the noodles to a bowl.)

Okay kids, stop laughing now.
The geezer will "find a way."

So, in honor of those young voices in my old head, I send this admonition out to all of you who may be struggling to accomplish something that's just too difficult.

"Remember that you can have a ping pong tournament on a 3-legged table."
 Just find a way!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Consider the Cosmos

The 25th anniversary of the Hubble space telescope is being celebrated this April.
As a former teacher I believe it's an event not to be missed.
Wait, I take that back.
As a human being I believe this is an event not to be missed.

You see, the Hubble ranks right up there as one of the most important scientific achievements ever made by mankind.  The, "Hey, Misters Galileo, Newton, and Einstein!  Will you please move over to make room in human history for Hubble!" kind of achievement.
Magnificent is the word that comes to mind.

But that "magnificent" thing was touch and go at first.
Because it looked like after all the billions of dollars spent and decades of toil expended by the best and brightest brains, Hubble was going to be a monumental, catastrophic failure.

You see, something was terribly wrong at the beginning.  The pictures sent back by the mighty telescope were out of focus and fuzzy. Useless.

Epic failure even.

"It was impossible in the first place," they said.
"You eggheads were fools to even try it," they said.
"You idiots wasted all that money!" they said.
"Give it up and go home in shame!" they said.

I remember the derision and jokes in the media.  I recall NASA scientists being referred to as "techno tutkeys."

But the turkeys didn't quit.  Those best and brightest brains persevered through the pain.
And with all the extraordinary truth that Hubble revealed to mankind, maybe that's one of the most valuable truths of all.

Yes, the brains went to work again.
They decided to figure out how to repair it.
But, it turns out that making a service call on a delicate scientific machine the size of a school bus, that happens to be hurtling around the earth at tens of thousands of miles per hour, is not an everyday fix-it.
Yet, after months of mindnumbing brain work and backbreaking practice, the brains sent more brave souls out into space with a plan and a cosmic screwdriver.

Then the incredible photographs sent back to earth by the working Hubble took humankind's breath away.

One universal truth was revealed immediately.
An eternal principle that may not have been expected.

That truth is beauty.

Awe inspiring, incredible beauty.
Throughout the universe, beauty is everywhere.
In Genesis it says, "And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good."
Apparently, "If there is anything beautiful, lovely, or of good report, we seek after these things," doesn't mean just here.

Another truth Hubble declares is that when Father said, "World's I have without number," He wasn't kidding.

Yep, eternal principles. That's what the Hubble sees.

Glorious examples of astounding intelligence.
Systems, plans, precise organizations.
Eternal births and deaths and reorganizations of matter into new stars and galaxies.
Galactic engines spinning billions of stars throughout the universe.

All of it clothed in beauty.

So this is what I see when I look at those incredible pictures.
Evidence of eternal principles everywhere.

Priesthood power.
Worlds without number still being prepared.
God and his infinite love for his children.

It's all there in the Hubble pictures. Look.
Scriptures embodied.

Did Father use explosions to create these things?  I don't know.
I do know that human beings sometimes use explosions in the building of bridges, dams and highways. Usually when they need to move a great deal of material quickly.
I also know that Father is the most masterful mathematician, engineer, artist and astronomer in the universe.  I don't question his methods.

So where do human beings fit into all this mind blowing immensity?

Well, the scriptures also say that among all of God's creations, man is his most magnificent creation of all.
They say we are all children of God.  The one who created all this.  That we are a part of the plan.

Sometimes I've had a little trouble with grasping that eternal truth.
Mainly because looking around at humanity, the word magnificent doesn't always come to mind.
It doesn't always come to mind when I look at myself either.

But once I had an experience that made a great difference to me.
I can't explain it except to say that I know from where the message came. I'd like to testify of it publically.

It happened as I was looking at a favorite coffee table book on space. It was filled with amazing photographs from the Hubble.

I was looking at a photo of deep space.
The Hubble's camera had focused for several days on a single spot of sky that appeared to be completely dark.
After time passed, the dark space filled with spots of light so far away that light hadn't been able to reach the camera with normal exposure.
The lights appeared to be stars.
But the spots of lights weren't stars.
They were galaxies.
Each galaxy containing, among many other things, millions of stars.
All in a spot of dark sky.

I suddenly felt incredibly overwhelmed. Insignificant.

But then came this feeling. This undeniable impression.


Your victories matter. Your personal triumphs over evil, laziness, stupidity, habit, despair, whatever isn't light,  matter.

On this one single planet, in this single solar system, in this single galaxy among billions of others, in this vast universe, whenever you choose truth over error, something is helped.
That was the feeling.

I don't know how or why it helps, but I know it does.
I testify to you of this.

We matter to Father.
He created all this and we are the most precious of it all to Him.

So, in honor of Father's great works, and of the brains, courage and perseverence of a few of His most magnificent creations, "google" the Hubble website and be prepared to be awed.

Maybe have a kid sit beside you when you do.
Be awed together.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gospel Truth Found in the Strangest Places

I'm a movie fan.  Of some movies that is.
I  hate to admit this because I'm sure my time could be better spent doing something else.
But I'm a sucker for old classics, musicals, and anything Disney.  And sometimes the occasional newer romantic comedy.

And as far as the old classics are concerned, "They don't make 'em like they used to," is more than just an old saying.

Thank heavens that Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, James Stewart, Sydney Poitier, and Gary Cooper will always be there for us on film.
(Larry says don't forget Maureen O'Hara and Sophia Loren, but what does he know.)
They don't make old classics like them anymore for sure.

I generally prefer old movies for other reasons too.
For one thing it's distressing that so many of today's films are rife with meaningless sex and violence.
I've decided that I refuse to be entertained by violence, cruelty, or meanness. So all mean movies are out for me even if they are PG. Someone once commented that those types of films show life in all its gritty reality. Well, flowers are just as real as sewers and I'd rather spend my time with them.
And as far as sex is concerned, today's film makers don't know beans about it anyway.

In my opinon, the sexiest scene ever filmed is the one in "Friendly Persuasion."
It's a movie about a Quaker family during the Civil War.
Gary Cooper and Dorothy Malone play a devoted and long married couple. She's a Quaker minister.
One day they had a rare but major disagreement. She leaves in a huff to take up residence in the barn. Later, after sending the children to bed, a lonely and mostly apologetic Gary heads out to take her an extra pillow and blanket.

The steamy sex scene shows a dimly lit barn with a horse quietly munching oats. An obviously still miffed Dorothy is seated, arms crossed, atop a quilt that covers a deep pile of fresh straw. Stacks of baled hay sit beside her making a makeshift headboard and night table, complete with lantern and Bible.

A hopeful Gary enters and says something inane about the weather. He tentavively makes his way to her side. He stands there quietly and then taps his toe gingerly on the edge of the covered straw. He's testing for comfort.

That's all you see.
A close up of Gary's boot gently tapping on the blanket.
Then the scene fades to dawn the next morning.
The sun is just coming up behind the barn. The two of them are walking with arms around each other, loaded with pillows and quilts, slowly making their way back to the house.

You need to be married to appreciate what happened here. And you need a good imagination too.
Well, I've been married 50 years and I can still imagine plenty.
Yes, indeed. A very sexy scene to be sure.
And all those poor, misguided people who think "twerping or whatever it's called" is sexy should watch "Friendly Persuasion" to see the real deal.

And then if the "twerps" want to learn about sexy dancing they should check out Lauryn Bacall.
In one of those iconic Bogey and Bacall movies she does the sexiest dance ever filmed. It's been remembered for more than half a century.
There she is, fully dressed in a modest suit, covered from neck to wrist to knees. She then moves ever so slightly, almost demurely, to Hoagy Carmichael's jazz piano as she makes her way across the room. There's a haunting look on her lovely face.

And while movies are usually just entertainment,  I've noticed something special that happens every now and then.
Once in a while I'm surprised to find that a gospel principal has been illustrated in a film.
Just yesterday I watched Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks" and found one.

"Saving Mr. Banks" tells the story of the making of the movie "Mary Poppins." Walt really had a time getting that beloved film produced due to obstacles put in place by the author of the books.  It took him 20 years of persuasion. Seems there was a heap of emotional baggage along with a spoonful of sugar in that magic bag Mary carried around all her life.

You see, the book is really based on the childhood experiences of the author, P.L. Travers. It alludes to her family, and her beloved but alcoholic father.

In the movie there's a scene where Bert, a cockney chimney sweep, is talking with the children about their often absent and distant father. The children tell Bert that their father doesn't love them.   He disagrees.  The conversation then takes a turn to a discussion about living things in cages.

Bert says to the children, "Well, I never do likes to see any living thing locked up in a cage.  But then you knows of course, cages comes in all sizes and shapes, don't they."

Mr. Bank's cage was money and ambition.   Mrs. Travers father was locked in a bottle.
Cages do indeed come in all sizes and shapes, but all of them, no matter the kind, are very, very sad.
And, have you noticed that when it's a father or mother that gets locked up, sometimes the whole family gets locked up with them. Sadly, sometimes it's a life sentence for everybody.

I think Heavenly Father hates to see his children in cages too. He's often tried to warn us about them.

Then too, I remember a scene from African Queen.
Of course you know the story of the lady missionary, Rose, reluctantly rescued by the scruffy, supply boat captain, Charlie.  It's the beginning of the first world war. After a series of preliminary events the two of them find themselves on a mission to help their country and the cause of freedom.  It's an impossible mission. They set out to sail down an unnavigable river to a lake to destroy an enemy ship. No sane person would ever attempt it. Certain death awaits them many times over. They encounter all sorts of obstacles from enemy gunfire to raging whitewater.

Finally both of them end up struggling waist deep in the swamp, hacking through the reeds and actually pulling the boat through the muck and mire.

The gospel scene opens with Bogey lying on the bottom of the boat, spent, sick and exhausted near to death. Rose is on her knees, praying. In her prayer, which she believes is her last, she tells Father that they've done everything they possibly could but have failed in their mission to help. She asks forgiveness for their sins and asks Father to welcome them home. She dissolves in a heap.

The gospel truth turns up at the start of the next scene.

Upriver it begins to rain. A deluge even.  It's the start of the seasonal monsoon. Floods swell the waters flowing downriver, surrounding the boat carrying the unconscious pair. The boat rises and begins to move. Eventually Bogey awakes to discover that they are only a few feet from the lake!

It was only after they did all they could that Heavenly Father stepped in.
He could have sent the rains earlier, after all. He knew how it would turn out in the end. But He waited until they had contributed all that was in their power to give first.

What do the scriptures say? "For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do."

Yes, indeed.
Sometimes eternal principles turn up in the strangest places, don't they?

Friday, March 13, 2015

The View From the Shutters

Life is good.

A gift and blessing from God. A gift so great that our minds can't even comprehend it now.
Yet, there are times when life can be almost too much to bear.

Just recently, people close to my family have suffered some of the cruelest blows life ever deals.
The kind that breaks hearts even in the telling.

I'd give anything to be able to ease their burdens, but it's hard to know what to say or do that will offer comfort when good people suffer so much.

For some reason my mind goes back many years to a sunny summer afternoon.

I was sitting in a comfortable chair by a large window rocking a baby.
The window was covered by two rows of wooden shutters.
Each shutter had a little slat that moved up and down to allow the sun and light coming into the room to be adjusted.
All the shutters were closed now, the room was dark and cool, and the baby I was rocking was falling asleep.

I reached over and moved the slat closest to me and the blind opened so that I could see outside.
There was the flower bed just off the front porch. I remember bees flitting around the basil that was growing like crazy there. I watched the bees for a while and then gazed past the bed and across the street to my good neighbor's yard. She was sweeping the walk.

My view was blocked any further.
But, strangely, it was as if the entire world was framed in those shutters. Everything that existed seemed to be contained in that confined space.
Because nothing else was visible.
I enjoyed what I could see and then reached over to move the little slat on the next shutter.
Suddenly a whole new world opened up to me!

There was my other neighbor's house with her lovely trees. Her little boy was just starting to climb in one. A car was pulling into the driveway.
It was amazing how different the world seemed now.
I reached over and pulled the slat on the other side.
Now I could see to the end of the block. There were many houses, people doing different things, more trees of all kinds, and a small white cat in the arms of a little girl. I could even see a plane flying off in the horizon.

It was a different universe than the one I first saw as I moved the shutter to look out on my own front porch and flower bed.

I remember still the feeling that came over me then.

What if I made my decisions in this life based only on what I could see from the first shutter? After all, what I saw then looked like all there was, from where I sat in my rocking chair.

But, that wasn't the truth.
There was infinitely more to it. There were more shutters covering that big window.
And then, the realization came, there was everything else. Everything behind, above, below and beyond my little street.
Everything on earth and everything beyond.

Here I was, sitting in my chair on this one little planet in the gigantic universe.
Looking out a shuttered window.

I would be wrong if I lived as if all that mattered was what I could see from my chair.
Because I just couldn't see everything from where I sat.

That thought has stayed with me all these years.

We can't see everything from where we are now.
Much that is vitally important is not before our eyes in this life.

But Father sees the whole picture.
And he says he loves us.  All of us.  Even the ones who must bear incredible burdens.
Maybe even especially them.
He says someday we'll see for sure that he was right about everything.
An apostle once said that someday we'll all agree that Father was perfectly loving, generous and merciful with every one of us.
Someday we'll know just how very much He loves us.

Father says trust him for now.
He knows how much it hurts and he's sending comfort.
He promises the pain won't last forever. He promises joy will replace it soon.

Just trust Him for now.
No matter how heavy your burden is now, trust Father's love.

Someday we'll see that we've been given tender mercies we never even knew were there.
Someday all the little shutters will open.

I learned something else important somewhere along the years of life.
But that learning came slowly. Sometimes one tear at a time.
It's about death.

What I learned is that we need to trust Father in matters of life and death.
Even then.

Because no matter what we do we are not in charge of who is called home.

Young people may die before we think they should.
They did not die before Father thought they should.
He called them home.

I don't know why they were called home.
But Father knows.
Maybe they're exceptionally valiant spirits who came to earth only to get bodies and to become part of eternal families.
Perhaps they were able to learn all they needed to learn and complete all that was required at their hands quickly.
Perhaps they were desperately needed for eternally important missions elsewhere.

I believe life and death were both incredible blessings for them.

I believe too, that their families must be very special to have had such valiant spirits become their own forever.
They should feel blessed beyond measure.

And Father understands broken hearts. He understands sadness.
His scriptures say that we should live together in love insomuch that we should weep for them that die.
He knows.
Because tears are part of the bargain we make with life.
Russell Nelson, an apostle of the Lord, said the only way to take the tears out of death would be to take the love out of life.
And no one would want to live like that.

Father knows our loved ones will be missed until the minute they fill our arms again.
But He promised that they WILL fill our arms again!
"Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted," He said.
He knows that the only way for that to happen is for us to be together again.

Russell Nelson also said,  "That the only length of life that seems to satisfy the longings of the human heart is life everlasting."
Life everlasting.  Love everlasting.
And that's what Father promised. That's why he sent his Son.

So we're not to weep forever. And not feel despair over those we love going home.
Going home is a blessing.

And please remember that those beloved children, those valiant ones who left so soon, would not want their families to be sad for long.
It hurts them to see their loved ones suffer.
Soon they hope to see tears replaced with smiles when those tender, beautiful, memories come.

They would want their families to trust Father.

Trust that they are now more powerful and blessed than we can scarcely imagine.
Trust that they are surrounded by loved ones and are happy, working, learning and helping according to Father's vision, not ours.

Trust that He knows what's best better than we do.
Even though we bear heavy burdens, trust in His wisdom and love.

Trust that He can see farther than we can from our chairs beside the shutters.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

By Small Means Great Things Are Brought to Pass

* This is a rewrite of a post from a couple of years ago.
You see, computers don't work well for me but alas I must use them.  If I had a good, old No. 2 pencil and a yellow legal pad there wouldn't be so many errors.

By small means great things are brought to pass.

That's what the scriptures say isn't it?
Well, not long ago we were asked to do a small thing by a couple of the Lord's apostles.
Since I figured that they might know a little something about how the Lord works, I paid attention.
I mean I want "great things to come to pass" just as much as the next sister. And even I might be able to do something right if it's small enough.

Well, you know what it was? According to them, apostles of the Lord no less, it's important to eat meals regularly with our families. Especially dinner.
That does seem like a small thing doesn't it?
And considering the realities of modern life....highly impractical.
When I first heard this I wondered in my "raggedy convert" way how that could possibly be of eternal importance anyway.
I mean we're talking burgers and meatloaf here.
I was still wondering the next day when I asked my 3rd period high school class what their favorite family dinner was.
 (Hey, it was only five minutes till the bell rang and 4th period was lunch!)
There were about 12 kids, mostly seniors, all hanging in there to graduate despite their various disabilities.
One piped up right away with a mouth-watering description of his Nana's tamales and his mom's enchiladas that made us all hungry. He said they have these for every birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. when all the family gets together. (Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins etc.)
 I said, "How often does that happen and can I get invited to the next one?
He replied, "Sure Mz Dub, two or three times a month at least. I'll ask my mom." He also gave us a glowing description of his mom's spagetti, which he says they have at his house every Tuesday when it's just his family.
I heard teenaged stomachs growling and somebody threw a pencil at him.
"What about the rest of you?" I asked the class, "What's your favorite family dinner on a weeknight?"
I was very surprised that every single one of my other students said they never ate with their families during the week.
Not just seldom mind you. Never.
There were lots of reasons for this....parents worked, everybody got home at different times.... it just wasn't convenient. Most didn't eat with their family on weekends either, except on rare special occasions.
"So, what do you do for dinner?" I asked.
 Cereal, sandwich or microwave was the answer for most of them.
A heated discussion on the virtues of "hot pockets vs ramen noodles" ensued. One girl gave her recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Toast two pieces of bread. Unwrap a slice of cheese. Put it between the toasts and nuke it for 30 seconds.) Those with cars said they relied heavily on the dollar menu at the fast food places. That started an argument about Jack vs Mac.
The bell rang before it was decided.
The class left and it was finally lunch.
So I unwrapped my peanut butter sandwich and thought that it was a little sad about their dinner situations.
What could you do, though? That's modern life.
I began to think about those modern lives as I chewed.

Several of my kids had family members in prison..... fathers, mothers, brothers, or cousins.
( Not the "Every Tuesday was spagetti" kid though).

In fact, a few had really close, working relationships with the juvenile justice system themselves. Complete with probation officers that I met with on a regular basis.
(Not the "spagetti" kid though)

I recalled that one boy had recently spent his entire Thanksgiving break in the Durango county jail.
He was highly incensed, not because he'd missed his family Thanksgiving, but because he'd planned to spend all four days getting wasted at parties.
None of them lived with both parents.

(Except for the Mom's spagetti and Nana's tamales kid)

One lived with his father and five brothers, each of them with different mothers. One sweet girl was pregnant but would graduate at the end of the semester before the baby was due. She lived in the projects with her mom, who worked two jobs to support them.
I began to think harder about the young man who ate spagetti every Tuesday with his family.
His life was very different from the others.
I knew this student's parents well and had even met his grandparents at one of the school games. They all were involved in this boy's life.

I knew, too, that the culture in their family had included regular dinners together for more than one generation. It was just the way they did things.
Could "small means" have made a big difference over the years?  Is there something going on at dinner that I missed?
Are we talking about more than meatloaf here?
This was still on my mind the next Sunday during Relief Society meeting.
So I asked the sisters if they'd heard this "dinner together" counsel we'd been given.
I also pointed out that I worked outside the home and that there was no possible way I had time to cook a fancy meal every night after the day I usually had! I believe I may have said, "Get real!"
The response was immediate and amazing. Some of it outraged, even. And boy, did I learn a lot!
First I learned that NOBODY has time to cook a fancy meal every day whether they work outside the home or not.
Then I learned that, "It's not about the food, stupid."

Apparently none of the apostles ever said a word about fancy meals.
They just said to eat together as a family.

One sister pointed out that nothing was mentioned against paper plates or "Taco Tuesday" from the local chain either. She says she serves said tacos with bagged carrots, sliced cucumbers and ranch dressing (which she counts as salad), and that her family looks forward to it every week.

Another sister says that any self-respecting LDS woman with half a brain could put a family meal on the table in 15 minutes anyway.
A deluge of dinner ideas followed.
I'll share, but the women who told me about them don't want their identities revealed. What people eat in the privacy of their own homes is highly personal.

None of these meals would be featured, or even admitted to, on the cooking shows. We're talking day to day, get the gang rounded up around the table, even when you just walked in the door 15 minutes ago, food. There's no arugula anywhere.
Remember there's 365 days in a year and that can be a long winding road full of potholes. Here's a couple of the things they told me.
Keep it quiet.

Ridiculously Easy Family Dinners:

Sloppy Joes  /Cottage cheese and pineapple/  Plus the no peel, raw veggie, ranch   dressing for dip, salad thing.

I learned Joes are quicker and less trouble than burgers. Brown any ground             meat, drain and mix with bottled BBQ sauce.  Onion buns are better here.           Worth the extra money. 10 minutes.

Can Can Chile and Cornbread (Boxed Crackers if the wolves are nipping at your   heels.)

Brown 1-2 lbs of any gound meat.    (Or get 1-2 lbs ground meat out of the             freezer because you forgot to do it this morning when you were rushing out             the door.  Put frozen meat in a pan with a little splash of water, put the lid on and start cooking. Every now and then turn the clunk over and break it up until all is browned. Do this any time you forgot and need browned meat. If you flatten it before freezing it'll thaw faster.
Now add 1 or 2 cans EACH of diced tomatoes,  beans (like pinto or kidney), and Hormel or other canned chile.  Mix it up.  Season with chile and garlic powders. Heat, covered, while you mix a couple of boxes of Jiffy cornbread. 2 boxes fits in a 9x13 pan. My daughter adds 1/2 can of creamed corn to each box of mix, by the way. 20 minutes for the whole dinner.  Missionaries like this.
$5 Pizza from the pizza store /  Bagged fancy salad (Alright there might be             some arugula.)  /Peach sundaes (Vanilla ice cream, topped with canned sliced       peaches and a sprinkle of brown sugar.)
Families with lots of kids really like this dinner apparently.
"Crock pot"
Put something in it before you leave home. Serve with instant salad and                   biscuits you bake from a can. 3 minutes when you get home plus baking.

**** Alert!  Big Crockpot Bonus
The crockpot will make the house smell good. One sister reports her son said that when he comes home from school or practice and smells dinner cooking, "It feels like a hug."                                                                 I've noticed that myself, come to think of it.
 ***Technology Update!!!
Several sisters said that their ovens have a "delay start" feature that makes it possible to place even frozen stuff in there and it will magically start cooking later so it will be ready at dinnertime. Comes with that "dinner smell hug" bonus too. (I looked. I think mine has it. Who knew?)

The list went on and on.

The point being that since this "small means" might end up making a big difference it's worth a little thought and planning.

Another thing. More than one woman said that presentation means a lot when serving simple dinners like these.

One smart sister bought a set of those plastic baskets at the $1 store. The ones they use at fast food places. She uses them on burger, Joe, or hot dog nights. She buys bakery buns with sesame seeds, not the cheap ones, because it doesn't take any more time and makes a big difference. She uses a red and white checked tablecloth reserved for those occasions and everybody gets a root beer on those nights.
Her six year old calls her the " best cook in the world."

Every woman there said that a well stocked pantry and freezer make ten minute meals way easier.
One smart lady says she cooks large amounts of pasta, brown rice, and dry beans on Saturdays, puts them in zip locks and keeps them in the fridge or freezer for almost instant stir frys or spagetti.
She buys big bags of frozen stir fry veggies at the big box store to avoid peeling, and lots of on sale boneless chicken to slice before freezing. She starts cooking the chicken after just a few minutes on nuke defrost.
She says you'll need those cans of fruit and cottage cheese too.

In any case, the general consensus was........ don't get caught with your pantry down.

But then I mentioned the seemingly insurmountable problem of people getting home at different times. What about that, huh? There's no dinner bell that we can clang and have everyboy run in from chores anymore.
Almost all of my students had mentioned this as a reason why they didn't have meals as a family.
Business and crazy schedules can wreck suppertime.

Someone piped up with something like, "The Lord gives no commandment save there is a way to accomplish it." Another said, "Just do it!"

Then one sister said she too was frustrated by conflicting family schedules until she took the revolutionary advice of the BYU cooking show lady. Here it is.
                         NO MATTER WHO'S AT HOME.

Forget coordinating schedules,  because chances are you can't.
Sometimes everybody will be there, sometimes not.

But whoever is there "connects."

And, no matter where they may be, the whole family knows its dinnertime and that people who love them are gathered.
That's just the way things are done at their house.
One lady said that her family always prayed for any missing persons when asking the blessing on the food.
Her teenaged son once told her that whenever he looked at the gym clock at 6 PM during practice, he knew that his family was having dinner together and that they'd just prayed for him.

That might be an important thing for a 16 year old to know don't you think?

Someone pointed out that dinner is no time for discipline either. The only question anybody should be asked is, "What's going on in your life?"

Small means. Sure.
But just burgers and meatloaf going on here? I don't think so.
Maybe it's the connections that make such a big difference.
Maybe it's the encouragement and comfort we give each other as we pass the potatoes.
Maybe it's about laughter, love, belonging and family, and about being able to count on it regularly.

I'm not sure what it is, but the brethren have me convinced that great things could come to pass when we have dinner with the people we love.
How about you?


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Very Special Prom

Spring is just around the bend.
If you happen to be a high school teacher, the coming of the spring season means prom.
And "Prom" is a loaded word packed with a whole lot of emotional baggage. And that baggage isn't always a trendy, flight ready carry-on either. Sometimes it's a ratty old backpack filled with rocks.

It might mean the time of a very young life for some.
There might be glamorous dresses, a first tux, dinner at a fancy restaurant, or a fine ride in a rented car.

From experience I can tell you that kids invest a whole lot in planning for that one special night. Tons of teenage time, energy and angst goes into it. Not to mention often ridiculous amounts of money.
It takes a whole lot of burger flippin' to pay for glamour.

But it also might mean the pain and heartache of not being asked.
And sometimes the pain and heartache that comes from making some really wrong choices on prom night.

Yes, prom can bring joy or misery.
And no matter who you are, homecoming queen or computer geek, prom is often heavy with piles of that pesky baggage.
While it may seem to adults to be just a frivolous rite of passage for young people, I've seldom met a grown-up who doesn't remember their senior prom.
And I've yet to meet a teenager who didn't consider it a big deal in their lives. No matter what they tell you.
The memories linger for sure. And sometimes haunt.

Well, our two youngest daughters are the Junior and Senior class sponsors at their high school here in the big city. So that means they're responsible for the school prom.
This time of year they're up to their necks in venue and caterer finding,  decor planning,  musician choosing,  photographer booking,  budget squeezing, centerpiece making  and twinklelight stringing.
After prom they collapse in a heap of tired high school teacher and wonder why they chose this thankless profession.

But they also sponsor a second prom.
Many teachers, students, and parents don't know about it.
It's a little smaller in scale and this year's was held just yesterday. I talked to our daughters for just a bit after it was over.
They were exhausted, as usual, from all the prom'y' preparations and goings-on.

But this time was different.
They went home to collapse in a heap of tired high school teacher knowing exactly why they chose this thankless profession.

You see, this event is held especially for the kids in Special Ed programs.
And while the students in special ed classes are certainly invited to their regular school dances, most seldom care to go.
Because sometimes it's hard for a teenager to feel comfortable at a dance if they happen to be in a wheelchair or have cerebral palsy.

So the Student Council, also sponsored by these same teachers, has an annual Valentine's Day Prom especially for these young people.

The students are bussed in from all the high schools in the district. Wheelchair ramps get a real workout that day.

Before their arrival, young ladies with braces on their legs have had mascara and lipstick artfully applied by homcoming royalty at their home school. Hair has been glamorously coiffed by cheerleaders.
Football players and basketball jocks have taught the boys the fine art of tying a tie and the proper amount of cologne to apply.
Beautiful dresses were made available for anyone who needed a gown. Suit coats were on hand for the gentlemen.

The event is held in a lovely decorated room with a luncheon provided. This year there was a chocolate fountain and the gym had been transformed into a "Candy Wonderland." Last year they were magically taken back to the "Fifties."

Dance lessons can be seen being given by the Stu-co kids even as the music plays and the dancing begins. All of the students, regular and special ed, join in together.

Memorable things happen just as they do at any other prom.

I remember once Kelley told me about one of her cheerleaders who came back to the buffet table from the dance floor wiping her ear.
The girl explained that a boy had asked her to dance and while they were doing so proceeded to lick her ear. He immediately let her go, laughed excitedly, jumped up and down, and ran over to his teacher to tell her what he'd done.
Kelley explained that the young man had Down's syndrome and had probably been told by someone that licking ears is what boys are supposed to do with pretty girls. Maybe it was one of the student council jocks teaching more than tie tying.
All the rest of the dance that sweet boy would smile broadly and wave to the girl, who waved back nicely. But he never asked her to dance again. Mission accomplished I guess.

Another lovely student council girl shared with Beth that one of the boys had just asked her to be his girlfriend. She hadn't been a girlfriend yet because her family thought she was too young. But instead of trying to explain it to him she just said, "Yes, I'll be your girlfriend at every Valentine's dance."
It made him very happy.

So, at the end of this dance, some of the best spirits, saved for the last days, handicapped or hale and hearty, have a prom memory that will last a lifetime.

Some of the special ed kids may have been asked to dance for the first time in their lives.

Some of the regular ed kids may feel a little more grateful for blessings they've taken for granted. Things like being able to walk, see or hear. Or do algebra even.

And all of them may have made a friend or two who may be a little bit different from their other friends on the outside. But inside are very much just like anybody else.

And two tired high school teachers go home to collapse in an exhausted heap once again. But this time knowing that they just did one of the best things they do all year.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Addendum to Skippin' Rocks

My oldest daughter just called to express her displeasure at her latest portrayal in my writings. She gets portrayed a lot.
She says that I insinuated to the whole world that she's as dumb as a rock.
I assure you that she isn't. She's a college graduate even.
She says I left out the "why" of her rock collecting which is critically important.

So here's the why that I didn't remember because I was only thinking about how heavy those darn rocks were.

Seems she and I were sitting together talking on that rock beach. She was at the time going through one of the most difficult periods of her life. We chanced to admire the many beautiful, smooth, round stones on the beach. She says that I told her that they were so beautiful because they'd been polished by the tumbling over and over again in the surf and sand. It had worn the rough and sharp pieces off and left them perfect and lovely. I reminded her that life was doing that for her.

Anyway, she says she wanted to remember what I'd told her and that's why she gathered those rocks. She says that's why she lugged them all over the country. She says she remembers still when she looks at them in the basket on the floor of her family room. Those rocks are very important to her and she's not dumb.

I apologize dear daughter. You are right. You are not dumb.
I love you.
And I can't tell you how gratifying it is that that at least one child of mine remembered something I once said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Skippin' Rocks

I'm old now. Lately I've been thinking back on some of the best things in life.
It's hard to believe but rocks are one of them.

Skipping rocks for example.
First you need a lake. There can't be people fishing because they'll object to your rock throwing for sure.  It's best if its getting on towards dusk.  Then look carefully to find just the right rocks. My favorites are oval and flattish.  Finally, with a kind of a sideways throw, send one gloriously sailing just barely on top of the water. Be sure to count as it flies out there and skips...... three, four, five, six.
My brother Mark is the best rock skipper I know. Once at Willow Springs I saw him make one go to eight or more. We couldn't see the last part in the twilight.

Rock hopping over a mountain creek is good too.
The water has to be crystal clear and icy cold.  And it should be shallow but running briskly.
Rounded stones, half submerged, mark a path across and down the creek bed. Every now and then there's a convenient boulder where you can sit and watch the little, long legged water bugs that stand right on top of the water in the still shallows. Their feet make tiny dimples on the surface. Dragonflies flit by now and then and sunlight falls in patches through the trees that line the banks. Sometimes yellow columbines, my favorite flower, grow close to the water in the shade. They grow wild among the grapevines, poison ivy and sumac.
But don't bring a little shovel to dig up those lovely columbines to take home to plant.  You'll be sorry in the morning.
And of course, there's that amazing mountain creek smell, all cool and woodsy.

And rock hunting on the beach makes for one of the best treasure hunts ever.
That's because beaches have these really cool sea stones. They're perfectly round or oval, and almost flat. Its the rolling around in the sand and surf that does it I guess. I've found these in all colors and sizes but prefer the ones about the size of a quarter, small enough to hold in my hand or sit in a little pile in a tiny bowl on my desk. I'd rather have these than diamonds for some strange reason.

It can get out of hand though. That rock collecting thing.
My daughter Kim once took a fancy to some perfectly roundish boulders the size of loaves of bread that she discovered on a beach in San Diego. She picked out a bunch in assorted colors and made her dad and me help her haul them up the steep hill to the car, one at a time because they were so heavy. It took several exhausting trips. This was years ago. Since then she's moved to Washington, Oregon and back to the desert again, each time lugging those darned rocks. Currently they sit decoratively in a heap in a large basket on the floor of her family room.
Boy, if rocks could talk.  What's that old saying about rocks being dumb?

All this beach rock talk reminds me that beaches are great for other things too. Like kite flying.  Which still eventually leads to rocks.

You see, there's always a reliable breeze at the beach. And I found a place that sells the most wonderful kites. They make huge nylon ones which last forever. And the colors and shapes are amazing. Tropical pink, purple, turquoise blue, and emerald green are my favorites. You can send parrots, frogs, pirate ships, or bunches of daffodils sailing up on the ocean winds.
I used to suspend them from my classroom ceiling when school began because they were so beautiful and reminded me of summer all year long.

Beach kite flying is ridiculously easy. Just let your line out a ways while a kid holds the kite facing the ocean breeze. Depending on the wind direction you might have to stand in the surf. Pull back and the kite goes straight up! No running needed!  Get it way, way, way, up there. Then go sit on the sand to admire the bright colors you put into that endless blue sky.
And look for rocks while you're sitting there. Or dig holes in the wet sand.
Wet sand is just millions and millions of tiny rocks you know.

Build a castle maybe. Or sculpt a dolphin.
Our daughters once made a lifesized sand dolphin on a beach in Santa Barbarba. We came back the next day to see that the tide had almost finished taking it back out to sea.
That's one of the best ways to spend an hour or two in August.
Playing in the sand.

Sitting around a campfire at night is another best thing.
Rocks again.
Because first you need to gather up a bunch of pretty fair sized boulders to make a ring for the fire. It's work, but then what are kids for anyway?
Then, when whatever busyness or frolic that went on during the day is over, and camp dishes are done, it'll be time to just sit around the fire. Prop your feet on the rocks where they'll be warm. Talk and maybe even sing. Sparks drift up into the night, logs snap and crackle, flames softly dance, smoke annoys, and embers glow.
What is it about gazing into a campfire that mesmerizes?  Life seems to slow down. Faces soften in the flickering light and even the conversation seems more relaxed.
One thing puzzles me though. Why do kids always incinerate the marshmallows for s'mores? Am I the only one who can toast one properly so that it's all melted inside and nicely browned on the outside?
It's a very important lifeskill, that.

And don't forget about moonlight.
The moon's really just a big rock sailing around the earth you know.
But there's something almost magical about it, isn't there?
My old husband still looks incredibly handsome in the moonlight even after all these years. It gets in what's left of his hair and makes his eyes sparkle.
It falls on his shoulders and then I remember things.
Things that can sometimes happen in the moonlight.

Yep, some of the best things in life are really simple.
Like rocks.
I'm grateful for them. They've added to my happiness. Rocks have.
Look around today and remember some of your best simple things.
Then thank Father.
It was Father who made them. To gladden our hearts and delight our eyes. It says so in the scriptures.
Thank you, Father. I know it was you who did that. Because you loved us.
Thank you so much for the good things.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Self-Esteem and the Broken Plug

*Another Old One That I'm Trying to Fix

Self Esteem and the Broken Plug

The new school year is starting soon. My daughters are busy getting their classrooms ready and my thoughts have turned to the many years when I was in their shoes. I miss it.  Well, most of it anyway.  Faculty meetings are one thing I don’t miss. They can become truly scary for a lot of reasons. People have actually died in faculty meetings and not been found until the janitor comes in to clean up!
But the kids, the wonderful staff, the anticipation, the new possibilities…….those things I miss.

Our daughter Kim is busy getting her 7 kids ready for the new year. In there among the backpacks and new shoes she already has a conference scheduled for her pre-schooler. 

Good old parent teacher conferences. 
I must have been part of hundreds of these.
One thing I’ve been thinking about as I look back on teaching is the concern so many parents expressed during conferences over their child’s “self esteem.” They agonized and worried that their offspring would be scarred for life by the horrific effects of low self esteem. And even though a popular movie I once saw contained the line, "Low self esteem in some cases is just good common sense," I disagree. It doesn't make sense at all.  Low self esteem is a product of not understanding the truth about who we are.  And there are things a parent can do to help. 
Let me tell you about an incident in my childhood that taught me a great lesson about feelings of self worth.

I was in fourth grade or thereabouts. I had a lamp in my bedroom that wouldn’t work because of a damaged plug. I really needed that lamp so I asked my dad if he would fix it. He said he would and that weekend bought a little plug repair kit at the local hardware store. (There were no big box stores back then.) Well, he got busy with work and such and didn’t get to fixing my lamp. So one day I went to the garage and brought the repair kit to my room. I read the directions carefully, gathered the tools it said were needed, and replaced that plug myself. When I was done the lamp worked perfectly! “Look at that! Fixed by a 4th  grade girl!’ I thought proudly.

I’m an old lady now and yet when I think of that plug repair I still feel a little more confident as a human being. I can do something useful! I may not be much as anything else but I can fix a plug if you need one! There are other little competencies I have but I’ll spare you the details. (Okay……. I can make a heart cake without special pans and I can fix your jacket zipper with a razor blade.)

The point is this. Success…….. true success…… in any area builds confidence. Success doesn’t mean lavish praise for a mediocre job, or fake celebrations for a consolation prize. Kids know. They’re not stupid. Any of them. They know when they’ve done something valuable. And when they do something of worth it builds confidence in every area of their lives.

So, here are a couple of ideas for concerned parents who have a kid who needs a confidence boost.

Quietly and without sharing with anyone in the family, invest in 3 boxes of brownie mix. (About $1 each on sale) Brownies are about the easiest baked treat on the planet. Get that 8 year old boy with no confidence and head to the kitchen. You sit in a chair ON your hands. Direct the boy in great detail in making the first box of brownies. Start with, “Get a bowl, wooden spoon, the pan we make brownies in.” Then, step by step explain how to do this while you WATCH only. Do not, under any circumstances, step in! Instead say, “Get a paper towel, wet it a little, wipe up the egg on the floor.” Continue until the brownies are done, cooled, cut, and on a plate neatly. If these are not really good looking, great tasting brownies repeat teaching procedure with boxes 2 and 3. DISCARD any inferior brownies without a comment. (It’s only a $1!) Do not give them to the family to try to be frugal! Repeat this procedure a week or so later if needed. When you are confident that this kid can be successful, casually say in front of the whole family that you are too busy to make treats for Family Home Evening but brownies will be provided. Send the kid into the kitchen by himself while you do the “busy thing.” At the appropriate time serve the treats to the wonderment of all present. After that, keep a good supply of boxed mixes on hand and sometimes “forget” baked goods that other family members need for the class party, or cub scouts, etc. Tell them to ask their brother nicely and maybe he’ll rescue them with his skills. This may take some time but you’ll see a change in his confidence level soon. This will spill over to school I promise.

Then, too, according to Kim, one of our young granddaughters who needed a boost was helped when it turned out that she could really clean a bathroom well. She was able to do this because Kim’s knee hurt and she had company coming, so she sat on the edge of the bathtub and patiently explained exactly how to do every task to this child. It was desperation not inspiration that was at work here. It took a long time but that bathroom looked good enough for company and was cleaned entirely by this small child who never seemed to be able to do much right. Well, the rest of the family was impressed! Now, when older brothers or sisters have the bathroom assigned to them, the littlest one must sign off on the quality of their work. She's even been asked to teach them how to do the job right. What a boost!

The point is that there are countless ways to help a kid who needs to believe in himself. Any success, no matter how small, as long as it’s real, will contribute to the cause. You may have to think a bit and patiently teach until true excellence is achieved but your kid is worth it, I promise. The Boy Scout manuals are full of ideas by the way. 

So teach someone you love to change a bike tire, or make a meatloaf, or paint a room. Better yet, teach her to do all three. You may soon be the parent of someone who feels that he can do things, he can contribute, he’s needed. She’s not a loser after all, because if all else fails,  at least she can fix a broken lamp plug!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Larry the Babe Magnet

Dear Readers,
Larry is doing much better! He's out of intensive care and on the mend. Thank you so much for your prayers.
I know that all of you will see many tender mercies in your life too. Among them, dear friends and family like you.

The Babe Magnet


Men and women interact with children in very different ways.  Larry's "childish ways" are a case in point.

Daddy Daycare
I remember when our middle daughter was a baby. I was teaching when she was born in February and had to finish the last few weeks of school after my month's maternity leave. Larry changed to the swing shift so he could be at home with her when I was at school.
He used the time wisely, including working on our cars to keep them on the road. One day I came home to find him on his back under the car talking softly to himself while he worked. After saying "Hey Hon, I'm home," I went in to the crib to check on what I was sure was a sleeping baby. It was empty!  Rushing back outside I frantically asked about the whereabouts of our child!
"Don't worry.  She's right here with me." He said.  I scrunched down to find her on a blanket, looking up wide eyed, at the underside of a car next to her father. He wasn't talking to himself when I first walked up. He was  explaining auto repair to a baby while he worked.
When I think back on it I'm reminded how mechanically handy she still is after all these years.

Another time, same baby, and I should have known.
I came in from work. Elizabeth was sleeping peacefully in her crib. When she woke up I fed her and then got a terrible shock when I went to change her diaper. Black and blue marks went up and down both sides of her little body from armpit to waist!!  I screamed!
Larry came rushing in. "What the heck's the matter!? he said.
"The baby's all black and blue!" I told him frantically.  "Hurry! We've got to get her to the doctor!"
He looked, sighed, and then said as he went back out through the door, "Geez, don't get all excited Hon. That's just axle grease."

The Baby Whisperer
Have you ever met an infant or toddler having a meltdown? Something has gone terribly wrong in their little lives. Too much of something for sure. Routine upset by travel maybe, or too many strange relatives holding them. Too much commotion or too few naps.  Whatever.  In any case they are off on a crying, screaming jag of epic proportions and no amount of Mommy comforting will help. Often this is done in the most public or embarrassing places, like your mother-in-law's.
At our house Larry was always the cure.
He has a really deep "man voice." I'd hand him the screamer. He'd hold said child in his big man arms and start talking really softly right in their ear. Right through the noise he'd keep whispering using those really low tones. After a bit, the kicking and screaming would start to quiet.  Then after a few more minutes of baritone whispering he'd hand back a sleeping but exhausted child. I've even seen him do this with babies that weren't ours. Their mothers were always grateful and amazed.
It never failed. What a lifesaver.

When he was younger and more spry, Larry's preferred place of relaxation after work was lying on the rug in front of the TV.  I guess this was a childhood habit. He would lie on his side with a soda in front of him close enough to reach the controls. No remotes back then you know.
At first there he'd be, all alone. In a few minutes a dog would come to lie down for petting. Then a small child to climb up on his hip to sit on top. Then another dog and another child. More children until any that were in the house showed up. All jockeying for a prime spot. He'd just lie there watching television, becoming a human monkey bars. It never failed.

I once saw this same method used to teach a lesson in Primary to a class of 8 year olds. Our Primary at the time was so huge his class was relegated to the church kitchen. It was my job to check on all the classes so I walked by and looked through the little glass window in the door.  Larry was sitting at the table, manual in front of him. The snack he always insisted on bringing was at the ready on the counter nearby. "Grasshoppers and blood" he called them.  Green, cream filled mint sandwich cookies and a jug of red fruit punch it was. After Sacrament you could count on kids in the hall asking excitedly if there would be grasshoppers and blood in class today.  Anyway, I looked in and he was reading the lesson out loud straight from the book. We'd just had a teacher meeting that talked about no snacks and not reading from the manual. Children were climbing all over him. One kid who was draped on his head reached over it to point at the lesson. "No way, Brother Wagher. See, it says so right here."  Everybody looked to see if that was right and Brother Wagher had it wrong again.
It was strange how all of them seemed to be focusing on the lesson though. Every kid was hanging on a shoulder or climbing up his back and looking at the lesson in the manual at the same time. I decided they must be getting the idea somehow and walked away shaking my head.

Sacrament meeting was always the same in that ward. We would sit down as the chapel was filling up.  A boy in Larry's class would come and stand facing him, toes to toes and almost nose to nose since Larry was sitting. He'd just stand there, inches away, staring right into Larry's face until the prelude music started. No talking or facial expression whatsoever. Then he'd go sit with his own family. It was a greeting of some sort that I never understood.
That boy grew up and served a mission though. So reading from the manual didn't mess him up too much I guess.

Another time and another kid in his class. We were in the church foyer. Larry had an eight year old slung over his hip like a sack of coal. He was feeling the wall with one hand and holding on to the kid with the other. "What are you doing?" I asked him. "Looking for a soft place in this wall to put Scotty's head through." he replied.
I guess Scotty had misbehaved in class.
Not to worry. Scotty turned out alright too.

Men sure interact with children differently than women do.
A whole lot of kids today are missing that in their lives.
That man thing.
I'm thinking it might be something important.


Friday, January 23, 2015

A Burp Can Be Forever

This is another old post I'm trying to remove the most glaring errors from. See...there's a sentence ending in a preposition again.

A Burp Can Be Forever

Even though it pains me, I have to admit that television can sometimes be a blessing. 
I usually think it’s a waste of time, at best.  But then there is Conference, with its eternal truths.  And yesterday I watched that wonderful old musical “Fiddler On the Roof.” 
You know the film……..about Tevye…….. the Jewish milkman in Russia, during the cruel days of czarist persecution. He explains how he and his people survive all their hardships through an inspiring song called “Tradition.” It reminded me of a Relief Society lesson I once taught on that same subject. The lesson urged us to develop traditions in our families so they could become ties that bind us to each other for eternity. 
I agree. I remember using a spool of thread to wind, over and over again, around the clasped hands of a sister. This was to show how something as small as a thread, if wound enough times, is as strong as any rope in holding things together.
Nowadays though, holding things together isn’t as easy as it used to be. Our lives are very different from that of a milkman living in a small village centuries ago. Not simple for sure. In fact complicated and stressed might be more accurate. Everybody in the family is on a demanding schedule, even the kids. 
What with work, school, church, sports, scouts, etc. who has time for tradition?
Well, the relief society lesson said we should make time if we want to be linked to each other forever. And with a little pondering, as the Good Book says, we can see opportunities all around us.

The key here is to think small and to remember the thread. 

It’s just not true that meaningful family traditions have to be elaborate or expensive rituals reserved for holidays or vacations. Sometimes the most everyday occasions become the most remembered.

One sister told me about a simple tradition that’s become the favorite of her whole family. 
It came about quite by accident.
It seems that one day while shopping she ran across some bright lime green plastic plates and tumblers. They were on clearance for 50 cents each. She bought a bunch of them thinking they’d be good for barbeques and picnics. Instead, it turned out that in a moment of divine inspiration, those neon green dishes were brought out one night when someone in the family did something worth a little celebration. She happened to have some root beer on hand and served it in the tumblers along with a toast to the honoree.
Well, after that, if anybody in the family won a race or earned an “A,” or got a first job or a long awaited promotion, or learned to tie their shoes, whatever……. those lime green plastic plates came out. When the family came home and saw the “green” table they knew somebody had a little victory of some kind to celebrate. This smart mom also made it a habit to keep a few bottles of root beer hidden away for just these occasions. After the family gathered and prayed, someone was chosen to lead the toast.  Well, one time, the eight year old son was to do the toasting.  He had sneaked a couple of swallows of root beer before the prayer.

So,  he made his little congratulatory speech,  stood and raised his green plastic tumbler. Just as he proudly declared, “To Sally….for finally getting an “A” in science"…..a long, loud, root beer burp came rolling out. "BRaaaaaaaaaaaack!" 

Everybody laughed of course.
But sadly for our dear sister a family tradition had been born.
Now, at every celebration, the one giving the toast says…… “To blank……..for doing a wonderful thing ........BRaaaaaaaaaaaaack!"!

The whole family always roars with laughter. The first child who went away to college said this was the thing she missed most about her family.  
Her younger brother said that whenever he hears someone burp, no matter where he is, he thinks about home and feels honored.

Traditions……ties that bind…….threads in the tapestry of family.
Sometimes the simplest things can mean the most.
Pancakes on Saturday mornings. 
Watching the college game with Dad and giving that special, goofy cheer at every touchdown. 
Notes of encouragement in a shirt pocket or backpack. 
The most recently valiant family member being given the spoon and bowl to lick after someone makes chocolate frosting.
Popcorn and a Disney flick on Friday nights. 
A special song for cheering up, reading books aloud in the car on long trips, a wife’s secret code of a handful of Starburst candies placed in a husband’s briefcase, a hundred other small, everyday traditions. 

The trick is to repeat them, like the thread, until they have the power to bind.

Traditions. A single, simple thread, wound over and over again. Strong stuff.

Who knew that a burp could be forever?