Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sending One Off

My oldest daughter Kim asked me the other day if having a missionary gone far away from home will get easier as the months go by.  Will that heart wrenching worry for their safety and happiness ease up some?

She says she knows people in her ward who've sent sons and daughters off around the world. When she sees them in church on Sunday she asks how everyone's doing. A lot of them still start sniffling even after months have gone by. One friend's son was returning soon from Chile. Kim asked her when it got easier. The sister wiped a tear away and replied bravely, "Not yet."

I only had that experience once. Sending a missionary off to serve.
It was our shy, quiet, child. The one who always had trouble being comfortable around strangers. The one who got a stomach ache if she was ever too long gone from home. She went clear across the country to live with strangers, speak only Spanish, and try to find people looking for the truth. She didn't speak Spanish before she left.

Now, our son Dane and his wife Lisa have sent our granddaughter, born and raised in the desert, off to serve in the land of blizzards and twenty-below zero wind chills.

And, just this morning, Kim and Scott put their oldest on a plane for Salt Lake and then to Brazil.

They speak Portuguese in Brazil.

They won't see her again for a year and a half.

Kim wants to know if it will get easier.

First, before I answer, I want to thank some people I've never thanked before.

Thank you to the mothers and fathers of all those young missionaries who came to our house so many long years ago. We knew nothing of the truth until a bunch of goofy teenagers brought it to us. You see, we went through about eight sets of missionaries before we were finally baptized. Most of them were teenagers. One mom and dad sent their son all the way from Samoa to talk to us. He could eat 17 tacos for supper I recall. This kid was huge, well over six feet tall, who'd helped his dad on the family pig farm in Samoa before his mission. That boy could eat. And he liked my tacos.

He left his family by the ocean and came halfway around the world to live in a desert for two years just to talk to us about the most important thing there is. Well, and to talk to a few others too. And along the way he learned that he liked tacos. He and his mom and dad had been saving for years for his mission. Now he was flipping a chart over, explaining eternal truths and wiping hot sauce off his fingers.

Well, that young man changed our lives.
For eternity.

I'm reminded about eternity when my daughter, a child of  raggedy old converts, tells me that she's had some of our ancestor's work done in the temple.  Seems that eternity goes back in time as well as forward. Missionary work goes backwards too, I guess.

So, I'd like to thank that young man from Samoa's mom and dad.
In fact, I'd like to thank all the mom's and dads of missionaries.

You loved them. You taught them the truth. You saved and sacrificed for missions. Once, many years ago, one couple sent their boy off halfway around the world. You knew you wouldn't see him for two long years. You worried about his safety and happiness. You wondered how he could possibly survive in a desert. You missed him every single day.

I want you to know that he changed our lives forever. A whole lot of lives changed it seems. Forward and back.
He brought our family the truth while eating tacos. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And now, in part because of that young man and his parents from Samoa, we have two granddaughters off on missions. One to blizzards and one to Brazil.

And Kim wants to know if it gets any easier, having one gone on a mission. Will that wrench and worry ease up?

All I can say is that I'm eternally grateful to the parents of the ones that were sent to knock on our door, so many years ago. And I'm grateful to those goofy teenagers who came. They changed everything for our family.  Changed it for us, our ancestors and our posterity. Forever.
I hope that makes it a little easier.

I think it was Jeffrey Holland who once said something like, "The gospel of Jesus Christ is rolling forth to fill the entire earth on the shoulders of an army of teenagers." And some just barely older than that, I might add.

May Heavenly Father bless and keep that beautiful army safe and well. May he inspire them to work hard and lead them to those seeking truth. May he bless them all the rest of their lives for their missions.

And may he bless and comfort their parents too.



Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or treat. Smell my feet.

October.

No matter where you live it's one of the most glorious months of the year, isn't it? Here in the Sonoran desert October not only brings relief from scorching summer heat, it begins the promise of seven months of lovely and good report.  Weather reports that is.  We don't have to go off to the beach seeking after them either.  Just open the door.
(All that's a reference to a Mormon thing which I'll explain later.)

October once brought me gold aspen leaves shimmering against a blue sky.  It's one of my most treasured mountain memories. Then too, the smell of fall in the high country woods is something I'm so grateful not to have missed in my lifetime. That mixture of cool wet earth, leaves underfoot and far off wood smoke is one of the best smells in life. Like a mountain creek in summer or the ocean any time.

That line of thinking brought my wandering mind to other good smells.  Life's full of them if you notice.   Like pine branches or any freshly cut wood.  At Christmas I always go to my local tree lot to buy or beg the trimmings from their trees to put in vases and decorate around the punch bowl. Our house is so little that the cuttings send fresh pine smell to fill even the back bedroom.

And one of the most comforting smells has to be supper cooking in the oven when you walk in the door hungry after a long day.   Especially pot roast, barbequed chicken, or baked ham.  Or loaves of bread baking. Or pans of rolls. Does anything on earth smell better than that?        Well, brownies maybe.        Or cupcakes.
No, bread wins.
Isn't it amazing how just a pot roast smell can make life seem so much better?  I remember a crockpot being a big help creating that "Welcome home, dinner's ready," smell when I was teaching.

And what about a clean baby?  My oldest daughter once took her children to a pediatrician she'll always remember fondly. She said whenever she brought a newborn in for a checkup he would never fail to sneak a sniff of the baby's head during the exam. She saw him.  Grandma's do that too.

They say that smell is one of the most powerful triggers of memories.  I think that might be true. I'm going to admit something crazy about one of my favorite smell memories. Even weird.  Don't tell anybody.

When I was 17 and dating my now husband of fifty years, I stole one of his shirts and slept with it because it smelled like him.  It was glorious.  Remember I was very young.  For some reason though, now that I'm sleeping with the actual man-- the smells have changed.  It's just not the same, I can tell you.

But other great smells come to mind.

Campfires when you're sitting around them with a stick and a burning marshmallow on the end.
Or laundry, dryer sheet fresh, warm from the dryer.  Even better, as I recall from back in the day, fresh and sun warm from a clothesline.

Soap smell on a clean fifth grader when he comes to your desk to get help with math is great. This happens only before recess. Then the clean kid smell changes to sweaty kid. Then too there's the hopeful, heady, aroma of too much aftershave on a gangly teenager.

Larry says, "A new car,"  but I think cars just smell like machines and oil.
He likes bacon frying too. Especially early in the morning if he's still in bed and someone else is cooking.  Usually he's the only early riser now.
And, I remember that he's always loved the smell of perfume on a beautiful woman. Never fails to notice and make a comment. And, if asked, he swears the smell he's looking so wistful about is me. The man may be a liar but he's not stupid.
He also recalls fondly the morning smell of coffee. That was before his Mormon days. He says he's grateful it never tasted as good as it smelled since he had to give it up when he was baptized.

Rain just as it starts to fall is glorious. And the smell of desert mesquite after one of our summer gully washers. That one's best in the cool of dawn, but it'll make you roll the car windows down no matter what the time or temperature.

Or a salty, sea-weedy ocean breeze.  Or grass being cut.

Or Larry's barbecue chicken when he's out on the patio grilling. That one can drive the whole block crazy.

Then there's popcorn popping, which always makes me want to put a Disney movie on the TV.

And come December slicing a lemon or lime fresh from our trees will fill the whole kitchen with one of my favorite smells.
If it's winter and there's snow outside you'll still think of lemonade. Cucumbers will do that too. Only then it's summer salads you'll remember.

Flowers like petunias or alyssum are winter smells down here in the lowland. Up in the mountains at that time of year I would hear people say "Smells like snow."   I never did get that.  But mint, basil, and tomatoes on the vine fill my patio pots in January if you happen to crush some leaves while watering.  And come March, orange blossoms send their sweet scent into the night on every breeze.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The Articles of Faith were written when the Prophet was asked what Mormons believe.   The last one is my favorite.   It ends with, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."  At the very least I think that means we should notice and appreciate them.

Well, the wonderful smells of life are lovely and of good report.  Praiseworthy too.  They make me grateful for beauty, home, comfort and family.  I think I should seek after some.

So I'm going to try to create some good smells today. Give Heavenly Father a hand so to speak. First I'll plant a patio pot with allysum and then I'll put a pot roast in the oven.

And I won't forget to thank God for blessing me with both of them.

* PS
A daughter called to say that I forgot a very important smell.

She remembers telling me once when she was young that she was embarrassed to go to church with her father because he smelled like cigarette smoke. I shared with her that a bishop once told me that tobacco smell in a Mormon church was the most beautiful scent of all. It was the smell of someone trying to repent, trying to live the truths Father taught.

If any of you are struggling to live those truths you now know, come to Sacrament meeting.  Sit by me and Larry.  It took him a while but he finally conquered a 4 pack a day habit. He hasn't smoked in nearly 40 years. But it's only been 20 years since he quit reaching up to his empty shirt pocket for a cigarette. Seems habit is a very powerful force.

After winning that valiant fight he took his family to the temple. All of his now grown children go there regularly. Two of his granddaughters are now on missions.

Hang in there. Father loves you. He'll help.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Kim's Hyacinth

My oldest daughter lifted my spirits today.  It made up for a lot of the trouble she caused us when she was a child.

Her family recently returned from a long awaited and much anticipated trip to Disneyland. Their oldest of seven, Mackenzie, leaves for her mission to Brazil in just a couple of weeks. While she's away serving, the next oldest, Malachi, will graduate high school and turn 18. He plans a mission also.  It's the last time their entire family will be together for several years.

Disneyland holds a special place in all their hearts. But a trip for such a big group requires clever budgeting. There's not much money for being frivolous when you have to multiply frivolity by 9. One Dole Whip or Mickey ice cream may not be much, but the expense looms large if the whole family wants one.

Anyway, knowing this, Larry and I made up a bag with a poem and a little card with $10 in it for each of them.  The poem is one of my favorite great thoughts. A misquote goes something like this...

If of all the world's goods thou art bereft,
And to thee alone but two loaves of bread are left,
Sell one, and with the dole,
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

Each was instructed to buy a hyacinth on the trip.  It was explained that hyacinths are flowers but theirs might look like a churro or Minnie Mouse key chain. Kim said it was great for each kid to have a little to spend without having to ask. Yea!
Mission accomplished.

Then today she told me about her "chrysanthemum" as she called it.  It took me a while to figure out what she was talking about.

It seems they had stopped at the beach on the day before they were to go to the parks. The kids all ran out to the ocean while she stayed at the van to make sandwiches. Hard at work she looked up to see a bedraggled woman pass by on the sidewalk. She looked worn down and possibly homeless. Kim thought of her $10 and ran with it to give to the woman. She actually had to chase her. The lady was so grateful it broke Kim's heart. So she touched the woman gently and asked her if she was hungry. Kim explained that she was making sandwiches and she had turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. Would she like one? The lady said she'd like peanut butter and jelly.

Kim went back to make it.

While she was spreading peanut butter and jelly she said something very special happened.  It was almost like a voice actually spoke to her.

She heard, "You're making that sandwich for me."

She started to cry.

She didn't know what else to do.

So, still crying, she put more peanut butter.

Then she made up a little bag of "kid treats" to go with it.  Raisins, Vienna sausages, and the like. She took it and the sandwich to the lady.

I'm so grateful for my children.
They're all trying to live the truths of the gospel.
Larry and I may be raggedy old converts but our kids are covering up a multitude of our sins.

Sometimes with peanut butter and jelly.

May Heavenly Father always bless and protect them while they do what they can.
May He always bless and protect you and your efforts too.





Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ma's Crackpot Ideas

Sometimes I get ideas.

This has been going on for years.

I remember a conversation/argument I had one time with my husband and a nearly grown child. Another, almost done offspring walked in and said, "What are you guys talking about?" The first one said, "Just another one of Ma's crackpot ideas." "Oh those," was his bored reply as the refrigerator door opened for closer inspection. 
Well, I get these ideas about all kinds of things. Things like how to run the government, education reform, municipal landscaping, better bottle caps, where to put benches at Disneyland or tags on sheets etc.  Some of these just might be good ideas too. Some might be so good that they're already out there and I just haven't heard about it. I don't get around as much as I used to.

Didn't Father teach us that we should always be anxiously engaged in a good cause. That we should do many good things of our own free will and bring to pass much righteousness?  Historically some crackpot ideas have brought about a whole bunch of righteousness, so that's great advice. 

Well, now that I'm old I'm afraid that I might die and any of my gems that may be new will die with me.  So I've decided to send a few out there into cyberspace every now and then. You all are welcome to them. If someone happens to take one and make a zillion dollars with it, more power to you. 
On second thought, do the right thing and send me a little. I promise to use it for a wise purpose. 

Idea #1
Computer Site or Softwhatever for Volunteer Projects

When I was teaching high school I would regularly get calls from probation officers or others asking for help finding community service projects for kids who needed to serve hours as part of their sentence. Most of the time these kids ended up picking up trash from the schoolyard or something similar. While this is helpful I knew these kids had the power to make a bigger contribution which would help them as well as the community. They had energy to burn, new knees, and bright minds that could really make a difference.  I also knew of school clubs and Eagle scout candidates looking for ideas for their service projects too. They only needed some direction to unleash their youthful talents.

Couldn't there be a computer clearing house where people who needed help could list a project and kids of all kinds who wanted to help could find one? For instance, could the "lookees" say their club had 15 teens with 4 Saturdays and they liked animals, the outdoors, music or old people? Could the "lookers" say they needed a crew of 20 for outdoor digging or indoor painting and post sign up sheets for projects that were genuinely needed but lacked funds for manpower.  

Scouts looking for Eagle projects, Key Clubs, or the new kid in school who wanted to make friends could go there and find real work. Suppose that their city had potholes on a street but no money to pay workers to fill them. The city could send out a foreman and materials to supervise. A mini class in pothole filling would then make it possible for a bunch of teenagers to point with pride at a real civic accomplishment.

I'm here to tell you that kids can plant trees in parks, paint, build benches, teach guitar, push or fix wheelchairs and/or cars, and help the Game and Fish people. We always hear that there's no money to pay for things. Well I'm here to tell you that there's an army of 4-H-ers, Scouts, church clubs, car clubs, and kids on probation who can help out more than a little. They're always looking for good stuff to do. We need to quit underestimating them and provide a place where they can easily find important work. 

You can't fool kids though. They know the difference between busywork and a real contribution. If we're willing to teach and trust them they can do real work.

Idea #2 Little Forgotten Spaces

Don't forget the oft forgotten. 

When we moved back to the desert from the mountains we bought a tiny "spec" house. It was supposed to be just a roof, mainly to get us out of Grandma's house and hair. We both had new jobs and no time. We'd settle permanently later. 

Well, we've been here 12 years now. You see, Larry got comfortable, says it's big enough for just us two and he doesn't want to move furniture. And I think living in that tiny fishing cabin in the woods for so long did strange things to the both of us. Somehow bigger's just bigger now and little seems right. 

Anyway, two of this teeny house's teeny bedrooms had windows looking out over 10 feet of side yard right to a 7 foot block fence. My idea was to knock out the window in one of them and put french doors, which I love. My family thought I was nuts of course. "French doors to where, for Pete's sake?" was the many times repeated reaction. 

Well, my doors created the sweetest little courtyard, visible from the living room, because I knocked out the wall on the other side to put an archway. It made one of those unused bedrooms into a lovely library that looks out to a little fountain on the now honeysuckle covered wall. Bougainvillea filled pots spill flowers onto the brick pavers and butterflies and hummingbirds regularly visit.
"What a great idea!" is the usual response.

See.

Forgotten spaces are all around. Just look. Potential may be hidden away in surprising places. Maybe even in ourselves. Maybe there's a little, tiny, unused skill hidden away somewhere there. Maybe with some bold action it could be developed into a full blown talent. 

So sing, paint, play, invent, dance, design, create, think, study, sign-up, write, reupolster or even knock out a wall.  You never know.

One of the greatest compliments of my life was about this very thing. I was tiptoeing down the hall outside a room where some of my children were talking. I accidentally heard one say to the others, "Oh, just let her do it. Once in a while Ma's crackpot ideas work out."

I was so touched I cried.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Woman’s Got To Do What A Woman’s Got To Do Too

*Something reminded me of this old story just the other day. I think it was my husband. Again.



I've been married a long time.
I don’t know why but for some reason this makes people think I know certain things. Let me assure you, they are mistaken.
I know nothing.

Still, just the other day a young woman asked me about the secret of a long marriage.
I thought hard and replied, “Just don’t get a divorce.”  
One of the Prophets said something like that I think. Maybe President Kimball. Anyway, even if he didn't, it’s true.
Tomorrow is often a different day.

I thought again and then remembered that I did know one thing. “Oh yes, I almost forgot. You’ll be needing a strong defense if you marry a man.”

She said, “A defense? Why?” 

“For use when a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” I replied.
To give you just one example, the man I’m currently married to tries to injure himself just so that I’ll get upset and worry about him.  I’m not joking.  I think it’s one of those guy things.  I've noticed that women seldom do this because it’s dumb and just doesn't make sense.

I especially remember a little scenario that happened regularly in the winter when we were living in the mountains. 


Husband’s age at the time was 50ish. He’d been diabetic for years, with high blood pressure and cholesterol to boot.

Heavy snowfall was a regular occurrence in our area from October through March.

Now I admit that big piles of snow created issues around our place.  Some kind of action was required in order for us to get out of the house and to the highway so we could get to work. Something did have to be done with all that snow.


So, husband thought about it hard. He considered all factors carefully.


Being a man he finally decided the most sensible solution was to buy a used 500 lb snow-blower, costing several hundreds of dollars, from the school district in town. This way he could go out in frigid weather and wrestle with it and tons of cold, wet, snow every time we had a storm.

  
This machine was a behemoth. I tried to move it once and it nearly gave me a hernia. It took four men to load it in the truck when he bought it. 

I mentioned to Larry that I thought it was way too much exertion for a man his age and with his medical history to mess around with that heavy machine in freezing weather. Especially since we lived 40 miles from the nearest hospital. With icy roads it might take a long time to get there.  
“We have young men with snow blades on their trucks who’ll come out and move our snow for just 20 dollars,” I explained in my most reasonable tone. “It’s not worth the risk dear.”

Well, this comment triggered the passionate,  “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do!” lecture. This same dusty old speech was repeated every time he wanted to do something dangerous, expensive, and unnecessary.  Right away I knew that talking sense was useless. So I did what a woman has to do when a man has to do what a man does.  Defense. Here's just an example.

One early morning right after the next 2 foot snowfall, husband stood in front of the living room window looking out with a glint in his eye. He was holding a cup of hot chocolate. I was making the bed in the other room but I could see that he was all ready for a big fight with tons of cold, wet precipitation. He was wearing full combat gear. Snow-boots to the knees, wool hat pulled down, ears muffed, gloved to the elbows. He stood looking out the window and sipping. 

After a bit he called out loudly, “Okay, I’m going out there. Don’t you worry, I’m not going to give myself a heart attack. Don’t try to stop me. A man has responsibilities. A man’s got to do….. bla, bla, bla.”

There was a rather lengthy pause and then I heard growling followed by a string of not so nice words.
“What the bleep!  What’s that kid doing?  Bleepity!! Look at that Clint! Bleep him! He’s out there moving my snow! 

I came to stand quietly at his side. 

“Well, isn’t that the nicest thing,” I chirped. “Young Clint’s come out to be a good neighbor with his truck and snowblade. You better go out to thank him. Now you be especially friendly. We want him to feel that his kindness is appreciated.”

Husband heads out with a forced smile and a reluctant wave at Clint.  I could hear snippets of “Don’t trouble yourself next storm young man.  I've got a machine right here that’ll take care of a 5 foot snowfall. Want to take a look?” 

Clint got out of his truck.  They both stood hovering over that thing. They crowed about how it was the deluxe, super duper model. Big enough to throw a mountain of snow.  Bigger than all the other guys blowers for sure.
I was a little worried about young Clint at this point, but he had a busy morning lined up with his truck and plow so he left.

But, lo and behold, and so sad to say, that “Dang, bleepedy, do-gooder kid!” showed up after every storm with his truck and blade. He moved all Larry’s snow before he could even get his combat gear on. What a shame, huh?

And I always made sure the $25 I’d promised him was in Clint’s mailbox as soon as the roads were cleared to the post office. 
The extra $5 was for coming to our place first, and for keeping his mouth shut.

Yep.  Just one case of, “If a woman’s going to be married for a long time she’ll need good defense.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

All creatures.....some really small.


I've never been a "dog person" really.  I've always thought cats were less trouble for the most part.
Until recently I never met a dog that didn't cause me grief.  Usually involving more work and less money.  I know a lot about that grief, work, and poverty thing too. How? Because all my married life we've had dogs. And more than one at a time too.  Why, you say?

Because, you see, even though I'm not,  Larry definitely IS a dog person.  He's always had dogs and they've always had him.

And as we all know marriage is often about compromise.  So, to be fair, Larry reluctantly said we could have cats to go along with the dogs and the children.

I was elected to be responsible for the care and feeding of all of them. Including Larry.

Now something's happened concerning a dog that I'm reluctant to write about. I'm afraid that people will think that I've become delusional along with whatever else. But I'm not delusional yet, and I was so touched that I must tell you about it.

You see, last night an aging, nondescript, sometimes annoying little brown dog went out of her way to show compassion towards a being not even of her same species. The species being human. The human being me. And compassion it was, there was no mistaking it for anything else. Which leads to a whole lot of other animal questions to think about later.

Let me tell you about the dog.  She was rescued as a tiny pup by my son-in-law who found her while he was working in an empty house. He heard pitiful cries and went to help. She fit in the palm of his hand and was barely old enough to have been weaned. He checked with neighbors with no luck. Being a smart man he didn't take it home, but instead took it to his sisters-in-law. They immediately rushed it to the vet, paid the bill, and then stopped off at the nearest pet mart to buy hundreds of dollars of dog stuff.  All in pink. This was years ago. She grew into the smallest chihuahua-mutt-mix princess the vets had ever seen every six months for regular check-ups. The girls named her "Daisy." Daisy and her border collie sibling, (another rescue), spent weekdays with us while the girls were teaching. Larry, however, refused to have a dog in the house with such a "wuusie" name as Daisy.  So he renamed her "Moose."

Well, Moose is now older. She stays with us full-time while our dog Murphy, who is still an adolescent in dog years, and therefore trouble, stays with our daughters, who can handle trouble better than we can now.

Daisy has a little pillow kept right between Larry and I on our bed where she sleeps. She has her own favorite blankets. She hates being cold so several times a night I reach in to her little nest to make sure she's warm and covered.

Well, sad to say, I have issues which cause pain when I move. Last night I was trying to get more comfortable in bed and was attempting a turn which caused some moans of distress. I finally got settled. As soon as I did, a sleepy little dog emerged from her warm nest, came over to me, licked my arm exactly twice, turned around and went back inside the blankets to her bed. There was no mistaking the message. I knew instantly what those licks meant.  She was saying, "There, there. You're okay now. Go back to sleep."

Tender mercies.

I guess Father sends them in lots of ways.

Today I'm thankful for all his creatures great and small. Once in the middle of a dark night a very small one brought comfort to me.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Many Sheep Cross the Sky

*Note
      Two of the Lord's finest souls were called home this week. This post is                   dedicated to them.  
      Frank Greer, my boss and principal of the school where I taught for 12 years, known fondly as "Sarge" to me.  I can't think of him and not smile.
      And Chester Crandell, who taught my own children, and who's dear wife Alice       worked alongside me in my classroom. He later became a state senator and flags fly at half mast in his honor this week.
      
      May Father bless you both and keep those you love in his tender care.




“To gladden the eye and delight the heart of man.” That’s what the scriptures say. That’s why Heavenly Father’s creations are so beautiful. He made them that way on purpose just for us. How grateful I am for that love. The love that created beauty.

 Well, may we never pass by God’s creations without noticing how lovely they are.  And I hope He’s pleased to see the joy in our eyes.

Years ago, when our family first moved to the mountains from the city, we were suddenly surrounded by awesome natural scenery every day and night. It was impossible to ignore and often stopped us in our tracks. 

One day at lunch recess I remember standing on the grassy school playground where I was supposed to be watching kids. Instead I was turning in circles as I looked up into that impossibly bluest of blue skies.  Enormous, puffy, white clouds raced on the high winds. Clouds never looked like that or moved that fast in the city. I was fascinated by them.  
One of my students was standing nearby, a Navajo boy. He looked up intently at my face with a puzzled expression and said kindly,  “Many sheep cross the sky. It will rain soon.” I guess he thought I was looking for an explanation. 

Truly, living on the mountain, each day, each season, brought beauties….some that took your breath away.

Well, all good things must end, they say, and that dreaded day came after more than 12 years. Our nest emptied and our selfish children refused to give us any of the grandkids to keep in our little house in the big woods. They were all down in the nasty old city, our posterity were. We couldn’t talk them into letting us keep even one sticky little grandbaby or annoying teenager even though they had plenty. They were all lowlanders again, as the mountain folks called them. If we wanted to be near kids and grandkids we had to move.  A wrench in so many ways, it wasn't only the beauty around us but the mountain people we'd miss. Some of the finest folks on earth lived in this high country. 


Sadly we both found jobs and moved back.

We had grown so close to nature up here that I was sure that trading Ponderosa forests and mountain lakes for traffic jams and dust storms would be really hard. It was, but I was surprised at a lesson I learned.

We bought a tiny little “spec” house right at first. It was just a place for temporary shelter while we settled back after years of mountain life. School had already started and we'd look for something permanent later. The house was built for someone else who decided against it, but was ready for move-in right away. Both of us were adjusting to new jobs and the house had its good points…..the kids and grandkids were nearby, stores were right around the corner, (Not a 50 mile drive over sometimes snow covered, winding, mountain roads), and best of all every kind of restaurant my husband could think of could be found somewhere in the city. (That didn’t stop him from driving us 400 miles to another state for a burrito as big as your head because Sunset magazine had an article about one though.) Despite its good points there was a downside. The house was one of those “ticky, tacky boxes all in a row,” with the red tile roofs that sprawl all over the southwest. You have to count your way down the block to find where you live because every one’s the same, sort of thing. In this suburban neighborhood I certainly didn’t see any hope of finding any connection with the land or animals that had become such a big part of our lives in the woods. This was the city…… albeit the outskirts….. there’s no nature here, I thought.

Well, I was wrong. There is nature here….though a different, smaller kind. Sometimes you have to be very still to experience it, but it calms the soul, nevertheless.

For instance, a small yellow bird with green feathers shading its head comes every day to the palo verde tree just off the back patio. It hops among the green branches, lime colored leaves, and yellow flowers. A vine hangs down from the arbor that I had Guillermo build for me, dangling a purple flower right in the open doorway to the little library we made from the spare bedroom. We knocked out the windows and put a French door that opens onto a tiny courtyard we built there between the house and block wall. Hummingbirds never fail to stop to drink nectar from the blossoms while I sit next to the little fountain that Larry hung on the wall for me. The honeysuckle we planted just months ago now almost covers the whole thing. The tiny courtyard’s only 10 feet wide but is filled with old pots of bright fuscia bouganvillia and hearts and flowers spilling onto the brick pavers. The doors to the little library are usually wide open if the AC's not running.  One hummer even ventured inside once, standing still in mid-air…… pausing….. I think, to listen to the music we had playing while we sat on the loveseat next to the shelves filled with my books. Bees and butterflies flit to the potted Mexican lime tree that always has some blossoms no matter the season. Its little limes are the most flavorful I’ve ever tasted……the fresh, limey smell fills the kitchen whenever you slice one to put in your ice water. Two lizards visit daily, doing pushups on the wall…their blue bellies showing bright under their tan scales. I see them so often I’ve named them Lucky and Lucy though I’ve no idea of their gender. 


On restless nights when sleep doesn’t come easily I go and sit on the bench outside our bedroom, a soft breeze moving the leaves on the trees now as tall as the house after only a few months. In March that breeze brings the heady scent of orange and lemon blossoms which perfumes the air across the entire desert Valley. I look up to see a few familiar stars visible above. Even in the light of the city I can find the dippers and the North star. Orion is often there, too, guarding those below with his sword at the ready. Certainly not the clouds of stars we could see in the white swath of the Milky Way on moonless nights on the mountain, but somehow comforting, nevertheless. It turns out that we made a trade of sorts when we moved back to the desert……stars for sunsets it was. Sunsets are often spectacular here, of course. Reds, oranges, and purples paint the darkening western sky almost every night. We had to drive to the Rim overlook to see sunsets on the mountain. Too many huge ponderosa pines blocked the view. But whenever we returned home after being out after dark it was always someone’s job to run and turn off the porch light. Then we could all stand and stare up at the millions of stars so dense that they made a dusty white path across the black night sky. The Milky Way for sunsets…that was the trade.

There are other small pleasures here, too…….soft night breezes and the sounds and smells of freshly cut grass even in winter ….that sort of thing. 


So we stayed in the little “spec” house…… longer than we intended.....husband now saying, “It’s big enough for just us two and I don’t want to move furniture.” Now years have passed in this temporary, just until we get settled again place.

Even though we miss the spectacular beauties of the mountains I now believe it’s true what the old hymn says….“there is beauty all around.”

Wherever you are, look for it and be gladdened and delighted. I think it will make Heavenly Father happy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Alarm Clock of Youth

Why, oh why, must children remember the very things about their childhood that you wish them to forget? And why, oh why, don't they recall the many wonderful things, (I'm sure there must have been many), that are worth remembering?

My kids are all grown. One day, I was feeling uncharacteristically wistful about those long, lost days when they were newer.  I asked one who turned out well to tell me about a childhood memory.  I was looking for validation that I'd been a good mother, that I'd been a light in little childish lives.

Take my advice.  Don't do this. You may be sorry.

Dear daughter cheerfully replied that one of her most vivid memories as a young girl was being awakened every morning by the ringing sounds of pots and pans clanging together. This was coming from the kitchen. Then every so often,  after a particularly loud crash,  the shrill voice of her lovely mother would cry out in exasperation,  "Damnation!"

She doesn't recall that I was all alone out there, in the dawn's early light,  making breakfast and packing lunches for the rest of the still sleeping members of the family.  No, of course not.   All this before I had to get ready for work too.  Never mind that I wasn't cussing AT anybody for Pete's sake!  Plus, I didn't think anyone was listening, but that doesn't matter either.  She just remembers what she calls, "The alarm clock of my youth."  5:00 AM she said.  It never failed.  For years she awoke to the sound of pots and pans crashing loudly and "Damnation!" ringing out from the kitchen of our "little house in the big woods."  Now whenever she hears anybody shout, "Damnation!" she thinks of me.   Great.   Happy mother's day.

After this distressing little tale I asked her to tell about something nice.  A beautiful memory.  Something precious that we'd shared as mother and daughter.

She thought hard and said with a bright smile, "Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head."

If you still have kids at home think about this.  Let it be a lesson to you.  Children have very selective memories and good hearing.  And regret has a bitter taste in old age.

Watch yourself.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What Goes Around Keeps Coming Around


Since I retired from teaching three years ago I've given up on keeping up.

With local and national news broadcasts that is.

I used to watch every night.  You know....mindless, habitual viewing.....6:00 news with dinner, 10:00 news before bed.  But now that I've had time to think about it, I decided that as far as knowing what's going on, ignorance can indeed be bliss.

This began when I really paid attention to what was being put out there. It was negative, biased, incorrect, and usually depressing.  Almost always.  What's more, nearly all of it was outside my area of influence. There was never a thing I could do to help those poor souls involved in the latest shooting or drug bust, but still my stomach churned and my heart ached for the victims.  The despair never made my life any better. And "knowing the news" never helped me to be a more effective person either.  In fact, I began to look suspiciously on more of my neighbors than deserved it.  And to make unkind judgments on whole categories of people like media folks.  I'm sure some of them must mean well.

So now I pray hard and help whomever I can around me. And then I donate to organizations who may be able to make a difference to the rest. When being informed in order to be a good citizen seems important, I find other sources.

It was truly amazing how much peace came into my life with this one simple, "No news is good news" change. The sun rose a little brighter.  A positive viewpoint was easier to find.  It actually reduced the number of little pills I had to swallow for stomach and blood pressure problems!

In any case it seems like there's nothing ever really new anyway. The same old issues just keep coming around again and again. It makes me feel like we're not learning from our mistakes, which is depressing in itself, and one of the biggest mistakes of all.

Now my daughters tell me that an old issue is making headlines again involving the church.  It's about women and the priesthood.  I remember when this was part of the news cycle decades ago, back when I was a young woman new to the gospel. It concerned me then because, as a Mormon, I was being taught that God is perfectly just. I learned that we may not be able to see it now, but one day we'll all say,  "Father was fair with me."  It was distressing to hear that some felt the church to be discriminatory.  I needed to know.  So I read church teachings about this very thing.  I studied scriptures. What's more I tried to live the life of a Latter Day Saint woman. Somebody said that was the real test of the truth.

One day when I was trying to live that life something happened. I was asked to substitute in a Sunday school class. It was for kids around 9 years old and called "Valiants" I think. Ordinarily I'd try to get out of this kind of thing but as I said I was trying to walk the LDS walk to "see for myself" as suggested. So I said yes. Some frantic sister with sick kids dropped off a manual and gave me the lesson number. Late Saturday night I finally opened it to see what I was supposed to try to teach a bunch of rowdy 9 year olds in the morning.  I've remembered that lesson for decades now.

It was about what you can know for sure when you see any human being on earth. No matter what the circumstances you can know this is true. I remember three main points.

First, everybody you see is a child of God. The literal offspring of deity. (Think about that for a long time before going on to the next thing. It's deep.)

Second, since they're here on earth, everybody you see chose the Lord's plan once. In the pre-existence they voted with Father. So, no matter what they're doing now they chose right then. Too, since these are the last days and many valiant spirits have been saved for this time because of the great need, it's possible that they may be one of them.

Last, we know what Father said in the scriptures,   "Thou shall not esteem one flesh above another."
Not "All men are created equal." No mention of male/female, rich/poor, black/ white, broken/whole or any other categories.  Just flesh.  And esteem.

So.

This is what Mormons are teaching their children. All the little LDS kids around the world were being taught this same lesson. Not just word of mouth either, but published right there in all the manuals printed in every language.  Many of them would go home to families and be asked, "What did you learn in church today? Then a bunch of nine year olds would share eternal truths all over the world. Millions of people being taught these things in every country and culture.

So.

But what about those sisters in the news, the ones upset because only men were given the priesthood in the church? If Father loves all flesh equally can this be fair?

Then something else happened to me personally that I believe was a heaven sent blessing and message.  It was a sacred experience and I share it only in the hope that it may help someone else. It's not part of church teachings.

I had a baby.

And while giving birth I had a special experience. Though I've had several children, this only happened one time.

Right in the middle of the last stages of labor my thought processes turned to eternal things.  I seemed to be an observer of what was going on around me. I remember thinking and feeling,   "There's another person, not just a baby, but a person with a sacred past and a future,  who is coming THROUGH  ME,  right at this moment.  Someone is using my body to come to earth."  I began to think of how special the physical connections of childbirth were.  A bond between mother, child and God.  A special blessing reserved only for women.  A sacred experience that men cannot share. Suddenly I was sorry for my husband who could never feel what I was feeling!   Yes, while in labor I felt sorry for men!  They were missing out on one of life's greatest gifts. Then the pain came back and my attention was directed elsewhere.

That was all. That was the experience. Strange for sure.

I didn't know it then but that was only half of it.

Sometime later I was witness to a priesthood blessing, certainly not unusual and something I'd done before. I believe a little child was sick and was receiving a blessing of healing. As the men with the Holy Priesthood placed their hands on the girl's head I glanced up.

Then the oddest thing happened. Thoughts came rushing back to me from the delivery room!
There it is! I thought. Those men are putting their hands on a child's head and physically blessing her to be healed. Surely one of life's greatest gifts! Something reserved only for men. The laying on of hands. A sacred bond between them, the girl, and God. Blessings of comfort, courage, healing, and sometimes miracles given by Father's faithful sons.

So I needn't have felt sorry for my brothers. I knew then in my heart and soul that Father is indeed perfectly fair to his children.

Just a note about a related subject.

Once I heard somebody say that LDS women are discriminated against by LDS men generally and not allowed to reach their full potential.

After I quit laughing I'll give them some input.

I advise them to walk the walk of a Mormon woman and see.

I have three daughters and eight granddaughters, all walking the walk.  I asked some of them about this very thing and this is what I found.

Never,  never,  never,  have any of them, ever, been encouraged to be anything less than their best selves. In fact, most often we are admonished to be better than we think we can possibly be. We are vigorously taught to develop all of our God given talents. We are exhorted to become as highly educated as our circumstances will allow. If formal education isn't possible then we're urged to study on our own, by candlelight if that's all there is!  We are counseled that we must read and learn "from the best books," in every subject. We are to be knowledgeable, accomplished, and to use our talents in every way to help make our homes and the world a better place.

I even remember one Relief Society lesson where the point was made that some of our talents may be hidden. We were advised to be diligent, discover them, magnify them along with the ones we knew about already, and then get busy using them to bless the lives of others!  In addition, all the while we're doing this we're to seek after everything that is beautiful, lovely and of good report.

Victims of discrimination? Not allowed to become all we wish to become? Truth be told, some of the females in my family suggested that they could use a little rest from trying to reach their full potentials. Many times, I too have longed for a nap, but instead have been out there trying to develop something.

All the women in my family can testify of the truth of what I say.  I know they can because they're all tired.  Indeed all Mormons are taught from the cradle to reach for everything that they may become.  And when that reach pulls a hamstring we're instructed in first aid so we'll soon be well and back at it!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sex, sex, and more sex

Sex seems to be everywhere these days. Sometimes in the strangest
places too.

I'm old now so I've finally figured out some important things about this popular topic.  I thought I'd share because one thing I know for sure is that there's a whole lot of people out there who are doing it wrong.  Another thing is that sooner or later they'll figure this out too and then they'll be sorry.

How do I know they'll be sorry?

Because you can't sin against truth and be happy that's why.  Every person on earth is born with the light of Christ and knows deep in their hearts when something is wrong. You simply can't do sex wrong and not know it. No matter what people may say, they know. No matter how much money they make or how popular they are, if they're doing sex wrong they know it.

I noticed this among my high school students. (You can read more about this knowing thing in an earlier post called, "Pornography is a Lie." It's about a test I once gave to a bunch of teens who regularly viewed porn.)

Anyway, generally my students who were messing around with unwise substances like drugs or alcohol were often troubled and unhappy. But I noticed that those who got involved with casual sex were more than just that. Sometimes they ended up feeling so deep down worthless that life seemed to them not even worth living. Why? What made being wrong about sex so much more damaging? Well, maybe it's because of the sacred nature of sexual relations itself. Of all the aspects of being human, the truth about this one really needs to be lived if a person wants a chance at true happiness.

So what are some truths about sex that we know.

First of all,  men and women are not the same. This might seem obvious but a lot of folks out there don't get this very basic concept. Turns out the sexes are different not only physically but in their very natures. I'm okay with this since Heavenly Father has said, "Thou shall not esteem one flesh above another." He loves both his male and female children. They're different but equally valued. Simple as this sounds, believe it or not, these are radical ideas in many cultures.

I understand these truths about sex and yet I'm still surprised at how often I'm surprised. It makes no sense, I know, but my husband's view of the world is very often SO not mine. I used to think he was just plain wrong. "How could he possibly think that? What in the world is wrong with him," I often wondered, sometimes loudly. But now I know that he's not wrong so much as he's just "Male," with a capital "M."  He sees things as blue.   I see them as yellow.  But sometimes something happens when we see things together. By some strange and mysterious power the world becomes green! Then we have a case of the sum of the two becoming more than the sum of the parts.  Somehow one and one makes three! That's part of why a marriage needs to be between a male and a female I think. Perhaps it has less to do with sex and more to do with gender and its accompanying nature and point of view. You can only get green by mixing blue and yellow. Two blues just make more blue, two yellows and there's still only yellow. Without both sexes involved in the process, instead of one and one makes three, you have one and one makes one.

It takes a male and a female to equal more than the math would seem possible.

Now about the sex itself. What are some truths about that?

Well, sex is a gift from God to his children who are married.  It's a great gift too. One that should be used as often as possible and appropriate for maximum happiness. Some of life's greatest blessings come to people through it's use. Becoming "one" with another human being isn't possible in any other way. This doesn't mean only physically either. When husbands and wives feel safe and brave enough to share what's most tender and vulnerable about themselves, their very souls can touch. That doesn't happen with meaningless physical encounters. And when Heavenly Father gets involved, children and grandchildren come into your life. Sex becomes a sacred light with power to light other lights. One of life's greatest blessings for sure.

There's another aspect of sex that doesn't seem to be common knowledge.  It's a critical element missing from every kind of casual sex.  What so many don't know is that to be done properly every single act of sex must be accompanied by a "tie that binds."   A small, silver thread that goes around a man and a woman and holds them together afterwards.  The sex itself might involve tenderness or hilarity, grand passion or therapy, recreation or routine. It doesn't really matter. That thread must be there.  Even those, "You better make it quick, Mister, the kids will be home soon," count. Those threads, combined with all the others that come with sharing a life with someone, hold a man and woman together more surely than a single rope ever could.

All those people out there ignoring that little silver thread that binds do so at great peril to their happiness. Father intended sex to be a source of joy to his beloved children. When the bond is missing it can become the opposite. Instead of joy, those who steal the gift from Father find shame and bitter regret. I believe the scriptures say something about, "Will a man rob God?"  Well, money's not all that can be stolen. Universal truth applies here, perhaps more than in any other area of life.

I remember one of my daughters telling me of a teaching moment she had with one of her troubled high school students. He was really struggling with these issues and had asked her advice. She thought a long time about it and then told him simply, "You can't do wrong and feel right." She could tell by the look on his face that his conscience had just convicted him. He knew the truth.

For sure no place in life does truth apply more surely than it does with sex. You simply can't do sex wrong and feel right.

So.  Many sincere and heartfelt thanks for that most wonderful wedding gift from Father. May we understand it's truth and always live it. May we be blessed with great joy when we do.






Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sins of the Mother



I don't trust technology.
Many of you know that about me already.
In fact, when I was still teaching, I actually had the reputation of being the woman most likely to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Especially where computers are concerned.  I still maintain that my No. 2 pencil never once got sick with a virus or crashed and burned, rendering everyone around it helpless and stupid!
But some technology has turned out to soften even a reluctant geezer like me. Resist as I may I must admit that the DVR has made it possible for some amazing things.  For one, I actually OWN copies of Disney animated films!  Imagine, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty right there on my bookshelf next to Mark Twain's masterpieces!  And now I can study the talks of the prophet and the apostles in a way not possible before. Those good old record, pause, and "Play it again Sam" features mean that I don't miss a word or musical note of General Conference. I can even go over and over those messages that I'm sure were meant just for me. You know the ones. The ones where Heavenly Father is trying to tell "just you" something. Sadly, in my case they always seem to be a call to repentance.
    Well, conference was held recently.   It was amazing as usual.  And by this time I've lived in the light long enough to know that without a doubt conference topics are what's been on Father's mind. I no longer question whether the things being asked are too simple to really make a difference. This is what Father wants His children to work on. And our lives and even the world can change for the better if we do. Even if He just asks us to be kind, especially in our own homes, or to have hope.
Just think for a minute what it would mean if every soul on earth were kind and had learned it at home.  What could that do?
Well, all sorts of wars, big and little, in houses and countries, would stop I think. And what if everyone alive knew that an apostle of Christ had said that the challenges they face were the very things that were making it possible for them to grow and move forward?  What if those who struggle with heavy burdens knew that it was the "load" that would make the difference?  Would life change for them if they understood that they'd been blessed by adversity and not cursed by it?
Hope lifts. Would that help them bear up under what was theirs to carry?

So, after numerous replays, I've learned, among other things, that I'm supposed to work on being kind to the people in my own home. This was one of the messages meant just for me. No cross words to be spoken to anyone living in my house. (How about mildly impatient and annoyed? Is that unkind? Exasperated and at wit's end?  I'm thinking about that.  Give me a minute.) Sounds easy enough, right? You wouldn't think it would be that hard.  Being kind.  I mean after all I do love them more than life itself.  It's just that they can be so difficult!  Unreasonable even. And they relentlessly persist in doing the stuff that they do.

My oldest daughter Kimberly, parent of 7, four of them currently teenagers, came over the day after this last conference in despair over her own mothering skills and the kindness issue. Apparently she'd been called to repentance over this very same thing.  I told her not to worry, that those messages were meant for me, but she insisted they were for her. She's so often unreasonable. It's a trait left over from her childhood which I remember vividly.
Anyway, it seems she had wanted to strike her 15 year old daughter after a particularly difficult Sacrament meeting which ended with said teenager, certainly old enough to know better, punching her little sister hard in the stomach for no apparent reason.  Kim knew it wasn't right to want to smack someone you love, but nevertheless, there you are.  Smacking was in her heart and what she wanted to do most at the time.
Helpfully, and in my kindest mother voice, I told her how wrong she was and that she really needed to work on patience because smacking is never the answer. All the while my mind was drifting back to the time when I was still trying to be kind and patient with my own kids.
I remembered the usual enlightened disciplinary technique I used with our son. It involved chasing him around with a wooden spoon in my raised hand, ready to beat him with it should I ever be quick enough to catch him. Because occasionally I did, (this was a long time ago remember) when he grew a bit older and wiser, he would stop running abruptly, turn around, grab the spoon, break it in half, hand it back to me and continue running. I realized I needed a better way when one day while I was trying to make spaghetti sauce there wasn't a wooden spoon in sight. Next time he needed correcting I reached for the broom instead, which afforded a longer reach anyway. As usual he turned around in the middle of our little race, grabbed the broom to break it until I yelled frantically, "Don't!! That's a new one!" He handed it back politely and kept running. This worked well for years. With Kimberly I believe throwing a shoe was the usual loving disciplinary method of choice. But she was quick and my aim poor. So I don't know where Kim gets her impulse to smack a wayward child.
Strange that I don't remember wanting to chase and beat our two youngest. They came along later.  Perhaps they were better children.  Or perhaps I'd learned something by then.  Or perhaps I was just tired.   It's something to think about.
I don't recall ever throwing shoes at them either. And I have noticed that they both of them are unusually peaceful people.
I'd better think about that too, I suppose.

So.  I'm supposed to be kinder.  No harsh words.
Especially to my own family who so often seem to deserve some.
Even when they're who they are, doing what they always do. I'm required to be kind to them even then.
Somehow this will help make the universe a better place.
Okay. I'm thinking about it.
So, what if everyone on this planet walked out their door after experiencing only kindness in their own homes? Kindness from every single person under that roof. What if they learned it from the cradle? How far would that go?  Would it change the world?
I'm thinking about it harder.
You think about it too.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Don't ever say, "It's not my fault" to Mz Dub!



As a retired teacher I have hundreds of young faces in my creaky, old memory banks. Even so, all of my students were special to me, at every age, every school and classroom.

Many of my high school kids were from middle class homes, some even affluent, but our attendance area also pulled from one of the oldest barrios in the southwest. Some of these students came from circumstances that presented them with extraordinary challenges. Many lived in the projects, had gang backgrounds, and parents or siblings in prison. I was often struck by how ignorant some of these young people were of the basic principles involved in how to live a happy life. They just could not connect the dots to some really basic pictures.

A simple concept like drug use and trouble of some kind sooner or later was hard for them to put together.  Or stealing not being a good idea even if you really need it bad and think you can get away with it.  Or sex at 14.   Or alcohol and gasoline don't mix.  Or alcohol and sex don't mix at any age.  Or that somehow hard work and income are related.  Or prison probably isn't a place you'd like to spend your 20's, and breaking even the laws you think are stupid can result in going there. And carrying a gun for whatever reason is asking for trouble.  That sort of thing.

Since my class was called "Lifeskills" we touched on all these and many other similar subjects. I remember struggling to find ways to teach basic "happiness" concepts.
Once after one of my kids spent his entire Thanksgiving vacation in jail where he was miserable and scared every minute I made a large poster.  He came back swearing it wasn't his fault, the other dude made him mad so he had to do it.  He swore he was going to "get that **** who was really to blame!"  Scary thinking, huh?  The poster was titled,

                         A HUNDRED THINGS YOU WON'T FIND IN JAIL

The list included,  "Your dog,  girlfriend,  and car.  Your kind of loud music. Christmas trees,  the remote,  taking a bath,  Big Mac's and Taco Bell,  weekends, your Nana's birthday cake,  your cell phone, walking over to your best friend's house at midnight,  raiding the refrigerator,  cool shoes, etc. etc.
When the incarcerated student returned to class he looked at the poster thoughtfully and commented, "Mz Dub, the first day I went to Durango I called out to the guard to ask for mustard for my sandwich. Everybody in the cells all up and down the hall started laughing. Put mustard on the list Mz Dub."  I did.

I couldn't post or teach the ten commandments but I do remember a unit of study I devised based on the Boy Scout laws. I'm serious. We talked about the "old fashioned virtues" versus modern ideas of right and wrong.  At first my kids rolled their eyes and made comments about how I couldn't really be serious and how unbelievable, even for me, this whole idea was, and "You are really, really OLD, Mz Dub!" etc.
They started to quiet down a little bit though when we made side by side comparisons on one of my trusty little posters.

                                  THE OLD FASHIONED VIRTUES

What Kind of Life Does a Person Have Who Is.........

HONEST                                             A LIAR AND A CHEAT

KIND                                                   CRUEL

THRIFTY                                             DEEP IN DEPT

CLEAN                                                 FILTHY

SOBER                                                 WASTED OR STONED

REVERENT                                          DISRESPECTFUL

LOYAL                                                 BACK STABBING

HARDWORKING                                   LAZY

HELPFUL                                              WON'T LIFT A FINGER

ETC.                                                       ETC.  


"Well. Let's start with just a couple of these," I said.  "What kind of life does someone have who cheats on their spouse and lies to their kids?  What does the home of a person who's filthy and lazy look like? How long does somebody keep a job if they're wasted or stoned half the time?  What kind of car or house does somebody own if they spend every dime they make and never save? How many friends does a person make if they're cruel, disrespectful, and won't lift a finger to help anybody?   How happy can somebody be who's a lying, mean, broke, selfish, lazy, back stabbing drunk?"

They were thinking now. I could see it.  Yippee!
I knew it was the "Light of Christ" born in each of them, helping them to know truth from error, that was making them pause. I was so very grateful for it with these kids. I couldn't tell them what it was but I counted heavily on it and was blessed often.
I made the point that the closer someone lives to those "old fashioned, geeky virtues," the better chance they have of living a happy life.  They groaned.  But thoughtfully.

Sometimes, though, my attempts to make them see the light came back to bite me. One day we were focusing on "Helpful.  I made the bold statement that this one was so important that it was impossible to be happy if you didn't lend a hand regularly somewhere in this world. We had a great lesson on it and I assigned each student to do meaningful service for someone they knew and then give an oral report to the class. It was to count as the unit's final test. I was hopeful that my kids would get a glimpse of the joy of service.
We were in the process of hearing the reports when I called on a freshman girl who was obviously excited to tell us about her project. Her file listed her as FAS, which was sadly common in Special Ed.  FAS being fetal alcohol syndrome, a lifelong challenge she would face due to her mother's alcohol use during pregnancy.
She stood to give her report. She began by saying that she remembered our recent study of drinking and driving. We were NEVER, EVER! to drink and drive and there was no excuse for ever letting someone else we knew do it either.
Well, over the weekend her mom got wasted again and was going to drive over to her aunt's apartment. This young girl tried to talk her mom out of it but she couldn't. "Finally," she said proudly,  "I  just grabbed the keys and drove her over there myself!  So my service was to keep a drunk driver off the road." She beamed proudly at the class.
I stood with my mouth open for a while, not knowing what to say. This girl was barely 14, without a license of course, and probably had never been behind the wheel before!  Horrible images of what could have happened flashed before my eyes and a prayer of thanks that they didn't went straight to Father. I sat down and we began a long discussion that included praise for the intent but cautions about breaking the law and options for other solutions to her problem.

Then one day I had an epiphany of sorts about this happiness connection thing.  (We call these "apostrophes" at our house in honor of Mr. Smee's comment to Captain Hook in the movie Peter Pan)  It started when a student gave that same old excuse that I heard from so many of my kids,

                                        "MZ Dub, it wasn't my fault!"

It hit me then.  This was at the core of the whole "happiness rules" problem!  How many times had I heard students whine this same tune?   "It wasn't my fault!"  "I couldn't help it," "It was the boy I was with!" "They talked me into it!" "They made me mad!"
Once a girl actually told me that it wasn't her fault that she got pregnant because she was drunk at the time! A boy sporting an electronic ankle bracelet courtesy of the Department of Corrections explained that it was his friend who was to blame because he was only holding the knife for him.
This was at the heart of it, I was sure.  This believing that you're a victim of outside forces, that you're not in control of you're own destiny thing.  This was one of the most common threads in the lives of those kids who didn't have a clue of what it takes to live a happy life.

So I began a campaign.
A "Personal Responsibility, You Are the Captain of Your Own Soul," crusade.

It began that very day when my 7th period class (all boys) got into a discussion about how deceitful and horrid women can be. This was led by a young man who had just been dumped by his new girlfriend. "Explain that! Mz Dub! How's that my fault? Women just stink that's all!  (Apparently I was not considered a  real woman. Too old I guess)  "My mom was the first and worst, he went on bitterly. She's a drunk who left me and my dad and ran off to Vegas with our neighbor when I was only 2 weeks old! How's that my fault..... or my dad's?"
I looked up quickly and saw pain in his eyes.
"I'm truly sorry that happened to you, Jeff. That's really hard to deal with. And I agree that it certainly wasn't your fault. How do you feel about the situation?"
" Well, women are rotten. They can't be trusted," he replied.
"That attitude's going to make it hard for you to build a happy marriage don't you think?"I suggested.
"I'll just be like my dad, I guess. He's been divorced 3 times."
"I see. Is he happy then?"
"No. He's a drunk."
"Jeff, I said that your mom's leaving wasn't your fault. But I didn't say that about your dad."
" What? How could that be his fault? He's not the one who ran off!"
"Well, I don't know. How did your mom and dad meet?"
"They met in a bar that my dad and his buddies liked to hang out in I think. They played pool there. She was my dad's friend's girlfriend."
I couldn't believe it was going to be this easy.
"So," I said thoughtfully,  "She left the guy she was with in the bar and ran off with your dad?"
"Yeah. So What?  They were both 21."
"Jeff, think.  Your father met a girl in a bar where she hung out with her boyfriend.  He knew what kind of person she was when he married her. He knew she hung out in bars and that she wasn't loyal to the guy she was with. It seems to me that the real trouble started with him. He made a poor choice."

The other guys chimed in that it's hard to know much that's really important about people before you get involved and then it's too late.
I said, "Okay, can you know ANYTHING at all about a person just by where you meet them?"
"Not really,"  was the general consensus.
"You may be right. But maybe you have at least a little information,"  I said. "For instance, if you meet somebody at work what do you know?  You know they work.
If you meet somebody at school you know they go to school.
If you meet them at church you know they go to church.
What if you meet them on a bar stool? or at a wild party? or smoking pot with friends behind the bleachers? What do you know?  Anything important?   Does she know anything important about you?
Think hard about this guys.  And Jeff, think hard about when the trouble first started with your mom leaving your family.  Did your dad have any responsibility because he chose to marry her?"
It was about this time that I posted one of my all-time favorite door quotes permanently on the wall. I'd run across it in a Steven Covey book. I don't know who wrote it.
                                   
                            "Between stimulus and response there is a space.
                                In that space lies our opportunity to choose.
                                     In the choice lies our destiny."
                                     
My position was that there is almost always a choice. We are not helpless victims but masters of our fates. I also pointed out that the right choice wouldn't always be the easiest one. In fact it might even be the hardest.

After a while the, "Never Say It's Not My Fault In Mrs. Wagher's Class" got to be a "thing."
Nobody could say it without getting the business from all the other kids.
I loved it.
And I'll never forget the senior who came to say goodbye after graduation.
He hollered over his shoulder as he went out my door,
"I know, I know,  Mz Dub. It's always my fault and I probably won't find Miss Right if I only look on bar stools!"