Thursday, April 3, 2014

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

My students were all special to me, at every age, every school and classroom.  But some I remember more vividly than others. 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 these particular 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.  Simple stuff like drug use will cause trouble of some kind sooner or later.  Or stealing isn't a good idea even if you really need something and think you can get away with it.  Alcohol and gasoline don't mix.  Alcohol and sex don't either.  Hard work and income are related.   Prison probably isn't a place you'd like to spend your 20's.  Breaking even the laws you think are stupid can result in prison time. Carrying a gun is asking for trouble. That sort of thing.

Since my class was called "Lifeskills" we touched on all these and many more similar subjects. I remember struggling to find some way of teaching basic "happiness" concepts. Once I made a poster and hung it up in a prominent place after one of my kids spent his entireThanksgiving vacation in jail where he was miserable and scared every minute. Nevertheless he came back swearing it wasn't his fault, the other dude made him mad, and 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, fishing,  Christmas trees,  the remote,  taking a bath,  Big Mac's, 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 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 charts.

                                  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 have 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. She tried to talk her 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. (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 one of the things 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 told me 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, Randy. That's really hard to deal with. And I agree that it certainly wasn't your fault. How do you feel about the situation?"
" 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'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."
"Randy, 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."
"Randy, 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 Randy, 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, "I know, I know,  Mz Dub.  I probably won't find Miss Right if I only look on bar stools!"

Monday, February 24, 2014


As a special ed teacher I served a great many students identified as "Learning Disabled or LD."
Most of the time my biggest job with these high school kids was convincing them of the truth.  Years of school had them believing a lie.
The truth is that every single student I ever taught was gifted.
Another truth is that LD should stand for "Learns Differently." There's no disability about it. Just challenges.
For some people sitting and listening to lectures works, others need a different approach to learning. Personally I can read anything. But I can't learn to do a thing on the computer unless someone stands behind me and tells me every key to push and then watches while I do it myself a few times. Even then I sometimes need directions taped to the wall. My students used to get so exasperated with me that I'd have to pay them to show me one more time. Cheat sheets cost me $3!  I wouldn't pay unless I could do it perfectly from their directions though. They had to watch and wait, usually with foot tapping and eyes rolling.  They all knew "computer" from infancy it seemed. Turns out that its a very important life skill nowadays by the way. But 10 or 12 years in classrooms where reading and math were most important, and usually taught with heavy emphasis on good auditory skills, convinced these ''learns differently" students that somehow they weren't as smart as the other kids.  That's just not true!

I'll never forget a conference I was having with Hector, a senior boy, and a wonderful kid. We were going over his schedule, credits, grades etc., getting ready for a meeting with teachers and parents. This young man was bright and talented in so many ways but as we looked at the computer screen together he kept saying, "I've never been any good in English." " Mz Dub, I've never been any good in math." Again and again. Subject after subject.  After a while I knew that what he really meant was,  "I've never been any good." It broke my heart.
This is what he believed after years in classrooms.
Well, it made me furious! Finally I shouted, "Hector! Dagnabbit! What in tarnation are you talking about! Just this week at least three kids have come by this classroom looking for you after school because they couldn't get their cars started!  "Mz Dub," they whined, "I need Hector, have you seen him? My car won't run and he's the only one who knows how to fix it." 
"Mz Dub, I need Hector to fix my motorcycle."
"Mz Dub, my dad wants to see Hector about his fuel injectors. Have you seen him?"
Hector's also a star tackle on the varsity football team and has so many friends of every kind and color you could never count them.
I went on.
"And let me tell you about just a few of the other things that I've noticed that you're really, really, GOOD at.  For one thing you're open, friendly and comfortable with all kinds of people. Girls, boys, teachers, black, white, brown, it doesn't matter. Everybody likes you. I once asked you, a big-deal senior, to escort one of our new and scared little freshman to class on his first day. Some of the other football players caught up with you like they always do and Mr. Davis later told me that you stuck your head in his classroom and said, "Hey, Mr. D., this is my friend Raul. He's new. Thanks for taking care of him." Mr. Davis said that new and very scared boy immediately had a roomful of kids who wanted to eat lunch with him!  
Hector!!! Do you know what that kind of people skill is worth? Don't you know how far you could go in life with it? Do you know where it could take you professionally as well as personally? That kind of people instinct is priceless!
And about that car thing. A lot of people think you're a genius with an engine, Hector.  Do you know how many engines there are in this world? Do you know where your skill with them can lead? It can take you to a place where you can hire a secretary to do all your writing and an accountant to do your math for one thing!
So, Hector, this is what we're going to do. We're going to get through the English and math requirements using every backdoor we can find so you can graduate from high school. Then you're going to take every class you can that addresses your considerable talents.  Auto mechanics,  business and free enterprise, (for when you open your own), and marriage and parenting, (the most important job in your future).  Then you're going over to see the auto program sponsored by General Motors and Ford at the local community college and see what it takes to get in there.   An LD student I once had just called to tell me he's a factory certified Ford mechanic now, working at a dealership for just a short time, and making over $ 90,000.00 a year!
Hector, I'm really good at reading and taking tests,  I've worked hard and paid for a college education and beyond, I have well over 25 years experience teaching and I don't even come close to making that much, and never will! Now money isn't everything to be sure, but don't tell me that young man has a disability, please!
Hector and I finished our conference, he went back to his seat and I called Lettie up to work on her file.
"Leticia, what are you really good at?" I started.
"Mz Dub, I'm not really good at anything," she said.
"Yes you are, Lettie.  Please don't make me angry,"  I replied, "Think harder."
Finally she said, "Well I bake stuff for my family's birthdays and things. They all come to me for my special cakes. I can't think of anything else."
"That's a wonderful start!   Ever hear of Mrs. Fields or Famous Amos, Lettie?"

What is it that the scriptures say?
To each is given a talent.  To some one and to others another. That all may profit thereby, I think it goes.
Notice that "a few" are not given a talent.  It says EACH.  That must mean that every single person has something of value to offer. Something unique. Given by Father. So we all can benefit from each others gifts.

There is this thing about "talents" though.
The truth is that talents don't usually come fully developed. Most are like seeds. They may take years of digging, watering, and weeding before the fruit's ready to eat. Sometimes it gets mighty uncomfortable while you're out there digging too. You can't quit before the harvest. Or believe that just because your talent needs work means it's not valuable. I know that Hector had been fixing engines with his grandpa and dad since he was a little boy of 5, and naming and handing tools under the car before that.
Make no mistake.  God has spoken.  You have something valuable to give.  It can bless your life and the lives of many others.
Don't ever believe that you're no good. You're good in such a way that all of the rest of us need what you have to offer. Find out what it is and get digging.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


The other day I wanted to give up.
I was trying to do something and it was too hard.
I'm not usually a quitter but lately throwing in the towel seems more and more like the only sensible thing to do. Then I remembered a student I once had,  many years ago,  whose "bulb lit."

I was teaching in a middle school classroom. We were working on some science concepts that one boy found really challenging. He raised his hand and said in frustration,  "Mrs. Wagher, I've read the pages in our book,  I've listened to you explain it,  I even asked my dad for help and I still don't get it and I never will!

I took a long breath and looked at him menacingly.

"Now you've done it!  I said in a loud and dramatic voice.   Now you've really gone and done it!"  Now the whole class has to get out of their study groups and get in their seats to listen to my high school chemistry story and the Kelley driving story."

Groans all around.  Muttered threats of retaliation directed to the boy.  I ignored them and proceeded.

"Back in the day, I was the smartest kid in my high school chemistry class," I began.  "Everybody knew it too.  I always had the answer.  But one week we were working on something that I just couldn't figure out for the life of me. I'd read the chapter, listened to the lecture,  and carefully studied the drawings on the board. Nothing. Everybody else understood it but me!  The kids who got "F"s were trying to help me.  The teacher left the critical diagrams on the board so he could see if I could explain them at the end of each class. Nothing worked.  Finally he said that I was to re-read the chapter, thinking hard all the while, every single night until I got it. Great.
Well, I did re-read and think hard, three times as a matter of fact. And that chapter was long and complicated too. I still didn't get it. Chemistry was like a millstone around my neck!
On the morning of the third try I walked into class ready for failure and humiliation again. I looked at the board, my teacher caught my eye and said, "Okay, Kathy, think and go for it."
I looked at the dreaded drawings.
But, Amazing Grace, I didn't have to think at all!
Some sort of magic switch flipped in my head, the light came on, and I understood!!!  I stopped every kid as they came in the door to explain it in detail before they got to their seat. One girl pinched me hard as she passed by.
In any case, class, my point being that you just have to think, and think, read and re-read until the light comes on. You can't give up just because it's hard."

Then there's the Kelley learning to drive story.

Larry taught our other kids, but somehow I was the one teaching the youngest to drive. Not exactly one of the most sought after parenting jobs, I can tell you.
Kelley was weird about it anyway. She was well over the age to have a driver's license but refused to learn.  She said she was way too busy to mess with it. Granted she was involved in a lot of activities at school and now even had a job at the bank in town. (All of which were 17 miles away from home up Highway 260, sometimes in snow and ice by the way.) Nevertheless to being busy, we were sick of dragging her wherever she needed to go at all hours of the day and night. So we put our feet down.
She was made to take the wheel whenever she and I drove anywhere, mostly on said highway, to and from town and school.
I carefully explained all the basics of driver's ed and off we went.
It was terrifying! The child was white knuckled all the way and you could tell she was barely in control of the car at all. Since the speed limit was 65 miles an hour I was white knuckled too. This went on for weeks.
I could not believe this! Here was an unusually bright kid who had never failed at anything she tried! She just couldn't get it! Why? What was wrong with her?  Could it possibly be her teacher?
I was going to be the parent of the only child living in the American southwest, land of multi-lane freeways and at least one automobile for every adult, who couldn't drive a car! There was no reliable public transportation in the desert. Or the mountains! For Pete's sake, this wasn't New York! She'll be handicapped all her life! People will blame her mother! Why?! Why?! Why?!
I looked up at her face in despair. I noticed her eyes looking over at the side of the road. All the time. Going 65. Eyes at the side.
"What are you looking at?" I almost yelled.
"I'm looking at the white line at the side,"  she said. "You told me to keep the car on this side of that line."
"What!   Yeah, keep the car on this side of the line but LOOK up the road!    Far up the road!   Don't look at the side!   Look at the top of that hill coming up!"
She did.
She drove a few hundred feet.
The white knuckles relaxed. The car came under control. She glanced over at me and said, "Why didn't you tell me this before!?"

A simple thing. She was looking at it wrong. A minor change and the light came on.

So students, let this be a lesson to you. Don't give up! Sometimes, after a lot of work and frustration the light will come on and you'll get it."

A few days later something happened that I'll always treasure as a teacher.
The class was quietly working on science.  Suddenly a chair toppled over loudly as my "challenged" student jumped up excitedly from his work.
"Mrs. Wagher!  Mrs. Wagher!  he shouted excitedly,  My bulb lit!!!"

What is it that the scriptures say?  Something about not being weary in well doing I think. That's good advice.  You never know how hard you may have to try before you get it.
Remember. Be not weary. Don't give up. Your bulb will light too.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What If?

This is for lovely Sarah who's out there trying to change the world.

Young people are full of it.

The sure sense that they can change the world, that is.
I was the same.  As a teenager, like so many other young people,  I too dreamed of changing the world. I even sent away for information on the Peace Corps with plans of joining someday.  Mankind would be better off because I was part of it, I just knew!  I was going to trudge off to Africa to build water treatment plants to help my brothers and sisters living in remote villages, or to bring medicine to sick babies living in places where there were no doctors.

Well, life got in the way of the plans, as it so often does.  Africa would have to be a better place because of somebody else. I'd have to do the best I could from where I was.

( Isn't it strange that your own family or your next door neighbor doesn't seem to count as your "fellow man?" I could have helped them all I wanted but somehow it just wasn't the same. I wonder why?)

Coincidentally, just out of my teens, married and with two children, missionaries knocked on our door and brought us eternal truths.

Flash forward.

The latest General Conference was amazing, as usual.
Isn't it wonderful that Heavenly Father inspires those who speak at Conference?  As a "raggedy old convert" I've sometimes had trouble figuring that out. Usually it's because I just can't believe that God keeps reminding his children to do things that are so simple. After all, the world's in such a terrible mess and getting worse by the day! Turmoil, much of it caused by our own hands, afflicts nations and individuals alike. Not even the innocent can escape from the fallout. It's painful even to watch the nightly news! With this much suffering can simple things really make a difference?

Could they even save the world? It doesn't seem possible.

We really need some advice from our Father right about now, don't you think? We're hanging on by a thread down here! What should we do? Tell us please!

Conference began. I listened intently.

I  expected any message from Father to be earthshaking at the very least.  Lightening and thunder or a burning bush should accompany it.
With this on my mind I recall several of those inspired speakers this conference asking members of the Lord's church to renew their missionary efforts.

That's one of Father's messages?  Be a better missionary?

With all the trouble the world's in we're supposed to reach out to friends, neighbors and co-workers and share the gospel?

In this gigantic mess that's what God wants us to do?
How's that going to help, I wondered? Where's the thunder and lightening?

Then I remembered. When my still "raggedy" brain doesn't get it,  if I just sit down and ponder a while, it sometimes comes to me.

Okay. What if?

What if all 15 million of us who knew the truth really made an effort to live it and share it with someone who doesn't. What if they recognized it and began to live it too. What if they shared it and so on. What if lots and lots and lots of people on earth were living the truth? What could happen?

Well, think about it.

Just for starters, alcohol pain, including the car crashes, deaths and ruined lives that go with it would decrease because people in the church know that drinking isn't wise. Same for drug addiction and tobacco. What would happen to crime rates if fewer people were addicts? How much cancer could be avoided if millions and millions more just didn't use tobacco?

What would happen to STD deaths if people were living chaste lives before marriage and keeping their sacred vows after?  How many children would be born to fatherless homes then? How many abortions would there be? How many men would make the sacrifices necessary to build stable homes if they were living the truths Heavenly Father taught? How many women would make home and family the most important thing in their lives if they knew? What would happen to divorce rates if billions were married for eternity and worked hard to make their marriages successful?

What would happen to children who grew up in such homes?

What would happen to gangs if the young people now in them went to Mutual and Scouting each week, and then went home to a mom and dad who loved them afterwards? What would the dropout rate be when children are taught from the earliest ages the importance of learning and who are encouraged by parents and Prophets to "get all the education possible." What would happen in developing countries if people had access to a "Perpetual Education" fund ?

What would happen to poverty and hunger if millions, even billions, of people were skipping two meals a month and sending the food or money to their bishop? What if everybody had home and visiting teachers who were checking on their welfare. What if they all had a bishop who cared about them personally and had access to these sacred donations given to help in an emergency.

What would happen after natural disasters if millions and millions more volunteers joined those already working to help all over the world when there's a need?

What if everyone, everywhere, were taught in their homes and from the pulpit to obey the "law of the land" wherever they lived,  to vote, and to be good citizens? What would happen to the crime rate and to prisons then?

What if everyone followed the advice in the revealed scriptures about eating fruits and vegetables in season, to eat meat sparingly, and that grain is good for man?

What would happen to welfare rolls if people learned from childhood the blessings that come to those who work hard and are self reliant?

What would happen in politics and government if every elected official had an interview with his or her bishop every two years and was asked to answer before God, "Are you honest?" What if stockbrokers and bankers had to answer the same question?

What would happen to racism if millions of people knew that every person they see is a child of God and literally their brother or sister?

What if they'd all read, "Thou shall not esteem one flesh above another." Would knowing this change the lives of women in places where they're now abused?

What if lots and lots of us believed in religious tolerance as taught in the Articles of Faith? What if everyone allowed all to worship God according to their own conscience? What would happen to "holy wars" then?

What would happen to billions of people's personal lives if they knew the plan of happiness? What if they knew that success, wealth, fame and power, while perhaps nice, won't bring it. What if they knew that only love will bring it.

It all reminds me of the miraculous promise of the apple seed. You know the one.
You can count the seeds in an apple, but not the apples in a seed.

Plant just one of the many seeds in a single apple, from the many apples on a single tree. Care for it and watch it bear fruit when it becomes a tree. Each apple it produces will have seeds, each seed the potential to become another tree,  each tree the promise of more apples and seeds......and on and on and on into eternity.
If you planted every seed from every apple that came from a single seed, it would never end. After a while it would take a galaxy to hold all those trees. Eventually, perhaps even a universe.

Could it change the world?  Could it change more than that?

Think about it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Word to the Wise

It's October. Yeah!

That muffled noise the mountain folks can hear coming from the desert valleys is the cheering of the summer survivors. Now the days are glorious and the nights cool, just as fall is in the rest of the country. The difference is that we're now looking forward to planting season. Soon the petunias and johnny-jump-ups will roll into the big box stores and we can get to planting. Seven months of wonderful are on the way. Just yesterday the landscaping crews were seeding the neighborhood parks with winter rye. Soon our parched desert eyes will feast on green pastures. (In December and January by the way.) When Christmas comes around we'll hear lawn mowers whirring and smell that fresh, new mown, green grass smell. 
Some people say they can't get in the mood for the holidays with flowers all around instead of snow. Well that's just ridiculous! The climate in the Holy Land is more like ours anyway after all. There's no need to be singing about white Christmases and feeling left out and spiritless! I've often felt the words to that old song should be changed anyway. What about this?

            I'm dreaming of a bright Christmas
            With every flower pot I pass
            Where swimming pools glisten,
                  And children listen
            To Dad who's outside mowing grass.

            I'm dreaming of a bright Christmas
            With every barbeque I light.
            May your days be merry and right,
            And may all your Christmases be bright.
Same tune with more appropriate words don't you think?

Anyway, the coming holidays bring thoughts of gifts, those to be given and those received. During this season one of the gifts I'm most grateful for is one particular counsel Heavenly Father gave to his children in the scriptures. The 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants gives lots of helpful info on health. Included is the warning that alcohol and tobacco are not good for man. A word to the wise so to speak. And years and years ahead of common knowledge, too.
You see, I'm especially grateful because I grew up in a household with an alcoholic. That's easy to say, but only those of you who have had that experience will know what it means. I've heard it said that there's no hell like the hell of living with alcoholism. Somebody who lived with it probably said it. Anyway, during my youth, Christmas was usually filled with extra-special alcohol induced pain. How grateful I am for the loving counsel Father gave us that has spared my children and grandchildren from the same thing. Holidays have been filled with family, friends and love for forty years now. Strange how those dark times still haunt.
Anyway, once or twice I recall being reminded that so many others haven't gotten the message of that great gift of wisdom. 
One was when I was back teaching high school. In my classroom at my computer I sat ready to take roll before the second bell. Kids were coming in, saying cheerfully, "Hey Mz Dub," as they passed and then talking to each other on the way to their seats. 

We'd been having some lively discussions just lately about underage drinking, a common recreational activity among my students. Despite my best efforts they remained unconvinced of my point of view. They all knew my story and my religion and were not shy about expressing their opinion that I didn't know how to have a good time and that I was too "churchy" etc. I told them that I did too know how to have a good time, and I didn't need alcohol to do it either. And "churchy" was beside the point because not only was drinking illegal for them, but what might start out as just a little fun often ended up in a thousand different versions of disaster. I had expounded on many of those to no avail.

Anyway, this day as the kids came in I heard snippets of conversation about the latest episode of somebody's favorite TV show, "Cops." A student was telling about the usual drunken brawls, beating up of wives and girlfriends and subsequent arrests when another kid walked by and remarked, "I've seen that show. All those fools on it are either drunk or high." The first kid thought a bit and then said, "Yeah, you know you're right." Then from across the room a girl chimed, "And those idiot girlfriends with the black eyes and broken arms don't press charges because they always say "I still love you baby!" 

Well, not being stupid, I stood up, turned slowly, and called out dramatically, "And let their lives be a lesson to you!" 

They all got quiet and just looked at me. No arguments, just contemplation.

Best teaching moment all week. Who says TV can't be educational?
Another was a few years ago on Christmas Eve. We had traveled to my brother Matt and sister-in-law's house for their traditional annual party. Everyone looks forward to this night. It's always so lovely. The house is gorgeous, the food's superb, and best of all we get to see family we haven't seen in months. My brother Mark from California had been able to make the trip which made it even more special. 
We arrived loaded down with packages and food and went in through the crowd hugging all the way. I didn't see Mark anywhere but heard his booming voice call for me to come out to the patio where someone told me he was grilling the most enormous prime rib roast anyone had ever seen. He was over in a dark corner by a huge grill surrounded by people gawking at that stupendous roast. Mark takes great pride in his grilling and produces some astounding results. I was heading toward him with a smile, he opened up his arms to give me a hug, and just as I reached him I tripped over an ice chest full of his secret ingredients hidden in the shadows. I landed face first on a large saucepot which cracked me hard across the bridge of my nose, causing blood to start trickling down my face. It caused quite a ruckus considering that it didn't hurt much. I was escorted to safety, plied with ice packs and generally made a fuss over. Even so, after a remarkably short while my eyes began to swell. People remarked that both were turning black. When they were practically swollen shut I was made to go to the emergency room. As "Kath! You look just terrible!" was pronounced for the hundredth time, Larry and I left the party to head to the nearest ER. We hoped to make it quick and be back in time for the guitar playing and last chorus of "Feliz Navidad". 
We walked into a jammed packed ER, full of the injured remnants of too much Christmas cheer, certain now, considering the crowd, that this wasn't going to be a quick trip.

After a long wait my name was called and I went up to a weary looking receptionist. She took a look at my face and asked how much I'd had to drink. I told her I didn't drink at all. She said, "Oh, your husband's the drinker." I said, "No, he doesn't drink either. It was a prime rib roast that my brother brought from California." She gave me a strange look. "You had to be there," I replied.
I was sent in to a treatment room where a nurse came in to take my blood pressure. She looked tired. After one glance she said, "Been drinking have we?" I explained that I didn't drink, neither did my husband and it was my brother's prime rib roast. She shook her head and left.

The doctor came in and from across the room said accusingly, "You're nose is broken."

I replied, "I don't drink."

He said, "Tell your husband not to drink either. Do you want to press charges?"
I said, "No, he was in the house, I was out on the patio. It was my brother's prime rib roast from California. I swear." 

He sighed wearily and bandaged my nose.

When they let me go they made me ride in a wheelchair to the still packed waiting room. As I rolled in I could hear people gasp as they looked at my black and swollen eyes. I looked for Larry and finally spotted him clear across the crowded room.

I really don't have to tell you the rest, do I? 

It's just too obvious.

Of course I stood up shakily and called out loudly,   "It's okay baby!   I still love you!" 

As I was checking out I heard a kind of scuffle and recognized Larry's distressed voice earnestly explaining to the people around him.  "I swear!   I wasn't even in the same room!   It was her brother's prime rib roast from California!"

As we made our way to the car I could tell he was not amused.

I was amused though. In fact I thought it was downright funny. 

But more than anything I was grateful. As we walked together to the car on this Christmas Eve.......  Larry scolding,  me laughing.......  I was so grateful for the guidance given in the scriptures by a loving Father. Grateful that for forty years no hateful words have been spoken in our home due to drinking. No shame, embarrassments, lost jobs, arguments, fistfights, DUI citations, liver damage, or broken promises. None of us has killed anyone on the highway, been arrested, spent thousands on fines, contracted an STD while drunk or become a parent before a home was ready for a new life. None of that and more has not happened at our house simply because we all truly believe that Father said alcohol wasn't good for man. He told his beloved children about this, and much more, long before science finally agreed with him. The pain, sorrow, death, destruction and broken lives that could be avoided if all of his children heeded just that one, small bit of wise counsel concerning alcohol and tobacco simply can't be measured. It's incalculable.

Thank you, Father, for the Word of Wisdom.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This Will Be Fun Too!

The apostle Joseph Wirthlin said in a conference talk, “Come what may and love it.”  At the time I really didn’t get it. But since I truly believe that the Lord inspires his leaders to deliver messages that He wants us to hear, I figured that somehow I needed to learn this principle. 

So I began to think about it. 

After some thought I guessed I might be doing alright with “Come what may, grit your teeth and hang on,” or “Come what may, tolerate it and try to keep a smile on your face,” or “Come what may and pray hard that it goes away soon.”  But, love it?   All of it?   No.   And why love it?   What’s wrong with hating the rotten times anyway?
My mind went back to a “stone day.”  You know, the ones described in that old country song. How does it go? “Some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” Well, this day was one of the rocks.

It was just a few years ago. I was teaching high school. It was after I’d dismissed my kids with the last bell. I’d made an appointment with a colleague to come to my room to meet with my husband and myself. I’d asked her to come on a personal matter. 

She was the visually impaired teacher, a dear woman, with extremely limited sight herself. She arrived at school every day on the city bus, sometimes using her white cane to cross the street and get to her office. All of her students were blind or with severe vision issues. I didn’t know her well, except that she always seemed to be cheerful and smiling and was ready to go the extra mile with any of my kids and their teachers.

I’d asked her to come because my husband had lost his job. After a lifetime of doing work that he didn’t care about just to support his family, he’d finally found a job that he truly loved. And after eight years he’d lost it. He often said that he’d pay the company to let him work for them.  He spent 12 hours a day driving huge, 18 wheel, belly dump trucks. They were usually filled with steaming, smelly asphalt or tons of crushed rock. He hauled this stuff all over the city and state to build roads and freeways with it. I never understood why he loved it but he did. The man had been to college for Pete’s sake! I remember once driving up the mountain on Highway 260 through a construction zone. There was a long line of trucks waiting to dump their black goo.  State Patrolmen stopped traffic. Flaggers in their hard hats and orange vests waved cars through behind a pilot vehicle.  As we passed the line of waiting trucks one driver jumped out to stand on the step next to his seat. He waved wildly and yelled, “Hey Babe! It is Babe isn’t it?” It was Larry. As I waved back all I could think was, “I don’t understand it but there goes a happy man.”

Anyway, this happy truck driver was also a diabetic. And twenty-five years of diabetes had finally taken its toll. He came home from work one Friday and on Saturday his retinas hemoraged. That was it. He couldn’t see. Big trucks were gone. Income was gone. Even simply hopping in the car to go to the store was gone. Total blindness was a distinct and terrifying possibility. Surgery was soon scheduled but the doctor said driving was over.

We were both scared about so many things. The fact that our income had just been cut in half was the least of them.

Anyway I’d asked the vision teacher to come in to see if she knew of some resources or programs that might help. Larry and I waited in my classroom silently, both thinking of dark possibilities. As I sat there my heart was breaking for this man I’d loved for so long. 

In walks this bright and beaming blind lady carrying a huge suitcase. She started talking the minute she came through the door. “Wait til you see the goodies I have to show you!” she chirped. She pulled out all sorts of “gadgets for the blind” from devices to turn your TV into a huge print magnifying glass to pill bottles with braille markings. She kept pulling for a long time, chatting and explaining nonstop all the while. Then she informed us that she’d already made an appointment with a career counselor to start training for jobs that didn’t require sight. It would begin with aptitude testing and there were hundreds of career choices she assured us. I don’t think she stopped talking the whole hour that she was there. Seems there’s a whole world out there we knew nothing about. People who can’t see are actually working, going places, having families, living busy, happy and worthwhile lives. We hadn’t realized. 

Then she said something that’s stayed with me ever since. Larry was telling her about his beloved big trucks.  She put her hand gently on his arm and said brightly,  “I know, I know.  Driving big trucks was fun.  But this will be fun too!”

Yes, she really said that.  “This will be fun too.”  She couldn’t be serious, I thought! Being blind and all the loss that meant.  Being unemployed.  Starting over after 55.  That was going to be fun?  I looked hard at her. I could tell she meant it!

Later on the way home, I realized that when she said that short sentence something changed. What changed was that I began to feel better.

Maybe everything wasn’t ending. Maybe, even if the worst happened, life could still be good. Maybe we could still have fun together. It looked like the worst had happened to this sweet lady and we’d seldom seen anyone so upbeat.

After she finished I offered to drive her home. She refused, saying that the city bus ride was very important to her. (Having to depend on public transportation was one of the bitterest possibilities for Larry, who had loved cars since he was 16.)  She explained that being so busy it was the only time she had to listen to the audio books she got from the library. She was almost finished with one and couldn’t wait to see how it turned out. That was also when she studied audios for her ASU class.
So.  Come what may and love it.  Why is that important enough for Heavenly Father to have one of his apostles speak to the world about it?

Why?   I thought hard.   Well, I decided, maybe it’s because if you can do that you’ll be happy. And I know Father wants his children to be happy.

Every one of us will surely have some “stone” days coming our way. That’s a given. Those stones may even turn into weeks or years. Somehow this dear lady actually found joy in hers. What does the scripture say?  “Man is that he might have joy.”  I don’t think there’s a footnote that says, *This applies only when everything’s going well and you don’t have any really hard problems.

My colleague wasn’t a member of the Church. But she sure knew what Joseph Wirthlin was talking about. Think about it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lying Parts

Dear Readers,

If you’re looking for inspiration today then don’t read this.

Read the scriptures instead.

In them we’re taught many great truths. “If ye have not the spirit ye shall not teach,” is one of those. Well, I used to think that meant that when I was giving a lesson in Sunday School or Relief Society I’d better have said my prayers and tried to live right beforehand or the lesson was going to be a bust. True, but I’ve since learned that it applies to all sorts of situations, not just classes for sure. Lately I’ve especially noticed that when I’m trying to teach my husband to change his ways and I’m filled with contention, or impatience, or crankiness or the like, he never does learn a darn thing. 

Well, I think I had not the spirit when I wrote this. In fact I distinctly remember being annoyed about someone. 

Just want to be up front with my friends.

Lying Parts

My oldest daughter, who is cynical, says that men have lying parts. She says they’re born with actual, physical, body parts that keep them from telling the truth in certain situations. She says she knows where the parts are located too. 

I don’t understand her attitude at all, because she’s been married some twenty years to a fine upstanding priesthood holder. A wonderful, honest man, a leader in his ward even.
I’ve counseled her and pointed out the error and unfairness of this kind of thinking but she remains unconvinced. All she says is, “Think about it, Ma.”

So I thought about it.

The man I know best in all the world is a truthful man. Well......... truthful mostly. However, I do know that there are some particular areas where betting your life on the veracity of his responses would not be wise. One involves food. 

Any question that begins with....

“I’m trying to make............  (fill in the blank) for company tonight. Have you seen the......half bag of chocolate chips....last of the shredded coconut...the rest of the Oreos I was saving to use for pie crust...marshmallows...graham crackers..."     

...will involve him gazing off into space, pretending to think hard, trying to formulate an answer that isn’t exactly a lie because he knows lying is technically wrong, and then saying, “Well Hon, I saw them a long time ago, way back in the tall cupboard, but I haven’t seen them lately.” Meaning, “I ate them when I found them, so you can stop looking.” Also meaning that I need to find a new hiding place.

I’d like to explain that I don’t keep many sweets around the house as a rule. This is due to the fact that the man who lives in it is a diabetic with a sweet tooth so fierce that it could start a cattle stampede like in that old western movie. Remember the cowboy who tried to sneak into the chuck wagon to steal sugar and knocked all the pots and pans off the hooks? It made a racket that started the herd galloping off in a hundred directions. Well, I’m married to him. But for Pete’s sake, sometimes people are coming over and expect a dessert that’s not artificially sweetened! You know, grandkids, missionaries, friends etc. It would be nice to be able to keep a few basic ingredients handy!

Another area where falsehoods fly involves doctors. My husband’s physicians have given him wise counsel about his diet, including carbs, sugar, salt, fats, sodium, and cholesterol. They’ve told him not to eat any of that stuff, but instead fill up on vegetables. They’ve told him to exercise regularly. After one recent appointment with his kidney specialist, he came out to the car to report that his doctor wasn’t that happy with his lab results. She’d asked a lot of pointed questions about what he’d been eating lately. I asked what he’d said. “I told her!” he snapped. “What’d she say? I asked sweetly. “She says she doesn’t believe me and she wants to talk to you.” 

Uhuh.....a married doctor who’s familiar with the male lying parts.  I assured him that I’d vouch for him and tell her that he didn’t put salt on the last bag of pork rinds that he ate.
In addition, at least once that I know of, he lied to me about what the doctor told him. It was back when we both had the same general practitioner, a fine man, dedicated and compassionate. Larry came home from a visit and informed me that the good doctor had advised him that sex every day would make his blood sugar go down. A few months later when I had an appointment of my own I mentioned this to our dear physician, saying that I really didn’t appreciate that last bit of advice which he’d given my husband. After listening carefully he stood thinking for a bit, took off his glasses, rubbed his nose wearily, took a deep breath, and said a bit reluctantly, “I never told him that.”
Later I realized that the good doctor was stalling for time trying to decide whether to back up one of his own kind or to tell the truth. When confronted, my late husband just said, without a hint of shame, “Well, it made sense to me.”

In any case, I still think my oldest daughter is cynical about men. Although when I mentioned the theory of  “male lying parts” to my “ladies” doctor when I last had a visit, she said, a bit cynically too, I thought,  “Mmm-Mmm, and I know right where they are too.”

Included here is a sort of recipe for a strawberry cake type dessert which my husband likes and which doesn’t raise his blood sugar.

*One sugar free store bought angel cake. (In the bakery aisle at Fry’s or Wal-Mart)
* 1 package fresh strawberries
* 1  small sugar free red jello (raspberry’s good)
* 1 small sugar free french vanilla pudding mix (Plus milk)
* 1 Large carton sugar free or reduced calorie Cool Whip

Slice the berries into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Make the jello with only 1 ½ cups water. Pour over the berries. Refrigerate until set. (I put it in the freezer while I do the rest because I don’t have time to mess around.)

Tear or cut up the cake into pieces the size of regular marshmallows. Make the pudding. Fold the cake pieces into the pudding. Spread it evenly over the firm jello and berries. Pile on the Cool Whip covering completely. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Other fruit works too, like sliced peaches. But don’t put bananas unless you’re going to use the whole cake the day you make it.

*Not to worry, my husband's not really "late." But he may be my first husband which is how I always introduce him to strangers