Monday, May 25, 2015

Apple Seed Promises

Dear Readers,
The palo verde trees are once again blooming here in the desert. Their sunny yellow flowers open and then eventually fall. They make a blossom carpet on the sidewalks all around the neighborhood that never fails to make me smile.

I'd like to re-post this from last year because it reminds me of the joy that can be found in our most ordinary days and the people who share our lives.
Look for the joy today.


Apple Seed Promises

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

Lately when Larry and I are out and about we're surprised see people in their yards in the middle of the day, in the middle of May. Kids can even be spotted in the neighborhood parks playing basketball at high noon!
They're all soaking up that wonderful "cool" before the long summer siege.

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

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

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

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

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

Those showers are a love note from Heavenly Father, you know.
Kim once told me about a visit to the Portland Oregon Temple. She said it was a glorious spring day and as they walked up to the temple doors a breeze brought a shower of pink blossoms that landed softly upon their heads from the trees overhanging the walks.
I love you too, Father.

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

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

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

I did sow a few seeds for summer though.
Ones that are promised to be able to "withstand high temperatures."
I was seduced by a plant catalog filled with colorful pictures of varieties "sure to do well" in the hottest summer months.
Yes, I know those catalogs were written by liars.
Liars who live in Minnesota or Colorado.
What do they know about heat.

But hope indeed springs eternal.
And last year I did manage to grow a few precious Bells of Ireland from seed. Their spicy smelling green stalks filled a single flower arrangement with wonderful fragrance.
When I was just a girl I remember helping a dear neighbor in her garden who grew them by the bucketful. I wish I could talk to her now.

I'd also like to talk to the man who was the landlord of our first newlywed apartment.
There was a long wooden fence behind our building, all the kitchen doors opening to a sidewalk that ran along back. In the dead of winter he was busy out back planting seeds. By early spring the whole, long fence spilled over with six foot tall sweet peas, their fragrance filling the air, their colors a pink and purple parade waving to every eye that passed.
I remember leaving the kitchen door open all day to let their sweet fragrance in.
The landlord encouraged the tenants to pick as many flowers as we wished.
He said picking encouraged more blooms. I was happy to oblige.
Then when the flowers eventually went to seed he collected them to save in an empty coffee can.  Hundreds of tiny miracles waiting patiently for next year's sun and moisture.
Sweet peas have been a favorite of mine ever since, tugging fond memories from this old head with their lively colors and old fashioned scent.

And so I've always been grateful for sweet pea seeds. And all the other kinds of seeds actually.
Because seeds are amazing things. Each one is a promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anything else behave like a seed?

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

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

Think about it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pain Is a Great Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

Completed while suffering unimaginable pain.

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

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

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

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

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

Even the greatest man's greatest efforts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Geezer Gripes and Teens' Advice

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

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

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


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

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

I hear voices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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