Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Hiding Place

I just finished reading The Hiding Place as part of the reading curriculum for seventh graders.  Pretty heavy stuff for the little guys, but the students who take the reading seriously are changed forever. As was I.

We've had two in class reading days and students are starting to finish the book. It's amazing to see them engrossed in this blessed story. It's amazing too see them finish a 239 page book of dense text. As a lover of literature, it is joyful to see their success and hope that a door has opened to compassion, love and even non-fiction literature.

Maybe twenty years ago, I first read  The Hiding Place. Only nine years ago, Tony and I visited the Ten Boom home in Haarlem Holland. But it had been too many years and the story had faded. Faded enough that I was a little impatient when the tour included a required, tutorial to the Ten Boom's religious beliefs. I just wanted to see the house. But as I read the book again, the house, the story, can't exist without the Ten Boom religion. It IS the story of The Hiding Place.

It is a book of faith, hope, charity and ultimately forgiveness. It is a story to be cherished.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Go Girl

Our beloved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great grandmother, surprised us all by her reaction to a demographic.

A pharmacy school student was a guest in our home and Grandma asked him about the flu shot.

His response was that as a pharmacist, he was required to get flu-vaccinated and then he kindly suggested that as an elderly person,  she too should have a flu shot. She turned to me, deadpan and serious,"I'm not elderly."

And no one was going to tell her differently. A 79 year old woman had just said she was not elderly. And she meant it.

 You go girl. Because over and over again, it's been proven that we are what we think. If Grandma does not see herself as elderly, then she isn't.  She is strong, healthy and takes care of other people.

Her daughter likes to tell stories of her strength, how she helped her in the yard to take down a few trees and was tired out while her mother kept swinging the ax. And that time when she took her kids to a carnival and a cowboy swaggered up to the hammer to hit the bell hard enough to reach the bell--couldn't do it. So Grandma stepped up, swung the hammer and glory hallelujah, she won the prize. And her daughter smiled at the cowboy.

Next time I think I'm middle aged, I'm going to look myself in the mirror and say, "No I'm not. Then I'll pat my back and say, "You go girl."

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Kind of City, Neighborhood, I Want to Live In

Yes really! Found this on a well traveled bike path above my home

That isn't all: in a neighborhood a mile or so distant, someone built a fruit stand, only it wasn't to sell fruit. The stand is for neighbors to leave extra vegetables and fruit for anyone who happens to drive or walk by.

So simple and so much goodwill.

Contrast this with a neighbor's house I drive by everyday and in her front yard, an apricot tree bulging with fruit. A thousand apricots. In the days before they ripened, the neighbor hung a large sign around the tree: Do not take these apricots. In essence, this woman who lives at the corner of two dead end streets, not a busy street corner, was pre-accusing her neighbors of possibly stealing her apricots. Hmmmm. Sad, but not for the neighbors who never got apricots but for the scarcity this woman felt.

While walking home one day, a friend and I ran into a neighbor with two plum trees in her yard bulging with beautiful purple plums. "Please come and get some plums," she broadcasted with a happy face. A happy face not because of the delicious plums but a chance to share her abundance.

We've all felt and acted on both: scarcity and abundance. We know and remember the one that brought us joy and the one that didn't.

According to Leonard Lauder who just donated 1 billion dollars worth of art to Metropolitan Museum of Art, "“The joy of living is the joy of giving.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's Almost Time To Put the Bees To Bed For Winter

We, (the queen bees and I),  have survived the first season of beekeeping. Phew. No one's bees absconded, no one's hive was vandalized, no one killed their bees.

All of us have enjoyed the learning curve-steeper for some (moi), and this connection to nature. We've learned so much and that includes an important skill.

We've seen the neighborhood vegetation flourish: gardens, fruit trees and flowers. A neighbor called a few days ago to come take anything and everything that was left out of her garden. Apparently they'd had enough and the abundance had worn them down. Excited for a few straggling cucumbers, me the gleaner, was astounded to see a patch with possibly a hundred extra cucumbers they couldn't use. It was cucumber picking heaven. Because my tomatoes were still producing, I couldn't even use all her extra, beautiful, huge, intensely red tomatoes clinging to the vines.
One day pick from the mid October harvest

Even after two stings to my hands yesterday, I'm excited to continue this ancient art. I've already found a local bee source for next year's bees. All three of us queen bees want a local hive that has weathered our climate and the typical threats to bees.

At the beginning of the season, we were all haunted by the possibility that our bees may not survive the winter.  This is a normal and real possibility. Even the best of beekeepers lose bees over the winter-yet it was just unthinkable. We'll do our best, but there are so many uncontrollable variables.

One of the most perplexing concerns is will they have enough honey stores to last?

My hive doesn't. I visited the hive two days ago and found my bees in the midst of being robbed again! I halved the entrance and the misfit band of robbers headed home. How much honey did they manage to take with them? While checking for honey loss, trying to neatly push all the bars back together so no one got squished, I angered two bees to kamikaze suicide. I watched as the angriest bee curled into my glove and gave up her life for revenge! She was successful and I have the sore hand to prove it.

There is humor in this lack of winter honey stores. It turns out I will have to feed my bees through the winter with expensive organic honey. Tony thinks this is hysterical--isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

How much honey to leave them? This is perplexing too. No one knows for sure--how can one predict the hive appetite and whether they will even accept the honey? How best to feed them, how to keep the bowl of honey from freezing...?? How, how, how?

Closing the hive: The real danger to a hive is precipitation. If we put on too heavy of a winter coat and there's a sequence of higher winter temperatures, the hive might sweat and the bees might freeze. And then, what if there's a cold snap and they can't stay warm enough?

We are prepared and have adjusted to the idea that we might lose our bees over winter. Our worries originate from the mothers we are, the nurturers, and to lose life, even insects, is unthinkable. But it is part of the reality of keeping bees and one season down--we are beekeepers.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fence Sitting

Each morning, Tony laughs at me, because I wake up wondering where ebola has gone in the last 12 hours. Literally, one morning, the first words out of my mouth were: "I'm sort of anxious to get up and see what's happening with ebola."

Such a curious disease. Such a tragedy.

It's a daughter's favorite book: The Hot Zone. I remember being glued to the book until I'd finished the horrifying, chilling story of the first ebola crisis.

I'm trying not to feel the panic, the impending hysteria (or possibly rational), that drives people in hazmat suits to the front of the White House to protest open travel from West Africa. Yet, it makes sense. And it doesn't. How's that for a fence sitter?

Yet fence sitting can be one of the most pernicious un-actions ever. "Bad things happen when good people do nothing." And fence sitting is a do-nothing.

 There are some heartfelt reasons not to close borders. My friend's son, a sorely needed medical doctor, is waiting for his clearance to serve in a West African nation. If the borders close indefinitely, he and other care workers may not go and those who are there may scramble to get out. How important is it to stay and help? And not just for humanitarian reasons, but for protect-the-world reasons?

I read a report last night that the side effects of ebola in Africa will eventually be much worse than ebola, if they aren't already. One health care worker found two children whose parents had died from the infection. They needed food and care and when the health care worker returned two days later with supplies, the children were dead.

There are limited ways I can help: money donations to trusted organizations and prayer for government leaders to have wisdom--because really, there are a lot of opinions and some very tough decisions, and most opinions/decisions will not be validated until after the fact--when we have hindsight. And by then, we'll either be back slapping and grateful, or we'll be a remorseful nation full of pointing fingers and blame--another insidious disease.

Friday, October 17, 2014

French Film

The past many years, I have enjoyed French films.

Recently, Tony and I ventured to the theatre to see L'Amour--a disturbing in your face film about, well, love, death and its mysteries. There were moments in the darkened, almost empty theatre when we would turn to each other and start laughing--not because there was humor, but because the film was

How is French cinema so French? It is slow, deliberate, as if there is no time restraint, written and filmed to contrast perhaps a shocking end. Or to give one time to digest a concept that may or may not be obvious. A good comparison may be the difference in the time we spend eating a meal versus the time spent at a French meal. A French dinner may last hours whereas an American sit down dinner may last an hour. We may prep for three hours, but the meal time is a fraction of that. Prep time versus enjoyment time is 3:1. The French ratio would be 3:3.

A French film would be more deliberate--longer pans on scenery, longer exposure to suffering. Less said, more visuals. Longer scenes. The beauty is in the concept of the entire film. There is no rush to what may be a simple ending. The story line may be simple but the journey to the climax is an aesthetic one. Babette's Feast is the perfect example. The film is about a woman who prepares a feast. Yes, that is all, but if the topic was a simple balloon, the preparation for this feast, the emotion for this feast, the love and sacrifice for this feast, would inflate the balloon until it popped.

Last night, Tony and I watched again, Jean de Florette-a film so beautiful and so painful--about greed. It conveys like no other story I know, the blindness and tragedy of greed and sacrifice. There is a sequel: Manon of the Spring. I hope we watch it tonight.

The films are in French with English subtitles. This requires active watching. I love hearing the words and trying to match them with the subtitles--even best when I know what they're saying before I read the subtitles.

There is something about the beauty of the French language. In a Private Lives article in the NY Times on October 16, author Ellen Ann Fentress who teaches French lessons to older women, wrote that it was satisfying enough for one woman to say  un jus d'orange. "She said it over and over. The sensuality of the syllables transported her. She'd throw back her chin as her eyes rolled back in her head, halfway home on the Meg Ryan spectrum of pleasure. French phonetics can do that."

Another favorite is La Gloire do Mon Pere, a 1990 film based on Marcel Pagnol's memoir. The second film is Le Chateau de Ma Mere. In English: My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle. The films are funny and heart warming-and child friendly.

These films have power and relief from disturbing trends of continually-hightened violence and gore-the previous week, I watched two disturbing television shows: part of The Walking Dead (never again) and an episode of Blacklist (intriguing but often disturbing).

Many French films, especially the old classics I've listed above are an escape, a reprieve from the blaring Transformers 3, The Avengers, the films that entertain. French films are more like art that triggers thoughts, the imagination, and best of all, require us to think.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A text message to my friend:

Terrible news. I asked a potential (early courting stage) future son -in-saw what his favorite read in high school was. Yes you guessed it. How am I going to get along with him if he marries my daughter? In case you missed it: Catcher in the Rough.

But the real title is: Catcher in the Rye.

My friend loves Catcher in the Rye. So she replies: Ha ha ha--he's a keeper. Better than my son's girlfriend who says she doesn't like to read.

My immediate reply: Banishment to outer darkness! For the greater sin of not reading, of course.

Her reply: Yes!

Is it the worst thing if my sons in law have favorite books that aren't my own? Far from my own favorites? No and it's very far from the worst thing ever,

So what does a mother look for in a potential son in law? One thing only: the kind of person her daughter is or what she is becoming while in the company of  this young man. Her happiness, her confidence, her ambitions and goals. When the young man brings out the best in my daughter, it matters not what might have been his favorite book in high school, or his hair length or home state, or schooling, or...........

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Law of the Fast

One a month, my family fasts from the end of Saturday afternoon/evening to Sunday afternoon/evening. The goal is a 24 hour period without sustenance. It's difficult. I would like to say that it isn't, but it is.

There are several reasons for this sacrifice. The understood main reason is to remember the poor. We donate the proceeds of what the meals missed in this 24 hour period would have cost. But it is more than a literal adding of food items.  It is a time to sacrifice more--a chance to give generously to people who have material needs. I know some of the money stays local. The bishop decides who has a need in my neighborhood.

I recently saw a graph of the United States that showed the states with the highest economic gaps between rich and poor. The state of Utah was among the lowest states gap. This means that there is a poverty/wealth gap but it isn't as much as other states. I'm hoping that monies from the fast help to close this gap.

Yesterday, I found a series of scriptures that gave me more determination to complete a 24 hour fast. They are ancient words from an Old Testament prophet and I so appreciated that the fast is an ancient ritual that we still practice. The scriptures are found in Isaiah 58. Often times these scriptures are hard to understand, but they are so beautifully clear concerning the fast.

It first speaks of the fast for the poor:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself fromthine own flesh?
After a person cares for the poor, the blessings are incredible:
 ¶Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thinehealth shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
 Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
 10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
 11 And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
For those of us who try to fast monthly, these words are better than sustenance--if I didn't already have this practice, I'd think I'd want to try.....think about it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meet the Mormons

It's a little exciting/nerve wracking when my beloved religion goes out on a limb and releases a movie titled, "Meet the Mormons" into nationwide theaters and the clergy asks the members to support the endeavor. Like a dutiful and committed Mormon, I went to the movie. I was on a weekend getaway with my mom, so the two of us walked to the theater close to our hotel.  The seats were an immediate sell-plush, reclining and reserved the week before.

The movie started and it had a sense of humor! Funny perceptions and misperceptions about Mormons. Always a good way to start a film. But then, the film got serious as it entered into the lives of five or six ordinary, yet extraordinary people. The first story was very focused on a Mormon Bishop, but as each story unfolded, it became less about the Mormon-ness of the individual or family and more about the person's human-ness. The people were more caring and giving than they were Mormon. The common struggle became less of a specific religious struggle but more of a human struggle and by the time the movie ended, I left with a profound connection to  humans, not Mormons.

Hence, that is why I'm writing about the film today and why I tweeted about the film, when normally I am pretty private about my religious leanings and practices. It's a feel-good movie about being a part of the human race.

When the headlines focus on ISIS terrorists with the ultimate goal of destroying America, when a man dying of ebola came to America having lied about his exposure to ebola, when negativity reigns concerning the democrats versus the republicans, a movie about people trying to serve, love and succeed is the remedy for prevailing pessimism.

So....I'm a living, breathing, practicing Mormon and it's always great to see something uplifting, Yes, I am a little biased, but I'm biased towards everything that is honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous and of good report and yes, I seek after these things. But you do too--regardless of religion and so, if you want to soar with positive feelings about your fellow humans, go and meet the mormons-- just people with struggles, shortcomings and dreams--just like you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Feel SAfe

After the warm days of September, a storm blows in bringing rain and a cool breeze. If I open the front door and the back door, it's like a river running through the house. And best of all is the sound of the rain. I soon realize, there is something even better: I feel safe, mid-day, alone in my house.

The safety comes after reading an article on Brownsville, Bronx, New York, a dense area of public housing with the highest crime rate in the state. In the 1960's, the area was dominated by Jewish residents, but in 2014, there are only two Jewish merchants left. One of those merchants survives by locking the door after unlocking it for a patron--and the patron feels safe. An armed guard accompanies the UPS delivery man.

 I so appreciate my safety, my peace. Because of Brownsville and because I know that open doors in quiet neighborhoods are sometimes preyed upon too. But just this day, I feel safe.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Oh My Husband

I'm on a strict diet right now because, hmm, well, no need to explain. 

My husband asks how long the diet lasts. "Three months," I reply.

"Then," he asks, "what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to do just like you. Gain it all back slowly over the next ten years, then go on another strict diet when I hit my highest intolerable point."

We laugh even though it's not that funny.

The problem is that my next highest acceptable weight point keeps growing. Fifteen, maybe twenty years ago, it was 130,  then I somehow hit 140--and this time I reached utter disgust when the scale hit 150 (okay, it really hit 154 at the doctor's office, fully dressed with shoes). I was fed up. Actually it took more than that. It was a photo taken in the following days. Thank goodness that daughter took the photo of me posing in front of the sunflower. And worse she sent it to a friend. 

It makes me thankful that someday I will die so I won't have to keep dieting when I reach my highest threshold of 180 pounds when I'm 80 years old. At that point, I will have to lose 50 pounds. With a metabolism slower than a still rocking chair--that's going to be difficult.

And here's the deal: it will still matter when I'm 80.

 Some years ago, I was sitting on the couch across from my 80 year old grandmother who was reclined on the other couch. She hadn't felt well recently  least she had good news. She'd recently lost five pounds! I looked at her old wrinkled body, her breasts that had long passed her waist and realized: no matter how old I get, I will still worry about my weight. Darnit.

But at least....I'm not my husband who has a systematic clothes system, sorted, labeled and ready for when that darn weight from a month in France or a whole football season of late night ice cream, sneaks up and manifests itself on the scale.

Oh my. I hope you laugh as hard as Paloma and me when we discovered the scene below.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Real Dreams Or Sleep Dreams? Your Choice

I am sitting in at the lunch table with two favorite colleagues and one of the colleagues comes up with something profound.

"What we dream about, is success without failure"--Tom Bown

This is why some of us are content with our dreams--because trying at any endeavor usually means failing at least once, twice perhaps more times. When we adjust to the idea that success is only a result of failure, we can begin to tackle those dreams.

Why are real life dreams not given their own word? Why is the same word used for what we see in our sleep? Because when we don't go for our awake dreams, it's no different than sleeping through life.

Wake up. Have some failures so you can experience success.

Friday, October 10, 2014

I am in my bee suit in the forest below my house, all alone with the bees--my Zen experience. The house below me, distanced by a steep hill and tree cover, has been empty for awhile. But lately, I've heard the sound of children. I love the sound of children, but I now know the hillside peace and the safety of a beehive are in jeopardy--a family with a half dozen young children has moved in. With the beautiful weather and the curiosity of children, I'm a little concerned about their exploration into my yard. It's a wild area and there is no fence-just pathways made by the deer, the skunks, and the guinea hens.

How interesting that the children's day of exploration coincides with my presence at the beehive. Their voices get closer and closer and I know that soon, a child will wander up the path. I have to admit that I feel a little intruded upon.

Without sound, I look up, and there she is--my first visit from my new neighbors. Standing like a deer who is startled by a human. Her eyes are big and scared. How strange I must look, sitting under the hive in an alien space suit (to her perhaps). She is frozen like a deer in the headlights.

"Hi," I break the ice.

She doesn't move or speak. I ask her a few questions to which she answers like a bank teller who is begin robbed--by me.

"Can you tell your mom about the beehive? I'm a little worried about one of the children getting too close and possibly aggravating the bees," I pause for emphasis, "and getting stung."

She nods her head and starts to back away. I want to make it better so I add, "It's nice to meet you."

No response and she is gone.

The voices continue from a different angle. Minutes later, I look up and above me, stands her brother.


He too is a deer in the headlights unsure whether to stay or run. I ask more questions and give him the same tutorial with the same bee stinging portent. But then, I have a softening, an epiphany: if I truly want them to be safe, want the children to respect the bees, I need to bring them into the bee world.

"Would you like to look at the bees someday?"

He barely nods a yes.

I'm currently reading/teaching The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I am again disturbed by the atrocities of that strange time and while pondering the experience of the orthodox Jew whose beard was set on fire by a group of hooligans, I have a new thought. What if, instead of retreating from the world that began to persecute them, what if they'd thrown open the doors of the synagogues, invited the gentiles into their homes, what if they'd shown the world a different, human culture that countered Nazi propoganda?

When the blasphemous, funny, touching, humiliating Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," came out, the Mormons waited outside the theatre handing out the real book the play had just made fun of. "You've seen the play, now find out what the book is really about," was the counter to the musical propaganda.

It's the same reason Mormons open their temples to the public. Before temples are dedicated to God, everyone is welcome to see, explore, to understand, to break down suspicion and the mystery of a temple.

 Down the street from the LDS temple in New York City, is an elementary school that brought their children to tour the undedicated temple. The children were reverent, respectful and when they reached the end of the tour, which culminated in the "Celestial room," two of the children, threw a wrench in the tour. They laid down on the floor, rolled under the couch and wouldn't let go of the couch legs. They didn't want to leave. The children recognized a feeling and they didn't want to leave.

And so, it is requisite that I hike down the hill and invite the neighbor children to come and experience the fascinating world of a beehive.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Soccer Coaches

When my youngest daughter played soccer, I was most grateful for one thing: the coach. He never yelled or screamed at his players. He'd learned that children don't function well when screamed at. Neither do adults.

I dreaded the games against a rival team and its maniacal soccer coach who screamed his way through the entire match. I wouldn't have allowed my daughter to play for him--and I don't know how those parents could take it. These were young girls in junior high school--not professionals playing for the World Cup.

And that is why, I'm writing about soccer coaches. Bless them. It's often a volunteer position. They are often experienced and know the game well. They appreciate a well placed goal, energetic players, players that don't go off sides. And for the most part, they stay calm for the young minds, bodies, hearts, they serve. It must be difficult to stay calm and in control when the players are acting

The scenario: a soccer field at the neighborhood elementary school. Ten year old boys playing ten year old boys. Families line the field watching the game. The side fields are filled with other coaches and their teams in practice. With my three daughters, I am watching a ten year old grandson work hard on the field. It's been a close game and so far, the coach hasn't been noticeable. He's running his team well; things are smooth. Again the game is close.

It's a crispy fall day, a pleasant day until, from deep within this heretofore mild-mannered coach, comes the roar of a lion. The angry, loud roar of a lion.


The coach's restraint and composure is blown in a ten second outburst.

Immediately, we are (everyone), uncomfortable. Big time. So much that as I turn my head, I see the adjacent fields laughing and mimicking the lion coach. I'm immediately thankful, my grandson or my son, is not Davey. Poor Davey. And the parents who line the field with so much hope for their soccer kicking sons, go silent. Someone is Davey's parent.

Over the next week, it's a funny line when someone bursts out in a full imitation of the soccer coach, "Davey, do you want to be in the game?"

Yeah, we all laugh. We are incredulous.

But it's not really that funny.

I remember the few times, I lost it with one of my children. They are my least proud moments, and I wish I could take them back. The memory of those moments are what made me better the next time.

Better the next time. It's what coaches expect from their players and what they need to expect for themselves.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reasoning Over Profanity

I am hiking with dear friends when the conversation turns to the subject of profanity in books and movies. Both friends express that they are not bothered by profanity, and for the most part, neither am I--except--I cannot handle the damning of deity. I can't read books with it, can't watch movies with it, can't listen to people say it. It churns at the deepest of my core. I realize I am unique and that's ok--no desire to change myself or anyone else.

I let my friends know that this profane use bothers me. My friend's response is "I don't think God cares."

But I do, so I ask, "Then why is it one of the ten commandments?"

She thinks for a second and then repeats, "I really don't think he cares."

But I still think he does. A little more contemplation and I may know why he does care, and it's not because he is a vain being who would care what people think of him but because in each one of us is God. And when we damn his name casually, we are damning our own divinity. Who would allow their children to curse themselves or their family?

For example, I will use our family name: Martinez. Would we allow our children to walk around and say "Martinez dammit?" As an expression of anger or frustration? No.

We are God's children and using his name profanely, hurts him, but mostly because we are hurting ourselves.