Thursday, December 31, 2015


We are in South Carolina. Our hosts call the 73 degree weather muggy, but I couldn't have wished for anything better. We left 0-16 degree weather, dry snow, bitter cold. The kind of weather that when I look out the window, I shiver and decide I don't need to go to the store, or anywhere for that matter.

So, I am thankful to be here, if only for a few days. I find the south almost mythical--rich with history and visuals created from my associations with "Gone With the Wind," from once teaching Killer Angels, and all those year of Civil War studies.

As we drive along the 77, we pass a cemetery I imagine is full of Civil War soldiers' graves; there is a Sumter sign, and a military base named Ft. Jackson and the home we visit, was once on the land of a former plantation. A real plantation. But former plantations are everywhere. In fact our hosts great, great grandfather used to own a plantation.

I hesitate to ask, "Was he a slave holder?"

"Yes, but he taught his slaves how to read, and when the war ended, they all stayed with him, he treated them so well. Southerners hated him for it, and Northerners hated him because he had slaves."

I also learn the land that was once theirs, deeded from the king of England, was taken by the Northerners after the war. When the taken land is mentioned, the room riles up a bit. Land, I understand, is a sacred possession.

My father's family came on the train out west, so when I hear of ancestors who came on the Mayflower, I find myself in awe. Each history is as important as the other, but this American history is a bit richer, and there has been more time for tragedy. We have never had our land taken. Land that was paid for and worked for. We've never had such misfortune by the change of political tides.

Our other host's family history is as varied and rich as it is different. She left Cuba as a seven year old. Her educated and blessed parents saw the destruction and change brought by Castro and chose to leave. I hear references of the beach front house they left in Cuba-half hearted banter about returning and reclaiming it now that the wall around Cuba is open.

I think of our own homestead back in the 16 degree winter we were so happy to leave--happy to leave in part, because when we return, the house will be ours. The house we diligently made sacrifices to purchase; the house we have spent hundreds of hours fixing up, remodeling, cleaning, and making it just right. If we were to fall prey to war, to mishap, to the designs of evil men, how deep, how many generations would remember and resent?

History has answered that question too. Ask the Palestinians, the Jews, the Armenians, the Tibetans, the Southerners, the victims of eminent domain, how they feel about losing their land. Thousands of years or a hundred years of resentment--- prove that land is sacred.

So happy to leave the cold; so happy I will return to my warm home, on the land I own, in a place I love.

I take it for granted, but history tells me I shouldn't.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Surfer boy Max. Photo by CEO of

He was just a squirrely kid who married my daughter. I've known him since he was 16, loved him since he was 16. A lot of energy, a lot of love--a guy who said goodbye to his friends on the phone and ended with "Love ya."

In just a few days, his dream, his work, all come to fruition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Prayers For the Dentist

The day after Christmas, in the midst of eating, a crown in the back of my mouth pops off. It's the weekend, and I call to schedule an appointment for the week following the next. I'll be leaving the country, so maybe it would be wise to have the crown cemented in, but it's not an emergency and it is the holiday. I'll be fine. But the next day, the gaping hole seems a little too gaping. Fear sends her questions like flaming darts: what if it gets infected? What if...what if...

I send my dentist a text. Less obtrusive to her life and to her young family than a phone call. I include a photo of my gaping, scary hole.

Fortunately, and possibly reluctantly, she returns the text with a time to meet at the office. I imagine she'll just lather the crown with cement and slip it into place--not too big of a bother on a Sunday afternoon. Hopefully. As I head out the door, I grasp for something to give my dentist--two days after Christmas, on a Sunday--for her trouble. Every Christmas treat in the house, is either eaten or given away. I pick up a pomegranate.

Ms. Dentist is cheerful--despite the 17 degree weather, the empty office and leaving the children who need her this Sunday afternoon. I am feeling humble, grateful, because I need her too.

It's not as easy as I suspect. She has to rebuild the tooth and we're almost at the hour when I climb out of the chair and hand her the pomegranate.

"I don't even know if it's a good one," I apologize.

That night, as I kneel in prayer, the first whisper out of my mouth is gratitude for my dentist. I then ask for Heavenly Father to bless her for her selflessness and service. I really want her to be blessed so I plead again. "Please watch over her and care for her."

And it hits me.

Is it possible that I too have been the recipient of prayers asking to bless me? Though it's not enough, when I do sacrifice to help others, is their gratitude as heartfelt as mine? Could my blessings come from the gratitude of others' prayers?

I am touched by the possibility, and I'm motivated to try a little harder, to show more compassion, to lend a helping hand when it's convenient and especially when it's not.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Positive Advantages of Lifestyle Choices

The kayak trip to Los Arcos has been booked for a week, but the concierge encourages us to show up at the beach in case there are no-shows. I hurry up to our room and propose to Tony that we take our chances.

We hurry down and find there are three people waiting. Six double kayaks and several singles are available; the odds are in our favor.

Pedro waits fifteen minutes, then suits us with life jackets and paddles--we're off.

As we get to know our kayak companions, a story unfolds. Dale, a man from Denver, explains that he booked the kayak trip with three other friends, but they drank too much the night before and weren't up for the two and half hour paddle.

The next morning our two sons-in-law want to take the same trip. Once again, there are no spaces, but we encourage them to be ready to go. Around the time of departure, Tony and I walk to the beach and see the boys have already taken off.

There are distinct and quantifiable advantages to not drinking alcohol.

Our hosts at the rented beach house require us to bring cash to cover food and beverages for the week. When our final bill is tallied, it is one third of what we expected. We are thrilled when Tony figures the cost of eating, per person, per day, was approximately and only, ten dollars--phenomenal! How did we get off so cheap?

No alcohol.

We choose to see life's advantages from the choices we make, sometimes to validate, sometimes to affirm--and for the most part, that's what we do with our choice of not drinking alcohol.
 I see the mishaps and the ill effects of alcohol; I see the blessings of not drinking. Those who drink, probably see the positive social aspects, the purported health benefits of a glass of red wine once a day, a legal way to relax after a long day.

So I step back and take myself out of the picture, but I can't erase the alcohol negatives I see in others' lives--the bride with a wedding party member so drunk she has to kick her out of the ceremony; a Christmas party host who has to stand up and tell his guests they've already reached the bar tab limit. So-and-so's uncle dying of liver cirrhosis, a once beautiful woman with a chronic puffy face; a late night phone call from someone who's had one too many; complaints from a friend about the breathalyzer in her car because of her husband's choices; and today, another story of a sweet girl who on her 21st birthday, excitedly chose to spend the watershed event bar hopping legally--then awoke the next morning without clothes--- devastated that she may have been raped.

So I'm going to stretch judgement beyond myself-- advantages of an alcohol free life are many. The case for alcohol can be countered: socializing can be done with root beer; health benefits come from red grapes too, and meditation may be an even better way to relax.

Consider the advantages.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Leaping Out of Bed

 Early, early Christmas morning, my daughter's new brother-in-law (he is nine years old), throws open the door and turns on the light, "Come see Christmas!"

Disoriented, my daughter is relieved when her new sister-in -law (who is eighteen years old), calls out from the bedroom next door, "It's two o'clock in the morning. Go back to bed!"

The little brother disappears down the hall, presumably back into bed or into the family room to investigate Santa's gifts all by himself.

My daughter climbs out of bed, turns off the light, shuts the door, goes back to sleep.

At four o'clock, the exhuberant little guy again throws open the door and turns on the light, "Get up for Christmas!" The household realizes, again, that it's too early for Christmas and somehow everyone manages to stay in bed until 7:30-then Christmas begins!!

Before he tried to rally the family, the excited little guy must have first awakened in great anticipation and leapt from his bed! Imagine being filled with so much excitement and joyful anticipation that you leap from your bed unaware of time and protocol.

For Christmas, Lisa gave me a book from her all-time top ten book list. She writes, If I were a castaway on an island and could only have 10 books, this would be one of the books.

I feel honored to have received a book so highly esteemed, and when I come to this paragraph in the introduction, I understand what a gift the book is: Have you had periods in life when you leapt out of bed in the morning to embrace your day? Once this happens to you, once you live this way, even for a few hours, you will never really be satisfied with any other way of living. Everything else will seem vaguely wan and gray. Everything else will seem, as Henry David Thoreau said, like "a distraction."

The author of the book, Stephen Cope, challenges his readers to "Bring forth what is in you." The very things that would make me leap from my bed in the morning are already in me. I may not have a clear picture of what it is, it may still need refinement or discovery, but it may be closer than I think. I may already be on the right path with only a little farther to go until it is clear.

But this awakening I have been made aware of, reminded of--from the little boy on Christmas morning and from the author of the gifted book, the desire to leap out of bed--I am inspired to find what it is or to remember what it is. I want to fight the doldrum that creeps into life like moisture that turns to mold. It's a choice to rediscover, to hold onto, to make it mine--for the first time or to reclaim it again. So I wonder, do I need to restring the harp? Give in to the urge to learn how to sew? Paint? Continue writing? Is it a new physical activity?  I used to roll out of bed every morning and lace up my running shoes-but no longer.  Since I have leaped out of bed on many occasions, I find the author is right, I can't be satisfied with any other way of living. It's time for a new adventure and it may be that the quest is in and of itself, the reason to leap out of bed in the morning.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dear Mr. B

Dear Mr. B, or the man who lives in the valley below my house,

I know who you are because of your career success and the distinguishing fact that you are a multi-millionaire. You have received the common accolades, the press, the gossip, that comes with notoriety. When you created success, you created interest.

 My daughter even went to school with one of your sons. But none of the above is why I address my thoughts to you on his piece of paper.

Every year, for the past 18 years, Thanksgiving evening or the day after Thanksgiving or even in the week after, I have looked out my picture windows and have seen your corner of the world, a mansion on an acre or two or three, lit up in holiday splendor. Not just a string of lights here and there but a beacon of light, color and joy. You have been the beginning of the Christmas season.

The first year looking down from my house, my family and I were enchanted by your creation. We probably got in the car and drove the two minute drive for a close-up. We may have even parked the car and walked past your high block walls, your iron gates, to see inside your winter wonderland. It was as enchanting up close as it was from far away. Every tree, every parapet, every window, every bush and fountain was strung with Christmas lights.

After so many years of silent gratitude, I even sent you a letter. I wasn't pretentious; I addressed the letter to you even though you didn't have a clue who I might have been. I thanked you for the splendor, for the joy we had looking down on your city of Christmas lights. I signed my name--first only--and left off my address; I wanted it to be anonymous of sorts--I just truly wanted you to know I appreciated your eye for beauty, for magic, for my gratitude to you for sharing your bounty.

This year, it was the first of December when your corner of the world remained dark still. I searched again and again. It was as if Christmas had been shut down. Did you forget? Did you no longer care?

And then I imagined the worst. Are you ill? Sad? Did you lose a loved one? Is there no more reason to celebrate?

I am tempted again to send you a letter; a letter from the somewhat anonymous woman on the hill above your house who misses your Christmas lights. But how could I convey it isn't the lights I care about? In admiration for the pleasure you have shared for so many years, I have come to care about you--stranger that you are--for this is what gratitude and the Christmas spirit bring: love, care and joy, for all mankind.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Shouldn't Have To End--Ever

What if we lived like it were Christmas everyday?

I was invited to a few-days-before Christmas charity event! Ahhhh... nothing better than thinking of others this time of year! every day of the year!

I'm serious. What if we really lived like it were Christmas everyday?

I couldn't afford to live Christmas everyday: the gifts, the food, the focus...but what if I lived the Christmas spirit at least once a day? For the rest of my life?

How happy would I be? What would it feel like to look back on my life knowing I'd celebrated the Christmas spirit everyday through thoughtfulness, generosity, and love?

I already know what my New Year's resolution is, but I'm starting today.

Merry Christmas from the youngest Santa in our family!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Best, Last-Minute Gifts

Sometimes, I look around our closet, and I feel sorry for my husband.

You see, when I'm really, really, really busy, or really, really busy, or even just really busy and even just busy, or even, though I hate to admit it, not very busy, I dump my clothes. Right where I took them off, or at the bottom of the closet, or worse, pile them on the side of the tub. Sometimes the pile looks like the mattresses stacked for the princess and her pea.

More often than not, I'm unaware of growing piles that multiply into over-the-top piles. The unseen good part is, that the piles are really part of my organization. I can't just throw clothing in a drawer, because I sort and fold by color, fabric, tops vs. bottoms, and I hang my clothing by color and category.

Still, I feel deeply for him; he is the opposite.  I cure the mess and finally dig in when I imagine it were him who left piles of clothes on the closet floor. I would HATE IT if my husband were messy and disorganized.

I feel sorry for Tony when a vacation is near. Three or four days before, he drags up the suitcases, lays his on the floor and begins to pack--with his checklist, pre-coordinated with the kind of trip he is about to take. I, on the other hand, often wait until an hour before the estimated time of departure or ETD. Under unusual circumstances, I have even packed with five minutes before the ETD, but again, it was only once and under very unusual circumstances.

This time, the pre-vacation angst I bring into his life, caused him to put the suitcase right next to my bed. The room and closet are large, but no, he chose to put it right next to my bed. In his defense, this is what a husband does when he has a wife like me. I especially admire how he tries, not to make comments, not to urge or cajole, and not let himself overwhelm with worry that I won't be ready come ETD.

But sometimes I look around my house and I think my husband is the luckiest man in the world. Evidence abounds of love, devotion and adventure.

And I can be ready to go in minutes, literally, often waiting for him. And I love to make him laugh, and I often laugh first and ask questions later, and I always know what he's up to...especially his Christmas presents...

So when at the end of the first semester, when my office looked like our closet, I humbly approached him and asked him to help me sort, order, and organize. He had a hearty laugh, because as usual, I knew, in a sixth sense sort of way what he was up to. He brought me an early Christmas present to unwrap, and of course I laughed heartier than him, because I knew what it was--again.

I am sharing this uber present on this morning of Christmas Eve because some of us still need gifts, and these are the best gifts in the whole world--finding a need and giving and helping a loved one with that need--and the best part is the recipient may already be hoping the gift is on its way!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Delayed Gratification

Remember the Stanford marshmallow test? Researchers at Stanford used children to study whether or not delayed gratification impacted a child's life.

Researchers offered each subject a marshmallow, or if the child could wait, the reward would be greater. The wait was only fifteen minutes and the reward was often two marshmallows or a cookie. Researchers followed the children and found that those who could wait until later and for a better reward, had better life outcomes: test scores, BMIs and other success measures.

All the years of raising my children, I wondered about the Santa Claus myth...should I be lying to my children? It seemed like such a moral parent faux pas. Yet it was so fun! The anticipation was childhood incarnate! It allowed a little bit of magic in an otherwise un-magic world (unless we include Disneyland), and when I finally discovered it wasn't all true--it was okay. The hunt for hidden presents, the suspicion, the staying up late and spying on Mom,--it was all part of the magic.

So we, Tony and I, perpetuated the myth. We played the Santa Claus game, cajoled them with stories of his impending visit if they were cooperative. We left cookies and carrots out on Christmas Eve, included presents from Mom and Dad and presents that mysteriously appeared on Christmas morning with tags that read, Love Santa. We even had the neighbor Santa come into our back yard, peek into the window while we had gathered our family, and jingle his bells on his way out the gate.

And now I watch my children perpetuate the myth of Santa and I wonder no longer; It's even critical to my grandchildren's future success! Remember: delayed gratification.

We have a three year old guest at our house who is having a HARD time waiting for Christmas. From his perspective, why wait? The presents are wrapped and under the tree; he is ready to open the presents, so why not open the presents? Perfectly logical to his three year old mind and heart. He's even gotten the upper hand a few times in the game of charades: when no one has been looking, he's ripped open more than a few packages.

Yet, his parents persist.

"Ezra, you can't open the presents. Not until Christmas Day."

With no significant recollection of Christmas Day, he doesn't even know how to respond. I watch his little mind click, trying to sort these puzzle pieces that just don't fit in his frame. How does one measure Christmas Day? When will it come? What is two more days in the eyes of a three year old?

Oh, how I remember! How the days seemed to drag in the weeks before Christmas! It was impossible to sleep at night not knowing if it would ever, ever, arrive. Subterfuge festered in my childish heart. I made up my mind I would open presents before Christmas. Yes, I did, and I became the best re-wrapping six year old that ever lived.

And to this day, I blame all my failures that I took the first marshmallow without waiting for the better reward of two--or knowing almost all the Christmas presents before the true joy of surprise and obedience on Christmas morning.

So, if you are a good a parent, you will wonder, as I did. But wonder no more, feel no more guilt, Santa is part of the recipe for raising better children.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Sitting in church, Tony and I listened to the most beautiful song. When the singer finished, Tony turned to me with tears in his eyes and found the tears in mine.

While listening to a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in Sainte Chappelle, after the first song, Tony turned to me with tears in his eyes and found the tears in mine.

A few months ago, Holly encouraged us to sign up for the ticket lottery for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert. The performance would include Tony award singer Laura Osmos, and singers from the Metropolitan Opera. I got the scoop from my MOTAB member neighbor David, that directer Mack Wilberg had created new arrangements of songs in the double digits. In addition, MOTAB would be performing pieces from Handel's Messiah! Christmas is never the same without music from the Messiah. Plus we would be part of the PBS taping.

A funny thing happened with our appreciated tickets: there couldn't have been worse seats in the house, and I have to admit I was sad. But when life hands you a bad seat? 


...and when the concert ended, I couldn't even talk. Neither could Tony.

The music, the voices, the melodies, were too special to diminish with words. I had to keep it all inside. Savor. Reflect. Praise.

“We get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer.” - J. Reuben Clark Jr.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Antidote

The tickets requested that we be in our seats by 7:30. If not, we could lose them. No one wants to miss the Christmas concert, so we take off running at 7:28. Minutes later, we see how unnecessary this was: the lines are epic. Admitting and seating 21,000 people is a slow process and, as we shuffle closer, we see the hold-up: metal detectors and purse searches.

I am wearing a sweater with double breasted metal buttons. I slide my purse through the line of volunteer searchers and cross under the arch. BEEEEEEEp Beeeep.

"Could you step off to the left where you will be hand searched?" The distinguished older gentleman asks.

I am complicit.

An older woman, shorter than me, graced with a kind face, instructs me to open my jacket. I do. Then she stares into my eyes and is ready to read me like a grandmother who can detect a lie a mile away, and asks in a gentle voice, "Are you carrying a weapon?" But even she can't keep a straight face because her love-meter knows I'm not the type to pack a gun, not one to sneak contraband into a public gathering.

Her smile makes me want to laugh, but I don't dare, because it's no laughing matter.

"No," I answer with composure.

I am allowed to enter and retrieve my purse.

Life changed on September 11, 2001. Two weeks later, a barricade went up on the beach cutting my morning run in half. When I flew to Paris a month later, I was scared--along with hundreds of other passengers who watched with darted eyes, the two dark skinned, bearded men, wearing turbans--until they were taken away and searched--in what would later become illegal racial profiling. I felt as bad for those two men as I felt for those of us who feared unnecessarily.

More recently Paris, then San Bernardino, and now we travel on red, orange, yellow and blue alert.

So it is with a heavy and longing heart when I read:

"And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people." 4 Nephi: 15

Will we ever know of such a day?

Perhaps not in my lifetime. Not when the love of God is perverted and misconstrued. Not when yet another extreme faction of religion believes their love and devotion to God includes explosives in open markets, bus drivers turning into crowded sidewalks, airplanes flown into skyscrapers, hostage taking. These are perversions of the greatest offense.

What right do I have to say what the true love of God is? My right comes from my love of God and the recognition of its effect and the fruits of that love. My love for God inspires me to be charitable and kind. It motivates me to try harder, to promote peace, to give to others, to mourn with those who mourn.

True love of God not an anecdote: it is the antidote. An antidote of charity--the pure love of Christ.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Carols

I used to be a singer. In a teenage rock band, in a church-preformance group; but somewhere in the flurry of life, with a shift of focus to children, on family, I lost the desire, didn't have the time, lost my voice.

Yet, there's still one place where I can sing. Once a week, I can belt out words that move my soul. And so the Christmas season is upon us and I have once again become a singer.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing Glory to the Newborn King! It takes only one line for my eyes to well with tears, but the passion to sing keeps me going.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie... again my eyes brim, but I focus on the poetry of the words written in the late 1800's and I marvel how this simple piece has stood the test of time. I wonder if Phillips Brooks and Lewis Redner could have imagined the peace and emotion their talents would bring to the hearts of men and women. I hope for some kind of peep hole from heaven where the two men can glimpse the Christmas congregations around the earth singing their creation.

Away in a manger, no crib for his bed...When I sing this song, I am transported to my child self. This was the first Christmas carol of my life. It is really a child's tune and in my primary days, loving teachers and choristers taught me this song.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her king! No time for tears while singing this song! It requires a robust burst of love and joy, as does, Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!

However, there is one song, I can no longer sing.

It was December 1968; I was an eight-year-old child. We had returned to the city of my father's birth to attend, to be a part of, his father's death-my grandfather. I remember being a thoughtful and loving child--devoted to the best parents in the world, devoted to the best family in the world. Twenty six cousins I adored, four aunts, four uncles and a grandmother, the strong matriarch to the whole crew.

Sunday morning, we all gathered in the chapel, the same chapel my father sat in as a child. The occasion was special, but even more so because I was keenly aware that my father's beliefs had waned--his devotion and dedication had shifted, and he had stopped attending church. But on this day, in honor of his parents, the solemnity of the day, the passing of his father, my big, handsome father sat by my side.

The opening hymn was I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day. Dad was fully present, opened the hymn book and sang in his deep, beautiful voice, every word of this hymn. I understood the preciousness of this moment. By my father's side, sitting in church, a passing privilege that may never come to pass again.

Over the years, every time the organ's pedals and keys burst with this melody, I am transported back to the church bench, in the old Sugarhouse chapel, back to my father's side.

As the years pass, the memory becomes more tender, and I've finally succumbed to the overwhelming emotions that embrace the memory. I listen; I remember; I am grateful.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Million Little Moments

Temperatures rested in the low thirties when we climbed into Holly's van. Me, Grandpa and the children in back for the sleigh ride (of sorts)--and then we hit traffic--an accident on the freeway, consequential, hardly-moving traffic, and dinner reservations we had to adjust.

"We'll hold your table until 6:00," the hostess promised.

Trevor started weaving in and out like a Nascar driver. In the family van, mind you.

Two minutes to six, we pulled in front of Takashi. The door slid open, we climbed out and stood on a cold, bright street, quiet and surreal from the blue lights tightly embracing trees. Magical.

We hurried into the restaurant to enjoy the dinner our mouths had been watering for. The restaurant was a buzz! Crowded, happy people and our table for six, conspicuously empty, waiting in a corner. How hungry we were. How New York it felt!

I love being in New York in the winter. It's easier in the summer: no beating rain, no hopping snow on the sidewalk, no worry over lost gloves; but I love winter for one specific reason: bundling up and heading into the streets to find an evening meal. The streets are dark, cold, quiet even if crowded. When the restaurant door opens, it's like entering a hidden world: the speakeasy behind the storefront, the wonderland down the rabbit hole.

Coats off, seats taken, ahhh, we are here.

My first visits to New York City were either by myself or with a business collaborator. Just because I was alone, I still dined out by necessity. Each time I sat in an Italian restaurant or in a Korean noodle shop, all alone, I couldn't help but feel a little envious of the groups of friends or the big family  celebrating and dining together.

Finally, I went to New York with friends and family and one night, we sat around a big Italian table. I had the New York dining moment I had longed for.

The Japanese restaurant tonight, is filled with white paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling alongside white tree branches with abundant leaves. The tables are close, just like in New York. The feeling is festive. Braving the traffic, the weather--all worth it. And the company? Superb. We finish our dinner, the time calculated almost to the exact moment for the theatre. Three blocks, long city blocks, and we end up running. We pass the store fronts decorated for Christmas, the candy displays, the homeless with their shabby signs and overloaded carts.

Sitting on my desk, are my students' quotes, the words they strung together with such profoundness that I had to write them down and post them on the bulletin board. I brought some home; I glance at Katie's and realize how true her words are:

  "I am the product of a million little moments." Katie Clark.

That is what life is: moments strung together like words. Joys, mishaps, surprise, excitement, disappointment, and if we're lucky, nights like this with family.

Mankind, Womankind

"If you are willing to look at another person's behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all." Yogi Bhajan

The human experience is replete with heartache: self inflicted and the-other inflicted, and unfortunately, sometimes, we inflict. All three sources cause pain, but in the long run, it will always be the latter that causes the greatest of heartache.

Keeping the yogi's truth in mind is a wake-up call to becoming more human-kind and becoming more accepting of those who aren't.

Seen on a t-shirt: Mankind. Be both.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Protecting Sanctuary

My home is my sanctuary.

I am not a person who loves to throw parties or entertain, therefore, when I do host breakfast or invite  friends for lunch, or gather family for Christmas Eve kung pao--it is a special occasion and includes the people who are dear to me.

This morning, when one of my AP Literature students said, "Thank-you so much for having us over." I answered, "Thank you for coming," and without intending to or even thinking of the atmosphere, I added, "You brought good karma."

Remember, my home is my sanctuary. I want people to come  through my doors who are loving, kind, positive and who bring good thoughts.

When my husband served as a bishop, he served a precious young woman who had lost some of her intelligence, her reason, emotional logic and control, from drug use. She used to drop in frequently as being in our home brought her comfort--yet she brought a certain discord. I believe the harmony in the house overcame the disharmony in her life. As she grew older and continued to make unwise choices, her chaos seemed to dominate the peace in our home. It became more difficult to open the door, let her in, let her talk.

She eventually had a child, and another and lost those children to their fathers, because she couldn't escape the drugs, the alcohol. When she did have custody, she brought her son to our home, because she wanted him to feel what our home was like.

It takes work to create our sanctuary. Cleanliness and order requisite. Art, and color and light and play. Family photos. Soft voices, kind words, patience. Forgiveness, laughter. More patience. Knowledge that relationships are more important than things, because relationships are eternal. Glass dishes, glass ornaments tossed by grandchildren, scratches on the wood floor from toy trucks-- are temporary. And the in the words of my interior decorator cousin, "There's nothing that can't be fixed."

My home is where I have to stretch, where I have to grow and resolve to be better, bigger. My home is my sanctuary.

"What are you going to plant today to beautify the garden of your soul?" L. Whitney Clayton

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bringing Home The Christmas Tree

A friend met me at the school today to help bring home the Christmas tree I'd kept in the classroom.
I think she might have thought I was a little off, a little odd, when I said, "Bringing home a Christmas tree is like bringing home a new baby."

I was so caught up in the excitement of it, that I don't remember exactly what she said, but it didn't seem like she agreed. 

As a child, picking up the Christmas tree was a big deal. We bundled up; Dad came home early, and we drove to the ubiquitous lots in the late 1960's, filled with fresh green pines. Ah....the smell. Nothing quite like it.

The tree trimming was always festive. I remember carefully separating each strand of shimmering, silver tinsel and positioning it on the tree. Tinsel was a Christmas tree regular until one of the string of dachshunds started eating it for brunch. 

Mom had Christmas tree phases. Flocked. Glamoured/elegant. Cute. The day after Christmas, we piled in her car to pick up the half price ornaments at Skaggs. 

My little family too, has gone through our Christmas tree phases. Most notably, fresh pine trees chosen on a cold and snowy night and decorated, artificial trees for charity.

 A decade ago, I was invited to Festival of Trees: a benefit for Primary Children's hospital. My grandmother had recently died, and had left a large jar of pennies, nickels, dimes and maybe a few quarters. Mom gave me the jar of money when I announced my intentions--to donate the change to Primary Children's Hospital. I had grown up participating in their annual campaign/fundraiser called "Pennies by the Inch." The premise was that each child measured her height and gave a penny for every inch. Meticulously measuring my own height all those years, I grew up knowing every penny counts. I still remember the year when I realized it didn't matter if I counted my own inches or not--I could donate a dollar or two. 

After purchasing our first tree, I was hooked. There's something special knowing the dollars went for children's care; there's something special about a huge auditorium filled with trees for such an intention. Often the trees are decorated in memory of a child: one who got well, or one who passed on. 
 This tree was made by three dear friends who had all lost a child.
 Even the wreath came from the festival.
The tree this year: ugly dolls. It spent its first three weeks in the classroom, but today I brought it home. This tree just keeps on giving. It came with 30 dolls, all displayed around it. When Christmas is over, I will take the rest of the miniature dolls and all of them will go to the police department for the police officers who, when taking children out of a frightening situation, make sure they have a teddy bear, a stuffed animal, or now an ugly doll, to comfort the child.

Perhaps this is why I equate the joy of bringing home a tree with the joy of bringing home a baby. Each one brings happiness and life to what would be a very ordinary world without them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

When You Travel, Bring Your Comedien

You've heard the cliche, Laughter is the Best Medicine. I have it on good word that laughter is also the best antidote to travel conundrum.

From a travel documentary, which I cannot remember the title: "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong." The remembrance of this wise saying sure helped while fighting my way through a shoving crowd of foreigners and onto an overcrowded, Galapagos Island bus, that if missed, would have resulted in missing the one flight back to Ecuador. Things could have gotten complicated faster than saying "blue footed booby" three times.

So important is laughter to travel, that I've dubbed myself the Travel Comedian. Not that I'm funny or that I have the ability to entertain fellow travelers, but because I see the absolute necessity of finding humor in travel, just like a comedic writer looks for humor in life.

During this most recent travel adventure, the comedian found the most humor with her own family.  Nothing like travel to magnify the quirks of the people I love most. But with my comedic lens, it helped me love them triple fudge cone even more.

While waiting for the conveyor belt x-ray machine that spies on one's personal travel accoutrements, a rather up tight lady, butted in front of us. No big deal, but at the other end where one picks up one's carry on, she rudely said to my sister, "That's my stuff!" As if my sister would have taken her stuff! Fortunately, sister laughed and later wished she'd said, "What size shoe do you wear?"

When one rents a car, one must return the tank full of gas. Only twice in my life have I not been able to re-fill the tank. As one knows, the car rental charges 85 times the price of gas per gallon. Not having enough time, not finding a gas station, triggers a ridiculous amount of panic. But this time, when we couldn't find a station in time, we just drove on to the airport laughing all the way....bells on bob tails ring...making spirits....bright....  At the car rental return with plenty of time, I felt like a student telling my teacher I hadn't done my homework. I announced to the car rental agent with fear and trembling, "Hi, my name is Pat, and I did not fill the gas tank." Then I dared to ask the question:

"How much more per gallon do you charge?"

"I don't know, but I'll tell you your gasoline charge." She pointed a magic wandy looking thing at the gas tank and reported, "Thirteen dollars."

For this I sweated macadamia nuts?

When I returned to the check-out counter to join my family, they of course asked, "How much did it cost?"

"Are you sure you want to know?"

The question caused a beautiful reaction.

"Thirteen dollars." And then like a group of travel comedians, we laughed.

Months ago when booking my flight, there wasn't an aisle seat close to family; I always choose an aisle seat! Aisle, aisle, aisle. This time, I made a paradigm shift. I will be flying over the Hawaiian islands. Hmmmm, a window seat would be fun, I thought, so I booked a window. The travel comedian made an inauspicious discovery when she reached her seat:

The travel comedian's window was next to the airplane jet-thing.

I'm still laughing at the irony.

Always travel with your inner travel comedian. You'll have much more fun than if you leave her at home.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Food PSA

Usually the point of a PSA (public service announcement) is to inform and to help the public--to warn of a hazard, a safety issue, or just to raise awareness.

My PSA is for food lovers traveling to Hawaii.

Travel is important. Food is important. Food is to travel as oxygen is to noses.

We make travel discoveries: hidden coves, deserted black sand beaches, fern canopied trails, an empty cathedral, ruins overgrown with jungle--We also make food discoveries: perfectly seasoned shrimp curry, lilikoi fruits growing wild, farmer's markets with delectable cheese, a raw food restaurant on the south side of the island, a patisserie with a scrumptious tarte au pomme. Both discoveries enhance TOTALLY ROCK a travel experience.

Some of the following food is available on the islands only, and a few can come home in your luggage--(DO NOT PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON as you may be tempted to eat someone's Christmas gift), or as I discovered, via UPS just in time for Christmas!!!!

One Hawaiian night, trade winds blowing, tiki lights blowing flames, we gathered around the dinner table, and after dinner, we were served this ice cream. Notice it isn't called ice cream but instead pudding. I am the lightweight creamy ice cream eater in my family, but on this night, I indulged liberally! When you go to Hawaii--Try to not eat too much of this ICE CREAM PUDDING!
 From the first day we arrived, my sister kept talking about Bubbies mochi ice cream. By Day eight, I was screaming, "GET Me Some Bubbies, or GIVE ME DEATH!" Bubbies is only available at Safeway, Foodland and Whole Foods Market. In Kona, resting on a hill overlooking the sea, is a SAFEWAY supermarket. We bought one box of Bubbies, headed for the car and then, because ice cream melts, we opened our box of little bubby loves. I was the designated driver so had to indulge with one hand on the wheel, the other hand and fingers carefully cradled the perfectly sized bubby. It must have been made for eating in the car on the way home because a bubby is irresistible!

We polished off the box of eight between the three of us. My appetite barely satisfied, I called my Whole Foods Market on the mainland, but they do not carry Bubbies. But......Bubbies delivers! An online food form, a credit card and a chunk of change later,  I will have six boxes of Bubbies just in time for Christmas treats. I like to surprise my family with something somewhat exotic in the Christmas season. I cut it up and dole it out sparingly and it drives them nuts. I've been called the candy Nazi! But this is how my grandfather born in the late 1800's, dispersed the rare treat. Each portion was small and meant to be savored. Often the treat wouldn't be seen, available, and tasted until years later.
 Rambutans, lingon fruit, star fruit, lilikoi, and pineapple--of course. Maui Golds are so delicious that today I literally swore to the goddess Pele that I would never eat pineapple again unless I was in Hawaii. If it were only pineapple in Hawaii, I would still be a fulfilled seeker of taste aesthetics, but thank goodness it isn't the only fruit of the Hawaiian Gods. How I love these fruits. They are best when found in farmer's markets or when jogging and one happens to come upon a full mango tree or star fruit tree, or lilikoi bush in the seemingly wild. The Four Seasons buffet isn't as adventurous, but they can be found.

My suitcase weighed 35 pounds at check-in. I smiled with delight at my suave packing. When I checked in for the return home flight, my suitcase weighed 52 pounds. The heft of that increase is in these little packages I am bringing home for Christmas gifts. My children discovered toffee macadamia nuts in a Kauai grocery about ten years ago and have never forgotten. These are a sure request for anyone visiting Hawaii!

With a six hour airport wait, I couldn't believe I had packed every single package in my suitcase. Not one in my carry-on. Easily remedied. Every store in the airport sells these babies with only a major airport commerce increase in price. Could I resist? No! I am feeling the after effects of overindulgence, but it will make it easier to play macadamia nut Santa. 
My friends and family will love me!

Guess who will be dieting before Christmas?

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Small Beginning

The project began with a causal conversation. Jessie's mom sat down on a couch next to her friend and shared a few details about Jessie's students.

Jessie was hired by the Teach America program and was placed in an inner city school. Her nine students had been placed in a special Ed class not so much for mental handicaps as for poverty handicaps.  Some of them were homeless and homelessness is a handicap.

It was months before Christmas when the initial conversation took place on a couch in a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood overlooking a city of success.

"If there is ever a need, let me know," said the friend sitting next to Jessie's mother.

That was it. All it needed.

Jessie's mom went home, spoke to Jessie, and almost immediately, she put together a list of needs compiled after asking each student a simple question. "What could you use for Christmas?"

Jessie and her mom sent out the email invitation: a description of what nine different students needed for Christmas. The requests were limited to three or four items and included items such as a sports shirt, toiletries, a gas card, a sports novel, diapers, shoes, etc. Each email recipient chose a student to buy for  and thought of a friend or a sister who may want to help. Within a few days, all the students' wishes were purchased. One benefactor was moved to give each student $200 just so they knew someone cared.

On Sunday night, Jessie sent an email with a photo of her Santa stash. Her words were filled with gratitude and palpable excitement. The delivery would take place the next day, and the students had no idea how Christmas had grown from one simple question. Just like Jessie couldn't have known either.

All things big--begin small.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


When we first encounter pain and challenge, our first reaction may be to ask "Why me?"

It's a legitimate question, and we may reside in that pit for as long as we want.

But....but if we desire peace and growth, we may still ask "Why me?" If we are listening we may hear "Why not me?"

This may bring temporary peace, but if we are really seeking truth, really striving for reason, for happiness, for the secrets that bring joy, we may again ask, "Why me?"

The answer will come.

But this time, the voice will whisper, "It's not about me."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Hat Shop

My sister, my mom, both decide they need to start wearing hats to combat one of the causes of aging: sun exposure. Hooray! A reason to go shopping. Keep in mind, I only love shopping when I'm with my sisters and Mom. Something about shopping with the women I know best, helps the tedious, the monotony, the hassles, the difficulties of shopping, all disappear. And they are always honest and quick to tell when a dress makes me look fabulous or fat/old/too young/like a clown/ etc.

My sister had recently purchased a hat, but it didn't fit quite right, but fit me perfect. I now own the hat. It's important to the story to know that when we set out on our shopping adventure, I was wearing the hat. 

We found a hat shop only ten minutes away--a serendipitous find! 

When we walked into the shop, my new hat became an awkward liability. I had to take it off and carry it tucked under my arm. I was also carrying a purse and the two accessories were in the way--but it didn't stop me from trying on hats! 

After whittling my choices down to two, I realized I was no longer carrying my hat. Oh no! Where was it? Truly this was a needle in the haystack conundrum, and my hat was no where to be found. My mother and sister soon joined in the search.

"Are you sure you were wearing your hat when we came in the store?"

"I think you left it in the car."

However, I KNEW I was wearing the hat, as sure as I was wearing my clothes. 

The sales clerk joined the hunt. Even she was stumped and wondered if I'd left it in the car. 

After ten minutes of combing the shelves and display tables, I hypothesized that one of the previous customers must have been a shoplifter and he'd chosen my hat. There was no other explanation, until I started rifling through the stack directly below and the saleslady joined me. She came to a hat that fit my description and noticed it wasn't tagged. Not well acquainted with my new hat, I had mistaken it for one of similar design and when sorting through the colors, had placed a stack of look-alikes on top of it.

 The missing, look-alike hat
The obvious moral of the story is:
a. Never take your hat into a hat store
b. Know where to hang your hat
c. Never suspect a stranger of shoplifting as an excuse for one's own befuddlement
d. Do wear hats
f. Buy hats with the intention of having a good time
g. Always laugh at yourself


And again

And again.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lost At Sea

In the early morning, I awake and head up the stairs to see Mom. She is perched, reading on her terrace, overlooking the sea--just like I've found her almost every early morning when I awake, when I am with her. My sister joins us. We talk, we laugh, we think about breakfast.

"Wow! Look how placid the water is," I exclaim. How did I not notice the calm water right away? Water this still requires immediate attention. My paddle board awaits.

But I hesitate, because Mom and family are the focus. I offer to bring up breakfast, but instead we head to the kitchen together. I pull out the steak skewers with avocado puree, the ceviche and the pineapple infused quinoa. The three of us never eat this well, this gourmet, but this week is different: it's mother's birthday celebration. We've learned to celebrate well, learned to fully enjoy our time together, learned that time is short---all from the heartbreak of losing Dad. No looking back for this crew and wishing we'd done better, splurged more, or made time for each other. Now is the time.

This realization and practice has affected not only family time, but the time I spend with myself. I see that life has boundaries, that life has an edge, that every room has a corner where all the planes meet and end. Time with myself is where the hours add up--use it well, a voice of urgency seems to constantly whisper.

So when breakfast is over and cleaned up, I pick up the board, the paddle, and head for the water.

Today, I shall paddle out as far as I dare, past the shallow coral, into the deep, where I long to find the white coral I saw the day before. In the spirit of great exploration, there has to be more.

I am so far out that the familiar coastline blurs. Yet, it's worth it, for this far out the water is more clear. Fantastically clear! The rocks beneath my board become coral nurseries. I see brown flower formations, snow white clusters, the blues becomes more intense.

As I paddle south, turquoise fish drive past me like they're on the autobahn. Zooom.....zoooooooom. The coral nursery ends as I glide over deeper sea.

When I start my return, I don't recognize any of the shoreline. The terrain, the rooftops, the sand beaches and the rocky edges are not as I remember. I move in to gage where I might be. It's so unfamiliar that I couldn't have run this part of the beach, as the black rock cuts off accessibility. I have paddled way too far to the south. I think. Yet, am I really too far north? I contemplate my choices and almost consider paddling ashore to search. I must have been so immersed in my exploration, that a current carried me farther than I could paddle. I'm feeling a tinge of desperation when a giant sea turtle hovers to the left! Thank goodness I came too far south! I could have missed this turtle. I paddle hard to be right above him. Awakened, he starts to move, but slow enough that I can stay with him. He stops and  I lay on my board and reach dow to touch his shell, but he's deeper than he looks. Up again, I keep paddling beside him. As he takes off, there's another giant sea turtle to my right. I paddle to join him. He meanders, leading me to the north. A few minutes later there is another, and then another off to my right. Each turtle lets me keep up beside him. After following him or her, I recognize where I am. And while writing almost seems that... no...couldn't be...but what if? Turtles?

The next day, I try to re-trace my path. I want to understand how I could have gotten lost, and I want to be with sea turtles again. I laugh at my imagination, at my playing with hope that turtles helped me  find my way home.  I want to believe that sea creatures look out for us. I remember a man telling me that while he swam with his family, a group of dolphins surrounded them. Within minutes he saw sharks that may have attacked if not for the dolphin's protection.

As I search for turtles, I see one swimming past; I turn the board and try to follow, but it's disappeared. More paddling and I see another, but once again, it eludes me. The rest of my paddle is turtle empty. Only when I get closer to home am I startled by a turtle jetting under my board, and I almost fall off.  I only had a glimpse.

I ponder my encounters the previous day and wonder if it were indeed, a special day, with very special turtles.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

You Know How We Seal Ourselves Off When Surrounded By People?

I'm waiting for my flight, and have found an out of the way place with plugs for my computer. I'm all alone, it's quiet, and I can focus.

Not for long.

Along comes a boisterous, loud, family. With a lot of space, they choose to sit smack next to me. I can't help but listen to their animated conversation, obviously incited by the impending journey.
They are different ages, both young men and young women, different ethnicities, and contagiously humorous.

Though he might be a bit young, I ask the guy who first led his family to my corner of the airport, "Are you the Dad? If you are, these are lucky kids. You're funny."

He laughs and explains he's the brother in charge of his siblings and step-siblings.

A few minutes later, the real Dad joins them; he'd left something at home and drove like a madman and ended up parking in short-term parking just to make the flight.

"That's going to cost you $300 dollars," says one of his kids.

"I know," he responds taking it in stride.

The joviality continues.  The mom seems to appear out of nowhere and the kids start teasing her for packing a juicer. I try not to listen and try not to be a part of their family, but their banter is irresistible. I catch my self smiling and glancing up from my work.

They are all so happy, so kind to one another,  my eyes well with happy tears.

This is how it's supposed to be.

As quickly as they came, they are gone. I am left hoping they didn't think I was a voyeur. Hope they didn't feel offended by my nosiness, hope they didn't think I was obtrusive.

Ahhhh, but it doesn't matter. They'll be happy I was, because sitting next to me, plugged into the outlet tower is a brand new lovely large screen iphone. Forgotten.

I rush off to find the family. They are about to board.

"Hi, did one of you leave this?" I ask while holding up the phone.

A young man is shocked that he walked away from such a valued item. Grateful he has it back.

Grateful I didn't stay sequestered, sealed up, in my requisite world. Grateful to be a part of something bigger, if only for a moment, if only for the purpose of returning a phone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dominoes--And It Ain't Pizza

While waiting for the dentist, a woman watches as a young man negotiates his payment.  It will be $135, but the young man explains he can only pay $50 now; if the dentist can wait, he will pay the balance when he gets his paycheck the following week. The receptionist is kind, understanding, and tells him it will work.

The woman, privy to the exchange, has a feeling she should pay the young man's dentist bill. When he is called to see the dentist, she makes her move.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" The receptionist asks.

The woman is sure on one condition: "Please don't let anyone know, especially the young man."

She will pay for herself and the young man when she's finished with her appointment.

With a sore mouth, she leaves the dental chair and is ready to pay her bill.

"You can't believe how surprised and happy the young man was!" She is greeted by the receptionist. "When I told him his bill was paid, his eyes were this big!" She holds up her fingers circled into big rounds.

The woman feels a kind of happiness that only comes through kindness.

When she receives her own bill which is $1000 for extensive work, she remembers a new credit card she just received.

"I've already been paid back for my deed," she tells the receptionist, "My bank convinced me to open up this new credit card account with a promise if I spent $1000 in the first three months, I would receive a $200 credit."

When the woman returns the next week, she learns her deed has yet another ramification. The receptionist greets her with gratitude.

"You changed my life!" she said. "After seeing what you did, I decided to do the same for someone in need."

I suspect her deeds inspired another good deed and another, another.

One morning, my sister is in the Starbucks drive through. When she pulls up and proceeds to pay for her order, the worker tells her the car ahead paid for her. She's so happy to be the recipient of generosity, she does the same for the car behind her. I wonder how many cars the domino effect reached. I like to imagine the chain of consideration lasted the whole day. One never knows how far reaching or how deep the galaxy of consideration can go.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Have I Seen the Hand of God?

My sister hops onto my bed and asks to see my phone.

I pass it over, and she sees the reminder on my screen that appears every night at 8:00 p.m.

She asks, "What is Have I seen the hand...?"

"It's a question that appears on my screen every night: Have I seen the hand of God in my life today...and I write down one observation."

"Have you done it today?"

"No. Not yet, but I could. I woke up this morning; I was alive and healthy...," She finishes my sentence--"You're in a beautiful place...You're right, you're right."

And so, almost** every night for the past few years, I have paused when I have heard the reminder, to think of how I saw the hand of God. Months ago, I started writing down my observations. I keep the reminders in my phone notes, so they are short, but a treasured record of blessings and gratitude.

The past weeks list reads:
Have I Seen the Hand of Good Today?
Catching Mom after she was almost knocked over by the boy who slipped
In Norman Rockwell's art
Making it home safely from Mexico
Safety in Mexico
A change of heart
Saw beyond the surface of scriptures
A glimpse into the atonement
AP conference-just what I needed
In teaching
 ideas were confirmed
Thought of others

As I read over the list this morning, I realized I'm not as diligent as I profess or want to be. Missing is not only a recognition on those days, but the consequent reinforcement of a loving Father in Heaven, and a life changing reminder--for gratitude and especially gratitude for God's blessings--which recognition of, does change lives. Studies galore show that people who are grateful and express that gratitude are healthier, happier, less materialistic, less consumed with themselves. ENORMOUS blessings and everything I want in my life. For me, the possible fulfillment of that desire begins with a simple "ding" on my phone every night.

Today's addition to my list: technology reminders to better my life.

Monday, December 7, 2015

December 7, 1941

 My father was a ten-year-old, playing football in Sugar House Park on a Sunday morning. I suspect he snuck out to play, (maybe even snuck out of church), since it was the sabbath and his parents were devoted to the practices of their religion. My dad.

Without a care in the world, except maybe getting caught or tackled, little Dad heard the news of Pearl Harbor. I can only imagine what ran through his head, but apparently the little rebels on this momentous Sunday morning were frightened because they scattered and all ran for home.

He never forgot the moment, the same way I will never forget the moment when Tony was exercising in the basement in early September, TV on, and he called me downstairs to watch the news. A friend called within minutes to converse of mundane things.

"Do you not know?" I asked.

I told her to hang up and turn on the TV.

I now shared with my dad and millions of other people, the shock, the unbelief, of unexpected violence, frozen and trapped in our memories forever.

One never thinks that moment can happen again. Then along comes another group, another nation of zealots, individuals willing to perpetuate crazy acts of hatred.

Graeme Wood, contributing editor and award winning author, interviews academic scholars and tracks down leaders of the Islamic state. His 42 page article in The Atlantic is insightful and informative. Confused by the rise of these hate mongers, I study the article intently. I want to learn (not understand), what drives this diabolical pseudo nation.

To my surprise, I find an intensity of belief that parallels Christian beliefs.

Which of the following Islamic states beliefs are Christian beliefs?
a. There will be an armageddon
b. An end of the world
c. An anti-Messiah
d. A Messiah
e. A judgment day
f. An obligation to bring about these events in a bloody, horrific manner

All of the above?
Some of the above?
All of the above except f?

If you guessed f, you are correct.  ISIS believes they are called to fight, murder, and create mayhem in order to rush in the events that will bring a Messiah. This belief, fueled by religious devotion means we are in for a long and dangerous fight we can scarcely understand. In our lack of understanding for misplaced religious zealots and their flagrant disregard to norms of society and respect for humanity, we are as unprepared as we were on December 7, 1941 or on September, 11 2001.

Seventy four years ago today, few people knew the word kamikaze, a spiritual devotion that called upon young men to sacrifice with honor, their lives. Over 500 kamikaze suicides occurred by the end of WWII.

Fourteen years ago, few people could have fathomed neither a plane flying into a New York skyscraper nor the fanaticism required for such a deed.

Yesterday, I heard a man tell the story of meeting a young person who was unaware of the events of Pearl Harbor. His fears were that someday he too, would meet a young person who knew nothing of 9-11.

Remember we must. As much as we want to forget.

After reading Graeme's article, after learning ISIS wants to draw the US into their fight, I realized that President Obama may have been intentionally downplaying them in the same way a teacher doesn't give attention to the child acting up for attention. I had hope. And then the ubiquitous criticisms of his policies and lack of actions. After President Obama's address last night, I once again have hope. A  president, the people, must remember the significance of this day, December 7 and of September 11-- the attacks, the loss of life and more especially the reminder of what can happen when we fail to recognize and acknowledge the depth of evil convictions.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Go-To Grandma

Three years ago, I offered to take Max and Anni Christmas shopping: for their mom and dad, for aunts and uncles, cousins, for grandpa and me (I pretend to not notice my gift). I was well aware the cost might be a little steep, but I figured it would be a great service and a lot of fun. So, I took a deep breath, turned to look at their little faces in the back seat, and asked, "Where would you like to shop?"

They conferred with one another and answered, "Wal-Mart."

"Okay, let's go." Wal-Mart was just down the street and really the only "store," within miles of their home. It was familiar territory. I felt like I'd gotten off lucky when they didn't choose the mall.

When we got to Wal-Mart, I essentially let them lead to any part of the store they desired.

Straight to the giant candy aisle, they started picking out candy bars for everyone. Mind you, they weren't the single bars, more like bags or the giant size, but boy did I get off lucky. All their Christmas shopping for less than $20, and who doesn't like a bag of sour gummy worms, or a Lindt dark chocolate bar.

Next Christmas, same thing. We expanded their list, but I still breathed a sigh of relief. It was such an economical adventure, I suggested they buy presents for their friends.

This year, early, early in December, I got a call from Anni.  I hadn't even thought about Christmas shopping, yet I was so delighted to hear from her, I would have roped the sun and pulled it to earth--just for her.

"Grandma, when are we going Christmas shopping?"

I did a quick schedule calculation, and we made a date. However, this year, she wanted to go without her brother, so he wouldn't know her present for him.

Once again, she headed straight for the candy department. This time, her Christmas gift list had multiplied, including a request from her school teacher for some red yarn to tie Christmas ornaments to the tree, and the addition of grandmother and grandfather and cousins from the other side of the family.

How darling she was! After picking out Life Saver storybooks for her girlfriends, I suggested she think of the one child in her class who didn't have as many friends. She knew just who it was.

Each year, when we finish Christmas shopping, the children are grateful and happy, but they sort of take it for granted. I am honored. It makes me think of my father, how I always took him for granted because he was the guy I could depend on. He was the grandpa who took the girls shopping, who showed up with grocery full bags, the dad I could call for anything.

I'm sure that he too felt taken for granted, and he was; because he was solid, dependable, and the go- to-guy when I needed anything.

It's exactly what I want to be: the go-to Grandma, and so what if it includes being taken for granted. Give me the honor.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Even Great Grandma Was Dancing

My daughters are very strict with their children's schedules; I admire their tenacity. Yet, I'm pretty sure I did the same--it is after all, the Holy Grail of raising happy children. parents.

Strict bedtime practice means that no matter the circumstances of family gatherings, no matter who is visiting, no matter how wonderful the party, in Sebastian's two short years, at promptly 7:00 p.m., he has been swept off to the bath, dressed in pajamas, held in a rocking chair where he picks out his books. After he has been read as many books as he can coax from his mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, he is laid in his crib. The blind is adjusted just right, the heat or coolness fiddled to his needs, and even a white noise machine is turned on. Life as Sebastian knows it...

...until one night when everything changes. The wedding celebration begins in the villa at 5:00. The wedding procession meanders down a cobbled street along the ocean. Everyone arrives at the beach, already crowded with happy children and families eating watermelon, taking photos and celebrating their own lives on their own late-afternoon Saturday.

A dinner follows the joyous union. We all sit at long tables with lots of people. As the sun begins to set, two-year-old Sebastian is again swept away for bedtime; there's a play-n-pak, and a dark room, but the dark room is as unfamiliar as the two babysitters. Airplane trip, different surroundings, different language, he will have none of it. At 10:30 p.m, I happen to pass through a side hallway and find the babysitter taking him for a walk.

"He was getting restless," she says to me.

He looks tired and confused and my grandma heart reaches out to save him. Certainly his parents will understand it's too much for the little guy to just lay down and go to sleep.

When we emerge outdoors to the full-swing party, his eyes light up! He hears the music, he sees his parents dancing in the company of his aunts and uncles and his siblings. His dad lifts him to his shoulders where Seb gets his first taste of rock & roll Mexico! A short while later, the taco cart arrives and he joins with the big kids for a second dinner. A little more dancing, a little play time with his new trucks from the bride's goodie bag--he never knew life could be so good! While he was sleeping! And it isn't even over.

The beating of drums. A deep call from a six foot horn lures everyone to the pool lit up with floating lanterns. And then!!! The fire dancer! As I hold him in my arms, he is mesmerized. Is this what happens everynight? he must surely wonder.

From then on, I knew Sebi would never go to bed again...

without a fight.

Sure enough, Sebastian learned to sniff out a party. On the night before he turned two, he was up almost every hour.

Can't wait 'til Christmas Eve night!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Time To Play

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Leave Your Heart In The Books You Read

Eighteen years ago, we moved into the home where we now reside. One of the first people I met, was my next-door-neighbor Marylou. She was an elderly widow who'd lost her husband fifteen years previous; she was refined; she was a retired English teacher!

Summer nights, we spontaneously met outside and she would invite me to sit on her porch where she taught me about life. She'd lived in Israel, had traveled the world and had raised five children. Closer to the end of her life than I could have imagined, I told her I was teaching AP Literature. She took me into her study and gave me two of the books she had used in her many years of teaching AP Lit.

I loved adding the poetry books to my shelf, but at the time, I already had at least five. I thanked her, but knew I wouldn't get to them in a while.

It broke my heart when we came home one summer to find she'd had an illness, a fall and had been moved to a care center. I heard she wasn't doing well, and I resisted going to see her. I knew she was dying, and I couldn't muster the courage to visit a friend I might lose.

My husband made the plans to visit. We pulled into the parking lot and Tony turned off the car. I didn't want to get out; I was afraid.

When we saw each other, we both started to cry. We embraced and cried some more. We both knew the visits were over, that we had reached the top of the cup and could pour nothing else in.

Days later, she passed on.

Today, as I am studying and looking for poems to post, I am immersed in Marylou's Heath Guide to Poetry, copyright 1983. The poems are almost the same as in every other poetry anthology, but these poems are so, so different: they are annotated with my dear friend's commentary in the prime of her life.  These words mean as much to me as the lyrical, lego-tight wording of a Keats or a Shakespeare or an Auden poem. Her annotation, her marginalia, keep her alive in my heart.

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,

skirmishes against the author

raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
'Nonsense.' 'Please! ' 'HA! ! ' -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls 'Metaphor' next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of 'Irony'
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
'Absolutely,' they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' 'My man! '
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature'
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.' 

Just Listen

"Hi, I'm Woody. I'll take your keys and check your car in."

"Thanks Woody." I relinquish the keys to our super duper economy car and ask him where the trash can is.

While cleaning out the trunk, Woody asks what our destination is.


He gets a pained look on his face and I don't know if it's a good look or a terrible, terrible look.

"I've been there. It's a little rough, but I didn't get outside of Port au Prince."

Tony chuckles, "That's where we're staying."

"What are you going for?"

"Well, we're going for humanitarian purposes."

Woody softens, "It's a good place to go for that."

"The kids are resilient," he says, "they'll be alright, it's the adults you have to watch out for."

I'm not exactly sure what he means, and there's no time to ask because he has other things he wants to tell us.

"My parents raised sixteen of us, nine of us in the military and the other seven all went to college. If they can do it with that many, you know without food stamps or help, the ones with two or three kids can do it too."

I'm still stuck on the sixteen kids. "Did she have multiple births?"

"Triplets in 1954; they're 61 years old. Two girls and a boy."

Woody continues, "My parents believed in supporting our own-no food stamps, no government help.  Mom had her last child in her 40's then went to work as a nurse's aide. She was always helping everyone in the neighborhood, the old people, if someone needed a place to stay..."

Another rental car returns and Woody is torn between telling his story or doing his job. His work ethic requires him to help the next customer. He closes with a few more remarks, about his mom, his beloved family and a "Have a safe trip."

I call out, "What's your Mom's name." Somehow it's important to remember this noble woman by her name.

"Anna." Ah, the same name as my grandmother. A hard worker too, a woman who raised her family with a firm hand, hard work, and high expectations. Woody and I have more in common than first meets the eye.

"God bless you," he waves as we pull away with our suitcases.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Storyteller

The vacation is coming to an end, and I've only made a small dent into the pages of the only book I intended to read: Fyodor Dostoyevsky' Crime and Punishment.

When I tell a son-in-law the book I'm reading, he makes a face as distasteful as if he were biting into week-old fish.

His expression sort of sums up the general aversion to 19th century Russian literature--apparently my own too; so I go in search of a different read. Silas is about to finish a book he seems to be engrossed in.

"What're you reading?"

"Echos From the Dead, by Johan Theorin, a Swedish author. It won an award for the best mystery novel in Sweden."

"Is it good?"

Silas reflects for a few seconds, "Yes."

When he has only four pages left, I take over watching the three year old in the pool, so I can have the book. Silas is satisfied when he's finished.

I make it to page 136 when the vacation ends, and the book belongs to the Evanston public library. I debate whether to finish the book and send it back, order the book, or wait...there's another alternative: hear Silas finish the story.

I'll take the last option, especially since Deb and I will be teaching a one semester class, starting on January 26, called Storytelling. Hence, I've been thinking a lot about storytelling.

We have become a people that mostly allows Redbox, Netflix, movie theatres, and television's hundreds of channel options, to tell our stories. The first five nights of our vacation, the children gathered around the glowing fire of the TV screen to watch the entire Harry Potter story. JK Rowling is a fine story teller, but I long for the days of gathering around the old uncle or the wise grandma for a yarn or a tall tale.

I even wonder if storytelling is becoming a lost art. When was the last time my children or grandchildren asked me to tell a story, or worse, if they even think of asking me to tell a story.

Storytelling creates memories and builds relationships. One of my fondest memories is sitting next to my stern European grandmother and hearing her stories of crossing the Atlantic in the midst of World War I. The threat of German submarines, the story of the Lusitania, and how she had to remain silent for days. I couldn't imagine this domineering grandma having to be silent for days, but now, I see the fear and the courage she had to muster her entire life. I see her in a different light.

Yet, story is what makes life; life is pieced together by a series of stories-- and so I have a story to tell:

The family was all packed up and ready to go: two vans, fifteen people, fifteen suitcases, three bulky children's car seats, two strollers, backpacks and carry-ons galore. We said good-bye to our host, to our cooks and the jungle surrounding the front of the house. I made sure I was in the van with Silas, because I had to hear the end of the story. I was anxious learn what happened to the missing boy, anxious to know if Nils was the murderer. We had less than two hours to finish the novel that weaved between Sweden, South America and the years of 1940 to 1992. But first we had to stop at the XOXO because the girls wanted to buy German Kinder eggs for Christmas and they aren't available in the US.

Back in the van, Silas finally started the story. He turned around in the jump seat to see his audience, He leaned forward, the car was silent,

"The story begins on a foggy day, on a windswept prairie above the water, on a small Swedish island, in 1972..."