Saturday, October 31, 2015

In The Land of Abundance

Paloma is visiting and she needs to use our shower. No problem.

No problem until Tony shows and tells me that every time she uses our shower, she unwraps a new bar of soap.

There are certain things I would never have done or would do in my parents' home and one of those things is open up a new bar of soap for every shower.

Living in the second generation of abundance, with parents who never suffered through a depression, nor a world war, has made her unaware of her crime of frivolity.

But our parents did live through the second world war, and their parents through the first world war and the depression, and we are still careful with soap, food, and resources. With vivid memories of Dad walking through the house, shouting, "Every light in the house is on! You'd think I owned the power company," I am also energy conscious.

Tony grew up with stories of his grandfather passing the dinner table with plates overturned because there was no dinner. My father's brother used to steal his lunch for want of food, and my father believed as the youngest of five children he had to eat fast, because if he didn't, the food would be gone.

During the depression, my grandfather was paid but it often wasn't money. He once brought home two chickens because he'd built a fence. Grandma was ecstatic with two chickens.

That we are tied to the stories that thread through our lineage, was blatantly evident on a recent trip.

I packed in my carry-on a big squash from the garden because it would make a Sunday meal. My companions rolled their eyes; I laughed at myself, laughed when TSA ran my luggage through the x-ray machine twice, and laughed again at the extra weight I chose to lug around. But Saturday night I knew what to buy at the grocery and Sunday morning, I knew what to cook. Because I knew what Sunday lunch was and that there would be plenty, I asked a navy boy (a friend of the kids') over for dinner. My frugality, quirkiness, cheapness, consciousness helped to create a lovely memory and a home cooked meal for a boy who'd tired of cafeteria food months before.

I can't help but wonder if this frugal thread has escaped our children.  Is it something that grows when only in one's own home? When paying one's own bills? When one is showering in one's own bathroom? Does Paloma open a new bar of soap in her own home?

Probably not.

Curious, I sent out a quiz: What do you skimp on? Where are you frugal?

We are definitely living in the land of abundance.

My children save money by skipping cable costs, buying in bulk, using redbox over theatre outings; they make pancakes instead of going out for breakfast; they camp and hike over hotel vacations. One daughter shops online garage sale for her child's clothing. And the new-bar-of-soap girl hasn't shopped for new clothes since she's been married. Three whole months. And a direct quote from one child, "We try not to spend money. But when we do we aren't frugal. We will go to a nice restaurant or do a fun activity that costs money. But it doesn't happen that often."

I am grateful for the abundance my children now enjoy, but what is most important to me is knowing if called upon, if it became necessary, they would scrimp, wear it out, make it do. Because they too are tied to this lineage--a lineage of strength and the ability to thrive amidst trial and scarcity.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Parts I Love About Halloween

Because there are parts of Halloween I don't love.

I love the children coming to the door. Seeing them. Talking to them. Enjoying their innocence.

I love the non-English speaking adults who come to the door. That they would embrace the American holiday, come out and enjoy it, even if it's just for some free candy: kudos. I hope I would do the same if I were to move to a foreign country.

I love my neighbors who keep up their tradition of a free hot dog dinner to all the neighbors--when it turned out there were more hungry people coming that they didn't know, they kept it up. Each year, the hot dog count grows.

I love dressing up! This year it was Virginia Wolf. Tony's step grandmother, deceased almost 20 years, left us her 1940's clothes. Today it was 40 degrees, but her fur cape kept me warm. But also...there's something about walking in someone else's shoes--I felt a stab at my heart for the pain and depression the author had to deal with.

I love Rosie's reaction to Halloween. She is an exchange student from China: "Rosie, how are you doing with Halloween?" I ask. "It's my first time and it's a lot of fun!" She says with a smile.

Trunk and Treat at the school: this year the AP Literature and Language students helped man a booth/tent created under the hatchback of the black ford. --Candy for correctly answered literary questions-- Test your literary knowledge for candy!

I've become too sensitive to the dark side of Halloween--perhaps it is because of the world darkness that seems to be increasing, or perhaps it only seems so because of instant news.

And then there are the stolen pumpkins rolled down the hill, broken apart, their cartilage, their mess, left for us all to see on the morning after.

And the memory of my grandparent's outhouse hauled away on All Hallow's Eve. Grandpa handled it with grace, "I guess we'll have to build a bathroom now."

And the memory of my handicapped Uncle Willie opening the door to trick or treaters one year and having them throw sour milk on him and into the house.

Like everything, there is always the choice of good and evil, help or hurt, action or omission. It just seems like the opportunity is greater, even tolerated on Halloween. Even the overindulgence of candy.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ode To Convenience

It's almost 9:00 a.m., but we are both afraid to climb out of bed. We are afraid of the cold, afraid we'll have to turn on the heat, and once we succumb, we will have to admit winter is here, will have to face months of dark, cold mornings when we will long for warm sandy beaches and bowls of watermelon and fresh peaches. We will have to put on a hat and a coat, will have to drive in the snow, shovel snow, will have to walk through wind and sleet. And it all begins in this very moment: getting out of bed or not, turning on the heater or not.

"I could turn on the heat," Tony says.

"No, not yet. You know it's like a bad habit--once started, it's hard to not turn on the heat."

I think about tomorrow morning when I have to get up early and be at school by 7:30. I think about showering under warm water while standing on cold tile; think about the shivers when I get out to dress.

"Maybe, tomorrow we could start the heat since I have to get up early."


Resolved, I throw back the big fluffy warm blanket and plunge into the cold. My thermal pajamas aren't enough and I head for the closet to grab a jacket. My hands are still icy, but my body is warm. Warm enough to head downstairs and peel a pomegranate for breakfast.

Tony rushes past. He's heading for the closet to grab a jacket. Is this frugal, foolish, or insane?

Tony decides it must be insane, because when I return to the upstairs I can hear the warm hum of the heater and can feel the beginnings of comfort.

This morning while still hiding under the feather bedding, I heard the garbage truck roar to a stop in front of our house. Oh how grateful I was for a garbage system that allows me to discard the unneeded refuse that 21st century living creates. So convenient! How awful it would be to go without garbage collection.

As my hands start to thaw, I have the same feeling for heat. Thank you to the 21st century conveniences of heat at the nod of a finger.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Time Warp

Last night we had a surprise birthday party for Holly.

How surprised was she?

Ha ha.
All the family party photos seem to be taken at this spot. A unique spot that measures the passage of time.

Annika, her nine year old daughter, and me, and Aunt PJ, planned the party. It required one trip to the party store, invitations by phone, and menu planning. That's all. It was more about the anticipation, the build up to the moment when her mom walked in the door and when we all jumped out and said "Surprise!"

We ate homemade pumpkin curry. I'd ordered cardamon pods and shopped for lemongrass sticks. PJ made a lemon cake and Jillian made another family favorite. We even had Holly bring a salad as a decoy, because who would ask someone to bring food to her own surprise party?

It was all very simple. Simply beautiful. 

As we gathered around for the birthday cake wishes, as I listened to the banter and laughter, I found myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for family. I so clearly understood the joy of family in that slice of time.

The photo above catches that slice of time--yet another fleeting moment of many moments that combine, hurry past, as if life itself was a race to that mysterious finish line. 

PJ wanted to watch home movies--to watch and celebrate Holly since she was a child. 

The experience seemed to buck the old cliche: It seemed like it was only yesterday; because for me, it was anything but yesterday--It all seemed so long ago: life in Los Angeles, Texas, two year olds, five year olds, twelve year olds. It was all compressed and flew by quickly on the big screen; but from my perspective it could have been on another planet, in another age, even another me--which led me to conclude: life is contained within its own kind of mysterious time warp capsule. The only surety is that we will look back, and whether it seems like yesterday or a million years ago, it is this moment that matters--and that is in part what makes life the mysterious time warp capsule.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


A small garden, set apart from the grass by a low brick wall and surrounded by the driveway and walkway, is one of my gardening playgrounds. When we first bought the house, it was over run with ivy and prickly concord grapes bushes. I pulled them out, along with a few birch trees with menacing roots that sprung up in the patch of grass and the window garden. Over the past 18 years, I've planted daffodil bulbs, grape hyacinth bulbs, phlox, an ornamental tree and even, a miniature rose bush that turned into a hairy thorned monster plant.

I even made the mistake of planting some extra raspberry plants, and the big, big mistake of planting some extra mint. Uh huh.

Along the way, some lily of the valley made it into the soil--rhizomes that dug in deep and spread.

Last week, I took a long hard look at this garden and knew it all had to come out; it had become such a mess of grass, creeping jenny, non flowering lily of the valley, and mint that had taken over almost every inch. Even a birch branch had sprung up amongst the disaster.

I took the shovel and hacked away in what I guessed was a day's project. Three days later, I'm still working hours at a time. At first I tried to save the forget me knots, but they were so entwined with all the undesirable roots that it wasn't worth the time. Because of the confined space, the roots are hard and thick. I tried to save the soil, but it was so impacted with gnarly roots, I've dumped entire clumps into the compost buckets. They've become so heavy that I've had to enlist Tony to help carry them to the lower yard.

I've had a lot of  questioning time: How did let it become such a mess? Why did I let these roots takeover? How does the grass creep in? ---And a lot of resolution time: Come spring, I'm going to plant sparsely so the weeds can't sneak in unnoticed. I'll keep a close eye on this patch, and every time something wicked takes hold, I'll root it out.

It will take constant vigilance. I know it.

The second day of weeding out the unwanted invaders, I received a phone call with news that a dear friend had ended his life. I was shocked and saddened, but my daughter told me he'd been fighting his demons for awhile, and though his family was devastated, they had almost known this day was coming. On that morning of bad news, the garden patch became a crying patch, a place to mourn the metaphorical comparison of a young man's life---no matter how he tried, he couldn't keep the creeping, destructive thoughts out of his garden. It's a fight. A fight that's hard to win. It takes vigilance, tools, nourishment, and careful watch.

Rest in peace my friend.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Not Even A Hurricane Can Stop Our Love"

EVERYONE in my family was watching the movement of hurricane Patricia. The eye of a category 5 hurricane was boreing in on the southwest coast of Mexico and more specifically the Puerto Vallarta/Manzanillo corridor. The US National Hurricane Center was reporting expected wind velocity at 200mph and that it would be the strongest storm ever recorded in the eastern Pacific or in the Atlantic.  Weather stations compared it to Typhoon Haiyan which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in the Philippines, in 2013.

This is what it looked like from the space station.

I sent out a group text update every time a Mexico-located news correspondent tweeted. We essentially got a play by play: the city is evacuating; light rain; the sea is still calm, heavy rain. And then it hit or mis-hit. The main turbulence seemed to pass in between the two large cities and through a less populated region. Winds slowed from 200 mph to 135 and less. No deaths. Roofs blew off, streets flooded, expected mudslides, but all was well--considering. Mexico dodged the hurricane bullet.

The wedding wasn't canceled.

For years, my niece has been planning her wedding. Along the way, there have been more than a few unexpected things that made it difficult to plan--finally she settled on Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. And then a warning from the State Department with an advisory not to travel to Puerto Vallarta. Fighting between drug lords and the police caused cruise ships to detour.

I regretted not purchasing the airline ticket insurance.

And then the hurricane. She'd wired her final deposit the night before the hurricane made the news, but hurried to the bank the next morning and stopped the wire-- just in case. The wait. The questions. The near catastrophes-but once again all was well--the wedding was going to happen as planned, yet my niece wondered if it was all a sign. Indeed it was: "Not even a hurricane can stop our love."


Postscript: In 2004, my in laws were in Jamaica waiting to go to Grand Cayman. The eye of hurricane Ivan was headed straight for the center of the island. Shortly before it hit, the president went on the radio and asked everyone to pray. It turned just before landfall. Jamaica was spared.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Inner Vessel

In Alma 60, in the Book of Mormon, we read of a war started many chapters earlier, by a man whose desires to rule and gain power caused him to lie and murder. He cuts himself off from his people, the Nephites, and joins the Lamanites. From then on, he wages battle against the more righteous people who are trying to live God's commandments.

Unfortunately the Nephites aren't always united in their efforts to live worthily of God's blessings. Their dissensions bring weakness, and they become vulnerable to the Lamanite attacks.

A leader of the Nephite armies, Moroni, is a passionate man. I love that his passion and even his dramatic efforts come through so well in these ancient stories. He is left to defend several cities without the support of the chief judge and he sends a passionate letter to him. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Pahoran's ruling is in disarray from insurrection and rebellion.

Moroni accuses Pahoran of failing him and his armies. He is merciless. But in his grief stricken letter to Pahoran, I am struck by a truth and an application to the betterment of myself. In verse 23, ...the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.

His admonition continues in the following verse: ...behold it will be expedient that we contend no more with the Lamanites until we have first cleansed our inner vessel...

I have come to learn from my own sorrowful experiences, when I contend with my brothers or sisters,  it is because I have not cleaned my own inner vessel. Conflict usually comes because of unrest or lack of peace within myself or a lack of love or compassion that can only be found lacking because of myself. If I had only cleansed the inner vessel before blaming the uncleanliness of another's vessel. With pure thoughts and desires, if there had been conflict, it could have been resolved with greater ease--or perhaps there wouldn't have been a conflict--it wouldn't have gotten under my skin, it would have been seen from a different perspective, it or the problem would have been tolerated. Had the problem been real, a clean inner vessel might have been open to a different, more peaceful resolution. A clean inner vessel would have had more strength and insight to deal with conflict.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Think Before You Object, Turn Off Before You Enter

While sitting in a free class at my local health food store, the teacher was interrupted by the proverbial not-turned-off cell phone. Technology just hasn't caught up with the human-ness of us forgetting to turn off our phones. I bet the day is not far off when public meeting places are protected by an anti-cell-phone-ringing force field.

Each time this embarrassment happens, I'm just thankful it wasn't me. I've started NOT taking my phone and now prefer to leave it at home or in the car. I've survived most of my life without a cell phone and sometimes it's a darn shame I'm so "accessible." I've also noticed it changes my "presence." Did you know Oprah Winfrey doesn't carry a cell phone for this very reason?***

When the third phone went of in this class, most of the class ignored it, and it didn't really seem to matter. Except to one man--who threw a mini fit and made more noise, more of a disruption than all the cell phones in China ringing at the same time. With different ring tones.

Now tell me, who looked more stupid--the people who'd forgotten to turn off their phones or the man who intentionally threw up his hands, hissed and berated the poor woman.

When a cell phone went off in the middle of my daughter's wedding ceremony, I was just glad it wasn't mine. And fortunately everyone just smiled and ignored the intrusion-while silently saying a prayer of gratitude that it wasn't their phone.

***Actually,  this may be false.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Class Jerk

A disgruntled, blatantly intolerant student refers to one of her classmates as the class jerk. Well, like it or not, every few years, the class jerk strolls into class. This year he did so by announcing he already knew everything, to which I replied, "Well, you haven't learned how to be humble yet, so there will be lots of opportunities for you to learn."

To his credit, he got it and agreed, hence I have a soft spot for him and support him when his comments are intelligent and pertinent to class discussion.

A few years ago, I encountered my second class jerk. He subtly insulted me, but there was no win-win in taking him on. I asked the counselor to call him out of class and when he left, I explained to the rest of the class that I wasn't threatened by his remarks because "I know who I am."

Later the young man came to me in tears asking for help, but he needed more than my help and when he was kicked out of school for threatening another student, I hoped like crazy he would finally get the help he needed.

When I get the chance, when the current CJ is absent, or when I send him to the counselor's office--if it gets worse, I will ask the remaining students what they would do in this scenario: "If mark (not his real name), was crossing the street and he got hit by a car, which one of you wouldn't rush to his side to help him?  Who wouldn't call an ambulance?

I suspect everyone would rush to his side to help.  They would dial 9-11. They wouldn't let our wounded student lie in the street to suffer alone.

This is the condition of the "class jerk." The CJ is injured. Incapable. Hurting. Confused. Lying in the road with wounds. If we look at his actions as metaphorical wounds, if our compassion would see the connection, which one of us wouldn't help him?

Tony was teasing me the other day and I felt vulnerable, and I spoke to him so casually, so cruelly, that he went to his desk, but he couldn't forget my words. He called to me down the hall, letting me know how uncharacteristically mean I'd been and that he never would have spoken to me in that tone with those words. I knew it and immediately apologized. Two minutes later, I apologized again.

I was hurt and it was the hurt that allowed me to step outside the verbal boundaries of kindness and humanity.

Remember this. The class jerk, the office jerk, the church jerk, (or me), is really the wounded, aching man or woman, lying in the middle of the street, and which one of you would let him lie there without helping?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Late Start Again

October 21st. We knew it was almost too late (again), to bike the Alpine Look for mother nature's fall leaf extravaganza. The clouds were daunting; the wind had howled all night. But, Tony was working from home, I was home on a break, and well...why not? We couldn't put it off one more day.  Let's take our chances.

As we rose above the valley, the sky showed promise, and when we landed on park property, the air was still. Not warm but still. We gloved up, jacketed up, and started peddling. It turned into a beautiful day for biking.

Right from the start, however, it was apparent we had missed the changing of the leaves. Except for a few spots, the trees were barren.

We tend to make this mistake with kayaking the river. We try to paddle a couple of times in the summer, but trips, obligations, and the swift passing of time, catch us by surprise, and it is Labor Day  sometimes when we finally test the inflatable two-man kayak for air leaks. But we carry on--the water and air are a little colder, but we love the experience and the peace of the river. We always vow to do it earlier next summer, and earlier next fall.

And yet, getting a late start is better than a never-start.

As we climb in altitude, the few spots of trees still-with-leaves, magnificently catch our eyes. The sun shimmers the yellow leaves and it appears gold, unreal, and like a museum landscape. Yes, the spectacle of an entire mountainside is breathtaking--but our little patch requires at least a deep breath of appreciation.

And when we do get a late start on the river? We catch the earliest shift to fall. And if it's Labor day? We are part of the holiday spectacle that rivals a fourth of July parade. We've been shot at from the river-sitters with their mega water guns, and been ambushed by a robust man bombing floaters from his cannonballs off a rock mid river.  It surprises us, makes us laugh, makes us want to seek revenge.

While biking, when we reach the back side road that looks upon the back side of majestic Mt. Timpanogos, there is yet another perk--the leaves that usually block the entire view are gone. Every crevice, valley, and the first snow is visible, and the awe returns.

Our outings may not be within the prime time parameters, but our outings happen. When I hesitate to take a class, or consider disregarding an opportunity, it's usually because I wonder if it's too late. Our biking, our kayaking, and even that I taught my first high school class at age 48 have taught me that it's never to late.

Now get out and shred!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rossini to Mushrooms to Paris to Sunday Afternoon Dinner

Italian composer Gioachino Rossini's music, which you may remember from your childhood (if you are old), was the accompaniment to a few Bugs Bunny cartoons. He is most famous for his William Tell Overture--also known as the "Lone Ranger" music. Which you will also remember if you are old.

All his talent and great music aside, he seemed to be a man of many aesthetic passions; his ample girth in later life paintings seem to confirm this, along with this quote I found in an airline magazine article on mushrooms, "I have wept three times in my life: once when my first opera failed, once again the first time I heard Paganini play the violin and once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic."

I can somewhat (okay, completely relate) to his food passions. I too was blessed or cursed with a highly developed palate and find great pleasure in taste. I happened to marry a man with eccentric interests in good food too. Usually, strong genetic traits carried by both parents are passed on to the children--hence we are a family driven by our passion for food.

One spring day, while walking up from the apiary in the lower yard, Lisa spied what she was pretty sure was a morel mushroom. A little research confirmed our finding and that night I was cooking with morel mushrooms from my own backyard! At the time, I didn't know I needed a morel mushroom brush, but despite the little gritty bites of dirt, I was addicted to the flavor of the morel mushroom. So much that over the following summer, I hauled a ton of dead wood into a pile, which grew and grew until it was big enough to rent a wood chipper.

All this for the possibility of morels. Morel mushrooms grow from spores, spores that grow and thrive in wood chips. But, the funny thing is, all that work and not one morel mushroom the next season. Nor the next. And how I missed that fleeting taste of the revered morel mushroom. So much that when in Lyon France, I wasn't happy until we sat at the table of the morel mushroom maestro of Lyon France--the creator of the famous Morel Chicken dish.

Which segues us into the great aesthetic-loving country of France!

Which segues us into my conversation with my food loving husband this morning while eating oatmeal with roasted almonds, honey crisp apples, and local organic honey.

"We need to go back to Paris this summer."

Always the pragmatic spouse, he responds, "Why?"

Do I give him the short list or the long list? "For one, Pierre Herme (pastries and chocolate). And those souffles at the souffle-only shop!"

The pragmatist continues, "You thought the souffles were that good?"

"They were fantastic." He has a strong palette, but a shorter memory than me especially when it involves an unusually high expense for an overindulgence at a souffle shop.

Maybe it's more the memory or the appeal of food than the actual food. Or it's the search, the effort, the travel to that one shop that bakes the mouth-watering tarte au pomme. Or maybe it is sitting under the tree in the center of the Latin Quarter eating that tarte. Or riding our bikes past the Louvre in order to reach the souffle shop. Or gathering with the family on a Sunday afternoon. Good tastes are usually associated with good company and pleasant surroundings or the good tastes heighten our awareness of all things in association with that experience.***

Which segues me into this coming Sunday afternoon's family gathering. I've informed all the guests (those palette-sensitive children of ours-via text), that the main dish is a vegetarian pumpkin curry and they are invited to complement the dish in any way they desire. The speculations and suggestions are flying back and forth, but hopefully, they are coming for more than the food.

*** A student recently wrote an essay about his memories of exactly what he was eating when he received bad news.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Spoiler

Dear Friends (my text begins),

This morning, we walked 18,109 steps and 7.61 miles and burned 1439 calories. We also learned that we should go see "The Martian," and "Highway to Dhampa," and that the Eric Snowden movie can be found on Netflix and it is interesting and frighteningly awakening.

We also decided to listen to a master herbalist tomorrow night and discovered that in Albion Basin above Alta ski resort, there is a lovely hike to Cecret Lake, and a longer hike (six hours), to White Pine Lake in Little Cottonwood Canyon. 

Life can be full of wonderful events, learning, and sharing, and the conduits of information and the purveyors of lovely activities are my friends.

We also heard a lovely anecdote from Lisa and Judy's hike to White Pine Lake: After three hours of hiking to their destination, they sat by the lake and pulled out their lunches. The scenery was beautiful, the surroundings peaceful.  A fellow hiker came off a steep mountain and landed practically in front of them.

"Is this White Pine Lake?" he asked.

"Yes," they answered.

"It's much prettier over there," he said and went on his way.

Have you ever had anyone do or say that to you? You've just had a marvelous experience, shared it, and another person climbs over your mountain and says, "That excursion is more beatiful," or "That restaurant has better food than the one you just ate at." Or "I just bought the same car for $1000 less." Or, "Come see my sailboat," with the response, "First you gotta see my yacht." Something bigger, better, grander, ...or worse...

You were the one with something bigger, better, grander.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Rose Marie Reid Swim Suit

My mother grew up in the era of THE Rose Marie Reid swimsuit, so when I stumbled on an exhibition in the Lee Library, I knew Mom and I would visit.

By the time I was old enough to start buying my own swimsuits, the Rose Marie Reid swimsuit was long gone, yet I knew about her suits. I knew Esther Williams wore them in her stellar swimming pool-fountain-diving movies; I knew the Miss America swimsuit was a RMR creation. I so admired the legacy of the RMR swimsuit that when I met Rose Marie's daughter, I felt like a star struck teenager. Where had this connection come from? It could have only come from my mother who taught me everything I knew about swimsuits of the 1940s and 50s. Mom was fashionable in her time as well as now.

As expected, Mom was excited to see the exhibition. As she read and looked, she recognized: styles, the era, the movie clips, the movie stars in RMR bathing suits. 

There were several original bathing suits on display with a placard describing the details. One of the details was the original price of the swimsuit and its current day value. A typical price started at $8.99 and increased with the elaborateness and details. The suits in the later collection sold for around $17.98--their modern day comparable prices were reasonable--exactly what someone would pay for a quality swim suit today.

Yet, when Mom saw the prices, it was the first time I'd had any idea that she'd never owned one of those beautiful swimming suits. 

"I could never afford a RMR swimsuit,"she said.

But...I'd always assumed...

This was the mom who'd had to cut cardboard to fit into the worn out soles of her shoes. This was the mom who'd helped harvest the tomatoes her family grew. This was the mom who sold her car to go to college, who worked in the cafeteria to pay her tuition, this was Mom who probably learned to sew so she could indulge her sense of fashion.

In that one revelation, the exhibit changed. It was no longer a display of history, or beach wear, but a display of women, strong women. Though Ms. Reid was a successful designer and entrepreneur who ran a mult-million dollar company, she was also a woman of principle and a woman who endured her share of trials. A divorce, single parenthood and a commitment to modesty that kept her from making bikinis in the 60s that ultimately required her to give up her design company. 

And my mom...who never owned one of the beautiful bathing suits, but it didn't keep her from admiring beauty, and over the years, like the designer, Mom stayed true through her trials and commitments.

So much more than a bathing suit display. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

We Cannot Stop Caring

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I sustain a modern day prophet, twelve apostles, and a church organization patterned after the church established by Jesus Christ. This is a bold claim, a claim that sets us apart from every other church, a claim that brings criticism, a claim I strongly believe.

Why should God care less about 21st century people? Why would he not care enough to leave them with a prophet? He wouldn't. It is God's pattern.

Years ago, I sat in a class taught by Robert Millet. I don't remember much about the class except that he quoted one of these early prophets: Joseph F Smith, who served as the sixth president and prophet in the early 1900s. After class, I asked the teacher where I could find this quote. I could only find it in the library archives in an old book. With gloves on to protect the old pages, I found what has sustained me, my friends, and loved ones, when we have lost someone dear.

When my sister called yesterday and claimed our deceased father had been waking her up each night because he wanted an issue resolved, I not only believed her, I told her I would find the above referenced quote.

It's not my sister's only experience. When her daughter was younger, her deceased mother-in-law woke her up one night, because her daughter was in danger. My sister found her minor daughter wasn't home in bed; she found carefully arranged pillows meant to  look like her sleeping daughter.

I searched this morning and found the quote, which I have taken only a small part; but it is enough-a beautifully written passage that testifies we are capable and deserving of love and care where ever we are.

...We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors, to our friends and associates and co-laborers who have preceded us into the spirit world. We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties that we can not break, that we can not dissolve or free ourselves from...they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; they can comprehend, better than ever before the weakness that are liable to mislead us into dark and forbidden paths....hence their solicitude for us, and their love for us, and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves." From Messages of the First Presidency (that is the best reference I have).

It is a beautiful possibility to ponder. But what I find treasure-able this morning is that when I first found the quote, it was most important to send it to my father--a man who questioned my beliefs. And now... he is the one who can't stop caring, loving, even if it's from another realm.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Until It's Over

The first time I understood love was standing behind a Ford station wagon.

Mom had just picked me up from kindergarten, had just pulled into the driveway, put it into park, when she dashed inside to answer the phone. She hollered for me to watch my sister, a one year old, who stood in the front seat. It was 1965, before the advent of child safety laws, before seat belts were mandatory, before a child’s car seat was invented. Like my mother, I jumped out of the car to speak to my little friend Jamie, across the fence.

In the corner of my eye, I saw the car rolling, slowly down the driveway.

My baby sister was inside that car! Without a second thought, I jumped behind it and started pushing with every little five year old muscle I had. Seconds later I knew it was hopeless, but I didn’t give up. I kept pushing. Tears rolled. I screamed for help. Pleaded for help. I looked up and saw my sister’s innocent face-saw her rolling into Oakey Blvd. At any cost,  I had to save my sister’s life. Even if it cost me my own.

When I recall this incident, I relive the horror. The story never changes. Since I have grown up the terror, the emergency, the dire need to push the car back up the hill seems as real as it did when I was a child. There is never any question that I would have stayed behind the car. 

I didn't need to. Mom came to the rescue and it was probably sooner than I imagine. That is the one detail of the story that may be exaggerated, but it is what happens when one is suffering; one cannot see that suffering has an end. Until it does. In an instant, the mother is swinging open the car door, the pain subsides, the comfort comes. Auschwitz must have seemed like an eternity, POW camp a lifetime, Alzheimers forever. And it was. Until it was over. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Know Where You've Been

My sister attended a bridal shower and one of the bride's guests, a dear friend, was a dermatologist. The dermatologist brought a special gift for everyone: botox!

Sister, in her fifties, found it hard to believe how open all the newly-thirty-year-olds were to taking a shot of botox: for crows feet, for frown lines, that according to her, didn't exist.

What is wrong with them? we both ask.

Our grandmothers aged gracefully. Wrinkles. Breasts that migrated to their waists. Thick ankles. I wouldn't have expected anything else from my grandmothers. They were old. Scientifically, we know the body ages, we know it breaks down, we know we will die and when we do at 80, we won't be looking 20. Unless you're Jane Fonda.

Yet, kudos to those women who try to defy. No criticisms here. I'm just trying to adjust myself. To own my wrinkles, the brown spots on my hands, and the jokes I make about those wonderful hands that look like they are wrapped in crocodile skin.

I ask myself: how am I going to age? Today, I can answer with conviction: I want to age like all the great women who've gone before me, including my mother.** Whose age spot on her face is in the shape of a heart and the other cheek's spot is shaped like a butterfly. Imagine her beautiful face with such blessed images. She has no desire to have them peeled, scrubbed or bleached away. Neither the lines from her life's trials, nor the wrinkles from laughter and smiles; nor the forehead wrinkles for times of deep thought, concentration and fervent prayer. Our faces are our maps, and I'd hate to lose where I've been in life.

**It also helps that I have a hysterical adversity to needles.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


My mom received a red, crushed-velvet box of chocolates from her financial advisor. The chocolates came from the flagship store of opulence--Neiman Marcus, and the financial advisors name was printed on the front. Mom brought them to me, because she'd indulged in half the box and didn't want to finish a whole box of chocolates by herself. Yummmmm, I love delicious chocolate. Given the packaging, and Mom's inability to resist, I was absolutely sure these would be mouth watering, memorable chocolates.

They weren't.

All summer, I watched the hillside for emerging flowers. I'd pulled most of the annoying grasses and had planted hundreds of flower seeds. We'd even turned the water back on to nurture the new growth. Amongst the flowers, a new plant emerged. It had the appearance of becoming a flower. Long stems shot out from the bright green leaves; I kept waiting for those flowers but it wasn't until September when they started to show. Tiny pink flowers. I was relieved to see them, and I was thankful I had a hillside of late blooming flowers-perfect for the bees. A week later, my delicate pink flowers had transformed into their true form--like the bad queen in Snow White, they had been cloaked in beauty for months. When the plants die and dry out, they turn into a spindly, horrible, arm scratching stem of misery, and my hillside was covered with this soon to be noxious weed.  I was almost certain these plants would be a beautiful hillside covering.

They weren't.

I remember the Red Delicious Apple being the staple fruit of my growing up years. I also remember when I couldn't eat them, when I wouldn't buy them anymore because every time I bit into one, it was tasteless. It was so deceiving because the apple was beautiful, but missing that rewarding gush of sweet and crisp. The Red Delicious apple...

Was beautiful, but tasty it wasn't.

Years later, I saw a news story on the demise of the once delicious apple. Growers of the apple kept altering or breeding the apple solely for its beauty until all the taste was gone, and finally its real purpose and appeal had vanished.

I love the story of Odysseus, his striving to return home and the obstacles placed in his way. One of those obstacles was the Sirens--the ultimate deception of beauty, lust, and want. They were a mirage of pleasure, deceptive by song and the lure of their voices,  known for captivating sailors who gave up their journey to join them. Odysseus couldn't resist the temptation to hear their voices, but before sailing past, his men plugged their ears and followed his command. He commanded them to tie him to the mast and not let him go, no matter his threats or pleas.

Odysseus heard the song of the Sirens and would have succumbed. He also saw the island was surrounded by the skulls and bones of men.

John William Waterhouse's interpretation of Odysseus and the Sirens-1891
This painting portrays the sirens in a much more tantalizing, realistic way. Gustave Moreau (I'm not absolutely certain this painting is by this 19th century artist)

Beauty with all its appeal, its triumph, its necessity to life--can also be a Siren, a deception, and hubris, to those who can't discern, who won't discern, who prefer to listen in spite of the refuse of skulls and bones.

Over the next few days, I will spend hours pulling up the green plant that is in all phases of turning into balls of bee stings. Now that I recognize what the plant really is, it is easy to destroy, and thankfully, its roots are shallow. How did I let it get such a hold on the hillside? Simply: its beauty deceived me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

For Katy

Twenty plus years ago, I had a professor who thanked me for an image I had written in a poem. The poem was written after observing a ballet class and carefully placing the observed images into verse. The line that moved him was about a dancer whose leg rose, "like slow steam rising." The professor appreciated seeing something old in a new way. I didn't know my words had that ability.

It happened to me. As I sat next to a student reading her prose out loud, I read: as dimpled as a cow's thigh. I had to stop and absorb. I had never seen or thought of that possibility and it was like receiving a gift.

Too often our lives are made of cliches, measured and described in the same old ways. Hearing words rearranged, re-seen, is akin to hearing a new song, seeing a new design or even meeting a new friend. Our imagination is renewed and enlightened.

It's the same reason, we take children to Disneyland, or to a cello concert, or to taste a new food. We get to experience the same old (like words) in new ways.

However, I made a mistake. Unlike my professor, I didn't tell her why I had to pause and think and smile. Caught up in the image, I thought of my own joy and not the creator of the magic sitting at my side. What was so important to me so long ago, had I shared it in the moment, could have been a new experience for her: the realization that her words were gifts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Traveling Forever With Characters

While coming down the canyon on the back of our tandem, I was lost in thought about the characters in a book I'll be reading with AP students. One can do that on the back of a tandem bike with a competent, trusted driver.

It was the afternoon of a beautiful fall day--warm as we pedaled up the hill, cool as we sled down. Tony, unable to ride a bike and zip his jacket, rode with the bright yellow jacket, flapping at his sides. They were like wings and I had the feeling I was sitting behind a large butterfly.

My vision cut off, I went into my mind. The characters I was thinking about were created by Anthony Doerr for his story, "All the Light We Cannot See." Without expecting it, my heart welled with love for these fictional characters who never lived.

The power of good literature, as we take it everywhere we go, for the rest of our lives. On the back of a bike, on a fall day.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Winter Is Nigh

When I turned on the kitchen light this morning, a little brown mouse scurried out from under the dining room couch and disappeared into the back of a kitchen cupboard. It was a Houdini move, because there was not enough room; it must have been a secret door and I just didn't hear him say "Open sesame." But then again a mouse is able to morph into a credit card width rodent.

I sighed in disgust and thought, it's that time of year again, when the weather turns from warm to cold at night, and every living thing seeks refuge in a more preferable habitat. Living against the mountain, we always have a mouse at the change of seasons. It's as if a vacancy sign hangs from the porch.

Later that day, while making up the bed, I found an arachnid. Somehow calling it an arachnid distances that it was a spider in my bed.

I sighed in disgust, thought it's that time of year again, and squished it into a kleenex. Spiders are moving in - we must be on the cusp of winter.

Today was school photo day. I planned well and had my hair blown out on Friday. I carefully picked the right color for photographs--the requisite black dressed up with a pattern of gold. I did everything the photographer told me to do. Sit strait, chin up, slight tilt of the head.  Oh...and I also told the photographer to make me look young.

After clicking the camera, she invited me to take a look at the image in her camera. Confidently, I walked over.

"Oh, I look so old."

"We can take another one."

I seriously, foolishly, believed it would make  a difference. In the second attempt, I tried harder to look younger.

When I looked at the second photo, the first one was the better of the two, even if I looked old. I had to settle for the photo and for the face of who I am.

Winter's coming.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Mom ordered a large umbrella for the beach condo terrace. Our neighbor had one on her deck and it extended the living space into a beautiful shade covered patio. We all looked forward to enjoying even more of the outdoors.

I called Mom one afternoon and the phone rang longer than usual.

"I was just reading on the terrace in the shade."

I was sorry to have interrupted.

The next day, a burst of wind lifted the umbrella from the stand, dashed it through the air, crashing it just a few yards away. Just a minute before Mom was sitting under its protection: she'd only just stood up and gone inside for a glass of water. Mom was shaken.

The umbrella, with its metal insides, its heavy top, could have caused damage had the wind carried it in a different direction, carried it longer or farther away. Heaven forbid if it had come close to a person! To Mom.

She called for my opinion; she was deliberating whether or not to keep the umbrella. Was she overdramatizing what had happened? Was it a one time freak accident? Could it happen again? How would she get rid of it, and not wanting to throw away money, the umbrella was expensive. She'd already called the company who originally told her they would refund her money, but now they wouldn't.

To me it was clear. We'd been blessed. What could have been a freak catastrophe, had been nothing more than a frightening incident. But the evidence of the umbrella's instability in a gust of wind, the possibility of its power, had spoken.

"Get rid of it," I said. "There's no reason to take the risk."

Years before the beloved family dog, had taken a chunk of skin out of Dad's hand. Yes, Dad was aggravating the dog, trying to train it to protect me since I took it on mountain runs. I now saw that the dog had a propensity to bite when aggravated. When the little boy next door starting too taunt the dog, we were on a path for disaster. I made a hard choice; the dog was euthanized.

My friend told me a tragic story when fate had spoken and the family didn't act. In the backyard of their lovely Los Angeles home, like all lovely LA homes, was a swimming pool. They enjoyed the pool immensely not only with the three kids but entertaining as well. The three children grew up, married and had children of their own. Tragedy struck when one of the grandchildren drowned. The family couldn't have imagined the depth of the devastation they felt--until it happened a second time.

The pool was filled in and a short while later, the home was sold.

Fate speaks. It warns. Listening can be inconvenient, can incur monetary loss; but there is no greater loss than knowing we should have acted, sold, fenced, given up, moved on.

It's why I'm fencing the lower half of the yard and moving the bees out of the main garden; their proximity was too close to the pool. This summer our little grandson climbed out of the pool onto a bee sucking up the splashed water on the deck. It managed to get out a sting before it was smashed to death.  It was devastating that my hobby had caused pain for little Ezra.

Fate had spoken and I needed to act.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

I am sitting around a table with a group of historians when a reference is made to an Anne Bradstreet poem. Anne was a 17th century American poet with incredible talent. The referenced poem is her tale of preparing for possible death on the eve of giving birth.

"Every woman who lived before the age of modern medicine always prepared for her death before giving birth," says the woman next to me.

The table turns silent. Most of us are women and it is a sobering thought. I mistakenly discount that it might not be as sobering for men as it is for women. I learn I am wrong when one man tells his story.

"It's 11:00 pm and the nurses hand me my beautiful son. At 3:00 am, the alarms sound when my wife's blood pressure drops dangerously low.  She is bleeding internally. We are surrounded by competent nurses and doctors and she is restored to health. In that moment of crisis, I realized if it had been a century earlier, I would have been a widower."

I understand in that moment why my parents were always so nervous each time I announced a pregnancy. They grew up on the cusp of time, when women died in childbirth. They heard stories of and knew women who did. I remember Mom repeating a haunting and mysterious phrase: "Childbirth is walking through the valley of the shadow of death."

Even though we are blessed to live in the 21st century of modern medicine, I still live with the anxiety of my daughters' pregnancies.

Three years ago, our daughter was having a difficult birth. Her husband called every few hours to let us know if circumstances had changed. After 36 hours of labor, the doctor's plan was to perform a C-section if she did not give birth by noon that day. Twelve noon came and went. Two o'clock passed. Four o'clock passed. We texted, we called, we emailed, but not a word. After six o'clock that night, we finally heard that all was well, but the in-between, I wondered if we had lost our daughter.

I felt I had walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

I understand now that this valley is not solely for the physical sufferer, but for those who wait, those who accompany. The one reassurance of this dismal biblical passage is that the circumstances which create a shadow, are also the circumstances that require light.

Friday, October 9, 2015


Mom is visiting and it's like having an old and dear friend come my way. Because marriage took me away and never brought me back, our time together for 30 years has always been just visits. When we are together, we are driven by the silly and serious traditions we've established. These traditions have become habits, rituals, reasons to laugh at one another, and oh how they've changed since the children are no longer in the picture unless they come over for dinner, unless grandma invites them shopping, unless we meet for lunch, or visit Mom's great grandchildren. So many options, so many joys.

Silly Tradition #1: A few years ago, I was preparing a mammoth activity for my 9th graders. We were going on an archaeological dig!!! The summer preceding the advent of school, I needed ancient pottery to crack and bury. Mom and I visited every goodwill store in San Diego California. If a thrift store exists in the area, I have been there. We even found an ancient vase with drawings of Iliad looking warriors. The search was fun, purposeful and so began, our traditional visits to goodwill. For Mom, the search has become a search for lost books in series she happens to be enjoying. For me, it is real glass drinking glasses; I have a preference for water in real glass and a clumsiness for breaking it. Ten glasses of the same style for $1.00 a piece is a bargain to wag about.  After last night's run, I walked out of goodwill with Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," a dozen glasses, two of which were crystal, and two bowls without chipped edges picked up only after Mom complained, "There wasn't an un-chipped glass bowl in the house."

Sillier Tradition #2: Whenever we meet in San Diego, we usually return to the same restaurant. Extraordinary Desserts. The first few times we went, it was a treasure hunt. We discovered this great restaurant and returning to it a second time took some work. Neither of us wrote down the address or google mapped it before. The third time, we repeated the first two mistakes. The fourth time, it became a tradition of hunting down that restaurant, coaxing our brains to remember whether it was a tree-named street or not, and which major street ran parallel to the one we couldn't name. Or did it run perpendicular? Each time we decide to go to Extraordinary Desserts, same confusion. But now it's part of the ritual, part of the fun. I wouldn't dare look up the address. I'm actually quite sad at the moment because I remember the tree-street is Birch and the cross street is Union. I will do all I can in my power to forget. Having now written it down, I probably won't forget. It may be time to choose a new restaurant hidden on a downtown side street.

Worthy Tradition # 3: Education. Our first serious educational exploration came in Chicago a few years ago. Keep in mind all those years with little children we towed around, and how it wouldn't have worked carting them to museums and exhibitions. But since they were now grown, we scheduled a visit to the home and office of Frank Lloyd Wright. Ah the beauty of design and the passing of time. I noticed how Mom loved the tour, loved the architecture. Since then, I've always tried to schedule an exhibit or a place to go that stretches and enhances aesthetic appreciation. When I found the Rose Marie Reid bathing suit exhibit, I couldn't wait to take Mom.

Serious Tradition #4: Good food. Doesn't matter where we get it. This trip it was gluten free carrot cake muffins at Holly's house and an al fresco lunch in beautiful fall weather eating my favorite soup at Tacos 180.

Blessed Tradition #5: Hanging with all the family. This time it included three of the four daughters, and three great grandsons and one great granddaughter.

We could do without the thrift shop, the search for the San Diego restaurant, the good food, the culture and education, but hanging with the babies---never--it's the best repetition of all.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


I have the loveliest student. In every way. I've watched her grow from a quiet ninth grader to a confident senior. She is composed, caring, and clear minded; I always suspected she came from a strong family situation. Yet, as she became more confident in her writing, she wrote about family discord.

A few days ago, she told me she needed to talk. Her countenance was heavy and I wondered if something was terribly wrong.

"Can you talk to me in class or do we need to leave?"

"We need to go outside."

I shut the classroom door and anticipated the worst.

She was on the verge of tears.

"I don't know whether I should write about my parents weaknesses."

Deep breath. I reminded her that writing can be therapy and it might be helpful for her to do so. A caveat followed closely on the heals of this advice.

"Be smart and careful with what you write. I've seen families torn apart when a person publishes writing that disparages a family member."

"Ok," she trembled.

Over the next week, I thought about my student everyday, and I wondered if I should share with her that my parents weren't perfect either.

Years ago, I had another friend, a grown woman, who carried the burden of an imperfect father. She acknowledged he'd done something bad, but she kept it a secret. One day, she called a mutual friend and asked her to come to her house.

The woman broke into tears as if she'd committed the crime herself. She disclosed that her father had murdered another man in an unfortunate accident. His daughter had had nothing to do with it, but she acted as if she did.

Heartbreaking--that love condemns a child to carry a parent's cross. In part because the child thinks she is the only one with human parents capable of mistakes. So, today, as we were discussing the 14th and 15th amendments, I let it out--a costly mistake another parent had made.  My parent. My wonderful, adorable, beloved father. It was okay, especially if Dad knew it might help a teenager know she wasn't the only one with fallible parents.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My sweet daughter has a great plan for her nine year old daughter and eleven year old son. Like all children that age, they frequently make mistakes and find themselves in the fallen grace of their mother. She takes away privileges, assigns extra chores; she's even fined them for disobedience. The new plan is a way to help them out of their punishments.

Essay writing!

"What do you think Mom? Could you give me some essay writing guidelines? Her voice mail is chipper and optimistic. My reply is not.

"Please don't use any kind of writing connected in any way to punishment. School already makes kids hate writing."

Her response: crap.

For five days, my students have been writing freely with little pressure and a lot of support and effort on my part to help them love writing.  Each day when the bell rings, they continue writing. Today, I had four students ask if they could skip the second half of class, the history, and keep writing. Oh how I was torn. Imagine my joy, when students want to keep writing.

How do teachers make students hate writing? Like my daughter, they mean well, but I have a few theories.

More often than not, teachers assign an essay assuming students can just write an essay. It's a home assignment, usually done the night before without any exploration or support.

In math class, students practice math; in PE they practice sports, do push-ups and jumping jacks. Students are only tested on Algebra problems after they've practiced, practiced, practiced. PE may test for physical fitness only after the class has been running for a month. Never does a PE teacher take her class out and expect them to run five miles without building up the stamina.

This is what happens to Language Arts students. We read, we ponder and discuss, and then we assign an essay. No wonder students hate writing.

My daughter thought she could instill a skill in her children. She would have only instilled hatred.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Miraculous Chain

Since this morning, a beautiful image has subconsciously worked itself into my mind and upon my heart.

A student came into class needing her essay edited for the National Merit scholarship. The essay had to be uploaded to the site--right then, or at least in the next few hours. The counselor wanted her to submit it before she came to class, but she trusted me enough to want me to read it.

It was a tight day already, laid out in the previous days, the final lesson plan typed out the night before. I had an agenda, but my agenda paled next to the needs of this student.

"We have an emergency," I said to the class. "I need to edit with Eliza, so we're going to plan B." I

Eliza's essay was about her service specialist job in the student council. All year, she had planned and executed acts of service with and for her fellow students. They'd made cards for hospitalized children, held car washes, and she'd even organized a blood drive. At the end of the year, she wanted to bring the service home--home to the school, student to student service. At the culmination of service week, students came to an assembly where Eliza held the paper chain students had been adding to all week. Each time an act of service was performed, students added a link to the chain.

When the service paper chain was unrolled, it went around the gym, not once, but twice.

This is the image that stayed with me all day, but little did I realize it.

School ended with just an hour before my dentist appointment. I hurried home and filled two bags with tomatoes from my garden, wrapped a baby present, then walked my neighborhood to deliver the gifts. Before I left for the dentist office, I made sure the jacket that the dental assistant had admired, was in the car.

When I gave her the hand-me-down, she was delighted.

When the dentist got behind in her schedule, I had enough time to drive to Holly's house and stay with the babies while she ran her daughter to soccer practice.

Just about now, things began to shift.

When I returned to the dentist's in the nick of time, I learned from a phone call that the amount of money we had saved wasn't needed for an investment: instant monetary blessing/windfall.

And then, the greatest blessing of the day. The dental assistant was left to clean up the plastic surrounding my tooth. Having known her, having adored her for years, she broke some sad news, but immediately on the heels of the sadness were incredible blessings. Blessings to her life that had tears rolling out from under the protective dental glasses and down the side of my cheek. I was so grateful for her blessings, so grateful for her sharing them with me, that she shared even more! More tears, more gratitude, more amazement, more love and hugs.

As I drove home and was pondering the little miracles I'd received, I saw Eliza's chain in my mind's eye. Each part of the chain was an act of service and an even greater blessing that came back to me. I was honestly--astonished. Touched. Grateful--and I knew the next deed I needed to add to the chain.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Injustices of Justice

When our second daughter was just in high school, she drove the short distance to another city to visit a boyfriend who'd had surgery. On her way there, she was stopped by a policeman because her registration had expired. This all happened in the days before cell phone use was as common as blue eyes in a Scandinavian country.

The policeman made her exit the car, sit on the side of the road while he called for her car to be impounded. I don't remember how she called us, but it was only after waiting on the side of the road.

Within the law, the policeman must have had the right to impound her car. Yet, it was punitive as she had no tickets or other violations. I had bungled the registration. I drove the 45 minutes to pick her up and that following Monday, I paid the registration, the fine, and paid the fee to un-impound her vehicle.

A heavy price to pay for overlooking a necessity.

A few months ago, I did it again. Somehow, I didn't pay the registration on my own car. I don't know what happened. Whether I didn't receive a notice, whether I put it off and forgot, I do not know.

When the policeman told me the reason for making me pull to the side of the freeway, I knew the worst that could happen. I braced myself for what might come to pass. Yet, he returned to the car, told me to get the car registered and drive safely. That was it.

Justice should be equal and consistent. Yet, we see and we know it isn't. Even the nature of justice, taken from the hands of weak women and men, can be random, cruel, strange. One underage drinker, driving at night, may arrive home safe, whereas another may run into a car, killing its occupants. Both agents acting recklessly--only one with dire consequences.

An ice covered mountain: one car slides off, the other doesn't. A fall: one man a paraplegic, the other walks away.

This week I had to pay the registration on a car, our son-in-law is borrowing. It's four days past the registration expiration and he hasn't yet put the new decals on the car. I wanted to impress upon him the importance of following through, so I told him, "If you get stopped, they could impound the car. It's expensive and a hassle." It's unlikely both events would happen immediately, but they could, and the possibility, my warning, seems to justify the inconsistencies of justice.  Justice is a measurement of consequences from none at all to worst case scenario.  A warning. A caveat in the back of our minds. The possibilities, the what if's, can be motivators to correction.

Justice can be kind, justice can be cruel.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Let It Be the Bra

Five years ago, in sunny Los Angeles, I hosted my best high school friend's birthday party. A northerner among southerners, I noticed the women in dresses were not wearing hose or nylons.

I must have inquired, because my friend made it clear that, "Hose are out. No one in LA wears hose."

I felt immediately free. Bless those trend setting Los Angeles women.

For most of my adult life, I had worn pantyhose, and the name can't come close to how awful these constricting, bottom squeezing, nylons actually were to wear. Not including the work it was keeping an un-snagged pair in my lingerie drawer.

That night of liberation, thanks to my LA women heroes, set me free from the circus antics of pantyhose. When pantyhose are first pulled out of the package or the egg, they are the size of a Chihuahua or rather the right size to fit on the legs of a Chihuahua. I would always have to sit down on the side of the tub in order to put them on. It was a careful exercise of starting at the tip of the toes, inching up carefully in order to stretch the pantyhose out completely. Then, I would try to walk. Pantyhose had to fit snug so they wouldn't fall down. And when they didn't, well, there's nothing quite like walking as your pantyhose slide down your legs.

Yet, there was still a problem: cold winter weather. I wasn't going to let this seduce me into wearing hose. I promptly filled my drawer with comfortable, user-friendly tights and leggings to keep my legs warm.

I wonder what will be the next body-constricting garment to go. Please let it be bras.

Keep in mind that a woman's bare legs were once scandalous. We could adjust once again.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Happy Is the Man With His Quiver Full

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them... Psalms 128:6

For over thirty years, children were at the center of our home. If they weren't my own, they were our children's friends, cousins, the child from around the corner-- each one welcomed and loved.

For two unexpected years, we even had grandchildren filling our quiver.

It's hard to imagine a child will grow up and leave the nest--especially in light of those days when we brought a child home, swaddled, sleeping, so brand new, that we kept stealing glances, hardly believing the bundle belonged to us. We were enraptured, in love. Yet, we always know, keep it in the deep recesses of the mind. We'd done it ourselves, lived our parents independence--some of us even saw our siblings grow up and leave the home.

When the time comes, usually, we are ready. I'd heard many times how hard it was on mothers to let their children go, so I calculated, I prepared. When I lost the last child, there were 75 to take her place. Yet, it still hits me. The loss, the chaos, the excitement, the companionship that all come with a child living at home. And still we can't imagine the loss as we could have never imagined the gain.

There is still a thought that plagues me whenever I am away from home. Whether it's a few hours, a day, a week, even a trip to the grocery store, I always think I have to hurry home to the children. It's hard to shake a thirty year goal of wanting to be at the crossroads of my children's lives. I get this fleeting panic that I need to hurry because a child is waiting for me, waiting to share her day, waiting for me to just be there. It passes. Quickly. But only after an initial sorrowful feeling that I am going home to a child-less home. Today when it happened, I realized that I looked forward to seeing another person. A person who worked from home today. And remembered another verse, another chance to fulfill happiness: ...For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Queen Is Caged

It's a terrible thing to be stifled.

Yet, that is just what I've done to the queen of my hive.

If you haven't heard about the honeybee plight, you've been living on the moon. As I study and study, it seems the problems with honeybees are insecticides, pesticides and the evil mite. Beekeepers have responded to mites with more chemicals.

This past spring, Nikki and I each bought a new package of bees raised in a California apiary. By summer both hives had a high enough count of mites to need treatment. The bee inspector suggested a "natural" treatment. Nikki promptly ordered the "natural" treatment." After putting the strips in the hive, she was sick over the bees' response. They clung to the outside as if the inside had been poisoned. It was--just enough poison to kill the mites, but not enough to kill all the bees, but enough to make them suffer and maybe lose a few or even the queen. A few hours later, she pulled the strips out.

I started thinking, thinking. The mite proliferates by crawling into an egg cell and attaching itself to a bee embryo. Sci-fi kind of stuff. What if there were no new bees? What if I removed the queen, so she couldn't lay any more eggs? Theoretically, the mites would die, if the queen didn't lay and the mites had nowhere to go.

I started searching and found some information: a scholarly paper from a university agriculture program, and ultimately support from our own county agriculture inspector. His information came from the few scholarly papers too and from "things he'd heard." He'd had no experience with this experiment.

The day came too soon, when Lisa, Nikki and I gathered to pull the comb, find the queen and catch her! How hard it was to even imagine putting a stop to mother nature.

And the risks. The queen might become infertile. She might die. The hive might try to raise another queen or worse, one of the workers might try to become an unfertilized egg layer. I was too nervous to try and catch the queen, so we nominated Lisa. Lisa is fearless when it comes to getting the job done.....sure enough, she chased that queen with her fingers and pinched her from her dominion. She dropped her into her little queen cage and I corked the top. Have a nice rest.

How I worried about that queen. I was sorely tempted to release her early. I couldn't bear thinking of her cooped up in a cage. The workers still had access to her, still cared for and fed her, but she was a prisoner. Condemned to stop fulfilling her one responsibility in life. It was cruel, but it had to be done.

Over the next week, I would text whine to Lisa and Nikki. They stayed strong and insisted I did too. After all, this experiment belonged to all of us. We were on the edge of an experimental frontier and we all had plenty to lose or gain. My hive was the test hive and what we discovered could help us treat mites in the coming years while keeping our hives chemical/poison free.

Today is Friday and last Monday, we  checked on my queen. She was still surrounded by workers specifically assigned to her royal highness. How confused they must be too. How loyal they are.

How hard it is to stick to a plan even when the plan is best. Especially when the plan requires tough love with our children.

While my children were still young, I heard a story that impacted my ability to stay the course--to better stick with important demands and discipline for my children. Two children from different families were afflicted with polio. Both children needed extensive physical therapy in order to recover. One child screamed when he was forced to walk. The parents gave in to his cries and let him stop. The second child screamed in pain, but the parents wouldn't let him stop. Their child walked, the other child didn't.

In three more days we will release the queen from her Tower of London. She will be free to do what she does best, only because I did what was best, to the best of what I could piece together.