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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Pin It I was driving to work the other morning when I noticed the hot air balloons. There were a few of them rising on air currents above the awakening city. To those still a slumber, these vestibules of flight slipped silently over their homes, reminiscent of dreams. The orange cream of early morning light broke though the malt-o-meal, candy floss clouds, and glinted off of their great, curving sides.

In watching through my windshield, it didn’t take long to surmise that some of these balloons were ascending to greater heights than the others were; though they were all riding upon the same air.

Why was this? I wondered. If I were captaining one of those balloons, I’d take it up as high as it’d allow, and enjoy every vista it afforded to me for as long as I possibly could.

I continued on my drive to work, balloons drifting in and out of my thoughts all morning.

As school began and my students entered the classroom, I at once noticed several different ‘altitudes’ to the children who arrived that morning. While most of them were buoyed up with the exhilaration of a new day, and the thrill of being in school; a few others entered half deflated and drifted in at different levels throughout the room. I’m convinced that one of them had even popped his balloon, and had then since used the string to tether himself to the ground in an effort not to rise.

As I watched these different altitudes, it was glaringly obvious that each of them had made a conscious decision as to how high they were going to rise that day; it dredged to the surface of memory a bulletin board someone had put up in my middle school years ago.

Your attitude determines your altitude.

How true those words ring, even after a myriad of years, and a lifetime of experiences.

I thought about myself—about my own life.

Like those great creatures of flight I’d seen that morning, how many moments had passed when I had felt my spirits buoyed to the skies and still—allowed it to last only for the moment? How often had I made the decision to not fly free and unfettered to the heavens, but to plummet as Icarus, down to my own personal valley of consuming waves, wondering if I would ever find myself in the sun?

In a discussion with a friend of mine not too long ago, I made the comment, “The ground is a safe place.”

To this she replied, “Yes, it is, but if you don’t ever allow yourself to ascend to the skies, you will miss the amazing view.”

I think back to those celestial orbs ascending over the slumbering city and I decide that for now, I’ll rise.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Pin It Speaking of the unseen appendages of scuttling mice, the speed of thought and all things invisible to my naked myopic eyes, I make an addendum.

I live in the seasons of the northern Northwest, the rain, the mist, the fog. In 55 years of living I have not yet observed for myself every variety of plant proffered me on the 40 acres of 10-minute soil I inhabit. I have tried, oh, I have tried to notice. Today a roadside sapling caught my attention. A yearling of a tree, spindly, aspen-like, it's leaves sporadically trembled here and there with unseen drops of water.

I crouched beneath the shivering tree, plastic caped and hooded, until I cramped trying with unblinking intensity to see a single raindrop before it struck the leaf. I could not detect the invisible force try as I would. Only the evidence of the sudden tremble of the leaf could I see. The single drop of water eluded me until it struck a surface. That was the only "sight" I was allowed, that delicate shiver.

I remembered hearing of a British woman blinded at a young age from some nameless childhood disease. Sight was returned to her years later as a result of an inovative surgery. Nevertheless, though seeing now, she had left one simple frustration. She could never see a single drop of water. Hours at a time she would spend fiddling with her kitchen faucet cutting a full stream of water down, down, until it was a trickle and then a series of single sporadic drips. At that point, no matter how fiercely she focused, the water would disappear for her. Each time she was left sightless to the single drop.

I examine a life, insignificant in it's span, the blink of an eye, commonest of the common in it's ability to blink that eye and yet, perhaps at the completion of this monumental task, this labor of Thor we call life, a single drop will slow enough to define itself against that mighty stream of consciousness. Perhaps not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Response to "I'll Park Here" (aka "The Parking Space")


The ninth of ten children, I now find myself the father of six. Currently attending law school and frequently the subject of his wife's blog topics, I have been an IT professional, student, and hockey coach for the community youth league. I enjoy both time with the family and meandering through parking lots searching for the 'perfect spot.'

While I may pass up a parking stall on occasion; when I park, I park straight, within the lines, and all the way to the front (or back depending on direction). My parking jobs have been admired for their perfect symmetry and I'm sure that more than one tape-measure-clad workman has secretly used that measuring tape to satisfy the urge to verify the perfect park job.

So, while the content and message of the previous post are generally accurate - despite no recollection on my part of picking up the mail and immediately proposing - one cannot argue with the level of commitment to my stall or exactness of my park job. The type of exactness that is the envy of others who have parked their cars less carefully and now find themselves with dings in their doors, slashes in their tires, or who find themselves vacating their stall altogether.

Maybe Hollywood IS more romantic...but no one can argue with perfect results.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The parking space


I belong on the beach, but live in the desert. I belong in a hammock eating mangoes, but somehow have ended up sitting on a plastic lawn chair in the street eating otter pops. Every Mini Cooper that drives by I’m pretty sure should be mine, while the huge Suburban is the car I actually have the keys for. The great thing about my life is that I have all of things I never thought I could have and I can’t have all the things I thought I wanted—every sticky kiss and chubby-armed hug I get brings me one step closer to the perfect life; I wouldn't have it any other way...

Driving into a parking lot with my husband can be excruciating. The way I see it, there are two kinds of people in this world: the decisive and the indecisive. I am proud to announce that when choosing a parking spot, I am decisive. Paul, on the other hand, will pass by 10 perfectly good parking spaces only to pull into one that isn’t any better than the rest. That, my friends, is called indecisive.

Picking a wife is a little trickier than picking a parking space. There are consequences to passing by 10 perfectly good potential wives only to pick the next one that comes along. Keep that up and you might not get one at all. It’s a good thing my husband had the good sense to pick the best option right from the start, albeit on the indecisive side of things.

I will have everyone know that he deserves the beating he is about to get as I describe the details of “The Worst Proposal in History.”

A little background: Paul gets home from a two year stint of service (we call that a mission where I’m from) with only one thing on his mind.....date as many girls as possible and kiss them all. (Sorry honey, Blogging isn’t for the faint of heart.) He meets me. We date. Yep, just me. Poor Paul just dated little ole’ me, and before he knew it I was telling him that I was done being pals.

Translation: If you’re gonna pick this parking space you had better do it, because it isn’t going to remain available much longer.

Under duress the poor guy had to make his move....and here is how it went.

We drove into his parent’s driveway. He checked the mail. He ended up with a REJECTION letter from the Brigham Young University. He turned to me and said, “So, what would you say if I asked you to marry me?”

(My thought: “Oh, sure, get a rejection letter from a place that actually HAS an endless supply of girls you can date and kiss so just settle for the one sitting in front of you?!” Next thought: “What a baby! Probably can’t even pick his own stinking parking spot without help.”)

My answer? “I guess you would have to ask to find out, wouldn’t you?” He did. I did. End of story? Not even close! THREE MONTHS later Paul is still halfway in and halfway out of the parking space. He hadn’t REALLY decided what he wanted, he was just stalling. I handed back the engagement ring and told him he could keep it. Well, he had a nice heart to heart with his dad. He prayed. I won’t go into detail here, it isn’t my moment to share, but I will say this, I looked really good in that wedding dress.

Paul and I have now been married for 14 ½ years and I am still waiting for a redo on that proposal. However, let’s skip the driveway and rejection letter this time. Take me straight to Hollywood, baby!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vision Correction

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Sometimes we see things wrong.

We, as humans beings, have an inherent need for visual proof that things exist.

Did you know that there was already technology in place which could reach into space and discover countless heavenly objects without the use of a telescope? The only reason telescopes were necessary was to fulfill the need that humans have to actually see what we were already told was there.

How would it be if we used our internal radar more than our tendency to visually perceive others? I'm sure it would be difficult since we are so dependent upon our vision to initially discern things.

But don't you think it would make a difference if we looked at each other with more insight instead of depending so much on eyesight?

I'm going to say yes.

What do you say?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fashion Faux-pants

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In Cleveland there is legislation moving forward to ban people from wearing pants that fit too low. However, there is lots of opposition from the plumber' union.

Conan O'Brien

Ok, so I really hate that it’s come to this. I mean really never thought that I’d get to the point where I was such a cranky old lady that I had to complain about what those crazy kids are wearing these days. I was born around the time of Woodstock for heaven’s sake. I was a kid in fashion challenged 70’s and came of age in the 80’s (Madonna, Boy George, Flock of Seagulls?) So, I really, really hate that I’m about to do this…but what is UP with the pants these days?

I mean I guess I understood the really baggy pants that were the thing to wear a few years ago. I can’t say they were the most flattering thing I ever saw, and I did see way too much of the various choices between boxers or briefs. But I could kind of get behind the comfort factor I guess.

Then certain kid crowds started leaning towards the really really tight pants. Now, as I said, I was a kid in the 70’s so I can’t really say too much about tight pants (think Shaun Cassidy). Plus I understand the teenage tendency to rebel against trends in a completely opposite direction (which is why hair mousse was invented in the 80’s right?). These days the tight-pant style is a little different – tight all the way down to the ankle. But you really have to have some nice legs to pull this one off without looking like a couple of pretzels stuffed in a marshmallow. I’ve only seen it almost work a couple of times and that was on T.V with a professional stylist involved. But since the invention of stretch denim I can even see how this style would be…understandable.

But lately I’ve been seeing the most ridiculous….I guess you can call them pants that even I could ever imagine. Boys seem to be the fashion victims here again as far as I can tell and they seem to be attempting a sort of fusion of baggy and tight at the same time. These pants start out tight at the ankles then around the knees they kind of bag out so the back pockets hang down below the butt like they do on baggy pants. In fact it looks like someone wearing skinny jeans has actually stepped into a denim sack with holes cut out for the legs. Then there appears to be a whole other waist band that rises up past the around-the-butt-waistband and may even involve some suspenders if I’m not mistaken. It reminds me very much the Penguin Dance in “Mary Poppins.” You know, when Burt pulls his pants down so he looks more like the penguins when they’re tap-dancing? I can’t imagine this is what they were going for. Problem is, I can’t really see what they’re going for here. And worst of all I can’t decide if I’m proud to say or sad to say that I just don’t get it.

There is one bright spot I suppose in this whole fashion disaster - with the whole double waistband and suspender thing – at least I’m back to guessing about boxers or briefs.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Pin It Such a coarse word, isn’t it?

I drove to work yesterday morning. The windows of my car were down, and the fresh air cascaded around me like the rushing of cool mountain waters. I wriggled my fingers in the early crisp, feeling its welcoming bite in my lungs—every breath I took seemed to spell autumn. As I stopped my car at the next intersection, my wandering eyes noticed the vacant building on the corner; it’d been unoccupied for quite some time.

As I waited for the light to change, I gazed though the makeshift chain link barrier, fashioned to keep the snooping away from the dust shrouded, demolished rubble which now lay in heaps across the weed-riddled parking lot. The front of the building had been torn away; bare wiring reached feebly from the walls, like the twisted, reaching tendrils of wisteria vines seeking the healing rays of sunlight. Torn strips of jagged metal hung like ribbons from the ceiling; while brick—once cemented mightily together in walls of veritable strength—now lay humbly in sundry piles.

This once-powerful building had been gutted, destroyed, and emptied; only an echo remained where life had once existed.

The light seemed to take longer than usual as I stared, thinking of the moments in my life when I have felt an awful lot like that old building—an interlacing of wiry thought—broken and dangling; a crisscross of metallic supports torn asunder and away, a structure of framework and walls demolished.

In a word—gutted.

However, as I gazed wordlessly through the chink fence, I could also see beyond the destruction; I could perceive something else…something deeper than that which was obvious on the surface.

Hope. Revitalization. Potential.

Like that devastated building, there have been times in my own life when I have needed a major overhaul—a rebuilding of that which is me. I can’t ever recall a time when this rebuilding has not been painful one; often those things which have been exposed to the sunlight have not been pretty. However, what has been restored has always been something of much greater beauty and value than what which was there before.

What is a life without the hope of being able to rise from the ashes of yesterday, as something far greater than what we once were? What is existence without the fervent anticipation in knowing that things can—and will—get better than perhaps they are at the present moment?

There is nothing.

The light changes from crimson to emerald, and my vehicle again lurches forward, bringing with it the cool, whispered hints of winter. As I continue my journey to work, I consider all of those things in my own life which I must rebuild.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The speed of mice

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I have decided there is a separate speed for mice. Forget breaking the sound barrier. I cannot be overly impressed with that accomplishment when I compare it to the phenomenal ‘speed of mice’.

As I watched one of those little silver bullets streak across the road in the lighted path my headlights provided early one morning I thought of fast twitch muscles—of a blink. In crossing a road to get to the other side, a field mouse can break the ‘blink of an eye’ barrier. I know they have legs under that torpedo, and I know those legs are scuttling sixty, but I stand amazed at the fact that I can never see any movement. I think mice come the closest to the speed of thought than any other critter I can think of.

Friday, September 18, 2009



I relish NPR, a late game of Rook, smiles, stormy days, and those couple of times a year when you wear your pajamas all day and sort of...baste in all your woes and sorrows.
If there is anything heart-rending, mildly touching, of profoundly good taste or tissue-worthy, my family and friends knowingly look to me to provide the tears. I’m a teacher, godmother, word-bungler, spontaneous traveler, role-of-hostess shirker, and I just found out that I’ll soon be an aunt. Topics you may wish to avoid with me, unless you’re prepared for a long, excited conversation with hand movements: education, party politics, books, food, old musicals, and my family.

If you caught me dancing in my kitchen on a summer evening, you can bet I'd be dancing the blues, at least my version of them. The preoccupation has extended beyond my home as of late. A roommate recently introduced me to a group that meets on Thursdays and sways the night away. 9 to 12 goes by in a flash - a syncopated, slow-steppin', melt-into-the-perfect-turn flash. My body is meant to move like this. I still misread leads and I mess up the footing once in a while, but there's an ease to it that's familiar and enthralling.

Dancing the blues engages the same aspects of myself that writing and even teaching do. Instead of building up to a proficiency, I feel as though consummate experience with these requires pulling away layers of fear, blindness, deceit, and a multitude of other damning accumulations, to get at something that is already there, that’s true and pure and pulsing with life and joy. The immediacy of dance, the trust required, the necessity of shaking off missteps so the next moments may be enjoyed, an affiliation to the sound and movement, these elements combine to form an environment where I readily shed a few of the self-made shackles that keep me from growing, sharing, loving, shining.

There’s the unfortunate replacement, the persistent, favored fetters that somehow find their way back, but others remain there on the dance floor, cast aside forever.

Their absence permeates my life.

It makes me wonder, what other opportunities lie in wait for me to grasp, what talents, gifts, inclinations are ready to be cultivated, what roads have called to me that I’ve been too afraid to traverse, what joys can I open myself to, what joys can then be shared? And I don’t want to approach them timidly, shuffling apologetically to their sides, unwilling to engage them head on. I want to reach out with faith, confidence, grace.... perhaps I’ll dance to them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


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photo from dxportal.com

Here in our neck of the woods it is Homecoming season. This means that young men all over the state have devised creative ways to invite a young lady to attend the Homecoming dance with them. This dance is a first for my oldest boy, who deliberated much over how to go about asking his date to accompany him. He decided to have a cheese pizza delivered to her with a note under the lid which read,

"I hope you don't think this is cheesy, but will you go to Homecoming with me?"

The next day he received her response; a bottle of Sunny Delight with this note attached:

"Look here, SUNNY, I'd be DELIGHTed to go to Homecoming with you!"

I thought that both the inquiry and the reply were very clever. Maybe even something they'll remember years from now. I, for one, will never forget one such occasion in my teenage life... the time I asked Mark to Homecoming.

I know what you're thinking; don't the guys ask the girls to Homecoming? Traditionally, yes. But I was never a very traditional young woman. It did not bother me in the least to be the one doing the asking, especially if a particular boy whom I may or may not have been precariously close to stalking for the previous 3 years had not asked me yet. Tradition? HA! I just wanted a date.

Like my oldest son, I carefully thought over the different ways of asking. I finally decided to place a wind-up alarm clock beneath his bed, set for 3:00 am. When the alarm would sound, he would scramble beneath his bed to find the source of the racket and find a note which read,

"Don't be alarmed! It's just me, Gerb, wondering if you'll go to Homecoming with me."

My carefully devised plan was to stealthily sneak into his home through a sliding glass door which was left unlocked, position the clock, and then leave undetected. This may or may not have required my missing a couple of classes during school hours. The clock was planted and I made my escape. The rest of the day I was consumed with giggles as I would think of the look on Mark's face when the abrasive noise woke him early the next morning.

I was still giggling as I crawled into bed that night.


From beneath my bed! Disoriented, I bolted upright and then raced haphazardly about the room for a moment before realizing what was going on. I crawled underneath my bed and retrieved the source of the commotion. It was a wind-up alarm clock! At this point I was coherent enough to realize that this was supposed to be surprising Mark, not me. How did it get here?! But none of that mattered when I read the note attached to the clock:

"Don't be alarmed! It's just Mark saying YES!"

I was elated. The next day I called to ask him what had happened. Had I inadvertently set the alarm for the wrong time? How was the little clock discovered early? Here is Mark's story:

He arrived home from school and went to his room. The first thing he noticed was an unfamiliar ticking noise coming from beneath his bed and the first thing he thought of was a bomb. He asked his dad, who was a police officer, to investigate. His dad called in the bomb squad, who discovered the source of the mysterious ticking noise (couldn't resist adding that link) and turned it over to its rightful owner. Mark then devised his plan to surprise me with my own surprise.

To this day I do not know if this story is the truth or a fabrication on Mark's part. However, I do know that it makes for an awesome legend in my personal history.

Even if it is a bit alarming.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The bookcase

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I love to read. Don’t you? Isn’t there something magical in the way that the words seem to leap off the page and into your mind? How the characters become something more; something real to you?

That’s the way it is for me.

I started off many years ago with an empty bookcase.

It was nearly a decade ago that I started to add titles to these barren shelves—poetry, biographies, nonfiction, fantasies, quite a few myths and fables, and even some realistic fiction. However, amongst all of these different groupings, I’d come to realize that my favorites were the mysteries.

Far be it for me to not enjoy all the genres—for I do—but there is just something about this particular assemblage; these characters whose stories I am invited into—the individuals who always are put up against seemingly insurmountable problems which need to be solved.

Of course these mysteries are not without clues the author has left the reader with; in fact, these stories are literally riddled with them all throughout the chapters. It is these pages I eagerly read through, looking for the hints which will help me to figure out just what is going on; many times before the characters themselves know.

The mysteries are wonderful. Frustrating? Yes. But I find myself caught up in the story being told; those parts which are sad, the storms which must be endured, and the sunny days of little victories which make the reader long for more.

I’ve read many of these mysteries over the past nine years, but for each of these manuscripts I’ve read, I have never read the ending of any of them.

Not even one.

It’s been impossible, for each of these books was unfinished at the time—incomplete—a partial account which was still in the process of being authored.

As I look up at my bookshelf, now containing hundreds of volumes, I smile; remembering some of my favorite adventures. Every now and again, one of those old novels again comes to life when someone from years before walks through that classroom door. I find myself grateful that I had been included in a chapter or two of these unfinished chronicles.

This year, I add 24 new titles to my bookcase…

And every one of them is a mystery.

image garnered from: http://condalmo.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/infinity.jpg

Monday, September 14, 2009


Pin It If ever I was to worship any God-made thing which (heaven forbid) I would never do after reading Ezekiel, Jeremiah AND Habakkuk, it would be the moon. In the winter I sleep solitaire in a bedroom with a wall made of sliding glass. The glass is not blinded. In the summer I sleep outside on the deck in front of this glass wall. Either way, my view is unimpeded of whatever the night sky wishes to present to me. I am intrigued at the feeling of security the moon gives me. Unlike the sun, it always comes out of obscurity; it is not a brass trumpet in your face—and yet no less faithful. I am more comforted in the fact that the moon is always there than that the sun is always there.

I think I feel in good hands when I am awash in the beneficent bathing of the moon’s light. It does not share my worries or concerns and seems to make of them such little things. It doesn’t belittle them so much as it makes me think grander thoughts. If the moon glimmering at night awakens me with its single eye penetrating my night visions I feel like I could swim to the moon, following at my silent leisure its lighted path. Or perhaps I would hear only the rhythmic intake and wheeze of my own breathing, a soothing pump in that expanse of white light.

The moon’s state of being ‘tis a puzzlement'. It is as though it says to me;
I don’t have to always be here. I could fall from the heavens. After all, I am a dead star. Nevertheless, I am here to lend silver and shadow to the black of night. It satisfies me somehow that a dead star is still of grand use, of divine design.

A fat moon makes me want to come closer and touch it. Indeed, if I were a pagan, a heathen, a gentile (and in my Christian climb I have been all those things) I would be a moon worshiper. Instead, I will be wiser and worship He who created its orbit and purpose, and be grateful for the evidence of what Father’s omniscience encompasses: a light for troubled children in the night.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Retina burnage


As the lone female in a house six guys, I am a guardian of good taste and manners, and an enforcer of the clean socks and underwear rule. I love to laugh, especially when things go wrong. It's a good thing they frequently do!

For many years, I’ve had to share a bathroom with the family. What does this mean? It means I can never just sit down on the toilet without taking a really good look at the seat. It means my makeup gets desecrated by artists and my beauty tools disappear.


It was tough.

But following a cataclysmic flooding event last year, a remodel was in order. And I got my own bathroom. It’s not quite finished. My new bedroom that adjoins it still has no pad or carpet. It’s still very much a construction room; but my bathroom, my inner sanctum, is beautiful.

One day I was enjoying my new double headed shower (I can rinse both armpits at the same time!) while Lewis was painting in the bedroom. Dainon poked his head around the door.

“Don’t come in here!” Lewis warned.

Dainon just assumed he meant that there was wet paint and decided to walk in anyway. Just as I was stepping out of the shower.

Our eyes locked.

He screamed.

I howled with laughter and shouted, “BEHOLD THE HOTNESS THAT IS YOUR MOTHER!”

He dashed from the room and cried out in anguish “Burn this image from my retinas!”

I grabbed a towel and collapsed in giggles.

And now, he always knocks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

(Fresh) Air Time

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Image from photobucket.com

One day my high school English teacher gave us the assignment to watch the news and write a summary of a current event. The Shy Girl in class raised her hand. "Um, we don't watch T.V. at my house. Can I get a current event from the paper instead?"

A collective gasp sounded throughout the classroom. No T.V.?! What did they do at home? The rumor mill started at lunch... They must be one of those families who only eat organic food, and no meat... I bet they don't have electricity... I heard her mom makes all of her clothes... Someone said they have goats and chickens in their yard... The Shy Girl's family from then on was known as The Weird Family (With No T.V.).

Which brings me to my point. These days, my family is our local Weird Family. We stopped watching T.V. quite a few years back. We do own a T.V., but we only use it for watching movies and occasionally playing a round of RockBand. We are often asked why we would do this. How can we deprive our children (and ourselves!) of television?

Easy. You just turn it off and watch the magic happen.

There is suddenly more time for other things. Things like enjoying the great outdoors. Things like spontaneous lip syncing and impulsive dancing in the dining room. Things like homework and yard work and music and sports and sewing and cooking and reading and writing. Things like art projects and service projects. Things like building forts and building friendships and building amazing Lego creations.

Things that require action and imagination and learning.

Things that didn't happen as often when we had the television turned on.

Do I ever wish we had TV? I won't lie... YES. (Oh YESYESYESYES sometimes!!) But the pros far outweigh the cons. So, "The Weird Family" we remain.

And it's awesome.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pin It Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance - Will Durrant

Have I mentioned that I’m in school? I mean, I work at a school, so of course I’m “in” school. But I’m also going to school – to college. So basically I’m paying for the privilege of spending 3 to four hours every weekday and 10 to 12 hours most weekends reading, researching and writing about various and sundry subjects from literature and Reasoning to Constitutional Law and Political Science.

The latest course I’m working my way through is Economics. Before the end of September I have to watch about 100 lectures online (more or less) in the effort to learn enough to pass a test and also write three more papers. So of course I am in the middle of writing one of those papers right now and it’s pretty much all I can think about. It’s also my day to hit the blog and, to be honest I’ve got nothing…nothing at all on the brain but Protectionism vs. Free Trade – and frankly not as much on the brain about that as there should be either. I need some help. I need some free association writing to get the juices flowing - the gears churning - the batter blending because I MUST get this paper finished before the end of the week. So I’ve decided to stop fighting my mental trend, kill two birds with one stone, and send some of my academic thoughts into the void. I promise this is in no way a political statement. At this point I could give a toss about cheap goods from China and I’m not sure what I’m for or against except that I’m FOR getting this paper done and AGAINST wasting my tuition money by not passing the course. I just need to attempt to fill the void with something, anything that gets me going in a direction – any direction. So what do you think? Are you up for a little Academia? Yeah, me neither, but here goes.

As I mentioned this particular evaluation (the official name given to the assignments) asks students to evaluate the justifications either for protectionism economic policy or for free trade. I am supposed to describe the justifications for both of these theories and then defend or support one of the positions, based on both macroeconomic theory and personal opinion (sounds exhausting just talking about it doesn’t it?). Well, of course I have been doing a lot of reading both for and against each position and find that I am having a difficult time attaching my personal opinion to an entirely free trade market or to a strong protectionist system (another reason why I why I would make such a lousy candidate for office – innate wishy-washiness).

Protectionism generally keeps the US out of global markets and keeps foreign products from being imported. Free trade, in a nutshell, is an open market where the best price makes the rules. Most discussions I have read regarding free trade seem to see “protectionism” as a dirty word. However I cannot come to the conclusion that free trade is always good or that protectionism is always bad. Most “free-traders” seem to conclude that global competition is a good and valuable outcome of a free market system. But what are we competing for exactly? Shouldn’t we be competing for a good standard of living for our people? What is the value of competing to lower the incomes of working people? We have options if we truly want to be more internationally competitive, such as moving back to child labor. But didn’t we spend decades implementing policies to reject that type of option? From what I understand there are two basic methods to make products cheaper for the consumer. One is to increase efficiency, which everyone seems to agree is a good idea. The other is to reduce environmental standards and employment standards. Reducing the wages paid for a given amount of productive work is a lowering of standards, not an increase in efficiency. Free trade may encourage domestic industries to work towards the most efficient production methods, but is also creates a competition to lower standards. Of course, there are real gains from trade, but there are also benefits in maintaining a degree of local self-sufficiency. During the course of my reading, I came across the name of John Maynard Keynes quite often. Keynes was a British economist whose ideas or “Keynesian thought “ has enjoyed resurgence in the wake of the most recent economic crisis. In 1933, Keynes wrote an essay on national self-sufficiency. While I do think that the theory is idealism run amuck, there is still an interesting idea at the core. "I sympathize therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel, these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible. And above all, let finance be primarily national." (Keynes) This quote clearly comes down on the side of protectionism which, as I said, I am not entirely convinced is always good policy. Being raised in the cold war years, anything but straight-forward capitalism conjures memories of communist regimes. But should industry be allowed to fail if it means the loss of thousands of jobs and untold damage to the economy? This is an especially relevant question in the wake of the recent Government bailout of the U.S. auto industry. If we truly believe that free trade is good because it fosters competition and allows the best goods to be sold at the best price – the US auto industry should be a dead horse - so to speak. But one does have to consider, not the trickle down, but the deluge-down of economic impact the failure of that one industry would have on the economy overall. It could be argued if we as a nation had implemented strict protectionist measures and concentrated our purchases on domestic consumption in the auto industry rather than the influx of foreign imports, the bailout would never have been necessary. Once again I realize that this is idealism run amuck because one could also argue that the bailout would never have been necessary if GM had just built better cars.

Is it even possible to be a largely self-sufficient country? Perhaps not an autarky, (a new word I learned in the course of my reading – yes, a real word even though it sounds like some sort of hybrid fowl for holiday roasting), but an economy that spreads the wealth of our nation largely among our own industry rather than competing for the lowest common denominator. Capitalism is at the heart of the United States economy and philosophy. Implementing protectionist measures that would encourage and actualize this kind of internal self-sufficiency is hard to imagine. As things stand right now, I think the debate about and hopefully the balance between free trade and protectionism will be with us for a long time.

Hmmm…some of that doesn’t sound too bad. At some point though, I probably ought to decide what I actually think about all of this. I do drive a Chevy though….so what does that say about me?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

_____ on Earth

Pin It The four grocery sacks weighted arms like lead as I emerged from the grocery store. Under their weight I made my way to my car at the far end of a parking lot under a scorching August sun. Just why had I parked so far away from the store in the first place? Mostly it was because of the lone patch of shade I’d managed to find—therefore I’d been willing to traverse the extra distance hoping to find a car somewhat cooler when my grocery shopping was finished.

The earbuds of my iPod were securely positioned as I walked—and my playlist was set to random. A much-loved Billy Joel song had just ended, and as I moved myself and my heavy load across the welted asphalt, I wondered what tune would be next.

Spice Girls – Wannabe.

I did a double-take and shook my head in surprise; what in the world was that doing on my iPod?

However, at the moment didn’t matter how the song had gotten there, the point was is that it was there; and with arms loaded down there was nothing I could do to stop it. I quickened my pace as I practically ran the distance through Dante’s inferno with this fiendish noise ringing in my ears.

This is how I picture Hades.

When I finally reached my car I practically threw the bags into the backseat and ripped the earphones from my ears, switching the music to something else—anything else—after all, if that isn’t warning enough to live right in this life, I don’t know what else could be.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Pin It During long church meetings children may demonstrate their own response to the spoken word of the Lord. Feet twitch, eyes glaze and they look to perform restless mischief on their younger siblings. Such was my lot one hot Sunday afternoon. I am of an age that remembers attending two meetings on any given Sabbath. I am of an age that air conditioning purposes were served by the aged women in the congregation dressed in their best floral batting at the air with their fans.

It was the second meeting of the day. On a sticky wooden pew. Six years old. Bored out of my ever living (according to the doctrine) mind. I was just beginning my subtle side slide toward my two younger brothers intent on fulfilling my role as their constant irritant when Grandma hooked her gnarled, pointing finger at me and motioned once. I reluctantly skidded to a sticky halt and reversed direction, sliding down the pew until I was at her side, head down, a pout about my mouth. Expecting an intense hiss into my left ear that would sear my eardrum and stern up my spine I was surprised to see her take that same hooked flesh and dig her favorite “hankie” out of her purse. Grandma always carried handkerchiefs in the cool recesses of her black, snap-clasp handbag. My nose appreciated for two seconds the familiar odor of calf leather and mint.

Grandma gave me a stern, sideways glance tucking her head back like an old turtle to peer over her glasses. I thought for a dreaded moment that she was going to lick the corner of the hankie and rub some dirt spot on my face pink. I hated that when my mother did it to me. Always on a Sunday morning before church she would apply some of her “Holy Spit” while I pulled a desperate face and leaned in an unfriendly direction – away. I lifted my head briefly to look at my Grandma's eyes. They were always a dead giveaway to her mood. This time they were shiny, not hard. I relaxed. I leaned into her unpadded rib cage. My grandmother was built more Crone-like than Fairy Godmother-like. She was spare and at one time had been tall but now sat shortened by the crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis. Even at that she had to lean over to reach my ear.

Her whisper tickled my ear, “Want to see my baby twins?” I pulled away and stared up at my Grandma. I already knew she had lost twins, my Daddy's two little sisters, when they were about a year old. To pneumonia. One right after the other separated in death by only three or four days. They were born a little too early. Grandma and Grandpa had kept them in shoe boxes the first few days of their breathing lives near the kitchen woodburner. They were very careful with them and did all they knew to do for them, which wasn't much. They died anyway. I figured she would pull a picture of them out of the depths of her purse. I had never seen a picture of my two infant aunts. I didn't think one existed. I looked at my grandmother harder. She stared back. I nodded yes and leaned against her bony hip again.

She did not reach back into her purse but instead took her hankie and smoothed it over her floral lap until it was wrinkle free. Lifting the upper right corner of the hankie she joined it to the lower left corner. A triangle was formed. With a deftness I didn't expect her to demonstrate so quickly she pinched both ends of the long line of triangle between the finger and thumb of both hands and began to smoothly roll those two ends together until they touched. Two tight, fat rolls of white were all that could be seen of that hankie at this point. I was curious but now not terribly impressed. If this was her idea of babies, it was stupid. I could make that.

Around it's corner the trick was about to be unfolded. She picked up the fat white rolls and at the pointy tips of them where they were separated a little she placed one tip in her mouth and pinched the other tip between her finger and thumb again. I was shocked that Grandma would look so silly in church with that hankie sticking out of her mouth, her head bent to hide what she was doing. I snorted. Momma heard it and turned to me, frowning. I looked back at Momma killing my fun. Grandma saw me and also turned to my Momma. Momma saw her first. She said she will always remember how Grandma looked with that hankie hanging out of her mouth and a kind of sheepish look on her face. She'd never seen Grandma look like that. Momma had to leave the meeting, red faced and choking.

Grandma watched her stumble out and then calmly turned her head and looking down at me proceeded to do the trick. With a literal flick of her wrist she tugged at one tip of the hankie pulling it away from the tip in her mouth until it formed a hammock-like cradle. Grandma took the miniature cradle out of her mouth and swinging both ends of it gently lowered it to my nose level. I had to stretch a little to peer inside the six inch hammock. Magic! There were two little babies lying there sleeping. Grandma sat staring into space for a few seconds swaying that baby cradle back and forth, back and forth. I reached up and pried it from her hands and then she smiled watching me mimic her.

Later, perhaps weeks, perhaps months for I was always over at Grandma's house as she and Grandpa lived just an alfalfa field away, she taught me this sad little lullaby to sing while I rocked my 'hankie babies”.

Wild flowers, wild flowers
Growing up so high
We're all pretty maids
And we're all going to die
Except for little (fill in your present grandchild's name)
She's the youngest one
Fie for shame, fie for shame
Turn your back toward the game.
(Then you repeat this same verse over and over endlessly until you have named every name in your family, your village, on earth or until the child has fallen asleep)

It took until I was a teenager to think about the fact that every lullaby Grandma taught me to sing was sad to me. Songs like Wild Flowers and Babes in the Woods. She said they weren't sad to her because nearly every woman lost children in those days of country doctors and no antibiotics. I've taught my own girls this melody. It's still mournful to me.

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Free Breakfasts and Free Speech


I love to be warm, to collect old books, to read home magazines, to eat treats, to meet with friends, to play with family, to teach, to sing, to listen, to visit the library, to write, to make others happy.

I don’t have high expectations when it comes to continental breakfasts. I mean, bagels, doughnuts, orange juice and coffee seem to be a typical selection of continental breakfast goodies. It is, after all, free. I guess generally I don’t have high expectations of anything that comes after the word ‘free.’ Free continental breakfast, free trial, free dinner at Olive Garden—(click now!). The value of these free items is generally just a step above free, or it comes with some giant catch, like taking out a second mortgage to pay for all your new subscriptions that qualified you for your “free” gift card.

But I’ve got to tell you, each year, when we stay at the Abbey Inn in Cedar City, I eat a better breakfast than I do the rest of the year. And it’s free. It used to be a “typical” continental breakfast, where we all crowd in together in the lobby and hope there’s still a frosted doughnut left, and then stand in each other’s breakfast space while sipping orange juice. And then we’d all end up at the IHOP next door anyway. But about five years ago, the Abbey really ramped things up. They bought a house just behind the hotel and turned it into their breakfast home. Every morning from 7-10 a.m., three nice ladies cook breakfast for guests.

Most anything you can think of is served at the Abbey Inn Continental Breakfast. Waffles, sausage, eggs, English muffins, cereal, toast, juice, milk , coffee, etc. etc. Oh, and every other day they serve biscuits and gravy (In case you’ve flown in from Tennessee or something).

One morning, I arrived at breakfast with my family, and we were filling our plates when I heard, “Where are the biscuits and gravy?”

Then, one of the three nice breakfast ladies said, “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have them today, we only have them every other day.”

“You don’t have them today? What will my mother eat? There is just nothing my mother can eat here.”

At this point, I turned my head, and looked at my family in disbelief. I think I sort of gasped. I repeated the comment (in hushed tones of course) and we were all totally shocked. No food to eat? What? Did she miss the Tupperware filled with muffins and bagels? The bowls for cereal or the eggs and sausage in skillets cooking right in front of her? It couldn’t be an allergy thing, because who is allergic to everything but biscuits and gravy? Nobody is. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

“You’d be surprised how often we hear things like that.” The third nice breakfast lady stated.

This got me thinking about perspectives. And complaining. And just how funny it is that two people can be at the same breakfast and one can be having a marvelous time, while the other (and her mother) are miserable. How glad I was to be the one having the good time.

It just so happened that the same ladies were checking out of the hotel at the same time as my grandma. My grandma, who hadn’t been with us that morning at breakfast, joined the rest of us in the car. She was visibly disgruntled.

“I can’t take it anymore. Some ladies are in there complaining that there were NO biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and the mother just couldn’t eat a thing.”

Upon hearing this report, my cousin went in to defend the nice breakfast ladies (now our friends after two days). After catching a moment of the “Debby Downer” conversation (by now they were complaining that there wasn’t whipped cream and strawberries with the waffles) she said, “Oh, are you guys talking about the breakfast? We’ve never had a better continental breakfast.”

At which point, she came back to the car. And with free waffles, sausage, cereal, eggs, toast, juice, milk, English muffins and bagels in our stomachs, we drove home.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

After The Fire

Pin It On a recent hike I encountered something which struck me as so captivatingly beautiful that I have not been able to get it out of my mind. As I looked across the landscape before me there were trees as far as the eye could see; like twisted, blackened hands reaching towards the heavens. These trees were burned in recent years as a fire came through the area. Alone, they would be an amazing sight. However, with the green undergrowth encompassing the base of each stand of trees, the contrast of blackened branches jutting up among lush, emerald brush - it was breathtakingly beautiful.

Like these trees, we all must endure some kind of fire. It could be physical, emotional, spiritual or any number of other challenges, but through the fire we go. And in the end, what matters is how we handle things once we've been burned. Some will give up immediately and crumble into a pile of ashes, hopelessly waiting for the winds of change to blow their charred remains where they may. Others will stand firm despite the damage, constantly reaching for what they've been working towards with an eye fixed firmly upon their goal.

But ultimately, if we allow ourselves to be surrounded and sustained by splendor as well as true friends who embrace the good times with us and offer support when we've been through the fire, life always appears to be much more beautiful.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

High-wire humor

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If it's a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny. Steven Wright

I think that most people that know me would say I have a pretty dry sense of humor. Teachinfourth is a particular friend of mine and I think he would probably admit that my wit and the Mohave Desert have a lot in common. I recognize that my humor can be a bit of a high-wire act sometimes, but generally I like my sense of humor although it does make me kind of a humor snob. This means that I may not enjoy certain types of comedy as much as others might. The Three Stooges for example have always been a bit of a mystery to me. But on the other hand I get a kick out of deadpan Steven Wright says things like “Don’t you think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly,” or “Ever notice how irons have a setting for permanent press? I don’t get it.” Now I’m not necessarily saying that one type of humor is better than another. There is certainly a time and place for slapstick – who doesn’t like Lucy working the chocolate conveyor belt? But all in all I am just the kind of nerdy dork that would pick a funny little independent movie – probably British - over a Jim Carey Blockbuster. I like wit and irony. I love it when the state fair has a cow sculpted entirely out of butter. A Butter Cow – how ironic is that? Or the butter last supper with actual butter on the table right between butter James and butter Paul. Even annoying irony makes me smile. Like my colleague at work that always hangs out in my office, interrupting my work to complain about the woman that keeps hanging out in her room and interrupting her while she’s trying to work – now that’s comedy.

I’m always on the lookout for life’s little ironic moments and I witnessed a great one this last Friday evening. I was driving along a pretty busy main artery of the city and noticed I was following the Geico car. You know, it was a car with a big Geico appliqué on it so the whole thing was a rolling advertisement for Geico Auto Insurance. We were approaching an intersection and evidently the Geico car, no doubt feeling secure in their insurance coverage, decided that the yellow light was just a suggestion and sped forward to try and make it through the light before it changed. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite fast enough and it got in a little fender bender with a car coming the other direction. That’s right, the Geico car – an automotive monument to the importance of auto insurance had a car accident. Nothing too serious – no one was hurt, so I was able to laugh about it without the guilt – and that’s how I like my irony served my friends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Old School

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I exited the graduation ceremony and made my way into the hallway, a part of the flowing river of bodies making their way from the confines of the UVU gymnasium to wide open spaces of the great outdoors. I’d enjoyed the proceedings, though I will admit that it was strange to see my first class of sixth graders graduating from high school.

I was as lost in thought as I was in that pullulating multitude; the years were flowing far too quickly, and there wasn’t anything I could do to quell them. Like that crowd, the years, too, were sweeping me away.

“Mr. Z!” A voice trumpeted from somewhere in the bustling mob behind me.

I turned and scanned the throng; I at once noticed three of my past students, all now young adults in high school, approaching me.

We edged our way through the crowd to a side wall and began to talk. These three teenagers all hugged me and told me they missed the years spent in a classroom when they were all significantly smaller. Did I still play the guitar? Did I still make students do pushups? Did I still give loads of homework? Did I ever keep anyone later than Randy with catching up on old assignments: 8:30 P.M.?

Each of these ‘kids’ also filled me in on what was happening in their varied lives: they told me about their classes, about their old friends who’d made some poor decisions, and about their future plans.

At one point, a student whom I’ll choose to call “Joey” asked if he could use my phone to find out where his parents had been swept away to. I pulled out my aged cell phone—the phone I’d upgraded nearly five years ago with my wireless plan, and had not done so since.

Something could be felt in the air; worlds were colliding…the old and the new, and I could tell that was now trapped somewhere in the in-betweens.

“Whoa, where’d you get your phone, Mr. Z; An antique store?” Joey asked with a laugh. “Isn’t this the same phone you had when I was in your class?”

My synapses were lightning quick. “Actually,” I responded. “This is the phone Moses used when he bought the Israelites out of the wilderness to the promised land.”

My three past students doubled over with laughter as Joey dialed his parent’s number and found out where they were stationed outside. In another few minutes I excused myself and made ready to leave.

“Catch ya later, Mr. Z!” Joey said as he extended his hand and starting a complex combination of moves, which I remembered all too well back from when I was a teenager…slaps, snaps, and general ‘jiggyness.’

By the time that Joey and I had finished the shake, it was obvious that he was impressed.

“Whoa, Mr. Z. You’re on your way to hip.” He said, nudging one of the other teenagers.

“No,” I responded with a grin. “…you’re old school.”

Image garnered from: http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2008/04/portable_cell_phone_booth.html
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