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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Attraction of Honeysuckles


I enjoy raising seedlings into potted plants, baking with wheat flour, cross country skiing in the evenings of winter, lime flavored chips with fresh tomato salsa, quilting by hand while listening to NPR, and debating the role of education in our current society. I’ve been a student for the last twenty years, and while I have enjoyed the absence of academic writing for the first time in decades, I return to school daily as a teacher to assign (and thus grade) essays written by others.

There was a honeysuckle bush that grew over the back fence of the soccer field at my elementary school. The blossoms that bloomed within reach every spring would be picked over within days by elementary students abounding with energy and eager for a snack. The elder students would teach the younger how to remove the stem and the outer blossom for a small drop of sweet goodness to quickly devour.

There was a sense of secrecy about the sacred bush, after all, there weren't enough blossoms to go around--even at a small school of less than 100 students. Another time there were several hay bales brought to our school for some special event. In the midst of the hay we discovered seeds that we could gather out of the sheaves and snack on as we lined up for morning prayer. I remember one morning offering the seeds to my third grade teacher, Miss Ortiz. She shook her head claiming she'd already had breakfast that morning. It was at that moment I realized I was acting a little ridiculous. Gathering seeds from hay bales was immature, just like gathering drops from honeysuckles. Even at the age of nine, I'm not sure why this mattered.

I loved Miss Ortiz. She was fresh out of college, and came into my third grade classroom halfway through the year when my original teacher had a baby. She was young, had braces and curly hair, wore cute (rather than "teacher") clothes, and would double dutch with us on the playground when she helped with recess duty. She was enthusiastic, creative, and made us feel important--even though we were nine. Perhaps that is why her scorn for seeds from old decaying hay bales mattered so much--her expectations were different from my previous teachers. She didn't feel the need to separate herself from our fun to make sure we remembered she was in charge, so when she did separate herself, we took notice...well, I did.

I passed a blooming bunch of honeysuckles as I ran this afternoon. The sun was hot, the humidity high, my legs tired. It's been a long week at work, and a long year in general, and the weariness is hard to fend off as the days push to a close. The bush was on a route I have run literally hundreds of times, blooming and growing out into the sidewalk, arching over travelers of the road. The glimpse of all the fresh blossoms brought me back to the soccer field, and for a fleeting moment a part of me cried out to devour them--I was back in the corner, consuming all blossoms within reach as fast as I could, afraid that they would be gone the next time I ventured by.

Part of me wonders when I got to be this old. Instead of student, I am teacher. And while the memory of consuming the honeysuckles brought an instantaneous rush of joy, I would never dream of stopping. There was dinner to make...things to do...an evening to consume. And besides all that, I was tired. Stopping the run wasn't going to make it go by any faster.

I am well aware of my obsession with efficiency. Productivity is ever a goal. But I think I might benefit from stopping to drink up a few honeysuckles now and then, ever careful to take part in the fun of the students I am teaching, rather than just watching or passing it by.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Defining Moments

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As I opened the book which held the poetry I wrote as a teenager, pages which I had painstakingly typed out over and over on my mother's typewriter until they were devoid of misspellings, the title page I had placed in the front brought back a very distinct memory of a defining moment in my life.

My English teacher, Mr. Spade, presented us with an assignment. We were to find a classic book by an American author to read and present to the class. I groaned. I despised reading for any reason apart from my own enjoyment and was not looking forward to the project. I walked to the city library and asked for some recommendations. The first book out of the librarian's mouth was "Thoreau's Walden" so I checked it out, brought it home and set it on my dresser, never even cracking the cover to read a word until almost 2 weeks later when I was given the date for my presentation.

I remember sitting in the small alcove beneath the stairs across from our apartment, my own quiet place for reading and writing, and beginning to read Thoreau's words. Initially I was frustrated because the words did not flow in a way I was accustomed to, the language required more thinking on my part. But as I progressed through the story of this man's escape from civilization, I became fascinated. And when I read these lines, something in me changed:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I read over these words countless times, each time realizing that I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more. I wanted not only to live, but to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" as Thoreau had described.

I began to search out those around me who seemed to live life to the fullest - happy people who lived with determination and purpose - people who I wanted to emulate. I would question whether my actions were truly a reflection of myself or of just trying to fit in. I eventually learned to do and be and live in a way that I was comfortable with myself and the things that made me who I was. I learned to let go of many inhibitions which kept me in a shell and became a happy, passionate, more outgoing young woman.

Most people who know me today do not know the quiet, shy young girl that I used to be. They are often surprised when I even speak of times when I was awkward and introverted. To me, this is a measure of my success.

So, thank you Mr. Spade.

Thank you Miss Librarian.

And thank you Thoreau.

I am glad to report that I am still living.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bad Hair/Good Mood

Pin It That's the secret to life . . . replace one worry with another.
Charlie Brown

I am having such hair issues lately.

I like to think that I’m not really all that vain….except that I really am about my hair.

I think the one of the reasons is that there were a couple of people in my family that were hairdressers and my family even owned a salon for awhile. That sounds like it would be a great thing doesn't it? Always someone to do your hair and for free on top of that. Problem with having a family member do your hair (and do it for free) is you tended to get the salon equivalent of leftovers. You usually get the last appointment of the day when all the paying customers are done. And they’re not all that worried about impressing you because hey, where else ya gonna go right? So I got a lot of mood haircuts over the years…good mood = good hair cut. Bad mood = …well you get the idea. Plus some of that time was during the 80’s when there was a lot of big hair, curling irons, hot rollers and hairspray happening – how happy were any of us our hair really?

But at some point about 10 years ago I had had enough. I picked out someone whose hair I especially liked and begged her for the name of her hairstylist. I went to him (yep, I said HIM) and he was and is awesome. After just a few visits I got to the point where I pretty much liked my hair all the time. I liked it so well that it became a non-issue for me in a way that only a woman who has spent hours pouring over those “New Haircut’ magazines or bouncing around the millions of internet hairstyle sights would really understand. I paid way too much for this peace of mind, but on the other hand it did free up my brain to concentrate on other things so it was kind of a bargain if you think about it from an normative economic sense (how’s that for justification?).

But then about a year or so ago I experienced a hair upheaval to go along with my mental and emotional upheaval. An arm-chair psychiatrist would probably say that it was some kind of control issue - I guess when you don’t have any control over what’s going on in your life – at least you have control over what to do with your hair.

Now I didn’t dye it purple or anything, but I did have my guy chop it all off. And, I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t entirely happy with it short. It’s totally not my hair guys fault – he just did what I asked him to do (with a pretty skeptical expression on his face now that I think about it). The problem with me and short hair has less to do with the hair stylist and more to do with the fact that I have the roundest head next to any Charles Shultz character that you’ll ever see outside the funny pages and short hair just makes me feel like my whole world is about the roundness of my head.

So, sadly I find that I am once again uncomfortable with my hair and spend way too much time worrying about it. I need something comfortable that doesn’t accentuate my Charlie Brown head and is also cool enough that my hair can become a non-issue for me again. It needs to look good, it needs to look effortless because I don’t have the space in my brain to worry on a daily basis if my hair is being weird. I already have to leave room in my head for the perpetual - how big does my butt look in these pants – I really need my hair to take care of itself.

So let this be a lesson – mood hair is never a good idea. You don’t want it from your hairstylist and you don’t even want it from yourself. I’m not in the same mood I was a year ago, but my hair hasn’t gotten the memo yet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Rain

Pin It The music flooded the interior of my car as I drove; it was far too much to be contained in that tiny space. I opened the windows and allowed it to soar into the vast openness around me; swirling with the wind and allowed it to be set free in the moment. I’ve come to realize in my life that some music needs the open air and freedom to breathe, and the best thing we can do in moments like these is to give the music what it needs.

This song most certainly qualified.

As I moved through the secluded, shadow-dappled streets, the reminders of Halloween were swarming all around me. They were evidenced in the glistening cobwebs stretched between porch columns, the scarecrows lounging on neighborhood fences, and in the Jack-o-lanterns grinning from solitary doorsteps. I grinned back at them as I thought of the Halloween yet to come in just a few more days.

I’ve always loved this holiday, more so than any other. There is something magical about it. After all, what could possibly contend with dressing up and becoming someone or something else for an entire day?

That’s right, nothing can.

The music continued to saturate the outside world as a flock of birds burst from the power line above me, like a load of shotgun pellets peppered against an ashen-cloud sky. They wheeled and spun in a perfect formation, alighting back their places again, like nothing at all had happened to upset them.

I focused on the road ahead, but my mind tumbled backward down memory road; back to a Halloween at my own elementary school. Wisps of memory whirled to and fro as the wind buffeted my recollections about—as easily as a feather in the wind. Glimpses of black-frostinged cupcakes and spook allies came to mind—as well as late nights of trick-or-treating in the hopes of gleaning as many sweets as possible. I smiled as I dwelt on these memories of Halloweens past; remembering the moments which had led me to the here and now.

As I came back to reality I pulled my vehicle into the parking lot across the street from my school, parking under the towering Maple trees. As I emerged from my car, a gold and crimson rain fell all around me, showering me in a kaleidoscope of effervescent hues which dripped, melded, and ran together in the falling leafflakes; a Halloween rain.

I smiled as I shuffled my way toward the building. As the leaves skittered around my feet and followed my path, it was yet another pleasant reminder of the many Halloweens I’d experienced before in my life…as well as the many more which were yet to come.

…and still the music played.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Maggie Mae Sallie McQuirter

Pin It I was reading a book of tall tales and decided to try my hand at story telling. I am looking for critiques here. If you picked up a children's book that began like this would you want to continue reading or is it just too predictable or too juvenile or too poorly written to hold your attention? I'll title it for now :

Maggie Mae Sallie McQuirter

The locals told us it was foggy around here. I believed them because I had just watched my Daddy come eye to eye with that old raven crow flying lost and low. I don't know if it's a crow because my Daddy calls it that or if it is a raven because my Mama calls it that. They argue over little things for fun. Daddy calls any black bird an “old crow”. He doesn't much care what they are called, he just wants them out of his strawberry patch and cherry trees. Mama is the better read of the two and she loves birds' names that smack of Edgar Allen Poe or Annie Dillard. I call the bird both names and then it's covered. I guess I could shorten it to “craven”. Anyway, that raven crow sits on the lower limbs of the Carolina poplar out in our front yard. Whenever I step out of the house he squawks fun at me. It was so foggy that day that old bird should have never tried to fly. He got confused for sure. He was flying low when my Daddy walked right into him coming home from work. Have you ever seen a disgusted bird? He was so mad he forgot to squawk. He just went crazy rattling his beak, hunching his bird shoulders and puffing his feathers up as big as he could make himself. He flew off in a huff. All because of the fog. It was so foggy even the birds got lost.

Then it rained. It rained so hard our house floated off it’s foundation. I was in the house when it lifted. It started with the floor. It felt like the floor shivered and then part of the floor seemed to shift. Another part shifted and then another. Like a wave. It’s an unsettling feeling to be standing on a wave. The water invited itself right into our living room. I saw three mice surf out from under the sofa clear to the piano as the house tilted. They were smiling with the straightest little yellow teeth you ever saw. For a second I couldn’t figure out why, why they had the most beautiful little smiles. Then I looked closer at their teeth. One of them was wearing my old retainer I had lost in the crack in the wall where it meets the floor behind my bed. Those three mice must have taken turns wearing it ever since I lost it. The house did finally settle by the way but in a new place. We used to face south. Now we face north. It rained so hard one night our house turned it’s backside to the moon.

And cold! It was so cold my Daddy and I found two frogs frozen kissing. Every winter my sisters and I go ice blocking with a chunk of ice Daddy cuts for us out of our pond. We lug it to the top of our sledding knob and let ‘er go with one of us sitting on it. Our knobby hill is the ‘close enough’ boundary between our place and California. Daddy calls the land next to ours that because some woman from California owns it and she doesn't know. We share a hill and a field. What she doesn’t know is about our “10-minute” dirt around here. You have 10 minutes between ground that is too sloppy to plow and ground that is too hard to plow. Some people call it hard pan. We call it “10-minute” dirt and Daddy usually spits on it after he says it. It has something to do with clay. Daddy tried to tell our mostly absent California neighbor about clay and water before she bought the place but she still just doesn't know. That's always her reply to my Daddy. “I just don't know about that . . .” Daddy also calls her place “2 Foot Under” because if she ever puts in a driveway, come spring that’s where it will be. We never see any activity on the place except the first year she bought it when she dug a well and once a year when she takes her annual cakewalk across her land about October. She struts across her property like she owns it. That’s another thing she doesn’t know. The “sure enough” boundary. Daddy says did she use a surveyor the “sure enough” boundary between our places would chop out our sledding run. In her favor. We figure what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Sure doesn’t hurt us. By 20 feet. Daddy just shakes his head about her.

We ride our block of ice down her hill, top to bottom. That’s a mighty slicky, slidey slice of seat you’re trying to grip with your cheeks clenched all the way down. You end up with a frozen popo until you warm it up again.. Then it feels like fire and you end up itchy down there all day. Anyway, we jerked up that block of ice and there they were. Two frogs frozen so close in that giant ice cube they looked like they were kissing. There were ice bubbles frozen from their frog gills to the top of the block as if they’d been telling each other a secret. I tried to thaw them out slowly to see if they were still speaking to each other but it didn’t work. They were frozen. Frozen quick and dead.

Quick and dead. I like that phrase. I heard it first from my Mama. She likes mighty phrases out of the Bible and that’s one of them. “ . . . shall judge the quick and the dead.” My Mama is a lover of every shape and form of words. I think she is getting them under my skin too. I like to say words that make my tongue feel different. Like “blarney” or “gibbon”. Remember that bird I mentioned earlier? Listen to these names I found in our raggedy dictionary. Corncrake. Nightjar. Goatsucker. Wow! who thought of those bird’s names? My Mama told me I was born bold. What she means by that is I’m a born storyteller. She also told me I have a propensity to tall tales. Course she told me that more than once. Once when she was laughing at me and once when she was mad at me. When she was laughing and then quit she said this old world needed fewer moneymakers and more storytellers. When she was mad at me she said to ever get me to give her the truth was like asking a monkey to give back the banana.

I delight in where I live. Mama taught me that too. It’s another Bible phrase. “My soul delights in the song of the heart” or even better, “let your soul delight itself in fatness”. I don’t know what that means but fatness is a word that feels good. The only thing fat on our place is our cat, Ebony Abigail. She’s a fat, black cat. Our cow is so hollow flanked and gaunt we named her “Coyote”. Our fences are thin and twisted because the posts are fashioned from the windblown lodgepole pines growing on our 40 acres. There never was a more contrary wood that deforms itself as it dries. Mama’s not fat. Her hands are long, thin and slap-spatula flat. Daddy is so stretched out a good belly laugh rarely makes it all the way out of his mouth. It just rumbles around in his chest until it gets lost in there. I started out fat but by five or six my limbs had lengthened, my belly lay flat and my buttom tucked under. My feet are as thin and flat and long as my Mama’s hands. Daddy says the only thing left fat on me is my hair. There’s too much for my face and my natural curl feels stiff no matter how much I brush it. My hands I don’t like. They stay rough and chapped no matter what I do and I have a sprinkling of warts on my knuckles. I keep this part of my body to myself. I’ll touch people with almost anything but my hands – with my elbow, my knees or my forehead. I guess that’s why everyone stays clear of me. I’m painful to the touch with all those bony parts presented first.

As I was saying I live in the most beautiful spot on earth where God comes down and says to me, “Well, hello there, honey. How’d you get up here?” It’s in the northwest part of the United States of America. It’s in a spring-soggy valley at the base of a mountain the town is named after on the other side of an orchard bluff. It’s 40 acres of lodgepole pine, tamarack and grand fir with a smattering of alders thrown in just to make us think we’re listening to the quaking of aspen leaves. Fifteen acres of the 40 was cleared years ago for farming but 10-minute dirt is mighty limiting to farming. If the dirt doesn’t stop you, the rocks will. They are strewn carelessly all over our fields and the only competition with their numbers is the “cussed” gopher holes. That’s my Daddy’s name for the ones he’s stepped in. At least that’s what they are when I’m with him. Momma says he’s exclaiming. She says he has a lot longer name for them when no one is with him but it’s a secret. All I know is it feels like you’ve broken a kneecap when you step in one. We also have a creek running across our land, swelling in the spring to trout size and trickling to minnow room only in the fall. As far back as we have written records our place adds up to be 150 years old. It wasn’t that long ago that ownership did not exist on paper. Back before the paper trail this land with it’s fishing creek was a trail for walkabout men of an American Native tribe.
The weather here is as interesting as my Mama's moods. Most everybody that doesn’t live here figures the Northwest is Paul Bunyan cold. They are right. We have plenty of terrible, clear as the moon, cold, cold nights in the winter. What they might not know is we have fall weather to spare, M&M weather, meek and mild like a lamb. We get plenty of moon phases in the fall and that always spells madness. Our place is ringed with second generation hills, the mountains above them being first generation and those hills are rampant with coyotes. Every moon-shot evening the coyotes begin their clamor. No mournful, drawn-out howl of the timber wolves but crazy, ecstatic yipping and ululations that get louder and louder as more and more of the pack join in. It sounds like an insane asylum. It’s so wild in it’s surround sound echoing the first time you hear it that it’s frightening. In time it becomes a comforting sound as you burrow in worn cotton quilts at night. We have even joined them of an evening, Daddy and Momma and my sisters and I howling at the moon.

There’s nothing as cold as the first full moon of our new year around here. The moon’s so cold it shrinks and thins, almost transparent. They told me that old moon could see it was going to be cold this year. I believed them. I watched a cloud freeze and fall right down at my feet. I was standing in our field near our old tin roofed pumphouse. I had my head tipped back puffing out my own breath-smoke when I saw the cloud. It sunk lower in the sky and then tipped a little like it was getting heavy. I’d never seen a cloud tilt before. The angle of tilt increased and suddenly it’s coming down like a dive bomber. I was fear froze right where I stood as it came straight for me. It landed like a pile of glass thrown and shattered in a million pieces at my feet. I had to throw my arms up over my head thinking some of the pieces would pierce me. I squinched my eyes shut. When all I could hear was a little tinkle and clink I opened my eyes slowly and peeked through my fingers to a glory sight. That cloud was now a million little rainbows that made our pumphouse sparkle like the Taj Mahal. As for myself and all the scrubby brush around the pumphouse we looked like the light-spotted, jeweled Arabian saddles of a Maharajah’s carousel. The little rainbows flew everywhere. Yup, it was so cold the clouds froze and fell right out of the sky.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gifts of the Manguy


I am a man's man. If it's broken, I can probably fix it. If I can't fix it, I'll tell my wife that it was not worth it anyway and we needed a new one. If the kids are running around the house naked, it's probably my fault, but I feign ignorance and just give a dopey look. I like to camp, look for a sweet deal on Ebay, and refuse to watch that show that everybody else is watching - yeah, you know the one.

Last Christmas my wife and I decided to only purchase one large gift for each other. This would take place of several small gifts, stocking stuffers, and various other knickknacks which seem to be a part of the holidays. Well, I knew what my wife wanted; she wanted a new dining room table and chairs—I know this because she’d been asking for one to replace the one our kids had been destroying for years. This was going to be the year that she’d finally get that set.

However, once I arrived at Sears, I was passing through the hardware department and what should capture my eye? Nothing other than a beautiful Jet 10-inch, ProShop Contractor-Style Table saw; complete with ¾ horsepower and an arbor speed of 3600 RPM. I won’t lie. I stood there for quite some time admiring this little beauty. It was absolutely perfect, and would be a great addition to my shop. The only problem was my wife would most likely not pick the right one.

I finally pried myself from the tools and wandered to the furniture department were I was met by half-a-dozen pushy sales folk, and far too many dinette sets to be sure which of them would best be suited for my wife of so many years. I knew that I would also have to make sure that whichever I picked matched the tile, wall color, and the placemats that we already owned. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Well, there was nothing for it. So I decided to do the only thing that I could think of; I walked back to the hardware department and purchased the new ProShop Tablesaw with 3 1/8 in. maximum depth cut and 21-inch crosscutting for my sweetheart for her Christmas present; and she in turn bought me the dinette set that I’d always wanted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Making Dreams Come True

Pin It Roughly 70 years ago my Grandma and Grandpa met. My grandmother was a single mother, raising her children (including my dad) during the Great Depression when she and Grandpa fell in love. Not only did he fall in love with Grandma, he fell in love with her children. So he did what came naturally - he adopted them and they became his children as well.

Almost 40 years ago my parents met. My mom was a single mother, raising 2 kids on her own. She and my dad met and fell in love. Not only did Dad fall in love with Mom, but he often told us of how he instantly fell in love with her two children. So he did what made them all happy - he married mom and adopted my older brother and sister.

Over six years ago my brother Chip and his wife, who were not able to have kids on their own, opened their hearts to the sweetest little boy with the biggest chocolate brown eyes as his foster parents. In December of 2003 he became their son through adoption. In subsequent years they were able to adopt 3 beautiful little girls who were initially placed with them through foster care.

Four years ago, two of my favorite people got married. My brother-in-law, Daren and his wife, Shannon were the first to declare that they wanted to have more children than my mother-in-law's 16. After a few years they discovered that they could not have children on their own. They were heartbroken, but turned to adoption. And yesterday, they posted this:

And so, this post may not be what I had planned to write for today, and it may not be what you would expect to read here, but I can think of nothing else. I am filled to the brim with an awesome sense of happiness, love, excitement and hope.

I am overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunities available through adoption in my past, present and future.

They are opportunities which have helped to make dreams come true.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Waiting for Balloons

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I’ve had something amazing happen at work lately. I mean, it’s one of those things that’s probably only amazing to me because it’s a battle I’ve been fighting since I started working at this school two years ago. But last week there was a definite shift in the battle front – the forces of mediocrity and apathy were dealt a blow in a way that I never saw coming and I am amazed – plus it’s the reason that I missed my posting day last week so sorry about that.

There’s a poster in one of the classrooms at work that says “Everything works out in the end, if it hasn’t worked out – it isn’t the end.” That’s a little simplistic I know, but I’m coming to realize, after all my years that it’s also kind of true. It can be so difficult to see through to the other side of a problem or situation – and so frustrating when you want to move, to change, to push, or to fix it, but all you can do is just put your head down and work...and wait.

It’s kind of like that scene in the movie Minority Report. You know that Tom Cruise movie about the pre-crime unit – the police use kind of strange psychics to arrest people who are going to murder someone, but haven’t yet. At one point in the movie the psychics see that Tom Cruise’s character is going to kill someone. So Tom kidnaps one of the psychics to try and get the “minority report” out of her to disprove the accusation. Anyway, after Tom kidnaps the psychic chic, they are, of course, being chased by his former police teammates through a shopping mall.

The psychic, being psychic, can tell what’s going to happen and she kind of directs their chase through the mall. She makes Tom drop some money for a homeless guy which makes the homeless guy bend over to pick it up and he trips up the chasers as they burst through the door.

She makes Tom stop in what looks like the middle of the open plaza where there sure to be seen by the police but just as the police line up on the balcony to get a view of the plaza the balloon man stops to make a sale and his bunch of balloons block their view of Tom and the Psychic Chic.

Then as they finally make it to the exit of the mall, Psychic Chic screams at Tom to take an umbrella out of a basket of umbrella’s for sale. As they step out side it starts to rain and their umbrella becomes just one in a sea of umbrellas just as the police arrive on the roof trying to mark their exit.

Most of us are Tom Cruise in this analogy. We are running through life and don’t have any idea why we’ll need that umbrella or why we have to just stand there like a sitting duck and wait for the balloon man?

I would love to have a psychic to help me see through the frustrating times when I have to stop and wait when all I want to do is run away. It would certainly save me a lot of worry . But I suppose that’s where faith comes in - which has never been my best thing. It's taken me a long time, but I believe I'm beginning to recognize what feels like divine intervention - at least to me. Not a psychic perhaps, but maybe something better.

So drop the money, wait for the balloons, pick up the umbrella and who knows – maybe freedom is just around the corner.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Autumn Knocking

Pin It Autumn taps at my door.

I listen to it speak in the gently howling wind, which chases the gangs of vibrant leaves huddled together on the sidewalks.

It’s clear in the honking of sluggish geese as they fly in their ragged ‘V’ southward, toward temperate weather—leaving graying skies behind in their wake.

It stands patiently outside my window in the form of a large locust tree; its golden leaves standing amidst a fireworkian displayed background of others in the park behind my house—the view I am blessed to see each and every day.

I’ve watched this grand ‘changing of the guard’ every season of my life, but most recently with this particular tree as it coats itself with a myriad of leaves in the spring, like a newly-dappled collection of Christmas ornaments. It stands and shelters park-goers from the sweltering summer sun June through August. At the closing of the season—and the commencement of the new—it gives birth to an array of vivid colors; golden hues ignite as its leaves flush in tawny bursts in the setting sun.

As I stand at my window and gaze at this solitary marvel, it brings to mind dozens of these changings I’ve seen in the course of my life; I wonder how many more of them I’ll be permitted to take pleasure in. It makes me determined even further to relish each and every one. I breathe in the moment, and as the swirling of autumn leaves rustle around me, I find myself again transported to a time and place which seems not so far away, or so distant ago.

“We go round and round and round in the circle game.”

And in my mind’s eye, I see the young boy who stands amidst a rain of falling color and buries himself in the gloriously thickening storm of nature’s leaves.

Here’s to many more burning of autumns to come, and further rounds upon the carousel of life. Let us enjoy each and every ride we are permitted to take.

Image garnered from Gettyimages

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pin It Trudging up the hill on the west end of the Summer Road Only jag of my daily jog I came across a rare phenomenon, a downed tree. From the roots. Being on an incline, having grown at a tilt, the soil being especially muddy at this rainy time of the year and from who knows what other nature-al reasons, gravity had it's say. It was a tall bull pine, not massive in girth but impressive in reach. I'm always taken aback by an uprooted tree, by the size of the earth ball it pulls up, a Paul Bunyan size pancake, and the crater it leaves behind. The intricacy of it's private self, it's underskirt of roots now exposed is always interesting but not quite right, as though I shouldn't be seeing what I am seeing. It is certainly too large to cover up. I stared at it for a few minutes puffing warm steam into the cold air. The only sound at that time of the morning was my own lung's wheeze and pump. I gently stroked one of the tree's roots. I murmured aloud, "Awfully sorry, old man. A bit of a shock to us who pass you by every day unaware of what forces you have had to exert for who knows how long to resist the relentless pull of gravity."

Mr. Lou Becker is dying, one of my patients. I have had to talk to him about it today. He is asking me questions that make it impossible to skirt around the inevitable. I can't seem to get used to this. In my naivete I never expected to lose a patient, the same as I never expected to lose a child. I've never anticipated this to be part of my job. I've always assumed patients have already talked to their Dr.'s about it. Perhaps they have and they weren't completely satisfied or perhaps they have denied again the verdict or they simply blocked part of the conversation. Or perhaps they need validation from another source. Or they just want to talk about it to another human being, though a stranger, who will listen anew. Whatever it is, I have many, many times had to quickly compose in my mind as gentle a straightforward discussion with the dying as I can muster. I certainly never take it casually. I consider it a sacred honor but I don't particularly like doing it. It drains me emotionally for the rest of the day if not haunts me for another day or two after that. I think I'm barely above awkward at it.

I find I can hardly help myself wanting to touch them while we talk and that feeling is almost always reciprocated. As I brush their arm with my fingertips or rub their shoulder or stroke the top of their head they clutch at my hand. Most often we end up holding hands the whole time we talk like two frightened school children strengthening each other for the walk to first grade. Three things are always the same. Always. One, I never feel any braver than they do. I feel a large amount of frustration because I know some things about their future that most of them do not know but how to share that with them I do not know. I've never believed in death bed repentance and this feels a little bit like that. On very rare occasions I do share some of what I know with a patient and I am always intensely happy after that. More often, it doesn't seem like the time. I mostly listen.

Two, they want to describe to me how they are feeling deep inside. And those feelings are mostly descriptions of physical things, the way their chest cavity feels like it is going to tear apart or explode any moment, that they are trying to breathe around a concrete band encircling their rib cage, that they just can't get a sweet breath of air no matter what they do. That they feel like an old bass gasping as they flop around on the ground. These are feelings that for some reason they are ashamed of or they have tried and met with no success at conversing about them with their spouse.

Third, every old man who gets to this point with me always says the same thing. Identical. Verbatim. "It isn't that I'm afraid of dying, ma'am. It's just that I don't want to leave her alone (referring to their spouse)." It has taken me 32 years to finally realize that what they are saying is, "I am afraid to be left alone." After all, their wife will not experience full grief for some time, right now to care for him is a terrible burden on her, physically as well as emotionally to the point that when he does die, for a while it will be a relief. That is life's physical cold, hard fact for all of us. He will finally stop leaning so heavily on her. So it can't be that his is honestly concerned for her being left alone. He just doesn't know what is in store for him after death. Will he be alone? As far as I can figure, it all harks back to the Garden. The man could not be left a lone man in the Garden of Eden. It's elemental for them.

I repeat, "Awfully sorry, old man. Bit of a shock, isn't it? For you. . . for us." Then I add under my breath almost, "There are wonderful surprises ahead and everything will finally be fair."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mine is smarter than yours


Jenny grew up in New York and now calls Utah home. She gets to be a mom to six awesome kids and can see the Land of No More Diapers on the horizon.

...well, she’s smarter than her mom, anyway.

In the case that I’m asked the question, “What one thing would you want with you on a deserted island?”, the debate within is always: Which CD? That, of course, assuming there’s a CD player and a power source on said island.

Last night we watched a bit of Castaway on Channel 4 and li’l ~j. was obsessed with, “Man, I’ll bet that guy wishes he had brought along his shaver! He doesn’t even get to SHAVE!”

So tonight as we were eating our Bear Creek Darn Good Chili (because it came from Maceys), I posed the question to my children: If you were stuck on an island like that guy in the movie last night, what one thing would you want with you?

Curly thought for a minute before happily and confidently proclaiming, “Kitties!”

Li’l ~j. looked at me and said...

... “a boat.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What NOT To Wear

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UPDATED: I can NOT believe I forgot to post this picture! Yes, my pal Debi & I are goofing off, but we actually dressed like this for a trip to the mall. I wish I was kidding.

Awhile back a friend of mine posted a letter to her 16-year-old self. I have debated since then what I would write in a letter to my teenage self. Once I get past the advice on 'there's more to life than boys' and 'put a little more effort in at school', all that is left is fashion advice. And OH MY LANDS did I need it at times.

Dearest Teenage Gerb,

Hey there. It's me, 37 year-old Gerb, and I've got something to say, so I'm just going to say it. Some of your clothing choices scare me a little. Don't get me wrong, I still admire your love for finding unique thrift store items and wearing them proudly. But honestly, Gerb, some of your match-ups are frightening. I think it may have started with what you wore your first day of high school. We both know that was not your fault, that you were simply following the advice of someone you trusted, but those Levis should have been washed at least 20 times before you actually wore them in public... and that white t-shirt with the huge, puffy, green Gumby on it? It still makes me shudder.

I'm fairly certain that that was the day you decided not to care what anyone else thought about your clothes. It was easier to pretend you didn't care than to be visibly hurt by the pointing fingers and barely stifled giggles of the girls who enjoyed hurting others to somehow elevate their own self-esteem. This is when you were struck with the fact that you didn't seem to fit in anywhere. And so you came back with a vengeance, deciding to mock the cookie-cutter girls with your outlandishly unique looks.

As much as I admire you for dressing in one-of-a-kind styles, there are a few things that I would advise against ever wearing again. For example, long underwear knee-length cut-offs beneath short skirts just look kind of trashy. And cut-off shorts with thigh-high lace nylons are definitely not the right look for you. They portray the wrong message... and that message is not "I am unique".

Eventually you will tone down some and take your fashion in another direction. I'm not sure what to call the days when you would wear the clothes that the boys you were interested in were wearing, but again I need to say that this is really not you. Besides that - they are boy's clothes and you are a girl. Wearing the same brands as the surfer boys won't make them notice you. Being yourself will. Don't be afraid to be feminine. Remember that sort of psychadelic 60's dress you found at Goodwill, the one you pictured yourself wearing with lime green tights and your white suede slouch boots? The one you didn't buy because it wasn't baggy enough to hide your lack of shape? You are going to remember that dress for the rest of your life because you didn't buy it. That dress was unique, tasteful and feminine. It was a perfect expression of YOU.

I also remember a dress that you did buy, another that you will always remember. It's a hideous, white, sleeveless thing, all covered in frilly lace. You will buy it because of peer pressure and at FULL price. I know, you can't believe such a thing, but it's true. You will buy it because it is just the dress that the friend you will be shopping with would want and she will convince you that it's perfect for you so that she can later borrow it. And you'll look at pictures of yourself in that dress for years to come and wonder what possessed you to ever buy such a silly thing. At full price. Don't wear things that you know in your gut do not portray who you are or what you like.

The good news is that eventually you will come to a point where you embrace your uniqueness and, at the same time, not be afraid to conform to what others like when it is something that you are also fond of. You will learn to find balance. You will become comfortable with who you are and what you wear.

And don't worry, we'll have a talk about boys later.

With love and admiration,

Your 37-year-old Self

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It Just Slipped Out...

Pin It I stood between the two boys on the playground. It was obvious that they were still upset with each other, and that’s when it slipped out.

I didn’t mean for it to…it just did.

“Would Jesus do that?” I couldn’t believe it, the second the words left my mouth something inside of my brain seemed to register what I’d just said, and the mistake I’d just made.

Goodbye separation of church and state.

Living in a society where religion is freely talked about by students on a daily basis is still no excuse for an educator to do so. However, it wasn’t as if I’d planned on saying it, right? In fact, you could almost say that I’d been tricked into it, really. As I’d listened to the two boys complain about each other, and the reasons why each of them had done what they’d done, the conversation kept coming back to: “Well, during Scouts at the church…” and “At the church he said ________ when we were at Scouts…”

There was so much talk about church going on that I really couldn’t help saying it, right?

However, it didn’t matter; what was said was said, and no amount of wishing at this point was going to take it back. In my mind I was secretly thinking, Holy cow, now that I just said that, what do I do? Really, I couldn’t foresee anything else which could be done at this point other that to simply run with it.

So I did.

“Well, Joey?” I asked again. “If Jesus were here would he have been making fun of Mark when he couldn’t throw the ball? Could you see him yelling, ‘Hey, Mark! You’re a loser! You can’t do anything right!’?”

Joey looked at me with his wide eyes. “Well, no. Jesus wouldn’t do that.”

I then turned to Mark. “And Mark,” I said slowly. “If Jesus were here, would he push people around if they said something mean to Him and start hitting them?”

I waited for an answer, but already knew what it would be. Really, how could you argue with that? Who can argue with Jesus? That’s right…nobody. Nobody can mess with the Big J!

Mark’s eyes also fell to the ground, as if wishing it would swallow him up. “No, Jesus wouldn’t do that to anybody, Mr. Z.”

“Well,” I said, feeling like I was actually teaching a Sunday School lesson. “If Jesus wouldn’t do those things then why do you two do it to each other?”

Both boys looked at me, each other, and then back at the ground in complete silence.

“What should I do?” I asked, eying them both. “It would be so easy for me to just give you both an action slip, and then be done with it. However, I don’t know if that would actually solve the problem. If I did that, you two would still just go on secretly hating each other, wouldn’t you?”

The boys stared at me blankly, as if into an oncoming headlights of a Mack Truck.

“So you tell me what we should do. Do you want to work it out, or should I just give you each an action slip?”

More silence.

“Well,” I said with a belabored breath. “Then it looks like I get to choose. I guess it’s action slips for both of you.”

Mark staggered back with a look of devastation on his face, but Joey looked at me and spoke in a tentative voice, “But Mr. Z, Jesus wouldn’t do that either.”


Admittedly, I made up the last three lines, but only because it was a lot funnier than what really happened. For it came to pass that the boys decided that working it out would be a much better solution, and then being “sort of” friends after that. However, they did promise not to be mean to each other anymore…this was fine with me because I really didn’t want to be dealing with this problem in the first place—after all, neither of them were even my students.

We ended the peace talks with promises to be kinder toward each other. It was at this point that I gave the old “you-guys-can-do-better” pep-talk. We finished it all off with a group hug, and everyone went back to their classes feeling a little more loved and understood.

After all, that’s what Jesus would have done.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Musical Existence

Pin It First let me ask your forgiveness for not posting this on 'my day' last Thursday. I was away from home unexpectedly this week and had no regular internet access. However, now I have returned and am ready to get back to business as usual. Enjoy.

I'll be the first to admit that music is a powerful force in my life. I'm sure there are others out there who would agree that music has a way of inspiring which words alone cannot. There are certain songs that speak to my heart, others that seem to have discovered a portion of my soul and set it to chords, harmony and euphony of sound. When I hear a familiar melody, I must sing along. And besides that, music puts a little spring in my step that I simply cannot control.

Like when I'm at the grocery store, for instance.

Can anyone honestly expect me to suppress the urge to dance when I hear Celebration playing through the overhead speakers? My cart becomes my partner as we bust a move down Aisle 9. Or what about hearing the strains of American Pie played from the store radio, just beckoning me to sing along? Grocery store music is the best; it's almost like starring in my very own musical.

And speaking of musicals, don't you feel just a little bit disappointed that real life is not that way? I mean, can you imagine the pure awesomeness of people just randomly breaking out in choreographed song and dance at any given place or time? Grocery stores, bus stops, classrooms, traffic jams... imagine the possibilities!

I am a firm believer that this is what heaven will be like. On that note, if heaven truly does conform to each person’s vision of what it should be, then in my heaven we will all be performing a celestial musical upon the most puffy, milky-white clouds you've ever seen - each and every one of us soaring... flying... and (wait for it...) breakin' free.

('Cause there's not a star in heaven that we can't reach.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Just like the movies


You could call me a student, parent, teacher, doctor, writer, counselor, photographer, songwriter, and a whole lot of other things as well; mostly because I am a wearer of a dozen different hats—many of them at the same time. A little blocked blog online is just one claim to fame. Don’t bother to click the link; it will get you nowhere.

I was recently walking in Central Park, and as I did I found myself watching the people around me. Since I was listening to music on my iPod, I couldn’t hear what was going on. I just watched the people as they jogged, as they lay on the grass, or played Frisbee. It was almost like I was watching scenes from a movie, with a soundtrack playing at full throttle.

As I watched these people I wondered who was watching my movie right then. Were people seeing me as the main character of my own epic film? Or had they already lost interest and wanted their money back at the box office?

I could only hope that I was worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Closing the Gap

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I’m coming up on an anniversary.

It was a year ago that my husband died…pretty unexpectedly.

There is a long, strange story that led up to his passing and some trauma in finding that he had died…and then telling the family.

Initially, of course, after someone passes there are things that have to be done. Funeral arrangements, legal arrangements, family arrangements…all the arrangements that come at the end of human life. And all those things - the ceremonies and such that we go through are an important part of the process of saying goodbye…closure…healing…a benediction.

But then what?

It’s amazing to me how fast life goes on. Someone significant is no longer there but the sun rises and the sun sets, seasons change and work happens, holidays come, traditions are kept and the gap closes so quickly…almost like dropping a penny in a snow bank.

Except for the grief.

I’ve been thinking lately though that I’m almost grateful for grief. I’m happy for the chance to smile through tears when I hear a familiar phrase – a reminder of some private joke. I’m grateful for the bittersweet feelings when I hear a certain song. I’m glad for the flood of memories that come with certain mementoes.

Grief is the proof that someone was really there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Pirates of Autumn

Pin It Wood smoke drifted lazily through the late evening air as I navigated the streets home from work. Faint touches of autumn had graced the leaves of various trees along the roadway and—with windows down—the air felt not unlike hiking in the desert. I was reminded of camping in distant canyons and lonely mountains where it was just me and the wind. Only I felt just as fresh and clean on the outside as I did on the inside.

Autumn had finally arrived, and the last signs of summer were left groping for brief interludes of balmy afternoons. Also celebrating the passing of the seasons were mornings of frost-kissed grass in the park behind my house—another telltale reminder that the harvest was finally here, and that winter would soon be on its heels. I could only hope for a long, hawkish autumn with Halloween celebrated before the snow flew.

Halloween...however, that’s a post for another day.

As I drove by Medallion Manor, a home for those with mental or other handicaps, I noticed one particular resident—an older man—standing out in the yard again.

I’d seen him on numerous occasions before, sometimes waving, sometimes standing by the fence. At times I’d observed him helping to sell melons in a makeshift stand out on the sidewalk, or simply sitting on the park bench in front of the building watching the traffic as it passed by.

He always waved, and he always smiled.

On this particular day, he wore a pirate hat.

He grinned at me slyly as I drove by, his arms resting on the low, chain-link fence surrounding the yard. As our eyes made contact, he straightened himself and raised one hand in a wave-like salute.

I saluted back.

Oh, to be a pirate…

Friday, October 2, 2009

Calling All Readers!

Pin It We are taking a break from our regular Friday guest post to issue a call to action...

We here at Four Perspectives would love to have YOU be one of our next 'Friday guest' posts! If you would like to be considered then send us something awesome via email (fourperspectivesblog@gmail.com).

You can send us something you write up just for Four Perspectives or it can be a post that was previously published on your own blog. If it takes us a little while to get back to you, don't dismay... someone will contact you, we promise.

If you want more details on becoming a guest blogger, you can read about it in the FAQs.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We Are Family

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photo by the talented Jason of Backroads Photography

For those of you who are unaware, my husband and I have 9 kids. Why do we have such a large family? I am asked that question in various forms more often than expected. And I guess the simple answer is this: Why not?

I have always loved kids, for as long as I can remember. In high school I told everyone I wanted to have 32 kids. I even kept a notebook full of names that I heard and liked. When I was a teenager I would have told you that I would prefer babysitting to going out on a date on a Friday night. (Okay, maybe if I had actually been asked on any dates that would be different.) The fact is, kids just make me smile and laugh and I think they are some of the most fun and interesting people to be around. My husband comes from a family of 16 kids (same 2 parents, no multiple births, and no, we are not trying to match their number) and has always loved being from a large family and wanted one of his own someday. Simply put, we love kids.

However, when some stranger in the grocery store or mall sees me with all my kids in tow and asks one of the many questions I have become used to, they do not want the long answer.

So I now present for your reading pleasure: my favorite responses to give for some of the frequently asked questions I get about the size of my family.

Are all of these kids yours?
  • No, this is not all of them; my oldest is at home with the other 9.
Are you planning on having more?
  • I just figured out what I'm really, really good at. Why would I stop now?
Are you planning to get fixed?
  • Well, as you can see by the size of our family, everything is working just fine.

And last of all, my personal favorite:

Haven't you heard of birth control?
  • Yes, that's great stuff for people with ugly kids.

Million Dollar Ideas

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Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.

-- Albert Einstein

I’ve had an argument with Teachinfourth over the last couple of years about blogging. Now I’m perfectly willing to allow room for my opinion to change and morph, but my underlying feeling is that blogging can be ever so slightly, somewhat possibly, kind of leaning towards the tendency to be self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing and well…pretentious. I actually have a friend that has turned into kind of a celebrity blogger over the past few years and she describes herself as a “professional narcissist” which makes me laugh and makes my point at the same time. As I said, Teachinfourth and I have argued about this from time to time. Teachin’ likes to write and he likes to practice his writing through the medium of the blog – send his thoughts out into the void and enjoy the feedback. I like to write too, but I just find it a little uncomfortable to assume that other people would be interested in my mental musings. Who am I to think that I have anything to teach anyone else or that they would be interested in anything I have to say? My Mother is British – and she’s good at it, so that is no doubt why I have the predisposition to assume that EVERYTHING is bad manners.

Having said that I need to warn you that I’m going to be a little self-aggrandizing today. One of the things that I do as part of my quest to be a good mother is to help my son’s high school team sell concessions at BYU Football games. This is a fundraiser and it is something that I’ve actually done for the past 7 seasons (my older son was on the team too so his 4 years overlapped with Number 2 son’s years to make 7 high school years). I have sort of taken over the organization of this fundraising endeavor because I’m…pretty good at organizing stuff. While I’m bragging about myself, I guess I’ll add that from time to time I have what we call in our house a “flash of genius.” Basically this is something that you figure out how to do to make things faster, easier or just basically better. Number 2 son is particularly clever this way too, so it’s a little joke that we have between us. “Genius” we exclaim to each other when we come up with one of our little ideas. And as much as I am grateful that my mind works this way – it has been a useful talent over the years. I’m not kidding when I say “little ideas.”

For example we had a football game this last Saturday. As part of the set up we have these big water coolers that we fill with ice and water to put water bottles in so that they stay cold before we sell them. Usually I have the kids fill these up and I guess they have over the last 7 years….I don’t think I’ve ever been the one to fill them. But, for whatever reason I decided to fill them this time (there are 6 of them). So I rolled the coolers over by the big sink, took my little bucket and started filling the bucket with water and dumping it into the cooler. I got about two buckets dumped when I realized that this was going to take forever. Basically I thought, “well screw this -there’s got to be a better way” (I know…. language! What would by British Mother say?). So, I thought for a minute, then went and grabbed a big garbage bag. I wrapped the top of the bag around the faucet, cut a small hole in the bottom of the garbage bag which hung down into the cooler. I turned the water on and “Genius”- it worked like a charm and we filled the coolers in no time (I actually didn’t stand there and do it - I bossed some teenagers around to finish the job).

Now, I’m really glad that I was able to come up with this idea – it saved us lots of time and was great. But, I have to say before I get too full of myself, it’s not like I really came up with anything new here. Essentially I invented the hose...which someone already came up with along time ago right? So as grateful as I am for my little talent, I'd like to someday actually think of something to make things faster, easier or just better that hasn't already been invented - the million dollar idea....but nothings coming to me right now....nope, I got nothing. But at least I’m great with garbage bags.

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