Sunday, June 29, 2008

Forging Our Chains

Today the Sunday School teacher gave an interesting explanation of a scripture by reading from Charles Dickens. The scripture is Alma 13: 27-30.

27 And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;

28 But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;

29 Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.

30 And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.

The teacher emphasized verse 30 about the chains of hell, and then he read a selection from "A Christmas Carol" that he has written in the margin of his scriptures.

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
``You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?''
``I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. ``I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.

The older I get the more I realize how wise everyone is who has tried to teach me about what is really important in life. I wish I had followed their advice more often. We really do forge our own chains of hell everyday we live. The trick is, will they be weak enough to be broken as Christ "lifts us up at the last day?" Or, do we, in our weak and blind mortal condition, foolishly insist on claiming our "choice" to reject the warning voices who are trying to help us remain unfettered? Are we daily laboring on our very own enormous chains of hell? "Forge" is a strong verb, indicating some effort. Do we work really hard to be "independent" thus ensuring that our chains will be thick and strong from our foolish pounding against the loving admonitions of God via lessons, scriptures, leaders, talks?

I have often listened and thought to myself that I don't really have to obey that because I have a different circumstance, or that I am exempt somehow from this for some reason. Just adding another link, I guess. Recently, I've heard my chains clinking louder than usual and my previous ability to look at my life's choices through a rosy lens is failing me. I see now that I'm not exempt from consequences that were clearly spelled out all along. I just refused to see that the chains would be so chafing and burdensome. Once the lemonade is all gone, you're stuck with the lemon rinds-- to mix my metaphors.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Three years ago, I moved to Las Vegas, and I took my first trip to Utah for a family event. I drove my car north along I-15 and, when I stopped for gas in a small town mid-way, I was lured and landed like a giant trout by the guys who worked at the tire dealership attached to the gas station. They totally convinced me that my tires would not make it the few hundred miles of my journey. Those tires were unsafe and not what they'd want their mother or sister to be driving on. And they cleaned my windows while sizing me up for the kill. I practically jumped over the side of their boat into into the fish-well without a net. I would NEVER have fallen for this line in, say, Indiana or Kansas. But when I got the hard-sell from a guy named "Nephi" in central Utah, I was a pushover. The only hesitation on his part was when I said, "You wouldn't be lying to a missionary's mother, would you?" His head did a little jerk, and as he lifted down the new tire from the rack said, "Oh, are you LDS?" So, perhaps his conscience isn't entirely dead, or perhaps it was just one of those reflexes that cadavers can have.

Anyway, most of you know this story. I had several hours to think, and realized I'd been suckered, plus the "new" tires were cheap imports compared to my brandname ones. When I stopped on the return trip to ask them to return my used tires, the manager immediately caved, offering (without prompting) to return my money, and remount my old tires, without my even insisting on this plan of action. It was the behavior of a guilty man. So, I sat around and watched this group of vipers, disguised as kindly men helping tourists, and noticed that they never approached the locals who pulled up for gas in a large truck with Utah plates. Only old people with out of state plates (my were Maryland) or women traveling alone (ta da), or other vulnerable types, were cast a line with the wiggly worm of worry attached. The worst case I witnessed was the family with the mom in a wheelchair, and the older teen son driving. Big jerks sold them new tires, too.

Anyway, today, almost three years exactly, I bought new tires to replace those "dangerous" tires, finally. I still feel motivated to buy one of the billboards on I-15 as you approach this tiny town and warn motorists not to believe the dire-tire-tale. What a bunch of liars.

PS: Beaver, Utah, 1st Shell Station, northbound side of I-15 as you approach from the south. Go ahead, sue me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

They Are Covered

There was a sign displayed prominently in the auditorium yesterday to let everyone know that any taping they did became their property, and by signing the form, we were signing over our right to the images they made. I was impressed by the creative wording in their legal notice:

...understand that we may videotape you and use your name and likeness in all media, whether now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe in perpetuity without restrictions...

So, if anyone invents a new type of media, they can use my image there, too. In perpetuity. Whew.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pick Me! Pick Me!

Today I successfully passed the written test for the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" I read in the paper that they were having contestant auditions at a local casino this morning from 7:00--11:00 A.M. I figured it would be a popular destination, so I got up early and got in line at 6:45. However, I was approximately #618 on that line! No, seriously. Whew...apparently some people had actually arrived the night before and stood/sat in the line until they herded the first 300 folks into the auditorium at 7:05 to take the written test for the first sorting. About an hour later, those people exited and group two entered. I was #18 of group three. I know because I have a refrigerator magnet with that number written on the back.

This was an important number, because it was my identifier to record on my Scantron answer sheet, along with my name. We were seated in an area where the casino hosts concerts of not-quite-headliners (Coming July 5!! Davey Jones & Memories of the Monkees!! General seating $9.00!) [I actually attended a Dwight Yoakam Concert there when I first arrived in Las Vegas and it was pleasant venue.] Anyway...we heard the spiel about not talking to seatmates, fill in the answer sheet correctly-- questions on the form are numbered left to right, but Scantron answers are filled in top to bottom--and that we will be warned when there are only five minutes and then one minute left. We all opened the manila envelope and began; we had 10 minutes for 30 questions.

There were several options for being picked. There was a movie trivia show--we all took the movie trivia test first. I knew I flunked it as I took it. I guess I don't go to enough movies. There were also options for engaged couples, people who'd brought a photo of themselves dressed in a Halloween contest, and one I look forward to: three generations with a child (12 -18), a parent, and a grandparent. And then everyone else who just wanted a chance at the regular show. After the movie test, everyone took the regular test of 30 questions of general knowledge. All other specialty show hopefuls had to pass that quiz to go on for an interview.

Through the magic of Scantron, they had the results ready in just a few minutes, and the Lady in Charge began to read off the numbers of those who passed, and therefore, got to stay in their seats for further instructions. Talk about tense!! She read and read, and we realized they weren't in any special order, so everyone leaned in just a little--hoping, hoping. Second to last number, "18!" WHEW!! I KNEW I'd come pretty close, so I had started to worry that somehow I hadn't passed, even though there were only two questions I'd really wondered over. We were given a small packet to complete and told to return at 2:30 for a face to face.

That went well, duh--I have good interviewing skills. Plus, I think it helps to have as your reason for trying out, "It would be fun! You get to be on t.v. and show how smart you are! My students would love to watch me and, hey! Trip to New York City!" Instead of, "Well, this would really help pay my student loans." Anyway, then several of us were sent to the back of the room to have an interview on camera. They insisted that your chances of appearing on the show are not increased by being filmed, but it felt fun to do it. We will receive a post card within three weeks to inform us of our status (or non) as a member of the contestant pool.

So, I blew off most of a day in this endeavor, but I talked to some fun people in the line, and if I get a chance to be on another game show--well, that will be fun too! Oh, yes, and the million dollars.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Teacher Learns Again

Life is never easy. I remember as a young married woman, I had a recurring delusion that if we could just solve whatever problem was creating the current strife, then we would be fine and we would live Happily Ever After. Really. I don't remember when I realized that there would always be a new problem. Or a repeat of the Same Old Problem. I also didn't realize that as time goes by, people change, circumstances change, and problems--rather situations--that you could never anticipate, bob to the surface of relationships colliding with the status quo. There will always be something. The trick is learning how to deal with it in the context of your relationship reality. You might wish to alter that reality, or you may ignore that reality, but it is still reality. So, the real challenge of grownup life and marriage is recognizing reality. Then, work with it.

Today, I had to give our Relief Society lesson because my scheduled teacher was off dealing with an unscheduled family emergency. But I don't ever mind giving the lesson. I would be willing to teach every week, but I know that is not the plan. Anyway, our source was a conference talk from the May Ensign, called Concern for the One, by Elder Joseph Wirthlin. He talked about three causes of people becoming the Lost Sheep of the parable. It was a powerful talk that could be given over and over in every meeting in every country. I wrote three questions on the board:

  • Do you ever feel different, or weird, like you don't fit in?
  • Do you ever feel weary, too tired to go on with your life, overwhelmed?
  • Do you ever feel like you just can't understand or follow some of the doctrines of the Church?

As I wrote them, one lady called out, "Are you reading my mind?" Several other sisters laughed and concurred. It was a great lesson. We talked about how everyone can feel they don't fit in at some time in her life: too old, too young, unmarried, divorced, widowed, rebellious children, no children, not enough children, wrong hair, wrong politics, different cultures. But there isn't a dress code (other than basic modesty) nor it there a "correct culture" or official family status. I know what the basic doctrine teaches: family family family--that is an ideal and we can all strive for it, but we live in reality. One mother described how prickley her unmarried-with-a-son daughter has been for years around Church members. Then talked about how loving members of her daughter's ward in another state have helped her to sooth the hyper-consciousness of this glaring deviation from norm. People in her ward searched out the Lost Sheep, not content knowing they had their Ninety-Nine. I've complained in past posts about feeling excluded in this ward. It is still an issue, but to close the lesson today, I concurred with Elder Wirthlin's testimony that God is, in fact, our Parent, and just as we may sorrow for our children's choices, He feels sorrow about ours, but His love and care is unchanged. Each individual human is His child. I couldn't get out of the room from women approaching me with tears in their eyes about personal situations and how great it was to have this lesson. I was surprised to learn of some of the sorrows I had not known about.

No, I can't explain everything that may seem contradictory or impossible in doctrine--I don't have to!!! Lucky deal!! I maintain that this is the purpose of eternity. We'll have a different view then. We'll know what God knows. We'll know the underlying causes of some of life's inexplicable troubles. We'll have the benefit of mercy to temper justice. But I'm really glad I got the chance to be there in RS today and teach this lesson. It reminded me that I'm not alone in having seemingly insurmountable problems in my life. It reminded me that helping others always gives comfort to the giver, too. It reminded me that I continually need to keep my eternal perspective instead of the view that only looks at next week. I get tired of trouble, everyone does. It is soothing to share with other women, even though no one can solve others' life conundrums. But we can cheer each other up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Trip to the Past

We went to San Diego last week. Cool Guy attended a UAV conference, so I went for a couple of days just to enjoy San Diego and, hey, free hotel room! He picked me up from the airport, we drove over to our old original haunt of Ocean Beach. As he drove around the edge of the earth on Sunset Cliffs Road, I said, "We should move back here." He laughed and said, "Well, it took you 15 minutes to say that. It took me 10 minutes to say it when I arrived here yesterday!"

So, it is established. At some point, we really need to move back and live by the ocean again. There's nothing like it. The scent, the sound, the birds, the surfers, the shells, the misty clouds--all of it. We parked and stood out on the cliffs watching the waves pound against the rocks, spraying water up in the air. The surfers were bobbing up and down waiting for the right swell. Pelicans soared along, just above the crest of the waves, floating in the air up and down with the height of the water, never touching it, but so close. There were lots of gulls, terns and cormorants. Sigh.

Then, we drove around to all the places we lived while there. All of our houses/apartments are still there except for the little "chicken coop" house where the children were born. I was astonished that one domicile was still there--and occupied. When we were moving into it in 1975, our painting was interrupted by a fellow wearing a badge identifying him as working for the county health office. His goal was condemnation of the structure! He was appalled that our sleazy landlord was renting it out AGAIN! Apparently, the house had been damaged in a fire, and superficially repaired. But, we lived there for about 8 months, before getting an offer for a really nice place from an acquaintance who wanted us to house-sit for her. But, there was our old place, still inhabited.

County 0 Slumlord 3 (or however many over the years...)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Not the Dream He Talked About

I feel so apprehensive about this year's presidential political race. I saw a man wearing a shirt recently that read "Realizable Dream" with the words over a picture of Barrack Obama. I know how important it is to many Americans that his campaign has been successful and that he is the nominee. It is exciting to me, too, that in my lifetime, our nation has become a place where it appears that race isn't a barrier. Except that this whole thing seems to have become narrowed down to just race. I read an opinion piece in the Saturday Washington Post (which I cannot find now) the seemed to say that if Obama isn't elected in November then America really is just its same old racist self. Here is another opinion writer from the Post with a similar view:

For some civil rights loyalists, myself very much included, it's hard not to feel a spine-tingling thrill. But for a surprising number of others, the overwhelming feeling last week was apprehension. "I knew the real war was on," one friend told me. "Obama had crossed the point of no return. It was like when Jackie Robinson finally made it to the major leagues. . . . Now the gloves would come off, and failure [in November], I knew, would feel like we all had lost it -- all of black America."

These two writers' opinions were jaw-dropping to me. It implies that we cannot look at ideology, or political opinions of the candidates, but that only race matters. If one doesn't vote for Obama, then one is a racist. If Obama doesn't win then it just shows how prejudiced and white-monolithic our country is.

This concept is a complete repudiation of Dr. King's opinion from his famous "I Have a Dream" speech (the anniversary of said speech will be the date Obama will accept the nomination of the Democratic party.) But Dr. King didn't say "I have a dream that someday a black American will run for president and you all had better vote for him or you'll be forever known as racists." He said, "I have a dream that someday my children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." So what is the point of having choice if we will be criticzed and judged if we make a different choice than the "acceptable" choice? How can we overturn this poisonous concept that a vote not cast for Obama is an indicator of one's ill feelings toward black Americans? Candidates ought to be chosen because of their integrity, policies, and capabilities, not something the gene pool gave them. These two candidates are full-grown human beings, with experiences, histories of public service, and clearly stated philosophies. They are NOT stereotypical group representatives.

A colleague of mine, who is black, (and with whom I have wide-ranging political discussions) pointed out to me that he despises the trend to treat black Americans as a collective group, with one single goal, and one single needs' package. He also rejects the notion that he should be looked at for anything but his own opinion. In fact, he turns it back on me whenever I foolishly imply that he (my friend) is the spokesman for his race, and asks me to tell him what all "white people" think of some issue. That a black American in a leadership role should, and can, speak for the entire group is ridiculous--as though everyone who is black in America thinks just alike or has the same issues, problems, and concerns. It is an absurd concept and we can't seem to banish it from public discourse.

Are we all this simple-minded? Shouldn't we each raise our voice whenever we hear this being done and knock it out of public discourse? It will be difficult, but there will be no progress whatsoever in race relations in America if we are only permitted to notice is melanin and not policies.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Magic Night

It was such an awesome evening that we could hardly come inside. We ate dinner on the patio, and brought out some ice cream for dessert. A hummingbird hovered in front of the trellis, snacking on nectar from the orange trumpet flowers covering the vine. Our neighbor's son and his friends were jumping their skateboards on a rail in their driveway. Since it was only 83 degrees we needed more time out in it. So we donned the boots and helmets and went for a motorcycle ride.

It's amazing how quickly you leave behind the city when you go northeast from Las Vegas. We paralleled the Air Force base runway for several miles and it felt like that scene in "Top Gun" when Maverick raced his bike alongside the Tomcats taking off. Jet after jet swooped into the air drowning the sound of the Harley. They're doing a multi-national training exercise right now, and so the night will be filled with jet noise this week.

It wasn't even hot. Usually this time of year, a ride into the desert is like a trip through a convection oven. But the further we got from the city, the cooler the breeze on our faces. Well, cool may be a bit of a stretch, but it wasn't hot. It smells good in the desert. The plants are mostly tough and hardy, and one way to protect your scrawny little plant-self from predators or the moisture-sucking heat is to have a pungent resin. At the end of warm day the dirt, rocks, and plants all give off a scent, and it beats the smell of hot city pavement.

By the time we returned, the sky was dark, stars were blinking, and the finger-nail moon was a silver curve over the black mountain outlines. People were sitting in their front yards, bicycling up the street, or just walking in the unseasonal, fantastic, moderate evening air. All we needed was a waft of ocean breeze, and you'd have thought we were in San Diego.

Oh, Beautiful

Driving along the extreme east edge of the valley, I could see the vast panorama of Sin City spread out before me. The west mountains were indigo silhouettes jutting up into the gauzy glare of the descending sun. I came around a bend and Ray Charles' voice sang "Oh, bea-u-ti-ful for...." through the radio speakers just as four jets rose from the desert floor in front of me in tight formation. The Air Force Thunderbirds were practicing their swoop-up and barrel roll. It was a spectacularly beautiful spacious sky, filled with red, white and blue F-16's.

America, America.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Last Day

It was the last day for students in this school year at my building. I word that carefully because I am acutely aware of my friends who are just starting their final 10 weeks (!!) of school at the year-round building I left. I really, really feel for them. Again, school ended JUST in time. No felonies were committed by teachers in our building! I came awfully close with a couple of the boys I dealt with daily. I just continue to wonder how in the world some of the students I've taught are ever going to have a successful adulthood. Probably some of them won't. I mean, I read in the newspaper about people in their early twenties who are arrested for really terrible crimes, and also some really incredibly stupid behavior and I figure that I could probably tell you how they acted in fourth grade...

But enough of that---tomorrow is another day. Next year it'll all be better. I'll be in total control. I'll have some alternative behavior plans. I'll train them better. They'll be easier to deal with. Pigs will fly. Hell will freeze over. I figure that as long as I can wake up each morning and feel positive and optimistic that TODAY will be a GREAT day and things will go well, then I'll keep being a teacher. Last year, honestly, I stopped feeling that way. I knew that each day would be the same nightmare as the day before and it took a lot of work to get out of bed and go to that school. But--this year: everyday I felt like Pollyanna: today will work!! And it mostly did.

So, now I have two days of filling out data folders with information that no one will read next year, and completing reports that are "legal documents" that go in their permanent files and no one will ever look at again. Then I'll put away all the junk, clean off the tops of all my desks, filing cabinets, etc. (By then, you realize it'll be August....) No seriously, I'll be all done on Friday afternoon, I'm sure.

Next week, I'm going to San Diego for a couple of days with Cool Guy who is going to some convention and that will be the official start of SUMMER--first one in four years.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Perk

I got a coupon in my school e-mail during May for Teacher Appreciation Month that offered a discount to teachers for many of the big shows in Las Vegas. So last week when our son and his family were here, we went to "Stomp Outloud" and it was FANTASTIC! We took our 5 year old grandson, too, and he enjoyed it almost more than the adults. It was so entertaining and he is a musical kid who is talented at singing and dancing. I highly recommend this show if you're coming to visit us this summer. Go to the link, if you haven't heard about it, and you'll be intrigued. I'll go with you and we can get the "locals" discount at least.

Then last night, for a belated anniversary outing, we went to "Mamma Mia!" -- the Broadway show created around ABBA music. What a blast!! We had really good seats, front and center. The cast is wildly enthusiastic which impressed me since they've been doing this twice a night for six years (!!) and the show itself is highly entertaining. It's closing at the end of this year and so they're offering half-price tickets for the entire house through September. Again, if you're even thinking about a Vegas trip, come before then and see "Mamma Mia!"--it's fabulous!

**Special Notice to Offspring: your parents miss you...we'll take you to see ABBA music...swimming pool season is to have you visit, even for a weekend...

Pity Party

I realize that I've been blogging less lately because lots of the things bugging me are just too personal to blog about. Here's one that bugs me that I'm willing to put out there, but I'll probably sound whiny and self-centered. Oh well.

I've been part of the RS presidency in my ward now for about seven months. More and more I realize that I'm just the third wheel on the bicycle. The rest of them are all "natives." They've lived here for most of their lives--they were born here, or in this region. (The old southern Utah and southern Nevada era was very combined--many family inter-relationships cross back and forth.) Therefore, when we get talking in a meeting, someone will say "Oh, did you know that Sis. Blah-de-blah is a [some family name]? " Then the conversation will veer off into some obtuse antecdote about her great-aunt who dated one of the ladies' uncle's cousin and how they always went to the Manti pageant for their family reunion and how her second cousin married the temple president's brother-in-law Marvin and their kids were all on the same team as someone's grandchildren and now they're all living in a different stake and he was her former bishop and don't they all miss the ward that used to be before they re-aligned all the boundaries? And I'm sitting there not knowing a single soul they're all reminiscing about in their secret "Las Vegas Pioneer Code". It happens so regularly that I no longer even try to pay attention, because they don't care that I don't have a clue. They're not talking to me. They're just talking to each other.

I really have a different personality than them---I honestly don't care about designer purses, nor do I drink diet Pepsi for breakfast. And if I did, I wouldn't brag about it, or maybe if I did, I wouldn't think anything about bragging that I drank diet Pepsi for breakfast. I've never been the sort that lunched--they are. I'm not a fashion plate--they are. But if I contribute a thought, or an antecdote, I get a response of "Uh huh..." and then they just go right on. Translation: booooring. You know--the tone people take with a child? Perhaps I'm just being too sensitive. I don't think I'm easily offended. But I'm starting to get a little touchy here.

I think the main reason the RS president picked me for a counselor is that she liked a talk I gave a couple of years ago on Mother's Day because it was a non-traditional one. I pointed out that I had come to realize how many women didn't like Mother's Day and why they didn't and I addressed those concerns. But the more I serve with her, the more I realize she dismisses me in little ways. I recognize that she and the other counselor have more in common: they're both moms with kids at home. Being redheads, they tend to have similar, very dynamic personalities and know how to get their own way really well. And they're accustomed to being the alpha-girl in their circle. Me, too. But, I'm waaay out-done here.

I keep finding out all the occasions they "get together" as women and families, and have fun, and associate informally. I don't get invited. It's not just because I work. The RS president has a more-than-full-time job with the school district. However, when we moved this time, I noticed that having no kids really made the transition harder. I don' t have a very big footprint in this ward. I go to many events, I help out as often as possible and I don't feel old and out-of-it, but I guess I'm seen as an old lady. I'm just not READY to be an old lady.

Ironically there is a certified Old Lady in our group, the secretary. But, she is one of those "old family" people, and, like the president, has worked in the school system forever and a day. She is a terrific and entertaining person and I like her very much. But, she is very compatible and "in" whereas I am definitely "out". I'll bet they don't even realize they're doing it. (Because they're self-involved to a great extent----oooh just saying that sounds so SELF INVOLVED...) But it makes me think hard now about the presidencies I've been part of in the past and I wonder if I was the cause of other women feeling like they weren't really part of the Cool Group. I hope not. And I definitely am learning something for the future.